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The triumph of security agencies


How NRM and the ministry of foreign affairs have surrendered their political and diplomatic functions to intelligence agencies

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Uganda government is at war on many fronts. It has locked horns with Western governments and their domestic institutional agents – Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) which they miscall “civil society”. In prosecution of this war, it has closed many of these NGOs, frozen their accounts and deported their staff.

It is also at war with urban youths who have increasingly grown militant; seeking regime change by rallying around Robert Kyagulanyi hereinafter referred to by his stage name, Bobi Wine. Many of these youths have been abducted, jailed and tortured in detention facilities by intelligence agencies.

Then there is a cold war with Rwanda that has sucked in many Ugandans of Kinyarwanda culture. These also get arrested, detained without charge and tortured.

In ideal circumstances, there is no problem with a government fighting wars on multiple fronts if conditions so dictate. The problem with Uganda, however, is that most of these wars are neither necessary nor called for. On the contrary, the state of siege that government finds itself in is largely a self-inflicted wound. It has been occasioned by the death of diplomacy in foreign relations and politics in the domestic arena. This has in turn been occasioned by the growth of the power and influence of intelligence services; especially the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), on domestic politics and international relations. Thus, the government has come to see everything through the prism of spying. This has made the state a hammer that sees every problem as a nail.

On the foreign relations front, what happened to the ministry of foreign affairs? Its role is to promote our national interest through diplomacy. Only when diplomatic efforts have failed should Uganda escalate a situation to a confrontation. Well, the death of diplomacy as a tool for managing our foreign relations and of siasa (political mobilisation and ideological persuasion) in the conduct of domestic politics, have gone hand in hand with increased intelligencisation of government actions.

Of course, the role of security services in politics and foreign relations has always been there. But this time it has supplanted other forms of engagement.

For instance, when he was the Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura took over NRM’s function for political mobilisation to the police. Kayihura’s advantage was his subtlety, recognising the primacy of politics to security operations.

He, therefore, used police to build a civic structure to mobilise for NRM. He often employed repression, but as a secondary weapon to support what was primarily a political project.

Today, security agencies (ISO when under Kaka Bagyenda) work crudely to repress NRM opponents without any accompanying political program to win hearts and minds.

Thus, we have come to a stage where intelligence gathering is what is driving every response to both our international relations and domestic politics. After elections, there were massive abductions of youths accused of supporting Bobi Wine and plotting insurrection without any accompanying political effort to address the causes of anger.

In regard to Rwanda and Western governments, wherever there has been a disagreement or misunderstanding, we have used confrontation instead of diplomacy.  We pick fights where there is even no need, as if that is the only approach.

The economic costs of this approach are obvious although the political ones are difficult for ordinary people to discern. Regarding Rwanda, we ended up with a trade blockade losing more than $600 million in foreign exchange earnings annually. With western governments, we have lost more than $300 million in the financing of civil society organisations.

The most severe but unseen costs are on our long-term policy goals, at least those we claim to hold dear: the cause of the political federation of East Africa and our reputation with Western governments on whose public perceptions NRM draws a significant part of her international and domestic legitimacy.

All these costs are acceptable if it were demonstrated that the benefits of abducting, jailing and torturing pro-Bobi Wine youths far exceed the costs to violation of our constitution; or if it was demonstrated that Rwanda posed such an existential or strategic threat to Uganda’s security and no diplomatic engagement with Kigali could resolve this. As far as I know, we ignored every diplomatic option on Rwanda and relied on CMI to handle our relations with Kigali – with disastrous results.

I am not a fan of many Western intrusions into our domestic politics, yet our hostile actions towards DGF and the plethora of NGOs they sponsor were largely unwarranted. There was a lot of room for diplomacy to find understanding with Western embassies that were never even attempted.

Uganda’s security organisations receive a lot of rumours, hearsay, conspiracy theories, etc. As intelligence, this is not necessarily unusual or bad. The important thing is to have strong analytical capability to separate the grains of truths from the chaff. Yet rumours, hearsay and conspiracy theories have become the actual intelligence on which state policy is based. This is the factor that has led to many mistakes. Even negative intelligence should be the basis to engage diplomatically (in foreign relations) and politically (in domestic affairs) in order to identify misunderstandings with a view to avoiding misjudgment of situations.

Intelligence is an important weapon for every government. The issue is how we use it. We seem to look at intelligence gathering as an arm of the military serving purely security ends. Yet intelligence is an arm of the state to serve primarily political ends. Even war is politics by other means (to borrow from Count von Clausewitz’s On War); military victory on the battlefield is only successful if it achieves the political aims that took a state to war. Hostile confrontation with neighbours and international partners should always be a tool of last resort because all other options (diplomacy for example) have failed. This is necessary because force is expensive in money, lives and time compared to diplomacy.

