The Last Days. Thursday April 11 marked 34 years since Idi Amin was overthrown by a combined force of Tanzania
People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) and Ugandan exiles. Over the years, we have heard the story of the victors and the
epic battles that led to the toppling of the once feared Amin. But we have heard little from the vanquished. In a
series of articles in the following weeks, one of Amin’s children, Jaffar Remo Amin, recounts the events that
went on around his father as he desperately tried to stem the tide.
Beginning in April 1978, there was trouble for dad as there was infighting, cronyism, rivalry and opposition to
his rule in Uganda. Dad also seemed to falter in his control of the armed forces as mounting “friction” occurred
in the Uganda Army, leading to his ouster on April 11, 1979.
That same month, April 1978, dad had relieved a close associate Brig. Moses Ali of his post as Minister of
Finance. My father accused Ali of nepotism and mismanagement in the distribution of newly acquired Honda Accord
and Honda Civic cars.
The cars were officially supposed to sell for Shs30,000 but were reportedly selling to some individuals for as
much as Shs120,000. However it was the purported loss of US$40 million meant for the construction of the Grand
National Mosque at Old Kampala from the State coffers that immediately triggered the sack.
My father was also unhappy with Maj. Gen. Isaac Lumago, the Chief of the Armed Forces, as well as with Nasur
Ezega, Commanding Officer of Masaka and Abiriga 99 of Masindi Artillery Regiment (both members of the Aringa
tribe). He dismissed them from the armed forces.
In late April 1978, Mustafa Adrisi, then vice president who hailed from the Aringa-Kakwa clan of Gisara, was
injured in a car accident. To some members from the Aringa tribe, this was the final plot by my father’s regime
and people from the Kakwa tribe “to rid the Aringa tribe of all individuals in important and top positions in
Following the car accident, Mustafa Adrisi was taken to Cairo for treatment in the company of Haruna Abuna. He
did not return to Uganda until December 1978, at the height of mounting border incidents between Uganda and
Tanzania that escalated into the full blown war that led to dad’s ouster on April 11, 1979. They joined my elder
brother Ali Juma Bashir who was undergoing extensive preservation of a shattered leg following a shooting
incident involving smugglers on Lake Victoria as he was part of dad’s elite Marines Anti-Smuggling Unit.
We were only able to meet our brother Ali Juma Bashir when we went to Tripoli, Libya after dad’s government had
been overthrown. He joined us there upon his release from the hospital in Cairo. Relations between dad and Julius
Nyerere had continued to deteriorate, despite dad’s attempt to extend a hand of peace to Nyerere at the 1973 OAU
(Organisation of African Unity) Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Between September 1972 and October 1978,
tensions had continued between dad and Nyerere with the threat of war continuing to be imminent. Units of dad’s
army were regularly placed on high alert in readiness for war and suspicion ran high.
Everyone in Uganda was always aware that as long as dad was the president, it was just a matter of time before a
full-blown war erupted between Uganda and Tanzania. Beginning in 1978, tension between Uganda and Tanzania
increased with rumours of an impending attack on Uganda by Tanzania running wild! This led members of dad’s high
command to call for an immediate attack on Tanzania, which eventually happened in October 1978.
Before the attack, the Chui and Simba Battalions were rumoured to have mutinied over pay also in October 1978.
At this time, dad made his biggest mistake and as it turns out, the final disastrous gamble by sanctioning the
attack on Tanzania and occupying its territory although with hindsight, a close associate Juma Oka Rokoni, was at
the centre of this most unfortunate of blunders.
Juma Rokoni – nicknamed Butabika – was the grandson of the former Kakwa paramount chief Sultan Ali Kenyi Dada who
was a cousin to Idi Amin’s father. He is the same army officer who put a gun to dad’s head back in 1971 when dad
became reluctant about taking over the presidency following the military coup against Apollo Milton Obote on
January 25, 1971. According to reports, on October 27, 1978, sporadic border clashes and attacks ensued at the
border town of Mutukula between the Uganda Army and the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces.
