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Uganda-Tanzania War of 1975-1976

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The Uganda–Tanzania War of 1978–1979 has received little attention from historians. This article uses British diplomatic sources to explore the causes and course of the conflict. In particular, it examines how Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere sought to hide from and later justify to the rest of the world an invasion of Uganda and the overthrowing of Idi Amin, actions that contravened the Charter of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). Distinct among contemporaneous African conflicts for its noticeable lack of a Cold War context, the war demonstrated the shortcomings of the OAU in resolving African conflicts.

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"Since independence from British colonial rule, Uganda has had a turbulent political history characterised by putsches, dictatorship, contested electoral outcomes, civil wars and a military invasion

There were eight changes of government within a period of twenty-four years (from 1962-1986), five of which were violent and unconstitutional. This paper identifies factors that account for these recurrent episodes of political violence and state collapse. While colonialism bequeathed the country a negative legacy including a weak state apparatus, ethnic division, skewed development, elite polarisation and a narrow economic base, post-colonial leaders have on the whole exacerbated rather than reversed these trends. Factors such as ethnic rivalry, political exclusion, militarisation of politics, weak state institutions, and unequal access to opportunities for self-advancement help to account for the recurrent cycles of violence and state failure prior to 1986. External factors have also been important, particularly the country’s politically turbulent neighbourhood, the outcome of political instability and civil conflict in surrounding countries. Neighbourhood turbulence stemming from such factors as civil wars in Congo and Sudan has had spill-over effects in that it has allowed insurgent groups geographical space within which to operate as well as provided opportunities for the acquisition of instruments of war with which to destabilise the country. Critical to these processes have been the porosity of post-colonial borders and the inability by the Ugandan state to exercise effective control over its entire territory."

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The emergence of humanitarian intervention as a norm prompts a rare question: why, if a war appears to be conducted based on humanitarian grounds, would a state then hide that fact? This paper examines the 1978 Tanzanian invasion of Uganda and the conflicts preceding it. Although Tanzania declined to justify its removal of the murderous Amin regime in Uganda as “humanitarian intervention” due to constraints imposed by flaws in the Organisation of African Unity, the invasion was in no small part due to adherence to humanitarian norms as well as personal and state interest. Broadly speaking, the Uganda-Tanzania war provides an insight into what occurs when two norms clash.[Boyle, Emma Leonard 2017] The Ugandan army invaded Tanzania in October 1978. The dictator of Uganda, Idi Amin Dada, wished to annex the Kagera Salient, an area of land under Tanzanian control that extended past the Kagera River to the Uganda-Tanzania border. The Tanzanian government retaliated by recapturing the Salient and pushing forward into Uganda, seizing the capital Kampala and removing Amin from power in April 1979.[Gunderson, Frank D., 2010] The Uganda National Liberation Front was installed as the national government and a new president took office. When viewed so simplistically, the war appears short, and to have been fought for clear, easily discernible reasons. Many experts believe the Uganda-Tanzania war “provides an early case of a war justified by humanitarian intervention.

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In the long run, the steps-to-war explanation identifies both general underlying causes and a set of proximate causes of war that span all levels of analysis. Underlying causes are seen as the rise of a territorial dispute or other important issues of contention that leads states to rivalry. Territorial issues merely provide a source of conflict that is more likely to end in war than other types of issues

Although most territorial disputes do not end in war, these issues have a higher probability of leading to war than any other issue.

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Boyle, Emma Leonard. “Was Idi Amin’s Government a Terrorist Regime?” Terrorism and Political Violence 29, no. 4 (2017): 593-609.

Finnemore, Martha, and Kathryn Sikkink. “International Norm Dynamics and Political Change.” International Organization 52, no. 4 (1998): 887-917.

Grahame, Iain. Amin and Uganda: A Personal Memoir. London: Granada, 1980.

Gunderson, Frank D. Sukuma Labor Songs from Western Tanzania: “We Never Sleep, We Dream of Farming.” Leiden: Brill, 2010.

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