Juma Butabika

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Juma Butabika
Birth nameJuma Ali Oka Rokoni
Nickname(s)"Butabika" ("crazy")
Died(1979-04-11)April 11, 1979 [lower-alpha 1]
AllegianceFlag of Uganda.svg  Uganda
Service/branch Uganda Army (UA)
Years of service?–1979
Rank Lieutenant colonel [lower-alpha 2]
Commands heldChui Regiment
Malire Mechanised Specialist Reconnaissance Regiment
Battles/wars 1971 Ugandan coup d'état
1974 Ugandan coup d'état attempt [3]
Uganda–Tanzania War  
Relations Idi Amin (first cousin once removed)
Other workChairman of the Ugandan Military Tribunal

Juma Ali Oka Rokoni, [lower-alpha 3] commonly referred to as Juma Butabika, (died 11 April 1979) [lower-alpha 1] was an Ugandan military officer who served as Uganda Army (UA) top commander during the dictatorship of Idi Amin. Despite being notorious for his erratic behavior and abuse of power, he was highly influential, held important army commands, and served as long-time chairman of the Ugandan Military Tribunal, a military court used by Amin to try and eliminate political dissidents and rivals. By commanding an unauthorized attack on Tanzania in October 1978, Butabika was responsible for the outbreak of the Uganda–Tanzania War which ultimately resulted in his death in combat, probably during the Fall of Kampala.

Uganda republic in East Africa

Uganda, officially the Republic of Uganda, is a landlocked country in East-Central Africa. It is bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sudan, to the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to the south-west by Rwanda, and to the south by Tanzania. The southern part of the country includes a substantial portion of Lake Victoria, shared with Kenya and Tanzania. Uganda is in the African Great Lakes region. Uganda also lies within the Nile basin, and has a varied but generally a modified equatorial climate.

Uganda Peoples Defence Force Armed forces of Uganda

The Uganda Peoples' Defence Force (UPDF), previously known as the National Resistance Army, is the armed forces of Uganda. From 2007 to 2011, the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated the UPDF had a total strength of 40,000–45,000 and consisted of land forces and an air wing.

Idi Amin third president of Uganda

Idi Amin Dada Oumee was a Ugandan politician and military officer. He was the President of Uganda from 1971 to 1979, and his rule gained notoriety for its sheer brutality and oppressiveness.



Early life and 1971 coup

Idi Amin in 1966. Butabika reportedly convinced him at gunpoint to become President of Uganda during the 1971 Ugandan coup d'état. Idi Amin en 1966.jpg
Idi Amin in 1966. Butabika reportedly convinced him at gunpoint to become President of Uganda during the 1971 Ugandan coup d'état.

Born as Juma Ali Oka Rokoni, [8] Butabika was of NubianKakwa descent, [4] [9] [10] and a grandson of Kakwa paramount chief Sultan Ali Kenyi Dada as well as the cousin of Idi Amin's father. [4] Having completed only a few years of primary education, [11] he was reportedly illiterate. [6] [12]

Kakwa people ethnic group found in Uganda, South Sudan and Democratic Rep of the Congo

The Kakwa people are found in north-western Uganda, south-western South Sudan, and north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, particularly to the west of the White Nile river.

At some point, Butabika joined the Uganda Army, and rose to second lieutenant during the rule of Milton Obote. [13] Over time, dissatisfaction grew among parts in the military about Obote's government, resulting in a conspiracy to remove him from power. [4] Butabika joined the conspirators, and their coup was planned at his house. The initial plan was to blow up Obote's plane at the Entebbe International Airport on 24 January 1971, but Butabika's wife informed her brother-in-law Ahmad Oduka, Senior Superintendent of Police, of the plot. He was supposed to be among those on the plane, and his sister-in-law urged him to stay at home on that day to save his life. Oduka, however, was loyal to the government and informed Minister of Internal Affairs Basil Kiiza Bataringaya. Though the assassination of Obote was prevented, the putschists still managed to launch a coup d'état on 25 January 1971. They overthrew the government, [13] but then became unsure about the further course of action. Amin was initially reluctant to assume the presidency, whereupon Butabika reportedly threatened him at gunpoint to accept his appointment as President of Uganda. [4] Meanwhile, Butabika's wife had fled the capital out of fear that her informing Oduka of the putschists' plan would have repercussions. [13]

Second lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer military rank in many armed forces, comparable to NATO OF-1b rank.

