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The Uganda–Tanzania War, known in Tanzania as the Kagera War (Kiswahili: Vita vya Kagera) and in Uganda as the 1979 Liberation War,[b] was fought between Uganda and Tanzania from October 1978 until June 1979, and led to the overthrow of Idi Amin's regime.[13] Idi Amin's forces included thousands of troops sent by Libya.

Uganda–Tanzania War
Battles of the Uganda–Tanzania War.svg
Battles of the Uganda–Tanzania War
Date9 October 1978 – 3 June 1979
(7 months and 4 days)

Tanzanian victory

Status quo ante bellum
State of Palestine Palestine Liberation Organisation (1979)

Uganda Uganda National Liberation Front

Mozambique Mozambique
Supported by:
Commanders and leaders
Uganda Idi Amin
Uganda Yusuf Gowon
Uganda Isaac Maliyamungu
Uganda Christopher Gore (MIA)[a]
Uganda Andrew Mukooza Executed
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Muammar Gaddafi
State of Palestine Mutlaq Hamdan (WIA)[6]
State of Palestine Mahmoud Da'as[6]
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[3]
Uganda 6,000
Mozambique 800
Casualties and losses
1,000 Ugandans killed,[7] 3,000 Ugandans captured[8]
600 Libyans killed[9]
200 Palestinians killed[10]
373 Tanzanians killed
150 UNLA fighters killed[9]
1,500 Tanzanian and 500 Ugandan civilians killed[9]


Deterioration of Ugandan–Tanzanian relationsEdit

Uganda (red) and Tanzania (blue) in Africa

In 1971 Colonel Idi Amin launched a military coup that overthrew the President of Uganda, Milton Obote, precipitating a deterioration of relations with neighbouring Tanzania.[14] Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere had close ties with Obote and had supported his socialist orientation.[15] Amin installed himself as President of Uganda and ruled the country under a repressive dictatorship.[14] Nyerere withheld diplomatic recognition of the new government and offered asylum to Obote and his supporters.[15] 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 organised 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,[16] and retaliated by bombing Tanzanian border towns. Though his commanders urged him to respond in kind, Nyerere agreed to mediation overseen by the President of Somalia, Siad Barre, which resulted in the signing of the Mogadishu Agreement, which stipulated that Ugandan and Tanzanian forces had to withdraw to positions at least 10 kilometres away from the border and refrain from supporting opposition forces that targeted each other's governments.[15]

Nevertheless, relations between the two presidents remained tense; Nyerere frequently denounced Amin's regime, and Amin made repeated threats to invade Tanzania. During the same time, relations between Tanzania and Kenya grew sour, and the East African Community subsequently collapsed.[15] Uganda also disputed its border with Tanzania, claiming that the Kagera Salient—a 720 square mile stretch of land between the official border and the Kagera River 18 miles to the south, should be placed under its jurisdiction, maintaining that the river made for a more logical border. The border had originally been negotiated by British and German colonial officials before World War I.[17]

Instability in UgandaEdit

Meanwhile, in Uganda, Amin announced an "Economic War" in which thousands of Asian immigrants were expelled from the country and their businesses placed under the management of Africans. The reform had disastrous consequences for the economy, which were further exacerbated by a United States boycott of Ugandan coffee on account of the government's failure to respect human rights.[15] At the same time, Amin expanded the power of the armed forces in his government, placing many soldiers in his cabinet and providing those loyal to him with patronage. Most of the beneficiaries of his actions were Muslim northerners, particularly those of Nubian and Sudanese extract, who were increasingly recruited into the army.[18] Amin violently purged southern ethnic groups from the armed forces and executed political opponents.[19] In the following years, he survived several assassination attempts, resulting in him becoming increasingly distrustful and repeatedly purging the senior ranks of the Ugandan military.[16] His base of power in the military declined with the worsening economic situation, which deprived him of resources for patronage.[19]

In 1977 a split in the Uganda Army developed between supporters of Amin and soldiers loyal to the Vice-President of Uganda, Mustafa Adrisi, who held significant power in the government wanted to purge foreigners from the military. In April 1978 Adrisi was severely injured in a suspicious car accident. When he was flown out of the country for treatment, Amin stripped him of his ministerial portfolios. He also announced the arrest of multiple police officials, and during the following month he dismissed several ministers and military officers.[20] The shakeup strained Amin's already narrow base of power in the military that was also declining in the face of the worsening economic situation, which eliminated patronage opportunities.[19] Fearing for his personal safety and less confident in his charismatic abilities to diffuse the growing tension, Amin began withdrawing from the public sphere and conducting less visits with his troops. At around the same time he began accusing Tanzania of violating Uganda's border.[21]

