What you need to know:
- Naming soldiers to Cabinet before they retire from the army remains a controversial issue, but President Museveni has two serving generals in his current Cabinet.
- In the aftermath of the assassination of then Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga and threats on the lives of other MPs, President Museveni again turned to the army, ordering the deployment of army sharp shooters and the purchase of escort cars for MPs’ protection.
In the lead up to the 1996 election, President Museveni promised a complete return to civilian rule, saying he was swapping the army combat for a kanzu (tunic).
But more than 20 years later, and in the lead up to the 2021 elections, it now appears that over the recent years, Uganda has militarised more than ‘civilianised’ its state of affairs.
The army is officially in charge. The interpretation of Article 209 of the 1995 Constitution, which spells out the army’s mandate, has been stretched beyond their primary duty of defending and protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Uganda. The army now has both overt and covert presence in several ministries, departments and agencies of government where they not merely cooperate, foster harmony, and engage in productive activities (Article 209), but are either in charge or keep a watchful eye over the civilian authority.
Soldiers drawn from several sectors, including command, intelligence and operations now hold core functions in all the three arms of the State, including the Judiciary (Court Martial), the Executive, and Legislature.
Away from the police, which has openly been under the control of the army since the appointment of Gen Katumba Wamala in 2001, key institutions such as the national ID project, Immigration, and Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) have fallen under the firm grip of army officers.
Naming soldiers to Cabinet before they retire from the army remains a controversial issue, but President Museveni has two serving generals in his current Cabinet.
These are Gen Edward Katumba Wamala (State minister for Works) and Gen Ellly Tumwine (Security minister), while late Aronda Nyakairima previously served as Internal Affairs minister.
And over the years, President Museveni’s Cabinet has been peppered with army personnel who are active in service or have recently retired.
At least eight of the 30 senior Cabinet ministers have served in the military before. Besides generals Wamala and Tumwine, other serving and former UPDF/NRA officers in Cabinet include Gen Moses Ali (Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Leader of Government Business in Parliament), Gen Jeje Odongo (Internal Affairs), Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire (Justice and Constitutional Affairs), Col Tom Butime (Local Government), Capt Janat Balunzi Mukwaya (Gender, Labour & Social Development), Capt Abdul Nadduli (Minister without Portfolio). Others have military backgrounds or have links to the same.
State ministers such as Lt Col Bright Rwamirama (State for Veteran Affairs) and Col Sam Engola (State for Defence) are former military officers.
In 2009, for example, Mr Rwamirama, who was already in Cabinet and representing Insingiro North in Parliament, was promoted from the rank of major to lieutenant colonel.
Other ruling NRM politicians and businessmen had their army ranks elevated. Capt (rtd) David Guma Gumisiriza was promoted to major, while Lt Col John Mugenyi, who had turned to entrepreneurship after retirement from active service a few years ago, was promoted to colonel.
In the immediate post-war bush Cabinet, several army officers served as ministers and, or in other portfolios. They included now leading Opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye, who had served in various capacities, including as deputy Internal Affairs minister and National Political Commissar.
Former Health minister, Maj Gen Jim Muwhezi, and former secretary general of East African Community, Maj Amanya Mushega, and others were already holding political appointments when they were retired from the UPDF.
At the time of his death, Brig Noble Mayombo was serving as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence.
He had also served as a legislator right from Constituent Assembly that drafted the 1995 Ugandan Constitution.
At the rank of Lieutenant General, Proscovia Nalweyiso is the highest ranking female military officer in the country. She has spent much of the past decade working closely with President Museveni as an advisor and assistant and openly engages in partisan activities by virtue of her employment.
At the recent five-day retreat of the ruling NRM party Central Executive Committee (CEC), Gen Nalweyiso was in attendance. Photographs released of the event show her donning a yellow dress, the official colour of NRM.
In Parliament, the UPDF maintains a permanent representation of 10 officers who are elected by the Force every after five years.
On July 2, President Museveni seconded more senior army officers to the Uganda Police Force, to join Deputy Inspector General of Police, Maj Gen Sabiiti Muzeyi.