Then on October 31, 1978, the Uganda Army crossed into the Kagera Salient and attacked Tanzania. Juma Oka
Butabika, one of dad’s officers, led the initial attack. He is reported to have phoned dad and claimed that
Tanzanian troops had invaded Uganda, which forced him to take charge of Ugandan soldiers stationed at the border
areas in order to repel the Tanzanian invaders. According to reports, dad fell for the information given by Juma
Oka Butabika and sanctioned more attacks on Tanzania.
After the attacks by Butabika, dad went on air and declared “a world record” of 25 minutes in capturing some 700
square miles of Tanzanian territory. He announced that his government had annexed the Kagera Salient.
More details have now emerged about the circumstances surrounding the war between Uganda and Tanzania. These
include allegations that dad and his senior officers were given false and misleading reports by saboteurs and
subversive elements operating within the State Research Bureau (SRB) in order to start a war between Uganda and
Tanzania so that dad could be overthrown.
There are also allegations that others and not dad or his senior officers orchestrated vicious atrocities on
innocent civilians in Tanzania following the attack by Butabika which was sanctioned by dad and made it look like
dad and his senior officers sanctioned these atrocities. They allegedly did this so that Tanzania could be
“pushed” to the limit and declare an all-out war on dad’s government to defend itself and its citizens and to
completely overthrow dad.
In essence, the people making the allegations suggest that dad, Butabika and dad’s other senior officers were
duped into attacking Tanzania under false pretenses and on false information that was given deliberately so that
they could attack Tanzania and start a war.
In addition, the same saboteurs and subversive elements allegedly went on to commit the most gruesome atrocities.
Some cynics have boldly stated that: “The widespread looting, murder and destruction in the border towns of
Tanzania that followed the clashes between Tanzanian and Ugandan soldiers and the attacks by Uganda on Tanzania
were committed by the same saboteurs and subversive elements that operated within Uganda and murdered innocent
Ugandans throughout Idi Amin’s rule.
They did this to continue to tarnish Idi Amin’s reputation and make him look like a maniacal murderer. They are
cold hearted killers who were only interested in achieving their own agendas.”
Needless to say, the horrific atrocities committed against innocent Tanzanian civilians provoked Nyerere and his
government to declare war on dad. These atrocities indeed pushed Tanzania to the limit and necessitated the
country’s military to defend its innocent citizens against murders and other atrocities allegedly committed by
others and not dad’s soldiers.
Moreover, powerful governments around the world had allegedly gone along with the propaganda that was ongoing
against dad and fully supported Tanzania and the exiles in their bid to overthrow dad’s government.
Well, in response to the “careless blunder” by Butabika, a force comprising Tanzanians, Ugandan exiles and
mercenaries launched an attack on Mutukula.
They were determined to overthrow dad’s government and the Ugandan exiles were about to realize the objectives of
the meeting they held in 1976 in Lusaka, Zambia to lay a more systematic strategy for overthrowing dad. Uganda
and Tanzania were now entangled in an all-out war. The casualties would be many and the damage immeasurable!
Meanwhile, roughly 10,000-15,000 mainly young Uganda Army recruits passed out at Ngoma, northwest of Bombo and
prepared to fight the guerrillas. Having recently obtained armaments from the Soviet Union, Tanzania was more
than prepared for the war against dad and angry and determined enough to want to not only drive the so-called
invaders out of Tanzanian territory but to overthrow dad.
So in November 1978, Tanzania launched a counter-attack on Uganda and on December 9, 1978, the country’s
President Julius Nyerere announced that the Tanzanian army had had a victory. He told Tanzanians that dad’s
soldiers had been driven out of Tanzanian soil.
Yet this was not true. Apparently after the attack sanctioned by dad and the announcement that his government had
annexed the Kagera Salient, nations from the OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference) convinced him to
withdraw back to the original borders that existed when each country achieved “Independence.”
Dad had done that but Tanzania attacked Uganda in retaliation nonetheless. Dad’s soldiers were not driven from
Tanzania as has always been reported. They had withdrawn from the Kagera Salient when Tanzania attacked Uganda.
-Continues in Sunday Monitor