Course of the warEdit

Outbreak of the conflictEdit

The circumstances surrounding the outbreak of the war are not clear,[19] and numerous differing accounts of the events exist, including several conspiracy theories. Many have argued that the invasion was an attempt by Amin and his inner circle to distract the Ugandan military from the worsening political and economic situation at home.[22] Obote wrote that the decision to invade Kagera was "a desperate measure to extricate Amin from the consequences of the failure of his own plots against his own army."[23] Others, such as Ugandan Colonel Abdu Kisuule, have blamed individual, glory-seeking commanders like Lieutenant Colonel Juma Butabika of engineering incidents at the border to create a pretext for invading Tanzania.[22] According to Amin's son, Jaffar Remo, rumors of a potential Tanzanian invasion led members of the Ugandan high command to call for a preemptive attack on Tanzania.[24] The Tanzanian military later argued that Amin's ultimate aim was to annex a large part of northern Tanzania, including the city of Tanga, in order to gain access to the sea for trading purposes. Ugandan journalist Faustin Mugabe found no evidence for this theory in Ugandan sources.[8]

Several other Uganda Army officers have offered more mundane explanations for the invasion, according to which isolated conflicts along the border resulted in a spiral of violence that culminated in open warfare. Among the incidents identified as start point of the war are cases of cattle rustling, tribal tensions, a fight between an Ugandan woman and a Tanzanian woman at a market,[25] as well as a bar fight between Ugandan and Tanzanian soldiers.[26] Several Ugandan soldiers who endorsed the bar fight theory disagreed on the confrontation's exact circumstances, but concurred that the incident occurred on 9 October in a Tanzanian establishment. They also agreed that after Butabika was informed of the altercation, he unilaterally ordered his unit, the Malire Battalion, to attack Tanzania in reprisal. The soldiers stated that Amin was not informed of this decision until later and went along with it to save face.[27] One Ugandan commander, Bernard Rwehururu, stated that Butabika lied to Amin about his reasons for attacking Kagera, claiming that he was repulsing a Tanzanian invasion.[28] According to American journalists Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey, the bar incident occurred on 22 October, when a drunken Ugandan intelligence officer was shot and killed by Tanzanian soldiers after firing on them. That evening Radio Uganda declared that the Tanzanians had abducted a Ugandan soldier, and reported that Amin threatened to do "something" if he was not returned.[29]

Another theory describes the invasion as the result of Ugandan troops chasing mutineers over the Tanzanian border. Ugandan diplomat Paul Eitang and the local managing director for Royal Dutch Shell reported that soldiers of the Simba Battalion had shot new Sudanese recruits and that when other Ugandan forces were sent to contain them, they fled over the border on 30 October.[30] According to a Ugandan soldier interviewed by Drum, the initial actions of the invasion were in fact a three-way fight between loyalist Uganda Army soldiers, Ugandan deserters, and Tanzanian border guards, with most of the deserters and a number of Tanzanians being killed.[31] A few deserters reportedly found refuge in Tanzanian villages.[32]

The Tanzania People's Defence Force (TPDF) had received only very limited intelligence about a possible Ugandan invasion, and was unprepared for this eventuality, as the Tanzanian leadership generally believed that Amin would not consider attacking Tanzania while his own country was affected by political, economic, and military instability.[33] Even beyond the demilitarised zone established by the Mogadishu Agreement, there were almost no defences. Tanzania had tense relations with Zaire, Kenya, and Malawi, and the only forces defending the land along the Ugandan border was the 202nd Brigade based in Tabora. Near the frontier was the understrength 3rd Battalion. In early September the Tanzanians reported unusually large numbers of Ugandan patrols near the border—some equipped with armoured personnel carriers—and a high volume of air reconnaissance flights. By the middle of the month the Ugandan aircraft began crossing into Tanzanian airspace.[34] The local commanding officer reported the unusual activity to the brigade headquarters in Tabora, and was assured that anti-aircraft guns would be sent to him. These never arrived, and by October the officer's warnings had become increasingly panicked.[35]

Initial actionsEdit

The Uganda Army Air Force repeatedly bombed Bukoba (pictured in 2017) during the war.

In the middle of the day on 9 October Ugandan troops made their first incursion into Tanzania when a motorised detachment moved into Kakunyu and set two houses on fire. Tanzanian artillery retaliated, destroying a Ugandan armoured personnel carrier and a truck, and killing two soldiers. Ugandan artillery returned fire but caused no damage. In the evening Radio Uganda reported that a Tanzanian invasion had been repulsed.[36] The following day Ugandan MiG fighters bombed Tanzanian forests. Ugandan artillery continuously bombarded Tanzanian territory, so on 14 October the Tanzanians brought their mortars into action, and the Ugandan guns subsequently stopped firing. Over the next few days both sides exchanged artillery fire, gradually expanding across the whole border. Tanzanian leaders felt that Amin was only making provocations.[36]

