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Is the Uganda army(UPDF) really a Professional army

By Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
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Dear editor,
I was baffled by the comments written by Mr. Ruzindana Augustine in one of his articles in the Monitor Newspaper, where he agreed with General Aronda that the UPDF will remain neutral and support any winning candidate other than the incumbent in 2011 presidential elections. I have heard people say that President Museveni resigned from the UPDF but up to now, I don't understand what duties he resigned from. He seems to be still the top man in the decision making department when it comes to UPDF.

What happened at Kasubi on 17th March this year when three people lost their lives just because some youths (whom the media reported as Baganda youths), had tried to clock the presidential envoy from reaching the burned site, displayed the unprofessionalism in our armed forces. It just reinforced my fears that anybody can easily lose life while in Uganda. It seems Ugandans in the armed forces have stopped valuing human life at all as if there is a shop where you can go and buy it.

I was also very disappointed when I later heard that Mr. Felix Kulayigye, the army spokesperson, had come out and indirectly supported the negative actions of the man that committed murder at Kasubi tombs. These officers shot live bullets at a group of people that were not armed with anything life threatening, and this is pure murder by my book, which deserves punishment.

According to the current constitution, the president is the chief Executive officer and also the commander of the armed offices. He determines the operational use of the armed forces; appoints members and promotes officers to any office within the UPDF. Whoever is recruited in the army is supposed to be commissioned by him.

The Defence Council is the supreme governing body of the armed forces. It is still chaired by the president and it is the one that appoints the Chief of Defence staff, Army chief of staff and Chief of Air Staff. All these people must be approved by the chairman of the Defence Council who is the president of the country and as such continue to look at the president as their top boss. The president can sack them or influence their sacking any time he wishes.

The Defence Council also establishes the 'Volunteer Force' and 'Voluntary Reserve' in the army. All these ex-service men and women in the UPDF continue to look at the president as their boss and they are right.

The Defence Council consists of the president, minister of Defence, three senior Chiefs of Staff, army and Air force and any other person appointed by the president. When one looks at all the other people that form the Defence Council minus the president, they are all appointed by the president. The president can sack them or influence their sacking any time.

The Defence Council which the president chairs is also empowered to make regulations as may be necessary for securing the displine in the army. So in effect, the president's hands are likely to be found in the General Court Martial or any other army displinary procedures in place.

The president also appoints one of the people that sit on the Chief of Staff Committee. This Committee deals with professional advice on strategy and military operations and on military defence police generally.

Apart from the army, the police have also some times got a problem following the constitution. The Police force is not established to increase the powers of the Executive or the Chief Executive or to be used as a weapon to enforce the Executive's arbitrary control over the population. It is so absurd that the police can hold suspects for longer than they are supposed to be held as was the case with the Mengo ministers, journalist Sserumaga Kalundi and Beti Namboze, and then the president comes out publicly to support them on that. Actually, the president was quoted by the media saying that he was not happy with the judge who ordered for the unconditional release of the Mengo ministers and Namboze. According to the reports on election violence(2001 and 2006), both the police and the army are largely part of it.

So may be we need some one from the UPDF to come out and explain to us in details how president Museveni retired from the army and how far UPDF has been professionalised. We also need the UPDF to come out and clearly explain the army police on shooting non-armed civilians because this situation seems to be getting out of control since September 11th 2009 during the Buganda riots when about 40 people were killed like bats.

Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
United Kingdom