Amin, Idi (Uganda)

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Idi Amin Dada Oumee was an army officer who served as President of Uganda between 1971 and 1979. He came to power following a coup in which he had overthrown his one-time ally, Milton Obote. Physically large and personally charismatic, Amin was welcomed by the Ugandan people and the world at large but his mismanagement of the country, the ferocious cruelty of his dictatorial regime and his involvement in numerous international outrages ensured his popularity did not last. He fled Uganda following a Tanzanian invasion in 1979.

Early Life

Amin’s year of birth is believed to be 1925. He was born in Koboko into the Kakwa tribe in northwest Uganda and was a Muslim. His education in missionary schools was patchy and during his leadership he was unable to write and was only slightly better at reading. In 1943 he joined the King’s African Rifles, an African regiment of the British army, serving in Somalia, Uganda and Kenya. He was stationed in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising, where Amin endeared himself to the British authorities by his skill and enthusiasm. He was Uganda’s light heavyweight boxing champion between 1951 and 1960.

Uganda was led to independence in 1962 by Milton Obote, a close ally of Amin who by that time was one of only two African soldiers of officer rank in the KAR. In 1966 Obote appointed Amin commander of both the army and the air force but relations soured between the two men over the ensuing years. Fearful after an unsuccessful attempt on his life, Obote put Amin under house arrest in 1970. In Jan. 1971 Obote was on a visit to Singapore when Amin, galvanizing his support within the armed forces, staged a successful coup.

Career Peak

The Ugandan population, disillusioned by the corruption of the Obote regime, was generally welcoming, as was the West which had become nervous of Obote’s far left political sympathies. It was hoped that Amin would keep his promise to restore civilian government.

However, Amin was quick to demonstrate his ruthlessness and set about purging the army of members of the Acholi and Lango ethnic groups, thus ridding Obote of his largest body of support as well as well as doing little to alleviate the country’s already chronic tribal tensions. Following Obote’s failed counter coup, launched from Tanzania in 1972, Amin forged ahead with his systematic ethnic persecution, victimizing civilians as well as military personnel.

In addition, in 1972 he ordered the expulsion of those resident Asians who had not taken Ugandan citizenship. Crucially, this section of society controlled much of the country’s commercial sector and was instrumental in the efficient running of the civil service. While Amin tapped into a strong seam of resentment against the Asian population within the African population, his policy was economically disastrous. International isolation resulted and Amin left the running of many businesses, a lot of which he nationalized, to the military and to political allies who took what they could before allowing the businesses to fold.

Urban life became dominated by the black market, corruption and crime. Amin continued to terrorize his opponents through his State Research Bureau and the Public Safety Unit and it is estimated that his regime accounted for 100,000–300,000 victims. On the international stage, he alienated the USA and the UK by publicly condemning both countries. He also turned his back on a once strong relationship with Israel, instead forging ties with the Soviet Union, Libya and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. He was also suspected of direct involvement in a number of international terrorist exploits, including the hi-jacking of an Air France plane filled with Israelis which culminated in an Israeli rescue mission that saw deaths on both sides.

In Oct. 1978, in an attempt to generate some popular support, he set about an ill-advised invasion of Tanzania to claim the region of Kagera Salient. The Ugandan forces were not suitably prepared or motivated and proved no match for the Tanzanian forces who entered Uganda and made their way to the capital, Kampala. Amin fled, first to Libya and then to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and was replaced by a coalition of former exiles in April 1979.

Later Life

In March 1998 it was reported that Amin had been banished from Jeddah and isolated in Makkah (Mecca) following allegations of his involvement in an arms shipment to northern Uganda. He died on 16 Aug. 2003 of multiple organ failure. President Yoweri Museveni vetoed his return to Uganda for burial.

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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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