by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (March 29th 2015)
Ugandans had suffered bestial regimes before and since. Like Caligula before him, the late and unlamented dictator Idi Amin enjoyed a brief honeymoon period in Uganda and even elsewhere. Aminʼs name is now a byword for corruption and brutality. According to human rights organisations between 100,000 to half a million Ugandans were slaughtered during his eight-year reign of terror.
In January 1971 Amin was welcomed as a liberator, when his coup against the President was announced. But Amin had flourished under his predecessor Milton Obote until the second President of Uganda turned on his military commander, demoting him to army commander. The coup dʼétat occurred when Amin heard that Obote intended to have him arrested. While Obote was out of the country at a Commonwealth Heads of State summit in Singapore, Amin pounced.
He said that he was a soldier, not a politician and had no intention of clinging to power. Amin told the Ugandan people that he would call elections as soon as the situation was normalised. He also promised to release all political prisoners.
Little did Ugandans know at the time that they had replaced one dictator for another – a worse one, but few shed tears for Obote. The deposed President was far from an angel. After an assassination attempt in 1969 Obote declared a State of Emergency. Repression, torture and jailing of dissidents transformed Obote into a dictator, ripe for overthrow. Obote had given his former protégé the pretext he needed.
Obote’s policies contributed to the economic malaise. The government took majority stakes in banks and businesses, but without tackling rampant corruption. The persecution of Indian traders – a policy adopted by Amin, who expelled them from Uganda – contributed to the economic quagmire and political crisis. Political persecution and repression destroyed his popularity – Obote was on borrowed time. It ran out in January 1971.