Uganda: August 18, 2003


Idi Amin, the sadistic thug, torturer, and mass murderer who ran Uganda from 1971 to 1979, died August 16.

Amin, a Muslim convert, put to death at least 250,000 Ugandan Christians, most of them Anglicans, but he hated Catholics as well. He also murdered thousands of Ugandans of Asian descent before forcing them into exile and expropriating their property. Ugandan tribes who werent "cousins" of his small Kakwa tribe and their allies were regularly threatened, then robbed. The total number of people Amin and his goons killed in Uganda is somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000, out of a 1970s population of ten million. Amin didnt confine his brutality to Uganda. He became an ally of Libyas Muhammar Qaddaffi. Amin considered war with Kenya and actually went to war with Tanzania.

Amin survived on shrewdness and showmanship buttressed by cold-blooded slaughter. At six feet four and with a weight-lifters chest, he was the Hollywood image of an African dictator, especially when he draped his military uniform with ribbons and gold medals the size of grapefruit. His smart mouth fed the press a line of sass that no reporter could ignore a line of anti-Western sass, that is. Henry Kissinger was a "murderer and a spy." Zambias Kenneth Kaunda "an imperialist puppet and bootlicker."

Amin got his start in the colonial British Army. He joined the Kings African Rifles. In 1981, after Amin had fled Uganda, I met a retired British officer who had served in Uganda in the early 1950s and he knew Amin quite well. The colonel told me Amin was a good sergeant major in terms of military skills but "someone who needed an officer watching him, you know." The colonel also passed along a story he had heard about Amins service with the British Army in Burma during World War Two. Amin allegedly tortured and killed some Japanese prisoners, but according to the hearsay tale "nothing quite ever came of it" (ie, no investigation or court martial). The Amin the colonel knew as a lieutenant was a fascinating character but a man with a truly brutal streak. Several sources, including the New York Times obituary of Amin, report that Amin may never have served in Burma and that in fact he first enlisted with the KAR in 1946, after World War Two was over. Whats true? The colonel told me the Burma story was rumor. Perhaps Amin was already developing an image, first fear by propaganda, later fear in practice.

The tragedy of Amin is that he died in exile in Saudi Arabia, not rotting in a jail or executed for his crimes. (Austin Bay)




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