Fourty years ago today, the military government of Idi Amin was overthrown by a combined force of the Tanzanian army and a motley of armed Uganda groups exiled in Kenya and Tanzania during the 1970s.
It brought to an end the eight-year rule of the man who has gone down in contemporary history as one of the most brutal in modern Africa.
The Tanzania-Uganda war started in October 1978 and changed the dynamics of the political landscape in Uganda, as shall be seem in this series. It was the first fully-fledged international war Uganda ever fought. It is widely assumed that the war with Tanzania was started by Amin’s soldiers.
Because Amin was widely vilified, no effort was made to listen to his version of events, as with almost everything else about his rule, and as a result, 30 years later, the picture of what happened in Uganda during the eight years of Amin’s rule remains a closed book. Most of what we know is a mixture of propaganda and an incomplete record.
The effects of that war and its immediate aftermath are still with us today.
During the 1971 military takeover, there was no looting reported in any part of Uganda. In 1979 with the fall of the military government, Uganda experienced looting for the first time.
They physical destruction of Uganda by the war left Arua a ghost town and Masaka and Mbarara towns in ruins.
Throughout the first Obote and Amin governments, Uganda maintained a steady record of public documents, from the files in government ministries to the records of the Uganda Golf Club. The widespread and indiscriminate looting put an end to that.
More important than the physical destruction and looting are the still unanswered questions about Amin himself and the effect of his regime on Uganda’s history.
How did this semi-literate soldier rise to power? How is it that he was warmly welcomed by the vast majority of Ugandans in 1971 — including the Asians — only to have a large cross-session of the intelligentsia turn against and fight him?
How did the Uganda Army, widely regarded as the strongest in East Africa in the 1970s, crumble before the advancing Tanzanian troops almost without a fight?
Why is it that in 1980, a year after the war in Uganda came to an end, Ugandans were already preparing for another war, this time a civil war?
Almost immediately after the fall of Amin and the installation of Prof. Yusufu Lule as president, intrigues developed within the new Uganda government that helped evaporate the mood of national hope and cheer that had come with Amin’s ouster.
With the benefit of 30 years, we now realize that apart from a brief year and a half after the fall of Amin’s regime, Uganda has seen continuous fighting to this day.
Above all questions is: who was Idi Amin that in a mere eight years he became known all over the world? What did he do that gave him such notoriety? Why, despite his lowly education, was he at first backed by some of the most powerful nations on earth, often Communist and Capitalist countries at the same time?
Most of what we know about Amin is from the writings and commentary by others about him. But what did Amin himself say about himself, his rule, and his opponents?
Why does it seem today, with the benefit of hindsight, that in terms of Uganda’s national assets and strategic possessions, most of what the country once owned was bought or built during the first Obote and the Amin governments and that today, Uganda is almost wholly owned by foreigners?
Is Uganda better off now that the vilified Amin regime is long gone from power? What was the effect of the 1972 expulsion of the non-citizen Asians from Uganda on the Ugandan economy?
Why is it important, anyway, to better understand events that look place three decades ago? Do they have any bearing on political and economic developments in Uganda today?
These and other topics will be discussed in this mini-series.
Part 2: The origins of the 1979 Tanzania-Uganda war
The first question to ask about the 1978-79 Tanzania-Uganda war is, how did it start and who triggered it off?
The commonly held view, widespread in thousands of books, scholarly papers, and now on websites from all over the world is that as usual, the bad man of Africa, Idi Amin of Uganda, sent his troops into Tanzania for no apparent reason and what Tanzania subsequently did was counterattack.
In particular, the view is held that the April 19, 1978 car accident involving the Vice President, General Mustapha Adrisi, was set up by Amin to get rid of his rival and tensions within the army over this incident led Amin to stir up war with Tanzania in order to divert his army’s growing tensions.
A paper published in January 1979 by the former president Milton Obote titled “Statement on the Uganda situation” attempted to explain the war this way:
“There is plenty of evidence to show that the recent invasion of Tanzania was a desperate measure to extricate Amin from consequences of the failure of his own plots against his own army.”
