Uganda–Tanzania War

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Uganda–Tanzania War
Battles of the Uganda–Tanzania War.svg
Battles of the Uganda–Tanzania War
Date30 October 1978 – 3 June 1979
(7 months and 4 days)

Tanzanian victory

State of Palestine Palestine Liberation Organization (1979)[1][2]
Uganda UNLA
Mozambique Mozambique[2]
Supported by:
Commanders and leaders
Uganda Idi Amin
Uganda Isaac Maliyamungu
Uganda Juma Butabika 
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Muammar Gaddafi
Tanzania Julius Nyerere
Tanzania Abdallah Twalipo
Tanzania Tumainiel Kiwelu
Tanzania David Msuguri
Uganda Tito Okello
Uganda Yoweri Museveni
Uganda David Oyite-Ojok
Uganda 70,000
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya 3,000
State of Palestine "hundreds"
Tanzania 150,000[5]
Uganda 6,000
Mozambique 300–800
Casualties and losses
~1,000 Ugandans
~600 Libyans[2]
~200 Palestinians[6]
373 Tanzanians
150 UNLA[2]
1,500 Tanzanian and 500 Ugandan civilians killed[2]

The Uganda–Tanzania War, known in Tanzania as the Kagera War (Kiswahili: Vita vya Kagera) and in Uganda as the 1979 Liberation War, was fought between Uganda and Tanzania from October 1978 until June 1979, and led to the overthrow of Idi Amin's regime.[7] Idi Amin's forces included thousands of troops sent by Libya.


Relations between Tanzania and Uganda had been strained for several years before the war started. After Amin seized power in a military coup in 1971, the Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere offered sanctuary to Uganda's ousted president, Milton Obote.[8] As Amin launched a massive purge of his enemies in Uganda that saw 30,000 to 50,000 Ugandans killed, Obote was soon joined by thousands of other dissidents and opposition figures. With the approval of Nyerere, these Ugandan exiles organized a small army of guerillas, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to invade Uganda and remove Amin in 1972. Amin blamed Nyerere for backing and arming his enemies. With both sides accusing each other, the relationship between Uganda and Tanzania quickly reached an all-time low.[9]

In the next years, Amin survived several assassination attempts, resulting in him becoming increasingly distrustful and repeatedly purging the senior ranks of the Ugandan military.[9] The situation in Uganda became even more volatile in 1978: Dissident troops ambushed Amin at the presidential lodge in Kampala in early October 1978, but he escaped with his family in a helicopter.[10] This was during a period when the number of Amin's close associates had shrunk significantly, and he faced increasing dissent from within Uganda.[7] When General Mustafa Adrisi, Amin's Vice President, was injured in a suspicious car accident,[citation needed] troops loyal to Adrisi (and other soldiers who were disgruntled for other reasons) mutinied.[7] Amin sent troops against the mutineers (which included members of the elite Simba Battalion), some of whom had fled across the Tanzanian border. The rebellion spilled over into Tanzania, where Tanzania-based anti-Amin exiles joined the fighting against Amin's troops.[citation needed] Meanwhile there circulated rumours about an impending Tanzanian invasion.[11][12] War between the two countries seemed likely, and Amin himself believed that he could possibly use such a conflict to distract the Ugandan people from the worsening political and economic situation at home.[7]

The war[edit]

Outbreak of the conflict[edit]

As tensions with Tanzania increased, a number of Amin's high-ranking military commanders began to advocate war with the neighboring state. They were opposed by other Ugandan generals who argued that Uganda Army (UA) was not ready for an open conflict. Though desiring to annex part of Tanzania for some time, President Amin initially sided with the more cautious commanders.[13][11] The situation changed on 9 October 1978.[14] What exactly happened on the that day remains disputed, and several different versions of the events exist.

