UPDF remains personal 33 years later

The first month of the year 2019 has been very eventful. Maybe it was meant to be. Results from two major national examinations were released and Makerere University graduated 13,350 students.

Our homes have emptied with many of the children returning to school. The ball for 2019 has in earnest been set rolling. Makerere University’s 69th graduation ceremony caught my eyes most.

Not because of the graduation numbers, or the threat by the teaching and non-teaching staff to strike, but because of how the Museveni family went over its business. Museveni put on a greenish gown and the wife, Janet Kataaha, a reddish one. 

They strolled from the administration block (Ivory Tower), the husband following the wife as they were led to the grounds by Prof Ezra Suruma, the chancellor at the university. I don’t know whether Suruma and the rest of the entourage had been coached. They left the waving to the first couple. Maybe they didn’t want to spoil the occasion.

And as if to turn the graduation into a marriage anniversary, Museveni and wife were each awarded. The husband was awarded for authoring a Runyankore-Rukiga thesaurus and the wife for something I don’t know.

And in turns they stood up to be photographed as they received their awards. Makerere professors are usually proud people and there are things that they never used to do. For example, they refused to award late Col Muammar Gadaffi with an honorary law degree.

I think their pride has been broken and the whole institution is now on its knees. Pardon me if I seem petty. But how do you give someone who entered Makerere illegally an academic award?

Anyway, she is the minister of Education and Makerere is just one of the many institutions she is superintending. This article is not about Makerere, which we allocate Shs 227 billion of taxpayers’ money every year; but as someone who spent sleepless nights reading before joining it, I feel betrayed and hurt by those professors.

My article is about the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), a national army which will be celebrating 33 years since the attack on Kabamba barracks. The attack on the national security facility by 27 young men signaled the beginning of a deadly five-year guerrilla war that brought Yoweri Museveni to power.

And to remember this event, which fell on February 6th, a big ceremony has been staged in the district of Kitgum in Acholi sub-region. These events are by the way very expensive. I remember recently, the minister for youth was pleading with parliament for over Shs 9 billion for the national youth day that had not been allocated.

These events have become major campaign rallies for our revolutionary leader who is permanently campaigning to die in office. And they are carefully spread. Last week, he was in Tororo for the NRM Liberation day. And there is a function like that almost every month. Adults wearing dry banana leaves (bisanja) will be ferried all over Acholi to form a crowd.

There are people who don’t know that the country is under captivity. Robert Kyagulanyi can’t stage musical shows and the FDC cannot address rallies. But there is someone who is permanently addressing rallies. And three months towards elections, we will be allowed to visit a district per day in the name of campaigns.

And then you hear people criticizing the opposition for being disorganized. The fact that the day Museveni attacked Kabamba as the only army day the country is marking, is enough to tell you which sort of army he has built in 33 years. The army remains personal and tribal.

Its spokespersons will soon claim it is professional. True, it is because many of the officers have undergone high-level training. They are themselves graduates of Makerere and other colleges. Article 208 of the constitution lists the attributes of a national army to include: nonpartisan, national in character, patriotic, professional, disciplined and subordinate to civilian rule.

Organs of this national army are supposed to be created by parliament through an act under Article 210 of the Constitution. In fact the UPDF Act was made in 2005 dividing the army into two forces (land and air force).

As we celebrate 33 years of the UPDF, Museveni has illegally created a third UPDF force called Special Forces Command (SFC) initially commanded by his son. It is now commanded by Col. Don Nabasa.

All its former commanders, right from Akanga Byaruhanga, have been children from the same area. Even small jobs like spokespersons have all been occupied by people from the same area. A Munyankore colleague at The Observer was embarrassed when officers from this elite force were communicating in local language at various security centres during the Queen’s visit in 2007.

Today, officers from this elite force have been assigned to superintend almost the rest of the units. And the media in Uganda these days discuss small issues. As a country, we should be focusing on the sort of military that we are going to inherit from Jajja Museveni. Whether you like it or not, Museveni is on the way out. Some of these officers are fairly nice people and we must use them to refocus and build a national army.


The author is Kira Municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd