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100 UPDF officers on katebe

By P. Matsiko wa Mucoori & Obed K. Katureebe

Museveni fears they could join opposition if retired

Close to 100 senior officers at the ranks of Major and above are currently on katebe (without ‘proper€ deployment), according to information available to The Independent. This has created a sense of career insecurity within the military, raising questions about the army’s attempt at professionalising the force.

Some of those on katebe include officers who fought in the Luwero bush war that brought President Yoweri Museveni to power in 1986. As the president’s command and control structure has shifted to young officers like Col. Moses Rwakitarate, the old guards have increasingly found themselves shunted aside, many with no option to retire from the army for fear they could join the opposition ranks.

The Independent compiled a list (not exhaustive) of the officers currently without ‘proper’ deployment.

Lt. Col. Jackson Bell Tushabe

Mention the name Col. Bell within the rank and file of the UPDF and very few will remember, let alone recognise this former bush war fighter. Indeed, our random survey showed that few officers and men still remembered Bell. He has been on katebe since early 1990s. When his hope waned, Bell retreated to his home in Ggaba and joined fishing. He is more known among fishermen at Ggaba landing site than among the UPDF. He has become so popular with the fishermen that he mobilised them into a football club, Victor FC. In the bush, Bell belonged to the dare devil category of commanders like Jet Mwebaze (RIP), Stanley Muhangi (RIP), Col. Patrick Lumumba (RIP) and Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza.
Col. Stephen Rwabantu

Col. Rwabantu joined the bush war in 1981 together with Brig. Taban Kyabihende after the two defected from the UNLA Bugolobi barracks. This group was smuggled to the bush by Brig. Kyaligonza. The group included the late Col. Lumumba, Col. Kakari Muhanguzi Benjamin aka Damba. Rwabantu’s last serious deployment was in 2000 when he was commandant of Masindi Artillery and Air Defence Unit. He was briefly elevated to brigade commander and for some unknown reason, he was relegated to katebe. He has since returned to his home in Kiruhura district and now looks after his cows.

Col. ‘Scourge’  Tumusiime

‘Scourge’ as he is commonly known is now looking after his cattle in Kiruhura. This bush war fighter’s last deployment was when he worked in the reserve force under Gen. Salim Saleh. However, it appears he got fed up with such pseudo-deployment. He is now living a humble life grazing his cows at home in Kiruhura district.

 Col. Chris Kazoora

His last ‘serious’ posting was brigade commander in DR Congo during the UPDF military campaign (or is it misadventure?) in the late ’90s. There are reports that he was recently given an office in Kisenyi as a reserve army commander. Kazoora is part of the bush war heroes with modest education who are finding it hard to integrate into the new crop of the elite commanders in the UPDF.

Col. Fred Bogere

He is another bush war historical. His last ‘serious’ deployment was Chief Political Commissar of the army in the late ’90s. As army MP in the Seventh Parliament, he is the only soldier who did not support the lifting of term limits to allow President Museveni run for a third term, choosing to abstain during the vote. He had committed a cardinal sin and once out of Parliament, he was pushed to katebe. He decided to go back to school to boost his then modest education. He has since finished his law degree from Makerere University. It is said his trouble really started after suspicion that he had close links with Col. Kizza Besigye, the president’s strongest and closest political challenger in the last two presidential elections.

Col. Eric Mukasa

He is part of the bush war liberators. His last known posting was as the Inspector General of Military Equipment in the UPDF.

 Col. John Mateeka

Mateeka belongs to the older generation in the UPDF. His last meaningful deployment was when he worked as deputy to Gen. Elly Tumwine at the Makindye General Court Martial during the Kizza Besigye trial on treason charges. Mateeka now spends most of his time at his farm in Rubaare, Ntungamo district. He was, however, recently appointed to deputise Col. Mark Kodil to try army deserters in the newly formed court martial.

Col. Mark Kodil

He had been on katebe for years until recently when he was appointed head of a special court martial to try army deserters. His last ‘serious’ posting was Chief of Personnel and Administration. He was temporarily arrested in 2002 on charges of abetting the creation of ghost soldiers on army payroll but was later cleared.

