What you need to know:
Amin had been deserted by the British and Israelis and faced a challenge of keeping the shaking economy from crumbling but would disappoint his opponents by defeating an attack let by Milton Obote.
The expulsion of Asians in 1972, thrust Uganda into confusion and uncertainty, providing an opportunity for groups opposed to Amin’s regime to profit. The economic turmoil seen in the last days of the Obote regime would, in the fullness of time, bubble to the surface but the immediate threat was one of armed invasion.
Amin, having been dumped by his earlier allies, Britain and the Israelis, had headed to the Soviet Union and the Arab world in search of arms. The Soviets offered some light arms but most of the Arab world was licking its wounds after the war with Israel and was not in a position to offer significant military materiel.
As Amin scrambled to impose his authority at home and expel the Asians, Milton Obote and his supporters, who had amassed across the border in Tanzania, were reveling in the situation which they viewed as an opportune moment to launch an attack. [Obote had, in 1971 made a failed attempt to overthrow Amin, by ordering Langi army officers to arrest Amin and his close associates.]
The signing of a peace deal in the Sudan meant that pro-Obote forces were forced to abandon their camps in that country. Tanzania, whose President Julius Nyerere had no kind sentiments towards Amin, offered the best launch pad for such military adventure.
On September 17, 1972, Obote, Oyite Ojok and other allies, who had been offered sanctuary by Nyerere’s government, would also receive material and territorial support to launch an invasion.
As President Museveni recounts in his book Mustard Seed, the attack was planned to take three fronts; “A landing at Entebbe of 100 soldiers; a 1,000-group to capture Masaka barracks; and a 130-men group to capture Mbarara barracks.”
Launching the attacks the army outposts in Masaka and Mbarara, the invaders, would meet resistance and make minimal gains. President Museveni says Obote’s group that was headed to overrun the Masaka barracks “managed to surprise Amin’s men at Mutukula. They destroyed a few jeeps which were recklessly racing towards the battle area like they were going to a wedding!”
However, when Tito Okello and Oyite Ojok’s group, ran out of ammunition in Kalisizo, 12 miles from Masaka after running, the battle became even difficult and they would fall into a huge trap.
“They had captured a radio-communication jeep. Okello started using it to call for reinforcements, without changing the frequency. Amin’s people informed him he’d find ammunition eight miles from Mutukula. Okello’s men fell into the ambush,” President Museveni writes.
In the ensuing clash, Museveni explains that UPC leaders Joshua Wakholi, Alex Ojera, and Picho Ali, were killed as well as scores of other fighters. “Out of the 1,300 fighters on the two sectors, only 847 returned.” Thus, in just three days’ time, 453 were killed and it marked the end to the invasion. To Amin, whose regime was trying to get hold of the shaky economic and political situation, quelling the invasion was a huge feat and would actually leave him stronger.
A successful invasion, even one which captured territory but not power, could have changed the internal political dynamic in Uganda. The annihilation of the invaders left Amin free to impose himself fully over the population and to give more authority to the military players in his government, after early signs in which he appeared willing to have civilians run key government units, especially cabinet. However, for those who were believed to have participated in the attack, they would either disappear or be killed.
In the meantime, Amin breathed a sigh of relief and sent a silent message that future attacks against him would have to be well planned and robust. A sense of paranoia, insecurity and terror against opponents of the regime was heightened as Uganda makes a slow journey towards Amin’s end in 1979.
How President Museveni saw it
It was in reality an encounter between two groups of fools – Amin’s and ours. I was told it would start on 14 September, but it didn’t get going till the 17th. I was not convinced about it but had to go along for the sake of our hosts.
It was supposed to be three-pronged: A landing at Entebbe of 100 soldiers; a 1,000-group to capture Masaka barracks; and a 130-men group to capture Mbarara barracks (us). The hijacked East African plane’s tyres burst on landing at Kilimanjaro airport, as the untrained pilot had forgotten to retract the landing gear.
I was allocated one lorry to carry my platoon. Obote’s people started bickering there were too few of us. A Peugeot 504 came towards us. There were no procedures in place how we should react to any vehicle we encountered. In the confusion Amin’s commanding officer, Ali Fadhul, just sped away.
We encountered a lorry-full of Amin’s soldiers. They just fled, but our driver was killed in the skirmish and some of our men too ran away. I took over the driving myself. I had had only three driving lessons prior to this. The attack on the Mbarara barracks cost us lots of our men in trying to climb over the perimeter fence. I persuaded my 46 men to withdraw.
We had three lorries. I stopped for fuel at the petrol station below the Ankole Hotel. I had difficulty turning the lorry into the petrol station and I only managed to slide close enough to be filled after knocking down a low wall near the pump. The other two lorries carried on.
I allowed one of my men Nyakaana to go and visit his brother up the road. He didn’t return for twenty minutes. Soon after we left, Amin’s soldiers arrived and shot the pump attendant for serving us! What else could he have done, confronted by armed men? Of the 330 fighters and nine lorries which had started off for Mbarara that morning, only 46 men and three lorries returned. Amin displayed a huge pile of people killed. In reality they were killed by excited mobs.
There had been no fighting in Mbarara.
The ones set to conquer the Masaka barracks managed to surprise Amin’s men at Mutukula. They destroyed a few jeeps which were recklessly racing towards the battle area like they were going to a wedding! Tito Okello and Oyite Ojok did not manage to go beyond Kalisizo, 12 miles from Masaka on running out of ammunition. They had captured a radio-communication jeep. Okello started using it to call for reinforcements, without changing the frequency.
Amin’s people informed him he’d find ammunition eight miles from Mutukula. Okello’s men fell into the ambush. UPC leaders were killed, including Joshua Wakholi, Alex Ojera, and Picho Ali. Out of the 1,300 fighters on the two sectors, only 847 returned. Thus over a mere three days, 453 fighters were captured or killed. And that was the end of the invasion.