A good strategist will seek the cheapest route to achieve a stated goal. Our trigger happiness to enter pitched battles with our youths on the domestic front, neighbours and Western partners on the international scene, is evidence of the loss of sight of grand strategy. We have become routine tacticians. Increasingly, policy has come to be based on passion and feelings; hostility has ousted rationality, and the interests of the state have been subordinated to the machinations of intelligence. This is a slippery slope.




  1. Lomonyang Simon Adingli

    The article is well balanced and to the point. The regime could be growing old or extremely getting six. When get into deadlogs with neighbor States as a government, then the future of the citizens is unfortunate.

  2. Siasa….. you’re caught up in your own game…..35 years and it feels like you’ve just captured power…. when will the militancy stop for the economy and politics (mature politics, a sense of democracy and diplomacy) to start….

  3. The only countries on this planet that use intelligence services for the good of their populations and countries are the Nordic ones, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. All the rest have no difference with Uganda. CIA??? MOSSAD?? MI5/6? If anything, they are the most brutal, corrupt and extra-judicial abusers ever – and these are from the so-called “civilized/democratic” nations…

    • There is no moral equivalency with what other western security agencies do towards their people compared to Musevenics.

      While CIA, FBI etc, are not perfect, I would rather find myself in their hands compared to CMI, ISO ESO if I were in Uganda!

      In USA 95% of the time I am ok even if CIA arrests me. I know that my rights will be vigorously protected.

      In Uganda, get a arrested by any of these so called security agencies and 99.99% of the time you will be tortured, abused or killed.

      Finally, you are addressing an issue that is not Uganda’s concern and ignoring the focus of this article.

  4. “Today, security agencies……work crudely to repress NRM opponents without any accompanying political program to win hearts and minds.”

    Andrew I think you have finally come back to reality and have shown in this article that you still have a modicum of factual reporting. Thank you for a great article. I will not say more so that other readers enjoy this masterful assessment of the despotic Museveni and his brutal regime for themselves.

  5. Brave reporting bwana editor! When you trash into the system you get trash out and that’s what is happening. A laughing stock of the world for what was once a beautiful country where wananchi (Ugandans) would lived in peace with one another.

  6. Tunku Abdul Rahman

    Thirty years ago most Ugandans wished there were at least 5 Musevenis in government; now they realize having even one Museveni is a curse.
    Dictator Museveni chose to take advice only from sycophants and has surrounded himself with members of his family, close relatives and all manner of fortune seekers.

  7. Good article. But the analysis in it is naive, and approaches the situation in Uganda as if it is ‘usual democracy’ yet it is not.
    Museveni’s main strategic focus has changed with age which largely explains his preference to running things in away described in the article. His futurist plan is to enable his immediate family members to take over the Uganda’s presidency in a situation where he is unable to rule such as death, incapacity etc. This largely accounts for the increase in actions such as:

  8. Contn.1) Suppressing independent institutions, civil society and enable the intelligent organisations- run by his immediate family members- to fill the gap and deal with everything i.e strategically positioning them in case anything happens to him.
    2) Making opposing his government extremely dangerous as he is doing with NUP and some youth youth. 3) Making supporting or perceived supporting of anyone outside the immediate family for future presidency dangerous. We have examples such as Rwanda, Kayihura . 4) Filling political positions with people who cannot ably run the show, and heavily relies on first family such as Nabanja, VP etc. 4) Diverting people that his focus is on achieving E. African federation before retiring well knowing he won’t achieve it. 5) The list goes on…The danger is that many countries that have been run and set up the way Uganda is becomes fragile and end up in a political crisis.

  9. Time is a good thing that decimates even the strongest systems

  10. 1.Most armies/security organizations do not reveal their workings to the Public their activities are normally secret and on the face vaule the wars they wage seem genuine but when you dig deeper; its about expansionism Just look at the war in Liberia,Mail,Congo,Iraq and Afghanistan which Army personnel has taken responsibility for the suffering of the people ?
    2.Most governments in Africa collapse because of coups.actually activism and demonstrations against governments in Africa have never yielded fruits. The war government has waged against activists and Politicians in Uganda has been sustained because the security apparatus is managed by a few people thats why the IGP and Army commander may not know who is arresting person x .The IGP may only have a clue about traffic police only.
    3. Most Diplomatic relations are cosmetic for example;just look at the USA ‘s off and on relations with North Korea,China and Russia.
    4.My only concern with the the army in Uganda is that the country is largely peaceful and perhaps most of the personnel are redundant . I have friends who are guarded by SFC and all i see is them do is carry the boss’s handbag.When you talk to Most of the security personnel who guard the rich and VIPs they say its a big deal for them and their association with such people has made them wealthy they would rather carry our bags than be deployed in Karamoja .

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