Why SFC job has high “churn rate”

What you need to know:

  • The development, while striking, kept up with the unit’s track record as a revolving-door workplace for its topmost officer. An analysis of previous leaderships at SFC, which also took on the names of the Presidential Protection Unit (PPU) and the Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB) having started as the High Command Unit (HCU), shows that the unit commanders do not last long on the job.

President Museveni last week dropped Brig Gen Felix Busizoori as commander of the elite Special Force Command (SFC) after seven months on the job, making him the shortest-serving commander of the semi-independent unit of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF).

The development, while striking, kept up with the unit’s track record as a revolving-door workplace for its topmost officer. An analysis of previous leaderships at SFC, which also took on the names of the Presidential Protection Unit (PPU) and the Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB) having started as the High Command Unit (HCU), shows that the unit commanders do not last long on the job.

 The current SFC traces its historical roots to the HCU that was established in May 1981 at Kyererezi, Kapeeka (in the present day Nakaseke District). This was in the early days of the war of resistance against the government of Milton Obote.

The HCU was majorly tasked with guarding the chairman of the High Command as well as carrying out other special missions and operations. The first commander of the HCU, which at that time was about the size of an infantry platoon, was Commander Robert Kabuura. Lt Col Akanga Byaruhanga (RIP) then assumed command of the unit.

When the National Resistance Army (NRA) captured power in 1986, the HCU morphed into the PPU. It counted about 400 soldiers at the time. The first commander of the renamed PPU was Lt Col Byaruhanga (RIP).

Faced with new challenges such as fighting counter-revolutionary forces, the PPU expanded into a brigade (three battalions or more). This expansion also led to an increase in responsibilities that saw PPU transition into the PGB. The brigade was not only directed to continue protecting the President, but also to defend the country and constitutional order. These responsibilities were shared with the rest of the defence forces.

In this expanded role, the PGB participated in counter-insurgency operations in northern and western Uganda at the express orders of President Museveni.

When the unit morphed into the SFC, its mission to develop and operate a powerful and versatile special operations force soon became apparent. In trying to situate this mission within a unique Ugandan way of war and its responsiveness to the requirements of the UPDF and the nation, the SFC commander position has come to be one of the most sensitive jobs in Uganda.

Save for Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba—the son of President Museveni who has twice served as SFC commander—no one has been able to last the long haul. Observers say that this down to the sensitivity of the job that, among others, involves standing sentry over the First Family.

The only constant

Most of the sources Saturday Monitor talked to, asked not to go on record because of the sensitivity of the subject matter. The picture, however, sketched from the numerous interviews we were able to conduct indicates that the SFC executes a range of tasks. It is essentially composed of two groups—Special Force Group I, which is the main infantry, and Special Force Group II, which comprise special units and professionals, including the motorised infantry, air defence, intelligence, computer technology, among others.

There is for instance the Armoured Brigade, which has in its repertoire heavy armoured fighting vehicles. Elsewhere, while air defence is charged with monitoring airspace where President Museveni and his coterie are; the intelligence unit is charged with carrying out investigations on the basis of information from its espionage network. The 4th Infantry Division and Zero One Commando unit, meanwhile, execute what one of our sources called “special duties and assignments.”

A credible security source told Saturday Monitor that a mistake in deployment can cost you a job.

“Deployments like the detail that guards President Museveni or those at strategic places such as the airport and places where the President is going, and checkpoints where Mr Museveni passes, are vital positions in the SFC,” our source said.

Another source said divulging security information to other security agencies without permission can also cost one their job.

“SFC does not share every information to other agencies because it’s independent,” the source said, adding, “Instead it’s other security agencies that come to SFC to verify information because SFC has the best technology and intelligence service machines.”

New chapter

When Brig Gen Busizoori handed over the SFC reins to Brig Gen David Mugisha on August 9, Gen Wilson Mbadi, the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), didn’t mince his words during a handover ceremony at the SFC headquarters in Entebbe.

