"You are bringing disaster on your tribe," the Rev. Spagnolo Adelmo told one of the guerrillas loyal to former dictator Idi Amin when they temporarily seized this West Nile town near the Sudan border last October.

The guerrillas became angry with the wiry little priest, threatened him with his own rifle but turned and walked away.

Unfortunately, the ensuing months have only proved the truth of Father Adelmo's words. The destruction, homelessness and signs of incipient famine in the area provide mute evidence.

Trying to apportion blame for the devastation is not easy. The root of the problem, however, lies in tribalism, the scourge of Africa.

Uganda has some of the most serious tribal divisions on the continent since the equatorial country is at a point where the Bantu tribes of southern and central Africa mix with the northern Nilotic, Sudanic and Hamitic peoples. There are at least 32 distinct tribes in Uganda.

Until Amin's rise to power, his home province of West Nile had always gotten short shrift. The country was occupied with a rift between the Baganda tribe, of Bantu origin, in the south and the Nilotic Acholic and Langi in the central part of the country.

When Amin overthrew president Milton Obote in 1971 he changed all that, giving preference to the Sudanic tribes, particularly the Lugbari and mainly Moslem Kakwa, his own tribe. In a country that is 75 percent Christian, the Moslem 10 percent got the choice positions.

The main victims of Amin's reign of terror, in which as many as one in every 25 Ugandans was killed, were the tribes in central and southern Uganda, although anyone close to the capricious dictator was also endangered by his violence.

His purge eliminated or forced into exile most of the intellectuals in Uganda, a country that had one of the highest standards of education in Africa.

The ouster of Amin in 1979 by the Tanzanian Army supported by Ugandan exile forces swung the pendulum in the opposite direction.

The depth of tribal problems is illustrated by a story widely told in West Nile about Capt. Nicholas Kibwota, an Acholi who was in charge of the victorious Ugandan forces in Moyo.

Many tribes, including the Acholi, believe that if a tribesman dies by violence in another area the soul of the departed will only "come home" if his relatives spill the blood of the people in the place where he died.

The Roman Catholic missionaries in the area say that Kibwota's father was trampled to death years ago by a buffalo in West Nile. Nevertheless, when his son reached the zone last year he acted out his version of the tribal rite -- taking his revenge on the hapless people living there.

Note surprisingly, the military is feared in the area. A U.N. mission noted extensive fears as recently as November. There has been some change since. In a meeting of local and military officials with U.N. officials last month there was some candid criticism of the Ugandan troops.

Elsewhere, the criticism is not so open. In Maracha, north of Arua, Matthais Ajuma, the county chief, was asked who was responsible for the widespread looting and destruction in the mission hospital.

In front of the Tanzanian commander of the area Ajuma blamed the Amin guerrillas. Once the officer left, however, Ajuma corrected himself without being asked and said, "It was the Ugandan Army."