On 18 October Ugandan MiGs bombed Bukoba, the capital of the West Lake Region. Despite facing ineffectual Tanzanian anti-aircraft fire, the bombings caused little damage. However, the explosions' reverberations shattered windows and incited the population to panic.[36] In contrast to Tanzania's silence, Radio Uganda reported a Tanzanian "invasion" of Ugandan territory with accounts of fictional battles, and detailed that Tanzanian troops had advanced 15 kilometres into Uganda, killing civilians and destroying property. Amin told residents in Mutukula that in spite of the "attack", he still hoped for good relations with Tanzania. At the same time, Radio Uganda's Kinyankole language broadcasts—which were closely monitored and understood by West Lake residents—virulently criticised Nyerere and claimed that Tanzanians wished to fall under Ugandan jurisdiction to escape the former's rule.[37] Meanwhile, the Ugandan regime came under increased internal strain. Dozens of soldiers of the Masaka garrison deemed disloyal were executed, rival State Research Bureau (SRB, Amin's secret police organisation) agents got in a shootout in Kampala, and more agents were killed while attempting to arrest a former finance minister.[37]

Invasion of KageraEdit

Ugandan offensiveEdit

When the Uganda Army invaded Kagera, it deployed several OT-64 SKOT armoured personnel carriers (example in Ugandan service pictured).

At dawn on 25 October[c] Tanzanian observers equipped with a telescope noticed large amounts of Ugandan vehicular activity in Mutukula. Ugandan artillery soon opened fire while ground forces advanced. All Tanzanian troops broke and fled under fire except for a platoon which was quickly withdrawn.[38] Over 2,000 soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Marajani,[39] Lieutenant Colonel Juma Butabika, and Colonel Abdu Kisuule attacked Kagera. The Ugandan forces were equipped with T-55 and M4A1 Sherman tanks, along with OT-64 SKOT armoured personnel carriers (APC), as well as Alvis Saladin armored cars, and advanced in two columns under the direct command of Butabika and Kisuule respectively.[28] Despite encountering no or only light resistance, the Ugandan advance was slowed by the terrain, as Butabika's column got stuck in mud near Kabwebwe, and had to wait for hours before being able to get any further.[28]

The Tanzanians began monitoring Ugandan radio frequencies, and was able to overhear transmissions between Marajani and Republic House, the Uganda Army's headquarters in Kampala. Marajani reported heavy resistance despite the fact that all TPDF personnel had withdrawn from the border area.[39] The Tanzanians set up their artillery 10 kilometres from the Ugandans and fired several shells, causing them to retreat across the border.[d] Throughout the rest of the day Ugandan MiGs crossed into Tanzanian airspace, where they were harassed by inconsequential anti-aircraft fire.[40] Having been defeated, the Ugandans prepared a new attack.[41]

On 30 October approximately 3,000 Ugandan troops[33][25] invaded Tanzania along four routes through Kukunga, Masanya, Mutukula, and Minziro.[42] Commanded by Uganda Army Chief of Staff Yusuf Gowon[25] and equipped with tanks and APCs, they only faced ineffectual rifle fire from several dozen members of the Tanzania People's Militia. Despite the minimal resistance from Tanzanian forces, Ugandan troops advanced with caution. They slowly occupied the Kagera Salient, shooting at soldiers and civilians alike, before reaching the Kagera River and the Kyaka Bridge in the evening. Though the land between the river and Bukoba was left virtually undefended by the TPDF's withdrawal, the Uganda Army halted its advance at the north end of the bridge.[42] The Kagera Salient thus occupied, undisciplined Ugandan soldiers soon started to loot in the area.[33][42] Approximately 1,500 civilians were shot and killed,[43] while an additional 5,000 went into hiding in the bush.[44] Radio Uganda announced the "liberation" of the Kagera Salient and declared that the Kagera River marked the new border between Uganda and Tanzania. Amin toured the area and posed for photographs with abandoned Tanzanian war materiel.[43] Ugandan commanders nevertheless feared that the Kyaka Bridge could be used in a counterattack and thus resolved for it to be destroyed. On 3 November a demolitions expert sneaked onto the bridge and planted explosive charges. The Ugandans detonated the charges at dawn, destroying the 75 metre centre section of the bridge, but leaving its pillars intact.[45]


After initial reports of the attack reached Dar es Salaam, Nyerere convened a meeting with his advisers and TPDF commanders in his beach residence. He was unsure of his force's ability to repel the Ugandan invasion, but TPDF Chief Abdallah Twalipo was confident that the army could eject the Ugandans from Tanzania. Nyerere told him to "get started" and the meeting ended. On 31 October Radio Tanzania declared that Ugandan troops had occupied territory in the northwest portion of the country and that the TPDF was preparing a counterattack.[43] On 2 November Nyerere declared war on Uganda.[46]

Six African leaders condemned the Kagera invasion as Ugandan aggression: Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia, Didier Ratsiraka of Madagascar, Agostinho Neto of Angola, Seretse Khama of Botswana, Samora Machel of Mozambique, and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.[47] The governments of Guinea, Mali, Senegal, and several other African states refrained from condemnation, instead calling for a cessation of hostilities and requesting that both sides respect the charter of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).[48] The OAU itself remained neutral on the issue,[49] while representatives of the organisation attempted to mediate between Uganda and Tanzania.[17]

