WATCH: New US report exposes elite capture of forces
What you need to know:
- President Museveni has often rejected his government’s comparison to the “low-calibre”—Amin and Obote regimes accused of egregious human rights abuses. But with time, pundits and political observers, have noted an uncanny repeat of history, including the capture of the state by the ruling elite by using disproportionate and unacceptable levels of influence to secure undue benefits for themselves. A report by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) released last month reveals that Uganda’s security forces too have been ensnarled, writes Frederic Musisi
Two years after the high-octane 2021 presidential election campaigns that pitted President Museveni, against pop star turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, unidentified security personnel continue to roam and abduct civilians in the Central region and cart them off to unknown locations.
In various speeches, President Museveni has called upon security agencies to offer accountability for missing persons. Several families and Mr Kyagulanyi’s National Unity Platform (NUP) party continue to produce lists of scores of missing persons. For the most part, the army has denied holding the missing persons while the police usually offer less-plausible responses in regard to the whereabouts of the missing persons.
In his address to Parliament on Thursday last week, the Leader of Opposition, Mr Mathias Mpuuga, revealed that on February 8, security personnel traveling in the infamous ‘drone’ vans abducted four NUP supporters, Khalid Sebbi, Alex Basajja, Yasin Ssebunya, and Fred Kagimu from Nakaseke District. On February 15, Sadat Sadam Mubiru was also abducted from Salaama Road in Makindye Division in Kampala.
“Our hope, however, lies in the statement made by the Prime Minister, Ms Robinah Nabbanja, who admitted knowledge of the whereabouts of one of the abductees, John Bosco Kibalama, whose name tops all the lists that we have laid before this House since the 10th Parliament,” Mr Mpuuga said.
Kibalama was abducted by security on June 3, 2019, in Kanyanya, a Kampala suburb. NUP has presented him among the list of its supporters who were abducted.
On Thursday, Mr Mpuuga brought to the fore archive footage of Ms Nabbanja addressing journalists at Parliament in which she hinted at the possibility of security organs having Mr Kibalama in their custody. This is after the government had on several occasions denied holding Kibalama.
Why is Kibalama and others being held in ungazetted places and are yet to be arraigned in courts of law?
Mr Museveni speaking early last month during the 42nd Tarehe Sita celebrations at Kakyeka Stadium in Mbarara City warned, especially those in the army not to deviate from the original values that endeared them to Ugandans.
“People were desperately fed up with the brutality and non-accountability of the old armies, the colonial army, Uganda Army, and the other one UNLA, so UPDF must be very careful; you must never adopt the habits of these old armies,” he said.
Are those responsible for holding NUP supporters incommunicado attempting to disobey the orders of the Commander-in-Chief or was this empty rhetoric? Is history repeating itself?
A report released on February 17 by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), a Washington-backed think-tank, details that such brazen acts of security agencies are merely a continuation from the past regimes—of Amin and Obote, whom President Museveni has on numerous occasions used invective against their gross human rights record including torture, disappearances, extra-judicial killings, and arbitrary detentions among others.
“Overall, the role of security forces in regime survival has become far more entrenched in post-1986 Uganda. Political uses of the armed forces have deepened, but in a context where the same elites who recrafted the sector—the rebel leaders turned state leaders—remain in power. New security personnel is beholden to the same top leadership,” the report details.
USIP was established by Congress 39 years ago to promote research and policy analysis on international peace and conflict resolution. The report on elite capture and corrosion of security sectors of four countries, Uganda, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Mexico was released in February on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany.
The recently US-intelligence agency, CIA declassified files revealed that President Obote, in the early 1980s, frustrated by the brutality of the army and his inability to control it, departed from his customary silence on such events and publicly condemned the incident. But condemnations turned into rhetoric.
During the early years of the NRA/M regime, a Commission of Inquiry was set up to look into the cycle of violence that plagued Uganda from 1962 to 1986. The late Justice Arthur Oder-led Commission of Inquiry report, the Pearl of Blood, submitted in October 1994 detailed the suffering many Ugandans underwent.
