At the recent celebrations to mark the 27th anniversary of NRM's assumption of state power, President Museveni announced that 3,500 Ugandans would receive a newly-created special award, the "50th Uganda Independence Medal" or jubilee medal.
He said the award would recognize individuals for their outstanding service and loyalty to the country since independence. The number to get the award would not exceed 3,500, but only a few were decorated at the Kasese function, and more later on Tarehe Sita (Army day) in Arua. This medal is now one among many others that have been categorised by the Presidential Awards committee, as provided for in the National Honours and Awards Act, 2001.
Though assented to by the president in 2005, public excitement and talk about the awards started in 2010, says Businge Amooti, the Chancellor/Secretary of the Presidential Awards committee. The committee is charged with nominating awardees, purchase and custody of insignia and organization of awarding ceremonies.
Over the years, the committee has acquired more experience and made greater annual output. But medals date far back in our history. Even before independence, the colonial government used to give military medals especially to those who participated in the two world wars. The medals were given according to British Empire procedures.
On October 9, 1962, the 'Independence Medal' (different from the present-day 'National Independence Medal') was given to some Ugandans. It had a portrait of the Queen of the UK on one side and the Uganda coat of arms on the other, with a ribbon in the Uganda national flag colours. Though there was no specific law stipulating this medal, Prime Minister Milton Obote was granted the powers to bestow the medal on that auspicious occasion.
Following the National Resistance Army's capture of power in 1986, its leaders conceived the idea of honouring those who exhibited extraordinary bravery and commitment during the Luweero Triangle armed struggle, Businge says. And actually medals were purchased as early as 1995 as a list of awardees was being assembled. But after learning that there was no enabling law, the process was halted and drafting the law started in 1996.
It was not until 2007 that the president appointed the Presidential Awards committee. But it lacked the Chancellor/Secretary. In September 2007, Muhammad Kezaala, then ministry of Health permanent secretary, was appointed Chancellor/Secretary and asked to set up a structure to be approved by the ministries of Public Service and Finance. But his contract expired in December, even before the committee could be sworn in.
When Businge Amooti was appointed in August 2008, he had to start afresh, his committee was sworn-in in October 2008.
The duty of the committee is to research and advise the president regarding nominations. It meets as and when need arises.
"We have a small budget and our research desk is small. We often approach knowledgeable people to give us leads, clues and details," Businge said.
The committee finds it easier to get names of deserving military individuals because the committee just writes to the ministry of Defence which, luckily, keeps good records. The Solicitor General is currently scrutinizing regulations so that, ultimately, the committee can ask the public to suggest names to be nominated for the various honours and awards.
Six days have been set aside for the conferment of the awards. These are: Liberation Day (January 26), Tarehe Sita (February 6), International Women's Day (March 8), Labour Day (May 1), Heroes Day (June 9), and Independence Day (October 9). Businge explained that a person may receive more than one medal. For example, former Tanzanian president, Julius Nyerere, was posthumously awarded The Most Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa [The Grand Master] and The Order of Katonga.
In rare military cases, a person may receive the same award more than once. For some of the medals, he said, no one has been nominated because of the financial implications involved. On public concerns that the medals have not been accompanied by certificates that bear the person's name, the Chancellor said: "In fact the certificates are there. We are supposed to tender for a competent artist to inscribe names on them in indelible ink, which we shall do soon."
On the remarks that the awards are being given out in big numbers which would sooner water down their value, Businge said besides military ones, the civilian medals aren't many yet. He explained that since the country has been in wars for four decades, there are many brave participants that deserve recognition.
Secondly, the military, as a rule, operates in large numbers, the smallest entity being the section (twelve people); so, awarding the military has to involve big numbers. On why medals are not accompanied with a monetary package, the Chancellor feels that shouldn't be an issue because service is not give with anticipation of monetary payment; rather, the comfort of the social and psychological recognition of the recipient is the primary satisfaction.
Civilian decorations and medals:
The Most Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa [The Grand Master]: For heads of state and heads of government.
The Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa [The Grand Commander]: For heads of state's spouses, vice presidents and crown princes and princesses.
The Distinguished Order of The Nile [Classes I-V]: Those who distinguished themselves in productive, research, economic, social and cultural enterprises.
The Distinguished Order of the Crested Crane [Classes I-V]: Those who have distinguished themselves in leadership, and service, public or private.
The National Independence Medal: Civilian activists that championed and significantly contributed to the struggle for independence and those that have continued to protect Uganda's independence.
The Nalubaale Medal: Civilian activists that contributed towards the political development of Uganda either through armed struggle or civilian disobedience or otherwise from colonial times to-date.
Military decorations and medals:
The Order of Katonga: The highest and most rarely awarded military decoration, in recognition of individual extraordinary heroism in the army.
The Kabalega Star (Classes I-III): The second highest.
The Rwenzori Star (Classes I-III): The third highest. Under exceptional circumstances, it may be awarded to a non-military person.
The Masaba Star: The fourth highest. For those with same circumstances as the Kabalega Star decoration but where the gallantry is not as much conspicuous.
The Damu Medal: For any member of the military who was or is wounded in action or any member killed during the liberation struggles.
The Luweero Triangle Medal: Set aside to recognize the climax of the armed struggles, it goes to the military that fought dictatorships in Uganda and civilians that worked closely with them.
The Kagera Medal: Those, nationals or foreigners, who fought dictatorship between 1971 and 1979.
The Order of Lukaya: Same circumstances as Kagera medal but with emphasis on the 1979 battle at Lukaya.
The Kyoga Medal: Those who fought and defeated insurgencies in Uganda.
Presidential Awards Committee
Prof Mondo Kagonyera (Chair)
Gen Elly Tumwine
Gen Caleb Akandwanaho
Brig Proscovia Nalweyiso
Hajjat Aisha Lubega
Dr Jesudas Mwanje
Prof Lawrence Mukiibi
(Unfilled: Betty Aketch who should have been, got deployed elsewhere before swearing-in.)
Businge Amooti (Ex-officio; Chancellor/Secretary)