December 2, 2014

Ugandan dictator Idi Amin died over a decade ago, in August of 2003. Like news organizations all over the world, The Guardian published an obituary that told the story of how Amin grew up, came to power and then led with a bloody, iron fist. (As noted in the obit, the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva estimated the death toll during his leadership to be at least 80,000 and likely closer to 300,000.)

Amin’s death and the obits that followed it are old news. But not for his son, Hussein Amin. He recently wrote to Chris Elliott, The Guardian’s readers’ editor, to object. “Allow me to raise my displeasure at a Guardian obituary about my father, Idi Amin,” he wrote.

Amin, it seems, intends to run for public office and wants to clear some things up about his dad. Elliott detailed the request and his response in a fascinating column. It offers some insight into how the organization sought to try and recheck some of the details in an 11 year-old obit, which was written by a now-deceased correspondent.

“The readers’ editor’s office always considers a complaint seriously, from wherever it comes,” Elliott wrote. “The son of the principal is always worth listening to, although that relationship does not guarantee the complainant will always be right.”

Here’s a sample of Amin’s objections, via Elliott:

The concerns included the death toll during Idi Amin’s regime; whether he took part in the Burma campaign during the second world war; his part in the Turkana massacre; and even the estimated date of his birth as stated in the obituary: “Amin was born around 1925 – exact records were not kept for Africans in those days – in Koboko county in West Nile district, home of the Kakwa tribe.”

Elliott worked with the paper’s research department to recheck details of the obituary. In the end, the younger Amin’s arguments about death tolls and other gruesome details were rejected by The Guardian. But it seems they concede a point regarding the date and location of Idi Amin’s birth.

“My father was born in 1928 while my grandfather was serving in Kampala and my grandmother was a herbalist treating the royal family of Buganda where the capital Kampala is,” Hussein Amin wrote.

Elliot conceded this point, writing that, “Details of Amin’s family life have some authority when told by his son.” (Though the paper has not added an update to the obit to add in this information.)

Apart from that point, Elliott concluded that “Hussein Amin’s other assertions, no matter how deeply felt, could not be independently verified.”

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Craig Silverman ( is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends…
Craig Silverman

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