There are many who would say that the incident had little bearing on the eventual beginning of war between Uganda and Tanzania in 1978, a war which led to the ouster of Idi Amin Dada from being Head of State of Uganda. My preliminary interest in the incident derives from what factors made Idi Amin do what he did, and how those factors could have been strengthened to achieve a more positive outcome for both countries had the factors themselves been properly identified and isolated.
My other interest in the story is how it could influence some of today’s big rivals to take similar steps and follow through, for the attainment of outcomes favourable to all parties.
Here is what happened: before war eventually broke out between the two East African neighbouring nations, tension had rocked the once peaceful relationship which existed between the Milton Obote-led Uganda and the Julius Nyerere-led Tanzania. When Idi Amin Dada overthrew Milton Obote, and made himself ruler in Uganda, relationship with Tanzania became frosty. The two leaders became opponents and rivals overnight, spewing out verbal projectiles at the slightest opportunity.
To douse the tension, and pull back both countries from the inevitable path of war, the Organization of African Unity, OAU invited the two leaders to some peace parley in the early 70s in Addis Ababa. With opening formalities over, the OAU Chairman invited Idi Amin Dada to give his speech, which he did with much aplomb, rounding off with this line as he looked Nyerere squarely in the face – “I wish you were a lady, I would have married you.” He did not stop there. As the other African leaders present tried to process what they had just heard, Idi Amin left the podium, went straight to where Nyerere was seated and planted a kiss on his cheeks.
All this drama was to no significant effect because there were no adequate follow-throughs. It seemed like only a flash in the pan. But could things have been different if other elements were incorporated in the mix? What kind of learnings can today’s big rivals draw from the incident? And who are some of the biggest rivals on the world’s stage today who might explore the possibilities inherent in Idi Amin’s gesture to Nyerere? Can they make it as spontaneous as Idi Amin’s? And more importantly, will they follow-through to the end, the path such attempt typically prescribes?