As we continue our journey through the crazy things that dictators have done, it may sometimes seem like a descent into madness. Although there’s really no way of knowing what another person is thinking, it’s clear from the actions of some of these dictators that they had truly flipped their lids. Or that their lids were never on very tightly from the start.
That is the case of our next dictator—Idi Amin, otherwise known as the “Butcher of Uganda.”
There’s absolutely so much crazy sh*t Amin did that it could take up an entire book: from switching from pro-Western to pro-Soviet political sympathies to targeting his country’s ethnic Indian population for persecution, there’s no shortage of crazy policies Amin enacted that hurt his rule and his country. In the end, Amin’s policies led to the deaths of up to 500,000 people in Uganda, and countless others were beaten, tortured, and raped.
But as truly awful as Amin’s brutality was, even crazier were some of the other things he said and did while President of Uganda.
Amin actually claimed to be the “conqueror of the British Empire” and specifically the King of Scotland. He also gave himself an honorary law degree, although he never studied the law, and was always seen in public wearing aviator sunglasses and a military uniform festooned with medals.
The only problem was he never earned any of those medals.
Amin even considered erecting a statue of Adolf Hitler in the capital city of Kampala before he was driven out of power in 1979.
Idi Amin would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that he was responsible for so many deaths. Unlike many of the dictators in this book, Amin was said to have personally taken part in torture sessions and relished the activities.
The Army Cook
Idi Amin was not exceptional in any way. He wasn’t good looking by Ugandan standards and he certainly wasn’t an intellectual or even what most people would consider intelligent. He was, though, very lucky, and luck is often enough to win the day.
Idi Amin was born Idi Amin Dada Oumee, probably in 1925, in the Protectorate of Uganda, which was part of the British Empire. Little is known about his early life other than that he joined the British Colonial Army as a cook, where through the luck of history, he was able to advance quickly in the ranks.
When Uganda achieved independence in 1962, the army was in desperate need of men with military backgrounds, so Amin filled the void and was made an officer.
Despite his otherwise less than stellar qualities, Amin did have some athletic talent and he proved to be an excellent networker. He made connections with several important people, from different tribes and ethnic groups across Uganda who he would use when the military removed the president through a coup d’état in 1971.
The world soon found out just how crazy a dictator can be!
Uganda’s Descent into Insanity
As soon as Amin was proclaimed president, it became painfully obvious to everyone that he was a special kind of crazy. He staffed the most important government and military positions with people from his Kakwa ethnic group, South Sudanese, whom he saw as loyal, and mercenaries from other parts of Africa.
Admin then earned his nickname “The Machete.”
He persecuted ethnic groups that didn’t support him, reserving special vitriol for the nation’s 60,000 people of Indian and Pakistani descent. Amin argued that since many of those people were dual passport holders, they could not be trusted, so they were stripped of their property and “asked” to leave the country. As they did, many of the women were brutally raped by soldiers.
By 1972, Amin’s instability was on full display for the world, which caused the United Kingdom, the United States, and several other Western powers to withdraw their support from the dictator. But doing so only pushed Amin into the Soviet sphere of influence and seemed to make him act even more erratic.
It was after 1972 that he began making the crazy claims about being the King of Scotland and winning all sorts of medals. It was also then that his brutality reached a new level, as he targeted both political and personal opponents.
The large and boisterous Amin always had a smile on his face, even—or especially—when others were suffering. He had the Bishop of the Anglican Church in Uganda assassinated and left on the side of a road for all to see.
And the warning was well-received by many.
But Amin’s insanity and paranoia continued to grow and as it did he became more erratic and crueler.
He was said to enjoy killing his own government ministers by feeding them to the crocodiles in Lake Victoria.
Then there were the accusations of cannibalism. Amin was said to have used his culinary skills from the military to prepare dishes made from the flesh of his enemies. When New York Times reporter Ricardo Orizio asked Amin about the cannibalism accusations, he replied, “I don’t like human flesh. It’s too salty for me.”
After starting an ill-fated war with neighboring Tanzania, Amin was forced to flee in exile on April 11, 1979. He died in Saudi Arabia on August 16, 2003, at the age of 78.
Idi Amin is remembered today as one of the most brutal and craziest dictators of the 20th century.
Did You Know?
- Amin had at least six wives and was married to three concurrently. Two of his former wives died under suspicious circumstances, with one being dismembered, and the whereabouts of a third remains unknown.
- PLO leader Yasser Arafat was the best man at Amin’s wedding to Sarah Kyolaba in 1975. Her former boyfriend fled to Kenya and later disappeared.
- Amin had more than 50 children!
- Another bizarre thing that Amin was said to have done was to have white businessmen in Uganda carry him in his chair as if it were a palanquin.
- Idi Amin has been played by several different actors, including Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland (2006), which won the American actor an Oscar.