Anybody remember Idi Amin? How about his winning combination of populist charm and brutal violence? Starting to ring a few bells? The Butcher of Uganda? No? Let me refresh your memory. At first, Amin worked hard to garner the support of his people. One of his first actions was to undertake a “charm” offensive, traveling throughout Uganda, visiting the towns and villagers who felt left-out or forgotten. He promised them a voice, inclusion along with the best of benefits. Jobs with higher wages and improved working conditions. Improved housing for the poor and working classes. He promised an end to institutional corruption. He would “drain the swamp” of colonial favoritism and privilege. He promised them a true democracy and everything that went along with it. And he promised, and he promised and he promised.
Within a year of his installation Amin had not only re-established his predecessor’s dictatorship, he improved and expanded upon the secret police state and began an eight-year run of terror during which his regime murdered an estimated 100,000-500,000 people with an unknown number of persons imprisoned and/or tortured during the same period.
His buffoonery is legendary. He would walk around in what can only be described as extravagant military dress uniform. He was known to wear toy western-style six-shooters to highlight his “gunslinger” persona who could stand up to the western world. He was barely literate. In addition to the ever popular with dictators President for Life, his fondness for giving himself extravagant titles translated into a movie of the same name “The Last King of Scotland,” a nod to the historical British colonial rule of Uganda. He publicly invited the Queen to come to Uganda if she “wanted a real man.”
He was a boxer. A real pugilist of merit, not a counter-puncher throwing school-yard insults at women. At first, his people admired him for his physical prowess. Perhaps it was his lack of formal education, but soon the Ugandans realized the only way he knew how to hold his position was through his fists. He applied the brutality of his boxing lessons against both his real and perceived rivals.
He had T-shirts made with his face over the slogan “Conqueror of the British Empire.” He was incompetent. He was a megalomaniac. He saw himself as a world class statesman. He tried to give Nixon advice on Watergate. He offered to marry Princess Anne, the only daughter of Elizabeth II. He was irrational.
His racism is legendary. He called himself “a pure son of Africa.” During his years in power he ordered the expulsion of Uganda’s Asian business class bringing economic chaos and famine to his country. He went on record as an admirer of Adolph Hitler. He suggested that all Israelis be moved from the Middle East to Britain. He claimed Hitler’s burning of six million Jews during WWII was justified. He sheltered terrorists, the most famous incident involving a hijacked El Al jet rescued from Entebbe Airport in an Israeli surprise military operation.
His cruelty is legendary. No one laughed in his presence for fear of being hacked to death by one of his many bodyguards. He fed his opponents to crocodiles. He fancied himself a playboy dictator who never hid his sadistic tendencies. He once claimed human flesh was “too salty” for his palate.
On August 17, 2003, Idi Amin died in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where he lived out his last years in exile as a guest of the Royal Saudi Family. He never had a tower named after him. Maybe he didn’t try hard enough.