Find a Security Clearance Job!


The Military under Amin

Amin never forgot the source of his power. He spent much of his time rewarding, promoting, and manipulating the army. Amin's military experience, which was virtually his only experience, determined the character of his rule. He renamed Government House "the Command Post," instituted an advisory defense council composed of military commanders, placed military tribunals above the system of civil law, appointed soldiers to top government posts and parastatal agencies, and even informed the newly inducted civilian cabinet ministers that they would be subject to military discipline.

The army, which had been progressively expanded under Obote, was further doubled and redoubled under Amin. Recruitment was largely, but not entirely, in the north. The army changed composition onder Amin's rule. By 1977 it had grown to 21,000 personnel, almost twice the 1971 level. Amin killed many of its more experienced officers and imprisoned others for plotting to weaken or overthrow his regime. A few fled the country rather than face the mounting danger. There were periodic purges when various battalion commanders were viewed as potential problems or became real threats. Each purge provided new opportunities for promotions from the ranks.

Amin also increased the number of military recruits from other countries, especially Sudan, Zaire, and Rwanda. By 1979 foreigners accounted for nearly 75 percent of the army, exacerbating problems of communication, training, and discipline.

The government barely controlled some army units. A few became quasi-independent occupation garrisons, headed by violence-prone warlords who lived off the land by brutalizing the local population. Uganda was, in effect, governed from a collection of military barracks scattered across the country, where battalion commanders, acting like local warlords, represented the coercive arm of the government.

Claiming to be a professional soldier, not a politician, Amin promoted many of his staunchest supporters, both enlisted personnel and officers, to command positions. His favoritism received widespread publicity, as a number of laborers, drivers, and bodyguards became high-ranking officers, although they had little or no military training. The commander of the air force, Smuts Guweddeko, had previously worked as a telephone operator; the unofficial executioner for the regime, Major Malyamungu, had formerly been a nightwatch officer. Army recruiters suspended educational requirements for military service, sometimes forcing groups of urban unemployed to volunteer.

The GSU was disbanded and replaced by the State Research Bureau (SRB). SRB headquarters at Nakasero became the scene of torture and grisly executions over the next several years. Amin established several powerful internal security forces, including the State Research Bureau (SRB) and Public Safety Unit (PSU). Both terrorized local populations. By 1979 they had expanded to include about 15,000 people, many of whom acted as informers on fellow citizens.

After the army had established control over the civilian population, Amin unleashed a reign of terror against Ugandans that lasted almost until the end of the decade. The SRB and PSU were responsible for as many as 250,000 deaths. Their victims included people from all segments of society and were accused of speaking or acting against the regime. One official observer estimated that two-thirds of Uganda's technocrats died or fled into exile during the 1970s.

Despite its outward display of a military chain of command, Amin's government was arguably more riddled with rivalries, regional divisions, and ethnic politics than the UPC coalition that it had replaced. The army itself was an arena of lethal competition, in which losers were usually eliminated. Within the officer corps, those trained in Britain opposed those trained in Israel, and both stood against the untrained, who soon eliminated many of the army's most experienced officers.

In 1966, well before the Amin era, northerners in the army had assaulted and harassed soldiers from the south. In 1971 and 1972, the Lugbara and Kakwa (Amin's ethnic group) from the West Nile District were slaughtering northern Acholi and Langi, who were identified with Obote. Then the Kakwa fought the Lugbara. Amin came to rely on Nubians and on former Anya Nya rebels from southern Sudan.

By the mid-1970s, only the most trustworthy military units were allowed ammunition, although this prohibition did not prevent a series of mutinies and murders. An attempt by an American journalist, Nicholas Stroh, and his colleague, Robert Siedle, to investigate one of these barracks outbreaks in 1972 at the Simba Battalion in Mbarara led to their disappearances and later deaths.

Financing his ever-increasing military expenditures was a continuing concern. Early in 1972, he reversed foreign policy - never a major issue for Amin - to secure financial and military aid from Muammar Qadhafi of Libya. Amin expelled the remaining Israeli advisers, to whom he was much indebted, and became vociferously anti-Israel. To induce foreign aid from Saudi Arabia, he rediscovered his previously neglected Islamic heritage. He also commissioned the construction of a great mosque on Kampala Hill in the capital city, but it was never completed because much of the money intended for it was embezzled.

By 1978 Amin's circle of close associates had shrunk significantly--the result of defections and executions. It was increasingly risky to be too close to Amin, as his vice president and formerly trusted associate, General Mustafa Adrisi, discovered. When Adrisi was injured in a suspicious auto accident, troops loyal to him became restive. The once reliable Malire Mechanized Regiment mutinied, as did other units.

In October 1978, Amin sent troops still loyal to him against the mutineers, some of whom fled across the Tanzanian border. Amin then claimed that Tanzanian President Nyerere, his perennial enemy, had been at the root of his troubles. Amin accused Nyerere of waging war against Uganda, and, hoping to divert attention from his internal troubles and rally Uganda against the foreign adversary, Amin invaded Tanzanian territory and formally annexed a section across the Kagera River boundary on November 1, 1978.

Former Uganda National Army [FUNA]

Uganda gained independence from Britain on 9 October 1962. The first post- independence elections were held that same year; as a result, the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) and the Kabaka Yekka (KY) formed the first post- independence Government, led by Milton Obote. After a military coup on 25 January 1971, Obote was deposed from power and Idi Amin seized control of the country. Amin ruled Uganda for eight years (1971-1979); an estimated 300,000 Ugandans lost their lives during his regime. The end of the Amin regime saw the return to power of Milton Obote. In 1981, the National Resistance Army (NRA) led by Yoweri Museveni started a guerrilla war against the Obote Government.

When during 1980 the UNLA replaced Tanzanian occupying forces in the West Nile, it engaged in brutal reprisals against the local civilian population. In late 1980, ex-Amin forces invaded from southern Sudan and forced some UNLA units out of the West Nile region. They were organized into two main rebel groups formed from the remnants of Amin's supporters: the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) commanded by Brigadier Moses Ali and based principally among the Aringa people of northeast Arua; and the Former Uganda National Army (FUNA) commanded by Brigadier Amin Onzi and based mainly among the Kakwa people of northwest Arua, fought against Governmental forces loyal to Obote. Brigadier Moses Alis Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) and General Lumago's Former Uganda National Army (FUNA) also engaged the army and the UPC in bitter armed opposition.

The Nairobi peace accord signed at Harambee House (pictured) between the NRA/M and UNLA was chaired by Daniel arap Moi, former President of Kenya. It called for immediate ceasefire commencing at 3:20 am of December 19, 1985. The peace accord also propagated for the establishment of a Supreme Council to oversee the military government. The Supreme Council would be composed of officers from each military group led by the President of Uganda and the chairman of the military council. Gen Tito Okello Lutwa would be the president of the republic of Uganda and chairman of the military commission; while Museveni would be the vice-chairman of the military council. General Lumago's Former Uganda National Army (FUNA) had one of the 20 members.

Although some of the other rebel groups were relatively inactive in the 1990s, they continued to engage in periodic abuses. There have been repeated reports of collaboration and coordination between some of these rebel groups through meetings in Sudan. In July 1998, New Vision reported that a meeting of representatives of the LRA, ADF, UNRF-II, WNBF and the rebel group calling itself the Former Uganda National Army (FUNA) took place in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. "Ugandan rebel groups meet in Khartoum: Report," Agence France Presse, July 6, 1998.

Join the mailing list