By Brian Barron
BBC Africa Correspondent 1977 - 1981
The first time I encountered the intimidating presence of the one-time sergeant major in the King's African Rifles was 26 years ago at a military ceremony in West Nile Province, his home tribal district. We landed on an old British colonial airstrip in one of his Hercules transports, normally used to import scarce luxury goods for the Ugandan dictator and his henchmen. It was a scorching day but Amin was wearing his field marshal's kit with its specially lengthened tunic - reaching almost to his knees - to accommodate all the medals he had awarded himself. Glinting in the sun was his Victoria Cross as self-proclaimed Conqueror of the British Empire. He was an obvious bully but capable of menacing charm. He was by no means stupid though he devoted his energy to preserving his own tyranny as well as liquidating his enemies and those who possessed something he wanted, like an attractive wife. Grouped around him were his hardcore toadies, headed by a seedy expatriate known universally as Major Bob. For hours Amin reviewed a military march-past, one of his favourite pastimes. By early 1979 his grip on power was slipping. A comically absurd series of attacks on Tanzanian territory by his incompetent and often drunk soldiers finally provoked President Julius Nyerere. The Tanzanian leader mobilised an armoured column and after several months it was closing in on the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya sent his own intervention force to try to bolster Amin but they too proved almost useless and the Ugandan army retreated towards Jinja. Concrete dungeons
We were the first foreign correspondents to reach abandoned Kampala and, through crowds dancing in the street, we immediately went to the headquarters of his secret police, the State Research Bureau, SRB. Below ground level the power had failed. We stumbled down the stairs of the empty building into a charnel house. The...