How Amin’s commander betrayed Ugandan fighters to Tanzanians

Amin (L) checks out a gun before the Tanzanian forces attacked Uganda.

What you need to know:

April 11 marked 34 years since Idi Amin was overthrown by a combined force of Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF) and Ugandan exile groups. In this second part of a seriesof articles in the following weeks, Amin’s son Jaffar Rembo Amin, recounts the events that went on around his father as he desperately tried to stem the tide.

I will never forget the time when my siblings and I were with dad in the room as he took a call related to the hostility that was going on between Uganda and Tanzania. We were giving dad the usual massage that day when he picked up the phone then slammed it down. He looked at me while I worked the sole of his 14 inch feet and said, “They have attacked me again; The Tanzanians. It is a big force this time”.

After that momentous phone call and on our outing to Cape Town View, Munyonyo, a long convoy of fancy cars brought the high command up to the resort for a meeting with dad. It was his style to have his children around him at his most trying of hours for he should have loaded us onto the ubiquitous (Nissan Civillian) omni-bus which used to transport the majority of his children to and from State House, Entebbe. However, at this moment he kept us around.

Dad had the best Strike Force Protection Unit but having his children around him during times of war while on holiday seemed to be a comfort to him as is normal with any parent. There were rumours of a coup and the agenda from the delegation of high ranking officers was to ask him to step down.

Family man
Dad normally took us to Munyonyo during our school holidays and this was the last school holiday I spent with him before I joined Primary Six in 1979 at Kabale Preparatory School. It was a very tense time indeed and I realised that something was wrong because there were hordes of soldiers around whom I did not recognise – body guards and drivers of each individual Battalion and Brigade Commander. The High Command Council was trying to convince dad to stand down and he said, “How can you ask me to do this?”

The situation worsened, for from then on, dad relied on Non-Commissioned Officers and a sprinkling of Majors, Captains and his Crack Marines at Bugolobi, Moroto and the Uganda Airforce.
After the confrontation with the high command at Cape Town View, Munyonyo, dad’s looming defeat was becoming obvious when suspicion around a so-called “friendly fire” was determined as the cause of death of the valiant Christian, Lt. Col. Godwin Sule, at the frontline. He was one of the contingents of Anyanya troops who served the 2nd Republic of Uganda with diligence and care. After the so-called “friendly fire” incident, the regular soldiers lost morale. This at a time TPDF invaders had suffered a resounding setback at Rakai.

It was therefore a mystery for the then Chief of Staff to issue a “Part One Order”, requesting all Battalions to withdraw 50 miles from Rakai into the swampy plains of Lukaya away from their resounding scene of victory. Normally an army would have consolidated their positions before retreating but they didn’t, which lends credibility to allegations that dad’s army had been infiltrated by the enemy. Moreover coordinates given to the Air Force pilots were “erroneously” targeting Uganda Army positions and not TPDF positions and the “error” was allegedly originating from Lt. Col. Yorecam and others.

Apparently, Isaac Maliyamungu, Yusuf Gowa (Gowan), Lt. Col. Yorecam, Brig. Gen. Taban Lupayi, a Sudanese Christian and a Muganda head of Military Logistics, were accused of having received dollars as part of a plot to defeat dad’s army from “within”. It was alleged that the logistics personnel would “erroneously” re-route mortar shells to artillery gunners while artillery shells were sent to battle tank positions all in an effort to stall the war efforts and eventually defeat dad.

It was alleged that Lt. Col. Yorecam was found to be giving positions of the Uganda Army troops to the Uganda Air Force leading to consistent “friendly fire” on Uganda Army positions. This he did while also giving coordinates of Uganda Army troops to the TPDF who would continue to bomb the Uganda Army troop formations at the battle front.

Sense of betrayal
African mysticism came to the fore when every time the Uganda Army soldiers changed battle formation, they were met immediately with a barrage of BM21 rocket fire, which was personally manned by one Major Boris of the USSR. The shells were raining in like a scene from a Biblical hail and brimstones until they started believing a gun the soldiers dubbed the “Saba Saba” had a sophisticated roving eye, not realising it was their very own field commander who was directly compromising them from within.

When he was discovered with the very latest coordinates and the very next battle formation coordinates while radioing it out to the TPDF, his very troops waylaid him with lethal vengeance. According to reliable sources, Brigadier General Taban Lupayi, a Sudanese Pojulu could have been implicated in the very same scheme for he put a lot of miles between himself and the war front together with Isaac Maliyamungu, a Zairean Kakwa when the 50 miles withdrawal took effect. The rot had truly set in!

The scene was set for the Uganda Army’s last stand in the marshy plains of Lukaya where the so-called “friendly fire” that killed Godwin Sule occurred. With only three T55 Soviet Battle Tanks and a 106 Jeep, the rest of the Army had withdrawn or been hit on the battle field. The incompetent withdrawal or deliberate ploy to withdraw allowed the invading TPDF to position, strengthen and consolidate their gains on the war front.

