In the almost complete absence of any direct reporting from the border area it is difficult to be sure about what exactly happened in the area of the Kagera Salient in West Lake Region. The following is a brief account of some important dates.
12th October: The Ugandan Government claimed that a battalion of Tanzanian troops crossed into Uganda and that there had been fighting near Mbarara. There was an immediate denial from Tanzania. A Tanzanian spokesman said that allegations of invasions were always made when Uganda was facing internal trouble. No evidence of a Tanzanian invasion at this time was ever produced by the Ugandans. But it was later revealed that on or around 13th October Ugandan aircraft bombed villages and roads around Bukoba. The Tanzanian Government apparently tried to play down the incidents for fear that they would distract attention from southern Africa.
22nd October: Idi Amin announced that the Tanzanian “invading force” had pulled back.
26th and 28th October: Ugandan aircraft again bombed Bukoba.
27th October: Again, Uganda claimed it had been invaded by Tanzanian forces, this time Cuban troops were alleged to be involved. Again, reports were dismissed by the Tanzanian Government and by most independent observers and diplomatic sources. Ugandan radio reports were very contradictory and on at least one occasion an identical “news bulletin” was broadcast two days running: The “invasion” story was seen by some as an attempt to cover up serious trouble in the Ugandan army. The Kenyan Daily Nation said that 150 Ugandan soldiers had been shot for mutiny.
30th-31st October: Ugandan troops invaded the Kagera salient in Tanzania
1st November: The Ugandan government issued a statement claiming it had annexed 710 square miles of Tanzanian Territory, up to the Kagera River. Army mobilisation is ordered in Tanzania. President Nyerere said “We do not want to fight, but now we are going to fight until this snake is out of our house.” Tanzania asked Kenya to stop fuel supplies from getting through to Uganda. President Nyerere rejected all offers of mediation, saying firmly that there was nothing to mediate. “It is our belief that our true friends will want us to remove him (Amin) from our soil.” Kenya offered to mediate but did not stop Ugandan supplies.
6th November: Idi Amin suggested that the OAU should set up a special committee to mediate.
7th November: Between 8,000 and 10,000 Tanzanian troops were reported to be in the Bukoba area near the Kagera River. Reports came through that they had begun to counter attack Ugandan positions.
8th November: Idi Amin offered to withdraw his troops and to accept the recognised border, on condition that Tanzania would never invade again. The London Daily Telegraph commented that this was like asking someone “whether he would stop beating his wife.” President Nyerere contemptuously rejected Amin’s offer. Over the next few days reports said a major Tanzanian offensive continued, but what was actually happening could not be confirmed.
13th November: It was reported that Ugandan troops had been ordered to pull back out of Tanzania. But a Tanzanian Government statement said that Ugandan troops were still in Tanzania. It was later revealed that 40,000 Tanzanians had fled from the Ugandan invaders.
By 16th or 17th November most diplomatic sources believed that all Ugandan forces had left Tanzania. But some doubts remained.
19th November: The Tanzanian newspaper Sunday News said Idi Amin was “a cancer which must be removed.” Prime Minister Edward Sokoine said Tanzanians should be prepared for a long war.
23rd November: Tony Avirgan reporting in the Guardian from Kassambya village in the zone invaded by Uganda reported the devastation caused by the war. The Ugandans looted and plundered. No-one could tell how many Tanzanian villagers had been killed, but survivors told of widespread murder and rape. According to John Darnton in the International Herald Tribune, “it is apparent that the marauding invaders killed civilians with abandon.”
9th December: President Nyerere’s speech on Independence Day refers to the conflict. He is very critical of the OAU and its attempts at mediation. He demanded that OAU states should condemn the Ugandan invasion and ensure that Uganda paid compensation for the damage. Idi Amin, he said, was a murderer who was responsible for more deaths than either Smith or Vorster. But Africans had been silent because he was black not white. There was something wrong with the OAU Charter which made the organisation into a “trade union” for African heads of state, while it offered no protection to African people. The OAU Charter made the condemnation of an African fascist impossible.