5 February 1971
On 5th February 1971, on the day of Major General Idi Amin’s swearing in as president, following a military coup twelve days earlier, Britain was one of the first countries in the world to formally recognize his new government. Just five days earlier, a Foreign Office official had remarked, in an internal memorandum, that there was ‘something of the villain about him and he may well be quite unscrupulous and indeed ruthless.’1 Historian Mark Curtis, who has examined British government records during the period, observes that ‘Britain consciously supported and connived in the rise of Idi Amin because of long-standing British interests to get rid of governments like that of (former president Milton) Obote who were challenging “elites” and promoting “popular measures”‘ and he points out that ‘Amin effectively reversed Obote’s nationalisation plans.’2 It is not surprising that shortly after news of the coup broke, an editorial in The Times noted how ‘the replacement of Dr Obote by General Amin was received with ill-concealed relief in Whitehall.’3 Amin soon acquired a reputation as one of the most ruthless dictators of the twentieth century, earning himself the epithet – ‘the Butcher of Uganda.’
- Mark Curtis, Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses, Vintage, London, 2004, pp. 250.
- Ibid., p. 251.
- The Times cited in Godfrey Mwakikagile, Obote to Museveni: Political Transformation in Uganda since Independence, New Africa Press, Dar es Salaam, 2012, p. 254.
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