One of the main problems in attempting to narrate and record Ugandan history is that there has been no effort to seek a balanced view and break with the stereotyping of the villain of Ugandan history, Idi Amin. Statements and interpretations advanced by interested groups against Amin have been permitted by the world media and world scholarship to pass without scrutiny.
What, then, was the situation in Uganda in 1977 and 1978 just before the war?
According to the Compton Encyclopedia Yearbook, 1979, “The high price of coffee on the world market left Uganda with a budget surplus in 1977, the first in several years.”
The same reference book went on, on page 353 to note that, “A number of resistance groups had indeed grown up, both inside and outside the country, but attempts (at least four) to assassinate the president or to sabotage the economy were prevented by the vigilance of Amin’s security forces.”
From this American encyclopedia — and the United States in 1978 as well as most of the western press were no friends of Amin — we learn two facts: the boom in world coffee prices in 1977 as a result of the frost in Brazil and how that boom was so great that it gave Uganda a budget surplus and secondly, there were at least four assassination attempts on Amin but they were foiled by the “vigilance of Amin’s security forces.”
This indicates that the Ugandan economy, at least in gross dollar export earnings, was vibrant in 1977 and Amin’s army and state security service was still loyal enough to him to foil four known assassination attempts.
Presenting a history programme on the Radio Uganda-affiliated FM station Star FM on July 28, 2006, Semwanga Kisolo said that if there is one thing that used to get Amin so angry that he shouted, it was when he got reports that the salary of any Ugandan government employee had been paid after the 25th of the month.
Just as Amin was always punctual at state events and at his office, he saw to it that government civil servants all over the country were paid by the 25th of every month, no matter what the circumstances.
Under Amin, all army, police, prisons, airforce and intelligence officers and most middle-level to senior civil servants lived a comfortable middle-class life, sent their children to the best schools in every town they worked in, drove the brand-new cars that the Uganda government had imported for its civil servants (Fiat Mirafiori 131, cost 75,000shs, Honda Civic 35,000shs, and Honda Accord 45,000shs.)
The exchange rate of the Uganda shilling to the dollar all through Amin’s time in office from 1971 to 1979 hovered between 7shs to 7.50shs, according to records at Bank of Uganda, the central bank. Inflation remained low for almost all the years that Amin was head of state.
Right up to April 1979 when Amin’s government fell, every single bed at Mulago Hospital and other national hospitals across Uganda had a mattress, bed sheets, a pillow, a blanket, and a bedcover and no patients or their visiting families slept on the floor as it is today. Every single room on the sixth floor (the VIP floor) of Mulago Hospital had a colour television.
Treatment for all Ugandans in all government hospitals in all districts was free of charge for the duration of Amin’s rule.
The Uganda Army shop located near Bulange Mengo in Kampala was always well-stocked with groceries and electronic consumer goods for the army officers.
Despite the international economic boycott of Uganda led by western governments and pressured on by the exiled Ugandan groups, life in 1977 and 1978 for the ordinary Ugandan ranged from fair to good.
In 1977, a new national airline, Uganda Airlines and a new railway service, Uganda Railways were born in the ashes of the East African Community. National pride was reinforced.
Furthermore, according to Semwanga Kisolo speaking on Star FM, by 1977, ordinary Ugandans had become fed up with the exile groups. By 1977, African liberation groups like SWAPO of Southwest Africa (today called Namibia), ZANU of Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe), ANC of South Africa, had been banned from Tanzania.
Leading exile groups like Kikosi Malum loyal to Obote and FRONASA under a guerrilla named Yoweri Museveni were in a period of decline or stagnation.
In Tanzania, many people asked Museveni why he was so determined to fight Amin and yet none of his relatives had been killed by Amin’s regime. Prominent exiles in America and Europe raised money ostensibly to fight Amin but embezzled it, much to the disgust of Ugandans at home and in exile.
Given these circumstances, there is no reason to believe Amin faced deep resentment from an army or civilian population that he treated well, so contrary to the widespread image of Amin as a leader and person.
It therefore seems unlikely that Obote and others who have attempted to explain the start of the 1978-79 war gave their readers a broad and impartial assessment of the conditions in Uganda in 1978.
