By Josepha Jabo
On 4th July 2016 Israeli Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Benjamin Netanyahu, accompanied by his wife Sara Netanyahu came to Uganda for a one day state visit, during which a ceremony to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Operation Thunderbolt was held at Entebbe International Airport and thereafter a counter-terrorism summit with President Yoweri Museveni and regional Heads of State at State House. From the Philistines to the Palestinians Israel has had a long history with counter-terrorism making it the ideal country to confer with on anti-terrorism. Now that Uganda-Israeli relations have been restored under Museveni’s rule, Netanyahu and Museveni will also hold bilateral talks.
‘Operation Thunderbolt’ is also called ‘Operation Entebbe’ and alternatively Operation Yonatan in memory of the late Lt. Col. Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu who headed the Sayeret Matkal commando unit and the elder brother of Israel’s current Prime Minister who died during the 4th July, 1976, Entebbe Raid to rescue 110 Jewish hostages that had been taken captive by hijackers who were from the terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine on a Air France flight.
I have often wondered what it was like for Ugandans who lived through the Entebbe Raid. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to interview Ambassador Ibrahim Mukiibi, now a Senior Presidential Advisor, who was a junior officer in Uganda’s foreign services in 1976. I asked him, what was the reaction of the Ugandan people in the wake of the Entebbe Raid? This is how he responded:
“I was returning from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Summit in Mauritius, when we learnt about the Entebbe Raid while we were in the air, from the pilot. When we arrived at Entebbe Airport, the situation was so tense. The soldiers were so hostile that we did not know if we would reach Kampala. People were happy because the Israelis had taught Amin a lesson, but they could not express their happiness openly because we were under military rule. After Amin’s coup, the Constitution was abrogated. There was no Parliament. There was no rule of law. Amin was ruling by decree; whatever Amin would dream would become a decree! Amin’s regime and Obote 2 were the worst periods in Uganda’s history. After the Entebbe raid, because the soldiers in the Uganda Army felt their humiliation, they took their anger out on the citizens and some people were even shot. There was increased hostility towards the citizens. The soldiers were small gods, they had the right to kill and take life. There were extrajudicial killings. The soldiers could take your car and drive it around Kampala and there was nowhere for you to complain. If you went to the Military Police Barracks in Makindye to complain the chances of coming out alive were slim. The reason why it was so easy for the Israelis to carry out the raid was because they are the ones who built the runway at the airport. Previously, the Israelis had their battalion, a military mission at Entebbe Airport, when they were conducting military training in Uganda, so they were familiar with it. Amin had been trained as a paratrooper in Israel. One trick the Israelis used against Amin was one of Amin’s friends in military, who knew Amin when he was in Israel, called him and kept him talking on the phone to distract him while the raid was taking place.”
The ambassador’s testimony, coming forty years after the Entebbe Raid, will resonate strongly with the new generation of Ugandans for whom it is easy to take peace for granted, because they have not known war. Above all terrorism goes against the principle of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) that has consistently fought against terrorists like LRA, ADF and Al-Shabaab. Thankfully, the Uganda Army disintegrated in 1979 and today, Ugandans can take national pride in UPDF whose anti-terrorism, peace-keeping roles and rescue missions in Liberia, South Sudan, CAR and DRC, Somalia, has made it undoubtedly the best army in the East African region.