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Idi Amin takes power in Uganda

This Day in World History

January 25, 1971

Idi Amin Takes Power in Uganda

Source: Library of Congress
On January 25, 1971, General Idi Amin took advantage of the absence of President Milton Obote to stage a coup and seize power in Uganda. Amin’s turbulent rule lasted only eight years, but in that time he earned him the nickname the “Butcher of Uganda.”

Obote had led Uganda’s independence movement in 1962 and had served as its first prime minster. In 1966, though, he deposed Uganda’s king and had a new constitution written that created a republic with himself as president. Amin was an ally whom Obote named as head of the army and air force at that time.

Amin decided to move against Obote when he was under investigation for his leadership of a gang of thugs. His brutality emerged quickly. Prominent Ugandans — including the police official who had been investigating him — were killed, some by armed toughs and others in mysterious circumstances. Several thousand soldiers were killed on Amin’s orders, decimating the armed forces but putting it firmly under his control.

Amin formed four different security organizations, which he used to carry out his harsh rule. Estimates suggest that as many as 300,000 people were killed in his violent rule.

Amin’s leadership was also marked by actions based on fleeting moods. Late in 1972, he ordered all Asians expelled from Uganda. The departure of some 35,000 people, many of whom owned businesses, crippled Uganda’s economy. A Muslim, Amin was extreme in his condemnation of Israel and once praised Adolf Hitler’s execution of millions of Jews.

Fear drove several different assassination attempts between his coup and 1979. That year, Amin sent troops into neighboring Tanzania to harass some villagers. In response Tanzania’s leader, Julius Nyerere, ordered a counterattack that was joined by thousands of Ugandans. Within weeks, the rebels had seized power and Amin had fled to Libya. He died in Saudi Arabia in 2003.

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