Several hundred thousand people are believed to have been killed during the eight-year regime of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. After seizing power from the then president of Uganda, Milton Obote, in 1971, his dictatorial style of leadership made many see him as a monster. He had come to power with good intentions for his people but as time went on, he became power-drunk and started abusing people, historians say.
He became ruthless and brutal, repressing the Ugandan people and ignoring their human rights. Amin is said to have had “foreign mercenaries” who did most of his dirty works. One of these is Isaac Maliyamungu, a DRC-born man who later came to Uganda and got a job as a gatekeeper at a textile factory in Jinja, a town in southern Uganda. It was reported that he was a nephew or cousin to Amin, as they were both from the Kakwa ethnic group.
By 1967, he had joined Uganda’s army largely with the help of Amin who was then a deputy commander of the army. Not much is known about Maliyamungu’s educational background. What is known is that he was an intelligent person, enabling him to take advantage of any opportunity that came his way. Apart from his native Kakwa, he could speak various languages including Kiswahili, English, Luganda, Lusoga, Luo and Runyoro.
In 1967 when Maliyamungu joined the Uganda Army, Amin was at the time secretly recruiting his Kakwa people into the army with the goal of overthrowing the government. Maliyamungu worked his way up the ranks as he was promoted to the rank of corporal and served as a pay clerk for Uganda Air Force in Entebbe until Amin’s coup of 1971 that overthrew the government of Obote.
Indeed, Maliyamungu played a huge role in that coup when he captured and took over the Entebbe airport with an army tank. A year before the coup, he had helped in illegally recruiting and training men in Mabira Forest in Uganda. The men, some from South Sudan, were trained to prepare them for the 1971 coup, according to a report.
After the coup, Maliyamungu became Amin’s favorite person and eventually his “right-hand man”. In this role, he carried out the most important secret missions of dictator Amin, including the extrajudicial killings of thousands, as stated by a report. Amin did not only entrust him with the duty of getting rid of his opponents within the army but also gave him powers over life and death, meaning Maliyamungu could execute anyone whether in the army or outside of it without question.
It turned out that Maliyamungu was not just an officer executing commands from his boss, but he was ruthless himself, perhaps even more ruthless than Amin. He became known for some extremely brutal methods of torture and execution. He often dismembered the body parts of his victims or drove military trucks over them. He sometimes shot his victims, burnt them or drowned them. He could do this in private or in public — at schools, markets, government building corridors or barracks. And his fellow army officers or government officials couldn’t question him as they feared what he could do and also due to his closeness with Amin.
According to sources, Maliyamungu in 1972 executed the former mayor of Masaka in southern Uganda, Francis Walugembe, by first mutilating his genitals before parading him on the streets and then ordering his men to cut him into pieces in a market in the presence of people. It is documented that due to Maliyamungu’s thirst for murder, Amin himself thought of him as a “madman” but Amin cared not as long as Maliyamungu’s “madness” was towards his opponents.
Some historians believe that Maliyamungu had mental issues. Others argue that since he was not Ugandan, he had no qualms brutally murdering or being cruel to Ugandans.
Meanwhile, the former Ugandan leader, Obote, at the time had sought refuge in Tanzania but was keenly observing occurrences in Uganda. He subsequently succeeded in preparing an army that attacked the Ugandan capital Kampala in 1979 and Amin was overthrown. But not without a fight from Maliyamungu and his troops.
When Amin was overthrown in 1979, Maliyamungu and his family fled back to DR Congo (then Zaire). But during the bush war against Obote’s government in the 1980s, he became leader of a group loyal to Amin in West Nile. However, the group did not win the war due to so many issues including poor management. Maliyamungu subsequently escaped to Sudan, where he died of poisoning in 1984. Yoweri Museveni’s group would later take over power in Uganda in 1986.