In part I of this interview published last week, Colonel (rtd) Fred Bogere talked about his unsuccessful opposition to President Museveni’s proposal in 2005 to scrap presidential term limits and how he was subsequently hounded by the establishment.
Today, Bogere, in the same interview with Baker Batte Lule, addresses himself to how Museveni’s younger brother, Gen Salim Saleh, led the army and how he was sacked after careful negotiations…
What was your role after the 1986 takeover?
I was made the deputy intelligence officer, Mobile Division, whose commanding officer was Gen Salim Saleh. My boss was present-day Brigadier John Kasaija who joined us a year before we took power. Above us, we had the director of military intelligence (Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu) and Jim Muhwezi was the director for Internal Security Organisation (ISO).
There was reorganisation of the units and I was called upon to take over as intelligence officer for 157 Brigade which was in charge of Kampala, Mityana, Luweero, Masaka, Jinja and Entebbe. That brigade was later sent to handle the emerging threats in the north; the likes of Alice Lakwena [Holy Spirit Movement rebels – ED].
When they transferred the brigade, Saleh said I cannot leave town because he had seen my mobilisation skills. Within two months I was called to join the headquarters of the Mobile Division, which was sitting at the current-day Joint Clinical Research Centre in Mengo.
After around four months of taking over, formal ranks were introduced and I was given the rank of captain. My boss, Saleh, was made a major general. Then we started getting training and I was promoted to major.
I was also transferred and made deputy director of military intelligence (finance and administration), deputising Gen Muntu with two others in charge of counter intelligence: Paul Kagame [current president of Rwanda] and a deputy for technical intelligence.
Later, I was transferred to Second Division in Mubende as intelligence officer. I was then called back for a course in Bombo and after made aide-de-camp to the army commander, who was now Saleh. I worked with him for all the short time he was army commander.
Why didn’t he last in that position?
In most cases he would not agree with the president. They were always arguing on a number of things.
What were the disagreements…?
I will keep them to myself. But after about one year, he was replaced. One thing that people don’t know, and I hear Saleh also saying he was disciplined; that the president sacked him and he agreed to go.
The fact is there were a lot of negotiations, before he [Saleh] was dropped, to the extent that the president sent a radio message pre-warning all units that there was something that was going to happen but everybody should remain calm.
It was not normal; he knew Saleh was capable of causing trouble. As his ADC, we would go to Entebbe for meetings; I would not attend those meetings apart from a few where I would take notes. When he would be back to the car, he would say, ‘No, I can’t accept this’.
Sometimes he would take beer but me I don’t drink; I would remain sober throughout. So, he would tell me to call his confidants in command then tell them: ‘Mzee was telling me this but I have refused, I will not accept this…’
How was your relationship with Saleh?
It was really good. Up to now he remains a good friend although we no longer have a direct linkage on a daily basis for many reasons. One, he is too busy wherever he is and I’m also busy wherever I’m.
But also, for the fact that we didn’t maintain the cohesion of the struggle and everybody went on their own. Some went on rampage looking for wealth. In the end, we lost the course of the struggle.
How would you rate Saleh’s leadership of the army?
He was very decisive to the extent that one time the president said that, ‘I don’t want your Aminism’. He told him that about twice. He thought that Saleh’s sensitivity and planning for the army was to the detriment of the country. That he was more bothered with the welfare of the army than the country.
So, here we are with our commander whom we have been with through thick and thin. And again, here we are with the top political leader whom we have always trusted that whatever he plans is for our good.
Sometimes it was hard to choose between a very good commander and the political leader we trusted a lot. Whatever they would say made a lot of sense and in many cases came to pass. Maybe, that time we were too young to understand what was going on.
For Museveni, he could foretell what would happen. But even myself now, I can do that because when you look at things, you can tell that this will end up here with experience.
Looking at the army commanders you worked with, who had his hands firmly on the pulse?
I think Saleh. In terms of efficiency of the army and loyalty, he was the best for obvious reasons. He had been with us throughout; he is a brother to the president. But he is also this commander with rare charisma and capacity to advocate for the army without fear. So, that puts him in the number one slot.
The others have always managed with a lot of disadvantages, not that they are inefficient. In terms of organising the army for the good political order of the country, an army that is answerable to the people, not an army of an individual, nobody rivals Muntu.
And your worst army commander ever…
I think it was James Kazini (deceased). He was very reckless. He had this deep-seated anger against people who are educated. You would see him struggling to make rapid promotions of officers who would not question his command.
He feared officers who had a background of the struggle who would stand up and say, ‘No army commander, this is wrong’. He couldn’t tolerate those. He joined the NRA a bit late and so feared people he thought knew his weaknesses.
