Isaac Maliyamungu inspecting captured Tanzanian vehicles, 1978
|General Staff Officer I Grade responsible for training and operations|
1970s – 1979
|Nickname(s)||Bisirani ("bad omen")|
|Branch/service||Uganda Army (UA)|
|Years of service||1967 – 1979|
|Commands||VIP Protection Unit|
Second Infantry Battalion
Eagle Colonel Gaddafi Battalion
Isaac Maliyamungu,[a] (died February 1984) also known as Isaac Lugonzo, was a military officer of the Uganda Army (UA) who served as one of President 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 was responsible for the mass murder of civilians and soldiers suspected of being disloyal to Amin.
As the Ugandan military dictatorship weakened and Amin's support eroded among the country's masses and elite, Maliyamungu was one of his few remaining trusted confidants. After the Uganda–Tanzania War's outbreak in 1978, Maliyamungu held important military commands, 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 intended to become a businessman. He died of poisoning in Sudan in 1984.
Early life and 1971 coup d'état
Born in western Zaire, Maliyamungu was a Christian of Kakwa ethnicity and a cousin or nephew of Idi Amin. At some point, he migrated to Uganda, and got a job as gatekeeper at the Nyanza textile factory in Jinja.
He joined the Uganda Army (UA) in 1967, possibly recruited on Amin's orders. By then, Amin had risen to deputy commander of the Uganda Army. In 1970 Maliyamungu was promoted to the rank of corporal and served as pay clerk for the Uganda Army Air Force at Entebbe. At the time, he was aiding Amin in secretly enlisting troops from the West Nile region and southern Sudan. These forces were trained in the Mabira Forest, and were part of Amin's preparations for a coup against President Milton Obote. Maliyamungu eventually learned of Obote's intentions to arrest Amin, and warned his relative, whereupon they accelerated their coup plans. He played a crucial role in Amin's subsequent coup against 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 necessary weapons. Another putschist, Moses Galla, has disputed this story, and stated that he had been the driver of the APC. 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, and shooting at the airport entrance. He killed two priests by chance, and caused a panic among the airport's guards. The loyalist resistance of Entebbe thus collapsed, allowing Maliyamungu to take control almost unopposed. His takeover of Entebbe impressed Amin, and Maliyamungu consequently won the favor of Uganda's new president.
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. For this purpose, he was granted "unlimited powers to execute anyone in the army", including superior officers. 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. He later boasted of "single-handedly mastermind[ing]" the mass murder of civilians suspected of being opposed to Amin.
Official under Idi Amin
Maliyamungu quickly became Amin's "right-hand man", and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He was appointed member of the Defence Council, General Staff Officer I Grade responsible for training and operations (de facto army chief of staff), and commander of the Ordnance Depot at Magamaga. In 1972 he served as acting commander of the Second Infantry Battalion based in Masaka. In 1974, he transferred from head of the Ordnance Depot to commander of the Eagle Colonel Gaddafi Battalion, and was also given command of a mechanised regiment. In April 1975, Maliyamungu left leadership of the Gaddafi Battalion to Hussein Mohammed, and was appointed head of an entire brigade. He consequently oversaw several units from an office in Jinja.
Most importantly of all his commands, Maliyamungu headed the VIP Protection Unit (Amin's bodyguards and enforcers) and played a major role in the State Research Bureau, Uganda's intelligence agency.[b] Along with Major General Mustafa Adrisi, he was believed to effectively control the entire Ugandan armed forces, and was regarded as the Ugandan President's "power base". 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, and held the power to beat or execute those who disappointed him or were suspected of being disloyal to the Amin regime. 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.
In 1976, Maliyamungu was responsible for a major security blunder. Uganda's Ambassador to Lesotho, Isaac Lumago, overheard a conversation by Kenya Air Force officers on 4 July. They discussed plans by Israel to carry out a raid against Entebbe to free hostages who were held there by Palestinian and German hijackers with assistance by the Ugandan government. The ambassador informed Maliyamungu, but he regarded the report as "gasiya" (rubbish) and took no action whatsoever. That same day, Israeli commandos carried out Operation Entebbe, freeing the hostages, and destroying one quarter of the Uganda Army Air Force. While the raid took place, Maliyamungu was allegedly relaxing at a nearby hotel with a prostitute.
Over time, Amin's brutal regime was increasingly destabilized by internal divisions and economic problems despite great repression by state authorities. 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. Maliyamungu was also regarded as "prime target" for assassination by Ugandan exiles, as he controlled much of the Uganda Army's tank forces. By 1978, Maliyamungu was one of the few remaining people who were regarded as trusted and loyal followers of Amin.
Involvement in state repression
Maliyamungu was known as Idi Amin's "hit man" and "principal hangman". The forces under his command used extreme methods in suppressing suspected dissidents. He was reportedly feared by his colleagues on the Defence Council due to his brutality, and by the rest of the army due to his great powers and close connection with President Amin. Maliyamungu preferred to execute his victims by dismembering or disemboweling them and driving military trucks or tanks over them. His reputation was such that people would panic whenever he came to visit an area.
