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Idi Amin Dada

dictator of Uganda

Idi Amin

Very little is known about Idi Amin's birth and early life, as no official biography was ever written. Some sources say he was born in Koboko, West Nile Province, in either 1924 or 1925, while others say he was born in Kampala on May 17, 1928. It is believed that he was raised by his maternal family, was educated at an Islamic school, and did odd jobs before being recruited into the British Colonial Army.

Amin joined the King's African Rifles in 1946 as a laundry and kitchen staffer, and transferred to Kenya for infantry service in 1947. He served in Kenya until 1949, when he was deployed in Somalia to fight cattle raiders. In 1952 his unit was deployed against the Mau Mau. He was promoted to Corporal that same year, to Sergeant in 1953, and to Warrant Officer (the highest rank possible for Black Africans in the Colonial Army) in 1954. In 1961 he became one of the first two Ugandans to become commissioned officers, with the rank of Lieutenant. During his time in the army, Amin showcased his physical strength by holding Uganda's light heavyweight boxing championship from 1951 to 1960.

After Uganda attained independence in October 1962, Prime Minister Milton Obote rewarded Amin for his loyalty by promoting him to Captain in 1963. Amin was subsequently promoted to Deputy Commander of the Army in 1964, and to General and Commander of the Army in 1966.

Amin seized power in a coup on January 25, 1971, while Obote was attending a Commonwealth summit meeting in Singapore. He began his reign by freeing many political prisoners and disbanding the secret police, actions which made him a popular figure within both Uganda and the international community. His popularity would not last, however.

Over the course of his rule, Amin became known around the world for his cruelty, as well as his many eccentricities. Although exact figures are not known, it is believed that he was responsible for the deaths of up to 300,000 Ugandans. He had strong ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization, and was believed to have been personally involved in the hijacking of an Air France Airbus in 1976 (an incident that was subsequently dramatized in the movie Raid on Entebbe). He frequently exaggerated his military career, going so far as to have his suit coats custom-made in order to accomodate all of the medals he awarded himself. But it was his ill-fated invasion of Tanzania that would prove to be Amin's undoing.

In October 1978, Amin, with the help of Libyan troops, tried to annex the northern Tanzanian province of Kagera. Tanzania then declared war on Uganda. On April 11, 1979, Amin was forced to flee Kampala when the Tanzanian army, aided by Ugandan exiles and mutineers from the Ugandan army, took the city. He fled first to Libya, and then to Saudi Arabia. He made one known attempt to return to Uganda, in early 1989, getting as far as Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), where he was identified and forced to return to Saudi Arabia. He died in Saudi Arabia on August 16, 2003.

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The Robinson Library >> Uganda

This page was last updated on 10/24/2018.