In the reign of Gen Katumba Wamala we have heard stories of how limited his powers were…
He and General Jeje Odongo had limits in what they could or could not do in the army. It’s not that they were inefficient; these were very well trained commanders who trained from Munduli in Tanzania hence having one of the most efficient training backgrounds.
But for political reasons, their decisions were really limited and I would empathize with them. They couldn’t really do much in the circumstances. This made them good commanders with a lot of limitations. In terms of our welfare, they couldn’t do much to address it.
When we had just come, we didn’t complain a lot but over time, it was expected that salaries and housing would improve but when it didn’t work out, we ended up blaming them.
What happened to you after the sacking of Saleh as army commander?
I remained in the army commander’s office. The new army commander, Muntu, had no problem working with me because I had already worked as his deputy when he was director of military intelligence.
That is his way of doing things; he is a very systematic officer who handles things on principle. He has no people he carries with him wherever he goes. His nature is institutional-based. He comes into an institution and whoever he finds there is the one he works with.
He only called in the current Joint Chief of Staff [Joseph] Musanyufu to be one of his assistants to join me and present-day General Katumba Wamala as ADC because the army commander’s office had a lot of work by then. We used to coordinate some of the police activities and the rehabilitation programmes.
During Saleh’s reign, Katumba Wamala was ADC1 and I was ADC2. When Muntu came, he introduced ADC3.
Later, I was sent to army headquarters to improve on the supplies department which had a lot of corruption. I was sent there to deputise Gen Jeje Odongo, all of us were under the chief of logistics who was Brig Ivan Koreta (now Lt Gen).
Trucks would come to Mbuya barracks, go to the stores then simply go out without supplying. With my background in intelligence, it was very simple to find out and we captured those behind it.
After that, I moved on to tackle the problem of ghost soldiers. I worked out a concept which I shared with the army commander. He asked me to write a work plan which he said he needed to discuss with me, Koreta and my director Odongo. My operation plan was passed and we got service support from the airforce that gave us helicopters; we needed machine guns to protect us.
It was left to the army commander to appoint somebody to head it. He sent a message appointing Col Sserwanga Lwanga (deceased) deputised by me. That was around 1994. We started in Mbale because of the information about ghosts in that area. We would move with money and pay soldiers ourselves. We recovered a lot of money; about Shs 186 million.
When you went to a unit, how many of them would be ghosts?
We found a discrepancy of about 34 percent on average. We moved on to the second division. The commander there in Lira, Brigadier Peter Kerim, knew how Muntu and Sserwanga worked. He surrendered all those that were regarded as ghosts. He made our work simpler.
Other units followed suit; by the time we moved there, they had almost clean payrolls. This army best knows me for this. How I wish we had pushed on with it because it had made good strides.
What happened to the exercise?
Politics came in; they claimed that we had not done well despite what we had recovered. The commanders started saying that they were using the money to pay vigilantes and Local Defence Units. But these people were not supposed to be paid but, rather, given food when they moved with troops.
They somehow convinced the president and continued sending these monies we had discovered were for ghosts. What I think the commanders did was to relax their pursuit of the enemy and instability increased. When they were called, they said, ‘the people who used to help us are no longer paid.’
Do you think we still have ghost soldiers now?
I believe there are some but not to the magnitude they were then. They have computerised and I think this drastically reduced ghost soldiers. But in cases where the forces are scattered in South Sudan, others in Central African Republic, others in Somalia; it’s very easy to have ghosts.
Where did you go after working in supplies?
I was appointed director of education in charge of formal schools. Muntu sent me to that department to sort it out. These schools were started to cater for the children of our fallen comrades and some of our serving officers but they were in deplorable state.
Kids sleeping on the floor; very poor feeding; yet lots of monies were being sent because we had sentimental attachment to these kids. My intervention addressed the concerns of the children and the staff. We made very big improvement.
From being director, formal education, I was appointed Chief Political Commissar around 1999, taking over from Maj Gen Robert Rusoke and worked there for over a year. During my stay there, I rubbed shoulders with the then state minister of defence Amama Mbabazi [former premier -- ED].
In a parliamentary committee, I raised the concerns of the military about their welfare and the scandal of the army pharmaceutical industry. When we had just come, we came up with this concept of having a disciplined and productive army.
We had gone into farming; pharmaceutical production here in Bugolobi, etc. That factory had been brought here on a $7 million loan by some Italians. Some samples were produced and a date was set for the president to commission it but I don’t know what happened.
