“I am not a politician but a professional soldier. I am therefore a man of few words and I have been brief throughout my professional career.” Those were the first recorded words of Idi Amin Dada after he seized power in a military coup d’état in Uganda in January 1971. Since then, it seems, he has hardly stopped talking.
From a private in the cookhouse of the colonial King’s African Rifles, Amin has become a self-appointed field marshal. His giant frame, six feet four inches and 240 pounds, seems to bend under the weight of a chest full of medals, including the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order, and Military Cross, all self-awarded. He has applauded Hitler’s extermination of six million Jews and once declared his intention to build a monument to the Nazi leader. While threatening to attack neighboring Tanzania he has talked of his love of President Julius Nyerere, and said he would marry him if he was not a man. To an ex-finance minister who warned him that Uganda was on the brink of bankruptcy because of excessive military spending, Amin simply barked, “Well, print more money.”
Amin, in characteristic manner, has taken African belief in the occult to ridiculous lengths. A Ghanaian mystic, who claimed he could raise people from the dead, was flown to Uganda by Amin, who subsequently claimed he had talked to a man the Ghanaian had resurrected. Amin said that his decision to expel the Asians and launch his so-called “Economic War” had come to him in dreams, and when a journalist sarcastically asked him if he often had such dreams, Amin blandly replied, “Only when necessary.”
His unending stream of idiocies has made him a comic figure to much of the white world. A “gentle giant” was one of the earliest descriptions in the Western press of the one-time Ugandan heavyweight boxing champion. “Idi was a splendid chap, though a bit short on the gray matter,” observed one of his former British colonial officers.
The truth is that there was never anything splendid or gentle about “Big Daddy.” Perhaps it takes an experience like the expulsion of 40,000 Asians or the disappearance and certain death of the Israeli hijack hostage, Mrs. Dora Bloch, to wake up the West to the realities of Amin. In Uganda, where at least 100,000 people have been savagely butchered since he came to power, the reality has long been known.
Amin was born in Koboko County, the smallest in Uganda’s West Nile district, which roughly encompasses his 50,000-member Kakwa tribe. His father was a Kakwa who had spent much of his life in the southern Sudan, and his mother was from the neighboring and ethnically related Lugbara tribe. These tribes are often described as Sudanic-Nubian, and the earliest members of them in Uganda came south as mercenaries in the colonial conquests of the region. They brought with them the Islamic faith, and Amin, like his parents, became a Muslim. The …
Copyright © The Observer, 1976.
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.