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Garamba: Does UPDF hate us or despise us?

By Patrick Matsiko Wa Mucoori

One time two Bahima friends left their small village in Nyabushozi and went for shopping in Lyantonde town on the Masaka-Mbarara Road. They entered a restaurant for breakfast. When tea was brought, one of them, Rwetsiba, tasted and turned to his friend Rucurumbukana and said: ‘Hhm, this milk is from my cow Gaaju ya Kiroko.’

Rucurumbukana looked at Rwetsiba fixedly and said: ‘I now realise that whereas you don’t hate me, you really despise me.’ What annoyed Rucurumbukana was not so much about his friend’s lie that he could distinguish between the milk from his cow and other cows. But rather for Rwetsiba to have expected that Rucurumbukana could believe such a comical lie. Rucurumbukana realised that Rwetsiba had despised his intelligence.

This analogy came live after the UPDF offensive on Joseph Kony’s base in Garamba on December 14, 2008. Like Rucurumbukana told his friend, definitely the UPDF does not hate us, but it despises us. How else would the UPDF capture Kony’s jerry cans, wig, guitar, saucepans, mats’¦ and present them as a show of military success and expect Ugandans to believe it?

Look, the UPDF is a national army and the expenses of its operations are met by the Ugandan taxpayer. The UPDF is in the DR Congo on behalf of the taxpayer and therefore Ugandans expect a credible and useful accountability of its mission. The main objective of the Garamba expedition was to bring Kony’s head or come with him as a prisoner of war, and/or decimate his force so that his strength to fight or wreak havoc is fundamentally crippled. That’s the accountability the Ugandan taxpayer expects from our troops and commanders in Garamba. But none of these has been achieved in a mission described by the army and the Commander-in-Chief as successful. Instead the UPDF is bragging about the capture of Kony’s household items, which are of no military value to the operation or the country.

What kind of operational accountability is this?

Apart from the verbal assertion that the UPDF helicopter gunships inflicted heavy casualties on the LRA, there is nothing tangible to support this claim. Even if the aerial bombing inflicted heavy casualties on the LRA, as the UPDF claims, how did the rebels manage to carry all their heavy artillery, casualties and other heavy equipment with them? The LRA had the luxury and time of taking their dead and wounded; they were able to dig up their armouries and take away all their weapons; doesn’t that suggest the rebels were not under any serious pressure?

What makes it more comical is for the UPDF and President Museveni to call the operation a success. If the UPDF could only capture jerry cans, saucepans and a guitar in a successful military operation executed by three senior commanders, what would it take for the UPDF to declare an operation a failure; losing half of its troops to the enemy?

It’s this simplicity with which the UPDF and the Commander-in-Chief treat serious security matters that makes me believe they actually despise us. Take for instance when our army and the Rwandan troops fought in Kisangani, DR Congo, in 1999. I don’t know how many casualties the UPDF inflicted on the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA). But the UPDF lost close to 200 soldiers, most of them were later buried near Tshopo river bridge in DRC. This is something that would have attracted a serious statement from the President about what happened and what the army’s response would be. That did not happen.

Instead the President went at greater lengths to explain how the UPDF-RPA clash was not a ‘battle’ but just a ‘skirmish.’ He blasted the press for being ‘too mediocre’ to know the difference and for keeping on referring to a skirmish as a battle. First of all it was of no value to tell Ugandans, who had lost their sons and daughters, the philosophical difference between a skirmish and a battle. But besides that, if you can lose 200 soldiers in a mere skirmish, how many soldiers would you be prepared to lose in a fight in order to call it a battle? A whole battalion?

If it was not despising Ugandans, did the President in his wisdom think Ugandans would find more sense in the definition of a skirmish and a battle than in an elaborate national statement about the death of their sons and daughters in Kisangani?

Our President and the UPDF ought to treat us with respect. Shortly after the December 14 raid on Garamba, the UPDF said it was closing in on the LRA and the President assured the country that Kony would be captured or killed because the latter had been surrounded. A few days later the ‘surrounded’ LRA were reported to have massacred over 100 people in separate attacks outside Garamba. How then did the LRA break through the UPDF siege? The President said Kony had been in the camp just ten minutes before the UPDF planes attacked. Kony was on foot, the longest distance he could have moved away from the camp in ten minutes could not have exceeded two kilometres when the UPDF struck, which would put him squarely within the helicopters’ firing range. Why then couldn’t the UPDF finish him off? Was he faster than the helicopters? Definitely not! Every time the UPDF fails to kill or capture Kony, they say he escaped by a whisker. Kony must be having many whiskers!

Frankly, there is something that went wrong with the planning and execution of the Garamba operation that the government is not telling Ugandans. The parading of captured Kony’s jerry cans and cooking utensils was a futile attempt to account to the Ugandan taxpayer that our army did a great job. I support the UPDF-Garamba offensive and scorn those who oppose it. In my opinion, no patriotic Ugandan would oppose such an operation that would rid the country one of the most wanted criminals in the world whose force has killed, raped, maimed, and abducted thousands of Ugandans as if they are his biological disposables. But I am equally disgusted by our national army to do a mediocre job, disappoint the masses and then call it a success.

Even president Idi Amin, who was widely perceived as a brute, did a far better job in terms of accountability of military prowess in 1972 when the Tanzanian-backed Ugandan rebels attacked Mutukula border and Simba Battalion in Mbarara. He paraded heavy weaponry captured from the invaders, prisoners of war and displayed dead bodies of the enemy forces. Actually Amin could even have paraded the artillery from his own armoury. Who knows? But in terms of showing military success, Amin presented a better accountability than his contemporary intellectual counterparts.

Like Rwetsiba, the UPDF may not hate us but they despise us.

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