Just five years ago, a new and controversial figure burst on to the international scene - General (now Field Marshal) Idi Amin.
Just five years ago, a new and controversial figure burst on to the international scene - General (now Field Marshal) Idi Amin. He seized power in Uganda on January 25th, 1971, while the then President, Milton Obote, was away in Singapore attending a conference of Commonwealth leaders. Two weeks later, he was formally sworn in.
Idi Amin was every inch of his 6 ft. 4 ins. (1-93 metres) a professional soldier. Before Uganda became independent in 1962, he had served sixteen years with a British regiment, the King's African Rifles. His British officers thought highly of him; he was a keen roughly player and for nine years heavyweight boxing champion of Uganda; he was one of two Ugandans commissioned shortly before independence. Afterwards, he rose rapidly in rank, to be Major-General and Commander of the Ugandan Armed Forces by 1968.
Under suspicion of misappropriating public funds, he learned in 1971 that President Obote was about to have him arrested. With the backing of the Army, he made his coup.
It was popular with the majority of the Ugandan people; so was the decision the following year to expel about 40,000 Asians from Uganda who had retained British citizenship. His grounds were that the Asians had failed to integrate themselves into Uganda, and were exploiting the country economically. Many of them were successful traders and businessmen, and an object of envy to the African Ugandans. The unexpectedness of President Amin's announcement, and the short time he allowed -- three months -- for the resettlement of so many people, caused embarrassment to the British Government. At a diplomatic lunch in Kampala the President had this to say:
Despite his protestations of friendship, his relations with the former colonial power have continued to be unpredictable, sometimes stormy. Three years later, came another incident, involving the writer, Denis Hills. Mr. Hills had described President Amin in a book as "a village tyrant". He was found guilty of treason, and the President threatened to have him executed. Appeals to spare Mr. Hills' life came from President Kenyatta, and from Queen Elizabeth -- the latter being brought by two British officers, one of whom had been the President's Company Commander in his British army days. President Amin, after welcoming the officers as old friends and receiving them in his home, accused them of arrogance and a "colonial mentality". Eventually, however, on the intervention of President Mobutu of Zaire, he released Mr. Hills.
Many Ugandans have been less fortunate. There have been inter-tribal massacres within the army, which the President has either permitted or been unable to prevent. A number of prominent Ugandans, including the Chief Justice, Mr. Benedicto Kiwanuka, have disappeared. The International Commission of Jurists published a report alleging that they had been murdered by the army.
In July of last year, it was Uganda's turn to be host to the summit conference of the Organisation of African Unity, and President Amin's turn to be its Chairman for the year. It was reported at the time that some other African leaders were sufficiently concerned about his international standing (it was just after the Hills case) to be considering nominating someone else.
In the event, President Amin was elected Chairman in the normal way. He has since had the task of presiding over the difficult summit meeting this month in Addis Ababa, where the organisation was split in half over what to do about the warring political movements in Angola. He urged his colleagues to a policy of caution.
On a more personal note, President Amin married again last year. She was a nineteen year old girl called Sarah, who had been his co-driver in a car rally held to celebrate the O.A.U. summit in Kampala. She is his fifth wife. As a Moslem, he is allowed four, but is separated from three of them.
President Amin gives every appearance of enjoying the ceremony and trappings of power. He has the loyalty of the army he created, and a shrewd instinct for the political move that will be popular with the great majority of Ugandans. Like many another military ruler, he has stated that he looks forward to returning power in the unspecified future to a civilian regime. Back in 1972, he saw it happening this way:
SYNOPSIS: General Idi Amin, as he then was, shortly after he had seized power in Uganda in the absence of President Obote abroad. Learning that he was about to be arrested, he rallied the Army to him and struck.
The following year, he announced his decision to expel about forty thousand Asians living in Uganda who were British citizens. He said they had not integrated and were exploiting the country.
The announcement came as a shock to the British Government and -- despite the President's apparently cordial relations with the High Commissioner -- as an embarrassment. President Amin had only allowed three months for the resettlement of such a large number of people.
He had the British in difficulties again with his threat to execute the writer Denis Hills for treason. He accused the two British officers who brought him a message from Queen Elizabeth of arrogance and a "colonial mentality".
Last year, by rotation, he became Chairman of the Organisation of African Unity, and President Siad Barre of Somalia handed over the gavel to him.
Soon after the Kampala summit, President Amin married again -- a nineteen-year-old girl called Sarah, who had been his co-driver in the O.A.U. car rally. He had four wives -- as allowed by his Moslem religion -- but was separated from three of them.
President Amin appears to enjoy the ceremony of his position, and relies on the support and loyalty of the army he has created. He also has a shrewd instinct for the political move that will be popular with the great majority of Ugandans. Like many another military ruler, he has said he looks forward to returning power at some unspecified time to a civilian regime.