The Observer (Kampala)

Uganda: UPDF Through the Years - Is It Professional Now?

Fast-rising army officers identified:

The UPDF enjoys its moment in the spotlight today as it marks 32 years of a complete evolution from a ragtag army built largely on a peasantry guerilla structure to one of the largest armies in the Great Lakes region. After coming to power in 1986, the face of the army immediately began to change.

The balance of power gradually shifted from the senior officers who shared the Luweero bush-war camaraderie to a new crop of young officers as the army attempted to radically embrace professionalism.

So many senior officers who were part of the struggle have been purged, some were killed during conflicts in the turbulent waters of the Great Lakes region, and others including former Army Commander Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu and National Political Commissar Col Kizza Besigye joined the opposition. As the UPDF celebrates Tarehe Sita, a day when the first shot to mark the struggle was fired at Kabamba barracks, we trace the journey of the UPDF over the years.

Seguya in charge:

During the bush war, Ahmed Seguya, a former colleague of the president in the Front for National Salvation (Fronasa), served as the first army commander of the NRA. He was amongst a group of young and daring fighters who travelled to Mozambique alongside Museveni, his younger brother Salim Saleh, Fred Gisa Rwigyema, Ivan Koreta, and the late Shef Makosa to fight in the Frelimo liberation struggle in 1971, against the Portuguese.

However, in a blow to the young NRA, barely a few months after the attack on Kabamba barracks in 1981, Seguya died of a stomach ailment. He was replaced by Sam Magara, a young officer full of effervescence and a Master's of Law graduate from Dar es Salaam University. Magara was a brother to the late Martin Mwesiga, a close confidant of the president who was killed by Idi Amin forces in 1973 at Maumbe Mukhwana's home in Mbale. Magara had joined the NRA after leaving the Save Uganda Movement (SUM). But in 1982, Magara died mysteriously.

In his book Betrayed by my leader, former bush war fighter and now FDC secretary for defence, Maj John Kazoora, says: "Magara had a clique that included Jack Mucunguzi, Hannington Mugabi and Joram Mugume who believed that Museveni should not be the leader."

Kazoora writes that tragedy befell Magara when he left for Kampala, reportedly to treat a dental problem.

"After a few days, rumours started circulating that he had been killed. Some men came and said that Magara had been killed at a house on Balintuma road in Mengo and that Namara Katabarwa [sister to the late NRA external wing member Sam Katabarwa] had been arrested but released...There were also orders that nobody should talk about his death," writes Kazoora.

A few days later, Katenta Apuuli and Dr John Kamanyire arrived in the bush and confirmed that Magara had been killed, recalls Kazoora.

"It was clear that he was betrayed and a victim of intrigue," writes Kazoora.

High command:

During the bush struggle, the NRA High Command was understood to consist of Yoweri Museveni, Salim Saleh, Elly Tumwine, Sam Magara, Eriya Kategaya, Tadeo Kanyankore, Moses Kigongo, Fred Rwigyema, David Tinyefuza and Matayo Kyaligonza. However, the UPDF Act 2005 states that as of January 26, 1986, only Generals Museveni, Saleh, Rwigyema, Tumwine, Tinyefuza (now Sejusa), Kategaya and Kyaligonza were members of the highest echelon of the army.

The UPDF Act also lists senior army officers as of January 26, 1986 to include Maj General Mugisha Muntu, Maj Gen Joram Mugume, Lt Gen Ivan Koreta, Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi, Brig Steven Kashaka, Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire, Col Pecos Kutesa, Col Julius Chihandae, Brig Peter Kerim, Col Fred Mwesigye, Brig Andrew Lutaaya, Brig Gyagenda Kibirango, Col Ahmed Kashilingi, Col Samson Mande and Lt Col Amin Izaruk.

Around 1986, the NRA command structure placed Museveni at the pinnacle, followed by Tumwine as army commander and his deputy, Rwigyema. At that time, the UPDF had only one division, which was headed by Saleh. The Chief of Combat Operations was Tinyefuza while Lutaaya headed Military Intelligence.

There were three brigades; the Mbale Brigade was under the command of Kyaligonza, the Gulu Brigade under Pecos Kutesa and the Mbarara Brigade under Benon Tumukunde. The late Akanga Byaruhanga was the first Presidential Protection Unit (PPU) commander, later succeeded by Mwene Muzeeyi, Geoffrey Muheesi, Ezra Kiyombo, George Mayeku and Leo Kyanda.

