On April 11, 1979, General Idi Amin was overthrown, toppling a brutal campaign of terror suffered by the people of Uganda at the hands of Amin’s regime. Amin was born Idi Amin Dada between 1923 and 1928. In 1962, Uganda gained its independence from the UK. Amin remained in the military where he rose through the ranks, eventually becoming Commander of the Army in 1965.
Amin was aware that Uganda’s current president, Milton Obote, was going to have him charged with misappropriating funds. To avoid this, Amin and his men overthrew Obote in a coup, and in 1971, Amin became the President of Uganda, and would remain in power until 1979 when he himself was overthrown by Tanzanian forces.
Human rights groups state that under Amin’s regime, between 100,000 and 500,000 people were killed. After being overthrown in 1979, Amin would spend the rest of his life in exile in Saudi Arabia until his death in 2003.
1. Amin Declared Himself The President of Uganda
Amin was born in Uganda between 1923 and 1928. In 1946, he was recruited by the Colonial British Army. When Uganda gained its independence from Britain, Amin stayed in the Ugandan army, where he rose through the ranks, fighting in conflicts against rebel soldiers. Amin was athletic and physically fit during his time in the military; standing at 6’4″, his presence was powerful, and he was an accomplished boxer.
Ugandan Prime Minister Samuel Obote was named in a scandal involving Amin in 1965; it was alleged that the two devised a scheme to smuggle precious metals and ivory into Uganda from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Patrice Lumumba, a Congolese leader, was accused of being Amin and Obote’s accomplice. The ivory and gold was then used to help soldiers who opposed the Congolese government to obtain arms.
An investigation was launched by the Ugandan Parliament and a ceremonial president appointed, Kabaka Mutesa II of Buganda. To fight this, Prime Minister Milton Obote drafted a new constitution doing away with the ceremonial presidency. Mutesa went into exile in the UK and Obote stayed in power. Amin would eventually become Commander of the Armed Forces, the highest rank in the Ugandan military, a promotion bestowed upon him by Obote. Amin began to recruit mercenaries of different ethnic backgrounds from the West Nile area of South Sudan. It was later alleged that there were more South Sudanese soldiers in Amin’s army than Ugandans.
Amin and Obote’s relationship soured toward the end of the 1960s, which culminated in an attempt on Obote’s life. Obote had been unhappy with Amin prior to this for a multitude of reasons, including his recruiting practices and support of the rebellion in South Sudan. Obote demoted Amin from Commander of the Armed Forces to Commander of the Army and retook control of the armed forces in 1970. Amin was made aware that Obote was planning on having him detained and charged with misappropriation of funds. To combat this, Amin staged a coup while Obote was at a conference in Singapore. Amin’s men took control of the airport, blocked off major roadways and took over control of Obote’s residence. After successfully ousting Obote, Amin’s regime was ready to take its place. Amin declared himself the President of Uganda in 1971.
2. Amin Claimed to Have Conquered The British Empire
For most of his life, Amin was described as fiercely loyal to the British Empire. Prior to Uganda’s independence, he fought with the King’s African Rifles in the suppression of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in an effort to protect the interests of Great Britain. As a reward for his intense loyalty, Amin was politically supported by the British and other Western powers, initially.
However, over the course of his presidency, Amin would lose British support along with other Western countries. Britain would ultimately cut diplomatic ties with Uganda in 1977. Amin then added the initials “CBE” to his official title. CBE stood for Conqueror of the British Empire; Amin claimed that he had defeated the British. His full title was “His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Alhaji Dr. Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE.”
Prior to Uganda’s expulsion from the UN, Amin notably urged the US to rid the country of Zionists, The New York Times reports, further weakening Uganda’s ties with the US and Israel. As Amin lost his Western allies, his ties with other countries were strengthened. Amin had strong support from Libya, Saudi Arabia and Palestine.
3. Amin Fathered Between 35-40 Children
Idi Amin had 40 “official” children by seven “official” wives. However, it is believed that Amin may have married more than seven women and, in turn, fathered more children, who were not recognized as being “official” by Amin.
