Considering the upheavals Uganda has experienced since 1966, propagated by military-backed dictators, modernising the Ugandan Army is the best avenue to establishing stability in the country.
As with nearly all the African regimes since independence, the current Ugandan government relies on bribery, corruption, and intimidation. Mostly though the government relies on the Army to carry out the leader’s and his clique’s nefarious deeds to stay in power. Nowhere has a government based on military rule ever established democracy and prosperity for its citizens. And Uganda will not. Army rule breeds corruption; always.
Our Army, as in all previous dictatorships, is overwhelmingly filled with the president’s ethnic group, who are most conspicuous in the top echelons. As a way to appease this group for their support and backing, the government [read president] grants them contracts in a variety of dubious deals and ways, where they reap millions of dollars. They are also, de facto, above the law, as evidenced by the personal property [land, houses, etc.] that they simply take for a song from private citizens, and the killings and tortures they carry out on personal matters.
Our society has not had a political system, much less a leader, that creates a sense of nationalism first, then one’s ethnicity. We identify ourselves ethnically, i.e. our actions, thoughts and decisions are based on our tribe. This approach includes the rulers. In fact, it is they who actively, unwaveringly and relentlessly promote ethnic hatred to maintain divisions within our society while they rob the national coffers. Because they lack a national consciousness, they do not feel any accountability or sense of obligation whatsoever to those from an ethnic group other than theirs. We must first come to this realization, how it negatively affects our politics and outlook, then solve it maturely and responsibly, if we are ever to reach a level of peaceful co-existence and get on the path of genuine development.
To do so requires the establishment of a system that brooks no tolerance for people in their role as leaders to be unaccountable for their actions, political and personal.
I do think - no, I am sure - that no amount of intellectual debates alone can ever create the necessary, politically level playing field to establish peace and respect for the citizens and the law without first tackling and dismantling the composition of our army, and how it is used to prop up our dictators; for it is the army that sustains them; it is their lifeblood. If the practice of having ethnic armies continues, there can never be ethnic tolerance, a strong parliament, an independent judicial system, freedom of expression, association, and a free, market-based economy; at least not at our stage of development. Post-independence Africa is a testament to this, decade after decade.
Our dictators and politicians are generally a very insecure, weak breed - morally, and ethically. Many also have low self-esteem, never mind the public braggadocio. And so, they cannot tolerate independence of thought, individual competence, social freedoms, and vibrant cultural diversity once in power. These are all a threat to their delusions of grandeur, and their inferiority complex. So, cultural traditions have to be destroyed; ditto mores, customs and language that differ from the president’s, of course. Independent newspapers and radio stations have to be shut down. Instead - to bolster their fragile egos - what we get are meaningless presidential mansions we neither need, nor can afford; private jets; endless collections of limousines; and national debts we can neither service, nor afford to repay, as our infrastructures, hospitals, schools and vital social services go to rot.
The tin pot dictators are only able to stay in power, murder other ethnic groups, rob, and stifle society through the army. That, and to plunder neighbours who have the misfortune of being militarily weaker, but rich in natural resources, are the main reasons for the existence of the “defense” forces on which Africa’s poverty-stricken countries collectively spend billions of dollars a year. Hence the preponderance of the president’s ethnic kin in the army, the massive corruption to sustain the “government,” and, of course, the endless brutality and repression. We, the citizens, do not, and cannot have a voice, or a meaningful role, in how the country is run under these circumstances. Result? Sycophants for MPs, perpetual dictatorship, ethnic exploitation, murder, cultural and moral destruction, poverty and misery for the millions.
My suggestion as a practical solution to this imprisonment is as follows:
Change the composition of the professional army entirely by having all ethnic groups of the country, in their percentages of the national population, represented. That is, each tribe, rather than just its region, must be represented, no matter how small. To illustrate: If Ankole comprises 8 % of the nation, Lango 6%, and the Bunyole 0.08%, then the army should reflect those proportions in its makeup. The ethnic arrangement is to deter a would-be dictator from having just his ethnic group alone representing an entire region, or a composition of districts [78 now?] thereby sabotaging the goal of removing his undue influence on the army.
