30 July 2013

Uganda Undergoing Slow, Silent Military Coup


At the end of last year, with the nation still gripped by the tragic death of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda, the minister of Defence, Dr Crispus Kiyonga, warned Parliament that if some of its members did not 'behave', the UPDF would intervene.

This was restated in stronger terms a few weeks later by Gen Aronda Nyakairima (the then chief of defence forces) and re-echoed by none other than Gen Yoweri Museveni, the commander-in-chief. Those of us who have memory of coups have imagined, with trepidation, the guns, tanks, APCs and even bush war scenarios.

I suspect that the majority of Ugandans did not take this threat seriously, hoping that such talk was either idle or a rumour from high circles intended to frighten "those for whom it was intended". Surprisingly, no one was arrested for such treasonous, unsubstantiated talk.

And the questions remain un-answered as to why or how a ruling government could declare a coup against itself. Maybe recent developments provide a clue to the answers. Are we watching the unfolding of a coup?

Recently Gen David Sejusa fled to the UK after alleging that there was a plot to assassinate some officers opposed to the project to install Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba as president. After that, government closed media houses who were intent on giving this story wide coverage and declared their premises as 'crime scene'. Now Sejusa has declared his intentions to remove Museveni 'by any means'.

With one general on the run, working to remove another general from power, now we have the other general - Aronda Nyakairima appointed and approved as minister without resigning from the army. So, we have a serving army officer, also serving as minister in a 'civilian' NRM government, in total disregard of the Constitution.

The point is that this appointment contradicts the precedent set when General Jeje Odongo (also a former army commander) first resigned from the army before he assumed the role of state minister for Defence. So, Gen Aronda now occupies a political office, yet he is still a serving soldier. It is clear what the expectation of the appointing authority is: run the ministry as you would, a military facility.

It also completes the picture of the generals taking over the security forces (there is Gen Kale Kayihura, the IGP). The 'guidance' by the Attorney General Peter Nyombi, who insisted that Gen Aronda did not have to leave the army to assume the Internal Affairs docket, gave legal credence to this move. He challenged any 'doubting Thomases' to seek redress in the Constitutional court.

Related to the above, in total disregard of the Constitution, Museveni re-appointed Benjamin Odoki to continue as chief justice of Uganda. Again, Nyombi advised that this too does not breach the Constitution. This has been compounded by news reports that Odoki, who had retired this year, greeted the news of his re-appointment with joy!

Are we beginning to see the quiet implementation of Eddie Kwizera's proposed private member's bill to amend upwards the retirement age of the chief justice and other justices?

As we watch the substitution of the Constitution with military force and political expedience with impunity, one wonders what else is in the offing to cement this trajectory. Can we just call this a process of militarising institutions?

Or is the trend simply a confirmation that we have had a military government which has pretended to be civilian since 1995 when the Constitution was promulgated? Or are we watching a new definition of a coup d'état?

Contemporary political parlance has it that a coup d'état is a rapid and sudden overthrow of civilian government, usually by military force. Recent events in Uganda seem to suggest that after all, a coup need not be rapid and sudden. It might be a slow insidious process.

The author is the former assistant bishop of Kampala diocese.

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