THIRTY years ago on this day, the late president, Idi Amin, was ousted from power as a combination force of Tanzanian troops and exciled Ugandans captured Kampala under the Uganda National Liberation Front. Using literature of the time, reports in The Dru
TOP Archive STORY
12 years ago .
How Iddi Amin era's ended
THIRTY years ago on this day, the late president, Idi Amin, was ousted from power as a combination force of Tanzanian troops and exciled Ugandans captured Kampala under the Uganda National Liberation Front. Using literature of the time, reports in The Dru
THIRTY years ago on this day, the late president, Idi Amin, was ousted from power as a combination force of Tanzanian troops and exciled Ugandans captured Kampala under the Uganda National Liberation Front. Using literature of the time, reports in The Drum Magazine and Col. Bernard Rwehururu’s book, Cross to the Gun, Anne Abaho brings you the story.

Tanzanians had received scanty intelligence reports that Uganda was preparing to invade Tanzania, but nobody took them seriously. Field marshal Idi Amin Dada had always threatened to bomb Tanzania, but had never acted.

So, when he finally did, on October 27, 1978, starting with bombings in Bukop, a few kilometres from Kyaka, it was too late to resist. But little did he know that in less than a year, he would himself be in exile.

The attack on Kagera
By October 29, the 3,000-strong Ugandan force had occupied Kagera region, where the undisciplined soldiers began a raping and looting spree. The villages were destroyed, churches, schools and a hospital indiscriminately bombed. In Mwanza, the nearest town to the battlefield, refugees poured in thousands, speaking of genocide. Amin declared Kagera, which he had captured ‘in the ‘supersonic’ speed of 25 minutes’, part of Uganda.

From heavy machinery, bulldozers to livestock, iron sheets, vehicles, women and house-servants, everything movable was looted. Factories and bridges were destroyed in the plunder.
The Tanzanian counter-offensive started on November 6, with President Julius Nyerere’s 15-minute broadcast declaration of war on Uganda from the Diamond Jubilee Hall, Dar es Salaam. But it was not until November 21 that Tanzania effectively outwitted Ugandan troops. In a double pronged counter-offensive, 6,000 Tanzanian soldiers faced Amin’s troops from the front, while 3,000 Zanzibaris entered from the south of the Kagera River. A few days later, the Tanzanian government said it had captured foreign soldiers, including Libyan radio technicians.

Why Uganda lost the war

1. Sectarianism and incompetence
According to Col Bernard Rwehururu, who was commanding the Uganda army facing the Tanzanian forces, many of Amin’s cronies, the Kakwas, Nubians, Anyanyas, Congolese and Sudanic tribes, were not willing to die for a country that was not theirs. Brig. Maliyamungu had recruited about 10,000 young boys from Sudan and Kibera in Kenya and many had been promoted on sectarian basis.

As the war tide shifted, these foreigners looted possessions and fled back home. Many officers from West Nile thought their homeland was far from danger.
Most of these lacked the skills to command at a battlefield and others were simply incompetent. The chief-of-staff, Maj. Gen. Yusuf Gowon, for instance was a prisons service corporal cum tractor driver who Amin had recruited and hurriedly promoted. No wonder most strategic reports from the frontline to headquarters were left pending and more often ignored.
In the heat of battles, the important officers in the command structure would not be available for consultation and no one picked their phones.
Rwehururu also reports that Gowon wanted a tractor that was looted by a captain who refused to pass it on to him. He summarily demoted him to 2nd Lt. Another Major, who beat him to tonnes of sugar, was demoted to a Lt and transferred to Moroto.

2. Sabasaba

The Tanzanian forces had a BM Katyusha artillery, later known as Sabasaba in Uganda. The mysterious artillery broke the morale of Ugandan troops. Some of the MIGs sent to locate and destroy it were brought down. Many troops at the frontline felt abandoned.
But by luck, one of the katyusha rockets aimed at the Lukoma airstrip landed half exploded. The piece was dispatched to the headquarters for identification and a soviet military advisor said it was a BM 21 Katyusha multi barrel.

The soviets offered to supply a superior weapon to nutralise it but Amin was advised to decline the offer because Soviet Union was an ally of Tanzania due to ideological similarities of socialism. Money was given to some officers to shop for a similar or superior weapon and, as usual, they were not chosen on merit. The officer who went to Europe simply banked the money on his account and settled there. Another, who went to Tripoli returned with bombs but didn’t bring their fuses.

3. Poor intelligence

Methods of state research bureau in gathering information were poor. They believed in kumaliza upesi (summary execution). Almost all spies or prisoners they took were killed before giving more information. For example, in mid 1978 as border tensions were high, one spy was arrested with papers indicating plans to invade Kasijjagirwa Barracks in Masaka. Instead of using the spy as source, the state research bureau boys battered him to death

4. No plan for foreign support

Amin got Libyan forces to help but it backfired because of language problems. The commandoes could neither speak English nor Swahili. They were desert fighters with clothes not for jungle warfare. They had urban warfare Uzi guns instead of G3s and AK 47s.

They did not know the geography, couldn’t communicate, couldn’t read maps in English. Many got lost and were captured, others were killed easily.

ADVERTISEMENT