Brig. William Oketcho

His last major deployment was Director General of External Security Organisation. Currently he has no known deployment.

Brig. Stephen Kashaka

He was Chief of Personnel and Administration in 2000. Although he was in the court martial on accusations of creating ghost soldiers on the army payroll together with Maj. Gen. Kazini and Brig. Henry Tumukunde, he was acquitted of the charges.  But he has never been redeployed. While still on trial, Kashaka attended a one-year course at the War College in Nigeria in 2007. This bush war hero from Kiruhura spends most of his time looking after his cows. He was recently overheard telling a friend that he has sold nearly all his cows to pay school fees for his children and dependants.

Brig. Sam Nanyumba

Nanyumba was Uganda’s ambassador to Rwanda. Ever since he was dropped shortly after the UPDF-RPA fighting in Kisangani in 1999, this aging officer has never been re-assigned. He spends a good part of his time on Dewinton Road chatting with fellow katebe officers.

Brig. Pecos Kutesa

Kutesa is one other officer who has been on katebe for over 20 years. This eloquent but rather controversial NRA historical went into writing political philosophy and construction business. Life became very difficult and his health started declining. He is undergoing treatment in India where his wife Dora serves as first secretary at Uganda’s High Commission.

Col. Ahmed Kashillingi

If there was any medal for distinguished service on katebe, Kashillingi could probably win Award Class One. This bush war fighter from Rukungiri has been on katebe for nearly as long as the NRM has been in power. He was one of those brilliant and fearless commanders who executed the final assault to capture Kampala in 1986. Kashillingi’s problems began in the early years of NRM when he and a few others were alleged to have burnt down the army’s Records Department at Republic House (now Bulange) in about 1990. Disgruntled, he tried rebellion in the Rwenzori Mountains but was later captured like by now renegade Lt. Col. Anthony Kyakabale. He was imprisoned, later pardoned and reinstated but relegated to katebe to date. However, fortunes seem to be crawling back his way as he was recently offered a small job in the Welfare Department at State House. He has tried various jobs including clearing and forwarding to earn a living.

Lt. Col. Sherif Gava

He is another bush war hero with modest education who is on katebe. His last posting was Garrison Commander at Bombo several years ago. He has since retreated to his home in Kiruhura and is looking after his cows.

Brig. Elly Kayanja

Brig. Kayanja is another bush war hero who is currently disguisedly on katebe. The last meaningful deployment for this erratic officer was when he was the director general of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO). Famed and reviled for the bloody execution of Operation Wembley (which saw the arrest and annihilation of criminal gangs that had sown mayhem across the country), Kayanja has since 2004 been ‘idle’. He is currently attached to military headquarters at Bombo but spends most of his time trading in fish and repairing people’s cars at his garage in Ndeeba. Kayanja whose highest qualification is a certificate in farm management, has lost out to the new generation of army officers with bachelors and masters degrees.

Lt. Col. George Mwesigwa

Mwesigwa is one of the original 27 bush war fighters who launched the first attack on Kabamba barracks on February 6, 1981. The last ‘serious’ deployment was when he was Garrison Commander at Bombo General Army Headquarters. He has been lying low for almost 10 years now.

Maj. Joram Kagyezi

He is a bomb expert and bush war hero. He was one of the few specialised officers during the bush war. He was the only bomb expert with the late Barihona as an artillery expert. The two were the few highly trained men during the bush war. He is lying low at his farm in Bulemezi, Luwero district.

Maj. Roland Katunguka

He was once the army spokesman in the early ’90s. That was his last ‘serious’ deployment. For some unknown reasons, Katunguka has since been confined to katebe. However, the hunky officer from Rukungiri could be the enemy of his own self. In 2007, he was fired from Kimaka Senior Command College for absconding from the training sessions. Katunguka belonged to the educated young men who joined the NRA after Makerere University.

Maj. Rwamukaga

He is another bush war hero on katebe. He belonged to the modestly educated but intrepid commanders of the bush generation. He is now attending to his cows in Luwero.

