Lt Col Abdu Kisuule: Uganda did not invade Tanzania, they provoked us

Following our war series on the Kagera attack that sparked the 1979 war between Ugandan and Tanzanian armies that culminated in the overthrow of Idi Amin, one of the commanders who twice led the Ugandan troops into Tanzania territory, Lt Col Abdu Kisuule, told Saturday Monitor’s Henry Lubega his account of the war.

Saturday May 24 2014

Lt Col Abdu Kisuule during the interview at his home in Namataba on the

Lt Col Abdu Kisuule during the interview at his home in Namataba on the Mukono-Kayunga road recently. PHOTO BY RACHEL MABALA 

A few months after Gen Idi Amin’s coup in 1971, Ugandan troops under Kisuule, who was then a Lieutenant, entered Tanzania to rescue their colleagues who had sneaked there in search of water. Kisuule, who was later promoted to Lt Col, was to enter Tanzania again seven years later but this time commanding the Ugandan troops into the Kagera Salient for a full scale war between the two countries. Below is the commander’s account.

The Uganda-Tanzania relationship was characterised by a number of military skirmishes between 1971 and 1978 when the conflict erupted into a full scale war. After the 1971 military coup, a number of Milton Obote’s men -- both military and civilians -- went to Tanzania and this obviously made it Uganda’s enemy.

1971 incursion into Tanzania
I don’t recall the date and month, but it was a few months after the January coup of 1971, when president Amin went to open the newly constructed Ntungamo-Kabale road. I was commanding A Company of the Marile Mechanised Specialist Recce Regiment. We were ordered to go to Kikagati where we stayed for two days before being told to go to the Mutukula border.

This was my first time to go to Mutukula. We instead pitched the company headquarters in Rakai District for a couple of days before orders came that we move closer to the Tanzanian border.

Soldiers kidnapped
That very day I moved the company to Kasambya on the road to Minziro, where we reached at night. In the morning I ordered some of my boys to go and fetch water to prepare breakfast. As I waited for the breakfast, I got a report from Officer Kenneth Onzima that four of my men had been kidnapped in Mutukula. That was on August 24, 1971.

I had to analyse the situation and to not report to the headquarters in Kampala. I had to do all within my means to rescue my men. I told Onzima to be my reconnaissance officer as I made arrangements with the security people on the Ugandan side of the border at Mutukula. I told them “when you see APCs (Armoured Personnel Carriers) coming, just open the gate”.
I mobilised six APCs, arranging them in numbers and putting my senior and most experienced APC driver, Sgt Hussein Doka, in the lead APC where I was myself. The plan was that when the security guards at the Ugandan side see the APCs coming, they just open the border gate and we go through at full speed to force our way into Tanzania.

With all the six APCs ready, I entered the lead one and raised the other five on radio: “Hullo all stations moving now.” Each APC was calling its number 2-6, all saying “over” and I said, “Move out now.” That’s was the last order I gave and we moved at full speed towards the border. The security did as we had planned, opening the border entrance long before we reached. We went straight into Tanzania.

I was looking through my binoculars when we entered Tanzania. The last thing I recall was seeing a small red light at a distance. The APC was hit and I was badly wounded. My rib cage was blown open, leaving my lungs hanging, with the diaphragm destroyed.

Before I lost consciousness, I asked Sgt Doka: “Are you hit?” he said, “No”. I told him to turn left or right and take my body back to Uganda. By the time I regained consciousness, the APC had been stuck in mud inside Tanzania. Sgt Doka and the gunner had run away, leaving me and a few recruits in the APC. Fortunately, the recruits were not hurt.

My consciousness was on and off. Whenever I would regain consciousness, I would cover my wound with my hand, breath in heavily and release at once to let the blood out. At one point I signalled to one of the recruits to switch off the APC.

The recruits managed to get me out of the APC and put me out on the ground. I gained some consciousness and signalled them to pour some water in my mouth and I was able to speak. They didn’t know where we were. I told them to look east or west and locate Sango Bay.

They put me on an improvised stretcher, wrapped me in a sheet and started walking. I was crying like a child, as they walked, the broken bones were piercing into my fresh causing a lot of pain. I have never been through such pain in my life.

They reached a point and said they had failed. We returned to where we had left the APC where we spent the night. Recruit Pauline was very caring. She was with me all the time. At one point I asked her for my pistol to shoot myself, but it had been lost. I asked her to shoot me to stop the pain I was going through, but she refused.

The next day still being carried on a stretcher, they tried to locate the other five APCs. We went up to a certain hill where they saw them and other soldiers at a distance. One soldier, Gala, later promoted to a Major, drove one APC to our position to pick us. By then it was late afternoon. I had been hit the previous day around 10am. In the APC the pain was worse than the improvised stretcher they had carried me on at first.

I was taken to Mutukula Prison where Amin and some of his ministers had arrived in a helicopter after hearing the incident. Amin ordered the helicopter to take the ministers first and come for me later. But Captain Ombia refused and told Amin: “Our person is dying and you want us to take ministers first?” The pilot was ordered to take me to Masaka hospital. At Masaka the medical staff said my case was beyond them and referred me to Mulago hospital where the helicopter reached at around 7pm.

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