23 March 1924
|Died||29 December 2012(aged 88)|
Robert Astles (born Robert Asketill, 23 March 1924 – 29 December 2012) was a British soldier and colonial officer who lived in Uganda and became an associate of presidents Milton Obote and Idi Amin.
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." He was 21 when he left the United Kingdom for Africa.
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."
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." 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.
Following the Uganda–Tanzania War, Astles fled Uganda by crossing Lake Victoria in a canoe to Kenya on 10 April 1979. The following day, Amin fled to Libya, the capital Kampala was captured by the combined forces of the Tanzanian Army and the Uganda National Liberation Army, and Amin's rule over Uganda ended. In Kisumu, Astles surrendered to Kenyan authorities, who then detained him. While detained in Kenya, Astles tried to jump from a third-story window in a suicide attempt in Nairobi.
At the time Kenyan newspapers linked the charges to the death of Bruce Makenzie, one of Kenya's former ministers, in an aircraft explosion. Nevertheless, it was suspected that the bomb was actually meant for Astles, who had refused to fly on the aircraft. Astles was imprisoned for his alleged association with Amin's security apparatus.
Astles said he had never committed any murders, never witnessed any murders, never heard Amin order any murders, and never saw Amin murder anyone. Astles said he had lived in constant fear while in Amin's administration, and that he had remained in his position because he thought he could do some good for Uganda.
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."
Bob Astles was played by Leonard Trolley in the 1982 film 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. He also drew on Vallely's lengthy interview in The Times.
- "Bob Astles Obituary". The Telegraph. 15 February 2013. Retrieved 16 February 2013.
- "Bob Astles is dead!". The London Evening Post. 29 December 2012. Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- , interview in The Times, 10 December 1985.
- "Former white aide to Amin brought back to Uganda". Afro-American (Baltimore, Maryland, USA). June 16, 1979. p. 16.
- "Suicide Attempt". The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada). June 12, 1979. p. B1.
- "Uganda Asks Kenya To Extradite Astles, Top Aide to Amin". The Washington Post. April 26, 1979. p. A27.
- New Scientist 10 May 1979
- "New Uganda charges". The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland, USA). July 10, 1979. p. A4.
- "Uganda frees top Amin aide". The Gazette (Montreal, Quebec, Canada). December 4, 1985. p. A12.
- "Amin's right-hand man freed". United Press International. Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois, USA). December 4, 1985. p. 4.
- "Amin's aide back in Britain". The Globe and Mail. (Toronto, Ontario, Canada). December 9, 1985. p. A11.
- "Guilt by association?" (Bob Astles interviewed by Tim Sebastian). BBC HARDtalk. January 7, 2004.
- Foden, Giles (March 4, 1998). "Portrait Thoughts of Major Bob". The Guardian (London, United Kingdom). p. T4.
- "An Interview with Giles Foden". Random House. Retrieved 13 October 2014.
- "Uganda's white Rat". Archived from the original on 25 January 2004. Retrieved 2009-08-08.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- Interview with Last King of Scotland author Giles Foden
- "Bob Astles' Memories" by Norman S. Miwambo, Black Star News (New York), 30 July 2006
- Kakembo, Titus. "Bob Astles Joins Idi Amin Dada." New Vision. 13 February 2013.
Bob Astles' commentaries
- "In defence of Milton Obote", New African, 1 December 2003
- "Darfur another view", New African, 1 November 2004
- "Who will best lead Uganda?"[permanent dead link], Daily Monitor, 17 January 2006
- "Ethiopia Opens Pandora's Box", Black Star News, 29 January 2007
- "U.S. Tentacles Spread In Africa", Black Star News, 6 February 2007
- "South Africa Rejects US Africa Militarism", Black Star News, 16 February 2007
- "Killers In The Mist", Black Star News, 20 February 2007
- "Americans Milk Africa To Death", Black Star News, 16 March 2007
- "Ousting Nubians For Profit’s Spoils", Black Star News, 27 January 2008
- "Obama And Source Of The Nile", Black Star News, 5 February 2008