Idi Amin, The Butcher of Uganda

If you have seen the movie The Last King of Scotland you would understand what I wanted to do in Kampala, Uganda.  I wanted to learn more about what the country has gone through, what these people’s history really entailed, and how it has influenced the nation, developing it into Uganda as we know it today.  I wanted to see the remaining footprints of Idi Amin, the military leader and President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979.

In a nutshell, borrowed from About.com, “Idi Amin Dada, who became known as the ‘Butcher of Uganda’ for his brutal, despotic rule whilst president of Uganda in the 1970s, is possibly the most notorious of all Africa’s post-independence dictators. Amin seized power in a military coup in 1971 and ruled over Uganda for 8 years. Estimates for the number of his opponents who were either killed, tortured, or imprisoned vary from 100,000 to half a million. He was ousted in 1979 by Ugandan nationalists, after which he fled into exile.”

I highly recommend reading the BBC Ugandan profile to understand the history and About.com.

I went to the Mengo Palace which stands on one of Uganda’s hills overlooking Idi Amin’s private lake, and from where one can see Gaddafi’s mosque.  The Palace itself is quite modern looking, and if I remember correctly, its architectural design was a gift from England.  Tourists are not allowed to enter, however the reason I came here was that the same grounds are home to the infamous prison and torture chambers built by Idi Amin in the 1970s.  They were later used by President Obote for the same sinister purposes.

The torture chambers were haunting.  Originally designed to store the army’s weaponry, we were told that they were commissioned to be built by Israelis who had no idea that the purpose of these cemented underground caves would be changed upon completion.  They were used for some of humanity’s worst atrocities.

The victims would be blind-folded and driven around the palace grounds all day in order to make them believe they there were far away from where the drive started.  None would guess that they were still on palace grounds in Kampala.  The chambers are elevated multiple feet above the ground and are surrounded by water.  The only way in when the torture chambers were active, was by boat.  The water was electrified, turned on and off as necessary by those in command.  When the entrance was closed there was no light.  Each chamber held about 500 people.  Oxygen would run out, feces would pile, victims starved.  Some chose to jump into the electrified water to end their suffering quickly.

The marks from the wires still run in the walls.  On some walls are charcoal messages.  One such message reads Obote, you have killed me, but what about my children!  Twisted, Idi Amin enjoyed the torture chambers so much that he chose to have them replicated and started to build a second set. Neither he, nor Obote could finish this task.

I was reminded of Cape Coast in Ghana, where slaves were also held captive in such dense quarters.  While slavery did exist in the African Kingdoms prior to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, it had never before been to such a scale.  Initially, the Slave Trade developed along the pre-existing slavery contexts and along internal African trading routes; however, the large-scale horrendous movement of human cargo, such as the slave exporting purpose of Cape Coast, Ghana, was perpetrated by foreigners.  Thus, the overwhelming difference that shocked me most with Idi Amin’s reign in Uganda was that the merciless torture and killing was carried out by a fellow Ugandan at scales unseen before.  According to this website, Idi Amin is ranked number 7 on the list of the world’s most evil men. Many websites describe his sickening torture methods.

Due to technical mishaps, I am unable to post additional photos, so if you are interested in seeing these prisons and torture chambers, check out this link.  They aren’t gruesome to look at, unless you can image what was once the reality of what you are looking at.  Clicking on the photos should open up and allow you to see additional photos that other travelers have posted.

It really is a shame that this history is similar to those of multiple leaders around the world.  Was it Idi Amin who used power for evil, or did having access to so much power corrupt him?  Once hailed and celebrated as a hero by fellow Ugandans and the international community, I cannot help but wonder how the world could have been so blind.  Some say he suffered of illness.

How is it that those who know no love for humanity, often gain and maintain power for so long?

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