JUNE 24, 2010: UPDF Cannot Be Panic Button for Museveni And Besigye

UPDF Cannot Be Panic Button for Museveni And Besigye
SOURCE: The Monitor
By Karoli Ssemogerere
 In one of the after pieces of the deadly riots that followed the closing of CBS, this column put the grid coordinates of the Kiboko Squad in Kampala's Central Business District opposite Kisekka Market. The Kiboko Squad, a provisional force of vigilantes, some of whom may have at one time or another belonged to opposition groups, are veterans of Kampala's street battles.

Ungazetted groups are an interesting third rail in societies where power remains contested. In Kenya, they were issued as an insurance group ahead of the 2007 election by the major contesting parties to pounce in event the election was inconclusive. The bloody end of that election sent Kenya to the brink. Vigilantes in Uganda continue to serve two major purposes. First, they operate outside established chains of command.

It is an open secret that government is not very comfortable with the structure of the Police Force and despite years of managing it "politically" and "militarily", the core conduct of the rank and file and middle level police officers always comes short in executing partisan jobs. Neither Kale Kayihura, nor his predecessor Katumba Wamala, army generals appointed to run the Police Force, have broken this mold.

The biggest nightmare which came to pass during the September 2009 riots is that elements in the Police Force assumed passive postures as the unrest began spiraling out of control. At this point the insurance policy rolled out first to escalate the violence in ways that justified the open deployment of UPDF; and then infiltrate the rioting youth to cause group confusion and disintegration.

Second, the vigilantes serve as an easier down market link to activities currently coordinated by UPDF elements like the Office of Chieftaincy of Security Services that operate outside the Police. In fact, the very existence of these paramilitaries undermines the establishment of the Police Force whose military training is peripheral to the continuous drilling and camarderie of soldiers.

It is very difficult for the Army Chief of Defense Forces Aronda Nyakairima to openly come out and implicate UPDF's rank and file in these operations, but the legal restrictions are scant if any. Unlike most armies, UPDF is not constitutionally banned from injecting itself into civilian law enforcement activities. These intrusions are always spectacular because open battle with the army inevitably results in bloodshed.


Soldiers are trained to kill the enemy, law enforcement and peripheral methods of subduing the enemy even where hand to hand combat is used do not focus on subduing the belligerent.

Right now Kale Kayihura has his hds stretched out asking for a Shs100 billion budget to provide "security" for the elections. This is nearly 20 per cent of UPDF's Shs478 billion budget for 2010-2011. These are not small numbers given the small size of Uganda's economy; asking for a Shs100 billion allotment is a pie so big that many individuals will want a piece of it. Kiboko Squad, Kalangala Action Plan, CMI and other agencies occupying the space are unlikely to endorse the "untrustworthy" Police with the windfall that will come from allocation of the security election budget.

UPDF construe themselves as Museveni's panic button in political debates. The President's erstwhile opponent Col. Kizza Besigye's always aids approach through "pregnant" language that has promised to deliver exhaustive change so far without results. In this war of words, Besigye invokes UPDF as quickly as Museveni including unproven assertions that he enjoys majority support from the UPDF rank and file.

Museveni and UPDF have trained for this approach because it allows them to deploy their "military" prowess at will; an approach that other methods of civil disobedience may not attract especially if they are low key but sustained. For example, rolling strikes may cripple the economy or product boycotts may have similar impact that a one off brush with soldiers or the Kiboko Squad may not.

UPDF would actually be toothless if businesses remained closed for more than seven days; patrolling empty streets. The history of Uganda actually supports this hypothesis. Once the Tanzanian Bakombozi openly identified with UNLA's excesses and were involved in UNLA atrocities, the population quickly turned against them in urban areas. The withdrawal of the Tanzanian army was never a formal send off; it was a retreat. And once UNLA began a steady downward spiral into factionalism, it did not take long for the entire jigsaw to collapse.

UPDF has been involved in a strenuous debate that it should be recognised as a core pillar of the state for its role in returning peace and the rule of law to Uganda. Its relative successes compared to its predecessors have earned it that special place, but like its founder and mentor Mr Museveni who chose to usurp the political process to extend his stay in power beyond the mandated two term limits, it is very easy to put this good history in a waste paper basket. This cannot be Aronda Nyakairima's good call.

Mr Ssemogerere, an attorney and social entrepreneur, practices law in New York