Amin would ultimately divorce three of his wives. His second wife, Kay, died under circumstances which remain unclear. She was violently murdered and her body was dismembered. It is unknown if Amin’s men had anything to do with Kay’s death.
Amin’s fifth wife, Sarah, was said to be his favorite. She was a former dancer known as “Suicide Sarah.” She earned this nickname because she performed with the Revolutionary Suicide Mechanized Regiment Band. Amin married Sarah shortly after seeing her perform when she was 19 and he was 50.
Amin would ultimately bring several of his wives with him when he went into exile. Some were allowed to seek refuge elsewhere. Sarah Amin settled in London, where she owned and operated a hair salon until her death in 2015, The Guardian reports. The current whereabouts of all of Amin’s children are unknown. It is believed that some still live in Uganda, while others moved abroad to study, work, raise families and escape from their father’s brutal legacy.
4. Amin Was The Subject of Myths & Rumors
Rumors of Amin’s brutality soon became widespread after he overthrew Milton Obote. It was said that Amin was a cannibal warlord who would consume his enemies. The notion that Amin was a cannibal remains unsubstantiated; it has been alleged that Amin helped to spread the rumors himself to bolster reports of his savagery and brutality, allowing him to keep the people of Uganda paralyzed with fear.
Other rumors had to do with Amin’s underground prison system where he is alleged to have tortured hundreds of thousands of political prisoners. Amin reportedly had an underground bunker built for him by his Israeli allies which was intended to be a massive storage unit for gunpowder.
“Amin’s victims would be blindfolded, then further disoriented by being driven around in circles so they’d never know they were still on the palace grounds. Not that it really mattered if they knew where they were since it’s estimated that 200,000 people never left the chamber alive. The entrance was electrified and the chambers themselves were surrounded by a channel of electrified water controlled by guards. The chambers were dark, full of vomit, blood, and feces, and each held about 500 people. Prisoners would suffocate as oxygen would run out as bodies piled up inside the cells, many victims starved to death, and some chose to end their suffering and committed suicide by jumping into the electrified water,” writes author Lyra Radford.
Forest Whitaker’s character in the film The Last King of Scotland was based on Amin. The film depicts Amin as an erratic, blood-thirsty dictator who becomes more and more unstable as the film goes on, regularly subjecting his own people to torture and violence.
5. Up to 300,000 People Are Believed to Have Died During Amin’s Regime
Amin imposed military rule, essentially throwing out the Ugandan constitution. Amin’s military tribunals held authority over Uganda’s judicial courts, leaving Amin with unchecked power. He turned the presidential residence into his command center and base of operations.
Amin eliminated anyone who posed a threat to him; real or imagined, often using torture to get information out of his perceived enemies. His first move as President of Uganda was to free many political prisoners, thus forming alliances with them. He then dispatched kill squads to hunt down and execute any known supporters of Milton Obote. The kill squads soon targeted people from various ethnic groups, suspected homosexuals, journalists and students.
Amin decided to expel all Asians from Uganda in 1972. Prior to Amin’s regime, a large population of people of Indian origin had settled in Uganda and established businesses there. Estimates put the number of people expelled to India at approximately 80,000. Before Amin, India and Uganda were allies; both former British colonies with strong diplomatic ties. Amin took control of the businesses owned by Asians and only allowed Ugandans to operate them. This would ultimately lead to the collapse of Uganda’s already struggling economy, The Guardian reports.
Amin was known for his brutal and violent tactics, earning him the nickname the “Butcher of Uganda.” “It is believed that some 300,000 people were killed during his presidency. In July 1976 he was personally involved in the hijacking of a French airliner to Entebbe,” biography.com reports.
Amin would ultimately be overthrown after a failed invasion of Tanzania. He lived out his days quietly in Saudi Arabia until his eventual death in 2003, reports The New York Times. Estimates put Amin’s age at 78 at the time of his death.