Maj. Emmanuel Ojiambo

His last ‘serious’ deployment was in the air force in 2000. He is highly trained in air defence and spent most of his youthful years training in Russia. He is now living a more humble life in Kitooro, Entebbe.

Maj. John Airforce

Another bush war liberator who has spent many years on katebe.

Col. Gwera Mugyenyi

He has been on katebe for sometime and is now a cattle keeper.

Col. Othieno

Little is known about this officer. But he also has been on katebe for a good number of years. His whereabouts could not be readily established.

Maj. Kamugunda

Kamugunda’s last ‘serious’ deployment was in the late ’80s when the president stationed him at Sanga Gombolola headquarters in Kiruhura district to end cattle thefts that were rampant in the Masaka/Mbarara cattle corridor. Kamugunda employed a ‘kiboko squad’ that hunted and arrested the errant Bahima youth that were stealing people’s animals and whipped them thoroughly. On top of ending cattle theft, he also beat youthful drunkards in the area that had caused several deaths through endless fights. Alcoholism was a rampant habit among the pastoralists. After that glorious exertion, Kamugunda was put on katebe and has now retreated to his home village in Masindi and spends most of his time looking after his animals.


Indeed katebe is one popular but also feared word in the UPDF, and no soldier wishes that word to be applied on him or her. It is a coined vernacular word to mean ‘not deployed€ and originated from the bush war days in 1981-86 when the UPDF was then a rebel force, the National Resistance Army.

According to ‘historical’ bush war officers, there were times when the rebels would not be engaged in any combat operations and would be in their camps. The NRA had stools they used to sit on. So whenever one would be in the camp awaiting deployment and was asked by a colleague what he was doing, he would reply: ndi ku katebe kange (I am seated on my stool). So the word katebe came to be known as a common reference to being ‘not deployed.€ The katebe in the bush did not suggest or imply punishment. Being deployed did not attract privileges like in a government army. In fact, it exposed one to the risk of being killed by the enemy.

However, upon capturing power and becoming a national army, the meaning and applicability of katebe began to change because of the privileges and benefits that come with deployment. It now implied being demoted, especially in appointment, and being deprived of the accompanying privileges. It thus lowered one’s lifestyle as punishment for perceived or actual wrongdoing, or for questionable loyalty to the commander in chief.

But if someone has committed a mistake, why not take him to court-martial or the unit disciplinary committee to prove his guilt or innocence instead of putting him/her on katebe?

Why Katebe?

A senior military officer familiar with the army issues said katebe is used as a reformatory strategy. He says it’s like purgatory in the Christian meaning. When you die with minor sins, God does not take you to hell but neither does He take you straight away to heaven. He takes you to purgatory for reform and repentance. He argues that the president puts on katebe officers who have committed minor offences to allow them time to realise their mistakes and reform before they can be redeployed.

He further states that taking such officers to court would be counterproductive in case the officer is convicted and dismissed from the force. The army may lose a good officer just because he has made a rectifiable mistake. But also, it would mean going to court nearly everyday because people make mistakes from time to time. So katebe helps the officer to reform and the army to keep errant but redeemable officers. ‘Katebe is used to give us opportunity to reform and repent,€ he said.

Obviously, this imagery plays well with Museveni’s publicly stated position that he is next to God.

However, another bush war historical Major John Kazoora differs. Although he agrees that katebe is used as a reformatory tactic, he says Museveni uses it as a check mechanism to beat dissenting officers back into line and to deter others from doing the same.

But also, says Kazoora, Museveni uses it as a management tactic to guarantee loyalty to him. ‘When you are on katebe, you get isolated and everybody fears to associate with you because the intelligence is all around you,€ Kazoora said, adding that actually katebe does not necessarily make errant officers reform because they are put there without being told their mistakes. He said that when the vagaries of katebe weigh heavily on them, they succumb and go back to Museveni to beg for forgiveness, even when they do not believe they are guilty.