So if this is not what sparked off the warm, what did?
The first reports of activity around the Uganda-Tanzania border area of Mutukula came in July 1978.
The Standard newspaper of Tanzania, in its July 3, 1978 edition quoted the commander general of the Western Brigade, General Yusuf Himidi, as saying that Uganda had been involved in acts that could lead to military confrontation. Himidi made the comments on July 1, 1978 at Mutukula in Tanzania.
Apparently, there were acts of violence against Tanzanian civilians in the area by people who were either Ugandan or appeared to come from Uganda.
According to information that this writer has recently obtained, the first provocation appears to have come from the Tanzania side of the border.
One of the Uganda Army’s senior officers, Lt. Col. Juma Ali (“Butabika”) Rokoni, Commanding Officer of the Malire Specialist Reconnaissance Regiment, was married to a Ugandan woman from the Baziba tribe that lives in the Mutukula side of the Tanzanian and Ugandan borders.
In late 1978, units of the Malire regiment and Bugolobi-based Uganda Marines (nicknamed “Madoi Doi”) were deployed near the Mutukula border area to maintain a deterrent against invaders from Tanzania.
According to the World Book Encyclopedia Yearbook, 1979, “Uganda’s President Idi Amin Dada charged that Tanzania used the territory to infiltrate revolutionary guerrillas into Uganda.”
Who might these Ugandan “revolutionary guerrillas” be, based in Kagera and provoking Uganda?
Although it is not absolutely certain, some helpful light is shed on this by the former guerrilla, Yoweri Museveni, on page 62 of his 1997 book Sowing the Mustard Seed: The struggle for freedom and democracy in Uganda: “The part of Tanzania on the north side of the river is known as the Kagera Salient and that is where we were operating from.”
In his own words, Museveni states that his FRONASA guerrillas were “operating from” Kagera. Might these be the revolutionary guerrillas that Amin referred to, who were staging acts intended to provoke Tanzania and Uganda into war?
Sometime in late 1978, four Ugandans drinking a local beer called malwa had been shot dead for no apparent reason in Mutukula.
Lt. Col. Juma Ali’s brother-in-law was shot dead probably in October, once again by unknown gunmen from Tanzania.
Being the decisive and somewhat erratic person he was said to be, Lt. Col. Ali sent Malire troops into Tanzania to apprehend the gunmen who were provoking the Ugandan troops near the border in the 1,840 sq. km. part of northwest Tanzania known as the Kagera Salient. The Malire troops went about 80 km into Kagera.
A Ugandan newspaper at the time, the Uganda Weekly News, reported on November 5, 1978 that Tanzanian troops attacked Uganda from Oct. 10-31, 1978 and captured 400 sq. miles of Ugandan territory. Clashes between Ugandan and Tanzanian troops took place near Munziro Hill.
Since the narrative on Ugandan history is overwhelmingly negative toward Amin, reports such as this in the Uganda Weekly News that point to aggression too by Tanzania have tended to be disregarded by Ugandans and the world media and intelligentsia.
Then on October 30, 1978, President Amin ordered the army to invade Tanzania to claim the Kagera province for Uganda.
This, as far as can be ascertained for now, is the correct sequence of the events leading up to the war.
It is particularly interesting to note Museveni’s reaction to the news of the large-scale Ugandan attack on Tanzania, on page 93 of Sowing The Mustard Seed:
“Never since Amin’s coup in 1971 had I felt so buoyant as I did on the day following the invasion. I knew that Amin was finished…I remember walking along State House Drive in Dar es Salaam, on my way to consult with Edward Sokoine, with a feeling of complete satisfaction about the future course of events.” (page 93)
If Museveni’s FRONASA was operating from Kagera, and Amin was constantly complaining about the presence in Kagera of Ugandan guerrillas trying to provoke conflict between Uganda and Tanzania, and the Ugandan invasion appeared to play into Tanzania’s hands, much to the delight of Museveni as he writes in his memoirs, its remains for Museveni to shed further light on the provocations that led to the 1979 war.
