Exactly one week to polling day, the neutrality of the top Army leadership has been thrust to the fore of the presidential election campaign with Dr Kizza Besigye yesterday accusing a top ranking officer of disgracing his uniform by becoming an “NRM cadre”.
The Inter-Party Cooperation candidate told a rally in Ishaka Town that contrary to the country’s laws and the UPDF’s own Code of Conduct, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, the chief of defence forces, has taken sides and is now a symbol of how much President Museveni has entrenched sections of the military into the ruling party.
Aronda fires back
Gen. Nyakairima’s response to this and a raft of other accusations was dismissive. He suggested last evening that Dr Besigye, himself a retired colonel, has been looking to provoke an arrest but “we will not touch him”.
Gen. Nyakairima told Daily Monitor he will be reporting Dr Besigye to Electoral Commission boss Badru Kiggundu. “We will have to inform the Electoral Commission chairman about the conduct of [this] political leader,” he said.
“The country is peaceful from south to the north and west to the east. That’s my work and that’s what I’m doing now. I have no time for trash politics,” said Gen. Nyakairima.
Four days ago, the Army chief speaking on the occasion of the Army Day, February 6, promised the country that the Force he commands will respect the outcome of the election but would not tolerate violence. The national Army, founded on elements of the guerilla outfit which brought President Museveni to power in 1986 after a five-year bush war, is thought by some to be quietly behind their commander-in-chief.
But Dr Besigye said: “We have no problem with professional military officers who are serving their country diligently. But we have problems with people like Gen. Aronda who think that the UPDF belongs to Mr Museveni. The UPDF is a national army and its work should be to defend the country but not to intimidate the opposition.”
Residents, who filled the Ishaka ground to capacity, had complained of harassment by state agents in the district.
The crowd went into frenzy as Dr Besigye, who was accompanied by former East African Community secretary general Amanya Mushega and former Army Commander, Maj. Gen. (rtd) Mugisha Muntu, described Gen. Nyakairima as “a late comer in the UPDF”.
He said Maj. Gen. Muntu, himself and Col. (rtd) Mushega served in the military with a degree of professionalism, were loyal to their country and to the oath they swore to protect and defend the country. This, he said, is the reason they remain respected even upon their retirement.
“This Gen. Muntu you see here served as the topmost man in the army for nine years. He was then being guarded by [soldiers using] a fleet of vehicles but after his retirement, he is now living a peaceful life because he respected and honoured his uniform while in the army. That’s why he can move around with no escort. But for Gen. Aronda, to think that he is serving President Museveni, not his country, is dangerous.”
He added: “The army’s role is to protect the country from external attacks. Whether you belong to the opposition or to the NRM, it is none of the army’s concern.”
Last year, Gen. Aronda, speaking at a function to send-off State Minister for Defence Gen. Jeje Odongo, was quoted as saying that opposition politicians who use violence to solve political differences will be confronted with full military force.
“I assure this country that we are ready to support the Police in case of violence and we will do it in a very serious way,” Gen. Nyakairima was quoted as saying then.
Political observers say the warning was directed at the IPC leadership which has since not ruled out the option of calling for nationwide protests if the EC manipulates the election for President Museveni.
The Supreme Court has twice found (in 2001 and 2006) that the current EC presided over elections fraught with intimidation by the military, vote rigging, voter disenfranchisement and non-compliance with the electoral law.
In 2006, the court additionally observed that the EC led by Mr Kiggundu was incompetent to preside over elections.
Although Dr Besigye accused Gen. Nyakairima of being an “NRM mole”, he said there are still many UPDF officers who are professional, and who have refused to be dragged into partisan politics.
He said the country will always honour the services of such professionals because they have shown that they are true revolutionaries.