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Gun killings expose Museveni weakness

By The Independent Team 

Top Pub killing of 9, Mbabazi shooting raise questions about the state of the PGB, military

Providing security to Ugandans was once high on the list of priorities of President Yoweri Museveni’s government.

In his inaugural speech in 1986, President Museveni announced: ‘The second point in our programme is the security of person and property… Any individual or group of persons who threatens the security of our people must be smashed without mercy.’

After years of turmoil under Milton Obote, Idi Amin and the years in between, peace and security became highly prized commodities for Uganda. Demonstrating the ability to maintain security, enabling people to live their lives freely, provided the driving force behind the legitimacy of Museveni National Resistance Movement regime.

The provision of other public services, such as health care, infrastructure and education, may have been sub-par at times in the course of Museveni 23-year reign, but so long as security was maintained, most people have seemed hesitant to experiment with alternatives to the NRM government.

A military man himself, Museveni has demanded a high level of security, lest he go the way of his predecessors with a violent overthrow or military coup, possibly instigated by his former (or current) cadres.

The importance of maintaining peace and security for the legitimacy and longevity of his regime means that Museveni must come down hard on indiscipline within his own forces.

Since such indiscipline has unfortunately not been uncommon recently, many are asking: If he cannot keep his own house in order, why should he have authority over others?

The latest shooting spree by a soldier in the Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB) in Kampala evoked the usual harsh and public response from the big man himself. He announced: ‘If (UPDF Pte. Nicholas) Mucunguzi had not killed himself he would have been tried and put on a firing squad.’

Harsh words for such illegal behaviour are welcome and necessary from the commander-in-chief, but they cannot wish away the very real problems facing Uganda security sector ‘ such as corruption, lack of the once prominent esprit de corps of Uganda armed forces, and proliferation of security organs that are often in direct conflict or competition with one another instead of coordinating together.

Role of PGB

Nakasero State Lodge is the sprawling 20-acre home of President Museveni and his PGB. Next to it in the up-market city residential area of Kampala city are the five-star Sheraton Kampala Hotel, the Kampala Serena Hotel, and the equally swanky Speke Hotel and Grand Imperial Hotel.

The PGB may live amid this glamour and glitz, but they are a group of poorly paid, poorly trained, furious and frustrated gun-totting men and women.

Among those guarding the president are men and women who earn as little as Shs 221,000 or the price of 100 loaves of bread a month.

They are supposed to be an elite force guarding the president and are often seen cruising posh-looking military vehicles, decked in crisp clean uniforms different from the run-and-mill of the regular army and totting the strangest-looking guns but they are angry and disillusioned people. They are kept in check by coercion and fear of reprisal if they deserted.

At dawn on May 2 when Mucunguzi shot dead the nine people at Top Pub on William Street in Kampala, he was off duty but had decided to hit the town.

Unable to afford a drink in the neighboring posh hotels, he trudged about a kilometre downtown, to a dingy night spot called Top Pub.

Here he mixed with cheap sex workers, pick-pockets, drug peddlers, and the homeless.

The main attraction: the cheapest beer, loud music, and free television showing the European football league matches.

Matovu Mulefu, a businessman on the William Street area near Top Pub told The Independent: ‘This place has been a drinking pot for PGB boys,’ he said, ‘This has been the only place where soldiers from Nakasero can find cheap beer at Shs 2000. Other bars in the Nakasero are too expensive for them to afford.’

He blamed the shooting on the militarisation of the city. ‘There are so many guns in this town,’ said Mulefu as he pointed at a group of motorcycle taxi riders gathered near a bank on the same street. ‘Even the boda boda guys you see there, some are security operatives and carry pistols.’Â

Military justice

After the Top Pub shooting, members of Parliament committee on Defence and Internal Affairs chaired by the Kakuuto MP, Kasamba Mathias summoned the minister of Internal Affairs Kirunda Kivejinja and the Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura on May 6.

On May 7, the same committee met Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga and the army chief Gen. Aronda Nyakairima.

Both meetings had one agenda: the deteriorating military situation and how to rein in the trigger happy soldiers.

