Uncertainty after Amin overthrow

Wednesday April 15 2009

In part five of our continuing series on the fall of Idi Amin’s military government 30 years ago, Timothy Kalyegira reports on the developments immediately after the overthrow of Amin – some of which were used by different groups/individuals to create Amin’s legacy as we know it today: -

Amid the frenzied excitement that followed the fall of the Amin regime on April 11, 1979, there came a national pastime of lampooning Amin. A satirical 1977 publication by Trevor Donald titled Confessions of Idi Amin: The chilling, explosive expose of Africa's most evil man - in his own words, became extremely popular.

In this compilation of statements falsely attributed to Amin (like the common “Lord of all the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea”), the image of Amin as a buffoon became fixed for all time.

To this day, millions of people around the world, including the most reputable universities and news organisations, unable to realise that Donald’s booklet was satirical, continue to believe that Amin uttered silly statements such as “Before I undress [meaning “address”] the Queen…”

A Kenyan Asian businessman, Sharad Patel, invested $2 million into producing a film in September 1979 titled The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin and starring a Kenyan office clerk called Joseph Olita as Amin.

Because the Asians expelled in 1972 were bitter with Amin, it was not surprising that every effort was made in this film to caricature Amin as a buffoon and brutal killer.


Twenty year-old Vincent P. Magombe (now a political analyst based in London) authored a play in 1979 titled The Fall And Trial Of Idi Amin, 1980.

A new government newspaper, the Uganda Times, was formed to replace the Voice of Uganda of the Amin years. Its editor-in-chief was Paul Waibale Sr. and the Uganda Times joined in the mocking of Amin.

In an article in the June 15, 1979 edition of the Uganda Times titled “The Amin I Knew”, Conservative Party activist John Ken Lukyamuzi described Amin as “a great talker much as he claimed to be a man of few words.” Ugandans blamed virtually everything in Ugandan history on the recently ousted leader.

At the time of the 1971 coup that brought Amin to power, there was no looting in Uganda. In April 1979 after the Tanzanians arrived in Kampala, the population remained indoors, unsure about what would happen next.

Kampala residents saw a green army long-wheel base command Land Rover fitted with loudspeakers drove through the streets of Kampala, from Bakuli through Namirembe Road, to the Old Taxi Park, then up to Kampala Road, down to Jinja Road, then on to Kitante Road until the Mulago roundabout, on to Wandegeya, Nakulabye, Namirembe Cathedral, and down back to Namirembe Road.

They urged the public to come out and loot the shops and offices in Kampala saying in Kiswahili, “Come out and help yourselves to this property! America will bring money!” That was when the looting of Kampala started, followed by looting in Entebbe and other parts of the country.

All the men inside were officers although it is not clear if these were Tanzanian officers or officers of the new UNLA army. Decent and responsible citizens were puzzled by this open call to the public to loot.

It was one of the many early and disturbing signs of what future lay ahead for Uganda, but the euphoria over Amin’s downfall drowned out all the quiet concern at the character of these liberators.

Meanwhile, 3,113 Uganda Army Prisoners of War had been captured by the Tanzanians at the battle of Lukaya. They were taken to Rwamrumba Prison in Bukoba, Tanzania.

Tanzanian Brigadier Marwa Kambale organised the parade to sort out the POWs by tribe. There were 1,200 Baganda, Banyankore, Basoga, and other tribes, as well as 735 Acholi and 450 Langi.

What shocked the Tanzanians was that there were over 700 Acholi and over 400 Langi in Amin’s Uganda Army. The Tanzanians, as they fought to oust Amin, had been led to believe that they were fighting the man who had, among other evil deeds, massacred or exiled nearly all the Acholi and Langi of the 1971 Uganda Army.

Later, an irritated Brig. Marwa asked the new Chief of Staff Lt. Col. David Oyite-Ojok why the Tanzanian government had been told that Amin had systematically massacred all Acholi and Langi soldiers.

The other thing that surprised the liberators was the state of the Uganda they saw. Things that Ugandans took for granted, the Tanzanian soldiers found fascinating and luxurious possessions.

The Tanzanians saw the way Ugandans lived, many saw radio cassette players and wore watches for the first time in their lives in Uganda, and could not reconcile the stories they had heard about Ugandans suffering under Amin and these Ugandans with good schools, nice cars, and a generally higher economic standard than the Tanzania that was liberating Uganda.

The Tanzanian officers and soldiers were amazed when they set foot at the Makindye Military Police Barracks, the army barracks at Katabi near Entebbe Town, the Entebbe airforce base, the Magamaga ordinance depot near Jinja and the Gulu and Nakasongola airforce bases, and other military installations around the country.

Amin had created facilities for his soldiers that Ugandan soldiers since 1979 have never enjoyed again. The Tanzanians found some of the best military equipment and spare parts in Uganda and took them to Tanzania.

The Post Office in Entebbe had just bought a new and sophisticated telephone exchange, but it was seized by the Tanzanians and taken to Tanzania.

But, drinking and dancing to musical hits like Sina Makosa and Paulina by Les Wanyika, these grateful Ugandans still believed that the end of Amin was the start of their best years yet.

Starting tomorrow, this series examines the dark and frightening cloud that settled over Uganda within weeks following the fall of Amin.