The fall of Amin as a vaccine for democracy

Sunday March 29 2020

Philip Matogo

Philip Matogo 

By Philip Matogo

It’s March 29, 1979. 41 years ago today.
Bedlam and Butabika have combined to conjure a madness of a particular kind.

Some soldiers are running away while firing both guns and blowing up everything. And other soldiers are arriving in the shape of troop movements gone wonderfully haywire.

President Idi Amin has fled Kampala as 4,000 to 6,000 Tanzanian troops and exiled Ugandan rebels are said to be able to take Kampala “at will.”

The night before, bombs convulsed Kampala until 6am. An early morning broadcast from the only radio station, Radio Uganda, said the explosions came from the invading force: “the enemy is now for the first time bombarding the city.”

Mpigi, 25 miles south of Kampala, is in the vise-grip of the invading force. As these rebels edge within 10 miles of Kampala, they bring the city within range of their 122mm field guns.

The 11‐member executive committee of the Uganda National Liberation Front, a government‐in‐exile that put the brutal poetry of Amin’s regime in swansong mode, says in its first communiqué that Amin “is fleeing north with convoys of his remaining loyal troops.”


The communiqué was issued in the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam, possibly by former president Milton Obote. Still, the situation is sobering enough for Western diplomats in Kampala to hoard their champagne for the coming celebrations: Amin has surely fallen.

The invading force, which has had Kampala under siege for three days, is on the verge of taking it. “They’re on the move,” said one diplomat. “They’re within spitting distance now.”

Banks and shops are closed, and Ugandan soldiers loyal to Amin are in flight as they discard their guns and uniforms in an orgy of Kimansulo.

Robert Astles, the British‐born adviser to president Amin, had reportedly gone on a very long “fishing trip.” So long was the trip that it necessitated his saying “so long” in goodbye to Uganda.

During the night, three transport planes took off from Entebbe airport without lights. Many believed they were carrying Libyan troops or Gaddafi-lookalikes sent to bolster the Amin regime. However, they were now on a broken road to Damascus.

After Amin, three presidents and a Military Commission delivered democracy in a closed fist. Then President Museveni took the helm to unclench the love by making democracy a priority, above nine others, in the NRA’s 10-Point Programme.

This version of Moses’s Decalogue heralded a time of peace and tranquillity that Uganda had never really known. But by President Museveni allowing freedom of speech while restricting freedom of association, he created contradictions that left Ugandans free but everywhere in chains. This might’ve been a deliberate attempt to “manage” democracy.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “The disease of liberty is catching.” And thus, taken as a disease, democracy can be used as a vaccine. Vaccines work by training the immune system to recognise and combat disease. By injecting small doses of this disease into the body, the immune system can create immunity against it.

Thus democracy was introduced into the body politic in the form of National Resistance Council elections, the promulgation of a fresh Constitution, decentralisation, regional tier, presidential and parliamentary elections and other gambits as a means to vaccinating us against democracy.

This might be the real legacy of Amin’s fall: the forces which unglued his sizeable posteriors from ‘The Chair’ realised that the best way to avoid another Amin was to clothe the emperor in designer decrees which would ensure that the gold braid was mistaken for gold.
So a vaccine for democracy was necessary to delude an appearances-obsessed public into believing that our politics had been cured of dictatorship.

You see, although we don’t want to admit it, we prefer form to substance. That’s why we buy Mercedes Benzes and park them outside our Muzigos. Indeed, President Museveni has realised that what Napoleon Bonaparte said is true: “men are led by toys.” Hence, we are ready to be taken in by illusions in order to escape our realities. If Amin had figured this out, he might’ve expired while still in office.

Mr Matogo is a digital marketing
manager with City Surprises Ltd