How many people did Idi Amin kill?

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Idi Amin: source

Speak to African immigrants and most have a few  anecdotes to share from  conversations on their travels.

These conversations provide an insight into the narrative that has been constructed about the continent. As an African immigrant, you soon discover that, even someone  that has never visited a single African country, treats such narrative as gospel truth. This induces all manner of emotions in us including anger, frustration, surprise etc and can lead to heated discussions in an effort to set the record straight.

Imagine this if you will, an English girl I used to work with said to me, “all African children are orphans, aren’t they?

My immediate response was, and where did you hear that?

“From my English language teacher”

I asked her how old she was,

“I am  23″

I told her, that her teacher was mistaken, that whilst they are orphans in African countries, not all children on the continent are orphans.

I was able to set the record straight in this instance.

But what if you can’t set the record straight, because you do not have the facts?

My immigrant story and one that is guaranteed to continue for as long as I continue to live outside of Uganda, goes something like this

“Where do you come from?”

From Uganda

I almost always get one or both of these responses



“Idi Amin”

This is usually followed by long discussions about Amin’s regime. I am often left frustrated because my own recollection of that regime is patchy. I was a child during Amin’s Uganda and the adults at time didn’t talk about their experience and even today, some will not discuss what it was like

A week ago, I was drawn to this comment on Minna Salami’s Facebook Fan page

Hussein Amin, the son of late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, is not the most objective of persons to complain of his father’s obituary in The Guardian. But reading that he has just done that, I am thinking of the metaphoric similarity between writing about Africa and about Idi Amin, which merely encourages rudimentary debate. If you read the obituary that was published in 2003, words such as ‘savage’, ‘barbaric’ and ‘animal magnetism’ jump at you. The caricature portrayal of Amin as a buffoon-type, in the obituary and generally, is so elementary that it actually detracts from the bitter truths of his regime and from providing a diligent analysis for posterity. It would be useful if the son’s request sparks a discussion about the quality of journalism and/or ruthless politics rather than yet another round of smug ridicule. As Chinua Achebe said, “writing which uses emotive words and other forms of trickery to induce hypnotic stupor in their reader has much more at stake than stylistic felicity.”

I was intrigued by Minna’s comment and headed over to The Guardian to read Amin’s obituary. I could not challenge, Hussein Amin, Minna nor The Guardian’s  points of views as I have gaps in my own recollection.

I for instance, have a memory dating back to that time. In my mind’s eye, I was at a boarding school in a town called Lugazi in central Uganda and this boarding school was surrounded by a woodland. I  recall hearing gunshots emanating out of that woodland, the sort you would hear at a firing range.

Could it be that this was the location of the mass murders Amin is said to have committed?

Could I have imagined the incident?

I have sought the answer to this last question for several years now and I am no where near to resolving it. I have spoken to my mother and my older sister about it and they say it is quite possible that this woodland was indeed a location for some of the killings but they cannot confirm it either. This is because most of what transpired during Amin’s Uganda is still unknown and to date some people have no idea what became of their relatives.

Unable to come up with a response to Hussein Amin’s challenge to The Guardian,  I sought the views of fellow bloggers here and this is what they had to say

Andrew Maina

I think its a little cheeky on The Guardian’s part not to give a bit more details on the 15 areas of the obituary that were challenged, and on Hussein Amin’s part to ask for the changes for what appears to be his own political reputation.


Yes, I couldn’t tell if they were being dismissive and it was another attempt to control the narrative of history or if it was just a guy who couldn’t face the reality of his fathers legacy…or if it was just a case where he can face the reality of his fathers legacy but still wants accuracy as he disputes the numbers killed – killing 80k instead of 300k – he was not saying my father didn’t kill anybody, he was saying get the count straight. I think his son should simply write an autobiography if he wants people to pay attention to these disputes or an op-Ed in the form of an open letter to the guardian in a different online source.

Jimmy Kainja

First of all, I don’t know what the son wants to achieve for asking for the collection to the article that was published over 10 years ago.  And by the guardian’s explanation, it appears the article was well sourced and it was not based on mere speculation or hearsay . To me, in the absence of contradictory evidence, it’s impossible to get The guardian or any publication to do this. As journalism goes, families ties are not enough to contradict recorded evidence, more so on controversial issues such as Idi Amin’s legacy.

I don’t know political environment in Uganda, but perhaps there’s a political points to score given that the son want to run as an MP?

My take away from Minna, Andrew, Sitinga and Jimmy’s comments is that  ongoing quest for us as Africans to influence, challenge and even control the narrative about the continent.

But as in my experience with respect to Idi Amin’s Uganda, how do we achieve this  if we are not always in possession of the facts?

Notwithstanding Hussein Amin’s family ties, can he convincingly argue that  he is in possession of the facts with respect to his father’s manner of governance?

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