Isaac Maliyamungu

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Isaac Maliyamungu
Isaac Maliyamungu.jpg
Isaac Maliyamungu inspecting captured Tanzanian vehicles, 1978
General Staff Officer I Grade responsible for training and operations
In office
1970s – 1979
PresidentIdi Amin
Personal details
DiedFebruary 1984
RelationsIdi Amin (cousin)
Military service
Allegiance Uganda
Branch/serviceUganda Army (UA)
Years of service1967 – 1979
CommandsVIP Protection Unit
Second Infantry Battalion[1]
Simba Battalion[2]
Battles/warsUganda–Tanzania War

Isaac Maliyamungu,[a] (died February 1984) also known as Isaac Lugonzo,[6] was a military officer of the Uganda Army (UA) who served as one of Idi Amin's most important officials and supporters during the Ugandan military dictatorship of 1971–79. Born in Zaire, Maliyamungu was one of the members of the 1971 coup that brought Amin to power, and was thereafter responsible for brutally suppressing dissidents throughout the country. Rising in the ranks, Maliyamungu amassed great power and earned a feared reputation. He also held important commands during the Uganda–Tanzania War, but had little success in combat against the Tanzania People's Defence Force. When the Tanzanians and their Ugandan rebel allies overthrew Amin's government in 1979, Maliyamungu fled to Zaire, where he became a businessman. He died of poisoning in Sudan in 1984.


Early life and 1971 coup d'état[edit]

Born in Zaire, Maliyamungu[b] was a Christian of Kakwa ethnicity[8][9] and a cousin of Idi Amin.[10] At some point, he migrated to Uganda, and got a job as gatekeeper at the Nyanza textile factory in Jinja.[4]

He joined the Uganda Army (UA) in 1967.[11] By 1971, Maliyamungu was a corporal[12] and served as pay clerk for the Uganda Air Force at Entebbe.[13] He played a crucial role[11] in Amin's coup against President Milton Obote, and it was later claimed that he had rammed an armoured personnel carrier into an important armoury in the capital Kampala during the coup, ensuring that the putschists had access to ample weaponry. Another putschist, Moses Galla, has disputed this story, and stated that he had been the driver of the APC.[13] Maliyamungu's main task during the coup was to secure Entebbe airport. This he successfully did by driving a tank from the Malire Barracks to Entebbe.[11]

After the successful coup, Maliyamungu was one of the officers who were entrusted with defeating the remaining militant Obote loyalists and purging the Uganda Army of anti-Amin elements.[14] For this purpose, he was granted "unlimited powers to execute anyone in the army", including superior officers.[4] Alongside Colonel Ali, Colonel Musa, and Major Malera, Maliyamungu succeeded in defeating the armed resistance to the new regime, and proceeded to murder hundreds of political opponents.[14] He later boasted of "single-handedly mastermind[ing]" the mass murder of civilians suspected of being opposed to Amin.[15]

Official under Idi Amin[edit]

Maliyamungu quickly became Amin's "right-hand man",[16] and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He was appointed member of the Defence Council,[17] General Staff Officer I Grade responsible for training and operations[12] (de facto army chief of staff),[11] and commander of the Ordnance Depot at Magamaga.[17] Most importantly, he headed the VIP Protection Unit (Amin's bodyguards and enforcers)[18] and played a major role in the State Research Bureau, Uganda's intelligence agency.[c] Along with Major General Mustafa Adrisi, he was believed to effectively control the entire Ugandan armed forces,[21] and regarded as the Ugandan President's "power base".[7] Knowing that his power derived from his influence over the soldiers, Maliyamungu reportedly turned down offers of cabinet posts to stay in the barracks. He was generally respected and feared among the common soldiers,[7] and held the power to beat or execute those who disappointed him.[22] By 1977, he claimed to be the de facto heir of Amin due to his loyalty to the regime and reliability in carrying out the President's orders.[7]

Like many other high-ranking officials under Amin, Maliyamungu used his power to enrich himself. When Amin ordered the expulsion of Asians from Uganda, Maliyamungu was on a committee to oversee the distribution of their wealth, taking much for himself.[23][24] He was also involved in coffee trading.[22]

Involvement in state repression[edit]

Maliyamungu was known as Idi Amin's "hit man",[25] and the forces under his command used extreme methods in suppressing suspected dissidents.[17][26][27][5] He was reportedly feared by his colleagues on the Defence Council due to his brutality,[17] and by the rest of the army due to his great powers and close connection with President Amin.[4]

Statues of martyrs at Westminster Abbey with Janani Luwum on the right
Maliyamungu was probably responsible for the murder of Janani Luwum (right statue, Westminster Abbey)

