Gradually but inexorably, the momentum kept building. Earlier this month the government of violence-racked Uganda (estimated pop. 14.5 million) was denounced yet again by Amnesty International for torturing its political opponents. Two weeks later fighting broke out between soldiers belonging to President Apollo Milton Obote's Lango tribe and those from the Acholi clan, prompting Obote to tell a group of senior military men that they were welcome to try to wrest power from him if they coveted his "hot seat."
Last week around 2,000 mutinous Acholi troops, led by Northern Brigade Commander Bazilio Olara Okello, seized control of parts of the north and began moving southward. They surged across the White Nile and went on to overpower Obote loyalists at Bombo Barracks, 20 miles from the capital of Kampala. Finally, on Saturday, a column of about 20 tanks, jeeps and buses filled with heavily armed troops rolled into Kampala. Half an hour later, a voice interrupted programming on the state-run Radio Uganda to announce the "end of Obote's tribalistic rule." Obote had been charged with the killings of as many as 100,000 people since his election in 1980 to succeed the even more bloodstained dictator Idi Amin Dada.
As Obote fled, reportedly across the border to Kenya, crowds of happy civilians poured into the streets to celebrate. Yet it was quickly apparent that the new military government was still unsteady. One of the first acts of the new regime, apparently headed by Okello, was to close the international airport at Entebbe. Before long, the roughly 2,000 soldiers patrolling the streets were hard pressed to keep order as the celebration degenerated into a looting spree. Stores were smashed open, and one pilfering soldier was shot dead. A few hours later, a spokesman began broadcasting on radio to announce a twelve-hour curfew. Gunfire could be heard after the "bloodless coup" as rebel troops tried to flush Obote loyalists out of a Kampala barracks.
Indeed, Uganda's bloody history of tribal vendettas did not seem likely to end soon. In Saudi Arabia, the exiled Idi Amin, who had ousted Obote in 1971 before being overthrown himself in 1979, applauded the coup but warned that "if the new leaders refuse my advice, we would work to topple them." Asked if he would return to Uganda, Amin merely answered, "Everybody wants to go home.''