Yes, We Still Need An Army in Uganda but A Professional One is better

By Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
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Dear friends,
In reference to an article written by Mr.Acemah in the Daily Mintor recently, I think we still need a national army in Uganda but it shouldn't be in the current form the UPDF is in right now if what was written in the Observer newspaper by Ssemujju Nganda last week is true. What we need to work on is the unity and professionalising our army in Uganda. UPDF is so fragmented into special units and this is a classic exercise of divide and rule by the powers be.The end result in this is that one unit can easily be played by the leader in power against the other and this is not good for everybody in the long run.For example, Jordan and Yogoslavia have got a united army and they seem to be doing better than states like Saudi Arabia and Palestine, which have got several security factions. No wonder the Isrealis have always done well against the Arab armies.

President Museveni has learnt from the recurrent coups and elite infighting that characterized the previous regimes in Uganda and therefore, he has institutionalized the internal 'divide and rule' structures within the security forces to make sure that coups are history in Uganda.Obote and Amin had these same structures in place but they were not properly institutionalised and that is why they had to lose power sooner compared to president Museveni. It is a model that has been adopted by all 'modern' dictators of this 21st century from late Sadama Hussein(Iraq), Robert Mugabe(Zimbabwe), Hussain Mubaraka(Egypt) and Gadaffi(Libya), and it is very effective in keeping the anemies more disorganised and fearful of one another.

Most of the dictators rule on the basis of tribe or regional solidarity or a combination of both, and president Museveni is certainly no different from the others. As a former Dutch ambassador and scholar of Syrian politics put it, 'it takes a village to rule Syria'. Yet a village or a tribe cannot possibly provide the manpower needed to control the population of the whole country but it can sometimes be effective if a leader plays it well to his advantage. In Syria, for example, the Alawites make up 12 per cent of the population. Even supposing that all Alawites are loyal to the regime, and that all in the relevant age groups would join the security forces, they could still provide less than 14 security personnel per thousand population – a ratio between security personnel and general population that is less than half the ratio that presently exists in Syria. The president of Syria, Bashar Asad, comes from the Allawite tribe and they are the one dominating the 'juicy' positions of leadership in the army and public service despite their small numbers. Under Sadam Hussein, the al-Bu Nasir tribe and the Suunis used to dominate the 'juicy' positions in the army and public service.

Similarly,the same dynamics have characterised all the long serving leaders Uganda has ever had, from Obote in 1960s to now Museveni. They have all created factions in the security forces being led by their cronies with a primary objective being to protect the regime in power by policing and monitoring society. This is not good because it prolongs the whole idea of having a proper national or professional army in Uganda, since the army tends to be mainly equipped to defend the regime in power rather than doing anything else. For instance, Iraq almost lost the war against Iran in 1980s because Saddam Hussein had fragmented the Republican army into different factions though he later corrected this in 1984 after he gave in to army commanders and strengthened and made the Republican Guard forces more professional,a factor that helped him to push Iran a little bit.

No wonder, then, that most of the 'life presidents' don't allow combined army operations or training to become routine because this could easily lead to unity in the army. Incidentally, the fragmentation principle is even reflected in ensuring that the various security forces receive different weapon systems. I'm not privy to UPDF operations but I'm sure that you gonna find that some of these characteristics are there. Perhaps, the UPDF was more united and effective when they used to fight external wars and Kony in 1990s than right now where almost all eyes are telling them to protect the regime in power. For example, the Vietnamese army was effective against the US army because the communist government never interfered with the internal operations of the army. They gave their commanders some bits of independence.

Basically, the argument here is that an army is very important to matters of national security and we should all support its existance, but at the same time it needs to be professionalized on a regular basis. The French army was arguably professional enough but still former president, Jacques Chirac, had to announce more reforms in the French army in 1996 to make sure it is at per with the dynaics of the world. UPDF can also be similarly be turned around to become an army we are all proud of if those in power put their 'executive' minds to it.If Obote had not messed up the army in the 1960s and 1980s, we probably would be a better step forward right now. We should find a way of stopping this business of rendering the existing army absolete every time the regime in power changes in Uganda. Please It's not too late to turn the UPDF around into something we are all proud of.

Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba