People & Power
Human heads in Amin’s fridge and how Jinja, Tororo fell
Posted Sunday, May 4 2014 at 01:00
In our fourth part of the Kagera War series. Maj Gen Ben Msuya, who led the battalion that captured Radio Uganda and other key installations in Kampala and eastern towns, speaks to Sunday Monitor’s Henry Lubega.
Continued from yesterday
I had three chances of killing Amin but I never wanted to. The first time was near Buwama on Masaka Road when he came to inspect his troops in early March 1979. I would have taken him with just one shot from a tank. It was very easy.
The second time was in Kajansi in early April. There is an elevation when you are heading towards Kampala where there is a gymnasium. He came and stopped where there is a statue of a macho man. He had come with about 10 Mercedes Benzes and three APC’s. He got out and stood next to the statue with binoculars checking the enemy. He could not see us because we had already dug in. I decided to scare him. So I went to a tank man and told him to bomb one of the APCs. He targeted it and it was six feet up in the air. I saw Amin running on foot with all his entourage.
The third time was when we were entering Kampala on April 10. After capturing Makindye Military Police Barracks slopping towards Lubiri, Amin appeared at the Queen’s tower coming towards Entebbe side. He wanted to see what was happening after the fall of Makindye without firing; the only problem now was Ugandans coming to jubilate. From there, I don’t think he went back to command post he knew we were in town.
After capturing the Kabaka’s Palace in Mengo, a barracks itself, we went down to Bank of Uganda, Post Office, the Parliament, Radio Uganda, and the Nile Mansion. By 9pm, I had captured the city and I reported back to the base that Kampala was secure. The only serious resistance in the capture of Kampala was at Crested Towers and at the Internal Affairs ministry offices.
There were policemen up on Crested Towers shooting down at us. I turned my four barrel 14.5mm gun and fired up at Crested Towers, and all the glasses went down.
I deployed two companies to guard Radio Uganda, the Central Bank and other installations and I proceeded to Kololo through the golf course.
It was pitch dark and difficult for us to make our way to the command post. But we located it. As we combed the city centre, General Boma took over Mbuya military barracks and Bugolobi before getting to Luzira where he released all the prisoners.
At the command post
We got to the command Post around 11:30 in the night; Amin’s men had already fled. On the ground floor was a big living room, on the side of the stairs going to the first floor were portraits of all the tyrants and generals who had taken power, people like Pinochet, Gaddafi, Pol Pot, Bokasa, Castro and others.
On the raid of the command post, there was a utility house; in one of the rooms in this house were deep freezers and refrigerators with all sorts of drinks. In two of the refrigerators in the top part of the freezer, I saw two human heads and opened the fridge. This is not a myth, it is a reality.
After checking out the place, I told my boys to take up defensive positions, knowing I would evaluate the situation the next morning. When I came back the next morning, everything was gone; Ugandans had looted the command post clean, including the fridges with human heads.
The one platoon left to guard the place just looked on as Ugandans looted the place.
The platoon commander just told me he could not kill the people as they looted. My boss, the brigade commander, Gen Mwita Marwa, gave me a hard time since he had instructed me to keep the command post intact.
When I found the command post looted, I sought out Oyite-Ojok and summoned him to Nile Hotel, he came with another Ugandan major. I told them the people of Uganda didn’t know that we were in Kampala, but it was not me to do so because I was under strict orders not to say a word about Tanzanians being in Kampala. And keeping quite was equally dangerous. I sat with Oyite Ojok and the major he had come with to draft a communiqué, to be aired on Radio Uganda.
At Radio Uganda there was no body to operate the machines for us. When we got into the studio with Oyite-Ojok, I turned every switch which was down up and what was up I put it down. We traced the manager from Muyega to come down and restart the radio. Oyite-Ojok recorded the communiqué and we told the manager to broadcast martial music intercepted by the recorded statement, saying the country had been liberated and Idi Amin was no longer president.
That communiqué was read on April 11, 1979 but Kampala had fallen the day before. I literally held a gun on Oyite-Ojok’s head to read the communiqué, he had refused, saying: “if our friends in Moshi and Dar es Salaam hear me reading this they will think I have taken over”. I told him someone has got to say something and that person has got to be a Ugandan. That’s when he sat down to record the communiqué. That’s when people in and outside Kampala got to know what was happening.
‘President’ for three days
The first three days after the fall of Amin I was the supreme person in Kampala, literally the ‘president’, whatever I said was law.
People feared me a lot. I was staying in Nile Mansions in Idi Amin’s room, room 202, sleeping in the same bed Amin slept in. All the presidential suites had been installed with hidden cameras and Amin was seeing whatever was happening in those rooms. This was my residence for the time I stayed in Kampala.
When I realised this, I went down to the control room and sought the manager. He was a very nice gentleman. He took me around, and I told him to switch off the monitoring system, from the control room located on the ground floor of the Nile Mansions.
I was assigned to organise the swearing in of Yusuf Lule and his team at Parliament and also ensure security during the ceremony. I had no furniture. Everything had been looted. I sent my soldiers to the streets to grab chairs from the looters. We managed to get enough chairs; while Radio Uganda provided the public address system.
April 12 was set to be the swearing-in date. The new president was to fly from Dar es Salaam to Mwanza and then a military plane brings him from Mwanza to Entebbe and travel by road to Kampala. But while in Mwanza, they got a rumour that it was not safe to come to Kampala. They didn’t come that day. These were rumors because I was in Kampala there was no problem at all. So I was president from April 10 to 13.