UGANDA: Amin:The Wild Man of Africa

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Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, learned of the Uganda developments at 7 a.m. last Friday from wire-service reports. At 8:30, during the routine morning briefing, he informed the President, who asked to be kept advised every hour of what was happening. There were American intelligence reports that a high-level Cuban military delegation, probably headed by a general, had arrived in Uganda. There were no Cuban troops in sight, but it was possible that the delegation had come to discuss the question of military support. The White House decided to consult other African leaders for advice and to avoid provocation. It was also decided that the National Security Council need not be called into session, and the President spent his scheduled weekend at Camp David. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance conferred with U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young. The U.S. Embassy in Bonn remained in touch with the West German Foreign Ministry, which has handled American interests in Uganda since the U.S. Embassy in Kampala was shut down in 1973.

What would the U.S. do if a real crisis developed? The State Department set up an operations center, and the Pentagon ordered the nuclear aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise and five other naval vessels, which had been cruising in the Indian Ocean, to stand by off the East African coast. The ships were not really equipped for an airborne rescue operation—together they carried fewer than 200 Marines—but Washington hoped that their presence would have an inhibiting influence on Amin. White House Press Secretary Jody Powell told reporters: "The President will take whatever steps he thinks are necessary and proper to protect American lives."

Late Friday morning in Washington, Paul Chepkwurui, the Ugandan chargé d'affaires, assured the State Department that Amin "merely wants to meet the people to reassure them that nothing will happen to them." Later, reporters asked Chepkwurui why Idi Amin was detaining the Americans. "Well, you know," said the diplomat blithely, "there are some bad people in Uganda, and maybe if some of these missionaries tried to leave on their own, they might be harassed or something."

By noon Friday, the White House had received a rambling, 1,000-word cable from Amin to Carter. After explaining away the death of the archbishop, Amin declared that he had heard reports from Nairobi that "5,000 American Marines are supposed to come and rescue 250 American missionaries in Uganda." This would be impossible, Amin continued, because "the Americans in Uganda are happy and are scattered all over the country," and, in any case, "Uganda has the strength to crush any invaders." Amin, who thinks that all his difficulties are inflicted upon him by Jews, accused Carter of being "in the pocket of Zionist Israel" and then suggested angrily that instead of asking the U.N. to investigate the violation of human rights in Uganda, the U.S. should ask the U.N. to look into "the crimes which the U.S. has committed in various parts of the world." But he closed by asking Carter "to pass my greetings to all Americans, both white and black," and added a typically comic touch: "I hope to visit you at the White House in the near future."

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