Uganda under Idi Amin Dada: 1971-1979 - Uganda under Idi Amin Dada: 1971-1979

Uganda under President Amin quickly became a military dictatorship which was, in effect, governed from a collection of military barracks scattered across the country, where battalion commanders, acting like local warlords, represented the coercive arm of the government. The Ugandan General Service Unit (GSU), an intelligence agency created by the previous government, was disbanded and replaced by the Ugandan State Research Bureau (SRB). SRB headquarters at Nakasero became the scene of torture and executions over the next couple of years.

Despite its outward display of a military chain of command, Amin’s government was arguably more consumed with rivalries, regional divisions, and ethnic politics than the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) coalition that it had replaced. The army itself was an arena of lethal competition, in which losers were usually eliminated. Within the officer corps, those trained in Britain opposed those trained in Israel, and both stood against the untrained, who soon eliminated many of the army’s most experienced officers. In 1971 and 1972, the Lugbara and Kakwa (Amin’s ethnic group) from the West Nile were slaughtering northern Acholi and Langi, who were identified with Obote. Then the Kakwa fought the Lugbara. Amin came to rely on Nubians and on former Anyanya rebels from southern Sudan. Amin recruited his followers from his own tribe, the Kakwas, along with Sudanese and Nubians. By 1977, these three groups formed 60% of the 22 top generals and 75% of the cabinet. Similarly, Muslims formed 80% and 87.5% of these groups even though they were only 5% of the population. This helps explain why Amin survived eight attempted coups. The Ugandan army grew from 10,000 to over 25,000 by 1978. Amin’s army was largely a mercenary force. Half the soldiers were Sudanese, 26% Congolese, only 24% were Ugandan, mostly Muslim and Kakwa.

Idi Amin`s Association with Muammar Gaddafi and the Soviet Union – 1972

Amin never forgot the source of his power. He spent much of his time rewarding, promoting, and manipulating the officers and soldiers of the Ugandan army. Financing his ever-increasing military expenditures was a continuing concern. Early in 1972, he reversed foreign policy to secure financial and military aid from Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Amin expelled the remaining Israeli advisers, to whom he was much indebted, and became anti-Israel. To induce foreign aid from Saudi Arabia, he rediscovered his previously neglected Islamic heritage. He also commissioned the construction of a great mosque on Kampala Hill in the capital city, but it was completed in 2008 because during his rule because much of the money intended for it was embezzled.  Following his foreign policy reversal in 1972, the Soviet Union became Amin’s largest arms supplier. East Germany helped to build Amin’s secret police. During the Tanzanian invasion in 1979, East Germany attempted to remove evidence about its involvement.

Idi Amin Expels all Asians from Uganda – 1972

In August 1972, Amin gave most of Uganda’s 80,000 Asians, most of whom were the descendants of indentured servants and other laborers from India, 90 days to leave the country, and seized their property, homes and businesses. At the time of the expulsion, there were approximately 80,000 individuals of South Asian descent in Uganda, of whom 23,000 had had their applications for citizenship both processed and accepted. Although the latter were ultimately exempted from the expulsion, many chose to leave voluntarily. The expulsion took place against a backdrop of Indophobia in Uganda, with Amin accusing a minority of the Asian population of disloyalty, non-integration and commercial malpractice, claims Indian leaders disputed. Amin defended the expulsion by arguing that he was giving Uganda back to the ethnic Ugandan.

Although Amin proclaimed that the “common man” was the beneficiary of this drastic act which proved immensely popular in Uganda and most of Africa it was actually the Ugandan army that emerged with the houses, cars, and businesses of the departing Asian minority. This expropriation of foreign property proved disastrous for the already declining economy. With the economy now run by Ugandan army officers and supporters (many of whom had no experience in how to run a business), all of the local businesses and stores were soon run into the ground from mismanagement and abuse of power, cement factories at Tororo and Fort Portal collapsed from lack of maintenance and neglect, and sugar production ground to a halt as unmaintained machinery jammed permanently. Uganda’s export crops were sold by government parastatals, but most of the foreign currency they earned went for purchasing weapons and imports for the army. Amin later justified his rewarding and doting on the Ugandan army by quoting an old African proverb, which summed up to Amin’s treatment of his army: “A dog with a bone in its mouth can’t bite.”

Palestinian Hijackers of Air France Flight 139 – 1976

Amin attempted to establish ties with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine External Operations in June 1976, when he offered the Palestinian hijackers of an Air France flight from Tel Aviv a protected base at the old airport at Entebbe, from which to press their demands in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages. The dramatic rescue of the hostages by Israeli commandos was a severe blow to Amin. Humiliated, he retaliated against an elderly hostage 75-year-old Dora Bloch who was hospitalized in poor health at the time of the raid and was left behind. Bloch was kidnapped from her hospital bed and killed on Amin’s orders, along with the entire civilian staff of Entebbe airport.

Idi Amin’s eight years’ rule produced economic decline, social disintegration, and massive human rights violations. In 1978, the International Commission of Jurists estimated that more than 100,000 Ugandans had been murdered during Amin’s reign of terror; some authorities place the figure as high as 300,000–a statistic cited at the end of the 2006 movie “The Last King of Scotland”, which chronicled part of Amin’s dictatorship.

A border altercation involving Ugandan exiles camped close to the Ugandan border of Mutukula resulted in an advance by the Ugandan army into Tanzania. In October 1978, Tanzanian armed forces countered an incursion of Amin’s troops into Tanzanian territory. The Tanzanian army, backed by Ugandan exiles waged a war of liberation against Amin’s troops and the Libyan soldiers sent to help him. On 11 April 1979, Kampala was captured, and Amin fled with his remaining forces

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