A Brief History
On January 25, 1971, Idi Amin, or more formally Idi Amin Dada Oumee, one of the arguably most bizarre dictators in world history, ousted Milton Obote and seized power in Uganda, starting a reign of terror.
Digging deeper, we find the African country of Uganda, a former British colony, and Amin a former soldier in the British Colonial Army.
Continuing his military career as a general in the Ugandan Army after Ugandan independence in 1962, Amin first took over as commander of the Army and then as ruler of Uganda in the 1971 coup that displaced Obote. Characterized by an enormous ego, Amin promoted himself to Field Marshal while he was at it! As if naming himself “president for life” and field marshal was not quite enough, Amin also added “CBE” after his name, claiming to be “conqueror of the British empire.” In fact, he gave himself an incredible array of titles and awards such as King of Scotland, “Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fish of the Sea,” a doctorate in law, as well as a long list of military medals and awards he had never earned.
Like many that seize power, Amin initially seemed eager to reform the government and promised democratic elections that, of course, never came. Amin’s reign turned into a nightmare of murders, executions, tortures and corruption, and he tried to align himself with the communist bloc (notably the USSR and East Germany) as well as with Libyan strong man Moammar Qadaffi. Amin is believed by many to even have eaten some of his political foes, although this allegation is not well proven, although he was quoted as saying, “It’s not for me. I tried human flesh and it’s too salty for my taste.” Amin is also said to have forced his political enemies to kill each other by bashing with a sledgehammer, and to have kept the severed heads of his foes in his refrigerator! Once the heavy weight boxing champion of Uganda, Amin was athletic as a young man before he got fat with his position of power.
In 1976, an Air France airliner carrying 83 Jewish passengers was hijacked and eventually flown to Uganda’s airport at Entebbe. This event gave Amin an international spotlight that his ego felt he deserved. Unfortunately for him and the Uganda military, Israeli commandos mounted a spectacular raid, liberating the hostages and successfully evacuating them from Uganda. For good measure, the commandos caused much damage to Uganda’s air force planes and equipment to prevent interception of the evacuating aircraft.
Not a fan of Israel or Jewish people even before the embarassing Entebbe incident, Amin has said:]
“I’m a good Muslim and I’m only interested in Islam.”
— Idi Amin
“Although some people felt Adolf Hitler was bad, he was a great man and a real conqueror whose name would never be forgotten.”
— Idi Amin
“Germany is the place where when Hitler was the prime minister and supreme commander, he burned over six million Jews. This is because Hitler and all German people knew that Israelis are not people who are working in the interest of the world and that is why they burned the Israelis alive with gas in the soil of Germany.”
By 1979, Amin’s terrible rule had cost somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 lives, largely persons of ethnic origin different from Amin’s. In addition to native Ugandans, Amin persecuted the 80,000 people of Asian (mostly Indian) descent, seizing their assets and eventually expelling them from the country. This policy further rocked the Ugandan economy as these Asians were largely the shop keepers and business people who made the economy run. Although Amin is generally portrayed as a buffoonish psychopath and murderer, apologists have claimed his reputation as an evil human rights abuser is merely disinformation meant to slander a Black African leader. When not engaged in alleged atrocities, Amin found the time to sire as many as 60 children.
Idi Amin finally went too far in 1979 after picking a fight with neighboring Tanzania, probably because of the humiliation after another neighbor, Kenya, had defended itself too well from Amin’s attempts to take land. The fighting with Tanzania was the spark that caused a revolt in Amin’s army that led to his fleeing the country, first going to Libya and then a year later to Saudi Arabia where he lived out the rest of his life as a guest of the Saudi royal family, dying in 2003. The Saudis even paid him generously, supposedly to stay out of politics!
The subject of the 2006 movie The Last King of Scotland, starring Forrest Whitaker, Amin has also been portrayed as a raving psychopath in other movies, literature and television (4 Saturday Night Live skits) and in a hilarious story in Harvard Lampoon’s parody of Sports Illustrated. Not surprisingly, Idi Amin never apologized for his actions or expressed any regrets.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you seen The Last King of Scotland? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Dougherty, Steve. Idi Amin (A Wicked History). Franklin Watts, 2010.
Macdonald, Kevin, dir. The Last King of Scotland (Widescreen Edition). Fox Searchlight, 2007. DVD.
Moghal, Manzoor. Idi Amin: Lion of Africa. AuthorHouse, 2010.
Schroeder, Barbet, dir. General Idi Amin Dada (The Criterion Collection). Criterion, 2002. DVD.