It has since evolved from the PPU to the Presidential Guard Brigade (PGB) to the Special Forces Group (SFG) and to Special Forces Command (SFC) under the command of William Bainomugisha, Sabiiti Magyenyi and currently the president's son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

Young turks:

Explaining the transition from older commanders to younger ones over the years, Mwambustya Ndebesa, a historian at Makerere University, says "purging the old guard, which has legitimacy because of a historical role, is the best tool of control." Ndebesa believes that having been recruited on the premise of "patronage", the old guard has since "expired."

The purge started when the government embarked on an ambitious retrenchment exercise. The idea was to keep a smaller but better-equipped and professional army. The army was subsequently reduced from about 90,000 to 50,000 men and women. With the army now smaller, a Defence Review programme headed by former Joint Chief of Staff, Maj Gen Robert Rusoke, was launched.

This led to the change in the command structure, with the army led, not by the army commander, but by the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF). The army was divided into Land Forces and Air-Force, each with its own chief of staff, as well as a joint chief of staff. However, the chain of command remains blurred. A highly-placed source has told The Observer that the Special Forces Command, which is under Brig Muhoozi, was recently elevated to a service, like the 'Land Forces Services' and 'Air-Force Services.'

"The elevation of the Special Forces Command to a service means that when the President is planning a war, he calls the three heads of the services to consult," revealed the source.

According to the UPDF website, "the re-organisation is designed to enhance efficiency and the effectiveness of the Special Forces Command, in the conduct of its operations, which among others include VIP protection and protection of strategic installations."

The SFC comprises two groups, one under the command of Col Sabiiti Magyenyi, who is also the quasi-chief of staff, and the other headed by Maj Don Nabaasa. The SFC has specialised units and infantry units such as Marines under the command of Col Michael Nyarwa, the tank brigade, the motorised infantry brigade, artillery commando units, as well as directors of planning, intelligence and logistics.

The SFC also has fighting units in peace-keeping missions in DRC and Somalia.

Professional?

Other sensitive units of the army include the Mechanised Brigade, under Brig Garvas Mugyenyi, the Air-Force Defence Unit at Nakasongola under Brig David Muhoozi, and the Artillery Brigade in Masindi under Lt Col Dan Kakono. So, to what extent is the UPDF a professional army?

The commander of the Land Forces, Lt General Edward Katumba Wamala, argues that the army today is of a national character.

"Professionalization is there for everyone to see. Look at the army that walked into Kampala in 1986 and the one we have today. We have done a lot of training. The evidence of professionalism is everywhere. Look at our work in Somalia. The army has remained an institution of pride to Ugandans. The population now trusts us," Katumba says, though he admits it could scale greater heights.

An army officer who didn't want to be named pointed at the UPDF engaging in many peace-keeping efforts and its ability to attract many graduates and professionals, plus the level of training at colleges like Kimaka and abroad to show that it has professionalised. However, critics point at the ethnic mix, which they say is still heavily slanted towards western Uganda 27 years later.

Others cite the army's continued involvement in the country's politics, arguing that this alone portends danger in future.

"A professional army should be loyal to a country rather than an individual. The fundamental question is; if Museveni leaves, will they accept another Commander-in-Chief -- because this appears to be a personal army," Ndebesa argues.

But the army spokesman, Col Felix Kulayigye, has often cited generals like Moses Ali and Jeje Odongo to counter the ethnicity argument. An insider told us that the highly-trained army officers to watch in the coming years are Brig Kainerugaba, Brig Wilson Mbadi, formerly ADC of the president and now 4Division commander, Brig Apollo Kasita Gowa, now head of the Senior Command and Staff College at Kimaka, and former Amisom commander, Brig Paul Lokech.

Also fast rising and highly-trained are officers Lt Col Bob Ogik (a director at Kimaka), Col Herbert Mbonye (director of Counter-Terrorism), Col Johnson Namanya (administration officer at the army factory in Luweero), Sabiiti Magyenyi (SFC deputy head), and Col Victor Twesigye (head of chieftaincy of Signals and Communication).

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