Parliament- The Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mr Wafula Oguttu, yesterday told the government to withdraw the country’s army from Somalia and South Sudan.
Making his maiden reaction as LoP to President Museveni’s State-of-the-Nation address delivered last week, Mr Oguttu observed that Uganda’s Army cannot be “a permanent substitute for a Somali national army” even though the work it has done in the troubled Horn of Africa country is commendable. He also said Uganda’s soldiers are dying in “a senseless war in South Sudan”.
Demanding that government provides a timeline for troop pull-out, Mr Oguttu said UPDF soldiers are engaged in a power struggle between the leaders of South Sudan.
“We want to know whether President Museveni would welcome a similar open intervention by another country giving material support to the side against him in the ongoing internal NRM power struggle. That is exactly what his intervention in South Sudan amounts to,” Mr Oguttu said.
“Why should Uganda take sides with one protagonist in what is essentially an intra SPLM struggle, an intervention that is proving to be a stumbling block in the peace negotiations between the belligerent sides,” he added.
He said the continued stay of UPDF in the two countries is “detrimental” to the security of Uganda. Besides, he added, “after all these years, the UPDF troops in Somalia should have trained the Somalis to protect themselves”.
“Ugandans want to know the timetable for bringing back our troops from Somalia,” Mr Oguttu said.
UPDF presence in Somalia
Uganda has more than 7,000 soldiers in Somalia. They have been there since 2007 - having gone in as Uganda’s contribution to African Union Mission in Somali partly to prop-up the Somali Transitional Government, which was being threatened by al-Shabaab militants determined to establish an Islamic state in the country.
And, in March, a special unit called the United Nations Guard Unit to which Uganda is contributing 410 soldiers was constituted to guard UN bases, giving an indication that Uganda might not be planning to withdraw its troops soon.
“We do not think they (UPDF) should still be in that country (Somalia) because by now, they should have trained more than enough Somali soldiers to protect their own country. If Somalis do not want to fight for themselves, then it does not make sense for our soldiers to stay for so long whereby they may eventually be regarded as a sort of occupation army,” Mr Oguttu said.
Three years after the UPDF moved into Somalia, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the 2010 twin terror bombings which claimed nearly 80 people. The group continues to threaten more attacks.
With the ongoing trial of Brig Michael Ondoga, a former Ugandan contingent commander in Somalia, over command and operational failures on mission, Mr Oguttu also wondered “whether there is capacity to properly investigate activities so far away in order to avoid miscarriage of justice?”
In South Sudan
The UPDF also in December last year sent troops to South Sudan to prop-up President Salva Kiir’s government in the wake of an onslaught from his former vice-president-turned rebel leader Riek Machar. No updates have since been provided about the time-line for withdrawal or financial implications of the war, as demanded by the Opposition and promised by the government.
However, in a telephone interview yesterday, Col Paddy Ankunda, the UPDF spokesman, accused the Opposition of “politicking”.
Col Ankunda said withdrawing soldiers from the ongoing missions in Somalia and South Sudan was not ‘urgent’.
“For South Sudan, there is an Igad force which is supposed to deploy and the UPDF will withdraw. In Somalia, it is an AU mission and we cannot act unilaterally. There are mechanisms to be put in place. The AU is supposed to stabilise the situation and hand over to the UN,” Col Ankunda said.
Key issues that need to be addressed
Agriculture: The growth rate in agriculture has declined from about 5 per cent in the late ‘80s to about 1.5 per cent presently yet population growth is about 3.5 per cent. Agricultural contribution to GDP has also declined to around 15-20 per cent, which is significantly accounting for the acute poverty situation in the country.
Education: To raise the standard of UPE, USE and thereby raise the quality of education requires raising pay and terms and conditions of teachers, start a school feeding programme, ensure there are enough teachers, strict inspection and improved parent-teacher relationship.
Health: At any one time about 43 percent of the population is sick, the proportion of the population with access to government health unit is about 7 percent. About 40 percent of those seeking medical treatment have resorted to herbs and witchcraft. Public hospitals are sick themselves.
Judiciary: We now have a situation where a person not substantively appointed is acting in both positions of Chief Justice and Deputy CJ. This situation has affected morale in the Judiciary and the public thereby affecting the quality of administration of Justice.