Fall of Kampala
The Fall of Kampala, also known as the Liberation of Kampala, was a battle during the Uganda–Tanzania War in 1979, in which the combined forces of Tanzania and the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) attacked and captured the Ugandan capital, Kampala. As a result, Ugandan President Idi Amin was deposed, his forces were scattered, and a UNLF government was installed.
Amin had seized power in Uganda in 1971 and established a brutal dictatorship. Seven years later he attempted to invade Tanzania to the south. Tanzania repulsed the assault and launched a counter-attack into Ugandan territory. After routing the Ugandans and their Libyan allies in Entebbe, the Tanzanians revised their offensive designs for Kampala. The plans called for the 208th Brigade to advance from the south, spearheaded by Lieutenant Colonel Ben Msuya's 800-strong 19th Battalion, which was to secure the centre of the city. The 207th Brigade and a UNLF battalion were to attack from the west, while the 20st Brigade was to establish roadblocks in the north to prevent Ugandan units from withdrawing. An eastern corridor was left open to allow the Libyans to evacuate to Jinja and fly out of the country. Amin prepared for the defence of Kampala but fled through the gap.
The Tanzanians began their assault on the city on the morning of 10 April. The 19th Battalion moved cautiously down the Entebbe–Kampala road. Other battalions of the 208th advanced on Port Bell. The 201st Brigade established its roadblocks north of Kampala and intercepted both forces attempting to reinforce Kampala from Bombo and those attempting to effect a breakout. The 207th Brigade advanced from the west in tandem with the UNLF battalion, which secured Nateete and passed through Rubaga. One of the 207th's battalions seized Kasubi hill and the royal tomb of the Kabakas. The 19th Battalion encountered only sporadic resistance and was greeted by crowds of rejoicing civilians. Upon reaching Kampala's city centre, the unit, lacking in maps, had trouble navigating the streets. The Tanzanians secured the radio station and set up a command post on Kololo hill. The UNLF battalion occupied Republic House, the Ugandan army's headquarters at the edge of the city, unopposed, but was unable to take the State Research Bureau at Nakasero. Men of the 207th and 208th Brigades seized the southern and western portions of the city. The few Libyan units in the area put up little resistance, most having retreated to Jinja.
By dawn of 11 April Tanzanian troops had cut off all routes leaving Kampala, including the road to Jinja, and began eliminating remaining pockets of resistance. Some UNLF forces conducted revenge killings against suspected collaborators with the Amin regime, while others attacked Kakwa and Nubians, both ethnic groups that had benefited from the dictatorship. Later in the morning Tanzanian artillery bombarded certain sectors of the city. The remaining Ugandan soldiers in the city desperately attempted to escape by changing into civilian clothes and requisitioning civilian vehicles. Casualty statistics are not exact, though Tanzanian losses are estimated to be light and dozens of Ugandan soldiers and civilians are believed to have died. The battle marked the first time in the history of the continent that an African state seized the capital of another African country and deposed its government. In the immediate aftermath civilians engaged in rampant looting, despite the attempts of Tanzanian and UNLF troops to maintain order. A new Ugandan government was established by the UNLF. Though pro-Amin forces were left scattered and disjointed by the seizure of the capital, combat operations in the country continued until 3 June, when Tanzanian forces reached the Sudanese border and eliminated the last resistance.
In 1971 Idi Amin launched a military coup that overthrew the President of Uganda, Milton Obote, precipitating a deterioration of relations with the neighbouring state of Tanzania. Amin installed himself as President and ruled the country under a brutal dictatorship. In October 1978 he launched an invasion of Tanzania. Tanzania blunted the assault, unified anti-Amin opposition groups, and launched a counter-offensive. The President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, told foreign diplomats that he did not intend to depose Amin, but only "teach him a lesson". The claim was not believed; Nyerere despised Amin, and he made statements to some of his colleagues about overthrowing him. The Tanzanian Government also felt that the northern border would not be secure unless the threat presented by Amin was eliminated. After initial advances into Ugandan territory, Major General David Msuguri was appointed commander of the Tanzania People's Defence Force (TPDF)'s 20th Division and ordered to push further into the country.
