The Amin Coup: Uganda, 1971
By Yoga Adhola
It has now been fully established that Britain and Israel were the real powers behind the 1971 coup. As a former colonial master, Britain had the most to lose from the national-democratic liberation then raging in Uganda. To run Uganda as a colony, Britain had established an elaborate social and political structure. And as in all her former colonies, at independence Britain had striven to ensure the retention of the colonial political apparatus in Uganda. This apparatus was meant to serve her neo-colonial purposes. By the 1966 revolution Obote had upset all this, and no one quite knew when and where he would stop. Obote had also demonstrated some very "irritating" friendship with the anti-imperialist world. In Pan-African circles, Obote was a noticeable member of the radical group of Heads of State. While all these things attracted the attention of Whitehall, the bitterest pill was yet to come: this was the nationalization that affected 80 British firms. It was the straw that broke the camel's back and the British began plotting Obote's overthrow. The Israeli interest in the removal of Obote from power stemmed from the fact that Uganda bordered on southern Sudan, where black guerrillas had been waging struggles for independence from the predominantly Arab north. This conflict in the Sudan had the potential of constituting a convenient device for Israel to divert Arab forces away from Sinai. To effect this strategy, the Israelis decided to assist in strengthening the Southern Sudanese guerrillas, then called the a Anyanya by making weekly parachute drops of weapons and medicines, while some of their regular troops helped out on the ground with training. It is at this point that the geographic location of Uganda became a crucial factor to the interests of Israel. Bordering southern Sudan, Uganda constituted a potential base for material aid for the Anyanya.
The man the British chose to superintend the overthrow of Obote was called Beverly Gayer Barnard. He has been described as a very intriguing character. "By all accounts -and we concede there are not many of them -Barnard was an interesting character. In 1938, at the age of twenty-two, he was working for the British Broadcasting Corporation as what has been described as a 'researcher'. It is hard to believe that this means 'researcher' in the sense we understand it today, especially as he was working in the infant field of television. When the war With Germany broke out, he moved to I, Bristol,were he worked for Westland Aircraft, now a helicopter manufacturer. The fact that he was not conscripted into the army or air force suggests that he was in a 'reserved occupation'; in other words he was a scientist or technologist whose skills would be invaluable to the war effort. This is confirmed by his later move to the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, which was, and still is, Britain's premier centre of aeronautical research. It is not known when Beverly Barnard became an intelligence officer,but towards the end of 1944 he was selected as member of the Control Commission. This had the task of governing the British sector of post-surrender Germany and, given that it oversaw the process of, de-Nazification', was considered to be a somewhat spooky operation. During his three years in this job, Barnard must have joined the Secret Intelligence Service and in 1947 was sent to Tehran, where he was given the quasi-diplomatic cover post of 'Civil Air Attache'. As his brief covered Iraq and the Gulf States as well as Iran, MI6 gave him a small aircraft, which suggests he had learned to fly before leaving RAE Farnborough.56 It is not clear how Barnard kept himself busy in the following years but we could speculate that, in addition to Iran 1953, he took a professional interest in other Middle East coups: Yemen 1955, Iraq 1958, 1959 and 1963, Syria 1963, Sudan 1964, Abu Dhabi 1966, Yemen 1967, Iraq 1968 and especially Sudan 1968. Certainly, in 1959 he had 'Middle East Consultant' on his business card." (Hebditch, D. & Connor, K. 2005: 126-127)
Beverly Barnard first worked on a strategy to assassinate Obote. Apart from an indication that Beverly Barnard was the man "responsible for the coordinating 1969assasination attempt on Dr Obote," (Bloch, J. and Fitzgerald, P:1982: 160) little is yet known of how he masterminded the assassination attempt. However, details of the internal (Ugandan) aspect of the assassination attempt were given by Charles Onyango-Obbo of "The Monitor" in a series of interviews which were published in the paper. (The Monitor, Oct. 11 2001) One of the assassins, Sebaduka makes very clear to Onyago-Obbo what motivated him: "On the evening of October 9, 1962, Mohamed Sebaduka stood with his wife among the crowd at Kololo Airstrip to watch Uganda gain independence from British rule. The Union Jack was lowered slowly, and up went the new Ugandan flag at an equal pace. The instruments of power from the British to Ugandans were read and handed out. A new dawn was here.
Sebaduka was 26 years old then. He was carrying his son. Though his son was a little boy and couldn't understand what was going on, Sebaduka wanted him to witness "with his own eyes" the historic event. His wife was carrying their second child. Sebaduka looked at the new Prime Minister Milton Obote up on the dais. He didn't like the man, and thought he didn't have the experience to lead the country. Seated near Obote was Kabaka Freddie Mutesa. He was an educated king and bore himself with the aloof regality that was his trademark. Sebaduka thought perhaps the king would have done better as the country's leader.
