Idi Amin Flees Uganda Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After eight years of brutal dictatorship characterized by abduction, murder, and torture, Ugandan president Idi Amin was overthrown by forces composed of Tanzanian military and Ugandan exiles directed by Julius Nyerere, the president of Tanzania. Nyerere endured public criticism for his actions but received private support for removing Amin from power.

Summary of Event

In 1971, General Idi Amin deposed onetime political ally Prime Minister Milton Obote and declared himself the ruler of Uganda. Obote fled to the neighboring country of Tanzania. Amin purged the army of Obote’s followers and replaced them with soldiers loyal to him. Amin forced Uganda’s third-generation Indian and Pakistani populations out of the country and appropriated their money, businesses, and properties. Amin, a Muslim, directed his troops to kill rival tribe members and Obote’s predominantly Christian followers. The infrastructure of the country collapsed as Amin diverted money from government funds to build three armies, including his private band of mercenary guards. Amin survived multiple assassination attempts and repaid real or perceived treachery with savagery. When reports of Amin’s violent excesses were disseminated outside Africa, Great Britain, Israel, and other Western nations ended their support. Revolutions and coups;Uganda Uganda;government [kw]Idi Amin Flees Uganda (Apr. 11, 1979) [kw]Amin Flees Uganda, Idi (Apr. 11, 1979) [kw]Uganda, Idi Amin Flees (Apr. 11, 1979) Revolutions and coups;Uganda Uganda;government [g]Africa;Apr. 11, 1979: Idi Amin Flees Uganda[03570] [g]Uganda;Apr. 11, 1979: Idi Amin Flees Uganda[03570] [c]Government and politics;Apr. 11, 1979: Idi Amin Flees Uganda[03570] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr. 11, 1979: Idi Amin Flees Uganda[03570] Amin, Idi Nyerere, Julius Obote, Milton Qaddafi, Muammar al- Luwum, Janani Adrisi, Mustafa

Julius Nyerere.

(Library of Congress)

Between 1971 and 1973, Uganda and Tanzania experienced numerous border skirmishes, fomented by Obote and Ugandan exiles living in Tanzania. The skirmishes ended when the Organization of African Unity Organization of African Unity (OAU) pressured Amin and Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere to find a solution. They agreed to respect the borders and to stop hostile propaganda. Obote was forbidden to make anti-Amin statements through Tanzanian print and radio.

Nyerere was Tanzania’s first prime minister and a socialist committed to the concept of independence and self-governance for African nations. He helped form the OAU in 1964, but he was dismayed by the organization’s unwillingness to comment on questionable actions by OAU members. Nyerere did not hesitate to criticize Amin’s deplorable actions. Amin was popular in the OAU because he claimed Uganda as a black African nation and he did not acquiesce to the pressure of Western nations. Amin was adept at manipulating Russia and Muslim nations in his favor. He received aid in the form of weapons from Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi and publicly supported the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Two events reflected Uganda’s worsening political and human condition in the mid-1970’s. In late June, 1976, the PLO hijacked an Air France jet and flew the hostages to Uganda’s Entebbe Airport in an arrangement approved by Amin. Terrorist acts On July 4, an Israeli tactical team rescued the hostages, killed the hijackers and thirty Ugandan soldiers, and destroyed eleven Russian MiG fighters, which represented much of the Ugandan air force. Entebbe, Israeli raid Amin ordered the murder of the only hijacking hostage left behind, an elderly British woman who had been moved to a Kampala hospital. Amin was humiliated when the United Nations refused to sanction Israel. In 1977, Amin’s soldiers arrested Anglican archbishop Janani Luwum and two ministers. Shortly after the arrest, Amin announced that the three men had died in a car accident, but witnesses described last seeing the archbishop in Amin’s main torture prison. The incident at Entebbe and the murder of the archbishop strengthened world opinion against Amin.

Amin’s paranoia caused the leader to turn on his loyal Muslim civil servants and soldiers. Amin tried to assassinate his brother-in-law, General Mustafa Adrisi. The general left Uganda for treatment in Cairo, Egypt. Amin turned his attention to the troops loyal to Adrisi. In response, a seasoned regiment mutinied. Amin sent loyal troops after the rebels, who evaded Amin’s soldiers by slipping across the Tanzanian border. Through Radio Kampala, Amin announced that Tanzanian forces had invaded Uganda with tanks and armor. In October, 1978, he traveled to Saudi Arabia to request that Muslim African nations help in combating the Tanzanians.

