On the evening of January 24, 1971, an operation to arrest former army commander Idi Amin from his infamous Command Post Kololo, Kampala was launched. It was a high risk operation. Former Ugandan president Milton Obote had assigned his entrusted man from Bushenyi in south western Uganda Basil Bataringaya to oversee the execution of the operation as the minister for internal affairs. Unfortunately, immediately the operation started, it collapsed and Bataringaya paid the price with his life. Bataringaya was the first Ugandan politician to be exterminated after the January 25, 1971 military coup against the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) government.
Uganda’s chief spy was in India
When the coup occurred, Obote and several of his ministers, including the country’s chief spy Naphtali Akena Adoko, had spent almost two weeks abroad. Obote and his entourage had flown through Kenya, India and to their final destination Singapore to attend the Commonwealth Heads of States and governments Meeting. Adoko, who was also the first head of Uganda’s first intelligence agency, General Service Unit (GSU), was in India attending a Commonwealth Lawyers conference.
Although many authors have claimed that Britain and Israel were involved in plotting that coup, some of the soldiers who participated in the coup told Saturday Monitor the coup was accidental. According to former Uganda Army soldiers in Koboko, Yumbe and Arua districts in West Nile sub-region, who all were at Malire garrison in Kampala and fully participated in the coup, no one planned it. It was neither Amin nor Felix Onama, then minister of defence or any foreign agents who planned the coup as has been indicated by a number of authors. These ex-service men had never before spoken to journalists about the 1971 coup.
Writing in his book Sowing the mustard seed, on page 48, President Museveni talks about his interaction with Adoko immediately he reached Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania hours after the coup.
He said: “I told Adoko and Odaka that people in Uganda were jubilant, and that the Israelis and the British appeared to be behind the coup,” Museveni said adding: “Adoko had been responsible for the infiltration of so many State organs by the intelligence services of foreign countries, and now he was mourning a situation of his own creation”.
The attempt to arrest Amin sparked it. There had emerged a rift between President Obote and his army Commander Amin over the administration of the army since October 1966 when Amin replaced Brig Shaban Opolot after the Congo gold and ivory scandal. It is said that Amin had used a portion of the Congo exploits to enrich himself, which angered some senior officers. Besides, there was already a rift in the army born in 1962 as Uganda got independence and after the June 1964 mutiny at Jinja barracks.
In an interview with the Saturday Monitor in September last year, retired Lt Col Obitre Gama, who hails from West Nile, confirmed that the army had been divided between soldiers from northern Uganda and those from West Nile sub-region.
In 1969, there was the claim that Amin had misappropriated the military funds and was to be court-martialed but he had resorted to moving with heavy military escorts composed of only soldiers from his Kakwa tribe so as to avoid arrest.
The matter was complicated by the December 21, 1969 attempted assassination of Obote at Lugogo Indoor stadium. Amin was accused of being behind it. The accusation was ignited by Brig Pere Okoya, an Acholi, and the commanding officer of 1st Battalion Jinja, who arrived in Kampala from Jinja before Amin surfaced at Lugogo scene of crime.
Meanwhile, Amin, who was present at the scene, had escaped and dug-in at his command post. He thought he was also a target owing to the tense situation in the army.
Obote feared to be seen as an antagonist of the army if he directly ordered the arrest of Amin. And so, a plan was hatched to arrest Amin while Obote was away. The responsibility to arrest the army commander was thus assigned to Basil Bataringaya, minister for internal affairs. The minister was to oversee the arrest of Amin using the Uganda police. Arresting Amin from his command post was not an easy job. Risky as it was, the minister was ready to execute the mission.
On January 27, 1971, duringe his first press conference hours after the coup, Amin said: “Obote knows that on the eleventh day of January, 1971, a secret meeting was held at the home of Maitum Engena at which a decision was taken to murder me [Amin] and a lot of other people. This was confirmed in a telephone conversation between the president in Singapore and the minister of internal affairs [Basil Bataringaya] in Kampala on January 23, 1971.” Others who attended the said meeting were: Christopher Ntende, permanent secretary ministry of internal affairs, Inspector General of police Erinayo Oryema, Brig Suleiman Hussein, and other officers.
Henry Kyemba, a former principal private secretary of President Obote, who, was with him in Singapore told this journalist: “Bataringaya was captured by the special force Agents at Sheraton [hotel] while making a telephone call to Obote in Singapore and was killed”
Saturday Monitor asked former First Lady, Mama Miria Obote, if she had heard about the impending arrest of Amin. “No I never heard about it”. She answered. When asked about the situation in Kampala hours to January 25, she responded: “I remember Bataringaya called me on telephone. He said, ‘Mama, in case you hear some bullets [sound], don’t worry, we will be conducting an operation’”. And a few hours later, soldiers stormed their home at Prince Charles Drive Lower Kololo and robbed everything inside the house.
After Bataringaya was arrested, he was taken to Amin for interrogation. It was Bataringaya who revealed all to Amin and other officers present at the command post. After the interrogation, he was never seen again.