14 July 1971
On 14 July 1971, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was the guest of honour at a state banquet with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Newspaper coverage was mostly favourable. An editorial in the Daily Telegraph declared that Amin was ‘a staunch friend of Britain.’1 The Birmingham Daily Post reported that ‘this is President Amin’s first trip out of Uganda since he seized power,’ and added that ‘he has promised to honour the debts which were inherited from Dr. Obote.’ The Times was also strongly supportive, noting that Amin ‘was helpfully frank… about the main purpose of his visit to Britain. He wants arms from Uganda’s “traditional supplier,”‘ adding that ‘by all accounts he is receiving a cordial welcome. This is as it should be.’ Uganda was not yet, the paper admitted, ‘a stable and united country,’ but there was ‘no doubt his (Amin’s) good intentions in this regard.’2
The Foreign Office knew that Amin was already enforcing his own rule through brutal and authoritarian methods, but it made no attempts to correct the cheerleading chorus of praise from the press. The logic behind its discretion is revealed in a brief it published explaining that ‘General Amin has abandoned Obote’s radical pan-African policies for a more moderate and pro-Western policy.’ He had denationalised several of the eighty formerly British companies taken into public ownership by Uganda’s previous president, Milton Obote, and the British government was understandably keen to back their new pro-Western friend with military support. During Amin’s visit to London, a £2 million contract was signed to supply 26 Saladin and six Saracen armoured personnel carriers.3 The Times, commenting on the sale, remarked that ‘armoured vehicles… have proved the most decisive weapon in present day African warfare,’ and it speculated as to whether they might be used in ‘fighting (inside Uganda) which…. may be at least party the result of internal divisions.’4
Over the next eight years, Amin subjected Uganda, to what New York Times columnist, Michael T. Kaufman, described as an ‘eight year reign of terror,’ in which he killed ‘close to 300,000 out of a population of 12 million,’ adding that ‘those murdered were mostly anonymous people: farmers, students, clerks and shopkeepers who were shot or forced to bludgeon one another to death by members of death squads.’5 Another estimate, compiled by exiled Ugandans with the help of Amnesty International put the total number killed at approximately 500,000.6 Amin was also responsible for expelling some 60,000 Asians from Uganda, after seizing their property, businesses and land, as well as thousands of cases of forced disappearances, torture and extra-judicial executions.
- The Daily Telegraph cited in Mark Curtis, Unpeople: Britain’s Secret Human Rights Abuses, Vintage, London, 2004, p. 254.
- ‘Uganda May Seek Arms in Britain,’ The Birmingham Daily Post, 13 July 1971, p.1 and ‘How Many Arms Does Uganda Need ?’ The Times, 15 July 1971, p. 17.
- Mark Curtis, op. cit., p. 254.
- ‘How Many Arms Does Uganda Need ?’ The Times, 15 July 1971, p. 17.
- Michael T. Kaufman, ‘Idi Amin, Murderous and Eratic Ruler in the 70’s, Dies in Exile,’ The New York Times, 17 August 2003, accessed online at url https://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/17/world/idi-amin-murderous-and-erratic-ruler-of-uganda-in-the-70-s-dies-in-exile.html
- Patrick Keatley, ‘Idi Amin,’ The Guardian, 18 August 2003 accessed online at url https://www.theguardian.com/news/2003/aug/18/guardianobituaries
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