He cited Gen. David Tinyefuza who fell out with Museveni in 1997 after the former criticised, before Parliament, the manner in which the army was fighting the LRA insurgency. Tinyefuza vowed that he would never go back to eat his vomit like a dog. It was an illustration borrowed from a Runyankore proverb to mean that he would never return to the army and Movement, which he had conscientiously quit. But when he was put on katebe, it weighed heavily on him and he cracked. He later went to Museveni and ‘repented’, claiming he had been misled but had now ‘seen the light.€ Tinyefuza is now coordinator of intelligence services.

Some analysts say the President fears that retirement of disgruntled or errant educated officers would hand them an opportunity to join politics, particularly the opposition. Keeping them on katebe, therefore, is a compromise that is meant to control their political ambitions. Uganda’s constitution does not allow serving soldiers to engage in active politics, although they often do in support of the ruling NRM party.

A senior officer, Lt. Col. Shaban Bantariza, the commandant of Kyankwanzi National Leadership Institute, dismissed this claim. He argued that katebe started during the bush war days yet there was no opposition then. Therefore, he argues, the claim of fear to join the opposition has no merit.

The army spokesman Maj. Felix Kulayigye denied katebe exists at all, although his historical comrade Bantariza admits it exists for reformatory purposes only. ‘The deploying authority appoints according to the needs of the time. It is his prerogative to choose where and when to deploy any of us,€ Kulayigye said. ‘Besides, the officers you people think are on katebe are in fact serving in other capacities although covertly. For example Col. Bell is in the reserve force doing some assignments,€ he added.

However, Maj. Kazoora concurs with those who say many officers on katebe cannot be retired because Museveni does not want to see a repeat of cases like that of Col. Kizza Besigye, Col. Mushega, Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu, Maj. Kazoora himself and others, who were allowed to retire and are now giving him a run for his money in politics.

However, Kazoora agrees that sometimes refusal to retire katebe officers is not because of fear that they will advance their political ambitions. He said some officers cannot survive on their own outside the army, and this affects especially the non-educated or semi-educated. They have lived most of their lives in the army and the only job they know is military service. If they were retired, the situation would be too difficult for them in civilian life. So instead they are kept on katebe, in order to at least continue getting a salary for survival.

Another reason, analysts say, is that as part of the professionalisation of the army, many young educated officers are now replacing the historical but semi-educated. So the president is stuck with good but semi-educated officers. They may not have done anything wrong but their relevancy too in the army is declining fast. So does he send them to civilian life to die miserable? The best option for the president in the circumstances is to keep them not deployed but continue giving them a salary. Some senior army officers say when professionalisation of the army is completed, the incidence of katebe will be significantly low or even eradicated.

What does professionalisation of the army mean? How do you tell that this is a professional army?

A senior officer who declined to be named because he is not the official army spokesman, said progress of the professionalisation programme is at 50%. He said that the army conditions and terms of service require that if junior officers turn 40 years of age and they cannot be promoted, they should be retired from the force. Senior officers like majors are supposed to retire after turning 45 if they cannot be promoted, lieutenant colonels at 47, colonels at 49 and brigadiers at about 51. But why do we still have officers as junior as captain still in the army at the age above 45 or majors and colonels who are above 55 and have been on the same rank for over 10 years?

The officer said the reason is that the UPDF has not been a professional army. It has been largely a liberation army without adequate training for professional career progression. But he said this is now changing with the establishment of Kimaka Senior Command College, which now admits 30 officers every year for senior command courses. Its sister junior command college in Jinja also admits about 80 company commanders, junior officers and some majors. He said that in the past, such trainings used to be done outside the country and the sponsoring government would usually give two or three slots to Uganda for a whole year. This means the UPDF could not have sufficient opportunity to offer all its officers such training to transform the army into a professional force.

‘What has been happening in the UPDF is having a colonel at 49 years but who is actually a sergeant in terms of military training,€ the officer said. But all that, he says, is now changing.

If that is true, it will be a big relief to the hundreds of officers on katebe who keep hoping every passing day that the commander in chief may remember them and recall them.

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