By Ian Katusiime
Former army commander Gen. Elly Tumwine, who is an army MP, spoke to The Independent’s Ian Katusiime.
At 29, do you feel the NRM has achieved its liberations ideals from the Bush War?
To answer that you have to look at what has happened, how it has happened, where we have reached and where we want to go. When we went to the bush the main issues were; there was state-inspired violence, life was not guaranteed, people were being killed, one’s life was in danger from state machinery. It took us time after 1986 to stop bullets from being fired around both at night and during the day as if there was war. The question of peace and security was number 2 on the Ten Point programme. Then another one which leads to peace is democracy, which was number 1 on the ten point programme. We wanted to empower people something that is in accordance with Article 1 of the constitution. Every Ugandan now has freedom to participate in the leadership of the country. So on the question of empowering people, the answer is absolutely yes. We also established a force that respects the people and I can assure you of that wherever UPDF has operated whether in Congo or Somalia.
You used to be so critical of corruption. Why have you toned down?
I am still critical and vibrant in the fight against corruption. We formed an organisation VACOCA (Volunteers Anti-Corruption Campaign Africa) and it is still vibrant. I have just come back from Isingiro in training and we continue to condemn, oppose and fight corruption. We are also supporting state organs and those who are fighting corruption in a genuine way. Since 2009 when the President said we have fought all wars except one, we have been fighting corruption. We have trained 5000 people in VACOCA. You need to hear what they are saying. There’s no toning down; we need to fight corruption because it is the only evil blocking service delivery and hampering development.
You once said that it was wrong for Uganda to go multi-party. Do you still stand by that?
My opinion is still the same. You see Uganda is democratic. It has gone through all systems. It went through the rule of kingdoms, colonialism, almost all governance systems, the multiparty system then single party system, military rule, umbrella (Movement system) then back to multiparty rule. I can tell you if we held a referendum today, people would vote for the single party state. People voted multiparty because it was the fashion around the world. After comparing what the Movement had done, people will say we go back including those in the opposition and NRM government. We abandoned what had united the people. We were focused as a nation. Then we were dealing with an issue according to national interests not partisan interests. But it all depends on the constitutionalism and thankfully we still have that provision in our constitution.
Quite a number of senior and historical figures have fallen out with the NRM. Do you attribute this to it?
Not really. That is a constant in nature. There is no organisation which grows without losing something. Every river that flows loses some water; every human being loses some cells and recruits new ones. There has never been an organisation in the world that keeps the people it started with. You study the revolutions of the world. It is the law of nature to shed off the old and continue growing. The beauty with it is that they have peace and freedom unlike in the past where they would be killed in case they fell out with the system. They are free to oppose and form parties and even free to come back and do what they want. The Movement leadership is still around with the same ideas. But even those who went astray I don’t see what new ideas they are bringing. For me I am not even interested in those divisions by the way. Peace doesn’t know any party. The unity of this country is bigger than any party. My interest is in the vision of the revolution in which we fought.
There is talk about how senior army officers are not being granted permission to retire. What do you have to say?
Those are issues I advise people to leave to us. The people who have confidence in the UPDF should leave it to the army to handle. They are issues we do not discuss in public. There are people who spend all their time thinking about the issues of retirement. So leave it to them. The retirement of anybody depends on the needs of the army and its considerations.
There are accusations by senior army officers that they are being side-lined by young Turks in the army…
Any organization that grows must produce new people. Anything that grows without producing Young Turks will die. Life is arranged in such a way that growth is for both young and old people to co-exist. You are a Young Turk among the journalists, do you want to be sat on? If you are active and vibrant should you be sat on? If the young ones come up, does that mean the old ones should go? There is no conflict like you are trying to propagate between these ages. There should be harmony and understanding between the two as opposed to being in isolation. I do not like this campaign of the old and the young, the historical and the new ones. There is no break. It is one organisation, one family, one country.
You have been involved in the handling of the saga involving Gen. David Sejusa. What exactly is going on?
Leave the issues of the generals to the generals. Please press, save us the unnecessary noise.
In the build up to the 2016 elections, can we get any reassurance that the army will not be involved in the process or even during election time?
Let me tell you; we who sacrificed our lives and continue to sacrifice and are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure peace, security and democracy of this country, we have the biggest stake in having a good election and a democratic and stable country. We are here to guarantee you security where necessary; that is our number one commitment not just even constitutional. We have a bigger stake in it than anybody. So we are the ones who want to be assured by the people that you will not mess us up. And you know when the politicians misbehave; usually it is the army that suffers.
You have not been known to be actively involved in the army. Have you thought about retirement?
Who says I am not active? What do you mean I am not active? It is not the section commander at the frontline who determines the victory of the war. There are many areas and echelons of the force. I have been active and I am still active. I don’t act for the public, I act for UPDF, and UPDF knows my service. Retirement is a subject that is permanent for everybody in the army. When the time comes, I will retire either at my will or the will of the Commander-In-Chief.