Tumukunde salvo opens unhealed wounds, tells of trouble ahead

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Reading between the lines. Keeping out of the public eye and off the political radar for much of the past few years, in part a result of a row that dates back to 2005, Brigadier Henry Tumukunde returned to the spotlight with a weekend salvo that has left tongues wagging and the military establishment seething. Coming from a man known for his tenacity and assertiveness, the former spy chief’s comments are not uncharacteristic or surprising but as Sunday Monitor’s Senior Reporter Emmanuel Gyezaho reveals in this special report, there is more than meets the eye in Brig. Tumukunde’s latest public assertions.

After years of hibernation, Brig. Henry Tumukunde returned to the limelight this week kicking off dust with a tirade that could have far-reaching repercussions.

Dividing opinion, some have questioned the timing of his remarks, others the motive while sceptics have accused this newspaper of blowing “things out of proportion” in its reportage of the initial story that told of Brig. Tumukunde’s observations from Rukungiri District. (See Daily Monitor, Wednesday March 21,

Brig. Tumukunde: We want freedom

Former internal security chief, Brig. Henry Tumukunde, has become the latest senior army officer to denounce what he says is the lack of freedom under the leadership of President Museveni, whose government he criticised for betraying some of the ideals that inspired the 1981 - 86 bush war.

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As it were, the former Internal Security chief spoke out against what he said was a betrayal of some of the ideals (read: freedom) that inspired the 1981-1985 bush war but have since been thrown into the dustbin under the stewardship of President Museveni.

“Those who reach people who deny us free competition please communicate this because we fought for freedom such that freedom may rain on us,” Brig. Tumukunde said. “I am a victim of not getting free competition. If I was given free competition, I am sure I would have made an impact.”

Ambiguous comments; perhaps! But despite the veil, it is not difficult to relate to the Brigadier’s apprehension. The comments, not uncharacteristic or surprising, come from a man known for his tenacity and assertiveness which is why there is more to his speak out than meets the eye.

For one, Brig. Tumukunde joins a growing list of senior officials who have mourned the “death” of the NRM’s famous Ten Point Programme and the ensuing reversals which include the loss of respect for human rights and freedoms, disregard for the rule of law and collapse of accountable government.

His comments also speak volumes about the anxiety and uncertainty that behold this country and tell of silent disquiet over the ailments afflicting the ruling NRM party, Sunday Monitor understands.

At a January meeting of ruling party MPs in Kyankwanzi, former premier Kintu Musoke struck to the core of what he said were three major evils hurting Mr Museveni’s reign after more than 25 years in power: corruption, impunity and lack of ideological direction.

A month later, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Kahinda Otafiire offered his two cents on why he believes support for the NRM is fading.

“We need rekindling of the revolutionary spirit. It is the National Resistance Movement (NRM) to go back to the original plans as stipulated in the Ten Point Programme. The problems affecting the party today are rooted from failure to respect this,” he said, speaking ironically, on the first anniversary of Mr Museveni’s successful fifth term re-election, won by a landslide 68 per cent of the vote.

“For the welfare of this country, we have to stay focused... This country cannot be run in zigzag. I am firm and principled. We have to go back to our core values that took us to the bush in 1981, where many Ugandans sacrificed and shed their blood,” Gen. Otafiire said.

Put in perspective, the comments by these senior officials and others, lend credence to the suggestion that the ruling party is not merely struggling with the usual tensions which have at various levels marked its 26-year presence at the helm of Uganda, but a deeper expression of a hankering for change.

A small but increasingly influential faction of mainly young party cadre inside Parliament have betrayed a similar nostalgia when they say they are unhappy at the way Mr Museveni, who came to power after a five-year bush war fought on the promise to restore democratic government and respect for the rule of law, is running things today.
Dr Kizza Besigye, who today heads the opposition Forum for Democratic Change party, represents the more visible first wave of separations when he fell out with Mr Museveni in 2001 upon publishing a hard-hitting critique which pointed out how undemocratic the system had become. Today, he is joined by several former regime insiders and remains an uncompromising critic. Central to the criticism is the discussion of how much of Uganda today represents regime failure, a matter that is open to debate. Some critics have argued that what is said of the Idi Amin and Milton Obote regimes is just as true of the Museveni regime.

However, unlike Brig. Tumukunde and his ilk, many within the establishment, especially the military, have not collected the courage to speak out openly about what they see has gone wrong for fear of retribution. In any case, to do so would be a contravention of the UPDF Act [Section 133 on disobeying lawful orders and 137 on spreading harmful propaganda] and the army’s code of conduct.

Some senior ranking UPDF officials this newspaper spoke to cited standing military orders that restrain them from speaking to the media without authorisation.

One such officer said: “We all know these things Tumukunde and others are talking about and what is happening but honestly I don’t want to go to jail. There is a lot of confusion but for me I come from a small tribe I cannot talk. Others can break the rules and talk and get away with it. Not me.”

In an interview on Wednesday, Army Spokesman Felix Kulayigye said Brig. Tumukunde was behaving like an unguided missile.

