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THE BUTCHER OF UGENDA, IDI AMIN, PART 1

Background

In the middle of the 1920s, in Uganda, the man who would later become known to history as Idi Amin was born under mysterious circumstances. There are some accounts that place Amin’s year of birth as late as 1928, including a statement made by Amin’s own son Hussein. However, it is highly likely that he was born in either 1923 or 1924. Amin was most likely born in Koboko, which is located in the Muslim-dominated north-western part of the country close to the border with what is now South Sudan. His place of birth is also a matter of debate; however, the suggestion that he was born in Kampala, the capital of the country, is probably not true. A similar lack of clarity exists regarding his father’s identity. According to some accounts, Andreas Nyabire was a member of the Kakwa people. In the early twentieth century, he changed his name to Amin Dada after converting to Islam from Roman Catholicism. He also changed his name to Amin Dada. Nevertheless, there are other sources that suggest that he was of Nubian ethnicity and that he may have been brought up in a Muslim household. In that case, his family most likely originated from Sudan and had been among the Sudanese communities that had been brought south by Emin Pasha, a governor of the Ottoman province of Equatoria who had travelled as far south as Uganda in the 1880s. Emin Pasha had been in charge of bringing Sudanese communities south during the late nineteenth century. Assa Aatte, Amin’s mother, is another person whose lineage is a matter of contention. Her ethnicity could have been Kakwa or Lugbara, both of which are distinct peoples who lived in the region that is now known as northern Uganda.

Fatherless Childhood: Abandonment and Upbringing

Based on the limited information that we have about Idi’s childhood, it appears that his father abandoned him and his mother when he was young, and that his mother was the sole carer for him. While the Second World War was raging to the north and east in Italian East Africa and the Maghreb, he was attending an Islamic school in Bombo in the early 1940s. This was during the time that the schools were located.

The history of Ugenda under colonel rule

Ethnic and Religious Diversity

In order to properly evaluate Amin’s life, it is necessary to first investigate the history of Uganda during the time of colonial rule. Uganda was a country that had been fabricated more from the imaginations of its colonial rulers than it was from a place that had an ethnic or religious coherence to it. This was true of many other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa as well. During the pre-colonial period, the region that the country currently encompasses was inhabited by a variety of peoples. The Bagandans were the most populous of these peoples, and they took control of a significant portion of the country in the southern part of what is now Uganda, including the region surrounding the capital city of Kampala. However, the region was also home to a significant number of Nilotic peoples, such as the Kakwa and the Lugbara, from the north and east. Additionally, there was a sizeable Sudanese population in the north-west of the region. Additionally, there are pockets of Kuliak people living in the regions that are located along the border between western Kenya and eastern Uganda during the present day. And to make matters even more complicated, the people of the country were also divided along religious lines. There was a sizable Muslim population in the north, which was where Islam had spread south from Egypt and Sudan, while other people in the country followed the religions that were indigenous to a particular region. In addition, a significant number of people had adopted religious beliefs such as Roman Catholicism or Protestantism. This was the patchwork of competing religions and ethnicities that resulted in the formation of modern-day Uganda.

British Colonial Influence in Uganda

When the British began to expand their territory in this region in the late nineteenth century, the Kingdom of Buganda ruled over a significant portion of the country. In 1894, the Uganda Protectorate was established as a part of the ambitions of certain British imperialists in Africa to obtain control of a continuous stretch of territory on the continent that ran from Cairo in Egypt to Cape Town in South Africa. This stretch of territory was defined as the Uganda Protectorate. When the colonial regime in Baganda favoured elements among the Bagandans who had adopted Protestantism and used them as a proxy to govern the country and overrule the Muslim elements in the north, some of the internal divisions of the country were exacerbated. This occurred during the time that the country was under British rule. Colonial rule was exploitative, but it also brought benefits in the form of the beginnings of a modern infrastructure and economy. These benefits were most prominently seen in the production of cash crops such as sugar and cotton, and literacy rates also increased significantly during the first half of the twentieth century.

