The journey to Obote’s ouster
What you need to know:
Planned overthrow. In a two-part narrative, we expose how Beverly Gayer Barnard, a British officer known for his role in several coups in the 1950s, is assigned by the British to mastermind the Amin Coup, first by plotting Milton Obote’s assassination.
In a pamphlet, Letter to a London Friend, published in 1968, Milton Obote wrote: “As regards to the position of the Uganda Army, I am perhaps the only African leader who is not afraid of a military takeover.”
Not too long after that, he was overthrown in a bloody coup. To many it seemed the coup was proof that Obote was delusional. To the contrary, the man who masterminded the coup shared Obote’s view.
In the book, How to Stage a Military Coup: From Planning to Execution, D. Hebditch and K. Connor chronicle the masterminding of the Amin coup, in a manner better than any other published material.
“In the build up to the Uganda coup of 1971, M16 officer Beverly Bernard had five hundred mercenary soldiers, mostly recruited from southern Sudan, in a training camp in the north of the country. He even used his own single-plane airline, Southern Automotive, to supply them with food and material. You might not need that many extras but Barnard was so unimpressed with the Ugandan army, and so uncertain that it would support the putsch, that he decided to hedge his bets with a short battalion of additional troops,” the historians write.
Beverly Gayer Barnard was the man the British government assigned to mastermind the Amin coup. The book tells us Barnard had prior experience in masterminding military coups, giving the example of his involvement in the 1953 coup in Iran. The authors of the book tell us Barnard was a very intriguing man.
“In 1938, at the age of twenty two, he was working for the British Broadcasting Corporation as what has been described as a researcher. It is hard to believe that this means ‘researcher’ in the sense we understand it today, especially as he was working in the infant field of television.
“When the war with Germany broke out, he moved to Bristol, where he worked for Westland Aircraft, now a helicopter manufacturer. The fact that he was not conscripted into the army or airforce suggests he was in a reserve occupation; in other words he was a scientist or technologist whose skills would be invaluable to the war effort.
“This is confirmed by his later move to the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, which was, and still is, Britain’s premier centre for aeronautical research.
“It is not known when Beverly Barnard became an intelligence officer, but towards the end of 1944 he was selected as a member of the Control Commission. This had the task of governing the British sector of post-surrender Germany and, given that it oversaw the process of ‘de-Nazification’, was considered to be a somewhat spooky operation.
“During his three years on the job, Barnard must have joined the Secret Intelligence Service and in 1947 was sent to Tehran, where he was given the quasi-diplomatic cover post of ‘Civil air Attache’. As his brief covered Iraq and the Gulf States as well as Iran, M16 gave him a small aircraft, which suggests he learned to fly before leaving REA Farnborough.
“It is not clear how Barnard kept himself busy in the following years but we could speculate that, in addition to Iran 1953, he took professional interest in other Middle East coups: Yemen 1955, Iraq 1958, 1959, and 1963, Sudan 1964, Abu Dhabi 1966, Yemen 1967, Iraq 1968 and certainly Sudan 1968. Certainly, in 1959 he had ‘Middle East Consultant’ on his business card.
“Small, intelligent and bespectacled, Barnard had the job of cultivating a man who was almost entirely his opposite. Idi Amin was a giant of everything but intellect...” authors Hebditch and Connor add.
In his assignment to get rid of Obote, Barnard first worked on assassinating him.
In this regard, the book, ‘British Intelligence and Covert Action,’ says: “Now deceased, Barnard was in fact responsible for co-oordinating MI6 operations against Obote and planned his attempted assassination outside a UPC conference in 1969.”
The assassination attempt was a joint venture with the Israelis. Although the Israelis did a very good job of hiding their tracks, their man in Kampala by default exposed them when on the fateful day, he took cover in Nairobi on the pretext of catching a plane to Israel. Obote was to expose this.
