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Amin’s Ascendancy within Uganda’s Military

From Amin’s perspective, the strengthening of Obote’s grip on the nation was a positive development. Beginning in the early years of Uganda’s independence, he had already been steadily climbing the ranks of the Ugandan armed forces. At the time of Uganda’s independence in 1962, he was promoted to the rank of captain. In 1963, he was promoted to the rank of major, and in 1964, he was promoted to the position of deputy commander of the Ugandan military. Last but not least, Amin was promoted to the rank of one of the army’s commanders in 1965, when he was still only forty years old. 1970 was the year that he reached the pinnacle of the Ugandan military and was promoted to the position of overall commander of the Ugandan armed forces. As a result of his involvement in Obote’s corrupt dealings in Uganda, he was able to secure a significant portion of this meteoric rise throughout the continent during the 1960s. As a result of the rise of dictators across a significant portion of Africa during that time period, kleptocratic states came into existence. These states were characterised by the fact that the dictators and their followers effectively stole the resources of their countries in order to amass an enormous amount of wealth for themselves. During the middle of the 1960s, Amin was providing assistance to Obote in a smuggling operation that involved gold and ivory between Uganda and the Congo. At least some of this activity was carried out with the intention of facilitating the arming of separatists and rebels within the Congo; however, a significant portion of the proceeds were also stolen and put into the pockets of Obote, Amin, and their accomplices. It was the discovery of Obote and Amin’s smuggling activities in 1966 that played a significant role in Obote’s decision to seize absolute power in Uganda in the same year. It was by the late 1960s that Idi Amin had established himself as one of the most influential people in Uganda. As time went on, Obote’s regime became more and more oppressive. This was especially true after an attempt was made in 1969 to kill the dictator, which was unsuccessful. However, this event led to a further crackdown on any political or military dissent across the country, and Amin, who was Obote’s enforcer, was at the centre of these measures.

