The army must re-define its role in a peaceful Uganda

This July, Ugandans will mark four years since the start of peace talks between President Museveni’s government and the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony. The talks, which took place in the Southern Sudan capital of Juba, were eventually unsuccessful. But because they silenced the guns in northern Uganda, the Juba talks heralded the start of the recent peaceful spell that the war-weary region has enjoyed since.

The pacification of northern Uganda should have been the time when Uganda’s often volatile politics turned over to a fresh page; a page where – for the first time in the short history of our country – there would be no war in the whole of Uganda. The authorities could then have started the inevitable process of mending fences as we try to forge a new, better direction for our country.

But it is obvious that some people in some institutions have other ideas. Take, for instance, the army; with no armed enemy to engage in combat with, sections of our army seem to be seeing foes where none exist. In the September 2009 riots that were sparked off by the government’s refusal to allow Kabaka Ronald Mutebi of Buganda to visit a part of his Kingdom, more than 20 protesters died allegedly from army shootings.

Only last week, in the aftermath of the mysterious fire that razed down the Kasubi tombs, another three people lost their lives to the bullets of the very army that is constitutionally mandated to protect them. The reasoning within the UPDF Special Forces who allegedly shot at unarmed civilians might be that they were protecting President Museveni from protesters/rioters, but they have the same duty to protect every other citizen of this country. The prosecution and sentencing of those who break the law is for the judiciary.

If the UPDF must be brought to the streets every time there are protests, does it mean the Uganda Police is so incompetent that they can no longer keep law and order? Or is the army so idle that its leaders must find, in any group of Ugandans expressing their dissatisfaction with the system, some individuals for target practice?

What do soldiers do in army barracks when there is no war? What does the Ugandan tax payer contribute to a soldier’s salary for when the said soldier is not defending his country? I want to think no tax payer makes that contribution so that the soldiers turn round and shoot them.

If the UPDF is indeed idle, then part of the much-vaunted professionalisation of the army should surely be about re-defining its role in post-conflict Uganda.

About three weeks ago, the UPDF Disaster Management and Relief team led by Maj. Gen. Julius Oketta was winning plaudits for its efforts to help the people of Bududa affected by the landslides. Similarly, while marking Tarehe Sita (February 6) every year, the army often sends its soldiers out to clean towns, distribute relief supplies, treat sick people, etc.

How about, as part of the re-definition of the army’s role, the government actually took steps to have the army clean our city and towns that are chocking with garbage, treat people in the countryside and get involved in repairing the numerous roads that are killing scores of Ugandans every day? The soldiers who perform such duties can then be paid some allowances to top up on their meagre salaries.

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