Suddenly Sebaduka sensed that all this was going to end up badly for the country. He felt an urge to walk up the dais, grab the instruments that had been handed to Obote and were lying on a table, and tear them. He turned and asked his wife to hold the baby, telling her he had to go and do something. She looked at him and asked what urgent matter had turned up so abruptly, and complained that she couldn't carry two children in the crowd. Sebaduka paused, changed his mind, and stayed." Although the Israelis were certainly involved, their role has been so well-hidden that the closet evidence we have about their involvement is circumstantial. Obote wrote: "When I was shot on 19th December 1969, Col Bar Lev, the head of the Israeli military mission in Kampala, was in Nairobi allegedly to catch en route to Israel. The next day, Bar Lev was in Kampala. The odd thing about Bar Lev being in Nairobi, allegedly to catch a plane to Israel, was that there were frequent Ugandan military flights to Israel direct from Entebbe. If Bar Lee to was required urgently in Israel and there was no Ugandan flight to Israel, it is reasonable to assume that he went to Nairobi to catch a El Al. I was shot on Tuesday evening. I do not know what day of the week El Al used to be in Nairobi. ...Was Bar Lev in Israel or merely wanted to be out of the country but near enough to return? Was there an Israeli civilian aircraft that Tuesday night in Nairobi or was one due the next day? Why should Bar Lev have wanted to be away instead of supervising operations if he had a hand in my assassination? These are some of the questions I keep asking myself and do not have answers." (Smith, I. 1980: 79-80) The failure of the assassination did not discourage Beverly Barnard. He next moved for an outright coup. To effect this, he "had five hundred mercenary soldiers, mostly recruited from southern Sudan, in a training camp in the north of the country. He even used his own single-plane airline, Southern Airmotive, to supply them with food and materiel. You might not need that many extras but Barnard was so unimpressed with the Ugandan army, and so uncertain that it would support the putsch, that he decided to hedge his bets with a short battalion of additional troops." (Hebditch, D. & Connor, K. 2005: 87; Bloch, J. and Fitzgerald, P:1982: 161) Ironically the first person to notice Beverly Barnard's manouvres in southern Sudan was Rolf Steiner. (Steiner, R. 1978: 191) Steiner was German national who acquired military skills from the French Foreign Legion, an outfit which was notorious for producing mercenaries.(160-161) When he left the Legion, he got permission to reside in french North Africa where he quickly got himself mixed up with right-wing OAS which was against French withdrawal from Algeria. He got convicted, but escaped to France where this time he was successfully prosecuted for cheque fraud. The French mercenary Roger Faulques employed him as a secondary recruiter for the Anyanyas. later he moved to Nigeria where he first came into contact with Alex gay with whom he was to maintain long association. Following his expulsion from Nigeria after a drunken display in front of the Biafran leader Generl Ojukwu, the duo went to Europe and started looking for assignments with the Sudanese. In February 1969 Steiner met Carlo Beyer, Secretary of the Catholic relief agency Caritas International. Beyer then put him in contact with the Verona fathers who were devising channels of delivering humanitarian aid to the the southern Sudanese. The Verona Fathers introduced the two to the German charity FGA (Society for the Support of Africa). FGA hired Steiner and Gay to build an airstrip at the end of 1969. When Steiner returned from a preliminary two-week study in southern Sudan, FGA fired him. They had found out Steiner had different ideas altogether about what he ought to be doing in southern Sudan. Steiner's aim was to create a "real guerrilla army".
But this was not to be the end of Steiner's adventures in southern Sudan. He returned to join a Kakwa group led by General Emedio Taffeng which had split from the main Anyanya and formed what they called the independent "state of Anyidi" in their native area. It is in the initial period of this assignment that Steiner stumbled on Barnard's manouvres in southern Sudan. When Steiner reported to his bosses in Kampala, he found one of his employees, a Scotsman called Roy had been undermining him before the Anyanya leader, Taffeng.( ) It also appeared Roy was working on something totally different from the assignment Steiner had given him. After some hard talk Roy made a confession: "his story was that he was working for Blunden, who was in Kampala with instructions to get rid of the Ugandan president because the British did not like his policies. The training camp for the Anyanya in Sudan had been Blunden's idea: it would give him free hand to train a unit for the coup against Obote under cover of helping southern Sudanese." Following this confession, Steiner got Roy to dupe the staff of Apolo Hotel where Blunden was living to let the duo into Blunden's room. From the hotel room, Steiner "..took the secret dossier under my arm. As we sifted the papers the first thing that caught our eyes was a receipt for one hundred thousand pounds sterling, signed Bataringaya, who was Obote's own minister of interior. We also found the radio code used by Steve Blunden for transmission to London, and code for this exchange with Roy, enabling us to decipher a stack of carbon copies which left us in no doubt about the nature of operation he had in mind. These messages had been sent from the British embassy in Uganda... When I asked Roy about the receipt he denied all knowledge of it, but said Blunden claimed to have the Ugandan minister of interior in his pocket, bought and paid for. We went through the rest of the dossier, then I had it sent back to the Apolo Hotel with my card and thanks. All I had learned agreed with what Taffeng had told me. I asked Roy to write down all he knew about the plot, and when he had finished his deposition I asked one final question. Who did they have in mind to replace Obote - Bataringaya?" Roy told Steiner that Blunden had told him the British had chosen Amin "because he was easiest to manipulate."
