Ugandans Hope To Forget Amin Rule
Apr. 10, 1999
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) _ Twenty years after Idi Amin Dada was forced from power following a reign of terror that left hundreds of thousands dead, few in Uganda even want to think about the man who now lives quietly in exile in Saudi Arabia.
What came later was even worse.
``So much terror took place after Amin's fall that his removal was forgotten,'' Information Ministry official Florence Ssewannyana said in an interview Saturday.
The man whose name became synonymous with brutal African dictatorships headed the army when he took power in a generally popular coup that ousted President Milton Obote in 1971, eight years after this East African nation gained independence from Britain.
In 1972, the former sergeant in the British colonial King's African Rifles launched a popular ``economic war'' against ``Asians'' _ the country's business and industrial class made up of people of Indian and Pakistani origin _ expelling almost 80,000 and destroying Uganda's economy in the process.
Human rights groups estimate that as many as half a million people were killed by security forces during Amin's eight-year regime.
Thousands of doctors, lawyers, economists and intellectuals fled into exile.
Shortly after assuming power, Amin abandoned all pretense of making Uganda a democracy and gave the army power to arrest, try and kill political opponents.
On April 11, 1979, he fled to Libya and then Saudi Arabia, as forces loyal to Obote, backed by Tanzania troops, moved on Kampala.
``It was one of the darkest spots in Ugandan history,'' said Moses Kasule, 47. ``But we soon forgot the pain under Amin's rule because we faced an even worse situation during Obote's rule. Amin was bad, but at least he was only killing his enemies. Obote razed whole villages.''
Scholars and analysts now generally agree that Amin, a member of the tiny Kakwa tribe from northwestern Uganda who resented the dominance of the southern Buganda people, unleashed ethnic tensions that have still not been quelled.
President Yoweri Museveni, who fought Obote's forces from 1981 to 1985 at the head of the rebel National Resistance Movement, took power in 1986 but spent the next four years subduing other rebel groups.
Three years after winning popular election in 1996, he is still faced with rebellions in the north and west.
It is estimated that during the 1981-85 war another 500,000 Ugandans died, most at the hands of Obote's security forces.
With the help of donors, international lending agencies and many returning Asians or their children, the Ugandan economy has pulled back from the abyss with GDP growth averaging over 7 percent in the past five years.
A referendum next year will determine whether Uganda returns to multiparty politics; in the meantime, independent legislators in parliament are carrying on a spirited attack against high-level corruption.
From time to time, rumors circulate that Idi Amin, 74, wants to return to Uganda.
Hope Kivengere, Museveni's press secretary, said it was not government policy to celebrate the removal of former dictators but to concentrate on repairing what they destroyed.
``The situation during Amin's regime was so bad that knowledge of it should be left behind or in books. It would be better to take it as if he did not exist,'' she said.