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How ‘unity’ died in Uganda

At the same time, Tanzania was under international condemnation for invading Uganda. Nyerere had to devise an acceptable camouflage for the invasion.

Nyerere decided to create a united front for all Ugandan political dissidents to be the ones to remove Amin with Tanzania as their backer. That was acceptable to the international community which was tired of Amin’s brutality and antics and had been waiting for diplomatic wiggle room. He facilitated a meeting of dissidents in the Tanzanian town of Moshi that came to be called “The Moshi Unity Conference”. It was a four day affair, from March 23 -26, 1979. In total, 22 groups of Ugandans from the entire globe converged on Moshi. So as the battle raged in Masaka, Mpigi, and Kampala, Ugandans in exile formed the Uganda National Liberation Front/Army (UNLF/A).

The Libyans were defeated and killed after some fierce fighting. This was a big blow because Amin appears to have designated Lukaaya as a red line. The attackers now adopted a broad pincer attack on Kampala city.

One arm moved via Mityana along the Kampala-Mubende highway. This was the fastest moving. By March 28, it had encircled Uganda’s capital city Kampala and occupied all strategic positions and mounting heavy artillery on the hills, including their saba-saba (Russian made BM Katyusha rocket launchers) that Amin’s fighters dreaded. Only Kampala-Jinja Road was left open for anyone wishing to flee the city; including diplomats who scurried to neighbouring Kenya. Shooting was common in the city. Radio Uganda said it was “aimless” shooting by “a few runaway soldiers who are cowards”.

By March 28, in one of several bizarre reports, Radio Uganda reported that President Amin “had visited the front line in a sports car to “enjoy an hour-long battle with the enemy”.

By end of March 1979, Radio Uganda – the only radio and source of official government information and misinformation at the time – was reporting that the Tanzanian forces had captured Mityana, 35km from the Kampala city. Effectively, western Uganda was cut-off and became a “liberated zone”.

Meanwhile, the other arm of the invading force came in from Masaka. Soon Mpigi, which was closer to the city, was also captured. This meant the invading force could now fire long‐range artillery – the Saba-Saba could hit Kampala city and Entebbe Airport. Soon Radio Uganda was announcing that the invading forces were just 15km out of Kampala. For the onslaught on Kampala, this axis was backed by forces that had earlier captured Entebbe International Airport.

Death of Moshi spirit

When small arms gunfire intensified, it became clear that Bulange; the palace of the Baganda kingdom which was then called Malire Regiment and one of the few bastions of defense, was under attack.

Kampala city fell to the liberating forces on April 10. On April 11, as the invading forces were conducting mop up operations around Kampala. It is said that it is in one of these operations that Lt Col Juma Butabika, aka Juma Oka Mafali, the man who started the war was killed in the Bwaise-Kawempe area.

Many Amin soldiers were captured after the Tanzanian army tricked them into reporting for deployment. They were bundled on buses and trucks as if they were going to their new postings only for them to end up in Luzira Military prison.

Three days after the fall of Kampala, on the afternoon of April 13, a new government headed by Prof Yusuf Kironde Lule was sworn-in on the steps of parliament. Current President Yoweri Museveni was minister of state for defence. He was the youngest minister, aged 35.

Lule was described as a reserved academic with no known enemies who described himself as apolitical. He was given the title of chairman of the front’s Executive Committee and was asked to form a shadow cabinet subject to the approval of a 30-member National Consultative Council (NCC). This was in the so-called “Moshi Spirit” – the spirit of unity (including in executive decision making). It was a fallacy.

When Lule was pressed on the issue he made it clear that he, and not the NCC, was in charge of executive authority. He said he was bound by the constitution and not the demands of the ruling body, the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF).

“The constitution of a state is different from that of a party which is in government and clearly the front [UNLF] is quite analogous to a party in this regard,” he explained, “Failure to understand this basic distinction is faulty and could lead to confusion and unsatisfactory results.” He was right. There were indeed unsatisfactory results – for him. He was kicked out after only 68 days in office. The Moshi spirit was dead.


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