Israeli invasion of Entebbe and Amin’s consolidation of power

Idi Amin. Disunity allowed him to consolidate his power. COURTESY PHOTO

What you need to know:

Political calculations. Amin’s regime is thought to have unleashed the worst dread on Uganda since independence, but that oppression would slowly culminate to his fall.

He is estimated to have killed some 500,000 people including his own Kakwa tribemates, upset the economy and made Uganda a country of scorn on the world arena.
But why did it take a whole eight years for Idi Amin’s regime to fall?

Historian Phares Mutibwa in his book Uganda since Independence, argues that foreigners and even locals, viewed killings during Amin’s first 20 months in office as a cleanup operation after a coup. This was made worse by the information vacuum about such incidents, as daring journalists met their wrath for snooping around.

A.B.K Kasozi, on the other hand, says even the few Ugandans who were interested in outing Amin, wanted to do so for personal interests rather than for the unity or betterment of the country. This made it easier for the regime to crush any attack against it, notably, the 1972 Tanzania-backed Mutukula invasion led by Milton Obote.

“The failure of Ugandans to agree on a unified resistance programme helped Amin survive many overthrow attempts,” writes historian Kasozi in his book, The Social Origins of Violence in Uganda.

He adds: “In the same year [1974] air force pilots, many of them Baganda, tried unsuccessfully to shoot Amin down. They revealed their plans to the Muganda chief of the air force, Smurtus Guweddeko, who, in the typical Kiganda fashion of putting the interests of the patron before those of the group, reported the plan to Amin. The pilots were arrested and killed.”

Prof. Ali Mazrui, however, tags the blame for Ugandans’ inaction against oppression, on the regime, which he said gave no space for the arrangement of concrete resistance.
He says: “To blame the durability of Idi Amin only on the people of Uganda and their incapacity to resume control of their own destiny until helped by Tanzania is to forget that the people of Uganda were not entirely free agents...”

A notable event that diverted local and foreign attention from the regime’s killings, was the expulsions - first of the Israelis and more notably - the Asians. The immediate effect of the expulsion, as highlighted earlier in the series, was the fall-out with foreign backers Britain and Israel, but more importantly, the devastating effect on the economy.

“..the expulsion [of Asians] marred Uganda’s international credibility. Uganda became a laughing stock, an outcast amongst nations, and no credible organisation, financial or otherwise would take her seriously,” notes Kasozi.

With an aching economy and a hungry but terrified people, Amin’s ‘mop up operation’ could only continue unceasing.
However, despite four failed attempts to ouster Amin [July 1971 coup attempt by Acholi and Langi soldiers, the February 1972 Mutukula invasion, June 1972 attempted coup and September 1972 invasion], the Israeli raid on Entebbe in 1976, would expose the regime’s vulnerability.

The invasion dates back to June 1976, when an Airbus carrying 100 passengers, was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists to Entebbe. Amin, according to historian Mutibwa, sided with the terrorists and detained the aircraft and passengers, most of whom were of Jewish origin. This prompted the Israelis to strike.

“…the Israeli state carried out a 90-minute operation at Entebbe airport in which the hostages were rescued and carried back to Israel,” narrates Mutibwa.
The humiliating defeat, rather than trimming Amin’s extremes, fuelled it the more.

According to Kasozi, Amin turned his wrath on those he perceived to have collaborated with Israel.
“About four or five air-traffic controllers at Entebbe, one of whom had been on leave during the event, were killed for not having detected the Israeli raid.

A famous photographer, Jimmy Parma, was killed because he was thought to have photographed the body of Dora Block, one of the hostages held at Entebbe: She had been taken to hospital because of illness and was not in the group rescued by the Israeli commandos. After the raid she was abducted from Mulago hospital and killed. Her remains were recovered after Amin’s fall,” Kasozi explains.

In Kampala and surrounding areas, he adds, “anyone who talked about the raid or seemed to belittle the weakness of the Ugandan armed forces was killed”.

Some accounts of the raid has it that the Israelis actually entered State House in Entebbe, and according to Mutibwa, scribbled messages on toilet walls saying; “‘We have been here” or “We could have got you” and “We shall return one day’”.

Eliminations followed the Israeli raid on Entebbe, but no Ugandan news media reported the event, as civilians bore the bigger wrath of that military embarrassment.

“…it was dangerous to be seen laughing when they [soldiers] went by, for fear they would think you were laughing at them or at Amin himself…” says Mutibwa.

In a wider perspective, the raid on Entebbe sealed the diplomatic fall-out with Israel which had played a significant role in propping up Amin to the presidency.

The attack also intensified the isolation of Uganda by world players, including Britain that had backed and recognised the regime’s replacement of Obote.

That diplomatic discord witnessed in the 1976 attack, as well as ongoing political and economic mishaps, would three years later, ripen to ensure Amin’s ultimate fall.

Continues Monday.


Amin’s love and breakup with the Israelis

Arrival in Uganda: The Israelis arrived in Uganda in the mid-1960s and had friendly relations with civilians and government.

Support to Uganda: They offered training to the army, police and air force personnel. Amin himself received military training in Israel. The Israelis later joined construction projects, including roads, housing units in Arua, Kampala and Tororo.

They later, also were involved in medical and education services. The Israelis are ‘accused’ of ensuring the success of the 1971 coup by providing logistical support to Amin and deployment of mechanized equipment.
Fall out: In 1972, Amin expels the Israelis, accusing them of sabotaging the economy and posing a security threat to the economy.

The reason for the expulsion is, however, said to be the high-handedness of the Israelis in Uganda, since they believed Amin owed them for their support. Thus when the civil war between the Arabs and Anyanyas in Sudan ended, Amin saw no use for Israel that was supporting the Anyanayas –Amin’s relatives and allies.

Embracing Libya: The Israelis demanded Shs70 million for the construction projects in the country but Amin having no money, started knocking on doors abroad for help.
Having failed to get arms and other support from Britain, Egypt, West Germany and China, Amin settled for Libya, thus marking an end to his ‘affair’ with Israel.

Libya under Muammar Gaddafi, would later offer Amin arms.

[Source: Uganda since Independence: A story of unfulfilled hopes, by Phares Mutibwa]