Obituary of Sir James Hennessy: The Composed Diplomat Who Handled Idi Amin

Published: May. 4, 2024

"One moment, he epitomized charm; the next he morphed into a cold-blooded murderer." This peculiar, yet frightening dichotomy was an everyday reality when negotiating with the notorious military dictator of Uganda, President Idi Amin.

Being a diplomat often requires dealing with challenging situations and mercurial personalities. Yet, none quite compare to the surreal and perilous debacle British High Commissioner James Hennessy encountered during his tenure in Uganda, beginning in late 1973.

Hennessy found himself in the unenviable position of frequently interacting with Amin and witnessing his dangerously unstable demeanor firsthand. There were fleeting moments when circumstances seemed favorable. But Amin's method of expressing his goodwill was, to say the least, highly unorthodox.

Hennessy vividly recollected one outlandish incident that occurred on a tranquil Sunday afternoon, "There was an unexpected knock on the door of my official residence", he said. Unfazed by the unavoidable exigencies of public life, his wife pushed open the door.

What happened next could only be portrayed as a scene straight out of the macabre annals of a strange farce. "There stood Amin, casually asking, ‘May I come in?’", remembered Commissioner Hennessy. Under the eyes of the man who inspired both dread and awe in his people, she had little choice but to concede. Following her reluctant acquiescence, Amin lumbered in, trailing behind him, a phalanx of military officers. The cliffhanger is the moment before the door opens, which raises questions about the President's intentions and the consequences of this seemingly innocuous visit.


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