According to reporters Avirgan and Honey, as well the Drum magazine, Ugandan troops made their first incursion into Tanzania when a motorised detachment moved into Kakunyu and set two houses on fire in the middle of the day. A Tanzanian observation post witnessed the event, and Tanzanian artillery retaliated. A Ugandan armoured personnel carrier and truck were destroyed, and two soldiers were killed. Ugandan artillery returned fire but caused no damage. In the evening Radio Uganda reported that a Tanzanian invasion had been repulsed.[15][16] In contrast, others have claimed that a lone Ugandan soldier crossed into Tanzania and got involved in an altercation with local border guards on 9 October. According to one version of the story, told by Ugandan commander Abdu Kisuule, the soldier was the brother-in-law of Lieutenant Colonel Juma Butabika, one of the main proponents of war, and had been sent to kidnap a Tanzanian soldier. He was killed in a firefight with the border guards, however, whereupon Butabika sought revenge.[13] Uganda Air Force pilot David Omita stated, however, that the Ugandan soldier in question was unrelated to Butabika and had crossed the border to visit his lover. He then got "roughed up" by Tanzanian soldiers in a bar fight, and sought revenge by lying to his superior, claiming that he had been kidnapped by Tanzanian troops.[14]

In either case, the events along the border served as an excuse for the pro-war faction in the Uganda Army to act. Without asking President Amin for authorization, Butabika ordered an invasion of Tanzania on 30 October, ostensibly in response to Tanzanian aggression.[11][12][13][14]

Course of the war[edit]

Butabika's forces easily overran the Tanzanian troops stationed at Mutukula and Minziro, whereupon he telephoned Amin, claiming that Tanzania had launched an attack and that he had responded with a counter-attack. The president opted to allow the invasion to proceed. Reinforced by other Uganda Army detachements, Butabika subsequently occupied the entire Kagera salient (northern Kagera Region) until stopping at Kyaka Bridge, which was destroyed. The UA troops procceeded to celebrate while looting, raping and murdering in the occupied area. Meanwhile, Amin declared the annexation of Kagera.[13][14][12]

Nyerere mobilized the Tanzania People's Defence Force and counterattacked. In a few weeks, the Tanzanian army was expanded from less than 40,000 troops to over 150,000, including about 40,000 militiamen,[5] and smaller numbers of members of the police, prison services, and the national service. The Tanzanians were joined by several anti-Amin groups consisting of Ugandan exiles, who at a conference in Moshi (Moshi Conference) had united as the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). These included Kikosi Maalum commanded by Tito Okello and David Oyite Ojok, FRONASA commanded by Yoweri Museveni, and Save Uganda Movement commanded by Akena p'Ojok, William Omaria, and Ateker Ejalu.[citation needed]

Libyan troop movements before and after the Battle of Lukaya

The Tanzanian Army acquired Soviet BM Katyusha rocket launchers (known in Uganda as saba saba), with which they started to fire on targets in Uganda.[17] The effect of powerful weapons like the Katyusha robbed the Ugandan forces of the initiative they had gained from the invasion, which had taken the Tanzanians by surprise as the country was totally unprepared to defend against an invasion. Furthermore, the use of multiple rocket launchers and other heavy weapons enabled the Tanzanian forces to make the Ugandan Army retreat steadily as it could not face up to the stronger and numerically superior Tanzanian Army that was now on the offensive against the demoralised Ugandan soldiers. Libya's dictator Muammar Gaddafi sent a Libyan expeditionary force of 2,500 troops to aid the Ugandan dictator Amin. The Libyan expeditionary force was equipped with T-54 and T-55 tanks, BTR APCs, BM-21 Grad MRLs, artillery, MiG-21s fighters, and one Tu-22 bomber.[18] The Libyan force was designed to primarily act as a supporting force for the Uganda Army, and if necessary aid them in battle against the Tanzanians. However, soon after the force arrived in Uganda, the Libyan soldiers found themselves fighting the Tanzanians on the front line. Meanwhile, while the Libyans were fighting and dying in the fight to protect their ally's country, many of the Uganda Army's units were using their own supply trucks to carry their newly acquired wealth taken from Tanzania back away from the front line.[19] The Libyans were flown into Entebbe starting in mid-February, though in early March the Libyan government officially repudiated an accusation from the United States that its forces were being sent to Uganda.[20]

