Military History of Uganda - Under Idi Amin (1971-1979)

Under Idi Amin (1971-1979)

Further information: Uganda under Idi Amin and Idi Amin

Despite protestations by Amin that he remained loyal, Obote decided to rid himself of the perceived threat in January 1971. While leaving on a foreign trip, Obote ordered Langi military officers to arrest Amin and his close supporters. However, word of the plot was leaked to Amin before it could be carried out, prompting Amin to carry out a pre-emptive coup. The successful coup is often cited as an example of "action by the military", where the Ugandan Armed Forces acted against a government whose politics posed more of a threat to the military privileges. One of the priorities of the new president was mass executions of Acholi and Langi troops, which owed their loyalty to Obote. In July 1971, Lango and Acholi soldiers were massacred in the Jinja and Mbarara Barracks, and by early 1972, some 5,000 Acholi and Lango soldiers had disappeared. Amin's rule was welcomed by the Baganda, but tens of thousands of Obote supporters fled south into Tanzania. Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere would prove to be a strong opponent of the Amin government, an attitude mirrored by Kenya, South Africa and the Organisation for African Unity, though Israel, Great Britain and the United States were quick to recognize the legitimacy of the Amin government.

While the military had grown under Obote, it multiplied in size under Amin, who characterized the government in military terms. He renamed Government House "the Command Post", placed military tribunals over civil courts, appointed military commanders to head civilian ministries and parastatals, and informed civilian cabinet ministers that they were subject to military law. The commanders of barracks located around the country became the de facto rulers of their regions. Despite the characterization of the country in terms of a military command structure, the administration was far from well-organized. Amin, like many of the officers he appointed to senior positions, was illiterate, and thus gave instructions orally, in person, by telephone or in long rambling speeches.

The regime was subject to deadly internal rivalries. One area of competition was a rivalry between British-trained officers and Israeli-trained officers, who both opposed the many untrained officers, resulting in many trained officers being purged. The purges also had the effect of creating promotion opportunities; commander of the air force Smuts Guweddeko began as a telephone operator. Another contest was religious in nature. In order to gain supplies from Libya, in early 1972 Amin expelled the Israeli advisers, who had helped put him in power, and became virulently anti-Zionist. To gain the favor of Saudi Arabia he embraced his Islamic heritage, raising hopes among Ugandan Muslims that their defeat in 1892 would be redressed. Amin deployed soldiers to aid Egypt and provided financial support to the Arab nations during the Yom Kippur War. When Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - External Operations and German Revolutionary Cells (RZ) terrorists hijacked a plane in 1976 and landed it at Entebbe International Airport, Israeli commandos carried out a raid that successfully freed most of the hostages. Criticism by the Church of Uganda of army abuses would lead to the murder of Archbishop Janani Luwum.

With his reputation with Western nations in tatters after the hijacking, Amin began to purchase weapons from the Soviet Union. As his regime neared its end, Amin became increasingly eccentric and bellicose. In 1978 he conferred the decoration Conqueror of the British Empire upon himself. The government all but ceased to function as the constant purges of senior ranks by the increasingly paranoid Amin caused officials to refrain from making any decisions for fear of making the 'wrong' one.

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