Saturday January 18 2014

Deployment of UPDF troops to South Sudan is ok, but…?

By Asuman Bisiika

Incidentally, Parliament was not recalled from recess to endorse or authorise UPDF deployment in South Sudan. It was recalled for a special sitting during which the executive ‘updated’ the August House about UPDF ‘presence’ (I am reluctant to use the word deployment) in South Sudan.

The Daily Monitor quotes Ms Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker of Parliament, telling MPs that she did not recall Parliament from recess to approve UPDF deployment in South Sudan.

The recall of Parliament was intended for the Executive to ‘…update Parliament on the ‘presence’ (my word) in South Sudan and seek support of members’ (of Parliament), Kadaga is quoted as saying. Please bookmark the word update.

And then Dr Crispus Kiyonga, the Minister for Defence, moved the motion under a wrong Section of the UPDF Act! And the Speaker ‘begged’ MPs to allow the minister to amend his own motion and move it under Section 40 of the UPDF Act instead of Section 39 under which the original text of the motion was premised. Drama just.

Yet we know that there was no need to brief or update Parliament. In the first place, the UPDF Operation in South Sudan seems to have seamlessly (or shamelessly?) transitioned through three phases:
1) evacuation of Ugandans from Juba (later from the entire country)
2) securing strategic installations in Juba and now
3) to combat ops.

So, which of the three phases did government update the August House about? In fact I am still wondering why the government even bothered to engage Parliament on this. As a keen observer of the UPDF (from a distance, of course) and other militaries in the region, my experience is that the general consciousness of the UPDF as an institution is that they do not like (and do not need?) Parliament to have any oversight role over them.

So, how do we explain the drama that I hear occurred in Parliament? Why did the government go to such lengths to ‘update’ (this word!) Parliament on the UPDF Operations in South Sudan? Could it be that ‘someone’ in London or Washington insisted that Parliament be engaged in one way or the other? How else can one explain the haste under which the government acted leading Dr Crispus Kiyonga to move a motion under a wrong section of the UPDF Act?

In the first four days of the conflict in South Sudan, we warned that poor government communication could mess the relatively popular and explainable deployment of UPDF troops in South Sudan.

Otherwise, UPDF Operations in South Sudan was supposed to be accompanied by a robust PR and communication strategy that would rally the nation. If you are going to commit troops to a foreign country, you have to mobilise the population otherwise you end up being viewed as someone fighting a war for selfish reasons. What we call troops are still husbands and sons (and mothers and daughters). That’s why when you are rallying the nation, you appeal to the passions of the people.

The people don’t need to know the strategic importance of the war (they will probably not appreciate such complex issues) but tell them about necessity and immediacy of the war. Tell the people how the situation has forced a war on you.

In principle, we support the deployment of UPDF troops in South Sudan. However, it must be accompanied with serious PR and communications strategy.

It is not too late for the government to rally the nation behind the UPDF operations in South Sudan through public relations communication. For starters, President Museveni should address a news conference as soon as possible. The UPDF and the Ministry of Defence can pick it from there…

Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of East Africa Flagpost.