Amin was born either in Koboko or Kampala to a Kakwa father and Lugbara mother. In 1946, he joined the King's African Rifles (KAR) of the British Colonial Army as a cook. He rose to the rank of lieutenant, taking part in British actions against Somali rebels in the Shifta War and then the Mau Mau rebels in Kenya. Uganda gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, and Amin remained in the armed forces, rising to the position of major and being appointed Commander of the Army in 1965. He became aware that Ugandan President Milton Obote was planning to arrest him for misappropriating army funds, so he launched a military coup in 1971 and declared himself President.
During his years in power, Amin shifted from being a pro-western ruler enjoying considerable support from Israel to being backed by Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, Zaire's Mobutu Sese Seko, the Soviet Union, and East Germany. In 1975, Amin became the chairman of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), a Pan-Africanist group designed to promote solidarity among African states. Uganda was a member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights from 1977 to 1979. The UK broke diplomatic relations with Uganda in 1977, and Amin declared that he had defeated the British and added "CBE" to his title for "Conqueror of the British Empire". Radio Uganda then announced his entire title: "His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Alhaji Dr. Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE".
As Amin's rule progressed into the late 1970s, there was increased unrest against his persecution of certain ethnic groups and political dissidents, along with Uganda's very poor international standing due to Amin's support for the terrorist hijackers in Operation Entebbe. He then attempted to annex Tanzania's Kagera Region in 1978, so Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere had his troops invade Uganda; they captured Kampala on 11 April 1979 and ousted Amin from power. Amin then went into exile, first in Libya and then in Saudi Arabia, where he lived until his death on 16 August 2003.
Amin's rule was characterized by rampant human rights abuses, political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings, nepotism, corruption, and gross economic mismanagement. International observers and human rights groups estimate that between 100,000 and 500,000 people were killed under his regime. It earned him the nickname "The Butcher of Uganda."