By Haggai Matsiko
Parliamentary Defence Committee says wrong priorities threaten national security
If not addressed, problems in the way the way the UPDF is run pose national security threats, according to analysts including some on the powerful Parliamentary Defence Committee.
An indication of this emerged this September as the parliamentary committee on Defence and Internal Affairs scrutinised the ministerial policy statement of the Ministry of Defence.
While queries about how the ministry spent some Shs 20 billion is what made headlines, the legislators seemed to have touched a raw nerve when they raised the question of failure to retire army officers—an issue that haunts many in the force.
The MPs report has also awakened debate about several other concerns ranging from incessant desertions, regional imbalances in recruitment, training and promotions, failure to revamp the army’s productive sectors, failure to kick start the army general hospital and delay in pulling out of foreign missions.
Owing to its decisive successes against national and regional security threats, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) has achieved near-hero status both at home and abroad. Its victories against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), al Shabab in Somalia and Riek Machar’s rebels in South Sudan, have won it praises from Chinese, European and American diplomats including former U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Even his most determined critics appreciate that President Yoweri Museveni has turned the army around a ragtag force, which won him the president in 1986 and was riddled with corruption in its early years, into the pacifier of the region.
Recent developments could expose the underbelly of this efficient fighting machine.
Failure to retire officers is one of the most controversial issues in the army, a senior UPDF officer, who also qualifies for retirement, told The Independent on conditions of anonymity.
Since 2007 and 2008, when the army leadership retired many officers, the force remains clogged with officers who qualify for retirement. Despite budgeting for retirement annually, legislators were concerned that the army has only been releasing a maximum of 20 officers, year on year.
“It is not only unconstitutional but also a gross violation of human rights of soldiers; keeping such a disgruntled group of soldiers is a threat to national security,” the defence committee legislators wrote in their September review of the Defence Ministry Policy Statement.
Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga attributes the problem to financial constraints.
But a source in the UPDF said that the army takes forever to retire senior officers not only because of the huge financial retirement packages they require but largely because most of them are seen as a threat.
There is no shortage of examples of top military officers, who have asked to be retired and qualify but remain locked in.
The renegade Gen. David Tinyefuza was the first to lament publicly about it before he fled to exile in 2012.
“Imagine 70 year olds who joined the army before some of us started school still serving and on the army pay roll…,” Tinyefuza wrote, “…Retire us and spare us the humiliation of having to salute our grandchildren…”
His statement sparked a lot of controversy and officers were quick to point to Bombo Barracks, where the Land Forces Commandant, Hussein Ada, has served the army since the time of the Kings African Riffles, before Uganda got independence and remains a Brigadier and has to salute much younger officers like Maj. Gen. David Muhoozi, now his boss.
Tinyefuza himself wanted to retire but was blocked, so was Brig. Henry Tumukunde, the former Director General Internal Security Organisation (ISO), who until last year faced a nine year trial at the General Court Martial for openly criticising President Museveni.
The woes of these officials have to do with politics, but critics say the issue is down to priorities.
President Museveni, the Commander in Chief (CIC), is accused of putting a bigger premium on acquisition of sophisticated military hardware; like the Shs1.8 trillion fighter jets acquired in 2012 from Russia, than on the welfare of the soldiers.
This acquisition alone pushed Uganda’s military expenditure to a historic Shs2 trillion in 2012.
While the Defence ministry budget has since averaged around a trillion for the previous two years up from Shs900 billion in 2011—military expenditure remains amongst the biggest top three.
Legislators are also concerned at how the army’s classified expenditure keeps bulging. At only Shs122 billion in 2012, last year the figure jumped to a staggering Shs300 billion, almost equal to the entire budget of the Uganda Police Force.
Yet while the UPDF leadership like to spend, it has over the years successfully numbed and killed institutions put in place to make money for it. Critics say this is unlike what armies in Egypt, Ethiopia do.
The National Enterprise Corporation, established in 1989 is chocking under poor management and lack of financial support, the MPs noted. While NEC Pharmaceuticals Limited has been on a standstill since 2006, legislators note, Luwero Industries Limited, also a components of NEC, remains in a dilapidated state and last produced in 2010.
The army leadership has also failed to establish the General Military Hospital and continues to splash billions of shillings on medical bills despite calls by parliament to change for a fifth year running. Last year alone, the force spent about Shs4 billion on medical bills.
On top of all these concerns, President Museveni’s military adventurism in the region also directly eats into what would otherwise be spent on the army’s welfare, critics say.
In South Sudan for instance, Uganda bankrolls its army—South Sudan only meets fuel costs—yet the over 4000 soldiers there have to feed every day, use top range military hardware, gather intelligence, wear uniforms stock an active health centre at Nesitu—a few Kilometres out Juba. President Museveni’s response to this is that even if the soldiers had stayed at home, they would still eat, drink, and require uniforms and boots.
