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Ondoga collapses in military custody

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Brig Michael Ondoga appears before the General Court Martial in Makindye recently. The court has denied him bail on several occasions. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE 

By TABU BUTAGIRA

Posted  Monday, May 5  2014 at  01:00

In Summary

Scare. Army forced to move the two-time commander of the Ugandan contingent in Somalia from Makindye barracks to Bombo Military General Hospital.

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Kampala.
Brig Michael Ondoga, the two-time commander of the Ugandan military contingent in Somalia under Amisom, is scheduled to undergo an emergency surgery procedure today after he collapsed in military detention.
His family and the army separately confirmed that the one-star general is admitted to Bombo Military General Hospital, about 20 kilometres north of the capital.

“The condition is very bad,” his mother, Ms Antoinette Madrara, said by telephone yesterday. “They should be merciful and release him on bail so that he receives proper medical care. He is my son, he will not escape. I know him well.”

Brig Ondoga has been on remand at Makindye Military Barracks since last October on accusations of command and operational failures in Somalia against the al Shabaab, which prosecution says resulted in the death of UPDF soldiers at the frontline as well as loss or theft of military supplies and hardware.
The army suspended and placed him under investigation and restricted his movements effective September 13, 2013, two days before he was due to take up his new posting as the military attaché at Uganda’s High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya.

The General Court Martial chaired by Brig Moses Ddiba Ssentongo last week, for the fourth time during the trial, denied bail to Brig Ondoga, who said his health was failing and he required specialised care.
He presented three brigadiers as sureties, but prosecution objected that the accused posed a security threat and was likely to use his clout as a senior officer to compromise witnesses.

His bail application is expected to come up for hearing again today, five days after he collapsed last Wednesday and was hospitalised.
The Defence and Military spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, in response to our question why Brig Ondoga was being treated at Bombo hospital and not in upscale Nakasero and Kololo hospitals where other high-ranking UPDF officers like him have the privilege to receive medical care, said “his condition can best be managed at the general military hospital”.

“Our facilities are super, it can take care of any one and we have the best doctors,” Lt Col Ankunda said on Saturday.
In an interview yesterday, the brigadier’s mother said his son felt “betrayed, marginalised, and that he is being treated unfairly”.
Brig Ondoga, unlike other implicated senior officers such as the Uganda Media Centre’s former deputy executive director, Col Shaban Bantariza, who were detained at the Senior Officers’ Mess in Kololo, has been incarcerated for six months at Makindye Military Barracks where conditions are less conducive for inmates.

“He was arrested, detained and denied bail until his condition got grossly unwell. What do they [UPDF] think about him?” Ms Madrara said.
The family says the brigadier, in addition to diabetes, developed a complication related to the entrails, necessitating today’s planned surgery.
In West Nile, Ondoga’s home region, Christians have over the months organised back-to-back church services at Pakelle, Adjumani and Moyo catholic missions to pray for him.

Allegations against brig Ondoga
That in October, last year, Brig Ondoga failed to issue formal operation orders to Battle Group X commander and under-deployed 1,000 instead of 1, 500 troops for an offensive against al Shabaab in Afgooye-Baidoa, resulting in loss of soldiers, including a tank and all its crew.

Prosecution avers that Brig Ondoga failed to investigate the circumstances under which his junior, Warrant Officer II Kenneth Mugusha, deserted from the mission and diverted 15,000 litres of fuel, which endangered operational efficiency.

The Brigadier is also accused of having told lies to the Chief of Defence Forces about juniors he was supervising in Somalia

tbutagira@ug.nationmedia.com