Tanzanian counter-attackEdit

Nyerere ordered Tanzania to undertake full mobilisation for war. At the time, the TPDF consisted of four brigades. Among them, only the Southern Brigade, which had just performed well in war games, was ready to be moved to the front line. However, it was headquartered in Songea, thus making it farther from Kagera than the other brigades.[50] After a long trek via rail and road, the unit reached the Bukoba-Kyaka area and established camp.[51] Additional soldiers were sent from Tabora.[52] Prime Minister Edward Sokoine handed orders to Tanzania's regional commissioners to martial all military and civilian resources for war.[53] In a few weeks, the Tanzanian army was expanded from less than 40,000 troops to over 150,000, including about 40,000 militiamen[3] as well as members of the police, prison services, and the national service. Most of the militamen were deployed to Tanzania's southern border or sent to guard strategic installations within the country.[54] Machel offered Nyerere the assistance of a Mozambican battalion as a gesture of support. The 800-strong unit was quickly flown to Tanzania and moved to Kagera.[55][e]

Despite being informed of the Tanzanian preparations for a counter-offensive, the Ugandan military did not set up any proper defenses such as trenches. Most of the commanders on the front line and members of the high command ignored the intelligence reports, and instead focused on looting the Kagera Salient.[58] Tanzania initially aimed for its counter-offensive, called Operation Chakaza,[59] to begin on 6 November, but it had to be delayed.[60] However, by the second week of November, it had assembled a substantial force on the southern bank of the Kagera River. TPDF Chief of Staff Major General Tumainie Kiwelu took command of the troops, which initiated a heavy artillery bombardment of the northern bank, triggering the flight of many Uganda Army soldiers.[56] On 14 November Amin, sensing that other African states did not support his position and irrationally fearing that the Soviet Union was about give Tanzania new weapons, declared the unconditional withdrawal of all Ugandan troops from Kagera and invited OAU observers to witness it. The Tanzanian government denounced the statement as a "complete lie", while foreign observers were unable to reach a consensus on the veracity of the supposed withdrawal. The OAU reacted by claiming that its mediation had succeeded.[61]

On 19 November the Tanzanians assembled a pontoon bridge across the Kagera River. The following day Tanzanian patrols began exploring area along the northern bank of the Kagera River, discovering dead civilians and destroyed property left by the Uganda Army. Two days later patrols reached the Ugandan border, finding no Ugandan troops except for a small contingent in Minziro, which they did not engage.[44] Ugandan command and control descended into chaos amid the counter-offensive, and only a few officers attempted to organize any resistance.[58] On 23 November three TPDF brigades crossed the pontoon bridge and began occupying the Kagera Salient.[44] The following day a Bailey bridge was installed over the broken span of the Kyaka Bridge. On 25 November the Tanzanians began moving tanks and BM-21 rocket launchers across it.[62] Though small groups of Ugandan troops roamed the countryside, Nyerere, to the chagrin of his officers, toured Kagera.[44] The Ugandan government announced in late November that it had withdrawn all forces from the Kagera Salient and that all fighting had ceased. It flew 50 foreign diplomats to the border, and they reported that there was little evidence of ongoing conflict. Tanzanian officials denounced the withdrawal statement, asserting that Ugandan troops had to be forcibly removed from Tanzanian territory, and announcing that some remained in the country.[63] On 4 December[59] the TPDF's 206th and Southern Brigades secured Mutukula on the Tanzanian side of the border without incident, while the 207th Brigade retook Minziro.[64] By early January all Ugandan troops had been ejected from Kagera.[59]

Border clashes and Battle of MutukulaEdit

The Tanzania People's Defence Force used BM-21 Grad rocket launchers (example in Russian service pictured) to great effect during the Uganda–Tanzania War.

The morale and discipline of the Uganda Army deteriorated as the Tanzanians pushed it out of Kagera and attacked it along the border.[65] After the invasion was repulsed, the Tanzanians feared that the Uganda Army would try again to seize their territory.[66] Tanzanian commanders felt that as long as Ugandan troops controlled the high ground at Mutukula, Uganda along the frontier they posed a threat to the salient. Able to see Ugandan troops encamped on the high ground through binoculars during his tour of Kagera, Nyerere was moved to agree with his officers and ordered them to capture the town.[67] While preparing for this operation, the TPDF was preoccupied with training an organising its massively expanded forces.[68] As result, fighting in December 1978 was mostly limited to border sporadic clashes and air raids.[68][69] This inactivity led the Ugandan high command to falsely believe that no Tanzanian offensive was imminent, despite reports to the contrary from the frontlines. The Uganda Army was consequently surprised when the TPDF began a large-scale artillery bombardment along the border using BM-21 Grad rocket launchers on 25 December. The Ugandans lacked weaponry which was able to counter the Tanzanian artillery, and were terrified by the destructive capabilities of the BM-21 Grads which they nicknamed "Saba-Saba".[68]

