The pullout of Tanzanian troops from Uganda has dealt a severe blow to President Milton Obote, whose war-ravaged East African country has never recovered from both the excesses and the subsequent ouster of Idi Amin.
The pullout, which began this past weekend, is to be completed by the end of June. Advance Tanzanian units were being ferried across Lake Victoria to the Uganda side over the weekend and thousands of villagers welcomed their men home.
Withdrawal of Tanzanian troops took place against appeals by President Obote to leave them a little longer to stiffen the badly trained and undisciplined Uganda Army and police. The Army and police are having to cope with a steadily rising crescendo of attacks from rebel dissident groups aiming to destabilize the fragile security situation and eventually unseat the Obote government.
Some 10,000 Tanzanians troops were left behind by President Nyerere of Tanzania after the ousting of Idi Amin. The force was originally about 40,000, and units have been slowly withdrawn at intervals.
But the Tanzanians say they cannot afford to maintain their troops any longer in Uganda. Their cost to Tanzania was about $5 million monthly, a steady drain on Tanzania's economy, already in dire straits with a huge balance of payments deficit.
Tanzanian officials say that Uganda was committed to compensate Tanzania under the agreement, now expiring, but no money has been received by any of the governments running Uganda since Idi Amin was deposed.
An indication of how seriously the Obote government regards the Army pullout is the appeal made to Nyerere last weekend by Paulo Muwanga, the vice-president and defense minister, who flew to Dar es Salaam urgently to see Nyerere.
But it appears that Nyerere was adamant on grounds other than the cost to Tanzania of keeping troops in Uganda. He has grown impatient with the failure of successive governments in Uganda to bring peace and start rehabilitating the shattered economy. He is also tired of criticisms from other African countries that his role in Uganda was to "colonize" it and take it firmly under his wing.
With some 4,000 Uganda troops, not exactly known for their good behavior and discipline, and a small police force, many of whose officers are undergoing training in London, President Obote is likely to be hard pressed to contain the continuing attacks by rebel groups determined to overthrow his government. The groups accuse Obote of rigging the December elections that returned him to power.
Sources in Uganda say that the rebel groups now appear to have rallied under one banner, the clandestine Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM), whose leader is the young radical, Yoweri Museveni. Last week he smuggled a tape recording out of Uganda saying the movement would fight on to overthrow Obote. It was played on the BBC.
It now appears that the rebels are moving into ministerial echelons in their campaign of killing and destabilization.
An assassination attack was made on Dr. John Otim, Minister for Animal Industries and Fisheries, April 27. He escaped bullets and a grenade explosion, but two of his aides were killed. Dr. Otim is considered to be very close to Obote and a "known confidant." Other officials have been killed in the last week , mostly close supporters of Obote or Paulo Muwanga. On April 28 the UFM claimed responsibility for an attack on a military convoy near Kampala, claiming 100 troops killed, though that may well be a wild exaggeration.