By Carol Natukunda
It is hard to talk about Moses Ali without mentioning Yusuf Gowon, one of Idi Amin’s blue-eyed boys. He played Amin’s games, spying for him on who the possible ‘enemy’ was. In turn, Amin made sure Gowon got privileges.
Privileges such as quick promotions, free rides, accommodation and even taking a free cup of tea with the high and mighty of the time. In fact, Gowon was the most trusted “snake” on the dictator’s high command.
Ali, Gowon clashes
It was Gowon who largely landed Brigadier Moses Ali (now Lieutenant General) into trouble. Ali at the time doubled as finance minister as well as the leader of a government founded Islamic charity.
Gowon claimed Ali had embezzled sh77m from the charity. Amin was furious and formed a campaign against “big-headed” cabinet ministers.
But for some reason, he constantly singled out Ali, who had been one of the conspirators in the 1971 coup, which allegedly helped to oust the then President, Milton Obote.
Although he could not admit it, Amin knew that Ali was not a man to joke with. He moved fast to ground him because he feared what he might be planning.
Ali was also accused of mismanaging the Bank of Uganda. Ali was perhaps the most famous minister of the time. He ably controlled the finance ministry in a country where bloodshed was the order of the day.
Ali flees Uganda
One day when Ali went to Amin’s office, the dictator in a fit of anger threw an ashtray at him. It was a sign that the tension was not about to subside.
Sensing danger, Ali sneaked out of Kampala in a private car and went into hiding in his country home in West Nile.
But someone tipped Amin’s soldiers who attacked his house. There was an exchange of bullets.
Ali brilliantly dodged the bullets, fought back with a single gun and fled to Sudan. In his book, The teeth may smile but the heart does not forget; murder and memory in Uganda, Andrew Rice says Gowon and Ali hated each other for decades.
“People said Ali and Gowon fell out over a woman, but their feud had expanded to Shakespearean dimensions,’’ notes Rice.
Ali believed Gowon had been behind his purge from Amin’s inner circle back in
1978, as well as a subsequent attempt to assassinate him,” writes Rice.
While in exile, Ali largely became known as a rebel leader. This was to his advantage, because he was able to negotiate his home-coming terms.
President Yoweri Museveni agreed to integrate Ali’s forces into the new Ugandan army and made him a general.
But once in Kampala after their exile, it is believed that both Gowon and Ali, were still holding grudges.
Amin, Gowon fall out
What should be noted, however, is that Amin had no lasting friends. Soon, Amin considered Gowon to be a coward, and rumour has it that even though he had been promoted to the rank of major general, he was largely to blame for the subsequent army defeats.
He soon fell out with his boss and fled into exile, until Amin was ousted.
In 2001, Gowon was arrested in connection with the 1972 murder of Erifazi Laki, who was the Ssaza chief of Rwampara in Mbarara district. Gowon was a major at Mbarara army battalion. Laki was killed for protecting Museveni, then a guerilla leader.
Gowon thought Ali, who was now serving as Uganda’s minister of internal affairs, was behind his arrest. He claimed that on the night he was arrested, Ali celebrated.
Lt. Gen. Moses Ali (left), Idi Amin (centre) and Yusuf Gowon
Gowon claims Ali personally visited the prison just to enjoy the moment of seeing him behind bars.
However, in Andrew Rice’s book, Ali denied that the visit ever occurred and says he read about the arrest in the media. “I did not even know he was arrested,” he notes.
For the two years Gowon was in prison, he constantly said he had no problem with Museveni’s government.
“The only problems for me are with the former Amin workers inside Museveni’s government,” he said referring to Ali.
Gowon was later released after no evidence was found linking him to Laki’s murder.
But Ali too, was not immune from trial. In fact, in the early 1990s, during the commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Uganda, civilian eye-witnesses told the probe that Ali was among those at the scene of the mass killing of soldiers loyal to president Milton Obote, at an army barracks in Moroto.
Ali admitted in testimony that as a lieutenant in 1971, he had been sent from the Army headquarters in Kampala to Moroto to establish why the Army barracks had not sent a congratulatory message and declared support to the new leadership under Idi Amin.
He denied participating in the killings or torture of soldiers or civilians in Moroto, saying it must have been a case of mistaken identity.
In Rice’s book, Ali is quoted as saying his troops only ‘shot in the air.’ He was later cleared.
Ali refused to give Saturday Vision an interview, saying he had given so many interviews to the press and to authors.
“I don’t want to feel like I am being tortured with interviews,” Ali said.
Who is Lt. Gen. Ali?
- Born on April 5, 1939 in West Nile, Moses Ali is a fearless man. He joined the army at a tender age and quickly rose through the ranks.
- In the 1970s, Idi Amin appointed him finance minister. When the Amin regime fell in 1979, Ali formed a rebel group, the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF), to oppose the Milton Obote II regime.
- After the National Resistance Army took power in 1986, Ali and his fighters joined Museveni’s government. He has since held several positions, including minister of tourism and wildlife as well as minister of youth, culture and sports.
- However, in April 1990, Ali was arrested on treason and terrorism charges. He underwent trial until January 1991, when he was sentenced to two-and-a half years in prison. He was released in June 1992.
- After his release, Ali served as minister for internal affairs, disaster preparedness and as first and second deputy prime minister. He was promoted from brigadier to Major General and later Lieutenant General, a rank he holds to date.
- He was reportedly influential in securing a peace deal seven years ago between the Government and UNRF II led by Ali Bamuze.
- Ali lost his East Moyo parliamentary seat in the 2006 polls, which he had occupied from 1996.
- However, he returned to Parliament as an ex-officio and served as disaster preparedness minister and First Deputy Prime Minister. He was dropped from the cabinet in the May 2006 reshuffle.
- In 2011, he was appointed third deputy prime minister and deputy leader of government business. He is East Moyo County MP.