Somalia could be categorised as a failed state today, but 44 years ago it mediated in a peace deal to prevent Uganda and her southern neighbour Tanzania from going to war.

Then Somalia president Siad Barre brokered a regional peace deal that delayed the war from breaking out, by about five years.

Then president Idi Amin was responding to the invasion by pro-Milton Obote forces who had bases in Tanzania. The invasion was short lived as the invaders were pushed out of Uganda.


The Uganda Argus newspaper of September 17, 1972, reported that at least 1,000 ‘Tanzanian troops’ had invaded the country, reaching 100 miles away from the capital, Kampala. They overran Kyotera, Kakuto and Kalisizo towns.

A strong response from the Amin government followed the attack. It started off by blaming the British government of supporting the invaders, before arresting a number of British nationals in Uganda.

According to The Keesing’s Contemporary Archives volume 18 of November 1972, “After arresting a number of British nationals by police, the government appealed to both the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and to Dr Kurt Waldheim, the UN Secretary General, to intervene against unprovoked aggression.”

The same publication goes on to state that on the same day, September 17, 1972, in Tanzania an official statement was issued by government saying, “forces of a people’s army inside Uganda had taken over a military camp at Kisenyi and seized a large quantity of arms.”

However, in the same statement the commander of the Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces (TPDF), Maj Gen Mrisho Sarakikya, denied that Tanzanian troops were involved in the operations. Though there were reports in Tanzania that a group of Ugandan dissidents fighting against the Ugandan Army had taken a military garrison.

A day after the invasion, government troops managed to retake the towns lost to the invaders.

On September 18, 1972, Radio Uganda announced that among those arrested during the invasion included three former Ugandan Army officers and two civilians. Among those captured were Wilfred Odong, Picho Ali and another only identified as Capt Oyile.

Having suspected British involvement in the raid, a Ugandan Defence Council meeting resolved that Amin removes all Asians and Europeans from the security forces with immediate effect, for they could not be trusted.

The Time newspaper of London reported the next day that “Nine British nationals, including nine journalists have been arrested by the police. Among those arrested include children and women”.

The Keesing’s Contemporary Archives further says while meeting diplomats from the Organisation of African Union to brief them about the invasion, Amin said: “Uganda had been attacked by 1,500 men, including Tanzanian soldiers, supporters of ex-president Obote and Israeli mercenaries.”

“Captain Oyile had admitted that there were guerrilla camps at Bukoba and Tabora (in Tanzania), where between 1,000 and 1,500 men were being trained.”

Despite having retaken the towns from the invaders, the Ugandan Air Force continued bombing Bukoba in Tanzania, prompting the Tanzanian government to move its 4th battalion from Tabora, supported by a mortar company from Musoma, towards the Uganda boarder to stop Ugandan troops from crossing into their country.

After the Bukoba air attacks, Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere sent a telegram to King Hassan of Morocco, then chairman of the OAU, protesting against the attacks.

According to the Daily Telegraph newspaper of September 17, 1972, the British government reacted to Amin’s allegation through the junior minister for foreign and Commonwealth affairs, Lady Priscilla Tweedsmuir, who told the House of Lords that: “The allegation that Britain was deeply involved in the situation in Uganda had been repeated in an indirect message from the Ugandan Foreign ministry.”

She reiterated that the British government “had no prior knowledge of operations then taking place in southwest Uganda, was not involved in any way in their planning or execution, and certainly had no plans of invading Uganda”.

Towards the end of the month, the Sudanese government intercepted five Libyan Air Force planes carrying officers, arms and ammunition to Uganda. They were forced to land at Khartoum airport.

It should be remembered that Obote had just left Sudan three months earlier to go to Tanzania. Tripoli tricked Khartoum that they had recalled their planes back home but they instead flew to Entebbe.

The Keesing’s Contemporary Archives says Sudanese president Gaafar Nemery declared “that he supported Uganda’s right to defend her sovereignty but hoped that this would be done without armed conflict.”