The Libyan troops were a mix of regular Libyan Army units, People's Militia, and sub-Saharan Africans of the Islamic Legion, a further force created by Libya for this type of expeditionary mission.[18] The Tanzanians, joined by UNLA dissidents, moved north for Kampala but halted at the vast deep-water swamp north of Lukaya. The Tanzanians decided to send the 201st Brigade directly across the causeway over the swamp while the better-quality 208th Brigade skirted the western edge of the swamp as an alternative in case the causeway was blocked or destroyed.[citation needed]

Between 10–12 March the Battle of Lukaya occurred between the Tanzanian Army and the Libyan Army alongside some Ugandan units. The battle started when a planned attack by a brigade-sized Libyan formation with fifteen T-55s, a dozen APCs, and BM-21 MRLs, intended to reach Masaka, instead collided with the Tanzanian force at Lukaya on 10 March and sent the 201st Brigade reeling backwards in disarray. However, a Tanzanian counter-attack on the night of 11 March from two directions, involving a reorganised 201st Brigade attacking from the south and the 208th Brigade from the north-west, was successful, with many Libyan units, including the militia, breaking and running away. Libyan casualties were reported at 200 plus another 200 allied Ugandans.[21]

Fall of Kampala and end of the war[edit]

Tanzanian and UNLA forces met little resistance after the Battle of Lukaya and carried on east toward Kampala, first taking the Entebbe airfield after some fighting, and then taking Kampala on 11 April 1979. Few Ugandan or Libyan units gave much resistance; the greatest problem for the Tanzanian troops was lack of maps of the city.[18] Amin fled, first to Libya and later to Saudi Arabia. The Libyan forces retreated to Jinja and then were repatriated finally through Kenya and Ethiopia.[citation needed] Despite the flight of Amin and the fall of the capital, however, scattered and disjointed remnants of the Ugandan military continued to offer resistance.[22] Nevertheless, after Kampala's capture, little further damage was caused by the fighting.[23] Most units of the Uganda Army mutinied or dispersed, allowing the Tanzanian-UNLF troops to occupy most of eastern and northern Ugandan without opposition.[24] Attempts by Amin's loyalists to block the Tanzanian northward advance were defeated during the Battle for the Karuma Falls,[25] and the Battle of Lira.[26]

The Tanzanian military finally drove the last pro-Amin forces from Uganda on 3 June when it reached the Sudanese border, thus occupying all of the country.[22] The Tanzanian army remained in Uganda to maintain peace while the UNLF (the political wing of the UNLA) organized elections to return the country to civilian rule.[27] Meanwhile, remnants of Amin's Uganda Army reorganised in Zaire and Sudan, and would invade Uganda in autumn 1980, starting a civil war in the country.[27]



The movement of armed forces throughout Uganda in 1979 disrupted the planting season, leading to inflated prices for staple crops such as bananas, sweet potatoes, and cassava, and causing famine in some regions.[28] Despite this disruption, rural areas were mostly physically undisturbed by the fighting, which was concentrated in other areas.[23] An estimated minimum of 100,000 Ugandans were made homeless by the conflict.[29] The war with Tanzania caused great economic damage to Uganda, but was only the start of a period of even greater unrest. With Amin ousted, different groups of political and ethnic rivals started to compete and fight for power.[7] Yusuf Lule had been installed as president by Tanzania. In June 1979, following a dispute over the extent of presidential powers, the National Consultative Commission (NCC), which was then the supreme governing body of the UNLF, replaced Lule with Godfrey Binaisa. Binaisa was himself removed on 12 May 1980 by the Military Commission, a powerful organ of the UNLF headed by Paulo Muwanga and his deputy Yoweri Museveni (then leader of the Uganda Patriotic Movement). A Presidential Commission with three members, Saulo Musoke, Polycarp Nyamuchoncho, and Joel Hunter Wacha-Olwol were then appointed to lead the country. They governed Uganda until the December 1980 general elections, which were won by Milton Obote's Uganda Peoples Congress. The elections were bitterly disputed. Yoweri Museveni alleged electoral fraud and declared an armed rebellion against Obote's government, plunging the country into the Ugandan Bush War.


