Maliyamungu is a Swahili word meaning “the property of God”. And by all means, its meaning could have good impacts on the lives of those who possess the name. But that was never to be with Brig Isaac Maliyamungu, a military officer of the Uganda Army (UA) who served as one of president Idi Amin’s important officials during his brutal rule between 1971 and 79.
Alongside Lt Col Farouk Minawa, Col Ali, Col Musa, Lt Col Hussein Malera, Maj Gen Mustafa Adrisi, Maliyamungu supported and defended Amin’s eight-year rule that saw several thousands of Ugandans dead and a countless number forced to flee the country.
Born in western Zaire (now DR Congo) to undocumented Christian Kakwa parents, he was by birth not a Ugandan. Maliyamungu was said to be a cousin of Idi Amin and at one point migrated to Uganda and took up a job as a gatekeeper at Nyanza Textile Factory in Jinja District.
There is no apparent information about his education. However, just like his cousin Amin, Maliyamungu showed practical intelligence that enabled him to exploit any opportunity to his advantage.
He spoke several different languages including his native Kakwa, Kiswahili, English, Luganda, Lusoga, Luo and Runyoro, among others, and was able to address people of these tribes in their languages whenever he visited their areas.
The Drum, a South African magazine, describes Maliyamungu as ruthless, courageous, inflexible, volatile and highly ambitious, before going ahead to declare him “possibly psychotic”.
He was a dangerous military officer, and perhaps it is this trait that turned him into a much feared figure in the army, and his presence in an area would inflict panic on people.
Joining the army
According to Tom Cooper’s book Wars and Insurgency in Uganda 1971-1994, Maliyamungu joined the Uganda Army in 1967.
He was thought to have been recruited by Amin, who at the time was deputy army commander and was secretly recruiting his Kakwa tribe mates into the army with the aim of overthrowing the government.
In 1970, Maliyamungu was promoted to the rank of corporal and served as pay clerk for Uganda Air Force in Entebbe until the 1971 coup.
At the height of the tension between president Milton Obote and his army commander Amin in 1970, Maliyamungu played a leading role in illegally recruiting and training men, mainly from West Nile and South Sudan (Nubians), in Mabira Forest for the purpose of staging a coup which was eventually carried out on January 25, 1971.
Maliyamungu became a central figure and played a crucial role in the coup against Obote. He was the one who drove an armoured personnel carrier that rammed into the armoury building (weapon store) at Malire Regiment in Lubiri in Kampala. In so doing, he enabled the coupists access ample weaponry which they used to subdue soldiers loyal to Obote.
Maliyamungu then drove a lead tank from Malire Barracks to Entebbe where he shot the airport entrance, killing two unidentified priests.
The shooting caused panic to the airport guards who were caught by surprise and became ineffective in defending their positions. Maliyamungu immediately took control of the airport.
After the coup
Maliyamungu promptly won Amin’s favour after successfully securing of Malire and Entebbe. After the coup, Amin entrusted him with the responsibility of purging the army of anti-Amin’s elements.
He was granted unlimited powers in the army. He had powers over life and death and could execute anyone within and outside the army without question. Even superior officers were not immune to his execution powers.
Maliyamungu later succeeded in defeating armed resistance to the new regime by commanding operations that resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of suspected political opponents.
Maliyamungu’s perfect methods of executing orders from Amin made him the president’s “right-hand-man”. He was swiftly promoted from one rank to another.
In mid-1971, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was appointed a member of the Defence Council from where he was put in charge of training and operations.
In the meantime, he was given additional responsibility of commanding the Ordnance Depot at Magamaga Barracks in Jinja.
In February 1972, Maliyamungu was appointed the acting commander of the Second Infantry Battalion in Masaka.
In 1974, he was further appointed a commander of the Mechanised Regiment which was in charge of VIP protection (Amin’s bodyguards).
Maliyamungu also played a big role in the brutal State Research Bureau (the dreaded agency based in Nakasero in Kampala) as well as in Intelligence Agency.
The forces under Maliyamungu’s command were infamous for their use of extreme methods in suppressing suspected dissidents.
According to Seftel Adam’s book The Bloodstained Pearl of Africa and its Struggles for Peace, Maliyamungu was feared by his colleagues in the Defence Council due to his brutality and by the rest of the army due to his great powers and close connection to Amin.
It is written that he preferred employing the cruellest methods of execution on his victims commonly by either disembowelling or dismembering their body parts, for example, limb by limb and ear by ear. In some cases, it is said, he drove military trucks over his helpless victims, crushing them to death.
Maliyamungu executed the former mayor of Masaka, Francis Walugembe, in 1972 by first mutilating his genitals then parading him on the streets of Masaka before ordering his men to cut him into pieces in the town market in full public view.
He also chaired the meeting on the trial of Janani Luwum, then Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, in 1977 and it was from this meeting that Luwum’s fate of death was sealed, a suggestion that was initiated by Maliyamungu.
