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Idi Amin

He killed as many as half a million people during his eight-year Ugandan dictatorship. Is it possible to distinguish the man from the monster?

Idi Amin Dada was born on 16 May 1925 in the West Nile Province of what is now Uganda. The family was deserted by his father when Amin was young so he was brought up by his mother who was a herbalist and diviner.

He grew up in the small Islamic tribe known as the Kakwa ethnic group and received no formal education.

From the small Kakwa ethnic group, he advanced in the Ugandan armed forces from private (1946) to major general (1968). During this period he served in Burma, Somalia and Kenya as well as Uganda. Amin gained a reputation for cruelty often being cashiered for becoming too violent in interrogations. Despite this, he rose through the ranks as he was a skilled soldier.

Between 1951 and 1960, Amin held Uganda's light heavyweight boxing championship proving his athletic prowess.

In 1971, he seized control of the government, toppling the regime of Milton Obote. He was initially welcomed as he returned King Freddie's body to Uganda and freed political prisoners as well as disbanding the secret police. In power, Amin exhibited an unpredictable personality, often capricious and cruel yet displaying a modicum of shrewdness and cunning.

His relatively brief regime was nonetheless vicious and corrupt; he brutally suppressed other ethnic groups and political enemies, killed what is believed to be nearly 300,000 (most innocent of any wrongdoing), tortured uncounted thousands more, and looted the nation's treasury.

In 1972, he ordered the expulsion of Ugandans of Asian extraction, thrusting the nation into economic chaos.

He was still considered to be a charming and gregarious leader and in 1975 he was voted in as the chair of the Organisation of African Unity. This was condemned by the United Nations.

Tanzanian troops joined exiled Ugandan nationalists to invade Uganda in 1978, and Amin was driven into exile in Saudi Arabia the following year. By this time, inflation had reached 1,000 per cent in Uganda and the international press became aware of his atrocities.

Idi Amin died of multiple organ failure in 2003 and was buried in Saudi Arabia.By the time of his death, he had five wives, three of whom he divorced. Sources differ widely about how many children he had but it is between 30 and 45.

The 'Butcher of Uganda' has been portrayed several times in films including 'Rise and Fall of Idi Amin'(1991) and 'The Last King ofScotland' in 2006. The latter was based on the 1998 novel of the same name by Giles Foden.

Actor Forest Whitaker portrayed Amin in the film and won a prize.