“The violation of human rights in post-independence Uganda has not been solely due to the weakness or absence of Constitutional and other legal guarantees of human rights,” Justice Oder’s report noted, fingering the army, police, state security agencies, and the executive as having been central in perpetuating this cycle of violence since independence.
According to the Commission’s findings, “the armies in particular: were anti-people; indiscipline; consisted predominantly of certain ethnic groups in and outside Uganda; were loyal to and supported only leaders coming from the areas where the majority of the soldiers originated rather than the nation and state of Uganda; were led by officers and consisted of men who had had little or no formal education; were completely ignorant of their duty to respect, protect and promote.”
This ethnic balancing and counterbalancing in the military, the USIP report details, is one of the early signs of elite capture of security in Uganda before 1986.
“After Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986, his regime continued earlier practices while introducing new ones, practices that for the most part cemented the role of security forces in regime survival by fusing military and political elites,” the 208-page report reads in part.
“Ethno-regional allegiances have evolved in post-1986 Uganda as the groups dominating the military and politics have fused,” with, however, one group remaining dominant.
The report indicates that by filling security agencies with regime loyalists who are members of this group, President Museveni has entrenched the influence of the dominant elite.
The report details that elite capture of the security sector has a range of implications that include stifling democratisation and consensus building on the most pressing political issues, such as nation-building, national reconciliation, and the presidential transition.
As such, the rules of political engagement are so entwined with military that the NRM and the Opposition cannot navigate political disagreement without an implicit threat of violence.
“They are trapped in warlike political struggles and have no consensus on rules of engagement. Political competition is seen through the prism of confrontation and war. Some operatives and officers view Opposition politicians as enemies of Uganda, and political leaders often talk about my army, or tulina amajje [we have the army], which all makes electioneering violent and chaotic, including within the ruling party,” the report says.
The elite capture of security is also demonstrated through the army’s omnipresence in civil agencies, from Parliament, to retired and serving UPDF personnel deployed in civilian state institutions while civilian state officials are denigrated for poor performance.
“In short, soldiers have taken over key responsibilities from civilian experts, and the military is now fully integrated into regime political dynamics,” the report notes.
Mr Timothy Kalyegira, who is a journalist and researcher, told Daily Monitor that USIP’s findings are not surprising.
“Any above-average person who reads newspapers, watches a bit of television, or pays attention to the goings-on wouldn’t find it surprising. We have a State that is nominally political, and is a constitutional republic. Still, the underlying power behind this NRM state is the military and it has been weaved, with the ruling party. It’s a pseudo-democratic state,” he said.
The report reveals that the close-knit networks in the security forces have moved against political opponents and penetrated civil society, leading to human rights violations, the militarisation of politics and the economy, and weakened democratic institutions.
“The elite capture process in Uganda is a dynamic one that thrived under both the colonial and postcolonial regimes, adapting as time passed. Throughout, the core motive has been regime survival. Successive ruling elites created reliable military, police, intelligence, specialised units, and other security machinery.”
In a context of politicised ethnicities, like in many African countries, the report adds: “These successes are attributable to loyalty networks and cycles of ethnic balancing and counterbalancing. Those in power use security agencies to assuage disgruntled security forces, repress political opponents, outsmart competitors, resolve pressing political questions, and purge suspicious elements from political and security institutions.”
Mr Kalyegira said: “The 37 years of NRM government and the reason majority Ugandans have barely heard of the news of a coup proves that in a certain unique way; the Idi Amin’s was clearly a military government, the Tito Okello, was a military government, the Museveni’s is a bit different in a sense that in the very beginning, he tried to avoid the mistakes of the past leaders of not having the army strongly enough of your side.”
The USIP report further details that corruption in security forces remains largely unchecked, partly because elites have exploited new or amended anti-terrorism legislation enacted since the United States intensified the war on terrorism.
