1979

 

There’s a list of books I mean to write, and this one is somehow on it, even though I couldn’t bear to write it, let alone research it. It would be about how in one year three of the world’s worst tyrants – literal madmen – lost their jobs.

  • In Equatorial Guinea, Macías Nguema was executed. He had done the same to perhaps a quarter of his population.
  • In the Central African Republic, Jean-Bédel Bokassa – who, after crowning himself emperor, beat to death schoolchildren – was removed by the French. He got to die of old age.
  • Idi Amin was chased out by a Tanzanian invasion. He got to die of old age too.

I read War in Uganda: the Legacy of Idi Amin, about how Tanzania finally got fed up with the neighbor from hell. It’s by two journalists, Tony Avirgan and Martha Honey, who embedded with the Tanzanian military.

It’s a grim book, and part of what makes it so awful is that after the invasion – which was ruinous for Tanzania – things only got worse in Uganda. “The consensus is that [Milton Obote’s] reign from the end of 1980 until the middle of 1985 was more brutal, and resulting in higher number of deaths, than the whole of Amin’s” (History of Modern Uganda, Richard J. Reid).  Anyone who endorses invading other countries for their benefit should at least acquaint themself with what happened in Uganda.

There was, believe it or not, a funny bit in the book. (It’s not, you know, hilarious, but I’m trying to end on an up note.)

The night before the attack on Samba Hills, several Tanzanian brigade commanders gathered for a last meeting and a drink. The drinks ended up being more than a few and the discussion turned to the fact that in the war each side was monitoring the other side’s radio communications. The brigadiers decided to play a trick . When they got back to their positions they got on the radio to one another. “Are the Cubans ready on the right?” “Ready Sir.” “Are the Israelis ready on the left?” “Ready, sir.” “And are the Americans ready in the center?” “Ready, sir.”

Within minutes Amin’s forces began leaving the area. The Tanzanians heard a Ugandan commander call Kampala. “They’re really coming now.” “Well, fight them,” was the reply from defense headquarters in Republic House. The battlefield commander responded, “We’re going to change places. I’m coming there and you come here and fight.”