EAST AFRICA: An Idi-otic Invasion

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Amin avenges a slight

Even for Uganda's mercurial dictator, Idi Amin Dada, it was a fairly grandiose boast. Last week, after a series of radio broadcasts falsely claiming that his country had been invaded by neighboring Tanzania, Big Daddy announced that a 2,000-man Ugandan force had made a "record in world history" by occupying a 710-sq.-mi. patch of Tanzanian territory in "the supersonic speed of 25 minutes." Henceforth, Amin declared, ''all Tanzanians in the area must know that they are under direct rule by the Conqueror of the British Empire"—one of several modest sobriquets that Amin uses to describe his ample (300 lbs.) self.

How long Uganda can sustain this invasion is another matter. Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere launched a massive counterattack, vowing that his 27,000-man, Chinese-and Russian-supplied military force would strike the invaders "until we have finally gotten rid of this snake from our house." Thousands of cheering Tanzanians gathered in Dar es Salaam to urge on Nyerere's army, which commandeered buses, Land Rovers and trucks to drive to the front, 850 miles away. But Nyerere reportedly was compelled to ground his air force after Tanzanian soldiers shot down five of their own MiG fighters, mistaking them for Ugandan jets.

Relations between Tanzania and Uganda have been edgy for several years. After Amin seized power in a 1971 military coup, Nyerere offered sanctuary to ousted President Milton Obote, who still lives in an ocean-front home in Dar es Salaam. Obote was soon joined by 20,000 refugees who had fled the Ugandan tyrant's bloodthirsty attempts to wipe out all opposition. A year later, the exiles staged a poorly organized coup attempt against Amin, who has never forgiven Nyerere for backing his enemies. In one sneering telegram, Amin told the Tanzanian President, "I love you very much, and if you had been a woman, I would have considered marrying you, although your head is full of gray hairs. But as you are a man, that possibility does not arise." Last week Big Daddy, a former heavyweight champion of Uganda, challenged the wiry Nyerere to a boxing match to settle the fate of the invaded land.

Beyond the personal grudges, Uganda and Tanzania have been feuding about unpaid bills racked up by the East African Community, a now defunct economic union that comprised the two countries and Kenya. The Ugandan economy has floundered because of a precipitous decline in the price of coffee, the country's only significant source of foreign earnings.

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