Educated at a local primary school he joined the 4th (Uganda) Battalion of the King's African Rifles in 1946 and served with the KAR in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising. A keen sportsman, he was Uganda heavyweight boxing champion between 1951 and 1960 and a formidable rugby player, the only African in the all-white Nile Rugby Club.
He became one of the first "effendis” warrant officers, after a course in Kenya in 1959. As the colonial army rushed to Africanise in 1961 before independence, he was promoted full lieutenant, one of the first two Uganda African officers. The same week he opened his first bank account and ran up an overdraft of about £2,000 after a wild shopping spree down Jinja High Street.
In 1963, after a commanding officers’ course at the School of Infantry in Wiltshire, he flew home to take command of the 1st Battalion with the rank of major. An attempted army mutiny had taken place while he was still in England and President Obote decided to rid himself of his top British officers. In 1964 Amin was promoted colonel and deputy commander of the army. On March 25, 1965, Daudi
Ochcng, a back-bench Muganda MP, asked for an enquiry into the large sums of money that were passing through Amin’s bank account. He alleged that Amin got the money by selling the gold and ivory that was given to him by Congolese rebels to buy arms on their behalf. He demanded a government enquiry and his suspension. This move was endorsed by Parliament and the majority of the cabinet.
But President Obote, who was also implicated, reacted swiftly. He took over the powers of government, promoted Amin to Army Commander and instituted an independent Commission of Enquiry. Amin gave evidence, saying that he had been paid large sums of money by the Congolese rebels to buy supplies for them and that he had spent the money accordingly. In August 1968 he was promoted major-general and his Position as Commander of the Armed forces was confirmed.
But Obote did not trust Amin fully. The Defence Council met for the last time in July 1969 and Obote started organising the General Service Unit as a second army”. In October 1970 Amin Was kicked upstairs to a powerless position, while new commanders were put in charge of the army and air force.
When Obote left for the Commonwealth Heads of State Conference in mid January 1971, he ordered Amin to prepare written reports on the disappearance of arms and military funds. Shortly after his departure a soldier arrived at Amin’s house to tell him that pro-Obote troops were on their way to arrest him. Reacting with instinctive sharpness, he rallied the majority of the army and by dawn on January 26, 1971 took over.
The coup was popular; he released 55 detainees. The Baganda considered they had been rescued and Amin restored the body of their beloved Kabaka, who had died in London exile, to them. But the army was badly divided and intertribal fighting broke out at army barracks in February, March and particularly in July, which Amin blamed on guerrillas, whom he was powerless to control.
In foreign affairs relations were strained with President Nyerere of Tanzania, who gave shelter to Milton Obote and his supporters. This led to a dispute inside the East African Community and border skirmishes settled by Jomo Kenyatta on November 23, 1971.
Amin started on a friendly basis with Israel, but, disappointed by their niggardly policy on arms and aid, turned to Libya’s Colonel Qaddafi who agreed to support him provided he turned the Israelis out. This he did by April 1, 1972.
He next turned on the Asians who had made themselves rich in the course of nearly a century of trading and industry. On August 9, 1972, he gave them 90 days to get out of the country, and touched off a diplomatic crisis with Britain as a result.
Taking advantage of the Asian crisis, supporters of Obote attempted an invasion from Tanzania on September 17, 1972, but Amin showed that he had the support of the majority of the army and country by stopping the invading forces near to the Tanzania frontier and preventing outbreaks of trouble at other army units.
He surprised the world by achieving his objective of expelling some 50,000 Asians from the country by November 7. On the same day he ordered various British firms and farmers to sell up and leave the country and on January 4, 1973, announced the take-over of 90% of the British firms in the country.
While President Obote talked incessantly about the “common man” Amin is the common man. Unlike many western educated Africans interpreting the feelings of the masses, Amin is a true black African son of the people, as he frequently reminds his listeners.
A huge giant, standing 6ft 3in tall, but remarkably soft spoken with a polite graciousness and endearing sense of humour which belies the ruthlessness of a man who has fought his way to the top despite his lack of schooling.
Fast talking, quick thinking, he follows no logical strategy, but reacts fast taking sudden, often surprising, decisions based on an instinctive feeling for what the people want. But when he has made up his mind he follows an uncompromising course.
He rules alone, there is no power circle around him and he has been unwilling to delegate authority. He had no answer to the tribal fighting which killed hundreds of his army officers, or to the disappearance and death of many prominent Uganda citizens. But his expulsion of the Asians was widely acclaimed in Africa as a courageous decision even if his method and haste seemed crude and unjust. As a character and personality he has achieved notoriety. He has been continually challenged in the world’s Press to account for the large number of missing Ugandans who have disappeared since he came to power.