Army on the spot again over partisan politics

Brig Deus Sande

What you need to know:

  • A UPDF commander has resurrected the painful subject of individual soldiers making statements to undermine the electoral process. The Army spokesperson has ruled the officer out of order but she cannot confirm whether he will be punished.

Brig  Deus Sande, the commander of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) Mechanised Brigade in Masaka,  is out of order with comments that the army will not hand over power if elections went against President Museveni. 
This is according to Brig Flavia Byekwaso, the UPDF and Defence spokesperson. 

Speaking to Saturday Monitor about the matter, Brig Byekwaso said: “He is not the army spokesperson so whatever he said is his views. The official position of the army is that the army will cooperate with anybody elected by Ugandans.” 

Brig Sande, speaking at a function organised by the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party mobilisers in Masaka City, said in a mixture of Luganda and English: 

“As long as we are still existing, we are not here to give out [power]… I have heard the other one telling you that don’t say this, but even if you say this, we are not ready to give out [power] to people who are ideologically bankrupt… Do you think we are planning a handover? We are not planning a handover, actually we are consolidating … where Uganda is today is not where it was years back. It’s up to you to decide if Uganda is to become Somalia, which is in anarchy, or not.”   

Brig Sande made the comments while in full military uniform, provoking laughter and applause from his audience, which was largely composed of people donning the NRM’s yellow colour. 

The Political Parties and Organisations Act (Section 16) says: “A member of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces, Uganda Police Force, the Uganda Prisons Service or a public officer or a traditional or cultural leader or a person employed in a company wholly owned by the government  shall not-  (a) be a founder, promoter or other member of a political party or organisation; (B) hold office in a political party/organisation; (C) Speak in public or publish anything involving matters of political or organisation  controversy; or  (d) engage in canvassing support of a political party or organisation or of a candidate standing for public election sponsored by a political party or organisation.”

The same Act [Section 16 (20)] continues: “Anyone who contravenes subsection (I) commits an offence and he is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty-four currency points (Shs480,000) or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.”
The Constitution, Article 208(2), requires members of the UPDF to be non-partisan and subordinate to civilian authority. 

In light of the provisions of the law that Brig Sande appears to have offended, and her own observation, we put it to the UPDF spokesperson, Brig Byekwaso, whether Brig Sande would face disciplinary action.  
Brig Byekwaso responded: “We have disciplinary procedures which we follow, but just know what he said isn’t the position of the army.”

Too commonplace 
On Thursday, Opposition activist Kizza Besigye shared a video clip from NTV news in which Brig Sande made the controversial comments with this remark: “I’ve heard similar statements from more senior UPDF officers, like Brig Sande makes in this clip. Like him, they were never prosecuted for offences they commit in such utterances. Happily, they’ve since joined us in fighting for change. Advice: Guard your tongue and do what is right.”

Among the mores senior UPDF officers Dr Besigye must have been referring to is Lt Gen (Rtd) Henry Tumukunde, who is looking to run for president in the coming election.
 Gen Tumukunde, while still a serving army officer, was instrumental in dismantling Opposition against President Museveni in 2001 (when Dr Besigye first competed) and in 2016 (especially against Amama Mbabazi). 

Gen Tumukunde often made remarks with which many took issue, including warning in 2001 that Dr Besigye needed to be aware that the guns that fought the Luweero war were still available. 
Now competing against President Museveni, Gen Tumukunde has claimed that President Museveni actually lost previous elections, including in 2001, but that the results were rigged in the incumbent’s favour in schemes in which Gen Tumukunde personally participated. 

And Dr Besigye knows more about the participation of serving soldiers in partisan politics, on the side of President Museveni. In the book entitled  Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s unfinished revolution authored by Daniel Kalinaki, Ms Winnie Byanyima – Dr Besigye’s wife – claims that in the lead up the 1996 election, in which President Museveni was challenged by the now retired politician Paul Ssemogerere, a reluctant Col Besigye was hounded out of his home by a radio message and he rushed to his native Rukungiri District to campaign for President Museveni. 

This was after, according to Ms Byanyima’s narration, President Museveni received intelligence that he needed the intervention of Col Besigye to soften the ground in Rukungiri, which he has often found to be troublesome. 
Ms Byanyima continued that her husband vowed that would be the last time he would be forced to back his former boss, and the vow came to pass when the President’s former personal doctor was on the ballot five years later.

