December 1, 2016
KIRYANDONGO, UGANDA — Taban Idi Amin’s grandfather was an eccentric, vicious dictator who terrorized the nation he ruled.
So when Taban Idi Amin, a member of the National Resistance Movement ruling party, ran for a seat in Parliament to represent the Kibanda North constituency in Kiryandongo district, voters remembered his grandfather, Idi Amin.
“My opponent, Sam Amooti Otada, kept on mentioning to the people that they should not vote for me because there will be bloodshed, that I will kill them and torture them as my grandfather Idi Amin did when he was president of Uganda,” Taban Idi Amin says.
Despite Taban Idi Amin’s lineage, he won the election, ousting Otada, who had held the spot for 15 years.
“People wanted a new person to represent them with new ideals. People wanted change [and] better service delivery,” Taban Idi Amin says. “They saw that in me.”
But now, months after the February election, Taban Idi Amin is still battling against people’s memories of his grandfather, whether they supported or opposed him.
Idi Amin came to power in Uganda in 1971 in a military coup. The next eight years were marked by brutal killings and thousands of disappearances. Widely considered to have been mentally ill, Idi Amin gave himself the ostentatious title “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal al Hadji, Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.” He also claimed he was the uncrowned King of Scotland.
Idi Amin was overthrown in 1979 and left Uganda. He died in 2003 in Saudi Arabia.
He had five wives and many children. Gen. Shaban Amin, Taban Idi Amin’s father, was granted amnesty in 2012 by President Yoweri Museveni and is now a senior officer in the state security service. Taban Idi Amin refused to confirm to GPJ the name of his father’s mother, who was one of Idi Amin’s wives.
Taban Idi Amin, who is married and has a daughter, is the first descendant to run for a significant political office in the country. He refused to disclose his exact age or information on how he funded his political foray.
Another of Idi Amin’s grandsons, Sadik Amin of the opposition party Forum for Democratic Change, was in February elected mayor of Busia, in eastern Uganda.
Taban Idi Amin’s personality attracted voters.
“He is social,” says Kiiza Hassan, Taban Idi Amin’s campaign manager. “He interacts with people and can relate with them easily.”
Otada tried to scare voters by warning that Taban Idi Amin would repeat his grandfather’s violent acts, but voter Betty Lakot says she made her decision based on the candidate’s personal history of helping people in the area.
Taban Idi Amin has helped the community by providing a free ambulance, renovating a public hospital and other things, she says.
“It’s because of these services that he provided before he even announced that he would contest for [Parliament] that made people like him,” she says.
But other voters are skeptical.
Taban Idi Amin won “because he bought off buyers,” says Charles Busingye, a motorcyclist taxi driver. “He used to throw coins to the voters and also buy them alcohol. He corrupted the voters. That’s why he won, because the people are poor and [were] pleased with the little money he gave them.”
Winnie Kiiza, the major opposition party leader, says she’s not surprised that the Amin family name has returned to Ugandan politics.
“Some people don’t see the difference between Museveni and the former President Amin,” she says. “They see a dictator in Museveni, so voting for Amin’s grandson, who might even provide better infrastructure for the people like his grandfather, shouldn’t be surprising.”
Idi Amin outfitted Uganda with outstanding infrastructure, some of which is still in use, she says.
Mwanga Luyaga, a secondhand clothes trader in Kalerwe market in Kampala, says Idi Amin was good for Uganda.
“There is no president in Uganda who fought for the economic liberalization of the people of Uganda like Amin did, so in his grandson they see a nationalist,” he says.
Taban Idi Amin says he hopes to develop as his own person, even while honoring the positive elements of his grandfather’s legacy.
“To the people of Kibanda North, I am my own person. I am not my grandfather,” he says. “But even so, to many people, my grandfather loved Uganda, and that is a positive legacy that has stuck to people’s minds, even with all the mistakes he made.”
Nakisanze Segawa, GPJ, translated some interviews from Luganda.