Al-Shabaab debacle in Somalia: Time to rethink and remodel the UPDF

Author: Gawaya Tegulle. PHOTO/NMG

What you need to know:

‘‘Al-Shabaab made it look too easy! Something is very wrong ” 

There’s a certain seductive, tantalising, mouth-watering, lip-smacking and irresistible romance about the army in Uganda. When young people see soldiers on national parades, looking smart and dashing in neat-pressed green military fatigues and shining boots, and marching to music of the brass bands, they’d love to join the army! When they see military generals cruising around in convoys, seated in big green or shiny black SUVs and guarded tightly by platoons of soldiers, at home and on the road, and in the toilet, they can’t wait to join the army.

When they see soldiers move around Kampala with sacks of money, purchasing properties at will, paying billions on the spot for pricey real estate, picking up all the classy dames on offer in the city,  they want to enrol in the army yesterday! When all the strategic jobs in the civil service are given to military officers with lots of perks attached to the offices, it’s enough to have young people ring their godfathers, asking for enrolment. And when the godfathers ensure that you go for every nice military course on offer and rise in the ranks without actual military experience, my oh my!

In the minds of many young people, the military is a cash cow where you get whatever you want easily, you enjoy privilege, living above the law – nobody touches the military here. You can slap, shoot or even kill police officers who have the audacity to tell you that you are breaking traffic rules. You can grab land that belongs to schools or private individuals and simply deploy soldiers to guard it and defy any court order to vacate it.
You can walk into a bar, order the doors closed, buy all the beer, pick up the nice chicks at will from their husbands and boyfriends and nobody will do anything. You can break the law at will and if anyone has the temerity – and foolishness – to criticise you, soldiers will pick them up, torture them for weeks.

And if you have political ambitions, you can mount a political campaign in full military gear as long as you are not in the Opposition; because the day you say anything that suggests you are anti-establishment is the day you will be quickly arrested, detained for months and eventually court-martialled and, after a Kangaroo court-style trial, jailed for entertaining a counter-revolutionary mentality.

This is an extremely polite summary of the UPDF as it presents itself over the years: life on easy lane. And on the above counts alone, in a country where young people are inherently and wilfully lazy, have no values, no ethical ballast and no patience to build a nation that will last for generations and which will be altogether inclusive, joining the military is an irresistible proposition! 

Just now though, the nation is in mourning and no matter how brave a face the President may put to the debacle, the truth is that al-Shabaab militants, in overrunning Bulo Marer Town near Mogadishu in Somalia, dealt Uganda their most embarrassing military defeat in two decades. Reminds one of when Rwanda comprehensively beat us in three separate battles in Kisangani, DR Congo, between August 1999 and June 2000 through our own recklessness and unprofessionalism.
You cannot argue with the videos – gory, ghastly and gruesome – that al-Shabaab has passed around. The people being killed in those videos are our children, our fathers, our husbands and brothers.

Hey kids, this is what happens on the battlefield in real life; welcome to real military experience! And that is why anyone intending to join the army needs to watch this and then make a conscientious decision, because then we shall have youngsters who know exactly what they are up against and that they came to serve, not to indulge themselves irresponsibly.
Whatever the inquest into the Somalia debacle turns up, the truth is that Uganda needs to rethink and remodel the military which, while capable of quelling and quashing internal dissent to ensure regime longevity and using ranks and offices to reward regime stooges and quislings, seems lost at sea when it comes to decisively dealing with external threats. 

Al-Shabaab made it look too easy! Something is very wrong and we need to quit the silly propaganda of “professional army”. We must urgently rebuild before we pay a higher price. 

Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda     [email protected]