Maliyamungu was linked to the deaths of several prominent Ugandans during the rule of Amin. In 1972, he had Francis Walugembe, the former Mayor of Masaka, "cut into pieces in the [town's] market in full public view".[28] He also chaired the show trial of Janani Luwum, Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, and other religious leaders in 1977. Luwum as well as his colleagues were murdered shortly after the trial.[4] According to Mustafa Adrisi (Vice President of Uganda at the time)[29] and a Human rights commission, Maliyamungu was directly responsible for their deaths.[11] Intelligence reports also indict him of killing Kungu Karumba, a friend of Prime Minister of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta. Maliyamungu's wife was reportedly indebted to Karumba, and the latter was murdered during a disagreement over the debts in June 1974.[30]

Over time, Amin's brutal regime was increasingly destabilized by internal divisions and economic problems despite great repression by state authorities.[31] One of Amin's policies that drew opposition even among his original followers was the great power he gave to Kakwa and Nubians, while leaving officials of other ethnicies underrepresented. As result, a group of officers led by Brigadier Charles Arube attempted to overthrow Amin and kill his Nubian/Kakwa followers, including Maliyamungu. In the end, Arube's plot failed.[32] Maliyamungu was also regarded as "prime target" for assassination by Ugandan exiles, as he controlled most tank forces of the Uganda Army.[33] Overall, the Ugandan government was in a precarious state by 1978, so that the authorities took ever more drastic actions to remain in power. For example, Maliyamungu (by then promoted to brigadier) declared in a 1978 speech to 10,000 civilians that he would use tanks and bulldozers to destroy any area that was opposed to the government, proving to everyone that the regime "is hotter than a heated iron bar and not afraid to act".[25]

The Uganda–Tanzania War[edit]

Map of the Uganda–Tanzania War, including the Ugandan invasion of Tanzania, the Battle of Masaka, and the Battle of Lukaya

Following the Uganda–Tanzania War's outbreak and the Ugandan invasion of Tanzania in late 1978, Maliyamungu visited the occupied Kagera Salient region with his girlfriend. He was reportedly shocked upon witnessing how much destruction the Ugandan soldiers had caused. Weeping, he said that this "could not have been the work of the Uganda Army he knew".[34]

Soon after, the war turned against Uganda, as the Tanzania People's Defence Force (TPDF) launched a large-scale counter-offensive. Maliyamungu was in command of the Ugandan garrison at Masaka, which was one of the most important towns in southern Uganda, and thus became a target of the advancing Tanzanian troops.[3] Though thousands strong, the Ugandan forces at Masaka were wrought by indiscipline and internal divisions.[35] With the exception of a number of probes against Tanzanian positions around the town,[3] which Maliyamungu ordered on 23 February, the defense of Masaka was ineffective. The TPDF managed to occupy it almost without resistance on 24 February, while the Ugandans fled north.[36][35] Maliyamungu got lost in the the bush for more than a week during the retreat from Masaka.[37]

With Masaka under Tanzanian control, Kampala was threatened, prompting President Amin to order a counter-attack and put Maliyamungu in charge of the operation. According to President Amin's son Jaffar Rembo Amin, the Brigadier managed to defeat a Tanzanian force in a battle at Bukulula north of Masaka, as the Tanzanians had grown overconfident due to their successes up to that point. This marked the only serious defeat of the TPDF in the entire war.[38] Furthermore, one anonymous Ugandan soldier claimed in an interview with Drum that Maliyamungu recruited about 10,000 fighters in Sudan, Kibera (Kenya), and Uganda to bolster the dwindling ranks of the Uganda Army. The Ugandan recruits of this new force were mostly forcibly conscripted child soldiers, and their main task was to man roadblocks.[39]

Maliyamungu's next engagement, the Battle of Lukaya, was a complete defeat for the Uganda Army. Jaffar Rembo Amin later claimed that Maliyamungu had been bribed by the Tanzanians to lose the battle, and also accused him of cowardice by placing his command position miles from the frontlines.[8] In an attempt to strengthen morale, Maliyamungu and Major General Yusuf Gowan eventually joined their troops on the front line at Lukaya. For unknown reasons, the positions the two men took were frequently subject to sudden, intense rocket fire. Ugandan junior officers tried to convince their men that the Tanzanians were probably aware of the generals' presence and were targeting them with precise bombardments. The Ugandan troops nonetheless felt that Maliyamungu and Gowon were harbingers of misfortune and nicknamed them bisirani, or "bad omen". The leading Ugandan commander at Lukaya, Godwin Sule, realised the generals were not having a positive effect and asked them to leave the front.[40] When Amin's regime finally collapsed and Kampala fell to the Tanzanians, Maliyamungu fled across the border to Zaire. He took a substantial amount of his wealth with him, and subsequently worked as a businessman.[41] He later moved to Sudan where he died of poisoning in February 1984.[42]

