Hiding away in an east London caf
Who is . .
Nick Hopkins and Giles Foden
The last time Sarah Kyolaba Amin commanded this much attention, her life was different. As the fifth wife of the former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, she lived in splendour and travelled the world meeting dignitaries. She was even granted an audience with the pope.
Now Amin is back in the spotlight. Twenty years on, she has the memories of the pomp and ceremony, but nothing more.
It emerged yesterday that she works in a shabby corner of east London, running a caf serving African meals to locals, most of whom know nothing of her past.
A pack of reporters and photographers gathered outside Krishna’s Restaurant in Upton Road, West Ham, hoping to see the owner. Amin did not want to talk. She closed at noon, hurrying back to her terraced council house in Tottenham, north London, in a rusty gold BMW.
“She has been running the place for about a year,” said a neighbour. “She is friendly, but she doesn’t talk about her past. We know who she is, and we leave it at that.”
The proprietor of an Indian restaurant nearby was equally protective. “She rang me a few moments ago to say she is not coming back today. She doesn’t have anything to hide, but she doesn’t have anything to say either.”
The 43-year-old was the dictator’s favourite wife. She met Idi Amin when she was an 18-year-old go-go dancer in a band run by an army unit called the Revolutionary Suicide Mechanised Regiment.
Idi Amin, who had a prolific sexual appetite, was besotted. When Sarah Amin had a daughter by her then fianc on Christmas Day 1974, Idi Amin claimed the child as his own, ordering that the birth be announced on TV.
When the fianc objected to Idi Amin’s behaviour, he vanished. There were reports that he died in a car crash.
It is thought that Sarah Amin knew Idi Amin had killed him, but could say and do nothing for fear that he would have her murdered too.
They wed in 1975 in a private ceremony, but Idi Amin was worried that his people had missed out, announcing that he would marry her again in a lavish ceremony that would be televised.
Yasser Arafat was best man, and the banquet alone is thought to have cost 2-million. Idi Amin cut the wedding cake with a ceremonial sword.
The photographs of the “marriage” tell their own story. Idi Amin is beaming, while his bride appears anxious.
As the dictator’s antics and habits became notorious, his colonial sponsors were forced to drop him.
Calling himself “Conqueror of the British Empire”, he offered to take up the throne of Scotland to help Scots gain independence from Britain.
When the Tanzanian army invaded Uganda, he fled by personal jet to Tripoli in Libya. Sarah Amin was at his side until 1982 then fled to Germany, where she sought asylum and a divorce.
Her relief at escaping his clutches was evident.
“Freedom from him and for my daughter is all that counts now,” she said at the time. “I just want a new start. I don’t have any friends where I live.”
Sarah Amin lived in Bonn in a vandalised tower block. She tried and failed to establish herself as a model, appearing in lingerie at a Cologne fashion show.
“We hardly dare go out of doors. We are living on social security after a life of privilege,” she said.
Nobody is sure when she arrived in England, but she opened the restaurant last year, serving stewed goat, muchomo (barbequed meat with salad) and ekigere (cow hoof in gravy).
Things have not gone smoothly. Magistrates briefly closed her down last November when environmental health officers found cockroaches in the kitchen.
She spoke to her ex-husband recently, but does not like to talk about him.
“I don’t talk to anyone about my personal life,” she told The Evening Standard.
“My experience with journalists in Germany, where they wrote things about me even though I didn’t talk to them, taught me a lesson.”
Idi Amin, aged 73, now lives in Saudi Arabia with a Ugandan woman, Chumaru. Four years ago she gave birth to a daughter, his 43rd acknowledged child.
He is thought to receive 800 a month from the Saudi government, which supported him while he was in power.
According to a British businessman who sees him regularly, his pseudonym in Saudi Arabia is Dr Jaffa.
“It’s because he eats lots of oranges everyday. He believes they will restore his sexual prowess.”
The wives of Idi Amin
n Malayamu: Idi Amin, then a 28-year-old sergeant in the King’s African Rifles and heavyweight boxing champion of Uganda, fell in love with a schoolteacher’s statuesque daughter in 1953, but did not marry her until 1966. They had several children before the formal tribal recognition of the liaison. Amin drifted away from his wife as his power, and appetite for younger women, grew.
n Kay:the dignified, quiet daughter of a clergyman and a student at Makerere University. The (Christian) ceremony, also in 1966, was held in Amin’s home town Arua. The best man was later murdered, as was Kay (who took a lover) after her divorce. Her severed limbs were found in a burlap sack in the boot of a car. Amin ordered that they be sewn back together, and paraded the corpse before his children and other wives.
n Nora: a girl from the Langi tribe of Amin’s boss, Milton Obote, then president of Uganda. Amin made this political marriage in 1967, to persuade Obote that he was not plotting against him - which he was. Like all of Amin’s first three wives, she had lived in virtual isolation in his two presidential lodges, until he finally divorced her in 1974, along with Malayamu and Kay.
n Medina: a lithe dancer with the Heartbeat Of Africa troupe, she caught Amin’s eye while performing at state functions. They married in 1972. Her light-coloured skin prompted Amin to give her the nickname Kahawa (“coffee” in Swahili). Medina still lives in Uganda, where her two sons by Amin are stars of the Uganda basketball team.
n Sarah: a go-go dancer in the jazz band of the so-called Revolutionary Suicide Mechanised Unit of the Ugandan army. Amin used to have Sarah brought to him at his demand. Married 1975, in two ceremonies: one for the leaders of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the other for a television film. Sarah was also Amin’s co- driver in the OAU rally.
n Chumaru: A demure young Ugandan woman Amin took with him when he fled to Saudi Arabia in 1979. Mother of his four youngest children, she cooks African food for him in his roomy desert villa.
In 1993 he said of his other wives: “When I am no longer president, some of them say they don’t want me. I accept it frankly. I have had one wife since and have found, also, to have one wife is better.”
Giles Foden’s novel about Idi Amin, The Last King Of Scotland, was published by Faber and Faber earlier this year.