Amin’s Coup and Establishment of Dictatorship

It is now abundantly clear that Amin was conspiring throughout the late 1960s to seize power himself or, at the very least, to consolidate his hold over the military. This is the case despite the fact that an intimate relationship existed between Amin and Obote. In particular, he was recruiting a large number of soldiers from the Kakwa and Nubi regions of northern Uganda, which are located on the international border with Sudan. It was his own people of the same ethnicity, as well as fellow Muslims. In preparation for a potential takeover of power, Amin was strengthening his control over the Ugandan military by recruiting soldiers and officers from this region. This was done in order to strengthen his holdings over the military. In addition, it is highly likely that Amin was attempting to garner the support of both Britain and Israel for such a move. While Israel had been involved in Uganda during the 1960s and was eager to use Uganda and adjoining regions as a means of drawing the attention of its northern neighbours, Sudan and Egypt, away from Israel’s ongoing occupation of the Sinai Peninsula, Britain continued to have a significant amount of influence in East Africa. In the context of the Cold War, Britain was concerned about what it perceived to be the socialist policies being pursued by Obote by the time the Cold War began. As time went on, Amin’s schemes eventually reached a point of culmination in the early 1970s. Obote, who had already developed a sense of mistrust regarding Amin’s motives, removed the general from his position as the overall commanding officer of the Ugandan military and appointed himself to the position in October of 1970. The next step that he took was to begin the process of preparing charges of financial misconduct against Amin; however, he moved too slowly, which ultimately proved to be a fatal error. Over the course of this interim period, Amin had become aware of Obote’s intentions and had taken aggressive action against the president. Amin carried out a military coup on January 25, 1971, while Obote was absent from a meeting of the Commonwealth nations that was taking place in Singapore. Almost immediately, the capital city of Kampala, as well as a number of the most important communication outlets, such as radio stations, were taken control of. Therefore, Amin was able to inform the nation that he was taking power away from the corrupt Obote before the president, who was located several thousand kilometres away, could even react to the news. In his presentation, Amin portrayed himself as the protector of the constitution. He asserted that he would only serve in office for a short period of time, maybe a few weeks or months, during the transition back to a government that was democratically elected. When Obote returned to Africa, he would go to Tanzania, which is located nearby, where he had spent the 1970s living in exile. Within one of the most repressive dictatorships in Africa, Amin would remain in power for a period of eight years. During the weeks that followed the nearly bloodless coup that took place in January 1971, Amin quickly succeeded in consolidating his control over Uganda. It was on February 2nd that he made the announcement that he would be the new president of Uganda. He also reappointed himself as the overall commander of the Ugandan armed forces. In a short amount of time, the newly established government transformed into a military dictatorship, and any pretence of respecting the legal system and the previous constitution was quickly disestablished. The court system was largely replaced by military tribunals, and Amin’s followers within the army were appointed to a variety of senior political offices and civil jurisdictions, positions for which they typically lacked the necessary training. From that point forward, Amin would rule by decree, and he would rename the government headquarters in Kampala something called “The Command Post.” And then, in order to strengthen his grip on both the military and the civilian government, extensive purges were carried out in both of these sectors. Thousands of individuals were removed from their positions, and they were replaced by individuals who were devoted to Amin and his military government. During the beginning stages of the massive bloodletting that was characteristic of the Amin regime in Uganda throughout the 1970s, these individuals were frequently not merely removed from their positions but were also put to death by the regime. Amin’s attempt to seize power was not met with complete and utter resistance. As we have seen, Milton Obote had attempted to find refuge in Tanzania in 1971. Tanzania is Uganda’s neighbour to the south, and it is a larger and more prosperous country. It was at this point that Julius Nyerere, the president of Tanzania, extended his support to Obote while simultaneously withholding official recognition of Amin’s regime in Uganda. In addition, during the weeks and months that followed, as many as 20,000 Ugandans entered Tanzania from the south in an attempt to seek political asylum in this country. In a short amount of time, these individuals began to form into bands of guerrilla fighters who had received military training and began plotting ways to remove Amin from power. A young Yoweri Museveni, who would go on to play a significant part in the politics of Uganda in the years to come, was a member of these forces. Eventually, in September of 1972, certain individuals who were living in exile from Uganda began to take action. A strike force consisting of approximately 1,500 fighters crossed the northern border into Uganda with the intention of undertaking a coup that was comparable to the one that Amin carried out the year before. Following the seizure of Entebbe Airport, which is located outside of Kampala, the capital city would be secured, along with the primary radio stations, in order to ensure that the news of the coup could be disseminated throughout the nation. Nevertheless, these plans were never carried out in any way. Amin, who had beforehand knowledge of the invasion, was able to quickly put an end to it, despite the fact that it was a disaster. There were hundreds of invaders who were killed, and the conflict was over in a matter of days; however, it is a significant indicator of the role that Tanzania would play in the events that would follow. Amin’s regime was welcomed with open arms by the international community when it was first establishing itself with power. In 1971, the British and Israeli governments had shown their support for the coup, and they moved swiftly to recognise Amin’s regime as soon as he took power. They believed that the former KAR officer would be easier to deal with than Obote had been. And Amin was more than happy to encourage their delusions, presenting himself at this early stage as a reconciler of Uganda’s political, ethnic, and religious problems, someone who would unite the various religious groupings and ethnic peoples of the country. He saw himself as someone who would reconcile the problems that Uganda was facing. Therefore, during his state visits to Britain and Israel in July 1971, Amin was warmly received by both countries. During his time in Britain, he became acquainted with Edward Heath, the Prime Minister, and even had lunch at Buckingham Palace. Also, he made the most of the opportunity presented by the state visit by going back to Scotland, the country in which he had received his training in the 1950s. He would go on to give several of his sons Scottish names and even dress a regiment of the Ugandan army in Scottish kilts. Amin had a special fondness for the country, and he would go on to give his sons Scottish names throughout his life. It will be demonstrated that a few years later, in the middle of the 1970s, he even entertained the idea of forming a peculiar alliance with a Scottish paramilitary organisation, which ultimately led to him making an offer to become King of Scotland. Amin made a request for additional weapons in both London and Tel Aviv, with the intention of taking the fight to Tanzania; however, both governments in both locations declined his request. It is curious that neither the government of Britain nor the government of Israel appears to have gained a better understanding of the person they were actually dealing with when Amin visited their respective capitals in the summer of 1971. However, they quickly came to have suspicions about his true nature, and this quickly gave way to regret. Two Americans, a journalist by the name of Nicholas Stroh and a sociology lecturer by the name of Robert Siedle, who were investigating some of the early political killings associated with Amin’s regime, went to the Mbarara Army Barracks in July 1971. This occurred while Amin was dining at Buckingham Palace and reacquainting himself with Scotland. Amin was in Uganda at the time. They were cautioned against going there, but they chose to disregard these warnings, which would ultimately prove to be a fatal decision. It was at the Barracks that both of the men were killed. Almost immediately, the United States of America responded by initiating an investigation, which was accompanied by the participation of an American legal official named David Jeffrys Jones. Despite the fact that Jones quickly came to the conclusion that Amin’s men were responsible for the deaths of the two individuals, he fled the country out of fear for his own life before the investigation could be completed. The assassination of Stroh and Siedle was the first significant indication that Amin would not be the dependent strongman that the West believed he might be in Uganda. Other, more obvious indications of the potential difficulties that Amin could cause were quickly becoming apparent. The next step that Amin took was to make a phone call to Colonel Mu’ammar Al-Gaddafi, the de facto dictator of Libya. Amin’s request for additional arms and modern weaponry had been denied by the governments in London and Tel Aviv. Gaddafi had established himself in opposition to the former colonial powers after he had taken power in 1969. He started by expelling a significant portion of the Italian colonial community and seizing control of Western military bases that were strategically significant during the Cold War. In addition, he implemented some aspects of Islamic Sharia Law. Consequently, the fact that Amin was looking to form a partnership with the leader of Libya was quite ominous. In addition, during his trip to Libya, Amin presented a fantastical view of both his own country and himself in an effort to win Gaddafi’s support for the military. For instance, Amin portrayed himself as a devout Muslim and appears to have persuaded Gaddafi that as many as seventy percent of Uganda’s population was comprised of Muslims. However, the actual percentage of Muslims in Uganda was somewhere in the range of six percent, with the majority of them being located in the northwest of the country, which borders Sudan. In exchange for Gaddafi’s weapons, Amin brought his country into the Organisation of Islamic States and promised to place restrictions on the religious freedoms of Christians in Uganda. However, Gaddafi was convinced by Amin’s assertions, and he brought his country into the organisation. The Amin regime in Uganda was responsible for an increase in the level of violence that was unleashed in the year 1972. Those members of the Acholi and Lango ethnic groups who were opposed to Amin’s regime were the primary targets of violence. By the beginning of 1972, at least five thousand of these individuals had vanished. Among those who had vanished were soldiers, lawyers, students, religious leaders, and local political figures. It was not uncommon to discover dead bodies floating in the Nile River. There was, however, a general lack of awareness among the international media regarding what was taking place at this stage. One incident, on the other hand, garnered a lot of attention, and that was in January 1972 at Mutukula, which is located close to the Tanzanian border. However, this incident had only been extensively reported because it had spread into Tanzania itself. However, despite the fact that the western media and the foreign services of other countries were almost completely unaware of what was taking place in Uganda at the time, the amount of blood that was being shed was steadily growing. Figures for the death toll and the number of people who were forced to flee their homes during Amin’s dictatorship are notoriously difficult to determine with accuracy. However, by the summer of 1972, there were already tens of thousands of people who had either been killed or forced to flee into exile in Tanzania or elsewhere, while religious and political persecution was steadily increasing. It was only going to get worse over the course of the subsequent years.

