Colonel Innocent Oula, the UPDF’s chief of personnel and administration, was sworn in last month as an army MP, replacing renegade General David Sejusa.
As CPA, Oula is in charge of recruitment and remuneration of soldiers and is also the Promotions Board secretary. In his office at Mbuya, Oula spoke to Deo Walusimbi about soldiers’ welfare and about his new job in Parliament
Who is Colonel Oula?
I was born some 53 years ago to Amos Ogwang [Participant in the World War II] and Kevinah Ogwang [R.I.P] in Lira. I studied from Lira up to my secondary; then later on, I got my diploma in management. Recently I did another diploma from Nairobi in international relations.
I come from a very humble background. My parents could not afford school fees, but they managed to send me to school.
I come from a family of nine brothers and sisters and I was the second born. We didn’t have a good education really, but I managed to push on up to where I am. I was supposed to join the university but I didn’t get that chance.
How did you join the army?
I joined the army in 1981 and went to Sudan, to one of the best cadet schools in Africa. After graduating in 1982, as a Second Lieutenant, I was deployed to the north under Lutwa [Tito Okello], during the UNLA time. It is actually when I was training that the current president [Yoweri Museveni] went to the bush with twenty-seven fighters.
By the time the Obote II government was falling to Tito Okello, I was in China for a course. And by the time I returned, the situation couldn’t allow me to stay in Kampala. I went back to my village until NRA arrived in our area [and I joined] it.
So, you didn’t participate in the NRA guerrilla war…
No, because I went to China in 1984 up to 1985 and when I came back, I found a confused situation. If you were there, you would have seen that there was total confusion; there was UNRF under Moses Ali [General], there was Kasirye Ggwanga’s group, UNLA was also there; so there were a lot of confusion in the city and there were killings of people while struggling for power.
When NRA came up, they pacified the situation in my area and other neighbouring areas. So, that is how I joined the current army, as a captain.
What has been the interval of promoting you, because you joined the force as a captain and you have moved up only two ranks in 28 years?
There was a problem in promotion, but also promotion is about courses done, operations you have done. And I think there was no ill motive about the promotions because there are people who were majors or captains that time, who are not even at my rank of a colonel.
Ranking depends on how you perform but after going through many courses now, you can see me getting promotions, so I couldn’t explain that, but it depends on the leadership and who they want to promote; it is not out of any ill motive or anything.
You were recently sworn in as an army MP; how did you feel about this new role?
When you get elected to the House, which is one arm of government, you feel good to be part of an institution which makes laws and you are given chance to contribute to some noble issues.
UPDF has played a vital role in making it possible for democracy to take root in this country and when there is peace, it is possible for production and economy to grow and it is worth to be represented because it also needs guidance from other people and at the same time UPDF can also guide those people.
It is in that House [Parliament] that laws which govern the people are made and those laws need to be protected and UPDF has to make sure that they are implemented peacefully; we also sit there to ensure that the army doesn’t fall a victim of the problems created by some politicians who make laws out of disagreements and when they disagree, then the UPDF will have to get involved in that confusion either through the government or through the opposition doing things that make people suffer and then they all blame it on the army yet the mistakes were made by civilian politicians.
So, to be a representative of UPDF in Parliament is a privilege and I am grateful to them [UPDF] for having trusted me to represent them there.
What tricks did you use to beat your competitors in the race?
Names are always brought up by the president, who is the commander-in-chief, and the chairman of the Defence Council and High Command. He picked five names and I found myself on the list. They wrote to the electoral commission, but our electorates are members of the Defence Council; so, we were not allowed to campaign.
So, you can see that what makes people to judge that you are the right person to represent them is their choice, not because you lobbied and promised them so and so. In other words our job in Parliament is well known.
That you are just listening posts …
Yeah we are listening because UPDF being a neutral force, we are not allowed to discuss political issues, though there are some national issues which we can contribute to. [For instance] when animals in parks stray to kill people, we can always discuss and give ideas as parliamentarians representing UPDF.
Some people have argued that to maintain its neutrality, UPDF shouldn’t be in Parliament which is the heart of politics...
Since independence, mistakes were made by civilians that landed us as the army and mostly the people of Uganda into problems. Yet the mistakes can be avoided if we[UPDF] are there listening; if there are some laws that are being made that do not conform to our direction, we go back to our electorate [Defence Council] and report to them for them to discuss it [and] come up with a position.