The TPDF shelled the border for weeks, demoralizing the Ugandans. Attempts by the Uganda Army Air Force to destroy the Tanzanian rocket launchers failed due to effective anti-aircraft fire.[70] The TPDF'S Southern Brigade — renamed the 208th Brigade — finally crossed the border on the night of 21 January 1979. It attacked Mutukula the following day. The Ugandan garrison was easily overwhelmed and fled the scene, allowing the Tanzanians to secure Mutukula and capture much abandoned weaponry. The TPDF soldiers proceeded to destroy the entire town and killed several civilians to avenge the pillaging in Kagera. Nyerere was horrified when being informed, and ordered the TPDF to refrain from harming civilians and property from then on.[69][71]

Nyerere did not initially intend on expanding the war beyond defending Tanzanian territory. After Amin failed to renounce his claims to Kagera and the OAU failed to condemn the Ugandan invasion, he decided that Tanzanian forces should occupy southern Uganda.[72] The Tanzanians were joined by several armed 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 (SUM) commanded by Akena p'Ojok, William Omaria, and Ateker Ejalu.[73] Whereas Kikosi Maalum and FRONASA contributed frontline troops and guerrillas that acted as auxiliaries to the TPDF,[73] SUM conducted bombings and raids to destabilize Amin's regime from within.[74] Smaller Ugandan opposition groups without armed branches, such as the Zambia-based Uganda Liberation Group (Z), encouraged their members to donate money to support the war effort.[75]

Libyan interventionEdit

Libyan troop movements before and after the Battle of Lukaya

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 president 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.[76] 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.[citation needed] 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.[77][f] On 18 March, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), confirmed that there were Palestinian guerrillas fighting on Amin's behalf in Uganda.[78]

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.[76] 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.[79]

Fall of Kampala and end of the warEdit

In early April Tanzanian forces began to concentrate their efforts on weakening the Ugandan position in Kampala.[80] Tanzanian commanders had originally assumed that Amin would station the bulk of his forces in the capital, and their initial plans called for a direct attack on the city. But from the high ground in Mpigi they could see the Entebbe peninsula, where there was a high volume of Libyan air traffic and a large contingent of Ugandan and Libyan soldiers. If the TPDF seized Kampala before securing the town of Entebbe, TPDF positions in Kampala would be vulnerable to a flanking attack.[81] Taking Entebbe would cut off Uganda's Libyan reinforcements and permit an assault on the capital from the south.[80] Thus, Msuguri ordered the 208th Brigade to seize the peninsula.[81] The TPDF set up artillery and subjected the town to a light, three-day bombardment.[80] Amin was at the Entebbe State House at the time but fled via helicopter to Kampala.[81] His departure instigated the flight of many Ugandan troops, but the Libyans remained.[80] On 6 April the bombardment was intensified, with several hundred artillery rounds fired. The 208th Brigade advanced on Entebbe the following morning.[81] A single Libyan convoy attempted to escape down the Kampala road but was ambushed and destroyed. By the afternoon the TPDF had secured the town, seizing large stockpiles of Libyan weapons.[82] The next morning, hundreds of Uganda Army Air Force personnel surrendered to the TPDF.[83] The battle marked the de facto end of the Uganda Army Air Force. Most of its aircraft were destroyed or captured, and the air force personnel that managed to escape to the air fields in Jinja and Nakasongola spread panic among the Ugandan forces there. Mass desertions and defections were the consequence.[84] With Libyan forces having suffered heavily during the battle, Nyerere decided to allow them to flee Kampala and quietly exit the war without further humiliation. He sent a message to Gaddafi explaining his decision, saying that the Libyan troops could be airlifted out of Uganda unopposed from the airstrip in Jinja.[85] Most of them withdrew to Kenya and Ethiopia, where they were repatriated.[86]

The TPDF advanced into the Kampala on 10 April It was taken with minimal resistance.[86] Few Ugandan or Libyan units gave much resistance; the greatest problem for the Tanzanian troops was lack of maps of the city.[76] On the following day, while Tanzanian and UNLF troops were mopping up the remaining Ugandan forces in Kampala, Oyite-Ojok went to Radio Uganda to declare the city's capture. He stated in a broadcast that Amin's government was deposed and that Kampala was under the control of the UNLF, and appealed to residents to remain calm and for Ugandan soldiers to surrender.[87] Amin fled, first to Libya and later to Saudi Arabia. Despite the flight of Amin and the fall of the capital, however, scattered and disjointed remnants of the Ugandan military continued to offer resistance.[88] With Libyan support, these loyalists retreated into the north.[12] Nevertheless, after Kampala's capture, little further damage was caused by the fighting.[89] Most units of the Uganda Army mutinied or dispersed, allowing the Tanzanian-UNLF troops to occupy most of eastern and northern Ugandan without opposition.[90] Attempts by Amin's loyalists to block the Tanzanian northward advance were defeated during the Battle of Bombo,[91] the Battle of Lira, and the Battle of Karuma Falls.[92][93]

