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Understanding Amin’s ‘erratic behaviour’ and self-bestowed titles

Former President Idi Amin Dada pictured having fun with an Elephant at Murchison Falls. (PHOTO/File)

KAMPALA —Gender historian Alicia Decker wrote that the “deeply embedded culture of militarism [in Uganda] is undoubtedly Amin’s most enduring legacy.”

His reputation in Uganda has been viewed over the decades following his rule in more complex ways than in the international community.

Some Ugandans have praised him as a “patriot” and supported his decision to expel Asians from the country.

One of Amin’s sons, Jaffar Remo, criticized the negative public perception of his father and called for a commission to investigate the veracity of the abuses committed under his rule.

Historians say that as the years of his administration progressed, Amin’s behaviour became more erratic, unpredictable, and strident.

After the United Kingdom broke off all diplomatic relations with his regime in 1977, Amin declared that he had defeated the British, and he conferred on himself the decoration of CBE (Conqueror of the British Empire).

Late Ugandan strongman Idi Amin presided over a historical eight-year bloody rule when as many as 500,000 people were killed in political or ethnic persecution. (PHOTO/File)

His full self-bestowed title ultimately became: “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”, in addition to his officially stated claim of being the uncrowned King of Scotland.

President Amin, according to available literature never received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) or the Military Cross (MC).

He conferred a doctorate of law on himself from Makerere University as well as the Victorious Cross (VC), a medal made to emulate the British Victoria Cross.

President Amin became the subject of rumours, including a widespread belief that he was a cannibal.

Some of the rumours, such as the mutilation of one of his wives, were spread and popularised by the 1980 film Rise and Fall of Idi Amin and alluded to in the film The Last King of Scotland in 2006, a movie which earned actor Forest Whitaker an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Amin.

During Amin’s time in power, literature says that popular media outside of Uganda often portrayed him as an essentially comic and eccentric figure.

In a 1977 assessment typical of the time, a Time magazine article described him as a “killer and clown, big-hearted buffoon and strutting martinet”.

Idi Amin playing an accordion on Buvuma Island in October 1971. (PHOTO/Courtesy)

The comedy-variety series Saturday Night Live aired four Amin sketches between 1976 and 1979, including one in which he was an ill-behaved houseguest in exile, and another in which he was a spokesman against venereal disease.

In a Benny Hill show transmitted in January 1977, Hill portrayed Amin sitting behind a desk that featured a placard reading “ME TARZAN, U GANDA”.

The foreign media were often criticised by Ugandan exiles and defectors for emphasizing Amin’s self-aggrandizing eccentricities and taste for excess while downplaying or excusing his murderous behavior.

Other commentators even suggested that Amin had deliberately cultivated his eccentric reputation in the foreign media as an easily parodied buffoon in order to defuse international concern over his administration of Uganda.



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