By August 1979 over 40,000 residents of Kagera that had fled from the Ugandan invasion had returned to their homes.[30] Nyerere toured Tabora, Arusha, Mtwara, Bukoba, Mwanza, Tanga, Zanzibar, Iringa, Dodoma, Dar es Salaam, and Mara to thank the Tanzanian population for its contributions to the war effort.[31]

Tanzania received no help from other countries in the Organization of African Unity, which had denounced what was seen as an aggression by Tanzania (and its role as a backer of the 1977 coup in the Seychelles which brought France-Albert René to power) as a breach of national sovereignty. As a result, the government in Dar es Salaam had to foot the bill for the invasion and subsequent peacekeeping role from its own funds, further driving the country into poverty; Tanzania would not fully recover from the cost of the war until Uganda paid its debt back to Tanzania in 2007.[32]


The 435 Tanzanian soldiers that died during the war were buried at the Kaboya Military Cemetery in Muleba District, Kagera Region. A white monument was erected in the cemetery and adorned with the names of the dead.[33] Nyerere, Tanzanian Vice President Aboud Jumbe, Prime Minister Edward Sokoine, Chief of Defence Forces Abdallah Twalipo, and Chama Cha Mapinduzi Executive Secretary Pius Msekwa visited the monument on 26 July 1979 to pay their respects to the dead soldiers.[34] Another monument was built in Arusha, displaying a statue of a soldier celebrating victory.[35] On 1 September a series of national ceremonies were held to honour Tanzanian contribution to the war effort.[36] On 25 July 2014 Tanzania observed the 36th anniversary of the war and recognised the soldiers and civilians that died in the conflict.[37]

On the fifth anniversary of the fall of Kampala, Obote delivered a speech to commemorate the liberation of Uganda from the Amin regime.[38] In 2002 Uganda held its first official celebration of Amin's overthrow.[39] In the 2000s the Ugandan Government established the Kagera Medal to be awarded to Ugandan rebels or foreigners who fought against Amin's regime between 1971 and 1979.[40]

Historiography and documentation[edit]