How will you use your new position in Parliament to change the welfare of the men and women in uniform?
Welfare is not for the UPDF to change; it is actually for the whole country and that is the task for the government. Whatever is allocated to us in the budget we use it for the purpose it is located for.
Recently, we started many things and among them is Wazalendo Sacco, which is the effort to reduce the interest rates on the loans; we are now going into production because we want to be a productive army, and we have also started an Army shop, which we want to push further because we want the military to have subsidised goods compared to those in an open market.
What about pushing for the officers’ pay rise?
We could have added salaries, but that time will come because, first of all, we have to put right the economy. If we are going to increase the salaries for the UPDF, then what about other areas in the public service?
We want the Army Shop for our people [UPDF], but we can only lobby for the salary pay rise if the economy improves, because UPDF is not the only affected sector; there is the police and civil service and many others.
So, we know that we are supposed to coexist with other people.
What are your major roles as the UPDF chief of personnel and administration?
Chief of personnel and administration is the chief employer of the UPDF. All the personnel in UPDF pass through this office. When there is a requirement for recruitment, it is me who can reserve that recruitment, documentation and preparing the payment. And of course, transfers are processed through here.
When we want somebody to be promoted, we look at the records which are being sent to us by units, that this is how our guy has been performing, we want him promoted; we look into records and see whether there is a need for that person to be promoted; and when we promote you, where are we going to place you?
So, we discuss it in the Promotions Board and I also see who is supposed to go on a course and would that course add value to the institution?
How many soldiers do you have on the UPDF’s payroll?
I cannot give you the number of troops, but we have enough troops and actually we are not lacking strength. Ugandans are many because we have over 35 million and those are all our troops to defend the Country in case of any problem. If for instance a country attacks us, we shall mobilize the 35 million Ugandan to defend this country.
But for us as UPDF, we have enough troops and we have the reserve force, whereby we keep on calling them and assign them duties like sending them to Somalia to work along the regular army. When they come back, they go back home.
You do not intend to push the issue of pay, but how much do your soldiers earn per month?
They have enough money that keeps them going. Of course there is no money that is enough to anybody, but what we give them now is what the government can provide. For instance a private soldier gets close to Shs 350,000 per month.
Talking of a salary, has General Sejusa been scrapped off the payroll?
By law, when you join the military, you have to follow two laws; that is the civil and the military law. In the military law, we follow the UPDF Act 2005 and in this act, there is how a person can be removed [from] the payroll. One of the grounds is when you become a deserter.
This is a person who goes out without authority or is absent without official leave. And if you go for 21 days, we send a message that this guy has consistently gone out without notifying us, we strike you off the payroll.
So, he is no longer earning his salary…
No and the law says that if you desert the army, you must be put on trial and you will definitely be court-martialled.
When did you cease to pay Sejusa?
Immediately when his seat was declared vacant in Parliament. And by the way, he was not getting his salary from here, but in Parliament. The moment you start being paid by Parliament, you cease to get salary from this institution and the moment you do it, that means that you are earning double salaries which is illegal.
And when they declared him absent without leave, they stopped payments because they could not pay somebody who is not working.
So, have you also stopped earning from UPDF given your new assignment in Parliament?
Yeah. I have written to the Joint Chief of Staff to say that I will be paid from Parliament because I have been sworn in and it is a legal obligation. But I remain on my duty here unless the commander-in-chief decides otherwise.
You are the sectary to the Promotions Board; some Ugandans feel army promotions are not transparent...
I don’t know what basis they are giving that argument, but the promotion is clear-cut; you are recommended by your commander down there, for instance Kalangala, Mbarara, or Kabale. It is your commander to say that you need a promotion.
Then, we look at it, but there is a criterion we follow; how long have you served, what are the courses you have undertaken that require you to be promoted? Are there positions that if I promote you, you are going to fill and many other things that we consider while promoting officers and to promote somebody, there must be someone to recommend you.
Are the soldiers in combat operations in South Sudan earning extra money?
Parliament approved the deployment in South Sudan and they are part of us. It is not sanctioned by AU, not by UN but it is our habit of pan-Africanism as UPDF not seeing a neighbouring country suffering and we look on.
So that does not mean that we are going to add more [pay] to those fellows who are there. We just have to provide them with their requirement, their feeding and everything while there so that they can do the job which they were sent to do.