During the same election campaign, Gen Sejusa then David Tinyefuza, vowed that he would not salute Dr Ssemogerere if the latter were to be elected president.
When Dr Besigye was campaigning for the 2001 election, having freshly retired from the army in a manner that seemed to have left his former boss in regret, adopted an imposing military posture, claiming that he had the support of 90 per cent of the army. 

He accused Mr Museveni of practicing sectarianism in the military, with the command being dominated by officers from western Uganda, especially Ankole. 
To break the dominance, Col Besigye told a rally, he would appoint then Brig Edward Katumba Wamala army commander if he was elected president. 

Brig Katumba, who was commanding Uganda’s forces then fighting in the DR Congo, flew back home and told a gathering in Mukono that he would resign from the army and not salute Col Besigye if the former were to be elected president. 

A number of other senior army officers took turns at declaring support for Gen Museveni and indicating that they were opposed to Col Besigye’s bid for power as the years went by. These include Gen David Sejusa, who has also since fallen out with Gen Museveni, and Security Minister Gen Elly Tumwine. 

The other senior officer who for many years publicly demonstrated and declared his support for President Museveni is former police chief Gen Kale Kayihura. 
He never shied away from doing what to many appeared like political work in favour of President Museveni, including taking it upon himself to foil Mr Mbabazi’s shot at the presidency. 

In audio tapes that were leaked to the public in the lead up to the 2016 election, Gen Kayihura was heard interviewing a number of people about Mr Mbabazi’s activities, and also asking them how the former prime minister’s plans could be frustrated. 

Military police patrol polling stations in Kampala during presidential elections in 2016. Photo | Abubaker Lubowa

As the trend got more entrenched, even police officers, most notably Siraje Bakaleke, took to openly voicing support for President Museveni and foiling the activities of the Opposition. Mr Baleke would later vanish into thin air after being accused of involvement in serious criminal activities, including kidnap.  
How did we get here? 
“Under the current legal regime, the civilian authority is above the military,” observes Dr Sabiti Makara, a senior lecturer at Makerere University’s Public Administration and Political Science Department. 
“I think that the military man (Brig  Sande) went overboard and it shows unprofessionalism. How can a military man attend an NRM party function?”   
Mr  Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a history don at Makerere University, said: “There was hope when the NRA (National Resistance Army) captured power in 1986 that they would become a professional army after they had been renamed UPDF under the current constitutional order.  But with such utterances it’s like the NRA, which is a wing of the NRM, is still very much in action, not the UPDF.” 

The trail of serving army officers making outrageous statements regarding politics is in fact much longer. 
In early 2013, Gen Aronda Nyakairima, then the Chief of Defence Forces, threatened that the UPDF could carry out a coup d’état if politicians did not reform. 

Gen Nyakairima made the statements while reacting to the way some MPs had responded to the mysterious death of the then Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda, in late 2012.   
The comments attracted a criminal suit by Ms Brenda Nabukenya, then Luweero District Woman MP on the Democratic Party ticket. 

On January 23, 2013, Ms Nabukenya filed the case at Nakawa Chief Magistrate’s Court, claiming that Gen Nyakairima, who was at the time a representative of the UPDF in Parliament, made statements that Parliament is not serious and that if it did not change course, “the military is going to take charge of the affairs of government.”  

Ms Nabukenya noted that Gen Nyakairima’s statements inflamed the army to commit a crime against the state. She added that Gen Nyakairima’s remarks amounted to the criminal offence of concealment of treason, terrorism and aiding or inducing soldiers into acts of mutiny. 
Gen Nyakairima’s blushes were saved when Ms Joyce Kabaje, then the Nakawa Court Chief Magistrate, rejected Ms Nabukenya’s application in which she wanted criminal summons to be issued against Gen Nyakairima. 
Ms Kabaje refused to sanction the charges on grounds that the application was incompetent because private criminal proceedings must be accompanied by a letter from the local authorities. 

Ms Kabaje ruled that her court had no jurisdiction to entertain the case because Gen Nyakairima was a resident of Buziga in Kampala, which was in the jurisdiction of Makindye Magistrate’s Court.  