On 24 February 1979 the TPDF seized Masaka. Nyerere originally planned to halt his forces there and allow Ugandan exiles to attack Kampala, the Ugandan capital, and overthrow Amin. He feared that scenes of Tanzanian troops occupying the city would reflect poorly on the country's image abroad. In late March the Ugandan opposition groups met in Moshi. They elected Yusuf Lule chairman of the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) and established a cabinet. The next day President Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, an ally of Amin, attempted to stem the advance by sending an ultimatum to Nyerere, demanding that he withdraw his forces in 24 hours or face the opposition of Libyan troops (which were already present in Uganda). Nyerere rejected the threat in a radio broadcast, announcing that Libya's entry into the war did not change the Tanzanian government's view of Amin. Ugandan rebel forces did not have the strength to defeat Libyan units, so Nyerere decided to use the TPDF to take Kampala. Tanzanian leaders were also inclined to capture the city after Ugandan planes bombed Kagera and following Amin's announcement that the inhabitants of Masaka and Mbarara would face retaliation for welcoming the Tanzanian invasion. The successful formation of the UNLF government eased Tanzanian concerns about the aftermath of a seizure of the capital. Plans of attack were drawn up on 31 March.
In early April Tanzanian forces began to concentrate their efforts on weakening the Ugandan position in Kampala. Tanzanian commanders had originally assumed that Amin would station the bulk of his forces in the capital, and their initial plans called for a direct attack on the city. But from the high ground in Mpigi they could see the Entebbe peninsula, where there was a heavy amount of Libyan air traffic and a large contingent of Ugandan and Libyan soldiers. If the TPDF seized Kampala before securing the town of Entebbe, it would susceptible to a flanking attack. Taking Entebbe would cutoff Uganda's Libyan reinforcements and permit an assault on the capital from the south. Msuguri made the decision to attack the peninsula first, and ordered the 208th Brigade to secure it. A preliminary bombardment frightened Amin in his official residence, the Entebbe State House, and he fled via helicopter to Kampala. On 7 April the brigade advanced into the town. Many Libyan soldiers attempted to evacuate to Kampala but were unsuccessful. Following the seizure of Entebbe, the remnants of the Libyan force and the Ugandan Army took up positions around Kampala. Their morale was extremely low.
On the morning of 8 April Tanzanian officers held a final meeting in the Entebbe State House before the attack on Kampala. Brigadier Mwita Marwa, commander of the 208th Brigade, conducted the briefing. Nyerere requested that his commanders leave the eastern road from the city leading to Jinja be left clear so Libyan troops and foreign diplomats could evacuate. He thought that by allowing the former to escape, Libya could avoid humiliation and quietly withdraw from the war. Nyerere also feared that further conflict with Libyan troops would incite Afro-Arab tensions and invite the armed belligerence of other Arab states. He sent a message to Gaddafi explaining his decision, saying that the Libyans could be airlifted out of Uganda unopposed from the airstrip in Jinja. He further requested that his forces avoid damaging key buildings in the city, including Mulago Hospital, Makerere University, and Parliament. The Tanzanian plan of attack called for an advance by the 207th Brigade and a UNLF battalion from the west along the road from Masaka with a simultaneous assault from Entebbe in the south by the 208th Brigade. The latter's 19th Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Ben Msuya was earmarked for the seizure of the city centre, while other units were to cover their flanks in the bush. The 201st Brigade was to maintain a "blocking action" north of Kampala to prevent Ugandan forces from escaping.
Amin made final preparations for the defence of the capital, and General Dusman Sabuni was left in charge of the defences. According to the Africa Research Bulletin, there were approximately 1,000 soldiers garrisoning the city, while journalist John Darnton reported an estimate that Amin had 2,000 to 3,000 men in the capital. Many civilians fled in anticipation of a battle, though Minister of Commerce Muhammad Bakhit declared that they had to return within two days or have their property "reallocated".[a] On 8 April the Soviet Union's diplomats evacuated in a convoy accompanied by the personnel of other Eastern bloc legations.
The 800-strong 19th Battalion entrenched itself on a hill 21 kilometres away from Kampala overlooking the road from Entebbe. Throughout the night of 8 April the battalion command post faced harassing fire from a tank. Ugandan reconnaissance patrols engaged in sporadic fighting with Tanzanian defences while artillery bombarded Kampala's suburbs. At 03:30 on 9 April the 19th Battalion descended from its position. Soon thereafter, TPDF artillery began a 15-minute bombardment of Ugandan positions around Kampala. The battalion reassembled on the Entebbe–Kampala road and began its advance. Two companies advanced parallel through the bush on both sides of the road to screen for ambushes. The rest of the battalion split into companies that walked on the dirt shoulders of the road, the units staggered on alternating sides. They occasionally paused to ensure the advance units stayed ahead. At 09:00 the battalion, having covered the distance necessitated by the battle plan, re-encamped itself around a residence along the side of the road.
