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Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 00:14 GMT 01:14 UK

World: Africa

Idi Amin's legacy of terror

Ugandans celebrate after Amin was driven out of power in 1979

By BBC correspondent Brian Barron

Uganda has been holding celebrations to mark the overthrow of its former dictator, Idi Amin, 20 years ago.

Brian Barron reports from Kampala 20 years after witnessing Amin's downfall
During his eight years in power, he is said to have been responsible for the deaths of up to half a million Ugandans. Many more were imprisoned and tortured.

These days, the signs of the horror that once engulfed Uganda are few and far between. Uganda is enjoying the best economic times in a generation.

But few here are untouched by the past.

[ image: State research bureau was at the heart of Amin's terror state]
State research bureau was at the heart of Amin's terror state
Among the thousands butchered in the state research bureau was a cabinet minister, an Archbishop and hundreds of army officers.

Civil servant James Kahigirizi was one of the few prisoners to emerge alive from what were the dungeons of a mean secret police.

" There were men taken out every night. Whenever a guard stood there at night, some of us covered our faces, thinking they were going to call you at that time to go back. Idi Amin was a devil," he said.

Amin - the self-styled field marshall

Idi Amin was a former British colonial army sergeant and heavy-weight boxer, who seized power in a coup.

[ image: Amin lives in exile in Saudi Arabia]
Amin lives in exile in Saudi Arabia
He was finally overthrown when the army of neighbouring Tanzania invaded Uganda. After this last battle 20 years ago, Amin fled into exile.

He lives in Saudi Arabia, apparently safe from justice.

Now Uganda's destiny lies with an altogether different kind of strongman - Yoweri Museveni, a guerrilla commander turned statesman. He says there could never be another reign of terror.

"We have tamed the army. They are in the barracks and they know their orders," he said.

Ordinary Ugandans look back to Amin 20 years ago and vow "never again."

[ image: Uganda remains one of Africa's poorest countries]
Uganda remains one of Africa's poorest countries
But the massacre of Western tourists in Uganda's gorilla sanctuary by rebel militia who crossed the border five months ago underscores the hazards still facing the Kampala Government.

The capital itself is secure. Inch by inch, living standards are rising, though this remains one of the continent's poorest countries.

Western donors have made Uganda their best hope in Africa, but corruption and rising defence spending are growing problems.

Putting this tribalised country back together is no sure thing.

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