As all this was going on, dad did something only he could have done. He drove to the scene of Lt. Col. Godwin Sule’s death and actually waved at the TPDF detachment that was fighting the Ugandan troops. The detachment was a few meters away but instead of firing at dad and killing him, they waved back in excitement like school children – the irony of an unnecessary war between Uganda and Tanzania! The Tanzanian troops clearly saw and knew that it was dad waving at them but they did not shoot him!

After that incident, dad had stormed into Nakasero State Lodge that very night, in the elevated kangaroo-spring Mercedes Benz 200 E series which was a factory prepared rally car, with a string of “Five O Fours” [Peugeot 504s – editor] in tow and the white communication Land Rover at the rear. The vehicles were all covered – actually caked in camouflage river mud as a precaution against reflection. That night, dad alighted with his usual “tearful earthquake” laugh, at the spectacle of not being shot at by the Tanzanians. He had alighted into the welcoming arms of the Nakasero Kabale Preparatory School contingent that was now under the care of his favourite wife, Sarah Kyolaba, whom he married in 1975.

We were amused the next day to hear from the news that “Suicide Sarah” as my stepmother Sarah Kyolaba was referred to, had toured the Frontline with her husband Idi Amin. We rushed to her to confirm the news only for her to deny the news item. “I was here the whole night. That is your father on one of his pranks. He probably went with that new Musoga bride of his - Mama Nabirye.”

Dad married Mama Nabirye, a police officer, soldier and presidential escort in 1978. The incident that involved him driving to the frontline and waving to the Tanzanian soldiers occurred around the time there was the constant boom sound over Kampala in March 1979.

The dice was cast when Lt. Col. Sule was reportedly shot from behind while making a valiant defense in the marshy plains of Lukaya. The second damning order from the Chief of the Defence, Staff Maj. Gen. Yusuf Gowa of the Mijale Kakwa clan near the Aringa border in West Nile nicknamed Gowan, was for soldiers to repatriate their families to safety. Some claim it was a directive from dad following the Cape Town View, Munyonyo showdown during which his senior officers told him to step down. After dad refused to step down, they allegedly said things like, “Let his Strike Force and Marines do the fighting if he does not want to step down”.

This “Part One Order” dealt the last nail in the Uganda Army coffin because suddenly the most amazing logistical operation swung into action for all soldiers hailing from the West Nile District, Jaki County in the Congo, in Kakwa County – Koboko and Southern Sudan. There was total disarray in the whole rank and file of the Uganda Army because of its homogenous composition. The soldiers seemed to melt into the western, eastern northern hinterlands just like a scene from the Second Gulf War when 200,000 strong Republican Guards simply melted away into the hinterlands as the American army attacked Baghdad.

That time, an estimated 36,000 to 40,000 Uganda Army soldiers melted away from the battle front, leaving only the bombing sorties by the Air Force to keep the Tanzanians at bay. Amazingly, reconciliation happened between dad and Abiriga 99 whom he had discharged from the army. Dad and Abiriga were able to swing in his Aringa factions into a last ditch effort to defend dad’s regime. The whole high command had dissipated for they must have “signed consent” to the request to ask dad to step down and they must have duly given him the mutiny notice at that very extended Cape Town View meeting, leading to his blanket condemnation of all officers. Dad’s high command from Lieutenant Colonel up to the General was implicated in the request for him to step down.

Dad now relied on his Crack Marines and the Air Force while the rest of the battalions went into irreversible implosion, with pockets from Moroto, Mbale and Abiriga 99’s contingent from north western Bunyoro. By this time, dad could only rely on a sprinkling of Majors and other senior officer ranks, Captains and Non-Commissioned Officers to run the last ditch efforts to shore up his regime, which was in decline.

Dad only had the Iraqi trained Marines at his last hour although Taban Lupayi had removed most of his Sudanese contingent during the infamous 50 miles withdrawal. It looked like only the 15,000 new recruits who were passed out at Ngoma just when the Kagera war started in 1978 were being deployed to the war front. The rest were in disarray.

The resounding factor that keeps replaying in all strong man regimes is the high propensity to have a “Republican Guard” like brigade that owes allegiance to the ruler. This recurrent theme in most “Third World” countries played into the familiar process of defeat just like what happened a decade later with the DSP in Mobutu’s Zaire and then the Republican Guards in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
Quite often, grudges come to the fore at the final hour of defeat and quite often the regular soldiers leave the so-called elite to “face the music”.

It was recalled by many how the regulars would say, “Let his Marines and Strike Force fight his battle for they always got the best from the rest.” Grudges came to the fore during that time.


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