On the morning of 10 April TPDF reconnaissance forces reported that the Ugandan defences around Kampala were weak. Though most units were not yet in position, Tanzanian forces were ordered to seize the capital. The 19th Battalion vacated its position and assembled on the Entebbe–Kampala road. Other battalions of the 208th secured Cape Town View (Amin's villa on Lake Victoria) and advanced on Port Bell. The 201st Brigade led by Brigadier Imran Kombe established roadblocks north of Kampala and intercepted both forces attempting to reinforce Kampala from Bombo and those attempting to effect a breakout. Over the course of the day they destroyed seven vehicles and killed 80 Ugandan soldiers. The 207th Brigade under Brigadier John Walden advanced from the west in tandem with a UNLF battalion under Lieutenant Colonel David Oyite-Ojok. Ojok's men secured Nateete and passed through Rubaga. One of the 207th's battalions seized Kasubi hill and the royal tomb of the Kabakas.
As the 19th Battalion advanced down the Entebbe–Kampala road with its three tanks, it was joined by an increasing amount of celebratory civilians, eager for the removal of the Amin regime. The column did not encounter resistance until it came under small-arms fire near the Makindye roundabout from a marketplace by the left side of the road, about two kilometres from the centre of the city. The Tanzanian troops took cover in a drainage ditch and returned fire while the civilians scattered. Fire was exchanged for 10 minutes until the source of the opposition, a limousine occupied by five Ugandan soldiers armed with semi-automatic weapons, emerged from cover and drove towards the Tanzanian column. It was quickly destroyed with small-arms fire, a rocket-propelled grenade, and a 75 mm tank shell. The Tanzanians searched the market but found no more Ugandans, and subsequently resumed their march into the capital, joined by the cheering civilians. The battalion received some harassing fire but took no casualties and proceeded to the clock tower in Kampala where the Entebbe road entered the downtown, which was reached at 17:00.
Msuya was eager to complete his battalion's objectives before nightfall in two hours. His decisions were complicated by the fact that he had no map of Kampala and had to rely upon a Ugandan guide for directions. He resolved to secure the radio station first. Leaving a guard behind to prevent the civilians from following, the battalion moved out into in city streets but with only the guide's confused and limited directions, its progress was slow. The Bank of Uganda, Post Office, Parliament, and the Nile Mansion Hotel were secured with only minimal resistance. The Tanzanians faced stiffer opposition at the Ministry of Internal Affairs building. Most of the Ugandan leadership had fled, leaving their defences confused an uncoordinated. Aside from a brief firefight with Ugandan soldiers positioned in a balcony, the 19th Battalion located the Radio Uganda station without incident. Though its equipment was intact, Msuya was under orders not to make any broadcasts (he told a junior officer, "This is almost worth getting court-martialed for.").
The Tanzanians repulsed a brief ambush from an adjacent skyscraper before considering their next move. They were supposed to secure Nakasero hill, the location of the State Research Bureau (Amin's secret police) and the presidential residence, and Kololo hill, home to Amin's personal "Command Post", before nightfall. Msuya determined that only one area could be seized in the time frame, and of the two choices Kololo presented a safer location for an overnight encampment. Meanwhile the UNLF battalion occupied Republic House, the Ugandan army's headquarters at the edge of the city. They were unopposed, but five men were killed by friendly fire when Tanzanian artillery bombarded the location, the gunners unaware that the location had been taken. At around nightfall the UNLF force approached the State Research Bureau at Nakasero in the belief that it had been abandoned. When the unit was close, Ugandan soldiers opened fire, destroying a Land Rover and forcing the UNLF to retreat. The Ugandans later abandoned the Bureau, but threw grenades into the holding cells in an attempt to kill the last prisoners.
While the bulk of the 19th Battalion set out for Kololo, a detached company set up an ambush position in a park overlooking a street that led towards the Jinja road. The Tanzanians attacked two passing Ugandan Land Rovers, killing their three occupants. In one of the vehicles the soldiers recovered a detailed plan for Kampala's defence, with various sectors responsible to certain battalions and commanders, most of which had already dispersed. By nightfall the 19th Battalion had not located the Command Post. Kampala was quiet and there was no electricity in the entire city. Eventually the Ugandan guide directed the unit to a golf course which the troops cut across to the base of Kololo. By 21:00 the Tanzanians were following residential streets up the hill. Frustrated by his guide's inability to locate the Command Post, Msuya decided to forgo the location and establish his own command post in an abandoned home whilst his battalion dug trenches and established roadblocks. According to him, by 22:00 Kampala was under Tanzanian control. At 23:00 he held a toast with his officers to celebrate the capture of the city.