Milton Obote second president of Uganda

Apollo Milton Obote was a Ugandan political leader who led Uganda to independence in 1962 from British colonial administration. Following the nation's independence, he served as Prime Minister of Uganda from 1962 to 1966 and President of Uganda from 1966 to 1971, then again from 1980 to 1985. He was overthrown by Idi Amin in 1971, but regained power after Amin's 1979 overthrow. His second period of rule was marred by repression and the deaths of many civilians as a result of a civil war known as the Ugandan Bush War.

Entebbe International Airport airport

Entebbe International Airport is the principal international airport of Uganda. It is near the town of Entebbe, on the shores of Lake Victoria, and approximately 40.5 kilometres (25 mi) by road south-west of the central business district of Kampala, the capital and largest city of Uganda. The headquarters of the Civil Aviation Authority of Uganda have been relocated to a new block off the airport highway, but adjacent to the airport terminals.

Soon after the coup, Butabika was involved in the kidnapping and murder of two United States citizens around July 1971, namely journalist Nicholas Stroh and Makerere University lecturer Robert Siedle. The two had tried to gather information on unrest and mutinies that had broken out among some Ugandan military units as result of Amin's seizure of power. [14] [15]

United States federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country composed of 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Makerere University university in Kampala, Uganda

Makerere University, Kampala is Uganda's largest and third-oldest institution of higher learning, first established as a technical school in 1922. In 1963, it became the University of East Africa, offering courses leading to general degrees from the University of London. It became an independent national university in 1970 when the University of East Africa was split into three independent universities: University of Nairobi (Kenya), University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), and Makerere University. Today, Makerere University is composed of nine colleges and one school offering programmes for about 36,000 undergraduates and 4,000 postgraduates.

Career under the Amin regime

Abuse of power and army commands

"Juma Ali was not an easy person to deal with. He was a very temperamental, impatient, rude, irritable and unpredictable man with a chip on his shoulder whose character bordered on insanity and sadism. People nicknamed him 'Butabika' because his mental state was indistinguishable from those of the mental patients at Butabika hospital."

Gordon Wavamunno's description of Butabika [16]

Butabika became one of leading military figures under the new regime. [1] Despite this, he was widely considered insane in Uganda, even by his own colleagues in the military. [6] He was notorious for his eccentric, [17] "erratic" [18] and excessive behavior, including extreme brutality. [19] According to George Ivan Smith, Butabika believed himself to be a "demi-god" as the government allowed him to kill and torture at will, [5] while Peter Jeremy Allen described him as "merciless psychopathic killer" of "low mentality". [6] Similarly, businessman Gordon Wavamunno had a very negative opinion of Butabika, and regarded him as one of those who "were intoxicated with unlimited and irresponsible power, and did not hesitate to abuse it at the slightest opportunity or excuse." [20] The nickname by which he is best known stemmed from his extreme behavior: "Butabika" is the name of a prominent psychiatric clinic near Kampala, [5] [17] [21] and a byword for people with a mental illness in Uganda. [5] [6]

George Ivan Smith AO (1915–1995) career spanned radio, war correspondent, movie director, diplomat, poet and author. He was born 11 July 1915 George Charles Ivan Smith in Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), Australia. The first son of George Franklin Smith, a NSW prison governor and May Sullivan.

"As a people we are now called Australians because a vast & lonely land has touched us with her differences" George Ivan Smith, 1953'

Gordon Babala Kasibante Wavamunno, but often referred to simply as Gordon Wavamunno, is a Ugandan entrepreneur, businessman, and philanthropist. He is reported to be one of the wealthiest people in Uganda. He also serves as the honorary consul of Hungary to Uganda.

Kampala Place in Uganda

Kampala is the capital and largest city of Uganda. The city is divided into five boroughs that oversee local planning: Kampala Central Division, Kawempe Division, Makindye Division, Nakawa Division, and Rubaga Division. Surrounding Kampala is the rapidly growing Wakiso District, whose population more than doubled between 2002 and 2014 and now stands at over 2 million.

Promoted to lieutenant colonel, [lower-alpha 2] Butabika served as commander of "elite" units that were regarded as especially loyal to Amin, including the Chui Regiment [17] and the Malire Mechanised Specialist Reconnaissance Regiment. [3] [10] [25] As time went on, elements in the military grew dissatisfied with Amin's regime. Brigadier Charles Arube was among those who felt sidelined, and organised a meeting of high-ranking commanders in March 1974. Butabika was present, and offered Arube his help in cases where he felt ignored by the president. [3] Soon after, Arube attempted to oust Amin in a coup d'état. The Malire Mechanised Specialist Reconnaissance Regiment mutinied and joined the coup, but Butabika stayed loyal to Amin. [26] In the end, Arube's coup failed. [3] [26]

Lieutenant colonel (pronounced Lef-ten-ent Kernel or Loo-ten-ent Kernel ) is a rank of commissioned officer in the armies, most marine forces and some air forces of the world, above a major and below a colonel. The rank of lieutenant colonel is often shortened to simply "colonel" in conversation and in unofficial correspondence. Sometimes, the term, 'half-colonel' is used in casual conversation in the British Army. A lieutenant colonel is typically in charge of a battalion in the army.

