Heavy-Gun Sounds, Grave Damage Following Amin’s Ouster Leaves Fresh Memories In Masaka
Written by Sirusziki ZIKI on April 13, 2022
After almost eight years at the helm of the country, a combined force led by the Tanzania People’s Defense Forces-TPDF toppled President, Idi Amin Dada on Wednesday, April 11th, 1979.
Prior to the fall of Amin’s government, different parts of the country especially along the direct route used by the Tanzanian forces witnessed a series of bombardments as the invading armies advanced to the capital, Kampala amidst stiff resistance from the government troops.
The communities in Masaka still have fresh memories of the heavy artillery sounds alias Saba Saba, the grave damage to infrastructure and the lives lost during the war. Mousa Wamala, a retired educationist who witnessed the war, recalls that the Tanzanian forces captured Masaka town between February 23rd and 24th, 1979 before advancing to the neighbouring Lukaya town on their way to Kampala.
According to Wamala, before the full military assault on Masaka, which was a progressive town, TPDF deployed agents that regularly spied on the Uganda Army and Amin’s confidants in the area. He says that the secret agents began infiltrating Masaka and the country in early 1978 even before the invasion of Kagera. He says these simplified the work of the invaders when Tanzania eventually announced the war to oust Amin.
Days to the final fall of Masaka, Wamala recollects that many civilians whom he believes were part of the disgruntled loyalists of Obote’s government, which Amin had toppled in 1971 started appearing with guns on the streets of Masaka. This instilled a lot of fear in the public. He narrates that on February 23, 1979, the Tanzanian forces started bombarding Masaka town, which caused extensive damage to infrastructure.
Key among the infrastructure that was razed down in Masaka include the Tropic Inn, Amin’s favourite hotel, Masaka Townhall, Uganda Commercial Bank and Post Office, roads and private residences, many of which have never been reconstructed.
Wamala says that TDPF also hit the government’s military Russian-made radar at the Uganda Technical College in Kirumba Masaka, which partly disabled the Ugandan troops forcing some of them to surrender in panic.
Hajjat Bitamisi Namuddu, one of the famous local businesspersons in Masaka narrates that she lost all her merchandise and other properties to looting and destruction by military shells. She narrates that as TDPF soldiers advanced towards Masaka town, some agents within the Uganda Army started framing famous entrepreneurs whom they would secretly kidnap before fleecing them.
On top of her wholesale shop that was looted when the invaders struck Masaka town, Namuddu also lost her TATA lorry to the Ugandan fighters who intercepted them at a roadblock in Lukaya town as she fled the war with her family to Bulo in Butambala district.
Namuddu explains that besides the external invasion, some naughty soldiers who tormented Ugandans also contributed to Amin’s overthrow. According to Namuddu, the 1979 war erupted when many Ugandans, especially in the business class were angry with the regime owing to the atrocities committed by notorious soldiers who took people’s merchandise without payment.
Nuliyat Nanyomo, a resident of Bisanje parish about 15 kilometers away from Masaka town towards the Uganda-Tanzania border says that prior to the fall of Masaka, Amin would visit their communities to encourage them to support the government forces.
Unlike other people who describe Amin as a ruthless military commander, Nanyomo still recalls the clothes the former President shared with her family upon his return from the invasion of Kagera. “Amin used to visit his friend in our neighbourhood (home of Isaac Nswazaluguudo) and he brought for us rare types of mats, clothes and military binoculars.
“Actually, we used to join him to sing military songs,” she said. Swaibuh Makumbi, one of the civilians who at one time stayed close to the Uganda Army soldiers notes that despite his rare military skills, Amin could not match the mighty force of the Tanzania soldiers.
According to Makumbi, when Amin left Masaka for Kampala, as the TPDF advanced, several soldiers lost morale and tactically withdrew while others just disappeared giving leeway to the enemy who was also so determined.