“He is a serving brigadier and not a politician. Every professional soldier knows that if you have any issue to talk about, we use meetings called Barazas,” he said. “It is not only the UPDF but these are general military rules world over. You ask Gen. Stanley McChrystal. He was relieved of his duties in Afghanistan because he publicly attacked Obama administration.”

As fate would have it, 24 hours after the Daily Monitor published Brig. Tumukunde’s thoughts, the Military Court Martial sat at Makindye under the stewardship of Brig. Charles Angina, to presumably continue the business of the prolonged case in which the ex-spy chief is facing insubordination related charges, including spreading harmful propaganda.
For a case that dates back as far as 2005, the timing of its resurrection is as curious as its protraction.

Brig. Angina proceeded to adjourn the case to May, ruling that a tape recording of Brig. Tumukunde’s public statements issued on FM 90 Radio One during a May 5, 2005 talk show, comments that apparently landed him in hot soup back then, be listened to in court before a decision can be taken on whether or not he has a case to answer.
An official at Radio One opined on Friday: “Now the General Court Martial wants government to produce a recording of Brig. Henry Tumukunde as he appeared on Spectrum-Radio One like 6 years ago! I hope you [government] have it because you will not get it from us. The law says such a recording can only be kept fro [sic] three months from the time one was on air. Look elsewhere.”

Is army retaliating?

Anyone would be forgiven to believe that the army chose to revive this case, probably on “orders from above” in sheer retaliation.

No stranger to controversy, Brig. Tumukunde, a bush war hero and celebrated spy, fell out of favour with the establishment seven years ago and was forced to resign as Army MP after he openly expressed his opposition to the grand plan to have presidential term limits lifted from the Constitution to allow President Museveni run for what became known as the kisanja-third term.

It took public appearances on radio, where he openly denounced the third term, for his eventual arrest and placement under house arrest for two years, a period that saw him charged in court and court martialled. Since then, Brig. Tumukunde, currently out on bail awaiting disposal of his court martial case, has kept a low profile.

The army, however, will also be wary of what impact the restoration of such a long standing case would have on internal cohesion at a time when despite the surface appearance of calm within the ranks, deep undercurrents tell of discontentment within force.

“For us who were in the old army [the National Resistance Army NRA], we really never had such things but there is a lot of infighting today,” said a senior officer speaking on condition of anonymity. “Some people joined the forces a few years ago but today they are Colonels and Brigadiers while many who have been around longer have stagnated.”
Maj. John Kazoora, a retired bush war fighter who fell out with the establishment and is now a senior opposition FDC official, admitted in an interview on Wednesday what he said is the “high level” of suffocation in the army, with authorities fearing to retire officers lest they join the opposition.

“He [Tumukunde] has a right to speak out but with this rogue regime, he might end up in the court martial again,” said Maj. Kazoora, adding, “Tumukunde is bold but there are so many who are brewing with anger but can’t speak out. Some of them have been calling me and my colleagues (in FDC) to tell us their problems.”

He also said some officers like Gen. David Sejusa (formerly David Tinyefuza), Coordinator of Military Intelligence, had initially wanted to retire but are being held hostage. Brig. Tumukunde is also understood to be among several officers whose retirement from the army has reportedly been blocked.

Col. Kulayigye reacted angrily to Maj. Kazoora’s suggestions that officers were being stopped from retiring and said: “Is he the Chief of Personnel and Administration or the Chief of Staff for the soldiers to complain to him? It’s counterproductive for anyone to try and divide the UPDF. Whoever is attempting to take that path should abandon that project.”

Contacted to comment, Brig. Kasirye Ggwanga, a retired and outspoken officer who has since taken to agriculture argued that while he was “getting a little tired of these comments”, it is necessary to consider Brig. Tumukunde’s public assertions.

“Tumukunde, you know him; he comes up with what he wants and what he thinks. He’s a good guy and I like him. That is what he thinks, you better take him seriously.”
Not a good venture?

Issuing a proverbial tongue in cheek comment, he asked: “Has he [Tumukunde] ever held a rally and they stop him? Most of these guys amuse me. What does he want to do in politics?”

But when asked to comment about the view of a reported negation of some of the ideals that inspired the bush war, Brig. Ggwanga said: “Why are policemen being killed today? Look at the general situation. That is not what we fought for. Look at the mobs today. We need to get to the root of it all. No one is talking about the Millennium Development Goals.”

He added: “It is up to the people high in those respectable places to come up with solutions to these problems. Now Tumukunde is coming up with these statements but is it going to do anything? For me, I am focused on fighting poverty that is why I am into agriculture.”

Brig. Ggwanga suggested that Brig. Tumukunde should have used a different forum to express his reservations because “you find him having chats with the CDF [Chief of Defence Forces] and ministers.”

Two months ago, this newspaper carried an interview in which Brig. Ggwanga, poured out his frustrations over the manner of promotions in the army which he said have become unfair and driven by tribal considerations. He also said the tribalism exposed the falsehood in claims that an army which is truly national in character as demanded by the Constitution has been built.

It would appear that the army is also beset by divisions between the historical old guard and the johnny-come-latelies.
“There is no doubt that the newcomers have taken over,” said Maj. Kazoora. “But there is only one common denominator called Yoweri Museveni.”

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