A commonwealth Summit was to be held in Singapore in January 1971. The most controversial issue at the Conference was the British sale of arms to South Africa. In 1963 the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling on member states "to cease forthwith the sale and shipment of arms, ammunition of all types and military vehicles to abstained South Africa." Although Britain had abstained at the time of the passage of the resolution, the Labor Party government led by Harold Wilson that came to power in 1964 undertook to implement it. However, later when Labour lost the elections to the Conservatives, the new Prime Minister, Edward Heath resumed British arms sale to South Africa. This outraged the progressive elements in Africa. Obote, for one, was vocal, and soon emerged as the most outspoken African leader against this reversal of policy. When a number of very respected African heads of State threatened to pull out of the Commonwealth, Edward Heath saw this as a "test of the virility of British foreign policy in Africa."(Martin, D. 1974: 29) The occasion for this test was the Commonwealth Prime Ministers conference scheduled for January 1971. Due to the unease at home, Obote had twice declined to attend the conference. Kaunda and Nyerere pleaded with him to attend. The cabinet in Uganda also voted that he should go to Singapore.
Obote's departure to Singapore for the Commonwealth Conference presented the coup makers with a very unexpected opportunity. With him away, they could organise the coup with greater ease. They zeroed on assassinating him as he arrived at Entebbe airport. The discussion for the assassination was done in the house of Juma Mafale, a close relative of Idi Amin; and it is here that the plot run into a most unexpected problem. Juma Mafale's wife was the elder sister of the wife of the Police Bandmaster, Oduka. The plan to assassinate Obote at the airport was very disturbing to her. On such occasions as the arrival of the President, her brother in law who was the Police Bandmaster would be conducting the band. She thought that in the process of the assassination, her brother-in-law's life would be in danger. She therefore decided to warn him. The bandmaster in turn informed the Inspector General of Police, who in turn also informed the Minister of Internal Affairs. (3) "The Inspector-General of Police, Mr. E. W. Oryema, telephoned from Kampala to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Bataringaya, saying that he had a most serious report to make. The Minister, with his Permanent Secretary, Ntende, drove immediately from Entebbe to the capital, arriving at the office of the Inspector-General soon after noon. The head of police had brought with him four other senior officers: the Head of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Mr. Mohamed Hassan, the Commanding Officer of Buganda region, Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mr. Suleiman Dusman, the Acting Head of the Special Branch, Superintendent of Police, Mr. Obong, and the Police Bandmaster, Mr. Oduka.
Oryema said he had received a report from the Bandmaster to the effect that the President was to be assassinated on his return from Singapore on Tuesday and that a number of other leaders were also to be killed. (Martin, D. : 31-48) The Bandmaster said that a man named Juma Mafale, who used to be a police bandsman, had joined the army and now held the rank of lieutenant. Mafale was married to the elder sister of Oduka's wife and he was believed to be a relative of Amin. Because of their wives, Mafale and Oduka met often, and the Bandmaster said that during the previous week the Lieutenant, during a call at his house, had said he was tired because he had been attending a meeting throughout the previous night. Oduka asked him what kind of meeting i had been to take al night, and the Lieutenant said it had been attended by Amin but gave no further explanation.
Then at 9.30 a.m. on 22 January, Mrs. Mafale called at the Bandmaster's office. She said she had pretended to be ill and had persuaded her husband to take her to Mulago Hospital. From there she walked to the Bandmaster's house but found he had left and took a taxi to his office. Her story was that meetings had taken place at her home on the nights of 19, 20 and 21 January, and these had been attended by Amin, the Minister of Defence, Onama, a Muganda Minister with a small moustache, three army officers, including a captain, and three non-commissioned officers. Details of what Mrs. Mafale said she overheard and saw at these meetings are contained in the written report of Ntende, made to Obote in Singapore. Mrs. Mafale had reported a plan to kill Obote at Entebbe Airport on his return from Singapore as well as a number of other prominent figures. She was afraid that her brother-in-law would also be killed as he would be conducting the band at the airport welcoming-ceremony. At the previous night's meeting the plotters had clustered around a model of Entebbe Airport on a large table, and the positions the three NCOs were to take up to shoot the President had been agreed. They had also been instructed to throw hand-grenades.
The woman had told Mr. Oduka that among those also to be killed were a number of Ministers whose names were listed: some senior army officers, including the Commander of the Army, Brigadier Suleiman Hussein, and the Commander of the Air Force, Colonel Juma Musa; the former Commander of the Army, Shabani Opolot (who was in detention), the InspectorGeneral of Police, Oryema; the Commissioner of Prisons, Mr. Okwaare; and flve former Ministers. Luzira Prison in Kampala was to be seized and some detainees killed, including Opolot and the former Ministers who had supported the attack on Amin during the gold and ivory scandal.
Mrs. Mafale had seen the model at the previous night's meeting, which had gone on until 3.00 a.m. on 22 January. While serving food and drinks she had overheard much of the plot, including the plan to seize strategic points in Kampala, such as the radio station and main post office. She recalled that during the previous week, just after Obote left for Singapore, that her husband had told her that the President had given orders that Amin was to be shot while he was away. Bataringaya decided that the Vice-President, Mr. John Babiiha, must be informed immediately and that an 'anti-assassination committee' should be formed and meet that afternoon at the Inspector-General's office. Ntende was sent to get details ofplane connections to Singapore so that he could fly there immediately to report verbally to the President. The committee began meeting at 2.00 p.m. under the chairmanship of Bataringaya. Those who were present at the beginning were Ntende, Oryema, Dusman, Hassan, Oduka, Bernard Olila from the General Service Department, and Obong, the number three in the Police Special Branch. Efforts were still being made to contact Brigadier Hussein, and Lieutenant-Colonel David Oyite OJok, who arrived late and was briefed on the details of the plot. It was decided that there would be maximum security at Entebbe Airport for Obote's return, and a subcommittee comprising Ojok, Olila and Dusman was set up to survey the airport and work out a security plan to protect the President.
