Nearly a year since he fled the country, outspoken Gen David Sejusa, aka Tinyefuza, has been replaced as coordinator of intelligence services by Security Minister Muruli Mukasa.
In this interview with Deo Walusimbi, the minister discusses the state of the country’s security, the funding gap in the Internal Security Organisation, (ISO), phone tapping and the rift between President Museveni and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, among other issues.
What are your roles as minister for Security?
The chief role is to coordinate intelligence services in this country and to make sure that the intelligence community provides services to various departments of government, which include agencies and ministries.
Any achievements since you took the job?
There are many achievements, but they cannot be single-handedly claimed given the nature of what we do, because we provide intelligence services to all government agencies. The main achievement we can talk of is that we have been able to contain the subversive elements, terrorism for instance.
I can say that we have not registered any serious terrorist incident since 2011; we have been able to provide services to accountability sectors; we have achieved in making sure that people don’t mismanage their offices and other issues.
What is the state of the country’s security today?
I would say that security now is stable; we don’t have any major threat against the country, both internally and externally. We have been having threats from rebel groupings in neighbouring countries like ADF in Congo and M23 which was threatening our security, not in the sense of directly attacking us, but their activities would generate refugees and so on.
But fortunately now, through various efforts, intelligence, military, and even bilateral diplomatic efforts, M23 is now no more. The Congo government is now embarking on neutralizing the other rebel groups that have been operating on their territory like the M18, the ADF and the FDR.
The same, I think, is true with threats from the Somali militant group al- Shabab. With internal threats; we have tried, to a certain extent, to contain criminality, robberies and murders here and there.
What steps have you put in place to guarantee our safety?
We have a fairly strong network which can give early warnings of some threats from negative groups. We now have strong coordination between various countries within the great lakes region and other countries beyond the Great Lakes. There’s frequent exchange of information about impending security threats.
ISO has complained that it is cash-strapped. Doesn’t this impact on the safety of the county?
I think under-funding notwithstanding, we are still safe. There is strong coordination between the agencies; police, the army, intelligence services and actually the population.
Yes the under-funding is there and this has not just happened this year, but it has been on for a number of years, largely because of budget constraints. [But] the solution and the answer is that there is coordination, these agencies don’t act in isolation. When there is a deficit in the police angle, we shall cover it from the army angle.
Doesn’t the under-funding of ISO undermine the country’s security?
To some extent yes it does, because it means that if you [would] like to travel to Entebbe and the fuel you have only takes you to Kajjansi, then it means you will stop at Kajjansi and you will not go to Entebbe.
But what we do is to tell police to take over and then the army, much as its concentration is on external threats.
Should foreign donors help fund you?
It would be okay, but foreign donors normally don’t make significant interventions in security.
It is approaching a year since Gen Sejusa, who was the coordinator of Intelligence Services, fled to London; who replaced him?
That job has now been taken over by me, the minister and I am in charge of coordinating intelligence in the country.
Do you have the requisite competence?
Yes. What does it take? Fortunately, all the technical, well-trained people are still in the agencies. What I bring in is just the political angle because whatever we do even in security must be in line with the various policies which are in place.
How do you separate your political ideologies from security matters?
All these sectors cannot be separated from politics. Yes they are technical matters, but in the end, all these actions which are taken go towards reinforcing or servicing a political authority which is government which is headed by a president and also headed by a party.
Would you agree with the assertion that Gen Sejusa left a gap as far as intelligence gathering is concerned?
Not at all; otherwise, if he [had] left a gap, we would be now suffering and panicking, saying that this man went away, but the work continued as usual because the people who used to do the actual work stayed here.
Do you plan to ask for a supplementary budget to bridge the funding gap in ISO?
Yes, I think. The permanent secretary will have to look into that to persuade the treasury and government that there is a need for a supplementary budget.
How much would that supplementary budget be?
Ugandans think the ministry of Security is no longer vibrant as it used to be under Prime Minister Mbabazi…
I don’t know. By the way, that is their perception, but the nature of our work doesn’t allow us to go out in the press and be seen to make political statements. If vibrancy is characterised like that, I am sorry, the ministry is not vibrant.
As long as the appointing authority is satisfied and we gather intelligence information on robbers, on murderers and this information is so good to be used by police to arrest these robbers, then we are doing a good job.
What is the justification for the rampant heavy deployment of police and army all over the capital city?
Deployments are necessitated by the nature of the threat and that nature determines the level of deployment. If, for instance, there is an incident of breach of peace, then you deploy enough policemen to overwhelm and overcome that threat.
Sometimes you find many policemen on the streets, other times you don’t find any or very few. If you hear that people plan to burn petrol stations like we have learnt, that requires increased deployment in those vulnerable areas.
How many Ugandans have mobile phones?
Well, I don’t have the exact number, but they are very many maybe close to 10-12 millions, or so Ugandans.
How do you ordinarily arrive at the figure of phone subscribers?
You look at the registrations from operators, for instance MTN, Orange, and Airtel and so on.
It is a public secret that your government listens in on Ugandans’ phone conversations, why?
That’s not right.
Can you look me in the eye and say ‘no’?
No. What happens is that if there is any tapping that should be done, it should be done under the law and it provides that should you have suspicion that some telephone user is using the telephone for subversive activities, then you go and apply to the magistrate for permission to tap that particular telephone and the magistrate may grant that permission [and] you start doing that tapping and it is for a limited period.
What is the essence of that tapping?
The tapping is intended to either get the evidence which you want or to dispel whatever fears you might have.
We all heard that the prime minister’s phone was tapped; did you also apply for permission from the magistrate?
No, there was no application to tap the prime minister’s phone; not any that I know.
In case a need arose, would you apply for such a court order?
There is a class of people whose telephones cannot be tapped. Why? Because it is taken and assumed that these people are beyond subversion in that they cannot be enemies of their own government. Such people include the president, the vice president, the prime minister, the speaker of Parliament, [and] the chief justice.
How do you use the tapped data?
It is used for court purposes against the culprit and fortunately within this law now, this kind of evidence is accepted in court.
What do you make of the influx of refugees in the country from the security point of view?
It is unfortunate; we cannot stop the influx because there are problems in neighbouring countries. What has happened is that the worst fears that ordinary Ugandans had, have been allayed.
They thought that these refugees would come in with their guns and cause problems here. The agencies have been very vigilant as well as the population. All those who had guns were disarmed and were treated as refugees.
As one of the loyal cadres of NRM, what does the ongoing rift between President Museveni and his prime minister mean for Museveni, NRM and Uganda ahead of 2016 elections?
There is no wrangle as such; what we agree is that there is an internal debate and the effect of this debate is actually to deepen democracy, particularly the internal democracy within parties. If it was a wrangle, there would be some fear that it could cause an irreconcilable rift [within] the party.
And once that happens, many things can happen: many people can run out of the party, the party could collapse and anything can happen, but fortunately, it is not a wrangle, but a debate and I think it has been well handled within the party.