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The atrocities of Idi Amin Dada

– He died in August, 2003. But his ghost is still haunting the world.

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Ugandan President Milton Obote was in Singapore for the Commonwealth Conference in 1971 when Idi Amin staged a military coup to proclaim himself President, and chief of the armed forces. He is associated with terms like “chaos”, “brutal regime”, “crimes against humanity”, “mass killings”, “economic collapse”, “madman”, “Killer of Kampala”, “unbalanced man”, and “Butcher”. This article focuses on his atrocities for the benefit of the young generation who may not know much about the despot. The material is drawn from “State of Blood” by Henry Kyemba, Corgi Books, Transworld Publishers Ltd., London, 1977.


On taking power, he was regarded as a hero. He took some popular measures like releasing a number of prisoners. He promised a school here, a road there. His countrymen saw in him a ray of hope but little did they know that behind them, in the barracks, Obote’s supporters were being killed with rifle butts and bottles. It’s said that an enemy’s head was sent to Amin who “kept it in his refrigerator overnight” (page 44). Many were shot and slashed. His hatred for his opponents made him compel one of them to scrub the floor “a quarter of an inch deep in blood” and needing six hours to clean.

He showed no sympathy for rival ethnic groups. Two officers are blown up and others are bayoneted and dumped into the Nile. Soldiers and civilians fleeing into Sudan to join Obote are summarily executed. One police bandmaster has his skull “smashed in with a club” (p 48) for reporting to the ex-President that Amin was planning to kill him. On December 29, 1971, 45 officers and about 250 non-commissioned officers are “slaughtered” (p 48).

His victims are “run over by tanks” (p 50). One has his genitals cut off, and is paraded in the streets and then dismembered. One massacre leads to another. And he no longer has people killed by the score but by hundreds. Truckloads of corpses are disposed of in the Nile but the bodies are swept to the bank for public view. Afraid for themselves and for their families, those close to Amin remain quiet. They know things are worsening but fear paralyses them. They’re condemned to witness cruelties helplessly. One day his Foreign Minister is beaten up in the street in his daughter’s presence. Later we discover he had been shot and stabbed, “his head had been battered in and some ribs broken by a heavy, blunt instrument” (p 104). His barbarisms know no bounds: bodies dumped in mortuaries are “terribly mutilated, with livers, noses, lips, genitals or eyes missing” (p 108). Amin’s killers do this on his specific instructions. A foreign officer is “skinned”. The real news never reaches the public. What people get from the official media is distorted by Amin’s men.


When you take power, you must use it in your country’s interest and you must do everything to improve your countrymen’s standard of living.  Misuse of power destroys a nation. People get disillusioned. Living in fear and anxiety doesn’t motivate. A good leader respects the women of his country but we see Amin’s thugs humiliating young student nurses by forcing them to undress and walk around to be viewed. They’re then raped. “The men kept telling their friends to come and help themselves to the nurses.” (p 123). It’s simply revolting. No action is taken against the men because they’re protected. Amin is the opposite of good leadership. He allows his men to carry assaults on human lives. He’s the wolf behind the uniform. A man who has no control over himself and over his troops, what control can he have over his country’s destiny?

When the Head himself is corrupted, what do you expect from his goons? A student is killed while they attempt to rape his girlfriend; a pregnant woman is murdered; during a demonstration (August 8, 1976), students are “beaten, many women are raped, both by soldiers and the police”, and they force a woman to crawl on bare knees on concrete (p 127); Amin has his ex-wife Kay killed and dismembered for, apparently, taking a lover after her divorce. He beats wife Medina even if she’s pregnant. Dora Bloch, an elderly woman left behind during the hijacking of a French plane, is grabbed by her arms and “frogmarched down three flights of stairs” (p 174) and publicly murdered. A newspaper photographer who saw her body is “riddled with bullets and lacerated by knife wounds” (p 177).

The New York Times carries an article by John Darnton (Nov. 6, 1977) in which he cites a compilation of reports entitled “Uganda and Human Rights” submitted to the UN Commission on Human Rights by The International Commission of Jurists in which we learn that “Prisoners are immersed in holes filled with cold water. Their heads are placed inside car tire rims while they are whipped, a practice the guards call ‘giving them tea’. Officers cut off their organs one by one or slash open their bellies with machetes and reach in to pull out their intestines.” In The Guardian (August 18, 2003) Patrick Kentley recounts how his lawyer friend was “doubled up in the boot of a partly burned car, his throat cruelly bound with razor wire”.          

The irony is that the savagery lasted for 8 long years, and no one, especially established international organisations, could do anything to stop it. Amin never paid for his human rights abuses, ethnic persecution and notorious crimes. Why?

We’ve had other despots and tyrants. Were they happy despite their power? Pol Pot, communist leader of Cambodia, executed 2.5 million people because they didn’t agree with his ideals. He died of heart failure. Hitler eliminated 17 million people only to commit suicide in the end. Josef Stalin killed 10 million in the Soviet Union. He died of cerebral haemorrhage. Mao Zedong took the lives of about 45 million.  Heart attack finally got him. Vladimir Lenin got rid of millions and he himself died of stroke. Kim Jong II, said to be responsible for the death of millions of North Koreans, succumbed to heart attack. Saddam Hussein ruthlessly eliminated 2 million people to obtain a humiliating execution. Idi Amin murdered between 300,000 and 500,000. Syphilis, gout and kidney failure finished him.

Idi Amin [Hulton Archive/Getty Images]
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