Exile and Tyranny

The Birth of a Tyrant
March 8, 2015
The Honeymoon of the Tyrant
March 29, 2015

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (March 29th 2015)


Millton Obote had sewn the seeds of his own downfall. His first reign had seen the promise of independence, achieved by Uganda on October 9th 1962, give way to one-party rule. Obote outmanoeuvred the Kabaka Yekka and the Democratic Party before turning on dissenters in his own party the Uganda Peopleʼs Congress. He ruled by decree and concentrated more and more power in his own hands.

Paranoia was mixed in with real fears. Serious assassination attempts failed to claim his life. The repression, torture and jailing of opponents was followed by banning other parties and further imprisonment and violation of basic human rights. Meanwhile, the economy stagnated. Obote distrusted his military protégé Idi Amin with good cause, even before Amin made his grab for power.

Nevertheless, Obote failed to realise the extent of his unpopularity and the danger it posed. He left for a summit meeting of Heads of State in the Commonwealth in Singapore in January 1971. On January 25th 1971 Obote was deposed.

Honeymoon and Exile

Like Caligula before him Idi Amin enjoyed a honeymoon period. Obote had described himself as a socialist. His policies were unpopular both inside Uganda and in the West. Britain, the former colonial power was accused of complicity in Aminʼs coup. Amin was portrayed as a buffoon – humorous even – but that hid a darker truth. Amin was a sociopath.

However, Oboteʼs unpopularity led to Amin being welcomed as a liberator. He assured Ugandans that he was not interested in power. He was a soldier not a politician. He would restore democracy as soon as possible. But Amin quickly grew to like the taste of power.

Obote, meanwhile, had to get used to a new reality. He wasnʼt Ugandaʼs ʻkingʼ any more. He could not brook dissent let alone opposition. His hubris had brought him and more importantly his country and people to disaster, but still Obote could see specks in the eyes of others, but not the mote in his own.

His friend, the Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere, gave him asylum. He was joined by supporters and prepared for a triumphant return once Ugandans and the world realised that Idi Amin was far more than a buffoon, he was a despot – one of the worst tyrants Africa had ever produced. But that would take almost a decade and would owe more to Aminʼs greater hubris than to Oboteʼs skilful leadership.

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