Idi Amin Dada was born c. 1923, though much about his early life is unclear, including his exact year of birth. He was raised mainly by his mother and her family, as his father abandoned the family when Amin was young. He was brought up Muslim in a small farming community in northern Uganda
. He began attending school in 1941, but left soon after with minimal education- he was functionally illiterate. He performed odd jobs for several years before being recruited into the British Army
in 1946. There, he was a members of the King's African Rifles and served initially as an assistant cook. In 1947, as a private in the army, he was sent to Kenya
as a member of the infantry. He remained in Kenya for two years, before he and his battalion were transferred to Somalia
where they fought Shifta rebels. He returned to Kenya in 1952 to fight Mau Mau rebels. That same year he was made a corporal. He was quickly promoted again, and by 1953 had been made a sergeant, and in 1958 he was made sergeant major. The next year he was awarded the rank of Effendi (equivalent to a warrant officer), which was the highest rank that a Black African could obtain at that time. in 1961 he returned to Uganda, and was one of the first Black Africans to become a commissioned officer when he achieved the rank of lieutenant that same year. His rise through the ranks continued meteorically, and by 1964 he had been made Deputy Commander of the Army. 1965 saw his first real controversy as he and then-Prime Minster, Milton Obote, were implicated in a smuggling ring. A call for an inquiry into the matter lead directly to the abolishment of the traditional monarchy, and the centralisation of power around Obote. Amin, meanwhile was promoted to colonel and commander of the army. He began heavy recruitment from the areas around the West Nile, and also lead an assault against the palace of the king, forcing him into exile.
Rise to Power
The relationship between Amin and Obote quickly soured, and only got worse as Amin's popularity with the army and involvement in rebellious activities increased. In late 1970 Obote wrested control of the army from Amin, and started planning to arrest Amin for misappropriating army funds. Amin learned of these plans, however, and seized control of Uganda's government in late January of 1971. He initially claimed that his military junta would control Uganda only until an appropriately elected government could be established, however by the week after the takeover he had declared himself the President of Uganda, as well as assigning himself the control of the army. He quickly repealed parts of the Ugandan constitution and reorganized the governmental system to reflect the only experience that he'd ever had- the military system. This included elevating the military tribunal to the highest court of law, and establishing control of the country in a series of scattered bunkers throughout the country. He immediately disbanded the previous intelligence agency, the General Service Unit, and replaced it with the State Research Bureau, which became the seat of state terror and torture that Amin operated throughout his rule.
By summer of 1971 he had already begun, or allowed, ethnic purges throughout Uganda, mainly against the Lango and Acholi ethnic groups, who were most strongly associated with Obote. Purges were soon turned against a wide variety of groups, including journalists, homosexuals and foreign nationals, among many others. In 1972 he radically altered foreign policy in order to receive military and economic support from Muammar Gaddafi
. Also in 1972, and at the behest of Gaddafi, he expelled all Asians in Uganda, some 80,000 people. This caused the severance of diplomatic relationships with India
. This was followed by a souring relationships with Israel
, due again to the influence of Gaddafi. He also became close to the various Communist
countries, mainly East Germany
and Soviet Russia
. He began nationalising much of Uganda's businesses, most of them seized from Asians forced from the country. Most were woefully mismanaged and driven completely into the ground. Those exports that were profitable were used mainly to profit the army, which Amin continued to grow exponentially and treat exceedingly well, mainly due to his paranoia that the army might revolt against him. By 1973 his increasingly erratic behaviour was concerning enough that the United States closed their embassy in Uganda. In 1976 he allowed the hijackers of Air France Flight 139 to land in Uganda. All non-Jewish passengers were soon released, but all those who were Jewish or held Israeli passports were kept hostage, as well as a number of people who refused to leave the other captives. These hostages were rescued by an Israeli force, much to the anger and humiliation of Amin, who retaliated by ordering the murder of a 75-year-old hostage who had been sent to a Ugandan hospital due to ill health. This lead to Britain
severing diplomatic relationships in 1977. His government, meanwhile, was stagnant. He had no particular gift for statecraft, and was erratic, paranoid and quick to anger. His systems were inefficient, and most of his government ministers were corrupt or too frightened of making the wrong decision and provoking his ire to do anything of any real effect within the government. He wielded terroristic power through the State Research Bureau, which was responsible for thousands of mysterious deaths and disappearances of people who opposed Amin's rule, or who were merely perceived as opposing him.
Fall from Power
By 1978 his power and support had dwindled notably. His government and country were collapsing, and in late 1978 his army began to revolt against him. He accused the President of Tanzania
, where many of the rebellious troops fled and where Milton Obote had fled following his exile, of waging war against Uganda. In response the President, Julius Nyerere, formally declared war against Uganda in January of 1979. His army crumbled before the Tanzanian force, which was backed by many Ugandan expatriates who had been forced from Uganda by Amin. By early April of 1979 the capital of Uganda, Kampala, had been captured.
Amin fled to Libya
, remaining there for only a year before travelling to Saudi Arabia
, where he remained for the rest of his life. The Saudi royal family granted him asylum in the country and payed him handsomely to remain out of politics. He refused to express remorse for his oppressive regime, and frequently expressed the belief that his rule was necessary for the continuation of Uganda. To this end he attempted to return to Uganda in 1989, but only reached Zaire
before he was forced back to Saudi Arabia. In 2003 he fell into a coma due to kidney failure. One of his wives attempted to gain entry for him into Uganda, as it was his wish to spend the end of his life in his home country. The President of Uganda warned that, should he enter the country, he would be made to answer for all of the atrocities committed by his regime. He died in Saudi Arabia on August 16th, 2003.
Idi Amin was a polygamist and had at least six wives, three of whom he divorced. It is unknown precisely how many children he had, estimates vary between 30 and 45. When he was deposed, his official, and self-bestowed, title was "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular"
In Other Media
Idi Amin has appeared in many books, documentaries and films. His most notable recent fictional appearance is in the film The Last King of Scotland
, in which he was portrayed by Forest Whitaker. Amin himself appeared in some documentaries, notably the French documentary General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait
, in which he expressed many of his eccentric views regarding the operation of his country, foreign relations and other matters. Many books have described his regime, notably State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin
, which was published in 1977 and marked the first insider exposé of the true horrors of Amin's regime.