The last battle of the war occurred on 27 May when a band of Ugandan troops fired on elements of the TPDF's Task Force near Bondo before fleeing.[94] The Task Force shortly thereafter seized Arua without facing resistance.[95] Several high-ranking Uganda Army officers and officials in Amin's government who surrendered in Arua told the Tanzanians that after the fall of Kampala thousands of Ugandan soldiers had fled to Sudan and Zaire with the stated goal of launching an insurgency and retaking Uganda.[96] From Arua a Tanzanian brigade advanced to Uganda's western border with Sudan and Zaire. It secured the Sudanese frontier on 3 June 1979, thus ending the war.[97]

Media and propagandaEdit

In war propaganda we were not good. It's important to inform the population or else they become terrorised. I realise now that the people must be told more. In this case our enemy had verbal diarrhea.

—Nyerere's reflection on the Tanzanian propaganda effort after the war[98]

During the early stages of the war in October 1978, Radio Tanzania broadcast no news on the conflict while Radio Uganda reported erroneously on an attempted Tanzanian invasion and intense border clashes.[99] Once the invasion of Kagera was made public, Radio Tanzania launched an intensive propaganda campaign to gather public support of the war by retelling stories of the atrocities committed in Tanzanian territory and portraying the Ugandan attack as an egotistical venture by Amin to bolster his self-image.[100] Radio Tanzania and Radio Uganda quickly became entangled in a "radio war", each making allegations against the other's country.[101] In the first few months the Tanzanian public was offered little official information aside from a few speeches delivered by Nyerere. The Tanzanian government quickly established an "Information Committee" to manage news about the war. The body was chaired by the top secretary in the Ministry of Information, George Mhina, and consisted of the editors of Tanzania's two state newspapers, the head of Radio Tanzania, Presidential Press Secretary Sammy Mdee, and representatives of the TPDF and security forces. Mhina began repressing news about the war so that while many Tanzanian journalists and photographers had gone to the front lines, little of their reporting was ever published. Mdee and the newspaper editors boycotted the committee's meetings in protest.[98] In general, the press in Tanzania was allowed to publish what it wished within the law, but it rarely reported anything different from the official media and often reprinted press releases from the government news agency, Shirika la Habari Tanzania (SHIHATA).[102]

In response to the repression of information, Tanzanian citizens began listening to foreign broadcasts from BBC Radio, Voice of America, Voice of Kenya, Radio South Africa, and Radio Uganda for reporting on the conflict. In Dar es Salaam, civilians went to the Kilimanjaro Hotel to view the news carried through on the establishment's Reuters telex machine. The Information Committee eventually had the unit deactivated.[98] Radio Tanzania spent the duration of the war broadcasting dramatic news reports, songs, and poems about the conflict as well as laudatory praise for the TPDF.[103] Announcers fluent in Ugandan languages were hired and their newscasts were directed into Uganda.[100] SHIHATA regularly labeled Amin a "fascist".[102] Ugandan media was directly controlled by Amin, and he used it throughout the war to rhetorically attack Tanzania. Ugandan propaganda—in addition to being biased—was lacking in factual accuracy.[104] Following the end of the war an employee of Radio Tanzania was put at the disposal of the UNLF government to advise them on how to use public broadcasting to garner public support for rebuilding.[105]

Foreign correspondents were not allowed to travel to the war front, making independent confirmation of each belligerents' claims impossible.[106] Journalists often attempted to confirm Ugandan official media by cross-referencing it with Tanzanian news for consistencies.[104] The two exceptions to this rule were Reuters reporters Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey, who had the permission of Nyerere to accompany the TPDF as it invaded Uganda.[57] Most journalists instead covered the conflict from Kenya.[107][104]



Sociologist Ronald Aminzade asserted that "the key" to Tanzania's victory was its ideological framing of the war as a threat to the nation, thus facilitating the mobilisation of a popular militia which performed well in combat. In contrast, Aminzade noted that Uganda "embarked on a nonideological territorial war", deploying forces that suffered from low morale and internal dissension.[108] Western military analysts attributed Tanzania's victory to the collapse of the Uganda Army, arguing that the TPDF would have been defeated by most other African armies.[109]


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.[110] Despite this disruption, rural areas were mostly physically undisturbed by the fighting, which was concentrated in other areas.[89] An estimated minimum of 100,000 Ugandans were made homeless by the conflict.[111] 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.[13]

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.[7] Meanwhile, remnants of Amin's Uganda Army reorganised in Zaire and Sudan, and would invade Uganda in autumn 1980, starting a civil war which became later known as the Ugandan Bush War.[7] Yusuf Lule was 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. As result, the Ugandan Bush War spread into the country's south as well.