Kawempe North MP Latiff Sebagala told The Independent after the meetings: ‘We as the committee feel that there is laxity on the part of government as far as the handling of guns is concerned. There are so many security agents in this town all armed with various weapons and this is alarming. We got reports that some students at Makerere walk to classes with pistols.’

Several meetings by the heads of security organisations have been taking place.

An officer, who attended some of the meetings but asked not to be named, said the Mobile Police Unit and Military Police are to begin joint night patrols of the city. They are to make impromptu checks on bars that operate late at night and soldiers found there will be arrested.Â

But it is such mechanical responses to the problem that some are blaming for the increasing insecurity. A top security informant has blamed the ‘mechanical discipline’ in the army for the Mucunguzi shooting.

The officer said the soldier, who had earlier brawled with bouncers at the night spot, was a marked man even before he killed himself.

‘The bosses at PGB with their mechanical discipline would have asked him how he was battered and lost two teeth,’ the expert said on condition of anonymity because of his closeness to President Museveni security. He said the PGB would have summarily executed the soldier if he had lived after the bar killings.

‘For fighting civilians the PGB would have killed him,’ the source said, ‘that is why the soldier said `let me pick my gun and show them then I kill myself.’

Is Museveni losing grip on army?

The Top Pub shooting is only evidence of one of many cracks in Uganda security sector, and it is not the first time a PGB or UPDF soldier has run amok with weapon in hand. Other incidents of indiscipline within Uganda armed forces include:

Just a day after Mucunguzi shot dead the nine people, another soldier Lt. Aziz Sentalo of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence shot and wounded a man he suspected of poaching on his mistress in another city suburb. A day later, the army again made headlines with another killing, this time at the home of the Security Minister Amama Mbabazi. In typical nose-up fashion, Mbabazi has not offered any explanation to the public.

But questions are being asked as to why soldiers have gone on rampage under his docket. He did not answer repeated phone calls from The Independent.

Last month a soldier reported to Kireka Police Post, Kampala, and asked the police to assist him arrest people who had allegedly stolen his money at Club Extreme in the area. He threatened to return with his gun and go to the bar and shoot everybody on sight. The police warned him that they would be there and if he shot at anyone, they would return fire. He has not come back to the pub, but who knows whether it over yet.Â

Nearly every other week you hear a soldier has shot people in public.

‘You need to study the psyche of soldiers today,’ a top security operative asked, ‘Why is it that they shoot to kill first and ask questions later?’

The big picture

Specific incidents begin to paint a picture of the behaviour of individuals, but to explain why and how such incidents occur one has to look more broadly at the security sector and armed forces as a whole.

The successes or failures on the part of Uganda armed forces; whether on an individual level or on a large scale ‘ say in an operation, have everything to do with the organisation and decision-making processes in these forces.

A study conducted by former UPDF Director of Records Major Sabiiti Mutengesa and Dylan Hendrickson at King College London, found that ‘there are two contradictory impulses in security decision-making’ in Uganda. The first comes from the enormous concentration of power in the presidency, which has resulted in the president or those close to him ‘monopolising key decision-making events of not only a strategic nature, but also operationally, which would normally be the competence of lower echelons of either the state administration or the security establishment. These decisions are often made without reference to a clear policy framework.’

The second impulse comes from the numerous security organs in Uganda, which may or may not be state sanctioned, but that are in any case ‘not subject to the same mechanisms for oversight and control as statutory bodies’. Sabiiti and Hendrickson note that ‘these actors tend to either operate outside any policy framework or, effectively, make policy on the hoof. They tend to be more driven by parochial concerns, rather than the interests of the state of the ‘public’.

These contradictory impulses, the authors argue, account for the lack of accountability and coherent decision-making within Uganda security sector.

This haphazard manner of organisation also creates a fertile breeding ground for corruption within the security sector, which has also led to undesirable outcomes.

A statement issued by the President Office after the Top Pub shooting said the soldier was pursuing somebody who grabbed his phone and fled into the pub.