Brigadier is a military rank, the seniority of which depends on the country. In some countries, it is a senior rank above colonel, equivalent to a brigadier general, typically commanding a brigade of several thousand soldiers. In other countries, it is a non-commissioned rank.

The Military Tribunal

Despite his extremely limited education, Butabika was also appointed as chairman of the "Military Tribunal" in 1973. [11] [21] The Military Tribunal had been set up by Amin to circumvent regular courts and enforce his decisions; [27] it thus had the reputation to "rubber-stamp[ ] Amin's death sentences". [10] According to Amnesty International, the tribunals Butabika chaired were de facto kangaroo courts and passed judgements without regard to laws or proper procedure. [11] Most prominently, he acquitted several senior military figures who were accused of involvement in the forced disappearance of 18 prominent Ugandans. [14] In contrast, Butabika passed extremely harsh judgements where opponents to the regime were concerned, earning a reputation as "one of Amin's chief executioners". [6] One Ugandan dissident noted that the Lieutenant Colonel's tribunals generally resulted in the death of the accused; they were either executed or released, only to be rounded up and murdered by Uganda's secret service, the State Research Bureau. [7]

Butabika chaired several prominent tribunals, such as when he sentenced British author Denis Hills to death in 1975 for calling Amin a "village tyrant". [15] [28] Two years later, he chaired the tribunal that sentenced 12 men to death for conspiring to murder Amin; [29] this trial in particular was described as "travesty of justice, a 'show', since the conventions and pleas of guilt were obtained by force from the accused". [27] He did, however, acquit Wod Okello Lawoko, senior manager of Radio Uganda, after the latter had fallen out of favor with Amin and been arrested on charges of treason. [12] Though Butabika was once dismissed as chairman on one tribunal for misconduct, namely corruption in late 1976, he was later reinstated. [11]

Uganda–Tanzania War and death

Map of the Uganda–Tanzania War, including the territory captured by the Uganda Army during the invasion of Tanzania (dark blue) Battles of the Uganda–Tanzania War.svg
Map of the Uganda–Tanzania War, including the territory captured by the Uganda Army during the invasion of Tanzania (dark blue)

By 1978, hostilities had greatly increased between Uganda and the neighboring state of Tanzania, with reports surfacing of invasion plans by the Tanzania People's Defence Force. Butabika was among the proponents of a preemptive strike against Tanzania, [30] [31] even though several other leading Ugandan officers believed that their military was not ready for a conflict with Tanzania. [23] The situation escalated on 9 October 1978, [25] when an altercation broke out between an Ugandan soldier and Tanzanian border guards. One of Amin's close advisors, Colonel Abdu Kisuule, later claimed that the entire incident had been orchestrated by Butabika to gain "favors and cheap popularity" from the president. [23] [22] According to this version, the Ugandan soldier who caused the altercation had been Butabika's brother-in-law, and his death in a shootout with Tanzanians caused Butabika to seek revenge. [18] [23] Others however report that the exact identity of the Ugandan soldier remains unknown, and that Butabika was lied to by his subordinates about the course of events; in that case, it is possible that he actually believed that Tanzanian border guards had initiated hostilities. [25] [30]

In any case, Butabika consequently ordered an unauthorized attack on Tanzania, resulting in the outbreak of the Uganda–Tanzania War. [22] His forces easily overran the Tanzanian troops stationed at Mutukula and Minziro, whereupon he telephoned Amin, claiming that Tanzania had launched an attack and that he had responded with a counter-attack. The president had already been eager to annex Tanzanian territory, and allowed the invasion to proceed. Reinforced by other UA detachments, Butabika occupied the entire Kagera salient (northern Kagera Region) until stopping at Kyaka Bridge, which was destroyed. The UA troops proceeded to celebrate while looting, raping and murdering in the occupied area. [25] [30] [23]