Amin’s Ethnic Targeting and Asian Expulsion

This action, which took place in the autumn of 1972 and concerned the country’s large community of ethnic Asian people, was the first thing that brought Amin’s regime to the attention of the international media. The presence of Indian and South Asian people in East Africa dates back to at least the twelfth century. This settlement has been going on for a very long time. With the beginning of the first age of globalisation in the latter half of the nineteenth century, it experienced a dramatic increase. By the time the Second World War came to an end in 1945, there were well over half a million Asians living in East Africa, with a significant number of them coming from India in particular. In addition to the fact that there was a sizable Asian population in countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Mozambique, the fact that this Asian population spread into East Africa was perceived to play an excessively large role in the economies of these countries was also a contributing factor. As of the middle of the twentieth century, Asians had established a dominant position in the commercial and industrial activity of the region. As a result, eighty to ninety percent of the commercial trade and industry in Uganda was in the hands of the Asian community here. As an illustration, in 1948, it was documented that out of 195 cotton ginneries or factories in Uganda, 183 were managed by individuals of Indian descent. In addition, this was reflected in the currency that was used throughout the nation. The values of the East Africa Shilling, a currency that was used by the British colonial government in the region between the years 1921 and 1969, were written in Gujarati, Arabic, and English on the banknotes of the currency. In the short time that followed his rise to power, Amin made the decision to make an effort to expel a significant portion of the Asian population from the country. He also made an effort to seize control of the commercial activity and industry in Uganda from the hands of the Asians and give it to the Ugandans of ethnic origin. As a consequence of this, on August 4, 1972, he made the announcement that individuals of Asian descent living in Uganda who did not possess full Ugandan citizenship would be required to leave the country within ninety days. The British government was now faced with a difficult situation because it had made a promise during the time of independence to grant citizenship to Asians who were living in the region if they expressed a desire to do so. In light of the fact that many of the tens of thousands of Asians who were not citizens and were living in Uganda were forced to leave the country and head to Britain, it was a logical choice for them to do so. In spite of this, significant portions of the political establishment in Britain were concerned about the possibility of tens of thousands of refugees coming from Uganda to establish themselves in the country. As a consequence of this, the government of Edward Heath in London made an effort to dissuade Amin from taking the action he had planned and to postpone the order to expel him. Panic began to set in as the deadline, which was set for the beginning of November 1972, drew closer. Eventually, at the eleventh hour, it became necessary for the United Nations to organise an emergency airlift in order to bring 27,000 Ugandan refugees of Asian descent to the United Kingdom. Before tens of thousands of people were forcibly removed from the country, Amin’s reasons for issuing the expulsion order were readily apparent to everyone. In most cases, those who were forcibly exiled were robbed of everything of value that they possessed while they were travelling to airports and borders.

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