The Saudis were shocked when Amin appeared in traditional Arab robes. They were accustomed, as was the world, to seeing Amin in his colorful military uniforms, with a multitude of unidentifiable medals on his chest. Amin’s requests for help were ignored. A day later, Ugandan forces invaded the Kagera region of Tanzania, destroying the region’s sugar mills and cattle ranches, and looting villages.

Amin fashioned fanciful public statements about the Ugandan invasion of Tanzania. He described himself as the conqueror of Britain. Amin discussed his success extending the Ugandan border up the Kagera River and his troops’ readiness to attack any part of Tanzania. He also mentioned the naming of his newborn daughter, Kagera, in honor of the battle.

Nyerere expected the OAU to condemn Amin and demand a withdrawal of Ugandan troops. Instead, the members equivocated and urged an OAU mediation between the two countries. Nyerere snapped, “Do you negotiate with a burglar when he is in your house?” Several months went by without an OAU response to the conflict. On Tanzanian Independence Day, Nyerere expressed his frustration in a speech, comparing Amin’s violence to that of white leaders in Rhodesia and South Africa.

The Tanzanian people were angered by reports that the Ugandan soldiers had kidnapped women and children. Nyerere directed Tanzanian troops to follow Ugandan soldiers back into Uganda to their encampments. The Ugandans welcomed the Tanzanian troops. Nyerere was concerned about retaliation against the Ugandans. He crafted a careful message to the people of Uganda stating that while Tanzania approved of Amin’s downfall, the Tanzanian troops were not in Uganda to remove Amin from power.

In March of 1979, Amin appealed to Qaddafi for additional arms and troops. Qaddafi gave Tanzania twenty-four hours to leave Uganda. Nyerere refused to comply. He was certain that Amin would retaliate against Ugandan civilians who had supported the Tanzanians as liberators. He allowed the Uganda National Liberation Front Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), headed by Professor Yusuf Lule, to meet at the Ugandan-Tanzanian border. The UNLF planned a government to replace Amin’s military dictatorship, formed an army of exiled and dissident Ugandans, and joined the Tanzanian People’s Defense Forces directed by Nyerere. They crossed cautiously into Uganda. Amin’s troops practiced a scorched earth policy on their fellow countrymen. The Ugandan countryside was devastated.

The UNLF and the Tanzanian forces had brief encounters with the Ugandan forces but moved quickly toward Kampala. The biggest battle was outside the capital on the main road to the city. The Libyan forces and Amin’s troops had to stay on the roads with their troop carriers and tanks, but the Tanzanian forces had been trained in jungle trekking techniques. The UNLF and Tanzanian forces used surprise tactics, going around the road through jungles and swamps. Amin’s troops loaded military vehicles with loot and abandoned the Libyan military forces. On April 11, 1979, the liberation forces entered Kampala. The Tanzanian People’s Defense Force remained in Uganda to keep peace until the new government was established.

Amin fled Uganda by air with four wives, twenty children, and several mistresses. His first stop as an exile was in Libya; his second stop was in Iraq. Amin moved on to Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, where he lived with his large family. He received a monthly pension, a home, and servants from the Saudi government. In 1989, Amin tried to return to Uganda but was stopped in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), identified, and forced to return to Saudi Arabia. Amin died in a Saudi hospital on August 16, 2003, of organ failure.


Idi Amin’s eight-year reign of terror focused world attention on emerging African nations and highlighted the vulnerability of populations under brutal dictatorships. The people of Uganda forced Amin from power and into exile in a relatively bloodless, six-month war, but Amin was never tried in any court for crimes against humanity. The number of his victims cannot be accurately counted. Revolutions and coups;Uganda Uganda;government

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Avirgan, Tony, and Martha Honey. War in Uganda: The Legacy of Idi Amin. Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill, 1982. Deals specifically with the Uganda-Tanzania War and Ugandan politics immediately thereafter.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Decalo, Samuel. Psychoses of Power: African Personal Dictatorships. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1989. Provides some insight into the psychology of Amin and his mental illness.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jamison, Martin. Idi Amin and Uganda: An Annotated Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992. Comprehensive listing of source material, such as magazine articles, scholarly journal articles, and books on Idi Amin and Uganda, with brief descriptions of the main points of each source.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kyemba, Henry. A State of Blood: The Inside Story of Idi Amin. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1977. The Ugandan minister of health under Amin provides details about Amin’s violent temper and erratic behavior.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, George Ivan. Ghosts of Kampala. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980. Explicates Amin’s eight-year rule through personal accounts. The author returned to Uganda soon after Amin’s exile and examined documents left by Amin.

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