Part 3: The war gets underway
The Uganda Airforce bombed Bukoba town and Kyaka village on October 28 and 29, 1978. Idi Amin sent 3,000 Uganda Army troops into the Kagera Salient and on October 31, 1978 he announced that Uganda had annexed the territory.
On November 2, 1978, Tanzania announced that it was going to counterattack Uganda in a full-scale military operation.
How Amin expected the annexation to be recognized by the international community is not clear. In any case, pressure from several African governments and Uganda’s main arms supplier, the Soviet Union, finally persuaded Amin to announce the withdraw of the Uganda Army on November 17.
In November, Amin, dressed in dark blue jeans and a matching jacket, called on Ugandans to turn out in large numbers at the Botanical Gardens in Entebbe to donate reserve blood for the Uganda Army.
Thousands turned up and made their donation, with Amin himself jovially announcing in English that “I have donated two bottle [sic] of blood.”
Major-General David Msuguri, the commander of the 20th Division of the Tanzanian army, was selected to head the large assault on Uganda by the Tanzanian army. 45,000 Tanzanian troops were mobilized for the war with Uganda.
What particularly stiffened the Tanzanian resolve were reports that Ugandan troops had engaged in the most appalling looting and destruction of Kagera.
The Kagera Sugar Mill and the Mishenyi cattle ranch were looted. More ominously, bodies of civilians were found mutilated and in a number of instances, many of the corpses did not have heads.
This latter development, insignificant at the time, bears some examination. It had never been the style of the 1970s Uganda Army to mutilate bodies during conflict.
When Brig. Isaac Maliyamungu arrived in Kagera in his Mercedes accompanied by a girlfriend, he shed tears at the devastation that he saw in Kagera. That, he insisted, could not have been the work of the Uganda Army he knew.
It is worth noting that all through the 1979 war, the Uganda Army made a point of evacuating civilians from the battle fronts. Every time a battle or counterattack was being planned, units of the Uganda Army were ordered to go to places like Mutukula, Kyotera, Masaka, and Mpigi to evacuate the civilian population.
This is part of the reason that, to this day, there are almost no reports of massive civilian deaths. No records, no books published of the 1979 war speak of civilian casualties at the hands of the Uganda Army.
All books and records, when they speak of civilian deaths, speak of the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans at the hands of Amin’s state security service before the start of the war. There are no reports of the Uganda Army going out of its way to attack civilians, even though many civilians openly expressed their support for the advancing Tanzanians.
It is strange, then, to read that this Uganda Army that took care to protect civilians exposed to the conflict would be the same army to unleash such havoc in Kagera. Future historians and reporters might have to explain this, especially the fact that the pattern of mutilated civilian bodies and decapitated heads in Kagera in October 1978 was replicated in another war yet to come, the civil war in the Luwero Triangle of central Uganda.
In Sowing The Mustard Seed, the author Yoweri Museveni notes that Amin’s army, as part of its looting of the Kagera Salient, stole cattle from Mishenyi Ranch and “The cattle were driven all the way to Mbarara,..145 km away, and distributed to Amin’s clowns.”
It is strange too that most of the troops involved in the war, having come from Kampala-based army units, would, after stealing this cattle, have taken it to Mbarara rather than in the direction of Kampala, as would be expected, where the beef would fetch higher prices.
Future analysts would have to examine this strange development and ask why the stolen Tanzanian cattle ended up in Mbarara rather than Kampala or West Nile, since it is believed that most of Amin’s army came from West Nile.
This is important because, as explained by Museveni in his memoirs, his FRONASA forces were “operating from” the Kagera area at the outbreak of the war and it is well-known that most of the upper ranks of FRONASA were filled by men from Ankole.
Eventually, the Tanzanians entered Uganda and started their long journey that would lead to the fall of Amin’s government.
Some former Prisoners of War from the Uganda Army insist that it was not the Tanzanian army and armed Ugandan groups they fought exclusively during the 1979 war, but troops from Egypt, Angola, Algeria, Mozambique, Ethiopia, and other African countries.
Certainly Egypt was constantly denying reports that its troops were involved in the fighting. Egypt and some other Arab countries were alarmed at the support Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya was giving Amin and sought to counterbalance the Libyan influence.
