Question: General Nyakairima, why Teso and Gulu for this yearâ€™s Armed Forces Week?
Answer: The NRA (National Resistance Army) as we were called stood with Teso and defeated the UPA (Uganda Peoples Army). Teso was peaceful until 2003 when the LRA came. We stood together again against terrorism. In Acholi, people who supported terrorism have also resolved to join us to end terrorism and start reconstruction. We have welcomed former rebels like Max Omeda (Gulu RDC), Musa Ecweru (Arrow Coordinator) who joined us. We welcome others.
What have been the NRA/UPDF challenges in the last 25 years?
In 1986 our country was like buried. There was no economy, no security system to talk about. All institutions of state had broken down. The police that was basically a UPC force had disintegrated. The judicial system was non-existent. The state had collapsed. It was like Somalia or eastern DRC.
So what happened?
When the process of rebuilding started, we began facing stiff challenges. The most challenging was being attacked hardly a year in power. In August 1986 at Bibia in northern Uganda, our 28th battalion was attacked by UNLA soldiers who had been hiding at Owiny Kibul. I believe the Sudanese government knew about it and supported them. Since then our challenge has been preventing such former soldiers trying to recapture state power.
The LRA and their backers, Sudan, were determined to topple the government in Uganda. They did not compare at all with the Holy Spirit Movement or the UPDA. They came with a new strategy, new tactics and new weapons. This was because of the Sudan and the element of international terrorism because in 1995/96 Kony had quite an interaction with Osama bin Laden in Sudan where bin Laden had a farm. There should have been a training camp on that farm. Konyâ€™s soldiers trained in Khartoum and others under Savimbiâ€™s UNITA.
Unlike the Holy Spirit Movement or the UPDA which fought the NRA, LRA came targeting the population to massacre people. How could we protect the population, fight the LRA and stop Sudan all at the same time? It was very challenging.
What did you do?
We were very well prepared under the visionary leadership of the President and Commander-in-Chief Yoweri Museveni. He is of long testing since the 1960s when it comes to combating such terrorist organisations or dictators and opposing such counter-revolutionary forces.
What about Uganda/Sudan relations?
We came up with Operation Iron Fist to wipe out Konyâ€™s bases in Sudan. We signed a protocol with the Sudan government to allow us operate wherever Kony was. Now there is no red line. We can fight LRA even towards Malakar or towards Khartoum as long as the Khartoum government allows us to do that.
When was the red line removed?
The last protocol we signed last October removed the last red line which had made an area north of Tolit-Juba road a red line. That is why we are now in Gondokoro, east of Juba, about 70km above Tolit-Juba road. So Sudanâ€™s withdrawal of LRA support has now helped us to significantly reduce LRA capacity and will to fight. Their only capacity is to hide. We are now shrinking their hideouts. Apart from Sudan, another factor prolonged war was a small defence budget.
What was wrong with the budget?
It was perennially inadequate. In 2003 the President put down his foot, called donors and cabinet and told them â€˜you cannot tell us to invest in health services, road infrastructure and education when we donâ€™t have the capacity to defeat this threatâ€™. He won the debate and increased the budget. We got strong weaponry especially the attack helicopters. Just interview the LRA we have captured and they will tell you how lethal these weapons are. They say it is like a rain of fire. It used to be a war where the principle weapon was AK47 against LRAâ€™s AK47, the government soldier on foot and LRA on foot but in an area they knew very well. But the choppers gave superior fire power. The war turned around and it appears it will soon end.
Last year around July, a grand Kacoke Madit of the Acholi leaders gathered at Paraa Safari Lodge resolved to back the government and UPDF, condemned the LRA and called upon the international community to help the government and the UPDF to end the war. That was a significant turning point in the war against LRA terrorism.
Why do you think it took
the Acholi that long to change their attitude yet when the LRA came to Teso, they were repulsed almost overnight?
The answer is in our history. There is a remnant ideology inherited from colonialism. They bought so much of what the British colonialists taught that once you are from the north, then you have the skin, structure, you have all it takes to become a soldier and that you could not do anything else apart from soldiering. Then we of the west and the central, matooke eaters and milk drinkers had no business being in the army.