Over night several other battalions of the 208th moved into the southern portion of Kampala, while the 207th occupied the west. The few Libyan units in the city put up little resistance. Most retreated to Jinja and then to Ethiopia and Kenya to await repatriation. Amin also fled to Jinja, though how and precisely when are not agreed upon.[b] The UNLF battalion established its camp in the golf course. As the troops were settling down a small white car drove by and an occupant opened fire, mortally wounding an officer. The UNLF subsequently erected roadblocks around the location. The men maintaining them grew drunk throughout the night on pillaged beer and whisky.
By dawn of 11 April Tanzanian troops had cut off all routes leaving Kampala, including the road to Jinja, and began eliminating the remaining pockets of resistance. Some UNLF forces conducted revenge killings against suspected collaborators with the Amin regime, while others attacked Kakwa and Nubians, both ethnic groups that had benefited from the dictatorship. At 04:00 the East German ambassador, Gottfried Lessing, and his wife left their residence in a small white car with another vehicle following in an attempt to escape the city. When they drove by the golf course the UNLF fired two rocket-propelled grenades, destroying the cars and killing the four occupants. As the morning progressed the UNLF soldiers manning the roadblocks drunkenly harassed passing civilians and Tanzanian soldiers.
Ojok proceeded to Radio Uganda to announce the fall of Amin's regime. According to journalists Martha Honey and Tony Avirgan, Ojok had long desired to inform the Ugandan people that they were free of the dictatorship, but that Yusuf Lule had sent a message to the UNLF forces, prohibiting Ojok from making any broadcasts. Lule feared that Ojok would declare the restoration of Obote's presidential regime (Ojok and Obote had been long-time allies in the resistance against Amin). Honey and Avirgan state that upon reaching the station Ojok placed two phone calls to Dar es Salaam. The first was to Nyerere, who was not present, though a message was recorded by a security officer. The second was to Obote. Ojok then reportedly told Obote that he intended to announce the capture of Kampala in the name of the UNLF, to which Obote expressed his approval. Msuya asserted that Ojok had initially refused to make any declaration, saying "If our friends in Moshi and Dar es Salaam hear me reading this, they will think I have taken over." Msuya told the Daily Monitor, "I literally held a gun on Oyite-Ojok's head to read the communiqué...I told him someone has got to say something and that person has got to be a Ugandan." Despite the persistence of gunfire, several technicians arrived for their scheduled workday and assisted Ojok in making the broadcast. His declaration was straightforward; he stated that Amin's government was deposed and that Kampala was under the control of the UNLF, and appealed to residents to remain calm and for Ugandan soldiers to surrender. Lule was infuriated by the broadcast and a prerecorded speech by him was not played on Radio Uganda until later that evening.
Later in the morning Tanzanian artillery bombarded certain sectors of the city. Most Ugandan soldiers quickly broke and fled upon being subjected to shelling. More civilians, seeing that the troops on their streets were Tanzanian, came out from their dwellings to celebrate and loot. Some pointed out remaining pockets of resistance to the TPDF. Meanwhile, the diplomatic staff resident on Kololo hill felt it was safe enough to begin visiting Msuya's command post to pay their respects to him. Civilians raided the files of the State Research Bureau in search of records that contained the whereabouts of missing family members. The Tanzanians found among the documents a copy of their top-secret plan of attack for Kampala. Lieutenant Colonel Salim Hassan Boma led a detachment on a security sweep, and on the edge of the city they discovered Luzira Prison. Boma ordered over 1,700 inmates held to be set free.
The remaining Ugandan soldiers in the city desperately attempted to escape by changing into civilian clothes and requisitioning civilian vehicles. They robbed residents at gunpoint and in some cases murdered them to secure the items. As Tanzanian patrols secured Kampala's neighbourhoods, some of them stumbled across the Ugandan soldiers and exchanged fire with them. Three men attempted to rob the residence of the First Secretary of the French Embassy, but were driven away by gunfire from the secretary's wife. At least 10 Ugandan soldiers were beaten to death by enraged civilians. Lieutenant Colonel Juma Butabika, one of Amin's top commanders, was killed in a firefight with soldiers of the 205th and 208th Brigades in the Bwaise–Kawempe area as they attempted to secure the northern section of the city.
