The Other Side of Idi Amin You never Knew About

Posted by Celestine on Thu July 3, 2014 in Uganda Travel Experiences.

“In the early 70s when I was a kid, we used to play from the state house compound in Entebbe. We played with the children of the president and sometimes we were invited for a cup of tea by their dad. He greeted us while he was on his regular roadwork exercise. We were just little children from the street but we dined with President Idi Amin Dada”. Helen.

The words of Helen echo something that could have been unique about the former president of Uganda, Idi Amin. This man was a dictator who took over power through a bloody coup and immediately embarked on a program to “hand the economy over to indigenous Ugandans”. In this process he expelled all Asians from Uganda, leading the country into a serious political and economic turmoil. The whole world learnt about this guy as a brutal tyrant, one whose eight year reign was characterized by mass killings estimated at 400,000.

However, that aside, Amin had an interesting social life that few Ugandans know about save for the elderly people who lived in Kampala City during his reign. It is said that Amin was a great fun of football, and his local team was Mbale Heroes, which is still there to date. He also avidly supported the Uganda Cranes, and regularly attended football matches at Nakivubo Stadium, shouting and celebrating each time his team won. With each important win, he organized parties for the players and bought them gifts, including nice vehicles.

Away from football, Amin enjoyed rides in his open roof vehicles, driving around town by himself, often without bodyguards and chatting with people on the street! I have been told that one time he even boarded a taxi from Kampala to Masaka, and went having conversations with other passengers. He loved swimming, and of course all around him were beautiful young ladies, I hear from Rwanda. There is one specific spot at the Grand Imperial Hotel which was his favorite, one he visited regularly to enjoy himself with his friends. This despot truly loved parting, lived a luxury life and wedded his wife twice due to “public demand”.  One wonders how he managed to live a double life of brutality and social enjoyment, the one bit that the naïve little Helen only knew about!

It is now thirty five years since he was ousted of power by Tanzanian forces but remnants of his reign are still visible. Ironically the elderly still remember him, some for killing their loved ones and messing up the country, and others for his social life and a few achievements for the country. Most Ugandans born after 1979, however know very little about Idi Amin, at the very least his social life.  In our Kampala city walk tours we take our visitors to some of the places where Amin spent his leisure time with friends, and to torture sites that still have visible marks of his terror. The idea is to tell our visitors the story of leadership gone wrong and lessons for us all, including future leaders.