Tanzanian soldiers fathered a large number of Ugandan children.[64] The last Tanzanian troops left Uganda in October 1981.[112] Tanzanian military advisers remained in the country as late as 1984.[113]


The outbreak of the war came at a time when Tanzania's economy was showing signs of recovery from a severe drought in 1974–1975. All planned government projects were suspended in every ministry except Defence, and the administration was instructed not to fill vacancies. Nyerere stated in January 1979 that the TPDF operation to expel the Ugandans had necessitated a "tremendous" diversion of the country's resources away from development work, and he estimated that the war took $1,000,000 a day to finance.[66] Tanzania received no help from other countries in the OAU, 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 finance the invasion and subsequent peacekeeping mission from its own funds, further driving the country into poverty.[114] When the TPDF began returning en mass to Tanzania, only small number of soldiers were demobilised, contrary to public expectations. Military commanders then began making accommodations to render the wartime expansions of the army permanent, creating new units and divisional headquarters. Some in the military hierarchy expressed disapproval in light of Tanzania's bleak financial situation, and the country's depressed economy eventually forced the TPDF to disband many of the extra units.[54] Nevertheless, the TPDF retained a large amount of officers in the standing army, with the assumption that they could be used to command militiamen in the event they needed to be called back into service.[115] Tanzania would not fully recover from the cost of the war until Uganda paid its debt back to Tanzania in 2007.[114]

Upon the war's end, the Tanzanian government declared that Kagera residents could go back to their region;[116] by August 1979 most had returned to their homes.[117] However, the government prohibited civilians from going to several border towns for security reasons, and established more permanent accommodations for those affected further south. Most of them could not return to their homes until the early 1980s.[116] Nyerere announced a programme to rehabilitate the Kagera border region with a focus on rebuilding lost infrastructure and promotion of the Ujamaa political philosophy.[118] Residents of the region later testified that while social services returned, their quality was less than that of the pre-war era, and that the rehabilitation programme focused mostly on government institutions, community centers, and major roads, and did little to support individuals.[119] In 2000, members of Parliament from rural Nkenge and Bukoba constituencies complained that some residents had not returned—due to the continuing presence of unidentified corpses in their homes—or had not achieved a standard of living in parity with that of the pre-war era. The Minister for Home Affairs responded by saying the government would not offer financial assistance to Kagera residents affected by the war as the conflict had been taxing for all Tanzanians and they were not entitled to special compensation.[120]

Despite the PLO's involvement in the Ugandan war effort, Nyerere did not harbour any ill will towards the organisation, instead citing its isolation on the international stage as the reason for its closeness to Amin.[121] The Tanzanian government strengthened its presence in Kagera after the war, bolstering its police station in Kyaka and establishing several others in border towns. For security reasons, villagers were prohibited from occupying land within 100 metres of the border, though there was little oversight of this restriction over time and it was sometimes ignored by locals.[122] In the immediate aftermath of the war the government shut down cross-border markets, resulting in shortages of goods and spikes in commodity prices.[123] Smuggling also became rampant.[124] Normal trade with Uganda did not resume until the 1990s.[122] As the original demarcation posts along the Uganda–Tanzania border were removed in the war, the border dispute between the two countries remained after the conflict, but at a low intensity.[125] Negotiations between Uganda and Tanzania on reestablishing a complete, official demarcation of the border began in 1999 and concluded successfully in 2001.[126]

In addition, Tanzania experienced a spike in crime and communal violence, most importantly cattle raiding, as result of the Uganda–Tanzania War.[11] The mobilization of tens of thousands of soldiers had a major impact on Tanzania's society, as many young men from poorer families had enjoyed the power, chance of plunder, and relatively good salaries of military life. When they were demobilized, these men usually became unemployed and plunged back into poverty due to Tanzania's struggling economic situation, resulting in rising dissatisfaction.[127] In addition, Tanzanian soldiers had smuggled large quantities of abandoned Ugandan weaponry into their home country.[128] Having grown accustomed to violence in the military, the ex-soldiers consequently used their guns to acquire wealth illegally.[129] This did not just dramatically increase crime, but also led to communal tensions. Some groups were overrepresented in the TPDF; most notably, the over 50% of all Tanzanian soldiers belonged to the Kuria people by 1978, although less than 1% of the country's population were Kuria. There were also regional differences in the number of veterans, with some villages having much more armed ex-soldiers than others. All this contributed to power shifts, and growing inter-tribal, inter-clan, and even inter-village violence in Tanzania.[130]


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.[131] 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.[132] Another monument was built in Arusha, displaying a statue of a soldier celebrating victory.[133] 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.[134] On 1 September a series of national ceremonies were held to honour public contribution to the war effort.[135] On 25 July 2014 Tanzania observed the 36th anniversary of the war and recognised the soldiers and civilians that died in the conflict.[136]