The changes saw Brig Jackson Bakasumba, who has been UPDF’s commandant of Peace Support Operations Centre in Singo, a role in which he presided over the training of Ugandan soldiers going for peace operations in Somalia, among others, appointed Chief of Joint Staff, a newly-created position in the police.
Col Sserunjogi Ddamulira, who has been director of counter-terrorism at the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, is the new director of police Crime Intelligence.
Brig Geoffrey Golooba, who has been in Moscow as Military Attaché, is the new police director of Human Resource Development and Training.
Col Jessy Kamunanwire is the new director of Human Resource and Administration.
Two senior army officers that President Museveni had earlier deployed to the police force ended their police careers behind bars.
After he was sacked as the police boss, Gen Kale Kayihura was charged with aiding and abetting the kidnapping and repatriating of Rwandan exiles and refugees to Rwanda between 2012 and 2016 and failing to protect war material by issuing arms to unauthorised persons. He is out on bail.
Former police Crime Intelligence boss, Col Atwooki Ndahura, is also out on bail after he was charged and remanded over accusations of interfering with the process of law contrary to Section 166 of the UPDF Act 2005.
In December last year, President Museveni again appointed several senior army officers to high ranking positions in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.
Prior to the deployment of the officers, an investigation into the operations of department, reportedly ordered by the President, was conducted by the army’s CMI, which recommended drastic changes.
The President then appointed Brig Gowa Kasita as director of Immigration and Citizenship. He also appointed Col Geoffrey Kambare, who was serving as the director for Intelligence Collection, as the Commissioner of Immigration, with Col Johnson Namanya as Commissioner for Citizenship and Passport Control.
The lining of soldiers in MDAs has not also spared autonomous agencies of government such as the Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra), which have soldiers seconded to them as ‘liaison’ officers. Other soldiers also man offices away from the military.
President Museveni, in 2014, as well appointed UPDF officers to implement OWC programme designed to enhance household incomes.
These UPDF officers remain in charge of the programme across the country.
Similarly, military personnel are attached to the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), to among other things, fight smuggling.
But Parliament has previously directed in vain that specially trained police officers replace soldiers in these agencies.
The army, through the National Enterprise Corporation (NEC), is also actively involved in Kiira Motors Corporation (KMC), a State enterprise established to champion the development of the domestic automotive value chain.
Both the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) headed by Col Frank Kaka Bagyenda and the External Security Organisation (ESO) headed by Joseph Okello Ocwet are largely staffed and run by the military.
The UPDF has since taken on the law enforcement role on Ugandan lakes. President Museveni deployed the force to combat illegal fishing practices so as to protect the fish resource that was under threat of depletion. However, while the UPDF’s Fisheries Protection Unit has been credited for the increasing fish stock, especially in Lake Victoria, the force has been accused of extortion and human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and torture on the waters.
The National Identification and Registration Authority (Nira) is another government agency run by the army under the ministry of Internal Affairs. Nira, among other things, is charged with creating, managing, maintaining and operationalising the National Identification Register. In June, Parliament discovered that Nira rents its offices at Kololo grounds, a gazetted area for national ceremonies, at Shs51m per month or Shs600m annually.
In addition, the army continues to try civilians in military courts despite condemnation from local and international human rights agencies.
In 2016, a report by Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said trials in military courts “are fraught with substantial and procedural irregularities that render the attainment of a free and fair trial structurally and procedurally unachievable.”
The report said violations in the military courts border on suspects being denied the right to a speedy trial, evidence obtained through torture routinely accepted without inquiry into allegations made by suspects, and suspects not having adequate facilities to prepare their defence, among others.
Away from Uganda, UPDF personnel are not only deployed at embassies as attaches, but serve in other capacities, including positions that would largely be occupied by civilians.
In many challenging situations, President Museveni has chosen to turn to the army to confront the questions of the day and provide quick answers.
More recently, when confronted with the rising urban crime, President Museveni turned to the army after ordering the recruitment, training and deployment of the Local Defence Unit (LDU) personnel. The management of the Force, which underwent military training, is under the UPDF. Their ability to relate with civilians has come under sharp focus.