The professional army must be small, but educated [literate, at least high school for “foot” soldiers], decently paid, with civil service benefits [for career soldiers], and disciplined.
Conscription, at first, would be necessary, but the recruits would have a time-frame, perhaps in months. In addition to military training, the recruits would be required to provide some public service, in peacetime, such as helping in road construction, city cleaning, garbage collection, bridge building, and assisting farmers. They would also be afforded the opportunity to learn trades of their choice that can be acquired in the time-frame they’re in the army. Army service that is inclusive of all sections of society and ethnicity would help expose the different people, of different backgrounds, to each other, and on an equal basis, which should lessen tensions, over time.
Providing enticements and inducements, to the extent that the country can realistically afford, would add respectability and desire in having an army career, make our soldiers have a vested interest in the country’s stability, as well as enable them to provide a decent and viable environment for their families. They’d be able to house, feed and educate their children, advance in their careers on merit, and get access to subsidised education. Acceptance as a career soldier would be based on merit and qualifying tests.
Those who complete their training [no-career], then go back to civilian life, would be available as reservists in case of war.
With this type of composition and training, no single tribe, or any one region, would be able to visit terror on a defenceless population without severe consequences, as is our sad history since 1966. Severe penalties for those who, top to bottom, abuse their ranks and the citizens should be imposed. The president would not have direct control of the army in peacetime, and this would mean that the leader could only stay in power based on his following and respecting the Constitution, and on his productivity as viewed and rated by the citizenry though voting.
There would have to be a defense committee, but whose composition is civilian, and reflecting the regions, that meets on a regular basis with the top brass of the defense forces to insure that the civilian population is informed of the army’s expenditures, its recruitment and promotion practices to reflect the regional makeup. The committee members would give periodic reports to their respective regions, in a transparent manner. The committee would have direct participation in a declaration of war, along with parliament and the president.
The armed forces would be led by the chief of the Armed Forces, who reports to the minister of defense, and the defense committee jointly.
Professional officers must have at least a Bachelor’s degree, with no prior criminal background. Education programs, leading to degrees, should be available to all qualified career soldiers.
Uganda, as in many other African societies, is not at the point where human rights, ethnic tolerance and respect for civil liberties have taken hold. We must, therefore, recognize the ever-present danger of genocide for anyone of us. Mass killings by the hundreds of thousands have, and continue to take place. It is our duty as citizens, blessed with hindsight and exposure through education and this medium, to do all we can to insure that we advocate for the establishment of avenues though which our lives and those of our fellow citizens are secure and free from state terror. Having ethnic armies is, as we have seen time and time again, and continue to see, a recipe for disaster.
Let none of us fool ourselves into thinking that, “It can’t happen to us. That tribe deserved it anyway, I don’t belong to it, and therefore it’s not my worry.” Yes, it can happen to you, and you should worry. And worry a great deal, because our “leaders” are totally ruthless in their desire for wealth, and to stay in power. They don’t care one bit how many hundreds of thousands or millions, nor who they kill to get there. That may one day include you, your family and most of your tribe.
Let us not think that we have progressed, and that the next government will establish “democracy,” “equality” “transparency,” and a “professional army,” rendering this proposal irrelevant. This isn’t going to happen. There has to be a major, drastic revision of the army’s makeup.
Nor should any of us still cling to, “Army life is for them, not us.” This is foolish, insane, self-defeating and suicidal, as the deaths of hundreds of thousands in our immediate past attest. Millions of those who survived the reigns of terror visited upon our part of the world have continued paying dearly in incalculable ways precisely because of this outdated view that never had any merit to begin with.
The way to power in Uganda is through ethnic army backing, which is why the FDC has a far better chance than any other party. Were it not for the guns behind it, it would be just another, mostly-ethnic party. The other way to power is also through the gun: A revolution.
Our leaders have to be forced to learn discipline and to take responsibility for their acts. Removing the army from their influence will force them, sooner rather than later, to take such responsibility. They will no longer be able to simply do as they please without consequences, as now.