On the fifth anniversary of the fall of Kampala, Obote delivered a speech to commemorate the liberation of Uganda from the Amin regime.[137] In 2002 Uganda held its first official celebration of Amin's overthrow.[138] 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.[139]

Historiography and documentationEdit

Historians have paid little attention to the war,[140] and few books have been written about it.[141][142][143] Tanzanian journalist Baldwin Mzirai published Kuzama kwa Idi Amin in 1980, which details the Tanzanian military operations of the conflict.[144] 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.[141] Journalist Edward Hooper described War in Uganda: The legacy of Idi Amin as an "outstanding eyewitness account" and an "excellent source" on the conflict.[143] Henry R. Muhanika published an Utenzi poetic account of the war in 1981, Utenzi wa vita vya Kagera na anguko la Idi Amin Dada.[145] 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.[146] The war is known in Tanzania as the Kagera War and in Uganda as the 1979 Liberation War.[59]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sources differ on Gore's fate, with Ugandan Colonel Rwehururu stating that he fled to Sudan,[4] while another Ugandan soldier claimed that he was killed in an ambush during the Uganda–Tanzania War.[5]
  2. ^ The conflict has also been called the "War of Kagera",[11] and the "Second Ugandan War" to distinguish it from the Uganda–Tanzania conflict of 1972.[12]
  3. ^ According to Ugandan sources, the first major attack took place on 22 October.[28]
  4. ^ According to Ugandan sources, the first attack on Kagera was repelled after one day had passed.[28]
  5. ^ Rumours later emerged of many foreigners, including Egyptians and Cubans, assisting the Tanzanians during the war. The Mozambican soldiers were the only foreigners to serve on Tanzania's behalf.[55] The claims about the presence of foreigners probably stemmed from the diverse ethnic and racial composition of the TPDF.[56][57]
  6. ^ There were also reports of Moroccan troops being sent to Amin's aid which were strongly denied by the Moroccan government.[78]


  1. ^ a b c Brzoska & Pearson 1994, p. 210.
  2. ^ Cooper & Fontanellaz 2015, p. 19.
  3. ^ a b c Cooper & Fontanellaz 2015, p. 27.
  4. ^ Rwehururu 2002, p. 73.
  5. ^ Seftel 2010, p. 231.
  6. ^ a b Janan Osama al-Salwadi (27 February 2017). "مهمّة «فتح» في أوغندا" [Fatah's mission in Uganda]. Al Akhbar (Lebanon) (in Arabic). Retrieved 6 October 2019.
  7. ^ a b c Cooper & Fontanellaz 2015, p. 39.
  8. ^ a b Mugabe, Faustin (22 November 2016). "When Brig Gwanga was taken prisoner of war by Tanzanians". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 11 August 2019.
  9. ^ a b c 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.
  10. ^ Foreigners Aided Amin, Washington Post, May 8, 1979.
  11. ^ a b Fleisher 2003, p. 81.
  12. ^ a b Hilgers 1991, p. 162.
  13. ^ a b Cooper & Fontanellaz 2015, p. 7.
  14. ^ a b Honey, Martha (12 April 1979). "Ugandan Capital Captured". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  15. ^ a b c d e Roberts 2017, p. 155.
  16. ^ a b Cooper & Fontanellaz 2015, pp. 6–7.
  17. ^ a b Darnton, John (7 November 1978). "Mediation is Begun in Tanzanian War". The New York Times. p. 5. Retrieved 12 February 2019.
  18. ^ Roberts 2017, pp. 155–156.
  19. ^ a b c d Roberts 2017, p. 156.
  20. ^ Avirgan & Honey 1983, pp. 49–50.
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  30. ^ Roberts 2017, pp. 156–157.
  31. ^ Seftel 2010, pp. 223–224.
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  46. ^ Kamazima 2004, p. 167.
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  122. ^ a b Kamazima 2004, p. 176.
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  134. ^ Mmbando 1980, p. 135.
  135. ^ Konde 1984, p. 221.
  136. ^ Mulisa, Meddy (1 August 2014). "Tanzania: Remembering Kagera War, 36 Years After". Retrieved 2 February 2019.
  137. ^ "Ugandan President's Liberation Anniversary Speeches: Comments on Opposition Kampala". Summary of World Broadcasts: Non-Arab Africa (7618). BBC Monitoring. 14 April 1984.
  138. ^ Wasswa, Henry (17 August 2003). "Ex-Uganda dictator Idi Amin dies". Deseret News. Associated Press. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  139. ^ Musinguzi, John (24 February 2013). "Understanding Museveni's medals". The Observer. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  140. ^ Roberts 2017, p. 154.
  141. ^ a b Lugeba, Henry (24 April 2017). "War in Uganda: Coverage of the 1979 liberation war". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
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  143. ^ a b Hooper 1999, p. 900.
  144. ^ Accessions List, Eastern Africa 1982, p. 69.
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  146. ^ Fair 2018, Chapter 4 : Global Films and Local Reception.

Works citedEdit

Further readingEdit