Africa's wars retain much of the impenetrable obscurity that the Dark Continent presented to the 19th century explorers. In Somalia, Ethiopia, Angola, Chad, and for the major part of the current six-month-old war between Tanzania and Uganda, neither side has given much information about what is going on or provided access to the war zones.
Details of the present phase of the war are vague as Uganda pours out military information on its government radio that is totally misleading, while from Tanzania the Uganda National Liberation front gives a few sketchy details that are almost invaribly either premature, three days old or simply wrong.
for six months reporters have had no firsthand access to the war except for a one-day trip by four journalists from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in the very early days of the conflict. they were taken to witness that Uganda had in fact, crossed into Tanzania's Kagers salient and pulled back again.
When the telephone lines to the Ugandan capital of Kampala went down for eight hours this weekend, foreign journalists covering the war from neighboring Kenya hoped it really signaled the end of the war because without telephones, it would be impossible to report the war. the direct dial telephone system from Nairobi to Kampala has been the only way of skirting the official silences of Dar es Salaam or the official web of lies from Kampala.
Diplomats in Kampala used to refuse to talk on the telephone for obvious reasons of dicretion. similarly Ugandans would not even talk to their families in Nairobi on the telephone for fear of Amin's telephone taps. but as the Amin government began to crumble the exhilaration of the ugandan middle class remaining in Kampala meant they were happy to talk to callers from Nairobi at any hour in the hope of swapping information about their area of the city for the broader picture from Nairobi.
Some journalists spent the last week with the uganda telephone directory phoning names at random to ask what they could see from their windows. Amazingly in a country that only a month ago was terrorized and traumatized by years of Amin's random butcheries, people now often respong to their unknown callers.
Neither the United States nor Britain has an embassy in Kampala, but other embassies' staffs have worked overtime going out to the streets checking rival radio claims and assuring journalists that most of the claims are official fantasy.
But that source closed down again late today after a meeting of all the diplomats in Kampala in which renewed warnings from the failing government were discussed. the diplomats decided that their safety demanded no more phone conversations with journalists.
More eyewitness accounts have come from the handful of foreign businessmen still operating in Kampala, although those still hoping for Amin's survival are not very reliable informants.
Many embassies in Nairobi have for some time been reporting to their governments about Uganda because of the difficulties and dangers of being based in Kampala. these embassies throughout the war have had access to better information-although by no means enough-than their counterparts in Dar es Salaam. The Tanzanian government's information policy regarding both embassies and journalists is much tighter than Kenya's.
Even the Ugandan rebels' spokesman in Tanzania is dependent on official Tanzanian military information and often gets information by telephone from Nairobi first.
The Kenyan government has been embarrassed by much of the reporting of its neighbors' war coming from Nairobi. it recently asked both foreign and local journalists to stop their "speculations on the war from Nairobi."
Today's Nairobi Times charged in a front-page story that the Western press's reports caused a mass flight by soldiers, who ripped off their uniforms,and by diplomats and even Amin's ministers from Kampala.
With the end of the war apparently in sight, the Tanzanian government appears to be ready to open up to the press a bit more by organizing a flight to "liberated Uganda." but this has caused fights at Addis Ababa, ethiopia's airport, stolen boarding cards, grown men crouching in airplane toilest and expensive hasty charter flights over the closed Kenyan-Tanzanian border as more than 100 journalists scramble for Dar es Salaam. they all hope to get one of the 40 seats on a plane that will be leaving for Uganda "on an unknown date" as the modest promise of Tanzanian official put it