The leaders who had that mentality prolonged the conflict. Others felt that the Nairobi talks of NRM/NRA was a raw deal for them. That dictators and liberators had to share government on equal terms. So some of those kept in the background and continued supporting the LRA.
During Operation Iron Fist we discovered a letter from late Obote writing to Kony promising support to the LRA and calling upon his UPC grassroots never ever to condemn the LRA.
ADF lasted long but it can no longer threaten us. LRA can no longer threaten us. The PRA of Dr Kiiza Besigye and his other commanders hiding in eastern DRC cannot threaten us. So in other words out of these years of difficulties we have put together the experience in combating terrorism. No terrorist can threaten us because we have the capacity in terms of weaponry, experience and skills to deal with terrorism.
What about the ugly stories of ghost soldiers and paymasters vanishing with salaries? Donâ€™t you think stealing of money meant to enhance UPDFâ€™s combat capacity prolongs the conflict?
The ghost soldiersâ€™ factor was not a big setback. It is like you are fighting, then some of your soldiers are wounded or they fall sick, or your food or ammunition delays. The devastating setbacks were Sudan, bad budget, and local/international support for Kony. When we identified the ghost soldiersâ€™ setback, we quickly swung into action. We are now on top of it. The commanders and soldiers know that once you take away monies that are not supposed to be yours, then your place is Luzira, Makindye or courts of law. We have also put in place institutions to ensure that such abuse, mal-administration is completely done away with. Soldiers now, from myself to the last private are talking about banking and ATM cards. We are educating them on the Bankom system. Running away with sacks of money will soon be a thing of the past. The final nail in the coffin of corruption will be delivered when we complete computerisation of UPDF records in September this year, our Defence Review streamlined our procurement is finalised.
What about respect for human rights?
I have just released the Progress Report On Action Taken Against Human Rights Violations by the UPDF in Northern Uganda covering 2003 to 2005. We will continue focusing on protection of human rights, upholding the Constitution, no covering up crime and no impunity.
What about regional security?
We work with our colleagues in the East African Community. We carry out exercises like Ongoza Njia in Tanzania, Trend Marker in Kenya. If it were not because of the elections we planned to hold an exercise called Hot Springs in Uganda. But weâ€™ll have it in March or April. The cooperation of our sister armed forces has never been better in the history of our independence. We welcome Rwanda and Burundi in our community. We still have a problem of the eastern DRC where we still have a problem of a stateless state. It is a conservation of all sorts of terrorists like PRA, ADF, NALU, FNL, Vincent Otti (LRA number 2) has joined them and all sorts of Congolese militia.
I have been to Kinshasa almost six time to talk to the commanders of the DRC forces and the MONUC about this situation. Last December on Christmas I was in Kinshasa.The DRC forces and MONUC are not in control of this territory because the place if vast and the soldiers who are there are not the right soldiers. But we are on guard to ensure that our people in Bundibugyo, Kasese, Fort Portal are not disturbed by that.
Upon informing the UN we reserve the right of hot pursuit to stop these characters from disturbing our peace.
What have been UPDF achievements in the last 25 years?
We have stopped elements of former dictators from regaining state power. When that happened, a necessary environment was created for national and economic recovery. Therefore, we share, we take pride in, we identify ourselves with what has gone on in our country in the area of education, a functioning democracy and other achievements. Secondly, we have built UPDF from a guerilla force to a two service structure of land forces and an airforce. We are building a lethal airforce with transport, attack and reconissance helicopters backed by fixed wing subsonic fighter aircraft.
We are improving the welfare of the soldiers. The pay is no longer stolen but banked. We have a medical system in place. We are mainstreaming anti-AIDS education. We have sufficient ARVs administered. We have rehabilitated and built hospitals in barracks.
We are completing a school at Butiaba to train our air defence protectors and our field artillery. We completed a school of armour, field engineering and motorised infantry at Karama-Kabamba.
We are completing a junior staff college in Jinja. Gone are the days of tattered uniforms, barefoot and all that. Now soldiers and auxiliary forces get two pairs of uniforms per financial year.