In Part III of the new Daily Monitor ‘The fall of Idi Amin’ series, Timothy Kalyegira discusses the blunders made by the Libyan force sent to support Amin against the invading Tanzanian troops, and Amin’s last remarks, before fleeing into exile, after being overthrown by a combined force of the Tanzanian army and some armed Uganda groups exiled in Kenya and Tanzania during the 1970s.
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.***image1***
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 realising 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 10 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.