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September 5, 2003

You Don't Have To Be A Superpower To Police The Neighborhood

Al Duke

The recent demise (Saturday, August 16) of exiled Ugandan President for Life Idi Amin brings to mind the military campaign that deposed him from power in 1979. As Teddy Roosevelt might have said, it was a splendid little war.

Amin was uneducated but had an ability to move himself forward in life. As a poor young boy he joined the Army and 16 years later, after training in England, was commissioned an officer in the British Colonial Regiment. Three years later, in 1964, he was the commander of the independent Ugandan Army.

On January 25, 1971, while President Milton Obote was out of the country, Amin took power. While at first his takeover was welcomed by Ugandans and Western observers, he soon lost this support by suspending political activities and permitting his army to shoot the opposition. In 1972 he expelled 72,000 non-Uganda citizen Asians from the country thereby significantly traumatizing the economy.

His rule was characterized by torture and death, primarily imposed upon his own people. Estimates of those killed during his eight-year regime ranged from 80,000 to 500,000. The general consensus ran about 300,000.

On October 12, 1978, he charged that Tanzania had invaded Uganda, charges that Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere called "complete lies." Later that month Amin repeated the charge, and on October 31, Tanzanian officials report that Ugandan troops were 20 miles inside Tanzania.

The next day, Amin claimed to have recovered the Kagera Salient, an area of about 700 square miles north of the Kagera River but below the Ugandan border. Uganda claimed this land for many years, declaring that the borders drawn by the colonial powers should have included this land in Uganda. His army then blew up the only bridge across the Kagera, separating the Salient from the rest of Tanzania.

The Organization of African States and various nations indicated a desire to mediate the dispute. Nyerere wanted none of this. On November 2, he vowed that Tanzania would strike back.

Eight days later, Tanzanian troops counterattacked. They managed to push a battalion across the river. By the 27th, they forced the Ugandans out of the Salient and had themselves attacked 20 miles into Uganda. Western journalists touring the Salient observed burnt crops and destroyed homes, businesses, and churches. There were reports of 40,000 displaced people and 10,000 murdered residents of the region.

The border briefly returned to calm, but on January 12, 1979, former Uganda President Obote, living in exile in Tanzania, called for the ouster of Amin.

On January 20, fighting again broke out along the border. Nyerere admitted crossing the border but said there was no intent to occupy Ugandan territory.

On February 11, a Tanzanian force of about 5,000 troops, backed by about 3,000 Ugandan exile forces, invaded Uganda. Within two weeks, two major towns in the south of Uganda had been captured and 18 Ugandan Air Force planes had been shot down.

Amin requested assistance from other African nations, but only Libya responded.

At the beginning of March, reinforced Tanzanian forces advanced on Kampala, the capital of Uganda. On the 25th, the capital was essentially surrounded, except for the road to Jinja, which was intentionally left open so that Amin and his supporters could escape.

By the end of March, Libyan troops had arrived and the Libyan Air Force bombed a Tanzanian town. The Tanzanian Air Force retaliated by bombing Entebbe Airport and Jinja. On April 2, the Libyans suffered a severe defeat, having decided to make a stand at Lumbowa, eight miles from Kampala.

On April 11, after fighting several more small battles, the Tanzanian troops and Ugandan exile forces entered Kampala to wildly cheering throngs of people.

Looting took hold, and the invading forces were not prepared for it. Martha Honey reported for The Guardian that everything that was moveable was stolen. Wealthier areas of the city were completely emptied.

Yusufu Lule was sworn in as the President of the interim government on April 13, and a few days later, the invading forces moved on Jinja against the weak and disintegrating Ugandan Army. Tanzanian President Nyerere recognized the new government and criticized several international organizations and individual nations that expressed concern about one African government overthrowing another. "What law did we contravene? Should one let a thief get away with his crime?"

On the 22nd of April, Brigadier General Mawra Kambale's Tanzanian forces captured Jinja, again to a tumultuous welcome by the citizens of the city. Over the next several weeks, the rest of the country was secured and Amin fled to Libya, Iraq, and finally to Saudi Arabia, where he spent the rest of his life.

About 400 Libyans and 1,000 Ugandan troops were killed. Tanzanian battle casualties numbered less than 100.

It was a well-executed military campaign. Since the Tanzanian Army was minimally mechanized and trained, it was essentially a set-piece infantry slog for hundreds of miles through Uganda.

What of Uganda? It took the whole decade of the 80's and into the early 90's to stabilize the government and to get the economy back to where it was reasonably sound

Yellow Cab
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