Reflections on the rise and fall of Gen Idi Amin Dada

Sunday January 24 2021
By Harold Acemah

Tomorrow, January 25, marks the 50th anniversary of a military coup d’état which brought to power Gen Idi Amin Dada who ruled Uganda with an iron hand for eight years until he was overthrown in April 1979 by Uganda exiles backed by the Tanzania People’s Defence Force.

I can remember vividly the weekend before that reactionary putsch took place. My uncle, Lt Col Michael Ombia, had just returned to Uganda from a one-year course at a Staff College in the UK.

He invited me and a few friends for dinner on Saturday, January 23, 1971, after which we had drinks at City Bar & Restaurant on Kampala Road. Among the friends were Ms Elisabeth Kasoma from Fort Portal and Albert Yobo from Arua. After graduation from University of East Africa in June 1970, I had just started work as a junior diplomat.

Kampala of the 1960s was a swinging city and a popular weekend destination for revellers from Nairobi and elsewhere in East Africa. I had planned to go to Susana Nightclub to dance on that Saturday, but my uncle advised me to go home without giving any reasons. I did as advised without asking any questions.

The answer came barely a day later when heavily armed troops were deployed at key places in Kampala on January 24, 1971. At around 4pm on January 25, 1971, Radio Uganda broke silence to announce that the Uganda Army had deposed the first post-colonial government of Uganda led by President Milton Obote who was away in Singapore to attend a Commonwealth summit.

The officer who announced the coup was then Warrant Officer Sam Wilfred Aswa (RIP) whom I mentioned in my Sunday Monitor opinion of January 17. To my surprise, the coup was received with jubilation and spontaneous celebrations, especially in Buganda where Obote and the UPC government were detested. Fifteen years later history repeated itself on January 25, 1986, when another military coup took place whose 35th anniversary will be marked next Tuesday. The rest is history.


Finishing well is important
With the benefit of hindsight, one can discern amazing similarities between the military regime of the 1970s and the NRM regime. Both regimes came to power by the barrel of the gun. Both regimes use violence, intimidation and deception to remain in power.  The leaders of the two regimes have more in common than their minor differences. The Amin regime ended badly.

The goal of finishing well is a cardinal principle and objective of rational human beings, especially believers like yours truly. Apostle Paul wrote on this subject in his letter to Timothy.

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

(2nd Timothy; 4: 6-8)
Like most African leaders, past and present, especially the so-called freedom fighters and revolutionaries, such as Robert Mugabe, Amin got drunk with power and shamelessly declared himself “Field Marshal and Life President of Uganda.” He dismissed the fact that he was a servant of the people, not a master of wananchi.

As Ugandans remember the 50th anniversary of a dark day in the annals of Uganda’s history, one hopes contemporary Ugandan leaders have learnt lessons from our history and will not repeat the tragic and costly mistakes Gen Amin made in the 1970s.

 Mr Acemah is a political scientist and retired career diplomat.