Idi Amin of Uganda-then and now – His Life – Death – Legacy
Thoughts on the Life of Idi Amin
Idi Amin of Uganda – then and now – one thing is certain, he remains the most well-known Ugandan. Though he was only a relative moment in time – his impact is felt and seen in certain places. There are no statues to him, in parliament there is his picture along with other presidents, including President Yoweri Museveni.
Out of the 37 million plus Ugandans few lived during the times of Idi Amin. Not much is taught about him in schools, to Ugandans it is a time of their turbulent history, not to be remembered except by seeming Idi Amin revisionists such as Idi Amin’s son and journalist Timothy Kalyegira who writes an occasional artile about things were better during the times of Idi Amin. One thing that was certainly better, was the atheletes competing on the World Scene.
To Westerners Idi Amin is synonymous with Idi Amin and even the Uganda Tourist board jumped on the Amin Band Wagon wanting to establish an Idi Amin Trail for Tourist which remains an announcement and nothing concrete has been carried out and probably will not, there are not many concrete places besides the old Entebbe Airport, the Torture chambers underneath the palace in Mengo, Makindye Baracks, and the rumors of Ghosts at the Serena Hotel built on the site of Nile Mansions Hotel which was built by Idi Amin in record time.
The Ghosts of Idi Amin are carried in the living, those who lost family members, were tortured, interrogated, maimed in body and mind, most Ugandans think about today and the future.
Idi Amin of Uganda – then and now – The Nile International Hotel or Nile Mansions (no longer exists) was a place I often frequented for lunch or dinner on a balmy Kampala night. I would sit there in the gardens, surrounded by other guests and look up at the Hotel, flags flying in the equatorial breeze, a Marabou Stork vulture would fly overhead toward the trees in the distance reminding me of another vulture that had walked on the same grounds where I sat. He had an office here and the Hotel became infamous for being a torture and interrogation chamber for a multitude, the end of the road for many others, something that continued under Milton Obote when he came back into power and a famous resident of the torture section in the basement was Dr. Kizza Besigwe for a time. During Idi Amin’s time it was both hell and heaven, he entertained important guests at functions while below others were tortured.
Fortunately those days are behind for the Pearl of Africa, Idi Amin died today August 16th-2003 far from the place where his reign of terror and death took place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The one who thought he was immortal, at the end of the day, was mortal like all of us and many in Uganda hope, that if there is a hell that he be there and join the company of Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, the infamous Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic and many others who have sown terrors in their lands.
In a rare interview Idi Amin was asked what he wanted to be known for when he died. His answer was rather surprising, “a great athlete.” The reality for Idi Amin is that at his death most of us see him as a butcher, cannibal rather than a boxer and athlete. Which brings up the question: Who was this Idi Dada Amin? Who was this man who gave himself titles (pure son of Africa, His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal, Al Hadji Doctor, Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular) and medals (Victorian Cross amongst them, self-bestowed) that would drag any man down to the red earth of Africa?
Idi Amin of Uganda – then and now – Idi Amin was a big man, size wise, but in reality a small man of heart. He pursued power, women, fame, he desired to be loved by the people of Uganda, only to be despised and rejected. A man deeply insecure that wanted to be taken seriously but often was seen as a bumbling buffoon who never saw that with the titles he gave himself came responsibilities. He wanted to be served, but in turn never learned to serve those whom he presided over. He became a laughing stock even in his own country, so he resorted to naked, abusive power, terror and fear to subjugate a country. He went through life as an intimidatory manner, even British citizens had to bow to him and pledge allegiance. He wanted to be seen as a great statesman and wrote letters of advice to President Nixon at the time of Watergate, asked Queen Elizabeth to come to Kampala and find a real man, him. He offered himself to be King of Scotland, thank God, that was turned down.
When you study the life of Idi Amin, you see a life that was corrupted by power. Power, that ran amok, power that was not harnessed, but allowed to reign freely subjugating a people who wanted a servant leader, but got a tyrant, twice the son of hell that Milton Apollo Obote had been, the President of Uganda that Idi Amin overthrew. He called himself big Daddy, the one who never had a father around him. His father abandoned the family soon After Amin was born in Kabogo (some say Kampala) near the Sudanese and the Democratic Republic of Congo somewhere around 1925 (when he died he was between 78 and 80). His father was a Kagwa, a small Sudanese tribe. His mother belonged to the Lubarra tribe that lives around the northern town of Arua.
Idi Amin the product of an absent father and a mother that was said to have been a witch and traditional herbalist. From his birth there seems to have been a pact with the devil, a sort of selling of the soul, the absence of heart in the quest for power.
Idi Amin was one that used people to get things, instead of using things to serve people. He wanted to be King and somewhere in this quest he forgot that he was a mere mortal, he as many others before him, saw himself as a semi-deity that was above the rule of law, above common decency. Some accounts say, he even bragged on several occasions to having consumed human flesh, commenting that it “tasted salty.”
Not much is known about his childhood and youth. His mother moved south to the Jinja area where she became involved with a soldier in the “King’s African Rifles.” A man she was purported to have bewitched when things did not turn out to well in their relationship. Young Amin might have attended a missionary school for some time, but his early job was selling (mandazis) donuts in Jinja, became a cook for the soldiers at the “King’s African Rifles” barracks where he was inducted as a private because he was a big, burly bully and fit the type of person who the British sought as soldiers in their African Army.
