The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) has announced deployment of 2,754 soldiers to Somalia, marking the start of a 12-month tour of duty in the war-ravaged Horn of Africa country.
The latest contingent of UPDF soldiers joining the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) is code-named Battle Group XIV, commanded by Brig Sam Kavuma.
Since 2007, the UPDF has sent seven battle groups to Somalia, and currently has the largest contingent of at least 6,223 soldiers.
So far, the UPDF has provided five of the six overall mission commanders, each of whom has served alongside a commander specifically for the Ugandan contingent.
With each battle group usually deployed to serve for 12 months, the different commanders have each got an opportunity to demonstrate their leadership abilities. In the brief profiles below, The Observer traces the different senior UPDF officers who have served in Amisom.
Overall Amison commanders
1. Maj Gen Levi Karuhanga Feb 2007 — March 2008
A veteran of the bush war that brought Museveni to power, Gen Karuhanga, RO 057, was the first overall commander of Amisom. Karuhanga was also overall leader of the Ugandan peacekeeping mission in Liberia in 1994. He has served in different military units across the country, and was a military attaché to Tanzania in 1988-1990.
Upon his return from Amisom, Karuhanga was deployed as commander of the Reserve forces. Since June 2014, he has been chairman of the UPDF General Court Martial.
2. Maj Gen Francis Okello March 2008 – July 2009
Before joining Amisom, Gen Okello was a UPDF MP. After 16 months in Somalia, he was abruptly recalled, with Amisom forces reportedly losing troops and ground to Somali insurgents. (See: Angry Museveni overhauls UPDF’s Somalia command)
Back home, Okello spent seven months on katebe (without assignment), until he became commandant of the Uganda Rapid Deployment Capability Centre, where he remains. He is responsible for preparing Uganda to join the Eastern Africa Standby Force, one of the five regional units that will form the Africa Standby Force.
3. Maj Gen Nathan Mugisha July 2009 — June 2011
As Commander of the UPDF 04 Division in 2003-2005, Maj Gen Nathan Mugisha is credited with breaking the back of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Mugisha took the same operational efficiency to Somalia, where he not only warded off an al-Shabab offensive in August 2010, but also launched a counter-offensive that saw Amisom forces seize control of about 50 per cent of Mogadishu city.
Mugisha was wounded in a September 17, 2010 car bomb attack that left 40 injured. Mugisha’s performance saw his tenure extended by an additional 12 months. At the end of his tour of duty, President Museveni retained Mugisha in the war-torn country by appointing him as deputy Ugandan ambassador to Somalia.
4. Maj Gen Frederick Mugisha June 2011 – May 2012
A namesake of his predecessor, Mugisha was commandant of the UPDF artillery division in Masindi by the time of his appointment to Amisom. He was promoted from the rank of brigadier shortly before deployment in Somalia. Mugisha is credited with pushing al-Shabab out of Mogadishu in late 2011, paving the way for the longest period of sustained peace that the Somali capital has enjoyed since war broke out in 1991.
On his return from Somalia, Mugisha was appointed joint chief of staff of the UPDF, a position he held till May 2013 when he was replaced by Museveni’s former ADC, Maj Gen Wilson Mbadi. Mugisha was then made commandant of the newly-established National Counter Terrorism Centre.
5. Lt Gen Andrew Gutti May 2012 – December 2013
Before his deployment to Somalia, Gen Gutti was head of the UPDF Senior Command and Staff College, Kimaka. A one-time UPDF legislator, Gutti had also once been arraigned before the UPDF Court Martial on charges of creating ghost soldiers on the army payroll but was cleared on July 6, 2004.
Gutti oversaw the expansion of Amisom troop numbers from 14,000 to 17,731 and eventually to 22,000 soldiers, following the inclusion of forces from Kenya, Djibouti, and Sierra Leone. He also led the charge to rout al-Shabab out of five other regions of Somalia.
At the end of his tenure, Gutti was replaced by Lt Gen Silas Ntigurirwa of the Burundi National Defence Forces, the first non-Ugandan to lead Amisom. Among Gen Ntigurirwa’s deputies is a Ugandan, Maj Gen Geoffrey Muheesi, who is the mission’s in charge of operations.
UPDF contigent commanders
I. Col Peter Elwelu March 2007 – March 2008
When UPDF sent its maiden contingent to Somalia, it was under the stewardship of Col Elwelu. Prior to his promotion and appointment, Elwelu was at the rank of lieutenant colonel and serving as UPDF brigade commander of the 307 brigade in western Uganda.
Col Elwelu was in charge of setting up UPDF fighters’ operations in Mogadishu and leading the initial onslaught against al-Shabab insurgents. Upon Col Elwelu’s return at the end of his tenure, he was promoted to brigadier and appointed commander of the UPDF 03 Division, which is based in eastern Uganda.
II Brigadier Michael Ondoga March 2008 – May 2011
Brig Ondoga has had arguably the most troubled post-Somalia experience due to corruption allegations. With a month to the end of his tenure, President Museveni issued an order recalling Brig Ondoga and 20 other senior officers under his command to answer to charges of selling Amisom fuel and food.
By the time he was recalled, Brig Ondoga had been appointed Uganda’s military attaché to Kenya. The appointment was revoked and, instead, Brig Ondoga was arrested on arrival and arraigned before the UPDF General Court Martial. He has since then been incarcerated and continues to fight the charges.
III. Brig Paul L’Okech May 2011 – September 2013
Brig L’Okech served in the UPDF’s 04 Division during the war against LRA and in the 03 Division during the disarmament exercise in the Karamoja region. Such experiences held him in good stead in Somalia, where he is said to have excelled in the leadership of the Ugandan contingent.
After the end of Brig L’Okech’s tenure, President Museveni sent him to Russia as a military attaché, a position he holds to-date.
IV. Brig. Deus Sande Sept 2013 – Sept 2013
Having served throughout his stay in Somalia as a deputy contingent commander, Brig. Sande got a taste of the top job – however briefly – when he served in acting capacity. Before his deployment in Somalia, Brig Sande worked as the chief instructor of the armoured warfare training school.
V. Brig Dick Olum Sept 2013 – Oct 2014
Brig Olum swapped one foreign mission for another when he was appointed to head the UPDF contingent in Somalia. Before that, he was serving as the commander of Uganda’s operations against LRA in the Central African Republic. Brig Olum handed over the reins to Brig Kavuma last month.