The Independent (Kampala)

Uganda: Why Kiyonga, Museveni Say Army Can Take Over

Photo: New Vision
Justice and Constitutional minister Maj. Gen Kahinda Otafiire has advised the Uganda defence forces not to interfere with the work of the President and Parliament.

What then, asks opposition leader Gen.Muntu

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni does not hide the real source of his power whenever his grip on it is threatened. It is the army. Museveni showed this recently, barely a month after some of his Members of Parliament commonly known as 'rebel MPs', mainly from his NRM party of which he is the chairman, launched a series of belligerent motions, including a petition to recall parliament in order to 'discipline' him.

The President, while addressing an NRM caucus retreat at the National Leadership Institute at Kyankwazi is reported to have said the military would not allow it if the 'confusion' in parliament continues.

Museveni's "military can takeover" speech has sparked a furor.

Some NRM public relations managers have attempted to smother the story. NRM Caucus Spokesperson, Evelyn Anite, who was in charge of information coming out of the Kyankwazi retreat told The Independent that what the media has picked about Museveni's military-can-take over comments was " a misconception of information concerning what the president said while addressing MPs in Kyankwanzi".

"The president simply told MPs to stop confusing the country," she said, "Do you want hooligans to take over the government like it happened in the past? The president asked several questions like; do we want to go back to the dark days of the past regimes? But he never said that, 'if the confusion in parliament continues then the army will take over'. No! The president did not say that," Anite said.

Col. Felix Kulayigye, who is the Director of Information in the Ministry of Defense and Spokesperson for the Uganda army refused to comment about President Museveni's threats.

"If it's true that he made those comments then he must have said that for himself," Kulayigye said, "what people do not know is that Dr Kiyonga who is the minister of Defense sounded a warning about the conduct of some leaders-MPs in the country saying that they are, "disrespecting the constitution of the country.

"And I want to say this; if you threaten the constitution of Uganda then the military has to take over. It is our obligation as the military to protect and to restore the constitution of this country in that we shall not watch people threatening the constitution."

But the Leader of Uganda's biggest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change, Maj. Gen. Gregory Mugisha Muntu, when contacted by The Independent over the issue, gave a brief response.

"The army takes over, then what?" he said, "I am not asking you that question. I am asking President Museveni; the army takes over then what?"

The role of the military in Uganda's politics is a sensitive issue.

Gen. Muntu, who at the age of 31 was appointed to serve as an army commander from 1989 until 1998, was recently elected President of FDC said in his acceptance speech that, "Ugandans should now begin to think on how to hasten the exit of President Museveni's regime."

He replaced another soldier, retired Col. Dr Kizza Besigye. Both were fighters in Museveni's NRA rebel group in the early 1980s.

Since independence 50 years ago, Uganda has had nine presidents, three military-led coups, and over 10-years of direct military rule.

The President, Lt. Gen. Museveni took power 27 years ago as the head of a military organization, the National Resistance Army, but has since 1996 as a civilian worn four five-year terms in elections. He retains control of the army as the Commander-In-Chief and likes to switch to military mode and dress in times of crisis as when MPs led by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga instituted an independent investigation into the death of their colleague, CerinahNebanda, under suspicious circumstance. Museveni blocked them and, in an address to the nation on TV and radio called them "idiots" for alleging the government could have had a hand in the murder.

Over 100 incensed MPs, about 39 of them from NRM, attempted to defy Museveni by signing a petition to recall parliament to censure Museveni for allegedly attacking them and their Speaker.

A day after Museveni spoke; Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga gave an extended interview to The Monitor newspaper to clarify.

Kiyonga told The Monitor that there is a real possibility of the military stepping back into political control should the politicians continue "not showing seriousness that they can solve the problems" facing the country.

Kiyonga had made similar claims while addressing MPS on Parliament's Rules and Privileges during the parliament recall saga.

Prof. Robert Tumukwasibwe of the school of Humanities and Social Sciences at Makerere University says Museveni's threat of a military takeover shows that Ugandans who think this government can give them the democracy they want are mistaken.

"Ugandans should know that military dictatorship has never funded democratic practices and it will never happen in any of African countries," he said in an interview, "At times, we are mistaken when we see these things happen in countries that are under military democracy then we begin thinking that is the democracy under which we want to be governed.

"This is oligarchy governance that we have been witnessing all along that time where a small group of people rule the majority but surprisingly it pretends to be democratic.

"I appreciate what the former president of Ghana Jerry Rawlings did in his country; after taking over he stabilised his country and now Ghana is seen as the most democratic country in Africa. But how many military presidents in Africa can do that, they virtually not there," he said.

Another Makerere don, Murindwa-Rutanga, who has written a book titled: "Politics, Religion and Power in the Great Lakes Region" says Museveni's utterances are a message.

"This is a message simply being passed by the president that there is no democracy that we are talking about in Uganda," he said.

He added, however, for a military takeover to be successful in Uganda, as elsewhere, it needs to have the support of the Western super powers.

"A coup d'état implies a knock out of the state by the military in the name of pseudo democracy and we cannot realise that," he said.

He said recent coups in Ivory Coast and Libya were carried out by France and other Western powers.

When the military took over power in Uganda in 1971 under Gen. Idi Amin Dada, they were covertly backed by Israel and Britain. It is not clear how the western powers would react if the recent spats between parliament and President Museveni escalate and Uganda is declared a military state. President Museveni has been a major ally of the West, initially as a disciple of IMF/World Bank prescribed liberal economics and later as a foot-soldier in the War Against Terror in Sudan, Somalia, and the DR Congo.

Unlike past parliaments that have kowtowed to Museveni on all issues, including voting to remove term-limits to enable him to run again in the 2001 elections, the so-called rebel MPs in the current 9th Parliament seem to have all along rubbed the President the wrong way whether knowingly or unknowingly by demanding for a democratic separation of powers between the executive and legislature.

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