Idi Amin’s Early Military Career

The British colonial regime began training and arming native Ugandans in the early twentieth century, which was a process that accelerated prior to and during the First World War as a means of striking at Germany’s colonial possessions in East Africa. This was another significant development that occurred during this time period. The British colonial regime was responsible for the creation of a Ugandan military. Amin was largely responsible for the fabrication of later claims that he had fought on the Burma front against the Japanese and that he had joined the British army during the Second World War. Many of these claims were made by Amin himself. It was not long before he became a KAR. As a result of his athletic prowess and the work he did as a soldier, he was well-liked by the British officers and left a lasting impression on them. As a consequence of this, he was promoted within the ranks of the KAR as rapidly as was feasible for an individual of African descent at the time. In addition, by the late 1940s, he had been assigned to the neighbouring country of Kenya, where the level of opposition to British colonial rule was significantly higher than in his home country of Uganda. Consequently, Amin was present in this location in the year 1952, when the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, also referred to as the Mau Mau, initiated a rebellion against the rule of the British. This uprising would continue throughout the remainder of the 1950s. During this campaign in Kenya, Amin served with distinction; however, he would later attempt to minimise his participation in a war that was intended to defend the rule of the British imperial government. In 1952, he was promoted to the rank of corporal, and the following year, he was eventually promoted to the rank of sergeant. Amin continued to enjoy a certain degree of success throughout the decade of the 1950s. Amin’s commanding officer in the Kenyan Armed Forces, Iain Grahame, who later wrote a memoir about his relationship with Uganda and the future dictator, subsequently asserted that Amin was one of the best soldiers and mid-ranking officers he had ever commanded. Grahame was also a man who later wrote a memoir about his relationship with Uganda. In addition, an additional officer concurred with this evaluation. Additionally, it was during these years that he was dispatched to Europe for additional military training and found himself stationed in Stirling, which is located in Scotland, for a particular period of time. As we will see in the following section, this marked the beginning of Amin’s affinity for the country, which ultimately led to him toying with the idea that he might one day become King of Scotland in his later years. In 1959, after he had returned to Africa, he was given the title of effendi, which is equivalent to affande in Swahili. This was done in the KAR. The British armed forces in East Africa were able to promote him to the rank of class 2 warrant officer, which was the highest rank that an African could achieve within the British military structure. On the other hand, there were indications that point to the difficulties that were to come with Amin. Towards the end of 1961 and the beginning of 1962, the Kenyan Armed Forces (KAR) were requested to take action in response to widespread cattle raiding that was taking place on the border between Uganda and Kenya. While this was going on, Amin gave orders for his platoon to slaughter a large number of villagers. The colonial governor, Sir Frederick Crawford, did not want a scandal to emerge surrounding one of only two native Ugandans who were commissioned officers in the colonial army there. As a result, he was spared from being court-martialed for this civilian atrocity. This was due to the fact that Uganda was on the verge of gaining independence from Britain. The continent of Africa was undergoing a period of profound transformation at the same time that Amin was climbing the ranks of the Colonial British Army in East Africa. As a result of pressure from the United States of America, the Western Allies gave their consent to the Atlantic Charter in 1941. This charter stated that the colonies of the European powers would be granted a greater degree of independence in the aftermath of the Second World War. As a result of this, as well as the fact that they were unable to maintain their empires after the war, a significant number of African nations were able to achieve independence by the middle of the twentieth century. In 1945, the vast majority of the continent was either held by France in the north and north-west of the continent or by Britain in the south and east of the continent. Belgium had a large territory in the Congo, Portugal had two large blocks around Mozambique and Angola, and Italy had held the majority of the Horn of Africa and Libya. These three countries were located in the central regions of the continent.

Accelerating Independence Movements

However, by the 1950s, the pressure to grant independence to these extensive colonies had become too great to ignore. In the immediate aftermath of the war, there was little that occurred to grant independence to these colonies. As a direct consequence of this, Morocco and Tunisia achieved their independence from France in the year 1956, during which time the process accelerated significantly. Particularly in the year 1960, the countries of Cameroon, Senegal, Togo, Mali, Benin, Niger, the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Madagascar all achieved their independence from France. This occurred roughly at the same time that Belgium gave up control of its colonies and established the nations of the Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. 1957 was the year that Britain handed over control of Ghana, and 1961 was the year that it did the same with Nigeria.

Decolonisation in East Africa

When compared to certain regions in north-west Africa, the process of decolonization in East Africa took place a few years later. The manner in which it occurred in Uganda and the regions that bordered it was also very different from the manner in which it occurred in other countries that were further to the north-west. Many of these other countries had seen the emergence of political groups comprised of indigenous peoples who advocated for independence. These individuals had frequently received their education in London or Paris, and then returned to their homelands with the intention of achieving self-rule. At the end of the 1950s, Uganda had a few individuals who advocated for the country’s independence, but there was not much in the way of a cohesive political movement or opposition political parties. Therefore, there was not a mature political environment into which power could devolve when independence was finally declared on October 9, 1962, and the Republic of Uganda came into existence. This was the case because there was not a mature political environment. Despite this, three major political parties emerged almost immediately: the Democratic Party, which represented the Catholic population; the Uganda People’s Congress, which primarily represented the Nilotic people of the north of the country; and the Kabaka Yekka, which was a Bugandan nationalist party.

Obote’s Reign and Uganda’s Turbulent Politics

In the first elections held in Uganda after the country’s independence in 1962, the People’s Congress and Kabaka Yekka came together to ensure that the Democratic Party was not allowed to hold power. Milton Obote, the leader of the UPC, was elected as Uganda’s first Prime Minister. After that, Obote would come to dominate Ugandan politics during the 1960s; however, his tenure in office was plagued by many of the same issues that had plagued other African nations in the post-independence period. These issues included the challenge of uniting a country that was an artificial construct of the British and contained a large number of different ethnic peoples and religions within its borders.

Conflict Over Centralization vs. Decentralization

As a result, the middle of the 1960s witnessed a conflict between those who desired a decentralised federal state in which the Bagandans, the Nilotic people, and other groups would largely govern themselves in their respective provinces, and those who desired a powerful, centralised Ugandan state that would be governed from the capital city of Kampala. Obote’s suspension of the constitution and assumption of extensive powers, which amounted to little more than a dictatorship, marked the conclusion of this conflict, which had been going on since February 1966. However, this was not exactly an unusual occurrence in Africa after the continent gained its independence. Strongmen were seizing power across the continent in the 1960s, with vicious dictators such as Joseph Mobuto in the Congo, Jean Bokassa in the Central African Republic, Francisco Macias Nguema in Equatorial Guinea, and Aboubakar Sangoul√© Lamizana in what was then the Republic of Upper Volta, but which we now know as Burkina Faso. All of these dictators were repressive in nature. In 1966, when Obote took power in Uganda, the country was falling further and further into this depressing trend.

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