In his report, Ntende noted here that Lieutenant-Colonel Ojok said that Amin had been very quiet since the reorganisation of the army and air force in October-breaking up the command structure-but that in the past week he had done two things indicating a tougher attitude. The first of these was that on 20 January, and the significance of this was that it was the day after Amin learned Steiner had been deported to Khartoum and not West Germany as he had expected, Amin had called a meeting of all officers and men working at army headquarters and had made the following points:
- That he was still the boss.
- That Lieutenant-Colonel Nyangweso was responsible for staf affairs at the army headquarters, and all other officers had no right to interfere with Nyangweso's duties. He would take action against any officer who intended to interfere with those duties.
- That he had saved the country from a most serious situation in 1966. He supported the government and in actual fact he was so close to the President that he used to give the President a lift between Kampala and Entebbe on many occasions.
- That some people were making all sorts offalse and wild allegations against him. Those people were after something.
- That the country had experienced the worst type of instability through the activities of 'kondos'. It appeared that the government was not taking any serious steps to try and provide a solution to this menace.
- That he would convene another meeting, but of officers only, the next day, Thursday, 21 January 1971.
From this several points about General Amin's thinking emerge at this juncture. In the first place Mafale had told his wife that Obote had given orders that the General was to be killed. If the Lieutenant believed this then it is clear the General had given him the impression that he did also and in fact he was to claim immediately after the coup that the President had ordered his death. Whether Amin really believed this or simply used it as his justification for seizing power is unclear, but the latter is much more the plausible explanation.
The appointment of Brigadier Hussein as Army Chief ofStaff and of Colonel Musa as Chief of the Air Force had left Amin a little more than a figurehead. He was angered by this, and had remarked as much publicly on a number of occasions since the reshuffle which became effective on I November. He must have recalled how in 1966 he had been made Army Chief of Staff. This had been the prelude to Brigadier Opolot being sacked eight months later.Even if Obote was not planning a similar fate for Amin it is highly likely that the General thought he was. Thus his headquarters stair address on 20 January, which had the same theme as he adopted with officers on the following day, was the attempt of a man who saw time running out, to reassert his position.
Brigadier Hussein proved ineffectual in his brief period as Army Chief of Staff, and Amin saw Nyangweso as a more malleable officer. The fact that Nyangweso has been Acting Commander ofthe Army since the coup d'etat bears this view out. Amin's contention that wild allegations were circulating against him was basically correct. An example of this is that during November it was widely rumoured in Kampala that he was under house arrest although Ob0te has denied this. In fact it is believed he was bedridden through gout caused by excessive drinking and was being treated with a new medicine by a young American doctor at Makerere. Whatever the truth, when the General appeared in public for the first time at Makerere University for a ceremony installing Obote as Chancellor, there was no special seat for him and the students jeered him as he walked in. He waved back good humouredly with both arms raised. There is little reason to believe there is any truth in General Amin's claim that Obote had ordered he should be murdered. In the same way that the finger of suspicion pointed at Amin when Okoya was murdered, so too would it have been directed against Obote had the General met a violent end. Nor was this Obote's style. If there is one outstanding lesson about his nine years in power it is that he was a courageous politician to whom killing was abhorrent. British correspondents being briefed by their High Commission in Kampala the day after the coup were told that Obote even refused to endorse death sentences passed by the courts. That was about the only good thing the British had to say about Obote at thatpoint.
Lieutenant-Colonel Ojok told the meeting that he had gone to Mubende on the road between Kampala and Fort Portal and had missed Antin's second speech. Returning towards Kampala that night at about 10.30 p.m. he had been challenged as normal by a soldier near Mbuya, Kampala. He had left his car and identified himself when he noticed about forty soldiers in full battle dress around the area. The sergeant in charge said they had been ordered to carry out a night exercise, but he declined· to say who gave the order. Lieutenant-Colonel Ojok said he had threatened the sergeant with arrest and he had then said the order had been given by Amin. The soldiers were all military policemen, and when Ojok contacted their headquarters he said he was told a night-long exercise had been ordered because a group of alleged British soldiers were supposed to be staying at a camping site near the city. Ojok went immediately to the camping site where he found about seven small tents but satisfied himself that the occupants were tourists.
It was decided that Ntende would leave that night, arriving in Singapore about twenty-four hours later after twice changing planes, to inform the President immediately. Bataringaya saw him off at the airport and gave him instructions. Ntende's written report gave them as follows:
- To verbally report accurately to the President.
- That the mere fact that the plan to assassinate the President had been discovered would ensure its failure
- That the President should be assured it would be safe for rum to return to Uganda.
- That maximum security would be provided at Entebbe Airport by trusted members of the army and police.