The magistrate ended her ruling by advising Ms Nabukenya to channel her complaint through the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for better management.
Gen Nyakairima would once again find himself entangled in the unending debate of the military’s involvement in politics when he was appointed Internal Affairs Minister in May 2013 before he had retired from the army. 
In December 2006, Gen Caleb Akandwanaho, aka Salim Saleh, retired from the army before being appointed state minister for Microfinance. 
 In May 2010, former Army Commander Gen Jeje Odongo had also been required to retire from the army before he could take oath as minister of State for Defence.  But the game changed once Gen Nyakairima was appointed to Cabinet while still a serving officer.  

Mr Eron Kiiza, a lawyer, and MPs Joseph Ssewungu (Kalungu West) and Suzan Namaganda (Bukomansimbi Woman) filed separate petitions challenging Gen Nyakairima taking up appointment in Cabinet without retiring from the army. According to the court documents, the petitioners wanted the court to throw Gen Nyakairima out of his office on grounds that the Cabinet Gen Nyakairima joined as a minister is a partisan institution since Uganda is under a multiparty dispensation. 

“Uganda is currently ruled by the NRM government and all members of the Cabinet are partisan owing to Article 117 (of the Constitution) and common law doctrine of collective responsibility. It is not constitutionally or practically possible for a person who is part of the Cabinet to be non-partisan,” Mr Kiiza argued in his petition.

Mr Kiiza maintained that under Article 208(2) of the Constitution, civilian authority comprises the Cabinet, hence Gen Nyakairima, a military man, could not be part of the civilian authority while still a serving officer.
“One cannot be part of civilian authority and at the same time be subordinate to it. For a senior army officer to join the Cabinet, the effect is for the military to be fused with civilian authority to which it is supposed to be subordinate. Can a person be subordinate to himself?” Mr Kiiza quipped. 

The State defended Gen Nyakairima’s appointment to Cabinet without retiring  him from the army, saying that it didn’t offend any of the Articles listed by the petitioners. To the contrary, the State said Gen Nyakairima’s appointment was in conformity with Article 113 of the Constitution. 
The article stipulates: “Cabinet ministers shall be appointed by the president with the approval of Parliament or persons qualified to be elected members of Parliament.”
That article, the state argued, does not preclude a serving army officer from serving in Cabinet. 

The Attorney General also claimed that Gen Nyakairima did not become a politician by joining Cabinet, as one can serve the government without doing politics. 
By the time Mr Nyakairima passed on in September 2015, the petitions had not been heard and to-date, the Constitutional Court has not ruled on the matter that would have gone a long way in settling the debate of military’s involvement in Uganda’s politics.   
Gen Nyakairima’s appointment seemed to have spurred Gen Museveni, who has since appointed Gen Katumba first as state minister for Works and later minister for Works and Transport without him retiring from the army. 
 Though he is now retired and wants to be President, when he was appointed Minister for Security in 2016, Gen Tumukunde too had not retired from the army. 

Whichever way one looks at it, the participation of the military in Uganda’s politics remains a big matter of contention, which gets even stiffer during election time. By making the statements that have kicked up dust, Brig Sande was just playing in already muddied waters.                                   

Army in Parliament
The one issue that the Constitutional Court ruled on but has remained contentious is the presence of 10 Army representative in Parliament. Activists had always argued that Parliament is a partisan institution and thus the army, which, at least in theory, is non-partisan, should stay out it.

 In 2019 the Constitutional Court, however, ruled that the presence of the military in Parliament is lawful.  
Ellady Muyambi, a private citizen who filed the petition, had insisted that the Army can’t be in Parliament since Uganda had moved away from the single-party system, which was termed as the Movement system to the multiparty dispensation but the five justices had different ideas.

In his lead judgment, Justice Fredrick Martin Egonda-Ntende wrote: “It is also clear that the Constituent Assembly intended for the army to be represented in Parliament during both systems of government [Movement and Multiparty]. It was never intended by the framers of the Constitution for the army representation in Parliament to be in abeyance during the multiparty system.”  

The law

The Constitution, Article 208(2), requires members of the UPDF to be non-partisan and subordinate to civilian authority.