UPDF cannot harm citizens

Thursday December 16 2010

By Felix Kulayigye

Allow me refer to your Editorial of November 23, “Army should not be seen to be partisan”. To quote Honorable Ezra Taft Benson, former Secretary of Agriculture (The Eisenhower Administration) published in 1968, “It is generally agreed that the most important single function of government is to secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens. There are only two possible sources. Rights are either God-given as part of the Divine Plan, or they are granted by government as part of the political plan.”

The Daily Monitor on November 23 reported about allegations by opposition politicians of intimidation by senior officers. Secondly, there were outrageous claims by Margaret Wokuri, director of communications at the Inter-Party Cooperation
Communications Bureau, of UPDF training militias, a claim that can best be regarded as sheer madness.

I totally agree with the law on non-partisan politics and it is very clear under Article 208 of the Constitution: “The Uganda Peoples Defence Forces shall be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional, disciplined, productive and subordinate to the civilian authority”.

I, however, dispute the current allegations of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces being partisan, which is the basis of your editorial. In fact for you to say “…you are concerned that the accusations are occurring in the first place…” baffles any sane mind. Are we being told that whatever is alleged must hold water? On the other hand, while we appreciate that we are expected to be professional, a single incident should not warrant such prominence unless there is more than what meets the eye!

Even then, the incident in Moroto involved a soldier that intervened to stop mob action against two civilians, which is within his mandate to protect people, their actions notwithstanding. When the soldier intervened, he was challenged by an individual that identified himself as an Inspector of Police (his being dressed in civilian clothes not withstanding) and the good soldier handed over his rifle to him. To any sound mind, this was professional on the part of the soldier, which does not warrant condemnation.

Soon after the incident, I spoke to presidential candidate Norbert Mao, and gave him assurance about our commitment to the law and the resolve to stick to the Election Code of Conduct issued by the military leadership. To this end, Mr Mao replied: “That is reassuring”. Indeed, our superiors were notified that very night and instructions for corrective steps to be taken were given to the command in Moroto. We did not stop there, the Chief of Defence Forces called the candidate early the following morning, but was unable to reach him. We feel it didn’t warrant an editorial, surely.

We have given a brief account of what happened because we believe in accountability to the people of Uganda, since we value them very much. The various efforts that night and early morning are sheer testimony of our conviction to remain non-partisan, but we cannot stand there and watch as our nation goes raving mad and sucked into political mayhem as that was going to be the case that night in Moroto and the recent Ibrahim Ssemuju case was recently all in the name of being non-partisan.

It is imperative to note that largely, because of the professional and exemplary approach from the top leaders, the UPDF is open to criticism and acknowledges objective criticism levelled against it which is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is evidence that we are mindful of our people’s interests. The UPDF doesn’t preach tradition and practice politics. The army’s sole role as stated in our basic law is to protect, the UPDF cannot go back on its word and harm its citizens.

Why would the men who do the hard work and fighting constitute one role only and neglect its country at its hour of need? How can we impeach our own force instead of applauding their victories on election violence on mere allegations that are loaded with partisan political motives? It is common practice for some political actors to malign the UPDF in an effort to win sympathy, as exemplified by the alleged intimidation to individuals ‘not to contest’.

As Brig. Gen Charles Angina correctly put it, without evidence, it is nothing but malicious propaganda by desperate forces that are searching for political capital. This must be treated with the contempt it deserves.

The signs of political violence that we should look out for, include but not restricted to, incitement to violence, issuing political threats, disruption of political rallies by opponents of state security, politically instigated clashes, armed politicians, rowdy gangs.

Others include: Violence against women/rape, stripping and indecent assault of women, sexual harassment, unfair restrictions of women participation in politics by their spouses and use of hate speech with tribal overtones and propaganda has been witnessed in this country before.

For Uganda to continue on the sustained path of development, all those leaders who have delivered ought to be re-elected; those who did not, should be dropped or voted out in preference for the aspiring ones that are promising.

That is the purpose of regular elections, to enable the population decide on those to lead them, and they must be allowed to do so freely. This is not a favour but a responsibility of state agencies.

As the police have vowed to provide security and an enabling environment for all players to perform their lawful duties, we, in turn, will be their back-up, in case they need us. We deserve mature and objective campaigns.

Lt. Col. Kulayigye is the spokesman,
Ministry of Defence/UPDF