- That the President should stop over in Nairobi on the way back using the pretext that he was informing President Kenyatta about the Singapore meeting.
- That an official would be sent to meet him at Nairobi to inform him of the latest developments and plans.
- That everyone at the airport for Obote's return would be searched.
- That Ntende should inform Bataringaya from Singapore whether the President had decided to return through Entebbe or would use the alternative route through Tororo.
When Ntende arrived at the Singapore Hilton, Obote was in bed asleep after an all-night session at the Commonwealth meeting. Obote assumed that Ntende had come to report on discussions in Kampala with the British government that week over the question of Ugandan Asians holding British citizenship. Ntende sent in a note saying he had arrived to report on a secret matter on instructions from Bataringaya. He delivered his report verbally and was then told by Obote to put it in writing and was ordered not to tell anyone else in the Singapore delegation.
Obote subsequently recalled that he was not surprised by the report but that there were aspects of it about which he was unhappy. He could, for instance, not understand why Oryema had taken four senior police officers with him to report to Bataringaya, and he felt that the story of Mrs. Mafale needed to be more carefully checked before any action was taken. Members of Obote's delegation in Singapore who still live in exile are convinced that Ntende disobeyed one part of his instructions and told Obote's Private Secretary, Henry Kyemba, about the plot. Kyemba, they believe, called Uganda from Singapore and passed on the news to his friend and tribesman, Wanume Kibedi, who became Minister of Foreign Affairs after the coup d'etat and whose sister was married to Antin. Ntende's initial report was published fully in the Tanzanian official government newspaper the Standard on 16 February 1971. But his four additional reports on 24 and 25 January on conversations with both Obote and Bataringaya have hitherto been kept secret. Yet they are important for they shed considerable light on Obote's initial reaction and the instructions Ntende transmitted to Kampala from Singapore in four separate telephone conversations.
In Kampala on Saturday morning, while Ntende was flying, Ojok, with Olila and Dusman, had travelled by road to Entebbe Airport to carry out their reconnaissance and draw up security precautions. But when they arrived at the airport they found Amin and a group of soldiers, including some privates, already there, apparently carrying out their own survey for the assassination. One other notable person was at the airport, possibly coincidentally, although if this were so the remark he made was very strange. In the VIP lounge at the airport Ojok found Colonel Bolka Bar-Lev, head of the Israeli military mission to Uganda, who said he was seeing off another Israeli officer, who was said to be leaving for West Africa via Zaire. Ojok recalled afterwards that Colonel Bar-Lev told him he was a good officer and urged him not to act in a manner that might endanger his life. When the Ugandan questioned how his life might be in danger, the Israeli answered that lives were endangered in thousands of ways including motor accidents. Flippantly Ojok assured Bar-Lev he would drive slowly and until after the coup d'etat thought no more about the incident.
OJok's committee completed their plans, deciding that the police would be in charge of security for Obote's return and that army personnel should be kept away. A strong police cordon would be thrown around the airport and nobody would be allowed in the buildings which might give a vantage point for a sniper. The 'anti-assassination committee' reassembled at 2.00 p.m. on Saturday in the Inspector-General's office but the meeting was delayed for some time because Bataringaya was late. Obong said that the Police Special Branch had received a reliable report to the effect that Amin and his fellow plotters had surveyed the airport that morning. This, coupled with Ojok's group having seen the General at the airport, convinced the committee that the assassination plan was still definitely on and it was decided that Brigadier Hussein should station troops, whose loyalty was certain, near the airport for the President's return in case the police neededhelp.
The reasons why Ojok had been unable to locate Amin to arrest him on the Sunday after Obote's orders from Singapore was because he had left Kampala. Amin, in the first of severa contradictory versions of how the coup d'etat occurred, claimed he was away on a hunting trip and that army personnel learning of Obote's alleged plan to have him murdered had decided to seize power and had only then asked the General to become President. But there is no reason to suppose this version is true for there is evidence that Amin on the Saturday night, only twenty-four hours before the coup d'etat, had left Kampala and gone to a meeting north of Luwero, some forty miles from the capital.
Bernard Olila, the number three in the General Service Department, reported on Sunday that an informer had infiltrated the meeting. Amin, Onama and about forty other people had attended including a number of Anyanya leaders-members of the southern Sudanese guerrilla movement who had been fighting for years for full autonomy for the south. The informer had said that it had been decided to go ahead and stage a coup d'etat rather than wait until the following Tuesday to assassinate Obote before seizing power.
It seems fairly certain that by Saturday night Amin was aware that his plans had been discovered. Ojok's reaction to finding Amin at the airport that morning was to take it as confirmation that the assassination claim was true. Amin must have similarly wondered what Ojok was doing. But even more important is the strong view that both the 'anti-assassination committee' and Obote's own delegation in Singapore contained people who were reporting back to Amin. Two of them, the head of police and the head of prisons, became Ministers in the post-coup government. Yet it seems unlikely that either of them acted as double agents and that Amin in the early days wanted to give his seizure of power greater credibility by incorporating all branches of the military and para-military. The Inspector-General of Police, Oryema, appears at first to have considered moving his men against Amin but decided not to after speaking to Bar-Lev and after troops shelled his house, killing his father-in-law. Obote supporters believe the informer was Suleiman Dusman, the Buganda Police Commander, although again there is reason to doubt this. Although registered in Lango he was Nubian-Muslim and the only one on the committee, and the Nubian link-up had not been appreciated at that time by Obote or his government as a co-ordinated threat. But Dusman was retired during 1971, and when last heard of was running a shop at Lira, which certainly does not smack of the generosity with which Amin normally rewards fellow conspirators.