As a soldier his evil side came to the forefront. He was the kind who showed no mercy, especially if his enemy was helpless. He left a trail of tears in Kenya, northern Uganda. He carried out his duties in a most ruthless manner.
Boxing and Rugby became the sports he started to participate in, becoming the heavyweight champion of Uganda and in rugby he was simply an animal. His British officer would take a hammer to his forehead and prime him for the contest to release his mean streak and competitive spirit and off he went to destroy the competition.
Relationally this conqueror of the British Empire as he proclaimed himself was also a failure. He had no real friends, only those whom he bought, he eliminated so many of his friends, people who worked with him and for him, from ministers to general, from soldiers to common citizens, anyone who stood in his way to keeping the power, real or imagined, throwing their bodies into Lake Victoria or the Nile River. The fish in Lake Victoria around Kampala and Jinja grew to enormous size according to some, and the Dam on the Nile was clogged with bodies, the crocodiles became fat and fishermen often pulled in bodies into their nets. When an enemy was killed he often would spend time with the corpse and perform what a blood rite, a cutting with the knife and a licking the blood off of the knife, a way of appeasing the spirits and causing that person’s spirit to do no harm to him. (During his rule over 300,000 people were murdered by his henchmen)
He had women around him, 5 wives, one of which it has been rumored he killed and dismembered showing her children what happens to someone who does not obey him. He is said to have over 34 mistresses and many other encounters resulting in many bothersome STD’s, syphilis being one of them and that might certainly have affected his thinking. He also had over 40 some children, many of them going into exile with him to Saudi Arabia, one of his boys ran for a local office in Uganda and was defeated in recent times.
Spiritually Idi Amin was a Muslim, but in name only and not in practice. His life showed outward observance, but no heart conversion. He used religion as part of his quest for power. Declaring a holy Jihad to make Islam the state religion (seeking support from Libya and Saudi Arabia – which he got) which brought great harm to the Churches, ministers being eliminated left and right (Archbishop Luwum among them), parishioners harassed and not promoted in state jobs, churches being told what they could not preach about, such as using the name of Israel in sermons.
The churches quit praying for him, but Bishop Festo Kivengere wrote a book around that time entitled “I Love Idi Amin.” This Anglican Bishop refused to hate and continued to love in spite of the hatred spewed against him and the churches where the secret police would sit in the services and monitor what was going on, often arresting the leadership after the service. Idi Amin, was given a Moslem burial, but his life is not a testimony to the faith of Islam and its precepts, his actions were not a Holy Jihad, but bloody murder of anyone who opposed him. He might have kept the art of Islam in its practices at times, but never practiced the heart of Islam.
The rule of Idi Amin lasted for 8 long years from 1971 until his overthrow in 1979. Uganda, the fruitful pearl of Africa became a literal wasteland. Food became short in supply, milk was absent for years, children grew up knowing only their mother’s milk. The economy was ruined as he expelled all Asians from Uganda, took over their businesses and homes distributing them to his cronies who simply took the goods and often shut down the stores. Medicines were absent, medical equipment looted from hospitals and clinics, Uganda became a refuse dump instead of a pearl.
Makerere University the former jewel of higher education became graveyard instead of a place of learning. This insecure, power hungry maniac bestowed a Doctorate of Law and Philosophy upon himself, but could not read well, nor write, but he could speak for hours.
If you look at his life, over and over it is power exhibited through sheer force, it brought him to the presidency of Uganda and it ended his reign as President for Life, dying this week in obscurity away from Uganda in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where he lived in comfort supported by the Saudis which is sad for keepers of the faith of Islam.
In his quest for power he invaded Tanzania and thought his glorious army would win the day, he hated President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania who was beloved in his country and saw him as weak and challenged him to a boxing match, but when it was all said and done, Idi Amin fled the country, his Army was routed and the Libyan troops sent to aid him went home.
Idi Amin was no hero, no conqueror, he, like others before him and since him used people, bought people, abused people and threw them away like a used facial tissue. Today Big Daddy is no more, but his memory lives on in the hearts and minds of those that are still carrying around the scars of his eight years of terror…but tonight Uganda and the world can rest a bit easier, the Hitler of Africa is no more…
Idi Amin of Uganda – then and now – the now part is that Idi Amin is a faint memory for most Ugandans, a time in the distant past. Occasionally there are articles in the local newspapers, the movie “The Last King of Scotland” revived a temporary interest in him, but most often misinformed Westerners who, yes, still believe that Idi Amin lives in Uganda today, obviously he does not.
Tourists, visitors to Uganda do not express an interest in following any Idi Amin Trail – they come here to see Primates, wildlife, climb mountains and Volcanoes, Wild Water Rafting on the River Nile, Cultural Visits and Experiences. Most even do not to visit the torture chambers that are in Kampala…Idi Amin ruined Tourism to Uganda, he closed it and Uganda at that time was the Prime Safari Destination in Africa, he and his soldier began the slaughter of wildlife in the parks, even his lodge that he wanted to build is in total ruins inhabited by animals, snakes and birds. Like Slum Tours that we do not offer, we would not offer Idi Amin Trail Tours. We do not believe in making a profit from people’s suffering in the past and now.
Uganda – the Pearl of Africa – stable, secure and welcoming under the leadership of President Museveni (30 years in power) has regained its luster, the wildlife numbers are on the increase as are primates and once again it is a destination of choice for Tourists.