- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006

KAMPALA, Uganda - For many Ugandans, his booming laugh is enough by itself to bring back memories of the bad old days.

Taban Amin, the eldest son of the late dictator Idi Amin, is every inch the larger-than-life character his father was — a boisterous giant of a man whose personality is as big as his physical presence.

Unlike most of Idi Amin’s other 43 children, however, he was not content to spend the rest of his life in quiet exile after the tyrant was ousted in 1979. A year and a half after returning to Uganda under an amnesty offered by President Yoweri Museveni, Taban Amin, 51, has taken a senior job in the feared state security services — the organization with which his father maintained his reign of terror.

In what many see as a sign of Gen. Museveni’s desperation to cling to power, Taban Amin, a former army officer, has been appointed a deputy director of Uganda’s internal security organization, part of the apparatus blamed for the growing harassment of the president’s political rivals.

The appointment, made just two weeks before Uganda’s presidential election, marks a rapid political rehabilitation for Taban Amin, who moved to neighboring Zaire — now the Democratic Republic of the Congo — after his father’s downfall. Until 2003, he was the leader of the West Nile Bank Front, a 6,000-man militia led by Ugandan ex-army officers intent on returning the Amin name to power.

Idi Amin died in exile in Saudi Arabia in 2003, having been warned by Gen. Museveni that he would face war-crimes charges in the deaths of up to 400,000 people if he returned to Uganda.

Although Gen. Museveni and Taban Amin now seem the best of friends — the latter backed the general’s campaign for today’s election, even offering the services of the Congolese jazz band that he fronts in his spare time — many Ugandans view their alliance as ominous. Just the presence of the name Amin in the country’s security apparatus resurrects grim memories of Idi Amin’s bloody eight-year rule.

Taban Amin is thought to harbor political ambitions of his own, although he told the Sunday Telegraph that Ugandans had no reason to fear him. “Amin ruled in the 1970s; now it is 2006 — it is a different time,” he said. “Amin’s name is so tough in Uganda that some people are scared, but what Amin did is not what I will do: I’m his son, but I am not his heart.”

The appointment came in the face of escalating tensions in the run-up to the election. Until recently, Gen. Museveni was hailed as the African leader of the future: He stopped the appalling human rights violations of his predecessors, introduced democratic elections and pioneered an effective campaign against the spread of AIDS.

But in the past year, he has quashed press freedoms, amended the constitution so he can continue to run for office and charged the opposition leader — his former personal physician, Kizza Besigye — with treason.

There are fears that the voting today could be a flash point for violence.

Taban Amin’s new job will be in the region bordering the Congo where he has long commanded support. Opposition politicians see it as an effort to win support there for Gen. Museveni.

The re-emergence of an Amin was not the only surreal turn for Uganda as election day neared.

On almost every street corner and in almost every political rally, lifelike effigies of Gen. Museveni and Mr. Besigye were paraded. The likenesses were produced when Mr. Besigye was in prison last year and it seemed he would be unable to campaign in person.

Once Gen. Museveni’s supporters noticed how effective the likenesses were as a campaign symbol, they made their own.

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