The briefing of senior officers by Hussein and Ojok had taken place shortly before the 'anti-assassination committee' reassembled at the Parliament building soon after 8.30 p.m. on the Sunday night. The Commissioner of Prisons, Fabian Okwaare, had been co-opted because of the plan to kill some prisoners and release others held at Luzira. He insisted he could not secure the prison with only warders, and the Inspector-General of Police was instructed to send extra men from the Police Special Branch to strengthen the guard. Obote's prophetic call came through as they met. Within minutes of it ending the committee realised troops were surrounding the Parliament building. Hussein rang the commander of the Malire Mechanised Battalion only to find the unit had already been overrun and that the adjutant, Lieutenant-Colonel Augustino Akwango, had been arrested and severely beaten up. The commander had personally held the keys to the armory and armoured personnel carriers. But troops, believed by Obote supporters to be backed by Anyanya guerrillas, had pulled the door off the main armory with an armoured personnel carrier they had managed to start. What had gone wrong with Bataringaya's assurance to Obote that the plan to assassinate him and topple the government was doomed to failure because it had been discovered?
In the first place the committee had concentrated on the initial report that Obote would be assassinated at the airport on his return on Tuesday. They had done so until it was too late to a degree that excluded the possibility of Amin advancing his time schedule. That alone might not have mattered had it not been for the probability that their own ranks were infiltrated and the./ clumsy way in which Hussein called senior officers into Kampala on the Sunday morning where they were bound to be seen. If Amin was suspicious after meeting Ojok at Entebbe Airport, the Sunday meeting must have confirmed his suspicions that he had been discovered. Given that, he had no alternative but to act earlier.
Amin's meeting at Lwero with Anyanya leaders on the Saturday night and the decision that there would be a coup without an assassination first tends to confirm that by that point Amin knew he had to act quickly. The claim that a letter ordering his murder had been taken from Obote's office is untrue, for even the unpredictable General has never claimed it existed. Certainly if such a letter did exist, even if it were a forgery, he would have /" long since made it public. Another claim that can also be dismissed is that a Sergeant Musa in Jinja overheard a telephone call from Obote in Singapore to Ojok ordering him to kill Amin. Ntende's report makes it clear they only spoke on one occasion, and then in Luo which Sergeant Musa did not understand.
Hussein's decision to call in army officers from various units around the country for a briefing on the Sunday could not have escaped the notice of Amin's supporters. The officers, dressed in civilian clothes, were briefed in Kampala. Those who attended were Colonel Tito Okello, Commander of the 2nd Infantry Brigade stationed at Masaka; Colonel Mesusera Arach, Commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade stationed at Mbale; Colonel Albertino Langoya, Commander of the Infantry School at Jinja; Lieutenant-Colonel Hillary Abwala, Commander of the 3rd Battalion at Mubende; Lieutenant-Colonel Akwango, Commander of the crucial Malire Mechanised Battalion stationed in Kampala; Lieutenant-Colonel Oyite Ojok and Brigadier Hussein. They were given details of the plot, of the counter-plans and told to put their units on standby.
While this was going on Ntende was again trying to reach Bataringaya with a list of fIfteen instructions from Obote. The Minister could not be located so he passed the instructions to Obote's Permanent Secretary, Justus Byagagaire, who was told to find Bataringaya and pass them on. The important ones were:
- That Mafale's house was to be raided, he and his wife arrested and interrogated separately and any arms seized.
- That a letter, which Mafale alleged had been stolen from Obote's office and contained instructions to kill Amin, should be located, if it existed.
- That the names of anyone who attended meetings at Mafale's house should be obtained and the people detained.
- If Bataringaya was satisfIed after the interrogations the story was untrue the original sources of the information should be arrested and it should be ascertained who they were working for.
- In the meantime certain strategic points should be guarded. These were given code-names, with the radio and television station becoming 'Ojera', which was the surname ofthe Minister ofInformation. The airport was code-named 'The place we reside in' because Bataringaya and Ntende lived there. Murchison Falls Dam and the reservoirs were simply 'water', and fmally the Uganda Electricity Board installations were code-named 'Erisa' after the chairman.
- All army units had to be led by reliable officers under the overall command of Brigadier Hussein, code-named 'the golfer'.
- Bataringaya was given a free hand to act as he saw fIt and Ntende arranged to call back in four to fIve hours.
Ntende, on Obote's instructions, had spoken to Bataringaya first of all at 7.00 a.m. and again at 1.30 p.m. Uganda Time on the Sunday. The first conversation added little other than that the Inspector-General of Police wanted to see the Minister immediately. But there had been several developments by the second, which Ntende lists in his first 'additional' report as follows:
- That Brigadier Hussein had briefed a number of trusted officers who had been told to return to their units and put them on standby.
- The Bandmaster, Oduka, had visited Mafale's house, whose wife had overheard the plot, and the Lieutenant had told him there would be a coup d'etat on Tuesday, 26thJanuary, whether or not Obote had returned.