Historians have paid little attention to the war,[41] and few books have been written about it.[42] Tanzanian journalist Baldwin Mzirai published Kuzama kwa Idi Amin in 1980, which details the Tanzanian and Ugandan rebel military operations of the conflict.[43] American journalists Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey published War in Uganda: The legacy of Idi Amin in 1983. They followed Tanzanian forces into Uganda and witnessed the battles for Entebbe and Kampala. The 11-chapter work, in addition to covering the conflict, discusses some of its political implications in Uganda.[42] Henry R. Muhanika published an Utenzi poetic account of the war in 1981, Utenzi wa vita vya Kagera na anguko la Idi Amin Dada.[44] In 1980 the state-owned Tanzania Film Company and the Audio Visual Institute released a colour documentary chronicling the conflict, entitled, Vita vya Kagera. It emphasized the "bravery and determination" of the Tanzanian forces.[45] The war is known in Tanzania as the Kagera War and in Uganda as the 1979 Liberation War.[46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Uganda: A country study (PDF). Library of Congress. December 1990. p. 204. By mid-March 1979, about 2,000 Libyan troops and several hundred Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters had joined in the fight to save Amin's regime
  2. ^ a b c d e Acheson-Brown, Daniel G. (2001). "The Tanzanian Invasion of Uganda: A Just War?" (PDF). International Third World Studies Journal and Review. 12: 1–11. Retrieved 11 December 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Brzoska & Pearson 1994, p. 210.
  4. ^ Cooper & Fontanellaz (2015), p. 19.
  5. ^ a b c Cooper & Fontanellaz (2015), p. 27.
  6. ^ Foreigners Aided Amin, Washington Post, May 8, 1979.
  7. ^ a b c d e Cooper & Fontanellaz (2015), p. 7.
  8. ^ Cooper & Fontanellaz (2015), p. 6.
  9. ^ a b Cooper & Fontanellaz (2015), pp. 6–7.
  10. ^ "An Idi-otic Invasion", TIME magazine, 13 Nov. 1978.
  11. ^ a b c "Lies drove Amin to strike Tanzania". Daily Monitor. 25 November 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  12. ^ a b c Mwakikagile (2010), p. 319.
  13. ^ a b c d Henry Lubega (30 May 2014). "Amin's former top soldier reveals why TPDF won". The Citizen. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  14. ^ a b c d "Pilot Omita parachutes out of burning MiG-21". Daily Monitor. 9 October 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  15. ^ Avirgan & Honey 1983, p. 54.
  16. ^ Seftel 2010, p. 220, 222–224.
  17. ^ "Fighting for Amin". The East African. 8 April 2002. Archived from the original on 8 March 2008. Retrieved 9 December 2013.
  18. ^ a b c Pollack, Kenneth M (2002). Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness 1948–91. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 369–373. ISBN 0-8032-3733-2.
  19. ^ "Armed Conflicts Event Data: Tanzanian-Ugandan War 1978-1979". 16 December 2000. Retrieved 10 December 2013.
  20. ^ Legum 1980, p. B 432.
  21. ^ "How Mbarara, Kampala fell to Tanzanian army". Daily Monitor. 27 April 2017. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  22. ^ a b Anderson & Rolandsen 2017, p. 163.
  23. ^ a b Posnett 1980, p. 148.
  24. ^ Cooper & Fontanellaz (2015), pp. 37, 62.
  25. ^ Associated Press (17 May 1979). "Ugandan Forces Seize Bridge Near Last Amin Strongholds". International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 25 February 2019.
  26. ^ Cooper & Fontanellaz (2015), p. 37, 39.
  27. ^ a b Cooper & Fontanellaz (2015), p. 39.
  28. ^ Southall 1980, pp. 629–630.
  29. ^ Southall 1980, p. 630.
  30. ^ Mmbando 1980, p. 134.
  31. ^ Mmbando 1980, p. 135.
  32. ^ Atuhaire, Alex B. (11 April 2007). "Uganda: Country Pays Tanzania Shs120 Billion Amin War Debt". Retrieved 8 December 2013.(subscription required)
  33. ^ Mmbando 1980, p. 137.
  34. ^ Mmbando 1980, pp. 138–140.
  35. ^ Mmbando 1980, p. 144.
  36. ^ Konde 1984, p. 221.
  37. ^ Mulisa, Meddy (1 August 2014). "Tanzania: Remembering Kagera War, 36 Years After". Retrieved 2 February 2019.
  38. ^ "Ugandan President's Liberation Anniversary Speeches: Comments on Opposition Kampala". Summary of World Broadcasts: Non-Arab Africa (7618). BBC Monitoring. 14 April 1984.
  39. ^ Wasswa, Henry (17 August 2003). "Ex-Uganda dictator Idi Amin dies". Deseret News. Associated Press. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  40. ^ Musinguzi, John (24 February 2013). "Understanding Museveni's medals". The Observer. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  41. ^ Anderson & Rolandsen 2017, p. 154.
  42. ^ a b Lugeba, Henry (24 April 2017). "War in Uganda: Coverage of the 1979 liberation war". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  43. ^ Accessions List, Eastern Africa 1982, p. 69.
  44. ^ Harneit-Sievers 2002, p. 276.
  45. ^ Fair 2018, Chapter 4 : Global Films and Local Reception.
  46. ^ Lubega, Henry (26 April 2014). "Revisiting the Tanzania-Uganda war that toppled Amin". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 7 February 2019.

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]