When I became CPC, I wanted to know what happened because I speak on behalf of officers and men. As CPC, you’re the link between the army and the politicians. I raised this in my report to the army commander; so, he subsequently made sure that I was part of a group that went to parliament to raise these issues. I told them that we live by God’s grace due to the peanuts we were getting. The minister didn’t like it at all.
After appearing before parliament, Muntu organised an audience with the president to put these issues directly to him, especially about the factory. By this time there was a proposal to sell the factory, even before it was operationalised, at just $800,000.
The president sent a message to have a commission of inquiry that I should also be part of. There was a lot of noise against me. I stood my ground, but the commission never sat. I think they thought I was becoming a headache and just after one year and a half, I was appointed chief of logistics.
Who was heading the pharmaceutical [project]?
It was headed by Colonel Fred Mwesigye who is the current MP for Nyabushozi.
At what point did you go back to school?
After capturing power, I went and sat for A-level as a private student. Later, when I was Saleh’s ADC, he allowed me to go back to school and I enrolled at Law Development Centre for a diploma in law.
As the director of education; as people came applying to study, I also applied at Makerere where I was admitted in 1998 to pursue a degree in law. Unknown to many, I didn’t use the army’s money for my studies yet it was me signing on other people’s papers.
I chose to pay for myself because I planned to leave the army. We have a bondage system: if the army pays for your science degree, at the time of retirement, you are bonded for an extra nine years. It is six years for arts courses. Because I intended to retire, I didn’t want the army to pay school fees for me.
Where is Uganda headed?
We have dug a foundation for this country to land in the hands of some disorganised characters by mass action that is uncontrollable. Until very recently this guy Abdallah Kitatta [the jailed patron of Boda Boda 2010 gang] told a press conference that if it wasn’t him, the 2011 walk-to-work protests were taking Museveni.
When you see those types of characters emerging and commanding the type of authority, having safe houses where they arrest people and take over their properties... And he has people he can gather in record time to unleash havoc, you know you’re in trouble.
The objective and subjective conditions are getting ripe every other day. Poverty is biting very hard everywhere. You saw what happened the other day when they had gone to bury the other young man [Mowzey Radio].
The youths took over the entire function and paralysed everybody. Whoever had a watch, phone, wallet; they lost them. Where was the state? Those are enough signals to tell us that unless we do certain things, we have set up a foundation for these characters to take over.
We are going to be overwhelmed with these thugs taking over the mantle of the state. Anyway, what is left of the state? Somebody might think that the state is about the gun but we have seen powerful states crumbling.
People cannot wake up every other day when billions are lost and nobody says a thing. In political science we have a saying that every system collapses under the weight of its own contradictions. You can’t be the same person talking about transparency and fighting corruption yet billions continue to be lost and sometimes you directly defend those accused of corruption.
You assume because you have held a press conference and said ‘that one we shall handle’ it’s going to be enough. For somebody who has spent days without a meal, his interpretation is that somebody has stolen the money.
We have lost the moral authority to direct the state machinery because when Bogere is a boss here, he cannot direct a Batte there because Batte is aware of the crimes that Bogere has committed; so, he is morally disarmed.
You go to police you must pay for everything. You can’t get officers to a scene of crime when you have not paid. Who doesn’t know this? Where is the state? How can we have this as the order? Some of us have this illusion that development is about structures; no, the country’s development is about socio-economic transformation.
But some people argue that the NRM government has achieved tremendous social and economic transformation for Uganda…
You cannot say that because some people have put up some structures which were not here 20 years ago, then that is development. These are the very people who tell us that before [they] came we collected very little but now we collect so much.
The swine [a term used by Museveni to describe former presidents Idi Amin and Milton Obote] we got here used that little to build hospitals like Nakaseke, Gombe, Kiryandongo, Iganga. What have we put up with the so much we are collecting?
You hear others say that we liberalised; we have so many radio stations, but that is not development initiated and directed by the government of Uganda. Yes, you might have worked out regulations but this is a global trend you don’t have a choice over. Even in failed states like Somalia where they have no governments, these things are there.
They are exploiting the ignorance of the people yet they know that programmes like universal primary education are UN programmes.
What would you tell Museveni if you met him?
I would remind him of what he used to tell us about African leaders and how they end up messing up their countries because of their longevity in managing affairs of the state.
I would tell him that his time of retirement should have been now so that he organises a transition when he is still in control of that process.
Any other delay could bring a situation that could bring a change that is not under his control. It could even come from the very people he is working with just like what you saw recently in Zimbabwe. Why should we wait for this?
I would tell him, ‘Kindly, sir, organise for us a soft landing’.