- Oduka said he had seen uniforms and equipment which was taken to mean firearms-at Mafale's house.
- Mafale had warned Oduka to be careful to remain out of trouble.
- Dusman, the Buganda Police Commander, had seen Amin near the Veterinary Institute in Old Entebbe, apparently carrying out reconnaissance.
- That Mafale had also told Oduka that apart from local supporters of the Major-General there would be others helping in the coup operation who would be coming from the southern Sudan, and white mercenaries including Israelis who had been contacted for the purpose by Steiner. (1)
The latter point was critical, apparently confirming the informer's report of a meeting north of Kampala on the previous night attended by Amin and Anyanya leaders. Obote gave these instructions which Ntende says he passed on to Bataringaya:
- That Bataringaya must weigh the situation very carefully and take whatever action he considered appropriate to contain the situation.
- That he must co-ordinate with Brigadier Hussein who would have overall command of the security forces to be involved in any exercise that may be necessary.
- That the Brigadier would ensure that all units of the army were well under control.
- Obote's advisers had been convinced that even it Amin attempted to stage a coup d'etat, he would not receive support from the army. But here two factors were overlooked. The fIrst was the West Nile-Nubian-Muslim link and the second the possibility of an external force being involved.
Since the coup d'etat, Obote's supporters have insisted that the cptical factor which turned the tide against them was the involvement of at least 500 southern Sudanese Anyanya guerrillas. According to this version several hundred of the guerrillas had been transported from the southern Sudan in lorries and buses supplied by a company partly owned by the Minister of Defence, Felix Onama. The guerrillas had been taken to a camp near Bombo, and the original plan was presumably to help Amin seize power after Obote had been assassinated on the Tuesday.
There are several factors which lend credence to the broad view. As Steiner's diaries showed, Amin was having considerable contact with the Anyanya without the knowledge of Obote. He had met the guerrilla commander, General Joseph Lagu, in the southern Sudan on at least two occasions and was helping to get arms and other supplies to him. Obote became aware of this in the latter part of 1970, and at about the same time the head of the Israeli Central Intelligence Organisation, General Zamir, visited Uganda. He asked permission for Israeli planes flying arms to the Anyanya to refuel at Entebbe or Gulu and for guerrilla training facilities in Uganda, but Obote refused. The Israeli then approached Akena Adoko and suggested that the General Service could co-operate, referring to other arms of government which were clandestinely used in the United States on matters of this nature. When this also failed he approached Amin.
Thus there are two reasons why the Anyanya would have involved themselves in the Ugandan coup d'etat. Firstly because there was a danger of their supplies being curtailed because of Obote's attitude and secondly because they had reason to be personally grateful to Amin. Even so there is considerable difficulty in ascertaining the degree of Anyanya involvement, but further points I have discovered independently make me conclude that Obote's claim is correct. Ironically a year after the Ugandan coup the Anyanya's need to have a sympathetic figure in Kampala ended with the settlement of the sixteen-year-old war and a peace agreement with gives the southern Sudan a generous degree of autonomy. Sources in the southern capital, Juba, who had had close ties for years with the Anyanya told me that soon after the Ugandan coup almost 1,500 Anyanya fighters were recruited into the Ugandan army. Many of these, they said, had taken part in the coup d'etat. The second point which tends to verify the claim is that soldiers I have spoken to, who were in the barracks of the Malire Mechanised Battalion on the night of 25 January say that a large group of men attacked the camp. The men were armed and those who escaped insist that they were not Ugandans but southern Sudanese. Warders at Luzira Prison, who four days later saw Brigadier Hussein and others beaten to death by men in Ugandan army uniforms, say categorically that the killers were not Ugandans but southern Sudanese because of their tribal markings and distinctive features.
The meeting that evening of commanding officers, which must have affected Amin's decision to move earlier than planned, was to have a further repercussion. Few of the commanding officers had returned to their units when the fighting began at Malire, and therefore the troops were far from being on a state of alert. Lieutenant-Colonel Akwango was the only commander to have reached his unit. Colonel Arach was in Jinja on his way back to Mbale. Colonel Langoya had also reached Jinja but had not returned to his unit. Colonel Okello and Lieutenant-Colonel Abwala were in a car on their way to Masaka. So most of the units were left without their commanders and the officers in the barracks had no idea what was happening .The lack of leadership at this crucial moment was compound by the fact that half the officers in the army were simultaneously on leave. A considerable accumulatIon of back leave had built up and there had been some dispute in the government how this should be wiped out. One proposal had been that the officers should receive money in lieu of leave, but the Ministry of Finance objected to this. It had been fmally agreed that the leave must be taken on a staggered basis after March. But after Obote left for Singapore Onama ordered that all back-leave was to be taken immediately or it would be forfeited. The result was that on the Monday morning a few hours after the coup began there were forty army officers at Gulu, of whom only one, a major, was on duty. The bewildered officers, unable to contact their commanding officers for orders by this point most had been arrested-decided to send a delegation to the Minister of Defence, Onama, who was also in Gulu. The delegation was told there was nothing to worry about and that everything was being brought under control.
