On 11th April 1979, Idi Amin was deposed as president of Uganda after his attempt to annex part of Tanzania spectacularly backfired. Following a counterattack by the Tanzania People’s Defence Force, the former stooge of Imperial Britain who had in 1971 seized power from the socialist Prime Minister Milton Obote was forced to flee for his life by helicopter. And so at last ended the eight-year reign of one of the most brutal dictators of the twentieth century; this puffed-up beefy despot who came to be known as the “Butcher of Africa” was responsible for the deaths of up to half-a-million people. Like Joseph Stalin, he cynically and callously eliminated all real and imagined opponents – including the former chief justice, the Anglican archbishop, the governor of the Central Bank, the vice chancellor of Makerere University and other prominent members of Uganda’s intelligentsia as well several of his own cabinet ministers. Like Adolf Hitler, he engaged in widespread ethnic cleansing – systematically murdering rival tribes and ordering the expulsion of some 80,000 Ugandan Asians. Add to that gruesome mix an army of 15,000 henchmen trained and ordered to rape and pillage in the name of “peace keeping”, a policy of live televised executions to instil fear into the populace, a sledge-hammer to the head for political prisoners and even the alleged murder of his ex-wife. So sadistic was Amin that for kicks he kept a photographic collection of his mutilated victims, and was said to preserve the lifeless heads of some of his most powerful adversaries in the refrigerator of the presidential palace. So staggering was Amin’s death toll that bodies were dumped en masse into the crocodile-infested Nile because graves couldn’t be dug fast enough.
As the self-proclaimed “President of Uganda for Life”, “Lord of All Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular” and, famously, “King of Scotland”, Idi Amin was initially embraced by Britain, America and Israel. But even when his atrocities against humanity could no longer be ignored, the international community failed to intervene. Instead, during his time in power, Amin was light-heartedly portrayed in the West as a comic and eccentric figure; in a 1977 article typical of the time, Time magazine described him as a “killer and clown, big-hearted buffoon and strutting martinet.”
But after his long-overdue deposition, surely Amin would finally be held accountable for his sickening crimes… Surely this is the very purpose of international law! But no. Unbelievably, inexplicably, there was never even an attempt to bring Amin to justice. After a brief stay in Libya, he was allowed to live out his days as a guest with several wives and at least 30 children in all-expenses-paid luxury in Saudi Arabia. At any time up until his death in 2003, any nation – including Saudi Arabia – could have prosecuted Amin and held him accountable under international law. But, as special counsel for prosecutions at Human Rights Watch Reed Brody, said: “If you kill one person, you go to jail; if you kill 20, you go to an institution for the insane; if you kill 20,000, you get political asylum.”
What the actual fuck?