(AFRICA into the 1990s – continued)

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AFRICA into the 1990s (5 of 8)

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Idi Amin Dada Oumee

Idi Amin rose to power from the lower ranks of Uganda's military. He was from rural peasantry and had grown up with only two years of primary education. In the 1950s, when Uganda was still ruled by the British, he fought under the British against the Mau Mau uprising and was promoted to sergeant. By 1962, he was a platoon commander, and early that year he led an assault on a village across the border in Kenya. The government of Kenya demanded that Amin be tried for atrocity. Three Kenyans had been murdered and the town unnecessarily brutalized, but Uganda's prime minister, Milton Obote, and the British command in Uganda, would chose to not to prosecute Amin.

Uganda had become independent from Britain in 1962, while remaining in the Commonwealth of nations – with Queen Elizabeth the head of state. Amin rose to deputy commander in the army.

Uganda remained a nation divided ethnically and difficult to govern. Uganda's border was an artificial creation from the late 19th century. The north, where Amin came from, differed ethnically from the south. Men from the north dominated the military, police and paramilitary. The north was more agricultural; the south more where economic power lay. And from the south came Uganda's intellectual elite, academics, judicial and administrative elite, religious intellectuals and leaders, and its political leader: Obote.

In 1966, Uganda said goodbye to Queen Elizabeth and became a republic. Ethnic divisions and heavy-handed governing by now President Obote led to unrest and ethnic violence that lasted until 1971. Idi Amin drove Obote into exile and took power. Across Uganda he was hailed as a hero and a savior. Rather than choose to support a return to civilian rule, he decided to continue to play the role of national hero and stay in power. He was to rule approximately eight years.

Idi Amin

Idi Amin

Uganda had about 75,000 Asians, descendants of, or migrants from, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many of them had risen in commerce and had preferred to keep their British passports. Amin drove them out of the country – an ethnic cleansing of a sort. The Asians had contributed to Uganda's welfare – to the creation of hospitals and schools -- but the old distrust and dislike by peasants for merchants existed, and ethnic cleansing was a popular move in Uganda. The wealth that the Asians left was confiscated by the government and distributed among Ugandans.

The British, were aghast, and Amin turned against the British and against another nation that had been friendly, Israel, which had been in Uganda helping in humanitarian projects and in military training. Amin was a Muslim, and he turned for support to other Muslims, including the anti-imperialist Muammur Kaddafi of Libya. The 10,000 or so European professionals in Uganda, and the Israelis, left the country.

Like some of ancient Rome's soldier-emperors and other emperors, and like Caligula, Amin developed an intolerance of any opposition or source of humiliation. The police were given additional powers. Respected people who began to oppose him were murdered. Among the murdered was the Anglican Archbishop Luwum.

Amin banned twenty-six Christian organizations that had been working in Uganda. In trying to combat his enemies, Amin was making more enemies. Overconfident, he launched an attack into an area in northwestern Tanzania that he claimed had once been a part of Uganda. Obote, in exile in Tanzania, joined forces with others, and they pushed into Uganda. Amin was no longer popular enough to put a force together that could hold off his enemies, and they drove him into exile, Amin ending up in Saudi Arabia.


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