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Did Gen. Kazini try to overthrow Museveni?

By Obed K. Katureebe

Should he be convicted in the military court, analysts say Kazini could be dismissed from the army and probably be demoted to the level of a private. That would be a very dishonourable end for a valiant officer.

On April 15, 2009, the embattled Maj. Gen. James Kazini woke up with a sense of uncertainty. He knew, perhaps, that unless the Constitutional Court halted an impending judgement of the Court Martial against him, he could be jailed for the rest of his life in a matter of hours.

The Court Martial verdict on Kazini’s fate was set for the next day, April 16. He knew very well that it would not go in his favour. Apparently, his contacts who were privy to a High Command meeting to discuss his fate had leaked that to him. Kazini had earlier petitioned the Constitutional Court challenging his trial in the military court but the petition had not been heard and concluded, yet the military court was about to decide his fate.

He ran back to the Constitutional Court, saying the military was going to decide his fate in a case whose trial he was still challenging.

On April 16 Justice Steven Kavuma ruled: ‘The applicant is entitled to protection when his rights are being infringed. His action of running to the Constitutional Court is to ensure that he must not be denied justice. It has always been the practice of this court to grant interim orders where one’s rights have been violated.’

With those words, Justice Kavuma delayed Kazini’s fate but did not cancel it.

Kazini still faces charges, in the army court, of creating ‘ghost soldiers’ and disobeying the commander-in-chief by making unilateral deployments while still serving as army commander.

But matters took another twist when it recently emerged that the former army chief was being accused of trying to overthrow the government of President Museveni. He allegedly recruited 7,000 men and trained them at Bihanga Training School in Mbarara. He is also accused of creating a semi-autonomous unit in the West Nile region (409 brigade) to assist him execute his mission.

What is puzzling many Ugandans though is how this once blue-eyed boy of the president could be accused of having plotted to overthrow his boss. The timing of the accusations has also raised eye-brows.

It gets more puzzling because in the UPDF ‘ghost soldiers’ inquiry committee report of 2001 ‘ that saw Kazini and several other officers including his then Chief of Staff Brig. Nakibus Lakara pushed out of office ‘ the coup accusations were never mentioned. They only surfaced until recently.

Initially, it was claimed that Kazini created the ghost soldiers to make money.

For example when the late Brig. Noble Mayombo who was then Chief of Military Intelligence was asked to comment on the allegations that Kazini created a semi-autonomous unit in the West Nile region purposely to make money from border business, Mayombo answered in the affirmative. ‘Yes in many cases. The unit was reporting directly to him alone,’ he said.

As for the alleged 7,000 private recruits at Bihanga, the committee carried out detailed inspection of the training school. This included the physical ground, infrastructure available, training facilities, medical facilities, sanitation, instructors, and food. It was however found that funds for feeding recruits were not passed through the Chief of Training, nor released directly to the training school. Instead they found out that the money was released through the 2nd Division Headquarters. This was largely because Kazini wanted to control the funds with his prot’g’ who was at that time the 2nd Division Commander Brig. Poteli Kivuna (RIP). How these recruits turned into a private militia which was being trained without the knowledge of the UPDF leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Besides, one time while still serving as the army commander, Kazini was quoted by the Daily Monitor as having thanked the people of Kiruhura district (Museveni’s home district) for having given the UPDF a whole Division of recruits at that time. Kazini was referring to the 7,000 recruits at Bihanga. If the intention was to use this very force to topple the government, would he have been so na’ve to announce it publicly, let alone recruit from the president’s backyard?

What exactly went wrong with Kazini?

Kazini who joined the NRA (which later was renamed UPDF in 1995) after defecting from the Uganda National Rescue Front of Gen. Moses Ali was never a popular officer in the top echelons of the NRA. He therefore chose to become close to Gen. Salim Saleh, the president’s brother, whom he understood to be instrumental in the force. Indeed it is believed that Saleh is responsible for Kazini’s phenomenal rise in UPDF. However, in his ascendancy to the highest office, Kazini is said to have stepped on many colleagues’ toes.

‘The man left so many skeletons on the way as he ascended to the Number One office in the army; poor boy is now paying for his sins,’ said one senior officer who preferred to remain anonymous.

For example, when he was posted to Masaka as commander of the Mechanised Brigade in mid €˜90s, Kazini allegedly wrote a secret intelligence report and accused Gen. David Tinyefuza of plotting to remove Museveni’s government.

It is said he alleged that Tinyefuza, together with Col. Kizza Besigye, were training a secret militia at his [Tinyefuza’s] ranch in Sembabule in preparation to wage war against the government.

Tinyefuza did not survive this dossier. He was dropped from active service and relegated to presidential adviser on security, the usual dumping and monitoring ground under President Museveni.

Both Tinyefuza and Besigye later confirmed this during a live radio talk-show hosted by Andrew Mwenda on Monitor FM in 2002. Besigye was on a telephone line talking from South Africa and Tinyefuza was in the studios.

