How Amin became Field Marshal

Former Ugandan President Idi Amin. PHOTO/ILLUSTRATION 

What you need to know:

  • Amin’s detractors claim he self-appointed himself Field Marshal since he was the head of the Defence Council, which elevated him to the rank. 

On July 15, 1975, Uganda’s president Idi Amin was promoted from the rank of a four-star General to Field Marshal. 

Field Marshal is the highest rank in the British Army since 1736. Previously reserved for army and army group commanders in wartime, the rank has become an honorary rank and was last given to an actively serving officer in 1994.

In 1971, the Uganda Army ousted president Milton Obote and made Amin the new president of Uganda. 

Prior, in 1966, Amin was a Colonel and deputy army commander but after he commanded the attack on Buganda Kingdom’s Mengo palace, on the orders of Obote on May 24, 1966, President Obote, who was at loggerheads with Buganda King, Kabaka Edward Muteesa, promoted Amin to Brigadier and appointed him army commander, replacing Brig Shaban Opolot, who had been jailed at the Maximum Security Prison, Luzira, on the outskirts of Kampala, on reportedly trumped up charges. 

In 1968, Obote promoted Amin to Major General, but in January 1971, Obote was ousted by the army and Amin became president.

On February 1971, the army promoted Amin to General (four-star), skipping the rank Lieutenant General ((three-star).
In 1975, the Defence Council, which Amin chaired, elevated him from a full General to Field Marshal.  

President Amin was then decorated with the Field Marshal pips by his vice president, Maj Gen Mustafa Adrisi at a function held at the State House, Entebbe. 

Why Amin was promoted
When Amin was being promoted to Field Marshal, the Defence Council cited  eight reasons for his elevation. These were: 
1. He has brought unity in Uganda where people stayed as one family regardless of tribe, religion or status.
2. Because of his brave action of expelling economic exploiters out of Uganda. Those people were milking our economy for almost 100 years. He saved the country from almost running bankrupt. The whole economy was in chaos and near total collapse.
3. He handed over the national economy to indigenous Ugandans. For this Ugandans were now masters of their own economy and there are no longer bwana mkubwa exploiters here. They went forever and it is now history in Uganda. Well done to revise the land tenure by the recent Land Reform Decree. 
4. Because at present all Ugandans, rich or poor are free to develop land without limitation. 
5. He has put Uganda on the world map and now Uganda is known all over the world because of his active participation in Africa and world affairs, and his stand against racist South Africa and Zionism, and imperialism in the Middle East. 
6. Has made many friends for Uganda not only in Africa but all over the world.
7. The Uganda security forces of army, police and prisons have been united, well equipped and well trained though Uganda Army is small by international standards. 
8. Because of fulfilling the 18-points they gave him at take-over in 1971.

Decorated or a self-made Field Marshal?
Since 1975, when Amin was decorated with pips for Field Marshal, his detractors never recognised his military station and used propaganda that Amin had no military credentials to be a Field Marshal. Some world leaders as well as some local influential people, including members of the media, drummed up the campaign in disputing Amin’s newfound rank of Field Marshal.

Even in Uganda today, no newspaper while writing about Amin can refer to Uganda’s former president as a Field Marshal unless the story is satirical or sarcastic of Amin. 

Amin’s detractors claim he self-appointed himself Field Marshal since he was the head of the Defence Council, which elevated him to the rank. 

Now the question is, was Amin a decorated or a self-made Field Marshal? 

In a similar occurrence, on February 6, 1988, the National Resistance Army (NRA), now the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF), received military ranks at the function held at Lubiri Barracks in Kampala, the Chairman of the NRA High Command and President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, was given the rank of Lieutenant General, which was the highest military rank of a serving army officer in Uganda then. President Museveni was later promoted to a full General. 

Similarly, when President Museveni was given his military rank and the highest in the country in 1988, his critics derided him that he did not deserve the rank because he had neither been to any military school nor officially recruited into any national army before being awarded the rank of Lieutenant General. 

Minister wants Museveni elevated to Field Marshal
More recently, on May 5, New Vision published a story, ‘Promote Museveni to Field Marshal – Minister,” attributed to the then minister for State of Defence and Veteran Affairs, Col Okello Engola. 

The retired Colonel was speaking at a military function held at the Military of Defence and Veteran Affair headquarters, Mbuya in Kampala, where 40 senior Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) officers were decorated, including Generals. 
Col Engola said because of his visionary and wise leadership, President Museveni should be promoted to Field Marshal.

“This function would not have taken place if it were not for the wise and visionary leadership of our President and commander-in-chief,” the paper quotes the minister as having said.

“I suggest that the [army] promotions board should also consider elevating the President to the rank of Field Marshal.”
A Field Marshal is a five-star General, and is the top most military rank in the world. 

President Museveni retired from the army in 2004 at the rank of a four-star General, but as head-of-State, he remains the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. 

Will the UPDF promotions commission, a board charged with the promotion of army officers, warm up to minister Col Engola’s proposition and promote General (rtd) Museveni to Field Marshal? 

British Army Ranks
Lowest to most senior
• Private

Non-Commissioned Officers
• Lance Corporal
• Corporal
• Sergeant
• Company Sergeant Major
• Regimental Sergeant Major

Commissioned Officers
• Second Lieutenant
• Lieutenant
• Captain
• Major
• Lieutenant Colonel
• Colonel
• Brigadier General (one-star)
• Major General (two-star)
• Lt General (three-star)
• General (four-star)
• Field Marshal


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