“We need to ensure that we contribute towards the good of Uganda. We must always be very serious whenever we are given assignments. This will enable the President to achieve the broader mission,” Gen Mbadi said.

During the handover/takeover ceremony on Wednesday, Gen Mbadi regardless lauded Brig Gen Busizoori for ensuring that “the mission of SFC was elevated and fitted within its strategic and tactical obligation.” The CDF stopped short of saying that the work is cut out for Brig Gen Mugisha.

On his part, Brig Gen Mugisha used his maiden speech as SFC commander to “pledge total loyalty to the Commander-in-Chief, the UPDF leadership, the UPDF family and the country at large.”

He added: “I will keep the standard of Special Forces Command by having a well-trained force, agile, effective, efficient, versatile, dynamic, professional, productive, pro-people and ideologically oriented force to meet national, regional and global challenges.”

Speaking about the recent developments that effectively made Brig Gen Busizoori the shortest serving SFC commander, Lt Gen Muhoozi told officers last week that changes and transfers in the force are part and parcel of the tour of duty within the military. The Land Forces commander also reminded officers that no one in the army should ever expect to be in a position forever. He made the remarks as he presided over the handover ceremony of the UPDF 1st Infantry Division Commander at the Division Headquarters in Kakiri, Wakiso District.

“You come, you do your part and you hand over the button to the next officer. This is a relay and we are not in a one hundred metres dash,” Lt Gen Muhoozi said.

Past leadership

Lt Gen Muhoozi twice previously served as SFC commander. The first person to occupy the role was Robert Kabuura who died during the Bush War struggle. He was replaced by Lt Col Akanga Byaruhanga who became the first commander of the PPU from 1986 to 2003.

From 2003 to 2010, the elite force—then known by the acronym PGB—was overseen by Lt Gen Muhoozi. It later became known as the Special Force Group (SFG). It took on the current SFC acronym in 2012.

While past records lend credence to what Lt Gen Muhoozi told officers last week, the “churn rate” of the SFC commander position particularly sticks out like a sore thumb. Only Muhoozi and Maj Gen Don Nabasa have held onto the job for a relatively long period.

Maj Gen Nabasa replaced Lt Gen Muhoozi at the SFC’s helm in January 2017. He held onto the job until June 2019 when Maj Gen James Birungi replaced him. Maj Gen Birungi served as commander of the unit responsible for the security of the President of Uganda, his immediate family, the constitutional monarchs and vital national installations until December 2020.

When Maj Gen Birungi was asked to serve on  special assignment to monitor on behalf of the guarantors of the South Sudan peace process, the assembling, screening, demobilisation and integration of the armed forces of South Sudan, Lt Gen Muhoozi—who had previously served as a Senior Presidential Adviser on military affairs—bounced back. He stayed on the job up to June 2021.

From June 2021 to January 2022, Brig Peter Candia took charge of the elite force. His replacement, Brig Gen Busizoori, suffered the ignominy of only lasting seven months on the job.

Units under the SFC commander

Armoured Brigade              

As one of the specialised units of the Special Force Command (SFC), it boasts of several tank battalions, a maintenance unit and a training school (Armoured Warfare Training School or AWTS). The brigade also has attached elements such as the guard unit. It started as a small mechanised regiment with a few T-54 tanks, a substantial number of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and a field engineering unit. It now comprises Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs like Mambas and Buffels) as well as T-55 tanks.

 Air Defence

Its major role is to defend Uganda’s airspace and support the land forces. It not only sets out to destroy strategic enemy positions, but also provides VIP transport as well as taking part in peace support and relief missions.

 Zero One Brigade

It is charged with the purpose of executing very important missions. By the nature of their training and the service they offer, the officers under the brigade are called commandos.

 Infantry Brigade

This is a non-specialised unit under the command and structure of SFC. This brigade also has tankers and other big guns in its repertoire. The officers in the brigade normally work as an advance team whenever the President is going anywhere within the country. Their role is to do ground surveillance such that the President does not run into any issues.

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