Military History Uganda–Tanzania War, 1978–1979
by
Charles Thomas
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0242

Introduction

The Ugandan-Tanzania War, also known as the Kagera War within Tanzania, was a brief conflict from October 1978 to June 1979. The conflict itself began following a series of provocations by the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, culminating in the invasion of Tanzanian territory bounded by the Kagera River by Ugandan forces. In response, the Tanzanians mobilized their own military as well as several groups of armed Ugandan exiles within Tanzania, eventually expelling the Ugandans from Tanzanian soil before invading Uganda proper and overthrowing Amin’s regime. Despite the transformative nature of this conflict within East Africa, where it caused severe economic consequences in Tanzania and a series of bloody conflicts for political control of Uganda, no formal historiography of the conflict yet exists. Early efforts at creating a general chronicle of the war created what is currently the nationalist narrative, which centers Tanzanian actions. This viewpoint has since been expanded upon in a limited way by scholars who have examined the legal, diplomatic, and humanitarian aspects of the conflict and, more recently, by a series of historical explorations in East African newspapers. Aside from this, the conflict is often mentioned in passing within the more general histories of Tanzania and Uganda, but it is rarely explored beyond the established narrative. As such, it cannot be said that the Uganda-Tanzania War has a robust body of works on it yet; a series of works, ranging from general overviews to epic poems, allow some access to the subject but do not yet offer a larger range of thought that would allow researchers to focus on different interpretations of the conflict or more deeply explore specific aspects. It is hoped that this initial bibliography might be used as a starting point for the development of a more expansive historiography of the conflict in the coming years.

General Overviews

There are essentially only four general overviews of the conflict and only three of those are widely available. Ngatuni, et al. 1982 is a limited-production Tanzanian history written, in part, by a veteran of the war and which offers a relatively straightforward and patriotic narrative of the conflict. Avirgan and Honey 1983 remains by far the most distributed and this journalistic account is the main source of the nationalist narrative. However, since it is largely informed by the access offered to Avirgan and Honey who accompanied a Tanzanian unit on its advance to Kampala, it effectively is a limited viewpoint for much of the western axis of the conflict. Cooper and Fontanellaz 2015 offers a more comprehensive examination of the organizational structures of the combatants as well as the operations spread across the theater of combat, albeit from a non-academic viewpoint that does not diverge from the nationalist interpretation. Finally, Thomas 2022 offers an updated synthesis of academic works to create a holistic narrative, but, due to brevity and current historiography, it does not push far beyond the current interpretations of the conflict.

  • Avirgan, Tony, and Martha Honey. War in Uganda: The Legacy of Idi Amin. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Tanzania Publishing House, 1983.

    The first and primary general overview of the conflict, it offers a straightforward narrative of the war and its eastern axis of combat.

  • Cooper, Tom, and Adrien Fontanellaz. Wars and Insurgencies of Uganda, 1971–1994. Warwick, UK: Helion, 2015.

    A more detailed exploration of the operational history of the conflict, offering specific information on units and movements, but little academic interpretation.

  • Ngatuni, J. F, A. N Kigadye, and M. A. I Ghahae. Vita vya Kagera: Kagera Hadi Arua. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Black Star Agencies, 1982.

    A local popular history written in part by a veteran of the war, it has limited written sections paired with a plethora of unique photographs.

  • Thomas, Charles G. “Uganda-Tanzania War.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History. New York: Oxford University Pres, 2022.

    A brief synthesis of the existing works on the conflict, offering a combined narrative of the overall war and its effects on the two primary combatants.

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