Government must disband the LDUs

Author: Phillip Matogo. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • ‘‘ During the lockdown, LDUs developed the reputation for actually abridging human rights ”

This week civil society organisations such as Centre for Constitutional Governance, Human Rights Centre Uganda, Alliance for Finance Monitoring and the Uganda National NGO Forum expressed disquiet over the country’s public debt; which has currently reached a jaw-dropping Shs80 trillion.
“We are concerned about the growing public debt which is currently standing at 50.3 percent of GDP. Unfortunately, most of the borrowed funds are lost through multiple public sector leakages,” Margret Sekaggya, the chairperson of the Uganda National NGO Forum, said.

At 50.3 per cent, Uganda’s public debt to GDP ratio has already gone through the internationally accepted ceiling of 50 per cent.
As a remedy to this intolerable situation, civil society organisation  would do well to demand a reduction in the size of government. It can look closely at government organs to advise on which ones are vital or vestigial. 
To those who recall their biology, vestigial organs are organs which have become functionless in the course of evolution. 
A case in point being the Local Defence Units (LDUs), which have devolved as the National Resistance Movement (NRM) has evolved. 
Indeed, LDUs began as Local Defence Forces whose purport was to defend the nascent NRM democracy. 

In 1986, the Resistance Councils (RCs) made up the institutional framework of councils and committees as public channels for political participation and interest articulation. 
The RC system’s emphasis on everybody getting involved in how they were governed was also backed by law as the National Resistance Council, formerly the supreme organ of the NRM and country’s legislature, passed two statues to legalise it. 
These statutes were the Resistance Council and Committees Statute 9 (1988) and the Resistance Committees’ Judicial Power Statute 1 (1988).
The RC system, while initially raising the eyebrows of concerned citizens, was heartily embraced countrywide. 
Well, almost countrywide. 

In some parts of the country, largely the north and east, RC officials were being attacked and killed. As a means of self-defence, RC officials were trained into LDUs. 
Thus, as you can see, the RCs served as the NRM’s paramount participatory organ and LDUs were created to defend it and, by extension, the human rights of Ugandans. 
However, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown, LDUs developed the reputation for actually abridging human rights as they assaulted, tortured and murdered Ugandans.  Now, since LDUs were created in defence of our rights, especially the right to free expression, and they are no longer defending said rights, why are they still in existence? 
It seems that LDUs were also considered vestigial to government, in the grander scheme of rights protection and promotion. That’s because government now calls them auxiliary forces to the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF). 
Yet the UPDF, in 2019, came under the national spotlight for failing to pay the LDUs who had been deployed in Kampala and its peri-urban environs.

The then minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs Adolf Mwesige, while appearing before the parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, said their request of Shs80.4b to cater for the LDU wages had been rejected by the Treasury. 
Still, the UPDF said it hoped to recruit 10,000 LDUs from each district to boost the already existing number in all divisions countrywide.
Of course, this adds more fat to a ballooning public debt. 
Also, more seriously, it serves as a reminder of just how the NRM government has departed from its principles. Since LDUs went from peoples’  militia to being a paramilitary arm of the state.  This alone should tell us that government’s primary constituency is the army. While Ugandans, and their rights; have been relegated to a defencelessness which becomes more pronounced as government becomes more autocratic.  

Mr Matogo is the managing editor Fasihi Magazine. 
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