Personal life[edit]

Maliyamungu was multilingual, and could speak Kakwa, Kiswahili, English, Lusoga, Luganda, Runyoro, Luo, as well as other languages.[43][44] The Drum magazine described him as ruthless, courageous, and highly ambitious,[7] while others have regarded him as "possibly psychotic" due to his brutality.[16]

He was married,[30] and had a son named Samson.[45]


  1. ^ His surname has also been spelled Malyamungu[3][4] or Maiyamungu[5]
  2. ^ "Maliyamungu" can be translated as "God's property"[7]
  3. ^ According to Somali statesman Hussein Ali Duale, Maliyamungu was the chief of the State Research Bureau,[19] though other sources report that Farouk Minaawa led the intelligence agency during Amin's rule.[20]



  1. ^ State Department 2005, SUBJECT: AMIN TOURS BORDER AREA.
  2. ^ State Department 2005, SUBJECT: ARMY PROMOTIONS.
  3. ^ a b c Cooper & Fontanellaz 2015, p. 30.
  4. ^ a b c d e Michael Mubangizi (16 February 2006). "Not even an archbishop was spared". The Weekly Observer. Archived from the original on 12 October 2007.
  5. ^ a b "In Uganda, Dead, Dead, Dead, Dead". New York Times. 12 September 1977. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  6. ^ Legum 1979, p. B-445.
  7. ^ a b c d e Seftel 2010, p. 195.
  8. ^ a b Jaffar Rembo Amin (14 April 2013). "How Amin's commander betrayed Ugandan fighters to Tanzanians". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  10. ^ Lindemann 2014, p. 110.
  11. ^ a b c d e Watuwa Timbiti (12 February 2015). "Luwum murder: What witnesses said". New Vision. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  12. ^ a b Rwehururu 2002, p. 50.
  13. ^ a b Faustin Mugabe (5 March 2016). "I knocked the armoury door to begin 1971 coup". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  14. ^ a b Ravenhill 1974, p. 241.
  15. ^ Fredrick M. Masiga (8 May 2011). "Bare Knuckles: History; Of bad leaders who have poor advisers". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  16. ^ a b Reid 2017, p. 63.
  17. ^ a b c d Hutchins Center 1975, p. 10.
  18. ^ Munnion 1995, p. 268.
  19. ^ Dualeh 1994, p. 62.
  20. ^ Mwakikagile 2014, p. 298.
  21. ^ Dualeh 1994, p. 55.
  22. ^ a b Seftel 2010, pp. 195–196.
  23. ^ Henry Lubega (6 July 2016). "I refused to loot Asians property". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  24. ^ Timothy Kalyegira (26 August 2012). "Byanyima's view of Amin: Time to settle the question". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  25. ^ a b Southall 1980, p. 638.
  26. ^ Dualeh 1994, pp. 55, 62.
  27. ^ Munnion 1995, p. 269.
  28. ^ Hutchins Center 1975, p. 18.
  29. ^ Moses Walubiri; Richard Drasimaku (14 May 2014). "Mustafa Adrisi: Life during and after exile". New Vision. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  30. ^ a b Amos Kareithi (30 September 2018). "Why Uganda's Idi Amin rejected Jomo's free flight offer from Nairobi". Standard. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  31. ^ Southall 1980, p. 637.
  32. ^ Faustin Mugabe (5 July 2015). "Senior officers Arube, Aseni attempt to overthrow Amin – Part I". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  33. ^ State Department 2005, SUBJECT: UGANDA COUP PLANS.
  34. ^ "Mystery of mass murder and rape in the Kagera Salient". Daily Monitor. 12 April 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  35. ^ a b Rwehururu 2002, pp. 114–115.
  36. ^ Cooper & Fontanellaz 2015, pp. 30–31.
  37. ^ Seftel 2010, p. 231.
  38. ^ Ben Musuya; Henry Lubega (3 May 2014). "Musuya: The Tanzanian general who ruled Uganda for three days". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  39. ^ Seftel 2010, p. 228.
  40. ^ Rwehururu 2002, p. 125.
  41. ^ Africana 1981, p. B-352.
  42. ^ "Idi Amin Aide Dies". Sub-Saharan Africa Report (28–34). 1984. p. 81.
  43. ^ "Who killed Acholi, Langi soldiers ?". Daily Monitor. 21 April 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  44. ^ Derrick Kiyonga (14 November 2018). "Justice Kasule's journey from Idi Amin to Museveni". The Observer. Retrieved 18 December 2018.
  45. ^ Jaffar Remo Amin (28 April 2013). "Gadaffi's plane picks Amin from Arua". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 18 December 2018.

Works cited[edit]