But, last year alone, the army splashed Shs25 billion on the South Sudan mission. The total cost of the UPDF mission in Sudan is even bigger as the force has made nine months since their deployment in December, and are not about to pull out, if what Minister of Defence Crispus Kiyonga told legislators is anything to go by.
Apparently, for as long as Rwanda and Kenya who committed troops under the auspices of IGAD continue delaying to deploy in South Sudan, the UPDF will still be there.
Apart from the South Sudan mission, Uganda also has troops in Somalia, Central African Republic and DR Congo under the auspices of the African Union.
While for these particular missions, Uganda receives refunds like Contingent Owned Equipment (COE) or reimbursement for the equipment used and other costs of troops plus the occasional cheques like the 2012 US$2.3 million cheque from the Chinese that came as support for the mission in Somalia.
The costs seem bigger. For instance, compensation for the country’s three military choppers that crashed enroute to Somalia has never come.
Uganda has also lost fighters in Somalia and those who have survived gruesome injuries take years to receive their compensation—this no doubt eats into the fighters’ morale. However, the bigger cost is that money that would have been used on critical things like the soldiers’ welfare, where retirement falls, is instead spent on these missions.
Indirectly, these foreign missions have also led to an increase in desertions. Army officers admit that soldiers used to better and timely facilitation in foreign missions usually find it hard to bare and tough conditions of the local missions.
UPDF records show that a good number of deserters served in foreign missions.
With this in mind, therefore, President Yoweri Museveni must find ways to address this problem. In their report, legislators also note that these desertions are a security threat to the country’s security. This is not far-fetched because the army leadership has paraded to the press and in court cases of deserters who have been caught either plotting rebellion or attacking a military installation like the 2013 attack on the Mbuya army barracks. While these were initially thought of as one-off incidents, the problem appears widespread. A source told The Independent that in one swoop, hundreds of deserters were arrested and later released in Kasese and Mbarara.
The committee warned that these desertions erode army resources like money spent on training and feeding and called on to the government to address them.
The committee was equally concerned that despite calls, the army leadership has not addressed the question of need for fairness, equity and, adequate regional representation in the UPDF.
It expressed concerns that some districts’ quotas are filled with recruits from other districts. The UPDF is yet to properly streamline its procedures on recruitment, training and promotions.
Many have accused President Museveni of invoking his magnanimity in promoting soldiers rather than the UPDF Act and Regulations- Conditions of Service for officers (CS-O).
Under this regulation, an officer can only become a Lieutenant after 12 months of commissioned service, a Captain after five to six years, a Major after 11 to 13 years, a Lieutenant Colonel after 18 to 20 years, Colonel, after 21 to 23 years.
But officers like the President’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the Commander Special Forces have been catapulted to higher army ranks and positions. It took Muhoozi only 13 years to become Brigadier General, Joseph Semwanga, commander of the Armored Brigade in Masaka, only 15 years to become a Brigadier, only 11 years for the late Noble Mayombo to become a Brigadier and just 10 for General Aronda Nyakairima to cut through seven ranks and become a General in 2005.
Brigadier Wilson Mbandi, the current Joint Chief of Staff and Major General Mugisha Muntu, the current President of FDC have also been catapulted. These irregular promotions have not gone well with many.
“I served as a division commander and headed ISO but I have remained on the rank for more than 10 years. Yet, those who have served in the army for 10 years have been promoted to the same rank and above,” Brig. Tumukunde lamented at the burial of John Wilson Nsheka, the foster parent of UPDF renegade Samson Mande in Rukungiri District in 2012.
Controversy over promotions dates back to 1988 when formal ranks were first introduced, two years from when the NRA captured power. During the war, the fighters did not have ranks.
Some officers like Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza, the late Jet Mwebaze and even Jim Muhwezi openly protested the manner in which the ranks were given.
Irregularities in promotions are seen by his critics as part of Museveni’s long hidden plan to stay in power until he dies and continue to court controversy.
Twice, politicians and lawyers have taken Museveni to court over the matter—the first time being 2009 and recently in 2013.
In August 2009, it was the then head of UPC’s Communication Department, Benson Ogwang Echonga, and a group of lawyers who petitioned the Constitutional Court to declare as unconstitutional the promotion of Generals Museveni, his Saleh, Tinyefuza, Aronda and Tumwine (Elly) all from the same ethnic group to the highest rank in the UPDF.
In 2012, legislators Fungaroo Kaps Hassan, the chairman parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, Mwiru Paul, and Patrick Baguma Ateenyi, also took Museveni to the East African court saying the May 24 and 25 promotions contravened and violated the UPDF Act.
The cases have all come to naught. The closest Museveni has come to addressing these concerns is telling the army High Command; the army’s top governing body in 2012 that history is littered with international examples where such rapid promotion of officers has taken place. Going forward, however, legislators want to see these issues addressed.