Africa is the cradle of mankind, the mother to all human beings that have ever existed on this blue pearl of the cosmos. It’s a land rich in resources, sights enriched with beauty, and cultures that have influenced generations. But Mother Nature would have never envisioned that the continent would be the hotbed of brutality, bloodshed, and barbarism. These have been the primary themes for centuries, and they persist today, with large swaths of the continental population barely surviving.
Most modern-day historians like to blame British colonialism and U.S. capitalism for the problems that plague the region. However, even dating back to the tribes of yesterday, researchers come across tales of sadism and savagery, like burying people alive and roasting flesh and bone as punishment.
But it doesn’t make it any less brutal for the victims of the madness of Idi Amin.
Africa has produced some of history’s worst tyrants, ranging from Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir to Somalia’s Siad Barre. But there was nobody as evil as Uganda’s Idi Amin.
Because this despot and his regime’s destruction pale in comparison to that of other socialist atrocities, like Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Uganda’s flirtation with socialism and dictatorships is rarely discussed. But it doesn’t make it any less brutal for the victims of the madness of Idi Amin.
Like other accounts of failed socialist experiments, Uganda was entrenched in a one-man conquest to seize absolute power, kill dissidents, and nationalize private industry. Unlike other socialist utopias, Ugandans did not resort to cannibalism – it was Amin himself who enjoyed the taste of human skin.
Shortly after his death in 2003, Amin’s physicians revealed that he was clinically insane, relying on anti-psychotic drugs just to get by. Considering the economic policies he instituted and the viciousness he employed, the dosage was ostensibly insufficient.
While a traditional red tape central system to manage the economy was absent, the Amin government and his henchmen still adopted the mainstay of socialism: nationalizing the means of production.
The dictator’s first act was to expel more than 80,000 South Asians and seize their assets, accusing these people of deceiving the country and stealing from natives. The policy was popular among the population, promising to return the nation to ethnic Ugandans, many of whom envied and resented successful foreigners.
The second act was to expropriate private property, nationalize industry, and take over agriculture. The economy was already on the decline, but these socialist pursuits exacerbated the nation’s financial plight. As expected, sugar exports plunged, factories collapsed, and businesses and stores shuttered their doors because of mismanagement, abuse of power, a lack of maintenance, and full-blown neglect.
When Amin and his henchmen were successful in exporting crops, the earnings were then used to buy weapons and luxury items for the military, including gold Rolex watches and Scotch whiskey. He believed this purchased permanent loyalty from his mercenaries, quoting the old African proverb: “A dog with a bone in its mouth can’t bite.”
As the economy worsened, Amin believed he could solve the nation’s woes by printing more money. Expectedly, inflation topped 700% – toilet paper would cost two weeks’ wages.
Ugandans never really got to experience the prosperity that was promised to them. Suffering from food shortages and a paucity of basic necessities, smuggling became rampant. Amin was so perturbed by this trend that he ordered his officers to shoot smugglers on sight, hoping to deter future heroes from trying to provide basic goods to the public.
To understand the mad leader’s time in office, you need to examine a dinner party he hosted. A year prior to the formal event, he ordered the killing of Brigadier Hussein Suleiman, the former army chief of staff who was appointed by his predecessor, Milton Obote. As the evening progressed, he brought out Suleiman’s frozen head and placed it proudly on the dinner table for the guests to admire.
Many of Amin’s enemies were beaten to death with wrenches, sledgehammers, and other tools and had their heads chopped off and frozen. He eventually constructed a room designated for refrigerators that housed his vast collection of frozen heads. It was known as the “botanical room.”
Amin had a thirst for blood and violence. This was life in Uganda from 1971 to 1979:
- Prisoners in Mackindye, Naguru, and Maksero were forced to kill each other to save their own lives, only to later be killed by other inmates.
- Human remains of dissidents, prisoners, and enemies of the state were dumped in rivers.
- People whose last name started with “O” were slaughtered – “O” was common in the Acholi and Langi tribes.
- Murders by security forces were secret and systematic.
- He often ate the flesh of his human victims.
His family also suffered the same fate as Amin’s victims. For instance, one of his wives – he had a harem of women with up to 35 kids – died in a botched abortion. To serve as a warning to his other spouses, he demanded that her limbs be removed and reattached with the legs at the shoulders and the arms at the pelvis.
Amin’s anti-Semitism was also fierce, celebrating Adolf Hitler for killing six million Jews and accusing Israelis of not acting in the interest of the world.
He died in 2003 when his family disconnected him from life support as he suffered from kidney failure. His death would have come a lot earlier. Former British Foreign Secretary David Owen revealed that he had considered ordering the assassination of the African despot because “his regime goes down in the scale of Pol Pot as one of the worst of all African regimes.”
Uganda Will Never Forget
Venezuela will never forget Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro. Cambodia will never forget Pol Pot. Romania will never forget Nicolae Ceausescu. Uganda, which remains rife with corruption and crime in 2018, will never forget Idi Amin.
These men all share the same legacies of failed economics, disturbing behaviors, or grotesque pleasures. Those who romanticize socialism typically omit them from their praise of how wonderful this iniquitous ideology is. But peering through the past will yield a record of mass misery, torture, and anguish – the hallmarks of every socialist test in history.
This brand of socialism is only responsible for the deaths of 300,000, a drop in the bucket compared to the millions in Mao’s China or Hitler’s Germany. It is still a tragedy that must be embedded in our minds when we begin to toy with socialism and all its subsidiaries. Kampala, Caracas, and Moscow, it’s all the same. Let’s not bring it to Washington, Ottawa, or London.