When the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) early this week advertised official military attire, marks, symbols and red berets or any similar clothing as exclusively their own regalia in the Uganda Gazette, the coincidence seemed glaringly fishy – coming at a time when the biggest wearers of the berets, the Hon Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine) led People Power Movement, had easily owned them publicly as a “symbol of their resistance.”
People Power Movement has immediately complained of being targeted. From this gazette, the UPDF has decreed to own the red colour. One would have thought that a proper description of the beret, including its specific shape, design, texture of material, colour and other distinguishing features would have sufficed in that particular gazette.
But now it appears, there is a general assumption that every red beret is the property of the UPDF and, therefore, if one does not get permission to wear it, that person would have infringed the UPDF rights and Act.
The army authorities claim there is nothing sinister in formalizing their uniforms. In fact they claim this process began way back in 1997.
“The dress code for the UPDF (Uganda People’s Defence Forces) has been gazetted. The action was endorsed by the top organs of the army, which also commended the dress committee for concluding the task assigned to it years back,” Army spokesman Brigadier Richard Karemire said in a statement.
The red beret is a signature “symbol of resistance” for the People Power Movement. The UPDF may find it harder to explain away their involvement in political games, given that a few days before this official gazette, a high-ranking army officer had instructed crime preventers to arrest anyone found donning a red beret.
There is fear that the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) is influencing the army to do its political work of denying or diminishing the opposition political space. The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the right to associate.
UPDF being one of the agencies of the state, ought to be impartial and support all Ugandans of whatever description, in their efforts - as long as they are lawful - to attain their fundamental rights and freedoms.
Civilized and democratic societies such as Uganda are governed by law. However, it is dangerous to turn the law into an instrument of oppression.
There should be a universal application of the law. The importance of laws being uniform in their application is generally accepted as fundamental to their doing justice. The army should keep off politics and remain impartial.