Describing the final assault on Mbarara town, Museveni wrote: “On the morning of the 27th, we captured Gayaza Hill and went beyond it up to Masha…18 km from Mbarara. Again there was little fighting because Amin’s soldiers ran away. Our medium artillery, based at a road camp at mile 14, shelled Mbarara the whole of that afternoon…At midnight on 27 Feb., we advanced on Mbarara and by morning we had entered the town. We captured it easily because there was no resistance…The TPDF battalions fanned across Mbarara, checking the town up to and including the barracks, which they found abandoned.” (Sowing The Mustard Seed, page 99)
In his 1980 book, Imperialism and revolution in Uganda, Dan Wadada Nabudere mentioned this fact of the invading Tanzanian force facing little resistance and the ease with which they gained territory:
“When Tanzanian troops advanced into Uganda they were met by jubilant crowds. As Amin threatened to punish villagers who were welcoming the advancing Tanzanian and Ugandan fighters, a unity of purpose was cemented between the fighters and the people.” (page 332)
The overall commander of the Tanzanian troops in Uganda, Major General David Msuguri, had warned his soldiers not to destroy any infrastructure in Uganda as they would need if in the event of the fall of Amin’s government.
Here were the Tanzanians, facing little resistance from the Uganda Army in Mbarara and Masaka and being wholeheartedly welcomed by Ugandan civilians.
Then starting on February 24, 1979, explosions were heard in Mbarara. Citizens discovered to their horror that many of the best buildings in the town had been destroyed by explosives. The destruction continued in Masaka town, with some of the best buildings leveled to the ground.
Since the Tanzanian commander Major-General Msuguri had expressly forbidden his troops from destroying any infrastructure in Uganda and since the Tanzanian army was, in general, disciplined and was, after all, meeting light resistance in Masaka and Mbarara towns and therefore there was no need to bombard the towns, the task falls on future historians to investigate who it was that destroyed the buildings in Masaka and Mbarara, towns that 30 years later have never fully recovered from this destruction.
A particularly sensitive and painful chapter of this war has to do with the massacre of Muslims in Mbarara in February 1979 when the invading force arrived there. Many Muslims were killed and thrown into the River Rwizi, mosques were destroyed, women raped, and Muslim-owned businesses in Mbarara and Masaka looted or destroyed.
It is unlikely that the Tanzanian army, coming from a country that is 35 percent Muslim and 30 percent Christian, would have spared the mainly Christian population of Masaka and Mbarara that was welcoming them, but chosen to inflict atrocities on the small Muslim population of Ankole.
Who, then, massacred the Muslims? It is still in dispute. However, the attacks on the Muslims of Ankole was the first sign that the post-Amin era would not be the peaceful one that many Ugandans and international observers expected.
Something else too came in the footsteps of the 1979 war. As the war progressed, President Amin, speaking on Radio Uganda or at public rallies, often warned Ugandans against placing all their hope in the Tanzanians.
He spoke of a mysterious new disease that, the claimed, the liberation force was going to bring to Uganda. This disease, Amin said, had no cure. But because it was sometimes difficult to know what to believe in Amin’s claims, many Ugandans dismissed his warning.
One of the little-known duties of the State Research Bureau intelligence agency was to monitor and investigate any new diseases in Uganda. Amin, in 1972, had made a point of assigning the State Research Bureau this role.
Reports had been coming to Amin of a deadly new, wasting disease in the Kagera Salient of Tanzania and he thought he should pass this information on to Ugandans.
The medical news website www.iaen.org states that “Kagera is at the epicentre of the African AIDS epidemic. The first case of AIDS in the region was diagnosed in 1983, although HIV was most likely present at least a decade earlier.”
This deadly disease AIDS appeared to have arrived in Uganda along the path taken by the Tanzanian troops and Ugandan exile groups as they advanced through Rakai, Kyotera, Mutukula, Masaka, and Lukaya.
There is something interesting about AIDS in Uganda and the claims that Amin’s soldiers went about raping women in Kagera, abuses that sparked off the war.
AIDS was clearly already in Kagera “the epicentre of the African AIDS epidemic” in 1978 but most soldiers would not have known about it and therefore would not take precautionary measures.
It is intriguing that while the majority of the rank-and-file soldiers in the 1970s Uganda Army were from the Aringa tribe of West Nile and were the majority of the Ugandan troops who attacked Kagera, the scourge of AIDS among Uganda’s military in the early years of the epidemic was most devastating, not in West Nile, but in Central and Western Uganda.
Given this whole distortion of Ugandan history, it should leave us wondering who exactly were these Ugandans who destroyed Kagera and raped the women folk in the area and why AIDS early on took on a central and western Ugandan ethnic face, rather than a West Nile face.
Part 4: The fall of Amin
From the evidence we have seen so far in this series, it is clear that neither the Ugandan government nor the Tanzanian government wished or planned to go to war in late 1978. A Ugandan guerrilla group based in Kagera in northwest Tanzania undertook acts of sabotage and provocation in order to trigger off an attack either by Tanzania or Uganda.
It is also clear that the Tanzanian army in Uganda, which had been given clear instructions by their overall commander, Major-General David Msuguri, not to destroy any infrastructure in Uganda, was not and could not have been the force that systematically destroyed the towns of Masaka and Mbarara in Uganda.
Furthermore, the Uganda Army under Amin was instructed to evacuate civilians from the frontline areas just before the army would engage the Tanzanian troops. Uganda’s Military Police supervised these evacuations.
Uganda Army buses also ferried out civilians who wanted to leave the towns and head to the villages. I was a witness to this in Entebbe and it happened all over the country.
It therefore sounds difficult to believe that this same army whose commander-in-chief was Idi Amin, which observed the requirements of the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of civilians, would be the same army to have embarked on a large scale campaign of looting, rape, and murder in Tanzania’s Kagera Salient or, more importantly, would be the same army widely believed to have spent eight years from 1971 to 1979 terrorizing Ugandans.
By March 1979 when a unity conference was called in the Tanzanian town of Moshi to discuss a post-Amin Uganda, it was becoming clear that the war was lost and Amin’s government was going to fall.
Col. Muammar Gaddafi, alarmed at that prospect, sent a total of 2,500 Libyan troops and equipment to shore up Amin. Among this equipment were T-54 and T-55 main battle tanks, BTR Armoured Personnel Carriers, a Tupolev TU-22 bomber, MiG-21s, and the powerful BM-21 “Katyusha” Multiple Rocket Launchers.
The Uganda Army war effort had been planned by: Lt. Col. Abdul Kisule, the operations commander; Lt. Col. Godwin Sule; Major Christopher Ndibowa was the chairman of the War Planning Committee; his deputy was Major Vincent Yekoko; and Lt. Col. Bernard Rwehururu.
Toward the end of the war, after Lt. Col. Ali Kiiza, the Commander of the MiG-21 “Sungura” Squadron, had reportedly deserted, Amin appointed Lt. Col. Andrew Mukooza, Commander of the MiG-17 squadron, as the Airforce commander.
There were military blunders on both sides of the conflict. Although Gaddafi sent a force that was far from the best that his country had — these being mainly paramilitary and local defence forces as well as solders from the Libyan-trained Islamic Pan-African Legion (Libya’s answer to France’s Foreign Legion) — the Libyan troops brought to Uganda equipment so sophisticated the Tanzanians had never seen.
On March 10, 1979, the Libyans, now in Lukaya in south-central Uganda, encountered Tanzania’s 201st Brigade. The deafening sound of the BM-21 rocket launchers alone when fired over Lukaya, caused many terrified Tanzanian troops to drop their guns and flee from the battlefront.
The Libyan force had started pushing the Tanzanian army back from Lukaya to Tanzania. But for unclear reasons, the Libyans made several miscalculations and, not realizing how close they were to defeating Tanzania, relaxed and lost the momentum they had gained. That was when the tide of war turned decisively from the 4,500 Libyan contingent in favour of the 45,000-man Tanzanian force.
It will remain a puzzle for a long time why the Libyans failed to defeat the Tanzanians. They had equipment beyond anything that any East African army had ever seen. Their supplies were abundant.
