First, they came for the Jews

President Idi Amin (left) with then Israeli Defence Forces chief Haim Bar-Lev, when ties between Uganda and Israel were still strong. photo/file

What you need to know:

This month, 50 years ago, hundreds of Asians expelled by Idi Amin’s government flew out from Entebbe International Airport to seek new opportunities mainly in the United Kingdom and Canada.  In this ninth instalment of our series marking the golden jubilee of the expulsion, Emmanuel Mutaizibwa looks at the expulsion of the jews in 1972.

Israeli began crafting relations with African countries in the late 1950s. According to Arye Oded, a Jewish diplomat, scholar and author, barely after Uganda attained her independence, it took a special place in the hearts of Jews as Israel devoted great resources to the East African country.

Israel offered technical support in agriculture, industry and education and trained civil service cadres to efficiently run the State.

Public and private Israeli companies worked on paving roads, building airports, and constructing houses as this was dovetailed with offering military support.

But this shattered in March 1972 when Amin ordered the expulsion of the Jews from the country by March 27, 1972.

Amin said the decision to expel the Israelis was premised on his desire to free the Ugandan economy from the chains of imperialism.

He ordered his ministers to draw up a list of all the Jews who were living in the country.

The Uganda Argus reported in March 1972 that the government informed the Israeli envoy to Kampala, Mr David Laor, that all Israeli personnel in the Uganda army and paratroopers alongside Israeli intelligence agents in Uganda led by Mr Boneh must leave Uganda by March 27, 1972.

Israeli’s intelligence outfit had aided Amin in setting up the dreaded secretive police—the State Research Centre.

Maj Amin Ibrahim Onzi was appointed director, and technical assistance was sought from Israel in its formation. Its responsibilities were to gather military intelligence and conduct counterintelligence.

The headquarters was located in a building on Nakasero Hill in Kampala, next to the State Lodge Annex, where victims of torture were kept in dungeons whose concrete walls were speckled in blood.

The organisation was directly answerable to Amin. In March 1972, Amin ejected Israeli technicians from Uganda and changed the name of the organisation to the State Research Bureau (SRB). Agents from the Soviet Union were brought in to replace them, and they subsequently instructed SRB personnel in the methods of the KGB. Many were sent to the Soviet Union for specialised training.

The March 21, 1972 Uganda Argus edition reported that the position of the Israelis in Uganda Air Force would be determined as soon as the Commander of the Uganda Air Force who was at the time abroad, returns to Uganda.

The ambassador was further informed that the number of Israeli officers at the Israeli embassy should not exceed four.

In addition, the embassy was told to cease operating any military wireless (army communication system) at the mission, reads the Uganda Argus.

The official statement goes on: “The whole country is hereby warned that they should be very careful with Israeli activities in Uganda. Any subversive activities by the Israelis should be reported immediately to the security forces who are nearby. Last week, our security forces intercepted a Land Rover bearing false registration numbers, which was heading towards Uganda’s northern border with the Sudan.”

It read further, “The occupants of the Land Rover who turned out to be three black people, fired at our forces and they were killed in a salvo of fire. Some telescopic rifles and documents believed to have been printed in Israel were found in the Land Rover. These arms will now be issued to the members of the armed forces. These decisions have been taken on the advice of the Defence Council.”

The Uganda Argus read, “The president will meet the elders and other representatives of the Israeli community in Uganda tomorrow at 8am at the International Conference Centre.”

In 1946, an idea was mooted by the British to settle large numbers of Jews in Uganda.

“If this plan had succeeded all the problems now facing the Arabs in the Middle East would have been with us here in Uganda and in the whole of Africa. We are thankful to God that this plan did not work. Instead, the British took the Jews to Palestine and they have since then expanded their territorial conquest in Palestine and the whole of the Middle East. This information is given so that the people should be fully aware of the plans of the Israelis. This is why we are strongly against imperialism anywhere in the world,” read a government statement.

On March 27, 1972, the Uganda Argus reported that President Idi Amin ordered construction firms belonging to Jews to halt construction work across the country.

The Ugandan government owed Israeli firms Shs90m by the end of June 1972 after undertaking construction works in Bugolobi, Arua and Tororo.

Addressing representatives of various Israeli contractor firms at the Kololo Command Post at the weekend, Amin argued that no developing country in the world could meet such an ‘astronomical’ cost.

Amin opined that if Uganda were to pay the Israeli construction firms at such ‘exorbitant’ fees other vital services such as health and education and paying salaries to government workers could stall.

It was revealed that the government ‘in due course will ensure that the essential construction projects will be tendered to firms, which will do the jobs on reasonable terms.’

The president directed the minister of Defence to stop any purchases of military equipment from Israel.

“The minister has also been directed to communicate to the Israeli government that if there were any orders that were now in the pipeline, they are cancelled forthwith. President Amin also made it clear that equipment which has so far been delivered from Israeli including tanks, planes and those used during the warfare and then reconditioned and sold to Uganda was partly a waste of resources because it cannot be relied upon and required an overhaul,” read a government statement.

There were fears that the Israelis —erstwhile allies of Amin who previously established the Air-force under Amin’s government— were planning subversive activities.

Amin later on told the correspondent of Pravda in Africa and the Middle East, Anatoli Agarychev, that the propaganda being spread by the Israelis that he kicked them out of Uganda after being prompted by Arab nations, was false.