Thought and Ideas
Military and politics: Are they really compatible bedfellows?
Posted Sunday, October 27 2013 at 01:00
The Observer newspaper of Monday, October 7, 2013, published an interesting and thought-provoking viewpoint by Col Shaban Bantariza titled: Military, politics are bedfellows, which I have taken the liberty to comment on today.
Let me, at the outset, express appreciation and congratulations to the colonel for his opinion which intrigued me sufficiently to elicit this response. I welcome his contribution to the debate on an important subject for Uganda, but wonder aloud who the primary audience is, apart from the general reader, like yours truly.
While I do not share all his views, I agree, by and large, with his thesis, especially where he argued: “So, with hindsight, we must shield the military from national partisan politics, but to shut it out of politics completely, we can only do that at our own cost and peril”.
By definition, it is neither possible nor desirable to exclude or shut out of politics, national or local, any Ugandan, including soldiers, police and prisons officers.
The colonel’s thesis leads me to draw one conclusion, that officers, men and women of a national army such as the UPDF, should not participate in a politically partisan institution such as the Parliament of Uganda where the 10 MPs who represent the UPDF cannot remain completely neutral all the time; for example, the commander of the UPDF, the respected Gen Katumba Wamala, has been seen attending a meeting of the NRM Caucus at State House which, using Col Bantariza’s central argument, he should not attend.
One of the primary challenges the NRA faced during the 1980s/1990s and which the UPDF has faced since 1995, has been full transition from a regional and some people say, largely a tribal guerilla force to a regular national army funded by all Ugandan taxpayers from the east, west, central and northern regions of Uganda.
I believe that a key component of the programme to professionalise the UPDF should include deliberate efforts to give the army a genuinely national character which it ought to have, but sadly that is not yet the case. As long as the army is funded by all Ugandan taxpayers, it must be used to achieve national, not personal or partisan goals.
I got the impression from reading the viewpoint that Col Bantariza, as a well-trained and professional officer, would prefer an army which is politically aware and conscious, but detached from the murky waters of partisan politics, as it ought to be.
I hope such a healthy and useful debate is ongoing within the relevant organs of the military because most Ugandan taxpayers do not, in fact, belong to any of our major political parties, including in alphabetical order, DP, FDC, JEEMA, NRM and UPC.
In order for the military to effectively perform its constitutional and professional role to “preserve and defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Uganda”, it must not directly or indirectly take sides with or take orders from any Ugandan political party or appear to favour one political party at the expense of others.
Unfortunately, many Ugandans, rightly or wrongly, believe that the UPDF is aligned to the NRM. How else can one interpret regular references to some senior UPDF officers as good cadres of the Movement by senior political leaders of the NRM?
The sooner the UPDF severs its links with the NRM, the better for the army and especially for the future of Uganda. After 27 years, it is neither excusable nor acceptable to claim or to insist that due to historical factors and reasons the NRM and UPDF are inseparable Siamese twins! If such is the case, the NRM as a political party, should fully fund all the operations of the UPDF so that the army ceases to rely on the national treasury which belongs to all Ugandans.
I disagree with Col Bantariza where he says: “If you ever become a head of state or commander in chief or both, and you inherit an army or military force that is ‘apolitical’, cut costs and run for dear political or even biological life”!
That is a loaded statement and I hope the good colonel is not attempting to scare or intimidate anybody because my understanding of Uganda’s constitution is that in a multi-party democracy or dispensation, like ours, the military force will loyally serve under whoever the people of Uganda elect as President of the Republic, irrespective of that person’s political association; after all power belongs to the people.
In case I have misread him, I request the colonel to clarify what he exactly means in that paragraph.