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In any country there must be people who have to die. They are the sacrifices any nation has to make to achieve law and order.
~ Idi Amin, quoted in Morrow's International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations, 1982.

Idi Amin Dada (1924 - August 16th, 2003) was the military dictator and third President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979. Known by the nicknames the Butcher of Uganda and the Wild Man of Africa, he is widely considered to be one of the most brutal and murderous dictators in world history.


Early life

The exact details of Amin's birth and childhood are unclear, since he never spoke of such matters himself publically and no official written accounts of his life were published; as such, there are discrepancies regarding when and where he was born. Most biographical sources claim that he was born in either Koboko or Kampala around 1925. Other unconfirmed sources state Amin's year of birth from as early as 1923 to as late as 1928. Amin's son Hussein has stated that his father was born in Kampala in 1928.

According to Fred Guweddeko, a researcher at Makerere University, Amin was the son of Andreas Nyabire (1889–1976). Nyabire, a member of the Kakwa ethnic group, converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam in 1910 and changed his name to Amin Dada. He named his first-born son after himself. Abandoned by his father at a young age, Idi Amin grew up with his mother's family in a rural farming town in north-western Uganda. Guweddeko states that Amin's mother was Assa Aatte (1904–1970), an ethnic Lugbara and a traditional herbalist who treated members of Buganda royalty, among others.

Serving in the Colonial Army

Amin joined an Islamic school in Bombo in 1941. After a few years, he left school with only a fourth-grade English-language education, and did odd jobs before being recruited to the army by a British colonial army officer, joining the King's African Rifles in 1946, serving in Somalia to fight in the Shift War and later in Kenya to fight in the Mau Mau Uprising in 1952.

Amin would very quickly rise through the ranks in the Colonial Army, attaining the rank of lieutenant in 1961, one of the first Ugandans to hold such a rank. After Uganda gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, he received a series of promotions within Uganda's post-colonial army, rising to Commander of the Army in 1965 and being appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces five years later. Amin began building up the Ugandan military by recruiting members of the Kakwa, Lugbara, South Sudanese, and other ethnic groups from the West Nile area bordering South Sudan.

President of Uganda

Eventually a rift developed between Amin and President Milton Obote, exacerbated by the support Amin had built within the army by recruiting from the West Nile region, his involvement in operations to support the rebellion in southern Sudan and an attempt on Obote's life in 1969. In October 1970, Obote took control of the armed forces, reducing Amin from his months-old post of commander of all the armed forces to that of commander of the army.

Having learned that Obote was planning to arrest him for misappropriating army funds, Amin seized power in a military coup on 25 January 1971, while Obote was attending a Commonwealth summit meeting in Singapore. Troops loyal to Amin sealed off Entebbe International Airport and took Kampala. Soldiers surrounded Obote's residence and blocked major roads. A broadcast on Radio Uganda accused Obote's government of corruption and preferential treatment of the Lango region. Cheering crowds were reported in the streets of Kampala after the radio broadcast. Amin formally declared himself President of Uganda a week later, suspending certain provisions of the Ugandan constitution, and soon instituted an Advisory Defence Council composed of military officers with himself as the chairman. Amin placed military tribunals above the system of civil law, appointed soldiers to top government posts and parastatal agencies, and informed the newly inducted civilian cabinet ministers that they would be subject to military discipline.

During his years in power, Amin shifted in allegiance from being a pro-Western ruler enjoying considerable Israeli support, to being backed by Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, the Soviet Union and East Germany. His alienation of Israel could possibly be attributed to the ancient feud between Islam and Judaism (Amin was a Muslim.) He became increasingly anti-semetic as his rule continued, expelling all Israeli military advisors from Uganda in 1972. He also sent a telegram to Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir praising Adolf Hitler and essentially saying that the Holocaust deserved to happen because Jews were untrustworthy.

In 1975 – 1976, Amin became the Chairman of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), a pan-Africanist organization designed to promote solidarity of the African states that served as the predecessor to the modern-day African Union (AU). During the 1977 – 1979 period, Uganda was a member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. In 1977, when Britain broke diplomatic relations with Uganda, Amin declared he had defeated the British and added "CBE", for "Conqueror of the British Empire", to his title. Radio Uganda then announced his entire title: "His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Alhaji Dr. Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE".

During his term as the ruler of Uganda, he helped destroy the nation's economy and reduce its population. According to the estimates of exile organizations and Amnesty International, approximately 500,000 Ugandans were murdered under Amin. He ordered the expulsion of Uganda's Asian population (which he claimed that he was ordered to do in a vision from God), numbering about 60,000, which resulted in the collapse of the economy as Uganda's Asian community made up a large share of its professional and middle classes. Amin's inept rule resulted in an influx of refugees into Britain, which led to increased racial tensions during the 1970s and rising support for the National Front.

His main policy for the country (outside of personal aggrandizement) was an attempt to convert the population to Islam. This attempt failed because of his methods, which included assassinating an archbishop, not normally considered a wise move in a Christian country. He also practiced polygamy and fathered an estimated 45 to 54 children, and there were persistent rumors he also engaged in cannibalism, although nothing concrete was ever proven.


By 1978, the number of Amin's supporters and close associates had shrunk significantly, and he faced increasing dissent from the populace within Uganda as the economy and infrastructure collapsed as a result of the years of neglect and abuse. After the killings of Bishop Luwum and ministers Oryema and Oboth Ofumbi in 1977, several of Amin's ministers defected or fled into exile. In November 1978, after Amin's vice president, General Mustafa Adrisi, was injured in a car crash, troops loyal to him mutinied. Amin sent troops against the mutineers, some of whom had fled across the Tanzanian border. Amin accused Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere of waging war against Uganda, and ordered the invasion of Tanzanian territory, formally annexing a section of Kagera.

In January 1979, Nyerere mobilised the Tanzania People's Defence Force and counterattacked, joined by several groups of Ugandan exiles who had united as the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). Amin's army retreated steadily, and, despite military help from Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, Amin was forced to flee into exile by helicopter on 11 April 1979, when Kampala was captured. He escaped first to Libya, where he stayed until 1980, and ultimately settled in Saudi Arabia, where the Saudi royal family allowed him sanctuary and paid him a generous subsidy in return for staying out of politics. He remained in Saudi Arabia for the rest of his life until he died from kidney failure in July 2003.


  • Amin's tyrannical rule was dramatized in the 2008 film The Last King of Scotland, where he is portrayed by Forest Whitaker. Whitaker would win an Academy Award for his portrayal of Amin.
  • After Amin's death, David Owen revealed that when he was the British Foreign Secretary, he had proposed having Amin assassinated. He has defended this, arguing: "I'm not ashamed of considering it, because his regime goes down in the scale of Pol Pot as one of the worst of all African regimes".
  • Because Amin never attended school past fourth grade, he was severely illiterate for most of his life. A Colonial Army officer once described him as "virtually bone from the neck up, and needs things explained in words of one letter."
  • Amin was close friends with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat; Arafat served as Amin's best man during his third wedding.
  • During his time in the King's African Rifles, Amin was also a champion boxer and reigned as Uganda's light heavyweight boxing champion from 1951 to 1960. He was also reportedly an expert swimmer and an excellent rugby player.
  • As a teenager, Amin could recite the Qur'an word for word, which he once won an award for.
  • Amin reportedly kept the severed heads of people he had killed (including one of his wives and several of his top generals) in his freezer as trophies.
  • Milton Obote, the man that Amin deposed, once described him as "the greatest brute that an African mother brought to life."


You cannot run faster than a bullet.
Politics is like boxing. You try to knock out your opponents


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