As a result, Tinyefuza became disgruntled and tried to resign from the army in 1997. Museveni rejected his resignation. Tinyefuza petitioned the Constitutional Court and won. But he later lost when the state appealed to the Supreme Court. He was forced to remain in the army. He later bounced back after years in the doldrums. This was after he was forced to swallow his pride and apologise to Museveni. ‘Forgive me for having behaved the way I did. I think I was possessed by demons,’ Tinyefuza cried out to Museveni at a giveaway party of one of his daughters. Those who know Tinyefuza well say he has never forgiven Kazini for having caused him all that agony.

As fate would have it, Tinyefuza was on the very committee that investigated Kazini in 2002 for alleged creation of ghost soldiers. The final report of the committee accused Kazini of disobeying the president and stealing money through ghost payments.

In 2002, while presenting his handover report, out-going army commander Gen. Jeje Odongo had this interesting narrative to tell his successor Maj. Gen. James Kazini ‘ probably as a word of wisdom.

‘Comrade the more the monkey climbs up the tree the more it exposes its backside. Gentlemen, let us not be like the proverbial grasshoppers which when trapped in a bottle by their captors prefer to fight each other instead of harmoniously agreeing to free themselves from their captor,’ Odongo said.

Obviously, Odongo was not a happy man that afternoon because he suspected that someone had undermined him before the commander-in-chief leading to his sacking. Indeed, those in the know say that Kazini, who at that time was Chief of Staff and a blue-eyed boy of the president, had on several occasions accused Odongo of being a Rwanda sympathiser. It was alleged that Odongo, among other accusations, was leaking High Command meeting resolutions to the Rwandan government which had been classified as an enemy of Uganda.

The bad blood between Kazini and Odongo reached its peak point in 1999. That year Rwandan and Ugandan troops fought in Kisangani, DR Congo, where Kazini was commander of the Ugandan military mission, ‘Operation Safe Haven’. Museveni met the then Rwanda vice president Paul Kagame at Mweya Lodge in Uganda where they signed a ceasefire agreement. The two leaders agreed that the two armies form a joint verification commission to establish who was responsible for sparking the fighting.

Odongo was appointed together with his Rwandan counterpart, Brig. Kayumba Nyamwasa, to co-chair the investigation. As part of their work, the two army chiefs had to travel to Kisangani to interview soldiers to establish the facts.

However, after the joint findings, Kazini was disappointed to read that the joint report authored by Kayumba and Odongo implicated him largely as having caused the clash between the erstwhile allies.

‘The confrontational approach and antagonistic stance of Brig. Kazini towards RCD Goma faction and the issuance of arrest orders for commander Ondekane and all his soldiers and the response of the governor by deploying military police to break Wamba [dia Wamba’s] rally caused the confrontation between UPDF and RCD Goma on the August 7, 1999. The resultant heavy deployment of the UPDF in the city centre, digging of trenches and deployment of heavy support weapons was seen as provocative to RPA, which accordingly made counter deployments,’ reads part of the report which was signed by Odongo.

‘The shooting of the convoy of UPDF vehicles coming from Bangoka Airport immediately after the shoot-out on the14 August 1999 was inevitable and they were a target. Brig. Kazini was aware of it being a target and insisted on passing through the RPA defense and admits to have sent a tank to create a diversion, for their safe passage since there had been fighting that had even resulted in loss of life on either side. There was no way anybody would have expected to pass through the other’s defense without being shot at,’ the report further implicated Kazini.

Obviously this report was rejected during the High Command meeting as it incensed most members. It is said the late Brig. Mayombo was so riled by Odongo having endorsed such a report that pinned the UPDF. He is said to have humiliated Odongo when he shouted at him saying that he deserved to be lynched arguing that Kazini can make a mistake but not the UPDF. They said that by conceding that Kazini was in the wrong, Odongo was unwittingly indicting the UPDF and Uganda as a country.

Odongo has lived to regret this misjudgment as it kept him several years on katebe (undeployed) until recently when he was appointed State Minister for Defence. Nonetheless, Odongo, it appears forgave Kazini and recently stood surety for him in the Shs 61 million ‘ghost soldiers’ payment case in the court martial.

Kazini’s critics say that he was also a polarising figure who had created factions in the army and was bullying anyone who was not loyal to him. He was reportedly the patron of Sula Semakula ‘ by 2003, the commanding officer of 4th Division. Semakula was a charismatic officer, a brave and good fighter who knew how to rally peasant soldiers. Kazini also brought in Brig. Julius Oketa and Maj. Paul Lokech, the latter being appointed battalion commander. Col. Andrew Guti was also alleged to be among Kazini’s people as was Poteli Kivuna and Brig. Lakara.

Kazini bitterly disagreed with then director of records Maj. Mutengesa. Mutengesa later fled the country fearing for his life.

However, before he fled, Mutengesa is said to have met Museveni on several occasions and talked of Kazini’s alleged tricks of branding others as thieves when he may not be innocent either.

Kazini accused Mutengesa of masterminding ‘ghost soldiers’ on UPDF payroll but on the other hand Mutengesa counter-accused Kazini of obstructing his efforts to sieve out the ghost payments once and for all.

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