After seeing troops surrounding Parliament, the Bataringaya committee, with the exception of Hussein and Ojok, had scattered. By telephone, the two officers swiftly discovered that all the army units around the country, with the exception of the 2nd batallion at Moroto, had been taken by surprise and that there had been no resistance. Almost all the officers, other than those from West Nile, had been rounded up and the killing of Acholi and Langi officers and other ranks had already begun. The critical factor was that Amin's fellow Nubians had seized all the armouries. Hussein and Ojok, both armed only with pistols, locked the office door on the inside. Twice troops came to the door and banged on it, shouting that ifthey came out and surrendered they would not be harmed. It appears that the troops were not certain whether the two officers were still in the building or had escaped with the others. Early on Monday morning Amin arrived at Obote's office only thirty yards away while the officers were still hidden. Outside troops amused themselves shooting up Ojok's car and then finally ramming it with an armoured personnel carrier. Occasionally they shouted through a loud-hailer telling the officers to surrender, but none of them seemed anxious to come inside and hunt them down. However, Hussein and Ojok realised it was only a matter of time before they were found, and soon after dark on Monday night they moved from their fourth-floor hideout to another office on a lower floor. Just after midnight they crept downstairs to a back door facing the National Theatre. There was a soldier standing guard at the door and around 2.00 a.m., while they were debating whether to shoot him, he shouldered his rifle and wandered off, apparently bored with his job. The two officers were in civilian clothes and they walked through the streets unmolested until they arrived at a small cinema near the railway station. Then two soldiers challenged them and they split up, with Hussein running off along the Kampala road towards Entebbe. Ojok was captured, and when he identified himself, one of the soldiers said: 'Oh, they want you very much.' He also said that it was rumoured in the ranks that whoever killed Ojok would be promoted to be the next man to Amin. Yet remarkably the soldiers let him go, advising him that he was less likely to meet troops if he took the Jinja road. Ojok hid at the homes of two friends before finally making his way out to Tanzania from where eighteen months later he was to take part in the abortive invasion aimed at overthrowing the General.
Four of the others on the Bataringaya committee were not so lucky. The Minister was subsequently dismembered alive and ~s head put on display at the end of a pole at the garrison town of Mbarara in south-west Uganda. cm Chief Hassan, was among several hundred killed in the Mutukula Massacre in January 1972. Apart from Ojok, the only other person still alive utSide Uganda is Bernard Olila. Oryema and Okwaare both became Ministers in Amin's post-coup Cabinet, but were sent on leave early in 1973 with the rest of the Ministers and only Oryema was reappointed nine months later. Ntende became Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Religion but was later sacked. Obong died in a car crash and Dusman is retired.
But the most tragic and terrible story of all is about the Police Bandmaster, Oduka, who had brought the details of the assassination plan to the committee. He escaped from Uganda and went to live at the Indian Ocean port of Mombasa in Kenya. Amin sent Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police, Peter Adroni, who has himself since fled to Britain, to Mombasa to persuade him to come back assuring him that he would be safe. Oduka returned to Kampala and met Amin at the Parliament building. Their discussion was friendly and the Bandmaster was asked to go to Makindye Military Prison to record a statement before going on fourteen days' leave. The Bandmaster left after shaking hands and Amin immediately ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Ochima to take him instead to the barracks ofthe Malire Mechanised Battalion. Then he turned to a Minister and invited him to go and watch the Bandmaster being killed. When the Minister reached Malire thirty minutes later, Oduka was already dead, his skull crushed with a club. Three men wearing long red robes who described themselves as 'judges' were standing by the body. They had killed the Bandmaster.
Of the military commanders who attended the Sunday army headquarters briefmg all were murdered except Ojok and Okello who escaped to Tanzania.
Thus of the sixteen men who attended the two meetings, eight were murdered, three escaped into exile, one died in a car crash and three others were either sacked or retired, and one is a Minister."
(1) I think the author and his informants totally misunderstood Rolf Steiner. As we have indicated it Beverly Barnard who masterminded the coup. However, at the time of the coup, the Uganda government had a fixation that it was Steinr masterminding the coup. For this reason they even failed to take serious note of a warning Steiner gave them.(Steiner, R. 1978:191)
(3) I do not think anybody will ever approximate David martin's account of the 1971 coup in Uganda. He had access to the primary sources (such as Milton Obote, David Oyite) etc and since then most of them have died. I am therefore going to reproduce the account given by David Martin.
Bloch, J. and Fitzgerald, P: "British Intelligence and Covert Action: Africa, Middle East, and Europe since 1945," Dublin, Brandon, 1982.
Hebditch, D. & Connor, K. "How to Stage a Military Coup: From Planning to Execution," Greenhill Books, London; Stackpole Books, Pennsylvania, 2005.
Martin, David: "General Amin," London, Faber & Faber, 1974.
Onyango Obbo, Charles: "Root of Discontent: The Untold Story Of The Failed 1969 Obote Assassination (Part 1)"; The Monitor, Oct. 9, 2001, Kampala.
Smith, Ivan. "Ghosts of Kampala," New York : St. Martin's Press, 1980.
Steiner, R. "The Last Adventurer" (Rolf Steiner, with the collaboration of Yves-Guy Berges ; translated by Steve Cox); Boston : Little, Brown, c1978.