Had Corporal Moses Galla not thought of the quickest way to break into the armory on the January 25, 1971 coup that ousted president Milton Obote maybe their army commander Idi Amin would have been arrested and the coup would not have occurred. On the eve of the coup, there was an attempt to arrest Amin.
The order was from the commander-in-chief and president of Uganda Milton Obote. Before Obote left for the Commonwealth Heads of States and governments conference in Singapore, he left an order to have Amin arrested.
Lt Col Augustino Akwangu, the commanding officer of the Malire Mechanised Reconnaissance Regiment (MMRR), was to lead in the execution of the mission with Erinayo Oryema, Inspector General of Police and Basil Bataringaya, the minister of Internal Affairs.
Lt Col Akwangu carefully planned the mission to arrest Amin. On the evening of January 24, he instructed his adjutant Lt Ngarombo, that all keys of the tanks and APCs of the MMRR at Lubiri be withdrawn from the drivers and kept in the orderly room.
That evening, Lt Col Akwangu cunningly asked all the sentries to hand over their guns to the “entrusted” orderly sergeant. Previously, Akwangu had asked some APC and tank drivers who wanted to take leave to arrest Amin, Akwangu needed first to ingeniously disarm soldiers from West Nile where Amin came from and that was partially successful.
When that was done, Akwangu went ahead to call an “emergency meeting” for all MMRR senior officers at the Officers Mess, Mengo. Once they had entered, he locked them inside and moved ahead to brief the armed soldiers from Acholi and Lango sub-regions of northern Uganda who had convened in the junior soldiers Mess how to arrest Amin from his command post in Kololo.
It was at this moment that Akwangu ran out of luck. One soldier, Philip Ayiko from West Nile, went to Junior soldiers Mess for a drink and found only soldiers from Lango and Acholi being briefed. He wanted to enter but was not allowed. He sensed danger. He went and informed his tribemates who mobilised for a fight but discovered that all the guns had been locked inside the armoury. Every second counted, the wild but unarmed soldiers could be overpowered.
Galla rams APC into armoury
With all guns inside the armoury and the keys of the APCs and tanks locked inside the orderly room, soldiers from West Nile were puzzled and without a commander. When hope was beginning to erode, Corporal Moses Galla, a Czechoslovakia-trained APC driver and a Greece-trained commando, arrived. From his instructors, he had learnt how to start the APC engine using a beer opener. Galla got a beer opener and started the engine of his APC, which he rammed into the door of the armoury forcing it to open. Other APC drivers followed suit. Once the armoury door was open, soldiers entered and picked guns and confronted Acholi and Langi soldiers and arrested all of them, including their commander, Lt Col Akwangu; and went to stage a coup that was only accidental – at least according the former soldiers from West Nile.
Galla was promoted from corporal to Major after the 1971 coup and appointed officer commander A-Coy at Malire. “In the same year, I went to Israel for a three-months officers course. On January 18, 1974, I was transferred from Malire to Fort Portal as the second-in-command of the Mountains of the Moon Battalion. On August 27, 1974, I was promoted to Lt Col and appointed the commanding officer of the Mountains of the Moon Battalion”. Galla held this post until 1978 when the war broke out between Uganda and Tanzania.
The Maliyamungu question
While many authors have said it was Corporal Isaac Maliyamungu who rammed the APC into the door of the armoury, former Uganda army captain Sulaiman Taban from Koboko, who commanded the APC that went to secure Radio Uganda, disputes that. “At that time, Maliyamungu was in Entebbe. He was a pay clerk [Uganda Air Force]. When he heard that we had taken over Kampala, he went to command the soldiers at the airport.” Former Uganda army soldier, Lt Col Abdul Kisule, who had known Maliyamungu since 1968, concurs with Taban. “Before the coup, Maliyamungu was in the Air Force at Entebbe. I was a lieutenant when he was a corporal in the Air Force”. Kisule then a Lieutenant was among the officers who Lt Col Akwangu locked inside the Officers Mess.
Asked where Maliyamungu was at the time, Corporal Moses Galla said: “Maliyamungu was at that time in Entebbe. Suleiman Taban was by at the time a corporal in the Orderly room at Malire with us and commanded the APC that went to radio Uganda.”