At a more basic level, according to the security expert, the shooting especially by the PGB soldiers could result from general disillusionment in the force. Most of them guard people who splash wealth in their face but pay them a paltry salary.

Incidents of soldiers shooting civilians

2002: UPDF deserter Denis Ogal Odongo killed several people and burned at least seven homes in Erute North

2004: Lt. Scott Nkorenta shoots dead senior CID officer James Habukiriro in a Bukoto pub and flees. He is still at large.Â

2005: PGB soldier shot and injured a guard at Hotel Africana on New Year Eve

2006: Kisozi PGB soldier sentenced to death for murder of a civilian

January 2007: reported robbery of Ushs 700 million from Stanbic Bank by PGB soldiers: Livingstone Jaffer and Mageni

April 2007: PGB Pte. Asaph Muhumuza kills three civilians in Mbale, is sentenced to death in February 2008

July 2007: 300 PGB soldiers were reportedly being held in Luzira, Makindye and Katabi prisons for disciplinary reasons.

September 2007: PGB Pte. Gershom Amanya was reported to have shot someone at Queens Night Pub in Mbarara.

November 2007: Thirteen PGB and policemen attached to Museveni convoy arrested for speeding on Entebbe Road.

May 2009: PGB Pte. Nicholas Mucunguzi opens fire at Top Pub in Kampala, killing eight people on the spot and later himself and injuring several others.

Museveni is committed to modernising the military but most money allocated to the programme is swindled. A case in point has been the rather unsuccessful campaign against the Lords Resistance Army (LRA). In his testimony before the Defence inquiry committee in 2005, Maj. Gen. Kazini explained the process by which ghost soldiers were created and how the salaries of these ghosts, released by the treasury, were ‘eaten’ by officials in individual units or at army headquarters. Such corruption is likely to have an impact on the ability of a force to execute its duties properly, leading to a lapse in security.

A 2007 study by Phillip Kasaija and John Ssenkumba, ‘Carrot and Stick: The Oscillating Security Policy Positions on the Northern Conflict in Uganda’, shows that corruption in the Ugandan military contributed significantly to the failure to bring a quick end to the conflict with the LRA.

Of course these organisational challenges may not be apparent or known to the ordinary citizen, but they begin to manifest themselves in the behaviour of individuals, such as the off-duty shooting spree of Pte. Mucunguzi. These individual actions, by contrast, are very public and become a major source of concern for stability of the security sector and of the legitimacy of the regime.

Poor training

It is clear that UPDF soldiers need training on how to deal with civilians outside the regimented military life.

‘The PGB are human beings,’ one analyst said, ‘They are not guarding the president all the time. What do they do with that time? They must mix with civilians.’

The expert said the shooting of an apparently unarmed invader in the security minister home is a sign of a panicky force.

‘How will they behave at a rally or along the street when a stranger goes near their boss ‘ total mayhem!’ he said.

According to him, most soldiers working as escorts of VIPs miss the military command structure they are accustomed to.

Action taken since the Top Pub shooting

President Museveni has instituted a commission of inquiry headed by Col. David Muhoozi Rubakuba of the Masaka mechanised regiment to investigate the issue of rampaging soldiers.

Several meetings by the heads of security organisations have been taking place.

The police together with Kampala City Council are also mapping out a plan on how to regulate the hours that bars must operate.

Soldiers especially those in the city are to be asked to surrender their weapons.

The police, especially the Mobile Police Unit and Military Police will begin night patrol of the city. They are to make impromptu checks on bars that operate late at night and soldiers found there will be arrested.Â

‘The VIP, military or civilian, becomes their commander. Without a command they panic shooting first and asking questions later,’ he said.

Others point at the declining influence of political commissars in the armed forces.

‘Whereas political commissars were taken very seriously when we had just come into power, today it has completely died and this largely explains the level of indiscipline in the force,’ commented one senior officer who requested anonymity.

He said the Political Commissar (PC) is usually tasked with instilling discipline and patriotism in the force at every level in the military.

