On Monday, something alarming and eccentric happened in the eastern Jinja District. Uniformed UPDF soldiers besieged a school it claims sits on its land, violently arrested its head and indiscriminately flogged the pupils. A journalist who identified himself was manhandled, injured.
Besides the savagery, this display of brute force accentuates the irony of a military that in theory should be professionalised or professionalising.
The assault occurred at the tail end of the annual week-long celebrations of Tarehe Sita, a moniker for the day to commemorate February 6, 1981 when the National Resistance Army (NRA) launched a five-year guerilla war that brought President Museveni to power.
This year’s was the 27th anniversary. The army on this observance conducts civic and community activities to bolster civil-military relations. We consider that the choice by some elements in the army to brutalise hapless children during such important week in UPDF’s life tells of the stubborn evil within its rank and file. It too signals out-of-hand impunity.
President Museveni has repeatedly said NRA took arms against Milton Obote’s government to end grotesque rights violations, extra-judicial killings and restore human security. The President has stretched his liberation struggle as one initially against Idi Amin and his regime’s depravities. This is where we draw the parallels.
When the brimming intellectual prowess of yesteryear Makerere University threatened Amin, he deployed soldiers to hound then guild president Olara Otunnu. The government shortly afterward abolished the students’ guild government altogether. A couple of years later, Amin’s soldiers invaded Makerere University, arrested some students and drubbed others wholesale.
It is our view that the Monday incident in Jinja, where soldiers beat up children whose only crime was going to school to seek knowledge to build Uganda, dovetails with the proclivities of loathed past regimes. Ugandans deserve better than a resurrection of bygone criminal conduct by armed forces.
The Constitution subordinates the military to civilian authority and its behaviour to scruples of professionalism. We have stood by and duly acclaimed the UPDF when the soldiers have behaved and excelled in discharge of their work: protecting the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.
Our endorsement, however, is not blanket. We do not ascribe the contemptible conduct all-pervading in the rank and file of UPDF. How its leadership deals with the despicable acts will prove if there is an institutional acceptance or tolerance to such malfeasance. We reject this callousness and demand investigation and punishment of those culpable. Professionalism of the army must manifest in actions of all soldiers.