“According to one informant, amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act, along with the Financial Intelligence Act and the Anti-Money Laundering Act, have had far-reaching effects. The definition of terrorism expanded to include many ordinary political and civil crimes, stretching the manipulative reach into society. These laws have also led to an increase in classified expenditures while narrowing control and access to such resources,” the report notes.
Separately, the report authors established that Uganda’s security sector has been manipulated to negotiate regime survival with the international community, and specifically dubbed the Ugandan-US cooperation as “a double-edged sword.” “The United States and other Western powers, keen to maintain reliable partners in the war on terrorism, have supported Ugandan forces deployed in Somalia since 2007. More broadly, US emphasis on security and stability has inadvertently contributed to the militarisation of Ugandan politics and buttressed the regime against its opponents. Although the war on terrorism has shifted to countering violent extremism, the imperatives in this region have not fundamentally changed.
Efforts to strengthen the security forces have had serious consequences, facilitating political repression internally and military adventurism externally,” the report further notes.
On one hand, this military cooperation has “enhanced the capacity of Ugandan security forces in counterinsurgency and peacekeeping missions and contributed to a variety of goals, from economic growth and public health to humanitarian assistance” but at the same times has facilitated the regime’s reliance on military rather than nonmilitary interventions.
US policymakers, the report authors noted, recognise several instances in which Washington could have pressured President Museveni’s regime to respect the Constitution and allow peaceful transition of power, but instead chose not to take a clear and strong stand.
After certain high-profile incidents—the violence during and after the 2001 elections, the 2005 lifting of presidential term limits, killings by security forces during the 2009 and 2020 riots in and around Kampala, the walk-to-work protests, and reports of human rights abuses by Operation Wembley, the Violent Crime Crack Unit (VCCU), and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence—US officials made statements but took little action.
“In hindsight US policymakers recognise these incidents as inflection points—lost opportunities for engaging Uganda more firmly and forcefully on sensitive issues,” the report notes.
Taking a longer view, the report further notes, “and given that random occurrences like mutiny, assassination, or President Museveni’s incapacitation or death in office could dramatically alter elite dynamics, the United States could also invest in preparing security officers for a post-Museveni Uganda.”
What is apparent, Mr Kalyegira said “President Museveni is not exactly in his 40s and his government is no longer cohesive, So, I think they might be forced to learn from history, especially the Arab spring and quietly negotiate a transition that removes him without Uganda moving into chaos. You also need to separate Museveni and his family from the ruling party, essentially what happened in Zimbabwe.”
He added: “If anybody is going to help the US and its allies decide that it is [Gen] Muhoozi and his tweets; I mean if you are a person in Washington or elsewhere, and the President’s son, who wants to be president, tweets/says things that way; reveals his own family secrets, antagonises neighbours especially Kenya, etc. Sure, Museveni has his weaknesses, but one poses to wonder if such is the post-Museveni era that the country needs.”
The United States gives Uganda nearly $1 billion dollars each year, mainly for health and security support. In return, Uganda does security leg work in the region, more significantly fighting al-Shabaab in Somalia, and playing its diplomatic power favourably at international fora.
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US diplomats often opine that donor support is meant to improve the well-being of Ugandan citizens.
However, the report notes that: “As long as Uganda’s military interventions are seen to contribute to regional peace and security, international attention is diverted from the domestic sphere and donors apply less pressure in regard to constitutional and democratic backsliding, even though Uganda’s regionalised militarism serves the regime rather than the region.”
To Uganda’s credit, Mr Kalyegira said UPDF has played a “commendable positive role” in pacifying Somalia and South Sudan.
“As many believe, the NRM has managed to live for this long either largely as a result of the overt support of the United States in training our troops, but I think it is a painful contradiction for them that some of the people trained are involved in human rights violation, which is why they can afford to turn a blind eye,” he says.