Bob Astles

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Robert "Bob" Astles (born Robert Asketill, 23 March 1924[1] – 29 December 2012[2]) was a British soldier and colonial officer who lived in Uganda and became an associate of presidents Milton Obote and Idi Amin.

Early life[edit]

Bob Astles was born in Ashford, Kent. He joined the British Indian Army as a teenager and then the Royal Engineers, reaching the rank of Lieutenant. Of his war service, he recalled: "I enjoyed being with other nationalities and their fights for world recognition during World War II."[1] He was 21 when he left the United Kingdom for Africa.

Ugandan career[edit]

In 1949, Astles was sent on special duties during the Bataka uprising in Buganda. His first job in Uganda was as a colonial officer with the Ministry of Works, then with £100 he set up Uganda Aviation Services Ltd, the first airline in Uganda to employ Africans. As Uganda's independence approached in 1962, Astles became involved with a number of political groups. One of these was led by Milton Obote, who led the country to independence. Astles worked in his government until the 1971 coup d'état, when he transferred his allegiance to Amin.

In December, suspicion fell on Astles because of his previous support for Obote. Amin sent him to Makindye Prison where he spent 17 weeks, often shackled and brutally interrogated. Astles later said, "Amin called me a 'rotten apple' on the radio, and nationalised my airline. It was ordinary Africans who helped me to survive. One guard was kicked to death for helping me."[1]

In 1975, Astles joined Amin's service, becoming the head of the anti-corruption squad and advising the president on British affairs, while running a pineapple farm. He also presided over an aviation service that transported members of the government. Astles later said "I kept my eyes shut, I said nothing about what I saw, which is what they liked". What Astles did or did not do during Amin's reign is a matter of conjecture. Some considered him to be a malign influence on the dictator; others thought he was a moderating presence. That was Astles's own claim. In an interview inside a Ugandan prison, with the journalist Paul Vallely who had secured it after smuggling a message inside a Bible to Amin's former right-hand man, he claimed: "I was the only person he could trust because I never asked him for anything – no fine house, no privileges, no Mercedes-Benz. I was the only one, perhaps because I was white, who he could be sure was not after his job and his life. If Idi Amin ever had a sincere friend, it was Bob Astles. I was the only person who could cope with him. The other members of his Government would phone me and say: ‘Can you come quickly, he is out of control.’ I would go and let him shout and rail at me and then I would try to calm him down. I was one of the few people he trusted."[3] Astles came to be known as "Major" Bob (the title of Major was given to him by Amin) or "the White Rat" among other white Ugandans.[1]


Following the Uganda-Tanzania War which led to the demise of Amin's regime in 1979, Astles fled to Kenya, but was brought back to Uganda to face criminal charges. At the time Kenyan newspapers linked the charges to the death of Bruce Makenzie, one of Kenya's former ministers in an aircraft explosion, though it was suspected that the bomb was meant for Astles who had refused to fly on the aircraft.[1][4] He was imprisoned for his alleged association with Amin's security apparatus, and was charged with everything from murder and corruption to theft. Though acquitted, he remained in Luzira Prison for six and a half years, returning to Britain after his release in 1985.[5] Astles formally renounced his Ugandan citizenship at around the same time.[1]

Personal life[edit]

In 1958, he married Monica, who had come to Uganda with him from Kent. A year later, after they had divorced, Astles married an aristocratic member of the Buganda kingdom, Mary Senkatuka, and they later adopted two children.

Astles later lived in Wimbledon, London, and continued to deny the allegations for which he was imprisoned. After returning to Britain, he dedicated his life to campaigning against superpower interference in African political and economic affairs. He also contributed political commentaries to a number of publications associated with Africa. He died in South West London on 29 December 2012 at the age of 88. The obituary in The Telegraph described him as "the most hated white man in postcolonial Africa."[1]


Bob Astles was played by Leonard Trolley in the 1982 movie Amin: the Rise and Fall. The fictional character of Nicholas Garrigan in the book and film The Last King of Scotland was, according to author Giles Foden, loosely based on some events in Astles' life. Foden interviewed Astles while writing his novel.[6] He also drew on Vallely's lengthy interview in The Times. [7]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Bob Astles Obituary". The Telegraph. 15 February 2013. Retrieved 16 February 2013. 
  2. ^ "Bob Astles is dead!". The London Evening Post. 2012-12-29. Retrieved 2013-01-22. 
  3. ^ [1], interview in The Times, 10 December 1985.
  4. ^ New Scientist 10 May 1979
  5. ^ "Guilt by association?", BBC HARDtalk, Bob Astles interviewed by Tim Sebastian on 7 January 2004.
  6. ^ "An Interview with Giles Foden". Random House. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  7. ^

External links[edit]

Bob Astles' commentaries[edit]