Meanwhile, Kampala's residents engaged in rampant looting, despite the attempts of Tanzanian and UNLF troops to maintain order. A few looters were active in the morning and only targeted the homes of Amin's lieutenants but, by the afternoon, many were crowding the streets and pillaging property indiscriminately. Stores had their windows smashed and were cleared of furniture, documents were destroyed, and new cars were pushed out of show rooms and onto the streets. Msuya felt that the only way to stop the pillaging would be to open fire on the crowds, which would generate a highly negative response from the population. He ordered his men to quietly assist the looters in breaking into the warehouses and try to keep the situation calm. This strategy failed (two civilians were accidentally killed in the pandemonium), and eventually the Tanzanians were authorised to seize a radio and a watch each from abandoned homes.[c] According to a Newsweek report, the evening of 11 April "came to be called the 'Night of the Wheel-barrows,'" in allusion to civilians carting away property.[d]
On 12 April Amin delivered a rambling radio broadcast in which he denounced Ojok's speech and declared that his forces still held Kampala. He then boarded an aircraft in Arua and flew to Libya. He eventually settled in exile in Saudi Arabia and never returned to Uganda. The next day a band of lingering Ugandan soldiers in Kampala shot a Tanzanian sentry in front of the Bank of Uganda. Tanzanian sappers promptly razed the building the group was hiding in. The city was left heavily damaged by the Tanzanian artillery bombardment and the looting. In early May civilians and municipal officials cleaned up most of the debris and boarded up the smashed windows. Reconstruction efforts were slow and the city displayed signs of dilapidation several years after the battle.
Statistics for battle casualties were unclear in the immediate aftermath of the battle. According to journalist Martha Honey, fewer than 100 Ugandan soldiers were killed. The Superintendent of Mortuaries supervised the collection of bodies, and by 15 April he had recovered over 200 dead Ugandan soldiers and civilians. He estimated that the total statistic could be as high as 500. According to the Daily Monitor, up to several dozen Ugandan civilians were killed. Over 500 Ugandan soldiers were captured by the TPDF. Sabuni was arrested by the UNLF and charged with murder. He later died from undernourishment. The Libyans suffered few casualties during the battle. The TPDF casualties were also deemed to be light; only three members of the 19th Battalion were wounded in the fighting. Large stocks of Libyan munitions were seized, as were significant caches of Ugandan weapons imported from the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, Israel, and Spain.
The Tanzanians recovered the body of Hans Poppe, a biracial Tanzanian police officer who had been killed by the Ugandans in a 1971 border clash. His corpse had been put on display by Amin as evidence that foreign mercenaries were being deployed against him. The body was repatriated and buried. Immediately after the seizure of Kampala the TPDF began establishing a new Ugandan government. On 13 April Lule was flown into the city and installed as President of Uganda. The UNLF government subsequently split into factions as individual leaders struggled for power. Though pro-Amin forces were left scattered and disjointed by the seizure of the capital, combat operations in the country continued until 3 June, when Tanzanian forces reached the Sudanese border and eliminated the last resistance. The TPDF withdrew from Uganda in 1981.
The fall of Kampala marked the first time in the history of the continent that an African state seized the capital of another African country. Ugandan diplomat and politician Semakula Kiwanuka wrote, "[I]t will remain a landmark in the annals of Africa's military history." The overthrow of a sovereign head of state by a foreign military had never occurred in Africa and had been strongly discouraged by the Organisation of African Unity. The invasion and removal of Amin was controversial, though most Western and African states tacitly accepted the action. The New York Times wrote, "Tanzania has set a disturbing precedent. What has been done this time in a good cause, and with considerable provocation, might as easily be done by others in [different] circumstances." According to Roy May and Oliver Furley, "It marked a mile-post in the history of Africa." On the fifth anniversary of the fall of Kampala, Obote delivered a speech to commemorate the liberation of Uganda from the Amin regime.
- Kampala District Commissioner Wahib Muhammed claimed that a week before the Tanzanian attack Amin ordered all soldiers in the Kampala garrison to evacuate their families, and that most of the army subsequently withdrew "with a lot of discipline".
- According to Anderson and Rolandsen, Amin left in advance of the battle. Strasser, Gibson, and Moreau stated that he moved around in suburban houses until the day before the battle, when he drove to Jinja. According to several Ugandan soldiers, he fled in a helicopter on 10 April.
- In contrast to other accounts, Ugandan businessman Gordon Wavamunno, citing friends who lived in Kampala, stated that the pillaging was led by the Tanzanians and the UNLF and that "most of the looted property was in fact loaded on looted trucks and dispatched to Tanzania."
- Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, who was in Kampala at the time, wrote, "There was a vague tone in the Western press of 'those people running amok once again, destroying their own communities.' It was anything but that...Amin had been a general from the northern [Nubian] tribe, and when he took over, he systematically seized the stores of Kampala and turned them over to his tribal compatriots. Thus, the orgy of looting and revenge against the northerners."
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