Thursday, January 25, 2007

January 25

Described by the British Foreign Office as a "splendid type and a good football player," Idi Amin Dada took control of Uganda on this date in 1971. While prime minister Milton Obote was away at a summit of prime ministers in Singapore, Amin -- commander of the Ugandan military -- seized power in a coup and declared himself "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."

Buoyed by his self-awarded title, Idi Amin promptly organized death squads to eliminate the remnant supporters of the Obote government. Known by such mundane names as the "Public Safety Unit" and "Bureau of State Research," Amin's goons paid special attention to the Lango and Acholi tribes. Six weeks after deposing Obote, thirty-two Lango and Acholi army officers were blown up in a prison cell in the Ugandan capital of Kampala; by the time his first year in power came to an end, as many as 3000 officers had been executed. Over the course of his eight-year rule, Amin oversaw the deaths of anywhere from 80,000 to 300,000 people. Based on accounts from exiled groups, Amnesty International placed the actual figure at nearly half a million dead.

Amin's security forces even killed one of his wives, cutting her body into small chunks before stitching it back together.

Amin's rivalries extended beyond the Ugandan borders. During his tenure in office, he threatened war with Kenya and the Sudan on numerous occasions and ordered the invasion of Tanzania in October 1978. When Tanzanian forces retaliated and, with the help of Ugandan exiles, entered Kampala in April 1979, Imin fled the country. After a brief stay in Libya as the guest of Colonel Khadafi, Amin moved to Saudi Arabia, where he lived until his death in 2003.

On the occasion of Amin's death, the British journalist Patrick Keatley wrote that "Amin brought bloody tragedy and economic ruin to his country, during a selfish life that had no redeeming qualities."

Cartoon by Edmund Valtman