“When the assassination attempt failed, Barnard next went for an outright coup. Crucial aspects of the coup plot has come to us from a very unexpected source. The source is Rolf Steiner and he is an unexpected source because at the time the government suspected him of being in the plot to overthrow it. This was not true. As a matter of fact, from my research, had the government listened to Rolf Steiner instead of suspecting him, the coup would most probabaly not have taken place.
Rolf Steiner, for those to whom he is new, was a German soldier of fortune or mercenary. He acquired military skills from the French Foreign Legion, an outfit which was notorious for producing mercenaries. When he left the Legion, he got permission to reside in french North Africa where he quickly got himself mixed up with right-wing OAS which was against French withdrawal from Algeria.
He got convicted, but escaped to France where this time he was successfully prosecuted for cheque fraud. The French mercenary Roger Faulques employed him as a secondary recruiter for the Anyanyas.
Later, he moved to Nigeria where he first came into contact with Alex Gay with whom he was to maintain long association. Following his expulsion from Nigeria after a drunken display in front of the Biafran leader Generl Ojukwu, the duo went to Europe and started looking for assignments with the Sudanese. In February 1969, Steiner met Carlo Beyer, Secretary of the Catholic relief agency Caritas International.
Beyer then put him in contact with the Verona fathers who were devising channels of delivering humanitarian aid to the southern Sudanese. The Verona Fathers introduced the two to the German charity FGA (Society for the Support of Africa). FGA hired Steiner and Gay to build an airstrip at the end of 1969.
When Steiner returned from a preliminary two-week study in southern Sudan, FGA fired him. They had found out Steiner had different ideas altogether about what he ought to be doing in southern Sudan. Steiner’s aim was to create a “real guerrilla army”.
But this was not to be the end of Steiner’s adventures in southern Sudan. He returned to join a Kakwa group led by Gen. Emedio Taffeng which had split from the main Anyanya and formed what they called the independent “state of Anyidi” in their native area.
It is in the initial period of this assignment that Steiner stumbled on Barnard’s manoeuvres in southern Sudan.
When Steiner reported to his bosses in Kampala, he found one of his employees, a Scotsman called Roy had been undermining him before the Anyanya leader, Taffeng.
It also appeared Roy was working on something totally different from the assignment Steiner had given him. After some hard talk, Roy made a confession: “his story was that he was working for Blunden, who was in Kampala with instructions to get rid of the Ugandan president because the British did not like his policies.
The training camp for the Anyanya in Sudan had been Blunden’s idea: it would give him free hand to train a unit for the coup against Obote under cover of helping southern Sudanese.”
Following this confession, Steiner got Roy to dupe the staff of Apolo Hotel where Blunden was living to let the duo into Blunden’s room. From the hotel room, Steiner “..took the secret dossier under my arm. As we sifted the papers the first thing that caught our eyes was a receipt for one hundred thousand pounds sterling, signed Bataringaya, who was Obote’s own minister of interior.
“We also found the radio code used by Steve Blunden for transmission to London and code for this exchange with Roy, enabling us to decipher a stack of carbon copies which left us in no doubt about the nature of operation he had in mind. These messages had been sent from the British embassy in Uganda... When I asked Roy about the receipt he denied all knowledge of it, but said Blunden claimed to have the Ugandan minister of interior in his pocket, bought and paid for,” Rolf Steiner recorded in his book, The Last Adventurer.
“We went through the rest of the dossier, then I had it sent back to the Apolo Hotel with my card and thanks. All I had learned agreed with what Taffeng had told me. I asked Roy to write down all he knew about the plot, and when he had finished his deposition I asked one final question. Who did they have in mind to replace Obote - Bataringaya?”
Roy told Steiner that Blunden had told him the British had chosen Amin “because he was easiest to manipulate.” In his book, The Last Adventurer, Rolf Steiner says he wrote a report on the operation of Bulndel and handed it to the government. My own observation is that the government had a fixation that it was Rolf Steiner working on the coup and so they never took his report seriously. In any case he was deported to Sudan.
However the book, British Intelligence and Covet Operations, remarked that Rolf Steiner’s “activities had almost sabotaged the plot...”