A lie has been perpetuated that the so-called sectarian political parties caused the political chaos that stamped itself on Uganda from 1966 to 1986. President Museveni like the leaders of those awful 20 years has similarly used the army to stamp his authority on Uganda. The problem is not the political parties but the leaders who use political parties or the army or both to dictate over the rest of us.
There is no evidence to suggest that political parties were the source of instability in Uganda rather it has been the thuggish warlords aspiring to become Head of State that have caused and continue to cause mayhem using the army against the people of Uganda.
In the life of Uganda as a sovereign state (1962 – Date), the armed forces have killed in excess of one million fellow Ugandans. The army has and is used as a tool of oppression by the executive. And whatever President might say today, the Uganda army comes across as his private army.
The army’s role of protecting the integrity of the Uganda’s borders and her sovereignty has been relegated to a secondary role while the main role for the army today is to protect the President and his government against any opposition and to impose the will of the President.
In our view, the army has been and is a tool of oppression and the preserve of the President to do with as he pleases. It either needs restructuring or abolishing if all fails. In this paper we are advocating fundamental restructuring.
Let us reflect on the loss of life and property resulting from the adventures of the armed forces. Given that Government does not keep track of people killed in conflict we can only rely on estimates –
1966 – 1971: 20,000 killed plus massive loss of property
1971 – 1979: 300,000 killed
1979 – 1980: 100,000 killed plus massive loss of property
1981 – 1985: 400,000 killed plus massive loss of property
1985 – 1986: 50,000 killed
1986 – Date: 300,000 killed and massive loss of property
The ensuing instability has had its origins in dictators trying to impose themselves either using the army or using the law or both. Uganda has been denied continuity because Presidents have sought to remain in office for life thus forcing the hand of others to remove them forcefully from office. The tradition is very much alive today in President Museveni who is trying to use the law to succeed himself.
Historically, it was only Bunyoro and Buganda, which had something close to a standing army before the arrival of the colonialists. By and large, clan leaders were by that office, the brigade commanders who had to organise their clansmen into a fighting force for king and country. Before the king could commit the country to war he had to have the support of the clan leaders and that meant that clan leaders had to be consulted.
The clan leaders working together provided training to their fighting forces. The wars of the time were about protecting the territorial integrity of the country or an attempt to extend the borders.
From 1964 the army has been manipulated to be loyal to the executive or so-called commander-in-chief as opposed to the country. It kills citizens if that is the wish of the executive. It is this loyalty to the individual that renders the army a liability and of little or no value to the country.
The current manipulation of Parliament includes 10 appointed army officers who sit in parliament as MPs thus confirming the suspicion that the army is not professional since it is expected to take positions on political differences in Parliament. The executive uses, amongst other manipulations, the army representation in parliament to drive through its agenda. And until the country is able to master a force loyal to the state rather than the President, it is a waste to maintain such an army. And by the way why ten instead of one since they all are required to take one position during every vote in Parliament?
Does the country need a standing army?
In 43 years as a sovereign state, Uganda’s territorial integrity has only been breached once by Tanzania under the late President Nyerere who was asked by Ugandans to help them uproot the late President Idi Amin and his regime. On the other hand, Uganda armed troops have attacked the Congo, Tanzania, Sudan and Rwanda because the leaders at the time felt threatened or adventurous. In other words, the army has never been called to defend the integrity of our borders. Indeed, on all occasions when the army has been called into action it has been to defend a regime rather than the state. In 43 years no neighbouring state has ever espoused to annex any part of Uganda.
Having made the point that the army has never ever been called to defend the integrity of Uganda’s sovereign borders, it could be argued that it is unlikely ever to happen. We thus propose that a restructuring of a national army is needed urgently.
The hypothesis that Uganda’s neighbours are her potential enemies cannot justify retaining and arming a standing army of 100,000 in uniform – note that there are other members of the armed forces reporting to the executive who are not in uniform but whose wages and allowances are underwritten by the taxpayer. Not only is it undemocratic to leave the decision on how to protect Uganda in the hands of one man, it is dangerous and destabilising for the country.
The first option could be that Uganda declares herself a peaceful country at the mercy of the world community and would forthwith end the retention of a standing army. Like Switzerland in Europe, Uganda would enjoy the protection of the free world if the country did away with the army. A country without the potential to attack another militarily is guaranteed against attack by any other country by the world community (read Security Council). A logical illustration might suffice here, for example, to acquire nuclear capacity requires the consent and monitoring of the world community. The reverse of that is that to do away with a standing army would enjoy the protection and support of the world community.
If we opt to do away with a standing army the constitution would then need to bar, expressly, the executive from creating paramilitary police. The consequence of that would be that every Ugandan would have it in them to become custodians of the constitution in the knowledge that the law is behind them and carry the support of the international community. Hidden there is also the assumption that anyone who breaks the law, including the Head of State will be subject to the rule of law, which means that there will not be a single person who is above the law or who uses the army to intimidate the judiciary or the people of Uganda.
The second option would be to trim the standing army to a maximum of 5,000 under the Uganda executive command. This army would be responsible for training of the local militias; and guarding the country’s arms and sites. The regular role of this trimmed down army would be to address disasters and such like. With the consent of Parliament and the regional executives in consultation with the regional parliaments and between regional executives, the President may take command of the regional militias in times of war or national disaster.
To ensure that the country is prepared for war, each region – assuming federalism takes root and there are 4 regions – would have a well-trained reserve militia of a maximum of 10,000 soldiers. Individual members of the militia would be required by law to attend refresher courses at the military colleges every 18 months. In terms of deployment, the regional executive who would be required to hold a summit with the other regional executives to decide whether or not to put the local militia under the command of the Uganda executive after consulting the regional parliaments.We have not fully debated what would constitute a local or regional militia because out of the original 13 districts at independence President Museveni has now turned the 13 into 78 districts of tribal groupings. It is for that reason we used the hypothesis of regional governments as opposed to district local governments.