When the Tanzanians arrived at the Entebbe Airforce base on April 10, 1979, they discovered a huge stock of sophisticated weapons that should have earned the Libyans alone a handy victory over Tanzanians ten times their number.
As for Tanzania’s blunders, in early November 1978, Tanzanian anti-aircraft batteries, thinking that what they had spotted were Uganda Airforce MiG-21 jets, shot down five of their own Tanzanian airforce planes.
Lt. Col. David Oyite-Ojok of the Kikosi Malum force loyal to Obote, made the announcement over Radio Uganda on April 11, 1979.
Earlier on his way from Soroti to Nakasongola before flying to Libya, Amin made a series of broadcasts via his field radio linked to Radio Uganda. The significance of these broadcasts will one day dawn on Ugandans who, to this day, remain unaware of what was really going on during his rule.
Amin, speaking in Luganda, English, and Kiswahili, insisted over and over again that “I am innocent! I am an innocent man!”
In that final, dramatic address to Ugandans before he left, Amin said he had given Ugandans “all the milk and honey” they needed to become a prosperous country. “You have turned around and spat in my face. I am going to ask God, who knows my innocence, to keep me alive….I will die a natural death. While I am there [in exile presumably] I will monitor how wonderful life will be for you after me, if you do not become total slaves. I removed your country from foreigners and gave it to you…”
It must be reiterated that the refusal or failure to view Idi Amin as a historical figure, with significant ideas and information of his own, the failure to form an accurate picture of Amin as a highly efficient man (so different from the images of buffoonery and brutality portrayed in books like A State of Blood and films like The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin and The Last King of Scotland), is the reason Uganda is paying the price of omitting Amin’s point of view from the formal historical record, as this series will show when we get to the post-Amin era.
Part 5: Euphoria greets Amin’s fall
For those who have lived long enough in Uganda to gauge public euphoria during changes of government, in order of ranking the change of government that was received with the greatest outpouring of cheers, screams, whistles, car horns, ululations, and tens of thousands of Ugandans pouring on the streets, was the January 25, 1971 military coup that brought the 42 year-old army commander, Major-General Idi Amin to power.
The second greatest such outpouring of euphoria was that which received the news, announced by Lt. Colonel David Oyite-Ojok on April 11, 1979, of the fall of the Amin regime.
The third most enthusiastically received change of government, based on an evaluation of crowd sizes, levels of cheer, and general ululation heard across the nation, was on January 26, 1986 that saw 41 year-old Yoweri Museveni take state power.
If this great roar and cheer in Uganda were to be combined with the excitement and relief outside Uganda and worldwide, there is no doubt that the fall of Idi Amin in April 1979, if it can be measured in weights, decibels of noise, brought about the greatest total volume of cheer and celebration ever witnessed for an event in Uganda.
To millions of Ugandans, there was nothing that felt so right as April 11, 1979.
Nothing proved so convincingly that God exists, hears and acts on prayers, that justice eventually triumphs, and that evil is always defeated by good, as the fall of Amin.
In groceries markets in Kampala, traders cheerfully cut the price of sugar and meat by half so that Ugandans could celebrate Amin’s fall. Crowds cheered the Tanzanian soldiers everywhere they went. (My father gave his watch to a Tanzanian solder as the Tanzanians arrived in Entebbe on April 10.)
A sea of happy, relieved, and disbelieving Ugandans walked up to the Parliament Buildings in Kampala on April 13 to witness the swearing-in ceremony of the soft-spoken, mild-mannered former Principal of Makerere University College, Prof. Yusufu Lule, who could not have cut a more different image from the semi-literate and cantankerous Idi Amin.
Shortly after Lule’s swearing-in, a huge crowd carried, shoulder-high, the new army chief of staff Lt. Colonel David Oyite-Ojok through the streets of Kampala. Soldiers of the Uganda National Liberation Army, the new national army that replaced the Uganda Army, affectionately referred to Oyite-Ojok as “Daudi.”
A student at Makerere University called Edward Kale Kaihura led a march of students Makerere through Kampala streets to celebrate the fall of Idi Amin Dada.