“Nobody can dislodge NRM government by war. Nobody can defeat NRM by force. If you bring force then you are on the wrong arena. We shall mobilize and react,” said President Yoweri Museveni on June 9 during celebration of the country’s fallen heros, a day after outing his new line-up of ministers to lead the new government.
Fear of war or civil disobedience instigated by “foreigners” appears to be pushing Mr Museveni in the comfort zone of his military and influencing the president’s appointment of retired and active members of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces to take up very key and strategic positions in Cabinet, Parliament and the private sector.
However, another school of thought suggests that Museveni is planting soldiers in all sectors to safeguard his interests to take care of an unplanned transition.
Gen Museveni believes army discipline will shield and guarantee his interests unlike uncivilians that are always unpredictable.
President Museveni has appointed Maj (rtd) Jessica Alupo, a former instructor at the Uganda Urban Warfare Training school and an intelligence officer at the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, as his Vice President.
Museveni has also appointed a four-star general as his Foreign Affairs Minister. General Jeje Odongo is the country’s new Foreign Affairs Minister replacing Hon Sam Kutesa, who was in the past accused of corruption while negotiating oil deals for the country.
Gen Jeje entered the Ugandan army in 1979. He is one of the original twenty seven combatants who, together with Yoweri Museveni, attacked Kabamba Military Barracks in February 1981 to start the Ugandan Bush War, a guerrilla war that lasted from February 1981 until April 1986. Jeje Odongo was captured soon after the first (National Resistance Army) NRA operation and was imprisoned in Luzira Maximum Security Prison.
In 1994, Jeje was one of the ten army officers who represented the Ugandan military in the Constituent Assembly that drafted the 1995 Ugandan Constitution.
Jeje Odongo and Jessica Alupo will be the face of Uganda in formal government business with the international community at a time Americans and Europeans are getting agitated with Mr Museveni’s governance style.
Gen Katumba Wamala, who survived an assassination last week that claimed his daughter and driver, is another active army officer that has been retained as Minister for Works and Transport. Gen Katumba joined Cabinet after serving as Chief of Defence Forces and Inspector General of Police amongst other deployments.
Katumba Wamala is being deputized by Musa Ecweru (State Minister for Transport), a former leader of Arrow Boys militia group that in 2004 formed resistance against the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group led by Joseph Kony.
Mr Museveni has also recruited the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen David Muhoozi, into cabinet as state Minister for Internal Affairs deputizing Maj Gen (rtd) Kahinda Otafiire. Muhoozi is also army representative in Parliament. The Chief of Defence Forces will be sitting in parliament alongside Gen Peter Elwelu that masterminded the massacre of the Rwenzururu Kingdom royal guards and supporters in Kasese.
The army has 10 representatives in parliament, who are initially nominated by the president as commander-in-chief. Some of them are Gens; Katumba Wamala, Muhoozi, Wilson Mbadi (deputy Chief of Defence Forces), James Mugira (Head of NEC-economic arm of the army), Henry Matsiko and Sam Kavuma.
Kahinda Otafiire, who leaves the Ministry of East African Community to Internal Affairs to Internal Affairs, was the NRA Chief Political Commissar from 1981 to 1986 and served as the Director General of the External Security Organization (ESO) from 1992 until 1994.
His friend, Maj Gen (rtd) Jim Muhwezi, a former head of Internal Security Organization, a counter intelligence organization has been appointed the new Security Minister taking over from Gen Elly Tumwine, who in the last November riots gave a shoot-to-kill order. Tumwine has been appointed Senior Security Advisor.
Muhwezi, who has been in and out of government, trained and graduated from Tanzania Senior Police Officer’s College, after which he served briefly in the Uganda Police as a Police officer at the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police before joining the National Resistance Army as one of the few senior commanders of the guerrilla army.
Gen Moses Ali, who has been doing much of the talking in Parliament defending government positions and policies, has been retained as a deputy Prime Minister and deputy Leader of Government Business.
Moses Ali was involved in the 1971 Ugandan coup d’état that overthrew President Milton Obote and brought Idi Amin to power before founding the Uganda National Rescue Front rebel group has for long served in Museveni’s various Cabinet’s.
Museveni has rehired his NRA colleagues; Hon. Col (rtd) Tom Butime as Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and Bright Rwamirama as State Minister for Animal Industry.
