President Museveni last month took concrete steps to retire long-serving senior army officers, many of whom have tried but failed to leave the army before.
The president and commander-in-chief appointed Gen Salim Saleh, his brother, to lead a committee that will scrutinise this issue and advise accordingly.
Agitation for retirement amongst senior army officers came to the public domain when renegade Gen David Sejusa, aka Tinyefuza, last month sent an angry email to the press in which he claimed that many senior army officers are held in the UPDF against their will, partly to minimise the possibility of them joining opposition politics.
Internally, however, similar agitation came up during a High Command meeting held on May 22 at State House Entebbe. Sources familiar with the meeting told us that the head of Military Doctrine in the UPDF, Maj Gen Pecos Kutesa, took the lead in asking the president why senior officers who had asked to retire had not been granted their wish.
In response, the president said that though he had been preoccupied with other government duties, he would look into it. Indeed, he immediately named a committee led by Gen Saleh, deputised by the head of the UPDF ammunition factory in Nakasongola, Brig James Mugira, to scrutinise the matter.
Other members of the committee include Reserve Force Commander Maj Gen Levi Karuhanga, Director of Legal Services Brig Ramadhan Kyamulesire, and Col David Kasura, the acting director of the National Leadership Institute Kyankwanzi (NALI).
Army Spokesperson Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, on Tuesday confirmed the appointment of the committee.
“I don’t know how far the committee has gone, but what I know is it is already working. The Saleh-led committee is just building on an earlier committee headed by Brig Mugira that was mandated to look into the same issue,” Ankunda said.
It’s not clear when this committee will complete its assignment let alone whether it will recommend retirement for some of the long-serving army officers demanding it, and if the army leadership will necessarily agree.
Exiled Gen Sejusa, a member of the historical High Command, last month warned the UPDF leadership against holding officers against their wish. Sejusa, who tried to force his way into retirement in 1996 but lost a protracted legal battle at the Supreme court level in 1997, accused Museveni of standing in the way of senior army officers seeking to retire.
He said the army had applied military law as a political weapon to keep all potential political challengers under lock and key.
“It is immoral to keep a former commander of the army or such senior people in an army commanded by their children and grandchildren,” he said, referring to the newly-promoted crop of young army officers.
“The reason they are not being allowed [to retire] is clear. They want to ‘eliminate any threat to any power-related project’,” claimed Sejusa in an email through his lawyer, Joseph Luzige.
The Observer has learnt that long-serving army officers who have expressed intent to retire over the last decade but remain put include Sejusa; former deputy Army Commander, Maj Gen Joram Mugume; Maj Gen Pecos Kutesa; former intelligence chief, Brig Henry Tumukunde; former Military Police chief and 5 Division Commander, Brig John Mugume Chagga; former Director of Military Intelligence, Brig Fred Tolit; former Chief Signaller, Brig Yowasi Kiiza; and former military attaché to Arusha, Brig Stephen Kashaka.
Others are Brig Olanya Ojara, Col Gyagenda Kibirango, the former deputy Chief of Logistics Col Fred Bogere, Col John Baptist Mulindwa, Col Steven Oluka, Brig Stephen Othieno, Col Stephen Rwabantu and Col Jackson Bell.
“There are many officers who want to retire. Some of us are tired. We are emphatic and we want to go,” said a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Some of these officers’ retirement applications were submitted to the Commission and Promotions Board, which is chaired by the Chief of Defence Forces, as far back as 2000. The letters are addressed to the Permanent Secretary in the ministry of Defence, the CDF, the Joint Chief of Staff (JCOS) and the Chief of Medical services.
“Every time we are supposed to travel outside, we need permission from the CDF or sometimes it may require the consent of the commander-in-chief. We could have been doing business overseas to survive in our retirement but sometimes it’s impossible,” said another source.
However, The Observer has learnt that whereas there are many officers who want to retire, some have since been recalled from retirement and promoted.
“Many of the officers who openly engaged in partisan support of the regime, which is unconstitutional, bounced back in the army and were promoted,” a source told The Observer.
Maj Gen Julius Oketta was one of those mentioned. Currently serving as Relief and Disaster Coordinator in the Office of the Prime Minister, Maj Gen Oketta initially retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1995 but somehow bounced back to rise to the rank of brigadier and later on to major general.
Others, like Brig Kasirye Gwanga, retired only to return claiming he had failed to survive as a civilian. During the May 22 High Command meeting, Museveni explained that in the army’s terms of conditions of service, they had provided for age limits and level of command so that an officer should not be a captain after the age of 40 years, a major after the age of 45 years, a colonel after the age of 51 years, etc.
“Either he advances or retires,” Museveni told the meeting.
However, our sources pointed out several cases of officers who have stagnated at the same rank for over 10 years. For instance, Pecos Kutesa was a colonel since 1988, when the ranks were officially handed out to victorious NRA fighters, until recently when he was promoted to Major General.
In his email, Gen Sejusa claimed that taxpayers are maintaining thousands of 70-year-olds in the army just because Museveni wants to keep their mouths shut.
“This abuse must stop,” he said, adding: “It’s this single most abuse of our officers that is creating discontent and anger within the military which is now spilling over to the streets.”
He noted that he himself has on many occasions wanted to retire from the army, only to be blocked.
“Why was I not allowed to retire?” he asks. “Simple. To keep my mouth shut and kill any political ambitions I may have.”