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Date : 18th November, 2014
Time : 51′ 37″
Total distance run to date : 320km
Run map and details : http://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/640879102
Entebbe Airport. A solitary hijacked plane on the tarmac. Sitting there for days, its image dominating the media. And then the extraordinary news. The Israelis had flown in undetected, killed the hijackers and freed the hostages.
The headlines are etched in my memory but some of the details needed researching. The Air France plane in question was hijacked in Athens after flying from Tel Aviv, and was flown to Uganda via Libya (for refuelling). The hijackers were welcomed by Idi Amin who provided them with military and logistical support.
The hijackers were from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (External Operations) and two members of the German Revolutionary Cells. They threatened to kill the Israeli hostages unless they received a $5 million ransom for the plane and the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel and elsewhere.
When diplomatic efforts failed (including an approach by the PLO), the Israelis decided to take action. In a raid that captured the public imagination, and generated a number of films, they killed the hijackers and members of the Ugandan Army, destroyed much of the Soviet supplied Ugandan air force, and flew off after sustaining minimal losses.
A complete success in many ways – although there was a less publicised bloody aftermath. Kenya had helped the Israelis with refuelling and Idi Amin took a cruel revenge. Hundreds of Kenyans in Uganda were reportedly killed and the Kenyan Minister for Agriculture was assassinated. Dora Bloch, an elderly hostage who’d been released to hospital at the time of the raid, was also killed by Ugandan security forces.
There is perhaps a tendency in the West to think of Idi Amin – the self-proclaimed King of Scotland – as something of a buffoon. As his involvement in the above hijacking shows, he was much more dangerous than that. Inevitably, Ugandans suffered the most under his regime
There’s not time for a full review of his career in this blog, but here’s a quick outline. Idi Amin Dada – as he’s referred to locally – came to power in a military coup in 1971. He subsequently killed up to 500 000 political opponents ; declared an economic war that involved expelling 80 000 Asians while expropriating their assets ; destroyed the Ugandan economy ; and was only finally overthrown after the failure of the war he declared on Tanzania.
And how relevant is all of this today? Well, there is still political tension – and the Foreign Office advises against all travel to the North-East of the country. There’s also plenty of security at Entebbe airport and the local shopping centre. However, this is due to Uganda’s involvement in AMISOM – the African Union Mission in Somalia which is a regional peacekeeping mission operated by the African Union with the approval of the United Nations. As part of its duties, AMISOM supports the Government of Somalia in their battle against Al-Shabaab militants – hence the threat of terror attacks by Al-Shabaab in Uganda.
Bu there’s also plenty to be positive about. Uganda – the Pearl of Africa – was voted Lonely Planet’s no1 tourist destination in 2012 (with the caveat that it’s a homophobic country.) The economy has grown strongly since the 1990s with the World Bank forecasting growth of over 6% for this financial year.
And the Entebbe area is beautiful, generally safe and I only met warmth and friendliness. And plenty of banter on my run – which I always enjoy.
I started off down by the shores of the magnificent Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake and the world’s second largest freshwater lake. Freshly caught fish, gigantic storks, monkeys and gangs of school kids kept me company. I then made my way up into Entebbe town, where I frustratingly failed to find the National Botanical Gardens, backdrop to some of the early Tarzan films. A look round Entebbe and then back to the lakeshore completed my 10km.
The run was harder than I’d expected – especially given that it was the first run of the trip – and I wondered if I hadn’t trained hard enough. Or perhaps I’d over trained. However, I suspect it was the effect of the altitude – Entebbe is over 1000m which is high enough to make an impact.
Overall, a really good start to my East African odyssey and, if you’re in this part of the world, I’d recommend the 2 Friends Beach Hotel as one of the friendliest places I’ve ever stayed.