The Tanzanian military quickly regrouped, causing the UA to retreat back into Uganda even as President Amin declared Kagera's annexation. [23] The Tanzanians launched a large counter-offensive, and the Ugandan military soon started to disintegrate under the onslaught. [8] [1] By the time the Ugandan border town Mutukula fell to the Tanzanian army in January 1979, Butabika was back in Kampala and prepared the celebrations for the 8th anniversary of Amin's rule. The lieutenant colonel took part in a parade at Kololo on 25 January, where he and other high-ranking commanders performed a traditional Nubian dance. One Ugandan later commented that when he saw the dancing officers on live television, he realised that his country's leadership "did not know what exactly was going on" in regard to the war. [31] Butabika died in combat during the later stages of the war, though it is disputed when and where he was killed. [1] [2] According to an article by the Ugandan newspaper Daily Monitor , he died during the Fall of Kampala. On 10 April 1979, the Tanzanian forces and their UNLF allies entered the city, encountering only light resistance. Butabika was reportedly one of the few leading Ugandan commanders who stayed in the city, and was killed in a firefight with Tanzanian soldiers of the 205th and 208th Brigades in the Bwaise-Kawempe area as they attempted to secure the northern section of the city on 11 April. [1] In contrast, Tanzanian journalist Baldwin Mzirai wrote in his 1980 account of the war Kuzama kwa Idi Amin that Butabika died at a roadblock on the Bombo road on 7 April 1979. [2]

Personal life

Butabika was a Muslim, [9] [10] though he also believed in magic. [23] One observer described him as "short and small [...] bully" who enjoyed challenging "far more strongly-built men" for fights. [10] He was married to an Ugandan woman of the Baziba tribe. [18]


  1. 1 2 According to the Daily Monitor , he was shot on 11 April 1979 in Kamapala, [1] whereas Mzirai reported that he died on the Bombo road on 7 April 1979. [2]
  2. 1 2 Though most sources report that Butabika was lieutenant colonel during Amin's dictatorship, [8] [17] others, including Colonel Abdu Kisuule, have stated that he was a general. [22] [23] Either way, promotions "were issued randomly" under Amin's regime and mattered little compared to one's direct connection to the president. [24]
  3. He is also known as Juma Rakoni, [4] and Juma Ali [5] [6] [7]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "How Mbarara, Kampala fell to Tanzanian army". Daily Monitor. 27 April 2014. Retrieved 6 October 2018.
  2. 1 2 3 Mzirai 1980, p. 97.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Brig Arube's failed coup plan". Daily Monitor. 24 October 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 "Idi Amin's son relives his father's years at the helm". Daily Monitor. 13 April 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Smith (1980), p. 120.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Allen (1987), p. 129.
  7. 1 2 Seftel 2010, p. 203.
  8. 1 2 3 "Aspects of Amin's life that you missed". New Vision. 18 August 2015. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  9. 1 2 Smith (1980), p. 131.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Kato (1989), p. 106.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Amnesty International (1978), pp. 4, ERRATA.
  12. 1 2 Kalungi Kabuye (4 October 2012). "The real Idi Amin". New Vision. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  13. 1 2 3 Rashid Oduka; Ali Oduka (14 October 2012). "Saving president Obote". The Independent . Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  14. 1 2 Amnesty International (1978), pp. 15–16.
  15. 1 2 Denis Hills (7 September 1975). "THE JAILER AS SEEN BY HIS EXPRISONER". The New York Times . Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  16. Wavamunno (2000), p. 161.
  17. 1 2 3 4 Frederick Golooba-Mutebi (4 April 2011). "Elite troops turn paper tigers again as Gaddafi's Touaregs melt into the sands". The EastAfrican . Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  18. 1 2 3 "30 years after the fall of Amin, causes of 1979 war revealed". Daily Monitor. 11 April 2009. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  19. Alan Tacca (11 August 2013). "The ideological direction of NRM MPs is fascism". Daily Monitor. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  20. Wavamunno (2000), p. 160.
  21. 1 2 Otunnu (2016), pp. 292–293.
  22. 1 2 3 Cooper & Fontanellaz (2015), p. 24.
  23. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Henry Lubega (30 May 2014). "Amin's former top soldier reveals why TPDF won". The Citizen. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  24. Cooper & Fontanellaz (2015), p. 61.
  25. 1 2 3 4 "Pilot Omita parachutes out of burning MiG-21". Daily Monitor. 9 October 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2018.
  26. 1 2 Mwakikagile (2012), pp. 57–58.
  27. 1 2 Ellett (2013), p. 78.
  28. Keesing's Record (1975), p. 2.
  29. Seftel 2010, p. 191.
  30. 1 2 3 Mwakikagile (2010), p. 319.
  31. 1 2 "Lies drove Amin to strike Tanzania". Daily Monitor. 25 November 2012. Retrieved 14 October 2018.

Works cited