In part six of our continuing series on the fall of Idi Amin’s military government, Timothy Kalyegira writes about the terror that gripped Uganda shortly before and after the April 11, 1979 coup: -
On March 23, 1979, less than three weeks to the end of Amin’s government, a resident of Kampala called Daniel Kyahulwa Kakonge simply disappeared never to be seen again.
It was assumed that this was the work of the dreaded State Research Bureau, intent on wreaking havoc on innocent Ugandans one last time before their tyrannical government fell from power.
On March 26, 1979, a man called Benjamin Henry Emor was murdered in Kampala. This reinforced the desperate wish by thousands of Ugandans for the Tanzanians to quickly step in and end Idi Amin’s reign of terror.
On the very day Amin’s government collapsed, April 11, 1979, Noah Lameck Masiira Sempiira, former General Manager of the National Trust (the agency that completed Uganda House in Kampala in 1973), was shot dead right outside the Uganda Commercial Bank headquarters building.
Since this was during the war, with Tanzanian troops surrounding Kampala, it was assumed that it was one of the unfortunate instances of “collateral damage”, the inevitable civilian deaths during combat.
A week later, April 18, 1979, an employee of the Uganda Electricity Board (known today as Umeme), John Mary Muzeyi Kalema, was shot dead by unknown people in Kampala. On June 1, 1979, a prominent Kampala bank manager called Tony Gonza Bagonza was shot dead in the city.
On June 3, 1979, Mary Nalumu Sembuya, a senior nurse at Mulago Hospital and wife of businessman Christopher Sembuya (of Sembule Steel Mills), was shot dead at their home at No. 32 Windsor Crescent in Kololo, a Kampala suburb.
The assailants stole the Sembuya’s car, a Fiat number UUQ 820. With the government of President Lule in office for only five weeks, on June 1, 1979, a building at plot 48 Kampala Road that housed the Uganda Ey’eddembe Publications was set on fire.
Once again, the assumption was that this must be the work of the only known evil people in Uganda since 1971: soldiers of ex-president Amin’s Uganda Army or the State Research Bureau intelligence agency.
“Ousted Idi Amin’s bandits are held responsible for the fire which broke out in buildings in Kampala on Friday,” is the way the government-owned newspaper, the Uganda Times reported the incident on Monday June 4, 1979.
However, some people were starting to note a pattern that left them unconvinced that this was the sabotage by Amin’s men.
A former exiled opponent of Amin’s regime, expert in criminology and forensic evidence, Andrew Lutakome Kayiira – who was now the deputy Minister of Internal Affairs in the UNLF government – called and told a press conference in Kampala that the building on Kampala Road had been set on fire by explosives.
Kayiira said this was only the latest in “a number of incidents in the past which have brought about a sense of insecurity in the country,” reported the Uganda Times on June 5.
“He [Kayiira] said there are more reports of people dressed in military uniforms commandeering vehicles whose owners are either killed or left stranded in remote areas of Kampala.”
These military uniforms that Kayiira referred to were of the UNLA, not Amin’s Uganda Army.
Then, too, the explosives used to blow up the Kampala Road building just opposite today’s Shell Capital petrol station were the exact same type that had been used to blow up buildings in Masaka and Mbarara and buildings at Ntare School in Mbarara in the closing stages of the 1979 war.
On Sunday June 10, 1979, Christopher B. Mwoyogwona, an official of the Caltex petroleum company, and his eight year-old son Charles Mwiwa, were shot dead by unknown gunmen on the Kampala-Jinja Highway near Lugazi. Their bodies were thrown into Mabira Forest.
At this point, alarm bells started to ring among security circles. With the fall of Amin’s regime, most of his former henchmen like Major Bob Astles, Brig. Ali Fadhul, and Lt. Col. Nassur Abdallah had been arrested or had fled the country.
The priority of anybody who had once worked for the Amin regime, now condemned around the world and whose officials and agents were being hunted down, was to either flee the country or, for those who stayed around, to keep as low a profile as possible.
There would hardly have been a reason to conduct open acts of sabotage when it was clear to all that, with the arrival of the Tanzanian-UNLA force at the Uganda-Sudan border area of Koboko on June 3, 1979, the Amin era was now effectively over.
Besides, the bullet cartridges being found at the scene of these shooting incidents in Kampala showed that the guns used were the Chinese/Russian-made AK-47 assault rifles used by the Tanzanins and the UNLA, not the British-made G-3 rifles that the Uganda Army under Amin used as its basic weapon.
Although Ugandans still felt relief at the ouster of Amin from power and believed they were entering a new and happy chapter of their history, there was a growing sense of bewilderment and fear at the security situation.
If we had been liberated from the dread of Amin’s brutality and terror and Amin’s army too soundly beaten to ever be a factor again in Ugandan life, who were these armed men, in military uniform, who were terrorising Kampala?