by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (March 29th 2015)
Crimes Against Humanity
In January 1971 Idi Amin, the Commander of the Army overthrew the President Milton Obote. Amin was greeted as a liberator at first, but behind the buffoonery, a vicious tyrant ruled with bestial cruelty. Estimates on the casualties vary from at least 100000 to almost half a million during Aminʼs killing fields.
Milton Obote had been deposed and was in exile in Tanzania. His supporters joined him there. Ugandan Asians were fortunate, if that is the right word. Their businesses and savings were seized and they were expelled – many came to Britain, but the nightmare to come eclipsed their suffering. Africans paid with their lives, but the solution, albeit a temporary one was African in origin too.
Amin was not satisfied with murder. The bodies of victims such as Godfrey Kigala, among others were savagely mutilated after death. The price of opposition was very high indeed – even higher than under his former mentor Milton Obote. The bodies of Aminʼs victims were cut open and internal organs used and abused.
Amin inherited and revamped the machinery of repression that he inherited from Obote. That machinery was cleansed of Obote loyalists – many were slaughtered after being imprisoned by Amin – and then utilised to maintain the terror. Torture, murder, disappearances and much more were rife in Aminʼs Uganda.
Tanzaniaʼs President had granted asylum to Obote and his supporters and its President Julius Nyerere was Oboteʼs friend. Obote led the opposition and planned a return to power. Meanwhile, Amin grew to like the taste of power, clinging to it for eight years. It had to be prised loose from his grasp, but not before the tyranny resumed. Tales of Aminʼs cruelty are rife.
At first Amin was pro-western, maintaining very friendly relations with Israel. Britain also broke off diplomatic relations in 1977. Relations with his neighbour President Nyerere started badly and got worse. He later shifted his political allegiances, but Ugandaʼs economy stagnated. Relations with Nyerere continued to deteriorate – ultimately that would cost Amin power.
Nyerere would prove to be an obdurate opponent of Amin who contributed in no small measure to the overthrow of Aminʼs bestial regime. So too did Idi Amin himself. On October 9th 1978 Aminʼs troops invaded Tanzania in an attempt to annex the province of Kagera from Ugandaʼs neighbour. It was an insult that Nyerere understandably would not tolerate.
Tanzaniaʼs war aims were limited to the recovery of the seized territory, but Nyerere decided that extending the war aims to overthrow Amin was a ʻJust Warʼ. History has judged Nyerereʼs intervention kindly. After eight months of fighting the Tanzanian army ousted Amin with help from Ugandan guerrillas, including the current President Yoweri Musseveni.
The Winter of the Despot
Their triumph exposed the crimes that the despot had committed. Amin should have been brought to justice at the International Court of Justice. Even with military assistant provided by the then Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, he was overthrown on April 11th 1979. He fled to Libya, remaining there until 1980.
Amin then left Libya for Saudi Arabia and was given asylum and a generous stipend to stay out of politics by Saudi Arabiaʼs King Khalid. Amin never faced trial. Despite his promise, Amin tried and failed to regain power in 1989, ironically being forced to abandon his plans by an even worse despot Joseph Mobutu (Mobutu Sese Seko).
Amin was forced to return to Jeddah. Despite breaking his word, Saudi Arabia took him back. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni refused pleas from one of his wives for him to be allowed to return to Uganda to die. Museveni said that Amin returned he would have to answer for his crimes. Amin died on August 16th 2003. He remains one of the worldʼs most reviled dictators.