‘It is mandatory that all officers and men attend to these lessons as more and more of patriotic ideals are instilled. What is shocking however, these lessons have since died down. Even some officers holding those portfolios do not have any idea of what they are doing. This is largely because corruption has eaten up part of the UPDF top leadership,’ he said. Â

‘The army is no longer seen as an institution where countrymen join to serve but as an institution where one gets empowered to coerce and to have undue advantage over others,’ he added.

The Army Spokesman Maj. Felix Kulayigye job is to put a brave face even on brazen brutality.

‘It is not correct to say that our discipline has gone down just because of the two isolated incidents that happened few days ago,’ he told The Independent, the whole alarm is largely because of our free media. The bottom line is that our systems are very strong. We are able to detect the culprits in time and apprehend them.’

‘You also must realise that of recent there is a general moral decadency in our society. Talk of child sacrifice, and murders by most of our citizens. Therefore, it is wrong to treat the UPDF in isolation. Remember the UPDF is part of this society’ he said.

He denied political commissarship was dying in the army.

 ‘On the contrary, for the last 3 years we have reinvigorated political commissarship courses in the UPDF. The three colleges of Kaweweta, Oliver Tambo and Kyankwanzi are fully operational with students. We realised that since our soldiers are no longer busy with the war, they should now be able to undergo these courses,’ Kulayigye said.

According to the army standing orders, no officer is supposed to move with a gun out of the barracks without the permission of his or her unit commander. Save for the senior officers who are allowed to stay with escorts all the time, the rest are not supposed to move with guns to the public minus the permission of their superiors.

However, soldiers roam freely with Kalashnikovs and pistols.

This laxity is also because the Military Police based at Makindye Barracks, which is supposed to enforce discipline, is too small at 2,500 strong or about three battalions.

Way forward

In most countries, soldiers are prohibited from drinking in public places. In the past, barracks in Uganda had recreation facilities to cater for soldiers. Not any more. Instead, poorly paid off duty soldiers are abandoned to either scrounge for leisure in public places or spend depressed days in their dirty barracks, in crowded rooms in dilapidated buildings with broken glass and leaking roofs. Unless that changes, little else will.

In almost every case where there has been an incident of individual indiscipline, especially within the president own protection force, the PGB, Museveni has made it a point to publicly denounce the perpetrator(s) and assure the public that harsh penalties will ensue. Maintaining the trust of the ordinary citizen is critical for Museveni regime legitimacy, but it appears more and more Ugandans are losing faith in the NRM ability to maintain law and order, as well as equality under the law.

Evidence of this includes the falling level of trust in government institutions, and the Uganda Police Force (UPF) in particular, the perception that certain people who commit crimes go unpunished, that many people fear for their personal safety on a regular basis, and the proliferation of private security companies, which suggests that private businesses and citizens do not believe the state security organs will provide sufficient protection against theft or harm.

A 2005 Afrobarometer survey of Ugandans found that 63% of people trusted Uganda police ‘a lot’ or ‘somewhat’. By 2008, only three years later, less than half of Ugandans, 38%, trusted the police to any degree. In addition, in 2008 19% of Ugandans said that people who commit crimes often or always go unpunished. This was 15% up from only 4% of Ugandans who agreed with this statement in 2005. Many more people, 60% of respondents, believed that government officials often or always go unpunished.

Fear for one personal security has become commonplace in Uganda today. By 2008, 40% of people said that they or their family had occasionally or always feared crime in their home in the past year. This figure was up slightly from 35% of people who feared crime in 2005. An even greater number of people, 47% said that something had been stolen from their home in the past year, and 20% said that they had been physically attacked in 2008. It is no wonder, then, that there are estimated to be over 80 licensed private security firms (PSFs) with around 18,000 personnel, rivalling, if not surpassing, the number of personnel in the Uganda Police. PSFs are particularly popular in urban areas, and in Kampala they are thought to have twice as many staff as the police.

All this paints a grim picture for rule of law, or at least citizens’ perception of the rule of law, as established and maintained by the NRM. The recent spate of ‘indiscipline’ within state security forces will likely place an even heavier burden on the regime to prove its legitimacy.

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