The World

Of course Amin must go. The question is: who’ll send him?

STEWART SOMMERLAD March 7 1977
The World

Of course Amin must go. The question is: who’ll send him?

STEWART SOMMERLAD March 7 1977

Of course Amin must go. The question is: who’ll send him?

The World

For sick irony, few can equal Idi Amin Dada. As the world reacted with outrage to the news that the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, Janani Luwum, and two government ministers had met violent deaths, Uganda’s President for Life was blandly telling delegates to a conference of African, Caribbean and Pacific states in Kampala of his concern that “so many people in other parts of the world are dying because of their political activities.” Almost in the same breath he let drop the fact that 16 people had been arrested in connection with yet another alleged plot to overthrow him.

His statement also coincided with reports that the vice-chancellor of Uganda’s Makerere University and two other academics had been arrested, and possibly killed; and that the elimination squads of the State Research Bureau (SRB) and Public Safety Unit (psu)—whose ranks are made up mainly of Muslim members of Amin’s own tribe, the Kakwa, and other loyal “Nubians” from the west Nile area— were once again at work among the Christians of the Acholi and Langi tribes. These supporters of former President Milton Obote (a Langi) were Amin’s first targets, after his take-over in January, 1971, in a ruthless purge of the armed forces.

Observers saw the latest wave of terror as an extension of the Ugandan dictator’s attempt to tighten his control on the country. In part the struggle is a religious one (Amin is a Muslim); in part it is tribal. Having largely established Muslim dominance of government and the armed forces, Amin now is moving against the Christian churches which form some of the remaining focal points for criticism of his regime.

If this was the intention, Luwum clearly was a prime target—as a member of the Acholi tribe and as a long-standing critic of Amin’s persecution of his and other Christian flocks.

In mid-February, three men were paraded before 3,000 troops in Kampala’s Nile Gardens as conspirators in an alleged attempt to overthrow Amin—with United States, Israeli and British help—on January 25, the sixth anniversary of his seizure of power. Invited to name their co-conspirators, the men singled out Luwum, Water Resources Minister Erinayo Oryema and Internal Affairs Minister Charles Oboth-Ofumbi. Minutes later Luwum and the two other men, all of whom had been present at the rally, were bundled into a Range Rover and driven away. They were not seen alive again.

The official version is that they were killed when they tried to overpower the driver, a Major Moses, and the Range Rover crashed. But few outsiders believed the story. For one thing Moses survived, relatively undamaged. For another the government reneged on a promise to hand the bodies over to relatives. Canon Burgess Carr, secretary of the All-African Conference of Churches, bluntly said that Luwum had been murdered by the Ugandan security forces, and that indeed seemed to be the case.

The most sensational version, in the government-controlled Tanzanian Daily News, said that Luwum was shot by Amin himself after being stripped, pinned to the floor of Nakasero Lodge, where he had been taken, and subjected to “very bizarre, sacrilegious and obscene activities.” Amin denied having anything to do with the deaths. It is common, as Amnesty International has reported to the UN Commission on Human Rights, for prisoners to be ordered to fight with hammers until one is dead. Then the other is shot. Prisoners are also forced to crawl over upturned nails set in concrete.

Developments after the Luwum killing tended to confirm Amin’s talent for disguising, while dramatizing, his real motives and actions. He told reporters that some dissident soldiers who he said belonged to the Langi and Acholi tribes had attempted a mutiny at Makindye police barracks, near Kampala, and that seven had been killed. But diplomatic sources said the sound of gunfire had been prolonged—and that it had come from the nearby military prison where, Amin’s accusers claim, hundreds if not thousands of his opponents have been put to death.

In yet another move, Amin forbade the 150 to 200 American nationals living in Uganda to leave the country. He had, it was reported, been angered by a statement from President Carter expressing concern for the safety of his countrymen in Uganda.

It was from Tanzania that unconfirmed stories of a new massacre of Langi and Acholi tribesmen originated. A group of 22 Ugandan refugees were reported as saying that students, police and soldiers belonging to the two tribes had been rounded up and “liquidated.” The refugees also spoke of the killing of more than 2,000 prisoners from the two tribes who had been held in Kampala for two weeks. These prisoners had been seized in their tribal areas, taken to the Kabamba military training centre and shot. “Amin’s idea is to have no Ugandan Christians in the army,” said one refugee, w'ho explained that the president’s plan was to replace them with recruits from southern Sudan.

But it was the archbishop’s killing that claimed the headlines and brought Amin worldwide condemnation from church leaders and politicians, amid calls for an investigation by the UN Commission on Human Rights. There was also a great deal of embarrassment in Britain where Amin was due to attend a conference of Commonwealth heads of government in June. Apart from the disgust aroused by the death of Luwum, the authorities also had to deal with the possibility of demonstrations by some of the 900 Ugandan exiles in Britain, most of whom have lost relatives to Amin’s death squads.

So far the outcry against Amin has had no effect, and there is little hope that the bloodletting, which is estimated by Amnesty International to have cost between 50,000 and 300,000 Ugandan lives, is near an end. What most discourages those such as Britain’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Donald Coggan, who would like to see foreign pressure maintained until Amin “is broken,” is that so few potential successors are in sight—and most of those who are have been so brutalized by Amin’s years of terror that they are unlikely to provide a very attractive alternative. One obvious name is that of Amin’s recently appointed vice-president, General Mustafa Adrisi, another is Colonel Khamis Safi, head of the commando unit that is the vanguard of Uganda’s defenses. Like Amin, Safi is a fervent Muslim. Lieut.-Colonel Isaac Lugonzo, a heavy-drinking, chain-smoking nephew of Amin, is also reported to have considerable power, though he is a Christian. But one man has dropped out of the reckoning—Amin’s fellow boxing buff, Major-General Francis Nyangweso. An official announcement recently said he had been “promoted” to ambassador because of inefficiencies discovered in his culture ministry.

STEWART SOMMERLAD