President Museveni was last week shocked to learn from UPDF soldiers returning from Somalia peace operations that their commanders may have sold guns and bullets in Mogadishu.
Uganda has troops serving on the African Union peace mission in Somalia (Amisom).
The revelations were made during a meeting at Singo Army Training School in Nakaseke District last week. A nervous Museveni chased away all the commanders from the meeting except the Chief of Defence Forces, (CDF) Gen Katumba Wamala, in order to allow the returning Amisom soldiers to speak out freely.
Some of the soldiers who were in the meeting told the Sunday Monitor how they gave Mr Museveni harrowing testimonies after their bosses were out of earshot.
The President had apparently expected to meet the soldiers at 9am, but he had other engagement at Kimaka Senior Command and Staff College in Jinja District, which delayed him. He arrived in Singo in a military helicopter late in the evening.
He asked the soldiers under Ugabag 10 (Uganda’s latest returning Amisom contingent) to freely tell him their experiences in the war-torn Somalia. The troops were at first hesitant. Realising the soldiers’ discomfort stemmed from the presence of their commanders, Mr Museveni ordered all the bosses out of the meeting hall.
Immediately the commanders left the hall the soldiers opened up a can of worms. They told the President vivid details of how they often fought the al-Shabaab on battle fronts without food and when it was provided, it would, on many occasions, be stale. Some of the soldiers described their commanders as ‘Opposition sympathisers hiding in the army.’
A soldier (names withheld) from Air Defence Garrison in Nakasongola reportedly told the President that about 60 soldiers in his unit were never paid their allowance for September last year and yet the money was released, but when they inquired why they had not been paid, their commanders threatened to send them back home.
Serving in Somalia is much coveted by soldiers because it offers much better remuneration.
Soldiers in the 45th Battalion told the President how they were given rotten or stale rations while their commanders sold the good food in the market forcing them to rely on their counterparts from other countries for food.
Another soldier (names withheld) reportedly told the President how one of the commanders, now on suspension and under investigations by the military, used to force him to sign and acknowledge receipt of fuel even when the fuel delivery trucks were empty. And that whenever he refused, he was threatened and subdued.
Our military sources said soldiers poured out their hearts to the President, saying often, armoured vehicles were not used in battle except for public relations gimmicks in Mogadishu. They said their commanders did not want to use battle tanks because they consume a lot of fuel and this would leave little or no fuel for sale to the market. The commanders would requisition fuel for the tanks but sell it instead.
Mr Museveni, who had closed his eyes while listening to the nerve-wrecking testimonies of his foot soldiers, reportedly opened his eyes wide when he heard that some of the commanders traded in guns and bullets with the Somali civilians, who could even have included agents of al-Shabaab militants whom the UPDF is battling in Somalia.
Some soldiers reportedly told the President that they were tempted not to raise any questions because they thought the President was aware of their suffering since the commanders are closer to him than the ordinary soldiers are.
After listening to the distressing tales from his troops, Mr Museveni’s first response to them was “sorry for everything that happened to you there [Somalia]. I know it now and I promise I am going to handle those traitors who tarnished Uganda’s name.”
His response charged up the soldiers who now scrambled to speak their minds but time was limited. Mr Museveni asked them to write down their names and contacts and promised that they would be called to give more information.
The President was also reportedly upset that despite the heavy facilitation the government gives to intelligence bodies, they had failed to give him such vital information.
Mr Museveni reportedly told his troops that he had been spending a lot of money on intelligence “who do nothing and yet there is that good free information” and that he was surprised some UPDF officers could even sell guns and bullets. The meeting ended without the CDF Gen Katumba saying a word.
Other issues discussed in the meeting
According to our sources, soldiers also asked about why many of them take long to get promotions while some who usually would have joined recently are quickly promoted and end up being their commanders.
There was also a question about the “basket allowance” of Shs180,000 that is extended to only Special Forces Brigade (SFC) and is reportedly paid out in cash every 18th day of every month as well as an explanation on the $200 that is reportedly deducted from the monthly allowance of the soldiers serving under Amisom. The soldiers said their commanders had told them the deduction is to cater for VAT (value added tax) which did not make sense to them.
The soldiers reportedly expressed gratitude that they have been able to meet their commander-in-chief because in the past, the army leadership had always prevented them from directly interacting with the President.
When contacted for comment about the soldiers’ testimonies to the President, the Ministry of Defence and UPDF Spokesman, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, said: “I never attended that meeting and I have not been privy to what was discussed.”
When informed about some of the allegations, Lt Col Ankunda said: “Those are serious allegations; I don’t have a first account of what was discussed.”
The Sunday Monitor recently ran a story in which President Museveni chastised his commanders, saying a United States official had called him to say the UPDF soldiers are good fighters but their command is corrupt. He pledged to deal with the scam in the army. Already there are several parallel investigations into the reported abuse and mistreatment of troops and theft of logistics in the army.
Several soldiers have been suspended over the Somalia scam after President Museveni personally summoned them to State House earlier this year and read to them the riot act. Military sources say there was drama at Mogadishu Airport when one Sergeant Waiswa attempted to flee from the airport after the cargo plane bringing them back to Uganda landed. He was arrested.
Col Ankunda confirmed that at least 24 soldiers had been suspended over swindling of the army logistics.
Sources say while the President was determined to crack the whip on misuse of military logistics, he cannot believe his top commanders failed to detect and act in time to stem this rot.
The CDF Gen Wamala was the Commander for Land Forces and directly oversaw the Somalia mission operations. Brig. Otema Awany is the Chief of Logistics and Engineering, Maj Gen Silver Kayemba is the Chief of Training and Logistics, Lt Gen Andrew Guti is the overall Commander of Amisom while Maj Gen Nathan Mugisha is the ambassador to Somalia.
• Brig. Michael Ondoga—Ugabag10 Contigent commander
• Lt Col Johnson Muhanguzi
• Lt Col Oulanya of 403 battalion
• Lt Col Sam Kirya—Intelligence Officer
• Lt Col Matua
• Maj Kirabo-logistics
• Maj Nsubuga –logistics
• Capt Joy Atugonza –logistics Officer
• Capt Muwolozi –Special Investigations Bureau
• Capt Joseph Ochari
• Capt Sirajje Kyalisima
• Capt Biryomaisho
• Capt Wekomba
• Lt Felix Muhuza -- motor transport officer
• Lt Ahmed Seiko
• Lt Sulaiman Ssekajja
• Lt Patrick Opio
• Lt Balidawa
• Lt Charles Bwambale
• Warrant Officer I Masagazi
• Sergeant Waiswa
• Lance Corporal Ochan
• Lance Corporal Muluya Eluid
• Private Ntura
• Private Ssebidde Ismail Ibrahim