Rwamirama joined the National Resistance Army in 1983. He was paymaster in NRA in 1986, serving in that capacity until 1989. In 1989, he was promoted to Director of Finance, in the NRA, which was renamed Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), in 1995. He served in that capacity at the UPDF headquarters, until 1997. He continued to serve as one of the Senior Staff Officers at UPDF Headquarters, until 2001. In 2001, he retired from the Armed Forces at the rank of Lt Col.
Meanwhile, Col. (rtd) Charles Okello Engola has been transferred from Ministry of Defence as State Minister where he replaced Jeje Odongo in 2016 to the Ministry of State for Gender, Labour and Social Development to take charge of Employment and Industrial Relations.
Mr Museveni has also retained Judith Nabakooba, a former police officer, as new Minister for Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development although she lost her parliamentary seat. Nabakooba served in the Uganda Police Force from 2004 until 2015, where she held various positions, including as the spokesperson for the Police Force, from 2011 until 2015.
The Uganda police force has not escaped this entanglement with the military and in political contestation. Over the years military officers have been appointed by Museveni’s government to head top police departments especially the inspector general of police and deputy inspector general of police positions.
Apart from the military occupying important seats in Cabinet and Parliament, soldiers are also taking up strategic sectors of the economy under patronage of Gen Salim Saleh, a brother to President Museveni.
Under his outfit-Operation Wealth Creation-Gen Saleh has taken over distribution of agricultural inputs and planting materials, fisheries, agro-processing and the entertainment industry. Throughout the Covid 19 period Saleh has been mobilizing musicians to start selling their music via digital platforms. He has also given them hand-outs to jump start their careers.
Further, the military has involved itself in the business of manufacturing, engineering, construction, emergency service response during natural disasters and in 2014, it announced it would take over the management of the Miss Uganda beauty contest.
For civilians, Museveni has been sending Members of Parliament and local government leaders for short military training courses. Students have not been spared the military doctrine through patriotism clubs.
Mr Museveni has used the military as his pillar of strength whenever politically pressed: whether it’s disorder on the floor of parliament, such as during the debate to remove the presidential age limit, or civil action on the street, the army jumps into the fray.
This strategy of using the military as the instrument of governance became evident earlier in 2017 when Mr Museveni ordered the Special Forces to contain unrest in parliament, as a contentious bill to amend the constitution (to in effect extend the president’s tenure) sparked violent debate.
In this scheme of things, martial law seems to have taken centre stage and the military court is increasingly drawn upon to settle political disputes by framing charges which, to the less discerning eye, appear to plausibly fall within the jurisdiction of the military courts.
The military’s role in Mr Museveni’s politics has long been significant; he deploys troops regularly, rewards them with a hefty budget, and uses military force to maintain order.
However, with popular discontent brewing, the economic recovery stuttering and the patronage resources at Mr Museveni’s disposal becoming increasingly scarce, the president is increasingly reliant on the military to retain his hold on power.
A casual observer of the electoral processes for 2006, 2011, 2016 and 2021 would be forgiven for thinking Uganda is a police state and that electoral processes are a war of sorts where political opposition leaders are subject to martial law.
The Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence has begun to emerge as the dominant security agency in the country, dwarfing the significance of the Internal Security Organisation, the civilian division of the intelligence.
Speaking at the fifth anniversary of the ruling party in 1991 and paraphrasing from one of his political mentors (China’s Mao Zedong), Museveni said he attached “the greatest importance to the politicisation of our soldiers”.
Indeed, within Uganda’s borders, the army and its affiliate institutions such as the police and intelligence agencies play a role that goes well beyond protecting citizens and keeping law and order.
But the most overt and insidious of the UPDF’s extra-circular roles within Uganda’s borders has been its involvement in partisan political contestation in Uganda yet the constitution obliges officers and men of the UPDF to be non-partisan.
Many Ugandans, particularly from marginalised regions, project their hopes to redress historic injustices and overcome underdevelopment onto a post-Museveni era.
As yet, however, there has been no broad conversation about what a transition might look like. The combination of marginalised groups’ expectations, potential intra-elite jockeying for spoils and the absence of a clear succession roadmap, means that the incumbent’s unexpected exit potentially could prompt violence.
The public appears to have little confidence that Museveni’s departure will be followed by a constitutional transfer of power. Many expect that groups left out of power will confront the government. In response, the military might step in, most likely in support of the NRM establishment. How the police and army rank-and-file would react to a contested transition is unclear.