Maliyamungu allegedly ordered the clubbing to death of Kung’u Karumba, then a prominent Kenyan nationalist and friend of then Kenyan president Jomo Kenyatta, over a disagreement on debt settlement. Maliyamungu’s wife was reportedly indebted to Karumba but they disagreed on terms of payment.
In 1977, it was again Maliyamungu and then vice president Mustafa Adrisi who advised Amin to purge the Langi and Acholi from the army, leading to the killing of hundreds of those suspected of being loyal to Obote.
As Amin’s government became increasingly unpopular in late 1970s due to brutal suppression of the dissidents and general economic hardship, Maliyamungu frightened the people on radio in 1978 when he declared that he would use tanks and bulldozers to destroy any area opposed to the government, saying: “The regime is hotter than heated iron bar and not afraid to act.”
The Israeli raid on Entebbe
It is reported that before Israeli commandos raided Entebbe airport to rescue their citizens who had been taken hostage when Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Air France plane and flew it to Uganda on July 4, 1976, there was an intelligence report indicating the impending attack.
Maliyamungu, then army chief-of-staff based in Entebbe, was informed earlier in the day that Israelis were likely to attack the airport in an effort to rescue their citizens.
However, on hearing the information, Maliyamungu allegedly dismissed the report calling it “gasiya” (Swahili word for rubbish).
When the attack occurred, it is said he was in a hotel room just outside the airport with a prostitute.
And just like many officials in the Uganda Army at the time, Maliyamungu used his power to enrich himself. He was the head of a committee appointed by Amin to oversee the distribution of wealth left behind by the expelled Asians.
It is said that he used this opportunity to “take much” for himself. In the mid-1970s, he masterminded the smuggling of huge amount of coffee by boat across Lake Victoria to Kenya. People complained to Amin and he was forced to task his British advisor, Bob Astles, to clamp down on Maliyamungu’s smuggling operations.
However, Maliyamungu responded by kidnapping Astles and had him confined in unidentified location from where he tortured him by tearing out his fingernails and branding his face with Kakwa tribal mark before setting him free.
Commanding war against Tanzanians
In November 1978, war broke out between Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces (supported by contingents of Ugandan exiles) and the Uganda Army. This was after Amin’s soldiers had occupied Kagera salient region of Tanzania, massacred dozens of local people and burnt several villages before Amin went ahead to annex the area to Uganda.
Maliyamungu reportedly visited the area and upon viewing the destruction caused by the Uganda Army, he shed tears as he said: “This could have not been the work of the Uganda Army I know”.
Shortly after, the Tanzanian troops launched a large scale counter-offensive against the Uganda Army and recaptured Kagera before advancing into Uganda. Maliyamungu soon found himself in a position of playing a leading role in commanding the war against the invaders.
In February 1979, Maliyamungu was sent by Amin to command a garrison in Masaka which was becoming an important target of the Tanzanian troops.
The garrison had about 3,000 soldiers against the Tanzanian positions and around the town. However, the soldiers were disorganised, unruly and preoccupied by internal divisions. They proved ineffective in their defence against highly disciplined Tanzanian troops.
On February 24, 1979, the Tanzanians, meeting very little resistance, attacked and overran Masaka as Ugandan troops fled north. Maliyamungu, fearing reprisal from Amin over the loss of Masaka, vanished in the bush for more than a week before returning with an apology.
With Masaka captured, Kampala was threatened. Amin then ordered a counter attack and sent Maliyamungu with a mixture of Ugandan soldiers, Libyan and Palestinian troops to recapture Lukaya near the Tanzanian border and then attack Masaka with the ultimate aim of expelling the Tanzanians.
On March 10, Maliyamungu commanded the battle of Lukaya and managed to root out the Tanzanians temporarily. However, the following morning, the Tanzanians launched a fierce counter attack.
Maliyamungu and Maj Gen Yusuf Gowon joined their troops on the front line in an attempt to strengthen their morale. However, for unknown reasons, the position the two commanders took became a subject to intense rocket fire from the enemies.
This forced their junior commanders to plead with the two to leave since the soldiers were suspecting their presence to be what they called “bisirani” (bad omen). The two returned to their command post but repeated attempts to resist the TPDF were futile and the Uganda Army was rooted out of Lukaya and the Tanzanians advanced towards Kampala.
Amin’s son accuses Maliyamungu
Jaffar Rembo Amin, president Amin’s son, later accused Maliyamungu of having received a bribe from the Tanzanians to deliberately lose the war. He also blamed him of cowardice by placing his command post miles away.
As Kampala fell to Tanzanian forces in April 1979, Maliyamungu fled across the border to Zaire (now DR Congo) with a substantial amount of wealth.
He later relocated to Sudan with his family. However, in February 1984, the former Brigadier died of suspected poisoning.
He left behind a name that is still debated today. In the West African country of The Gambia, as a result of his reputation, Maliyamungu’s name was used to nickname another infamous soldier, Musa Jammeh, the former member of presidential Guard under Yahya Jammeh because of his ruthless brutality.