He was one of the most notorious dictators in history, who ruled Uganda with an iron fist and a taste for blood.
Idi Amin Dada, who was born in 1924 or 1925 in Koboko, Uganda, and died in 2003 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, seized power in a military coup in 1971 and declared himself president, chief of the armed forces, field marshal and life president.
He was known for his brutality, violence, nationalism and eccentricity. He expelled all Asians from Uganda in 1972, claiming they were stealing Ugandans’ jobs and wealth. He supported Palestinian hijackers who took over an Air France plane and landed it at Entebbe airport in 1976, leading to a daring rescue mission by Israeli commandos. He persecuted many ethnic groups, especially the Acholi and Lango, who had supported his predecessor Milton Obote. He was responsible for the deaths of some 300,000 people during his regime, many of whom were tortured and killed by his secret police and death squads.
He was also seen by some as a builder, a nationalist and a separatist. He built some of the most important infrastructure in Kampala, the capital city, and made Uganda a leading producer of coffee. He defied the Western powers and aligned himself with Libya and the Palestinians. He claimed to be the uncrowned king of Scotland and offered to marry Queen Elizabeth II. He had a place in the cultural commentator Peter York’s guidebook to the interior decor of Dictators’ Homes.
His image as an icon of evil came about because he fit the long-standing stereotype of African masculinity as intrinsically violent, irrational, autocratic and dangerous. In the West, he exemplified both a personal notion of evil, characterised by cannibalism and sadistic pleasures, and a political notion of evil, seen as unconstrained dictatorship.
But not everyone saw him as a monster. Some Ugandans admired him for his charisma, his humour and his defiance of colonialism. His son Jaffar Amin said: “Amin’s legacy was genuine emancipation of Ugandans and removing the chains of imperialism.” Some politicians still align themselves with his economic legacy today.
Despot or hero, Amin remains very much present in the minds of Ugandans today. More than forty years after his overthrow by Tanzanian troops and Ugandan exiles in 1979, he remains a key point of reference in Ugandan culture and politics. Elsewhere in the world, his name has become synonymous with brutal and psychotic African dictatorship.