Dar helped kick out Amin, so why isn’t Uganda more grateful?
Every other year or so, Tanzania comes knocking on Uganda’s door, asking to be paid several millions of dollars’ worth of debts owed to Dar es Salaam for its role in the war that ousted Idi Amin in 1979. Recently, it sent in yet another demand note.
The war debt that Uganda owes Tanzania has become like the pensions owed to the employees of the Old East African Community; there is perpetual confusion and disagreement over it.
There is a view in Uganda that Tanzania is claiming a mercenary fee.
That a revolutionary country, such as Tanzania was then, doesn’t bill other revolutionaries for helping them overthrow their dictators. It would be as if Che Guevara had sent Fidel Castro an invoice for fighting alongside him to oust the Batista dictatorship.
Though Tanzanians were warmly welcomed and much loved in Uganda after the war, they left a much-hated force, especially in the south where they were seen as having helped Milton Obote and his Uganda People’s Congress to steal the December 1980 elections.
Small transgressions that had been forgotten, such as the large-scale looting of property like cars and hi-fi equipment by Tanzanian soldiers, became a point of contention. It was argued that they had already paid themselves handsomely through the looting, and Uganda didn’t owe them anything.
However, during the Obote II government, some attempts were made to pay reparations — mostly through giving Tanzania big consignments of coffee — for a war that all but destroyed its economy, and eventually dealt the final blow to Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa project.
All that said, these are not the key reasons for official Uganda’s present attitude toward Tanzania’s role in the anti-Amin war.
After the war, one of the most important days was April 11, when Uganda marked Liberation Day.
It was an event that the Obote government distorted by downplaying the role of the other exile groups, like President Yoweri Museveni’s Front for National Salvation, in the war against Amin.
Only the UPC-affiliated exile groups were recognised. And the rest of the glory went to Tanzania.
The guest of honour, therefore, was always from Tanzania.
Not surprisingly, the Museveni government scrapped April 11 as Liberation Day after it took power in January 1986. The new Liberation Day became January 26, when the Museveni government was sworn in.
Its victory, however, was actually declared on January 25, but a political decision was taken not to make that Liberation Day because it was also the date of Amin’s coup in 1971.
Two important days new in Uganda’s political calendar became February 6, when the National Resistance Movement marks the launch of its bush war against the Obote government in 1981, and June 10, Heroes Day, to commemorate those who died in the Museveni guerrilla war.
THOUGH NRM LEADERS ALWAYS FELT betrayed by Tanzania, the principal reason April 11 was killed was because they decided that Uganda’s liberation narrative would be exclusively built around the NRM.
There couldn’t be another Liberation Day. Thus it became necessary to deligitimise Tanzania’s decisive role in the anti-Amin war.
For the Kampala government to pay Tanzania, or even to acknowledge the debt, would remove the main basis on which it based its right to dominate Ugandan politics. Maybe one day Dar might get a cheque. But it will never collect under the Museveni government.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is executive editor for the Nation Media Group’s Africa Media Division