Maliyamungu was linked to the deaths of several prominent Ugandans during the rule of Amin. In 1972, he was responsible for the execution of Francis Walugembe, the popular former Mayor of Masaka. Maliyamungu first cut off Walugembe's genitals, then paraded him through Masaka's streets, and finally "cut [him] into pieces in the [town's] market in full public view".[c] 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. According to Mustafa Adrisi (Vice President of Uganda at the time) and a Human rights commission, Maliyamungu was directly responsible for their deaths. Intelligence reports also implicate him in the killing of Kung'u Karumba, a friend of Prime Minister of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta and a prominent Kenyan nationalist. Maliyamungu's wife was reportedly indebted to Karumba, and the latter was murdered during a disagreement over the debts in June 1974.
In 1977, President Amin, Vice President Adrisi, and Maliyamungu decided to order a purge of Langi and Acholi in northern Uganda. Thousands belonging to these ethnic groups, primarily men, were subsequently murdered. Despite the widespread and brutal suppression of all dissidents, the power of the Amin regime increasingly detoriated in the late 1970s, as political and economic instability grew in Uganda. In response to these developments, 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".
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 placed on a committee to oversee the distribution of their wealth, taking much for himself. He was also involved in coffee smuggling, shipping large amounts of coffee with boats from Uganda across Lake Victoria to Kenya. President Amin ordered his British advisor Bob Astles to clamp down on Maliyamungu's smuggling operations in 1978. The latter responded by kidnapping Astles and torturing him, pulling out his fingernails and branding his face with the Kakwa tribal mark of three parallel scars before releasing him.[d]
The Uganda–Tanzania War, exile and death
Following the Uganda–Tanzania War's outbreak and the Ugandan invasion of Tanzania in October 1978, Maliyamungu visited the occupied Kagera Salient region with his girlfriend.[e] The war turned against Uganda in November 1978, as the Tanzania People's Defence Force (TPDF) launched a large-scale counter-offensive. After retaking Kagera, the Tanzanians advanced into Uganda.[f] According to an anonymous Ugandan soldier interviewed by the Drum magazine, Maliyamungu's efforts were vital for the Ugandan war effort after the failed invasion. He reportedly 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. Nevertheless, these reinforcements allowed the Uganda Army to keep fighting after heavy losses during the Kagera invasion.
By February 1979, Maliyamungu was in command of the garrison at Masaka, which was one of the most important towns in southern Uganda, and thus became a target of the advancing Tanzanian troops. Though thousands strong, the Ugandan forces at Masaka were wrought by indiscipline and internal divisions. With the exception of a number of probes against Tanzanian positions around the town, 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. Maliyamungu got lost in the bush for more than a week following the battle at Masaka; according to journalist Felix Ocen, he feared reprisals for his defeat, and eventually returned with an apology.
With Masaka under Tanzanian control, Kampala was threatened, prompting President Amin to order a counter-offensive. It was planned that the Ugandans and allied Libyan forces would first retake Lukaya, and then attack Masaka with the ultimate aim of expelling the TPDF from Uganda. Maliyamungu was one of the commanders entrusted with leading this operation, and prepared the troops under his command well according to Tanzanian Lieutenant Colonel Ben Msuya. The Ugandan offensive began on 10 March 1979, starting the Battle of Lukaya. Widely differing assessments of Maliyamungu's conduct during this battle exist. Whereas Msuya praised him for smartly executing the initial Ugandan attack which resulted in the rout of the Tanzanian 201st Brigade and capture of Lukaya, Idi Amin's son 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. The battle turned against the Ugandans on 11 March, as the TPDF launched a successful counter-attack. In an attempt to strengthen morale, Maliyamungu and Major General Yusuf Gowon 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.
When Amin's regime finally collapsed and Kampala fell to the Tanzanians, Maliyamungu fled with his family across the border to Zaire. He took a substantial amount of his wealth with him, and intended to become a businessman. It was subsequently rumoured that Maliyamungu became involved in the pro-Amin rebellion in the West Nile sub-region during the Ugandan Bush War. He later moved to Sudan where he died of poisoning in February 1984.[g]
Maliyamungu was multilingual, and could speak Kakwa, Kiswahili, English, Lusoga, Luganda, Runyoro, Luo, as well as other languages. Although little is known about his education, he was regarded as intelligent. The Drum magazine described Maliyamungu as ruthless, courageous, and highly ambitious, while others have regarded him as "possibly psychotic" due to his brutality. Even Idi Amin once reportedly remarked that he feared that Maliyamungu had lost his mind.
Maliyamungu was one of the most well known and infamous members of the Amin regime. As result of his reputation, Maliyamungu's name was even used as nickname for another infamous soldier, namely Musa Jammeh, a member of the Gambia's presidential guard under Yahya Jammeh.
- His surname has also been spelled Malyamungu or Maiyamungu. "Maliyamungu" can be translated as "God's property".
- According to Somali statesman Hussein Ali Duale, Maliyamungu was the chief of the State Research Bureau, though other sources report that Farouk Minaawa led the intelligence agency during Amin's rule.
- Other purported eyewitnesses have implicated Ali Nyege and Abdul Abdallah Nasur, not Maliyamungu, of being responsible for Walugembe's death.
- Indian diplomat Madanjeet Singh speculated that the whole incident was part of a plot by Amin to get rid of Astles by provoking Maliyamungu.
- According to journalist Timothy Kalyegira, Maliyamungu was reportedly shocked upon witnessing how much destruction the Ugandan soldiers had caused. Weeping, he allededly said that this "could not have been the work of the Uganda Army he knew".
- Radio Tanzania falsely claimed at the time that Amin had dismissed Maliyamungu and put him under house arrest.
- Another source has stated that he died in Zaire in the 1980s.
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