In the aftermath of the assassination of then Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga and threats on the lives of other MPs, President Museveni again turned to the army, ordering the deployment of army sharp shooters and the purchase of escort cars for MPs’ protection.
UPDF’s Military Police is also routinely deployed to quell civilian unrest such as riots and demonstration. The rundown premises of former Kisekka Military Hospital have since become a base for the military police, who keep a permanent presence near Kisekka Market, once a hub for riots and demonstrations in Kampala.
Besides, faced with strikes and threats of the same last year, government through the management of Makerere University turned to the military.
Subsequently, heavily armed military police troops camped at the institution and remained present until the impasse at the institution was resolved.
In November 2017, army personnel were deployed following a strike by medical workers that paralysed health services countrywide.
The army has also been put on the frontline in resolving internal conflicts. For example, UPDF was deployed in the Karamoja sub-region and is credited for pacifying the area by disarming cattle-rustling militias. But in several reports by humanitarian agencies, especially Human Rights Watch, the soldiers were accused of torture and unlawfully killing civilians during law enforcement operations in the region.
More than 100 people, mainly civilians, were killed in 2016 when the army was deployed in Kasese following tensions between government and the Rwenzururu kingdom.
In their book: Militarism and the Dilemma of Postcolonial Statehood: The Case of Museveni’s Uganda, law dons Dr Busingye Kabumba, Dan Ngabirano and Timothy Kyepa address the question of Uganda’s regimes resorting to the military as a solution to the challenges the State faces.
They argue that “the military solution that our political leaders through the years have adapted to the challenge of State formation and sustenance is one that is undesirable and, ultimately, unsustainable.”
In an interview, Dr Kabumba, a constitutional law expert based at Makerere University, said there was need to look beyond the military to resolve Uganda’s governance issues, among other challenges.
“As we pointed out in our 2017 book, this trend is historical being rooted in the very foundations of the colonial Ugandan State. Unfortunately, Uganda’s post-independence leaders have been unable to look beyond military solutions for the resolution of critical governance questions. For as long as this continues, those questions - and the deep tensions they engender - will remain pending, and potentially explosive,” he warns.
Even on corruption, the incumbent has turned to the army, deploying military officers to constitute the controversial State House Anti-Corruption Unit headed by Lt Col Edith Nakalema. In sharp contrast, the constitutionally established Inspectorate of Government run by civilian authority has not only been chided by the President for its apparent weaknesses, but has either been ignored or seen its work taken over by the State House unit.
Observers and analysts have argued that the President should have ensured that the IGG is strengthened and empowered to carry out its mandate instead of duplicating its role through the military.
UPDF speaks out
“Wherever UPDF has been assigned tasks, it takes along its character of discipline, professionalism and patriotism. This and other leadership competencies have led us to succeed where others have not easily done so. The human resource capacity UPDF has built overtime through training and accumulated experience is incredibly huge and makes the force a reservoir that can be tapped into whenever there is need for strategic intervention. The various achievements such as bringing peace and stability in the country and other parts of the continent did not happen by accident. They are out of meticulous planning and sacrifice. Therefore, such deployments should not be seen as taking over as there is no need again having done so on January 26, 1986, but rather as a reinforcement to provide accelerated services to our people in order to achieve social economic transformation. Therefore, let us not burn our energies on debates but instead focus on how to best build synergies to deliver what our people desire, such as law and order.”
Brig Richard Karemire, UPDF spokesperson
CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF UGANDA, 1995
Chapter 12: Defence and National Security
Article 208: Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces
(1) There shall be armed forces to be known as the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces.
(2) The Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces shall be nonpartisan, national in character, patriotic, professional, disciplined, productive and subordinate to the civilian authority as established under this Constitution.
(3) Members of the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces shall be citizens of Uganda of good character.
(4) No person shall raise an armed force except in accordance with this Constitution.
Article 209: Functions of the defence forces
The functions of the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces are—
(a) to preserve and defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Uganda;
(b) to cooperate with the civilian authority in emergency situations and in cases of natural disasters;
(c) to foster harmony and understanding between the defence forces and civilians; and
(d) to engage in productive activities for the development of Uganda.