160. Paper Prepared in the Department of State1
THE PRECARIOUS SITUATION IN UGANDA
The Military Situation
Amin’s military situation is deteriorating steadily. The Tanzanians took Masaka—some 80 miles from Kampala—on February 23, according to Reuters. [1 line not declassified]
The Libyans apparently have been airlifting supplies and a small number of personnel to protect and advise Amin, but it is questionable whether late-arriving, small-scale Libyan military aid can save him.
The outcome will depend on whether the Tanzanians continue to press the war and whether the Ugandan exiles are strong enough to wreck Amin’s rule from within.
—The Tanzanians may soon face serious logistical problems as their supply lines lengthen and heavy rains make transportation difficult.
—The exiles are still untested in battle and divided among themselves.
The Ugandans’ resistance has been weak, [less than 1 line not declassified]. In the few instances where they stood and fought, they were quickly routed by Tanzanian BM–21 rockets. Ugandan losses in men and equipment have been significant. The Ugandans are suffering serious shortages of equipment, ammunition, and other supplies. [2 lines not declassified]
OAU and Libyan efforts to mediate the conflict appear to have little chance of success. Nyerere’s foreign minister is in Nairobi for the OAU ministers’ meeting and to “monitor” a meeting of the OAU mediation committee. His deputy foreign minister has gone to Tripoli to discuss a Libyan peace initiative. But Nyerere has no desire for mediation at this point. Government sources denied a Tripoli broadcast’s claim that Nyerere had agreed to negotiate with Amin. Publicly and privately, the Tanzanians continue to press their demands that the OAU condemn Uganda’s “invasion of Tanzania” and that Amin renounce claims to Tanzanian territory and pay reparations.
Nyerere apparently is pressing on with the war. He instructed his troops to take Masaka by February 21, before the OAU committee was [Page 419] to meet, and has been moving forward in talks to improve Tanzanian-Kenyan relations. Kenyan Foreign Minister Waiyaki told the press on February 20 that the talks were going well, and the “border will soon be open.” A border re-opening would have immediate short-term advantages for Nairobi. It could be Nyerere’s quid pro quo for Kenyan cooperation—or at least acquiescence—in his effort to topple Amin.
Amin may also face threats from his own colleagues. [7 lines not declassified]
Who Would Succeed Amin?
If Amin leaves the scene, we believe that the army will fragment, and that disorder and near-anarchy will ensue. Eventually, a military junta is likely to emerge. Its makeup is hard to predict, but may include anti-Amin junior and middle-ranking officers, plus some Ugandan military exiles.
—The Ugandan Army, despite its current disarray, is the only indigenous force that counts. Nyerere and the exiles will have to come to terms with what remains of it.
—The only alternative is an indefinite Tanzanian military occupation, which we think would be unfeasible.
—[1 line not declassified] the Ugandan Army consisted of some 17,000 men, perhaps 6 to 7,000 of whom are southern Sudanese. These Sudanese are regarded as “Amin’s mercenaries,” are disliked by the other troops, and, [less than 1 line not declassified], are nervous about their future and wish to return home.
—If the Sudanese depart, a large core of the remaining army would be Kakwa and Lugbara, tribes which live in northwestern Uganda. These groups have been predominant in the Ugandan military for the last five years, and cannot easily be disregarded. They are traditional rivals: the Kakwa are largely Muslim, and the Lugbara largely Christian. A minority of the Muslims are believed to be loyal to Amin. Senior officers such as Major General Isaac Lumago and Brigadier Isaac Maliyamungu are closely identified with Amin, whereas younger officers are involved in anti-Amin plotting. Major General Mustafa Adrisi, the disaffected former vice president, is from yet another northern Ugandan tribe.
We know little about the other troops. Some are southerners and easterners—tribes which were predominant during the British colonial period and which are antagonistic to the northerners. The southerners originally formed the military elite; they were well-educated and trained in British military academies. But after Amin took power in 1971, he began to promote ex-NCO’s with less than a sixth-grade education to field grade status over these career officers.
—Obote and the other Ugandan exiles are divided over who shall rule and whether the government shall be civilian or military. Obote [Page 420] and his Ugandan People’s Congress (UPC) are uneasily allied with the largest group of Ugandan military exiles, led by Colonel Tito Okello and Lt. Colonel Oyite Ojok, and with the Ugandan People’s Alliance (UPA), a loose confederation of small, leftist-oriented civilian groups. Okello originally favored a military government, but is now backing Obote. Obote is opposed by the Ugandan Nationalist Organization (UNO).
These groups and others have been armed and trained by the Tanzanian intelligence service. They are now fighting within Uganda without any agreed-upon programs. Obote himself does not seem to have a significant following within Uganda. The killings (in 1971, 1972 and 1977) under Amin’s direction, of Obote’s Lango tribesmen, and Acholi supporters within the Ugandan army, make support from that quarter doubtful. Therefore, if Nyerere were to attempt to install Obote in power, it would cause more trouble.
The foregoing should be read in light of our serious lack of [less than 1 line not declassified] information about conditions inside Uganda. Our Embassy in Kampala was closed in 1973, and reporting from the FRG Embassy, which looks after our interests there, is sketchy.
Possible U.S. Response to Fall of Idi Amin
The U.S. has led the world in denouncing the egregious human rights practices of Idi Amin, but we should be wary of appearing to take any credit for his demise.
Amin might well be overthrown soon by Africans. If they succeed, it will be without any assistance from either East or West, and in the past few months we have encouraged African countries in both the UN and the OAU to take the lead in handling the Uganda/Tanzania border dispute. We should, therefore, continue using the same policy line by following the African lead on recognition of and relations with any new Ugandan government. Although we would wish to be among the first to express our good wishes, it would probably be best to wait until some move has been made by such key countries as Kenya, Nigeria and Sudan.
We currently envision three possible scenarios for Amin’s overthrow:
(a) Amin is removed (deposed, killed, exiled, etc.) by opposition elements in his own government. If the new regime appears to have support throughout the country and can maintain law and order, we should not hesitate to make an appropriate statement to the press and have representatives from Embassy Nairobi visit Kampala as soon as possible.
(b) If, on the other hand, the overthrow of Amin results in chaos with various factions competing to succeed him, it might be weeks or [Page 421] months before a new government could establish control. We would have time to work out when and how we might like to re-establish relations.
(c) Ugandan exile forces might overthrow Amin in cooperation with Tanzanian military forces. The Tanzanian connections to any exile group taking power will be examined meticulously, and we would want to prevent any appearance of having instigated or encouraged Tanzanian actions. President Nyerere would deeply resent any indication that he might have been a U.S. client in these operations, and we should try to maintain our current posture of interested observer. The Kenyans will certainly be suspicious of any Tanzanian-dominated government, and we should probably await some sign from them as well as Great Britain before sending in a representative.
[Omitted here is a map of selected Ugandan ethnic groups.]
- Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 76, Uganda: 1/78–1/81. Secret; Noforn; Orcon. Sent to Brzezinski under a February 24 covering memorandum from Tarnoff who noted that the paper was prepared on February 23.↩