Foreign mediation

As Amin was looking for support, the OAU started a diplomatic solution to prevent the conflict from escalating into a full-blown war. The Organisation’s secretary general, Nzo Ekangaki, and the Somalia government led the quest for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Ekangaki first approached then Kenyan president Jomo Kenyatta to mediate. According to Kenyan Newspaper Daily Nation of September 22, 1972, then Kenyan minister for power and communication Ronald Ngala announced, “We are friendly to both nations. Whatever is going on between them, Kenya will not get involved

With Kenya refusing to mediate, three other heads of state, included Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, presidents Houari Boumedienne and Sekou Toure of Algeria and Guinea respectively all expressed readiness to be associated with the initiative.

Egyptian president at the time Anwar Sadat met Tanzanian foreign minister John Malecela, who requested him to send a diplomatic delegation to Uganda to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

It was, however, reported in Kenyan media that presidents Amin and Nyerere had agreed to an interim cease-fire, with Uganda promising to stop bombing Tanzanian towns and Tanzania undertaking to withdraw its forces from the border.

Then Somali president Siad Barre drafted a five-point peace plan which was presented to the two presidents by the Somali foreign minister Omar Arteh Ghalib.

American newspaper New York Times of September 24, 1972, reported that the plan had the following questions, “Would Uganda halt its bombing and land attacks if it were assured by Tanzania that it would not be attacked by Tanzanian troops or pro-Obote guerrillas? Would Tanzania, given an assurance that the Ugandan Army would not attack it, undertake not to attack Uganda? If so, would Tanzania withdraw its troops from the frontier? Would Tanzania also withdraw the pro-Obote fighters from the border? Would Tanzania oppose subversive activities threatening a neighbouring state?”

After receiving the draft plan, Amin warned the guerrillas in the border towns of Mutukula and Kikagati to withdraw. Despite agreeing on the peace plan, the threat and accusation of aggression against each other persisted.

Just two days after Amin had agreed on the peace plan, he accused Zambia, Tanzania and India of planning to attack Uganda.

The Keesing’s Contemporary Archives says Amin’s comments followed the visit of presidents Kenneth Kaunda and Varahagiri Venkata Giri of Zambia and India respectively to Tanzania.

The Cape Times newspaper of South Africa on September 28, 1972, quoted the Indian government spokesperson saying “that Indian involvement is a mischievous and fantastic rumour without any foundation whatsoever”.

In a presidential press statement aired on Radio Uganda on September 28, 1972, Amin accused Tanzanian of carrying out another invasion in which a number of attackers were arrested in Mutukula.

Among those captured was Alex Ojera who was a former minister of Information and Broadcasting.

The following day, Ojera was paraded before diplomats, including OAU secretary general Ekangaki who had come to Kampala on a peace mission.

Mogadishu peace accord

The talks in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, were scheduled to start on September 27. It involved foreign minister of Uganda Wanume Kibedi, his Tanzanian counterpart John Malecela, Somalia’s Omar Arteh Ghalib, the OAU secretary general, among others.

However, they were delayed until October 2, 1972. The Ugandan and Tanzanian foreign ministers met the Somali president who told them that the conflict between their two countries was nothing but a colonialist conspiracy aimed at weakening African unity.

On October 5, 1972, after two days of talks, Kibedi, Malecela and Arteh in the presence of Ekangaki, signed an agreement which was published simultaneously in Dar-es-Salaam, Kampala and Mogadishu on October 7, 1972.

Previously Siad Barre had paid a visit to Dar-es-Salaam on October 6, 1972, and Kampala the following day.

During the visit to Uganda, Amin named a road after Siad Barre in honour of his efforts to end the conflict between Uganda and Tanzania.

The peace agreement required the two countries to withdraw their forces at least six miles away from their borders.

This was supposed to come into effect by October 9, 1972. A team of Somali peace observers would be deployed on the borders of the two countries to observe the withdrawal.

The peace accord also required both countries to stop harbouring subversive elements on their areas that cross into the other’s territory and to end all hostilities. Both countries were also required to return all the properties they captured from each other during the conflict.

On October 11, 1972, Amin announced that his troops had withdrawn six miles from the border and that fighting had ceased. A day later the Tanzanian Defence minister Edward Sokoine announced the withdrawal of the TPDF from the border area.

The Obote loyalists who had participated in the invasion were relocated deep inside northern Tanzania.

A former member of the Kikosi Maalum says they concentrated in the areas of Tabora where they went into Tobacco growing and charcoal burning from 1972 until 1978 when they were mobilised for the final battle that deposed Amin.

Source: All Africa

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