Breaking News In Uganda Today Morning – Ugandan People’s Defense Forces soldiers are seen on the Mbau-Kamango road in Beni district, Democratic Republic of Congo on December 8, 2021. Sébastien Kitsa Musayi/AFP via Getty Images
A crowd gathers around ballot boxes placed under a mango tree along a small dirt road at a polling station in Omoro district in northern Uganda on May 26. Old men in faded blazers, young men in second-hand soccer jerseys and women with babies on their backs emerged from homes hidden in the tall grass to watch as election officials counted votes in early parliamentary elections.
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Beside them stood several security agents: two ordinary policemen in khaki uniforms; an anti-terrorist police officer in a beret and umbrella; A soldier in camouflage; Not a soldier, but a policeman in a blue uniform who certainly looked like it; And four men with balaclava were leaning on the back of a pickup truck. Most of them were carrying weapons.
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This footage from an obscure polling station reveals some simple truths about the way the Ugandan government operates under President Yoweri Museveni, a former rebel who took power in 1986. The military seems to be everywhere – even civil society organizations now look like military organizations. Museveni asserts his political power through all manner of security forces, including intelligence agencies and police units, but military logic prevails. Under Museveni’s leadership, the military has become increasingly entrenched in Ugandan politics and society.
The presence of the army everywhere shows the weakness of the government. The modern state of Uganda was created by British colonialists who did little to develop an efficient bureaucracy. In the 1970s, Uganda’s then dictator Idi Amin ran what companies on earth. Faced with a legacy of state weakness, Museveni has repeatedly turned to the military, the only institution he truly trusts. Unlike the police or civil service he inherited from previous regimes, the army was a direct descendant of his newly formed rebel force.
“Museveni was always a military man, he believed that the best way to organize people, control people and dominate society was to have guns,” said Moses Kisa, a Ugandan political scientist at the University of North Carolina. Consider that militarization has become more brutal and widespread. , because Museveni as a leader has been weakened by many forces working against him.”
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Among those forces is the tectonic pressure of population. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, three-quarters of Ugandans are under the age of 30, and there aren’t enough decent jobs to go around. Public frustration with corruption and inequality has given voice to opposition politics, reflected in the support of singer-turned-politician Bobby Wine and retired soldier Kissa Besikye. Besike, who fought alongside Museveni but contested four presidential elections, said: “[Museveni’s] main focus is on the machine, the military machine, to maintain his power and expand it.”
“Museveni has always been a military man who believes that the best way to unify, control people and dominate society is to have weapons.”
The election is a clear example of the great role of the military in the country. In Omoro, the night before early elections, soldiers attacked the local offices of an opposition party, beat activists, stole money, and seized documents, Human Rights Watch reported. On the day of the vote, police and armed men in civilian clothes stopped opposition activists, including a member of parliament. In recent early elections, there have been credible allegations of capture, bribery and vote rigging. Such brutal oppression reminds people of the brutality of the 2021 presidential election, when the state forces harassed, arrested, kidnapped, tortured and killed opposition supporters.
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But the mission of the Army is much wider than that. Consider the police. In the early years of his rule, Museveni openly questioned the loyalty of police officers: he once complained that they would rather vote for an ox than for him. His solution was to place the force under the command of military generals like General Kale Kayihura, who served as the reigning police chief from 2005 to 2018. Although a civilian, Martin Okoth Ochola, now heads the force, many analysts believe that real power rests with a cadre of high-ranking soldiers.
The deployment of military officers is “a disservice to the police because these people are not trained in the police service,” said Julius Otwe, who was Kayihura’s deputy until Otwe retired in 2011. Many of Otway’s old colleagues are depressed. He added that there are fewer and fewer civilian police officers in high-ranking positions. “I think that’s how the police station will die because the officers, they’ve been fired,” he said.
And it’s not just military-run police forces. Museveni appointed three former military commanders to ministerial posts, along with six serving or retired military officers. Both Ministers of the Interior are generals, the most senior civil servants in the ministry. Immigration control has been carried out by the military since 2019.
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Militarization extends beyond the defense sector to public service institutions, said Sylvie Namwas, a researcher at the Center for Human Rights and Peace at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. The military has entered many of these fields over the past decade, duplicating or replacing the work of existing NGOs and civil servants.
For example, a soldier heads the “anti-corruption unit” of the president. In Lake Victoria, the military strictly enforces fishing regulations. The army patrols toracan forests, fights poachers, runs factories, herds cattle, polices street vendors, and trains everyone from paramilitary wildlife rangers to water engineers. Wide areas of the economy, from seed distribution to mineral development, are now managed by Operation Wealth Creation, a vast military program.
As the military expands, so does its budget. Defense spending in Uganda has tripled in the past four years, totaling $1.2 billion (4.7 trillion Ugandan shillings) in the 2020-2021 financial year. In addition, Uganda’s parliament regularly passes supplementary budgets – a type of unplanned spending intended for unforeseen crises – channeling secret funds to the military.
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Military officials justify their excesses by complaining of bureaucratic inefficiencies and that the military supports economic development. “If these NGOs really follow their rules, follow the law and behave as expected, we have no business,” said Brig. General Felix Gulaikye, the army spokesman, was formerly its political commissar. He called what he called “the indignity” of officers and policemen against the sacrifices of soldiers for their country. “We have paid the price to see Uganda as it is today. However, our citizens – the ones we put in charge of the country – are doing their job. Do you want to fold your hands and surrender?”
But the military also has a long history of corruption in the Democratic Republic of Congo, from procurement irregularities to looting of gold, diamonds and timber. And by ignoring civil structures, Museveni himself creates the conditions for their destruction. “He is a micro-manager, he cannot build institutions,” said Mukisha Mundu, who commanded the army in the 1990s and ran for office last year from a small opposition party.
Museveni has also relied on the military to consolidate power in his family. The de facto president is Lieutenant General Muhusi Kainerugaba, Museveni’s son and his successor as commander of the army. General Salim Saleh, the president’s brother, leads Operation Wealth Creation, which gives him direct control of a key support arm for the first family.
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However, the state-military is not the monopoly of everything. Therefore, silencing the opposition as a whole is very weak. There is a lively press and a vocal opposition. Space for both is closing fast, but Uganda is still not a country like neighboring Rwanda, where politics is discussed only in whispers. Instead, the state uses coercion, so the limits of permitted speech are never clear.
An example of arbitrary enforcement is the Covid-19 curfew in Uganda in 2020 and 2021. There were cars on the roads. Closed bars allow drinkers to rest on their backs. Yet there was always the possibility of sudden violence, especially for the poor. At least ten people were shot during the enforcement operations, usually by state militias recruited and trained by the army. The authority of the state is neither absolute in its scope nor fixed in its implementation. It was sudden and awesome.
Geneva Graduate Institute lecturer Rebecca Tapscott, who has studied regional security in Uganda, says this type of governance is best understood as a system of “institutionalized pleasure”. The power of various actors is fluid, including soldiers, police, spies, militias and vigilantes. The line between legal and illegal violence is blurred. Government seems to be everywhere even when it is not. The result, Tapscott said, “is a constant state of political unpredictability that seems intentional to the people who experience it and makes it harder for people to organize collectively.”
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Namwase of the Center for Human Rights and Peace
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