By Samuel Baligidde
THE President is the main consumer of intelligence in the country and when he alludes to the possibility of the Army taking over, it is no idle talk; the Fountain of Honour does not indulge in wolokoso!
The re-assertion of military preponderance in political affairs is not new. After a long period beating the retreat, coups which on the surface seemed to be an effective check on abuse of power by ruthless dictators are apparently back.
But in this era, coups may be counterproductive because as Amin’s ‘Personalist Coup’ demonstrated, they split the military along ethnic and regional lines; provide a fertile ground for cultural sub-nationalism with dire political and security consequences.
Scholars Feit in the Armed Bureaucrats and Enloe in Ethnic Soldiers: State Security in Divided Societies both analyse well the potential and inevitable conflict between ethnicity and the military’s role as guardian of the State.
Can military professionalism, a persistent theme in the President’s modernisation diatribes, coexist with democracy and economic development? Can a revolutionary army such as the UPDF stay in barracks and strictly confine their activities to military affairs when things seem to be going wrong?
It would be a contradiction to talk of democracy in the army because military establishments and command structures are of necessity authoritarian.
When under attack in an ambush, for example, it would be suicidal for the commander to hold a Baraza of the entire fighting unit to vote on whether to attack, defend themselves or not! The commander takes charge and issues the appropriate orders without consulting his subordinates.
The military coups of the 1960-70s were products of their time. Renewed interest in military coups is ephemeral. Modernisation and political development theories that were their basic premise were ideas and concerns of the past but are replicated in the present.
Samuel Huntington, author of classic books such as The Soldier and the State in which he expounded the theory of ‘military praetorianism’ and The Man on Horseback observed that aspects of the past had resurfaced in a new wave of poorly camouflaged military regimes.
The pretence that democracy and civilian control of the military can coexist is a distinct naivety. With the re-emergence of benevolent authoritarianism, democracy is back on the agenda and notions of military coups cannot be dismissed nor embraced without appraising the challenges.
The Army’s Officer Corps’ performance can be examined for propensity to serve as driver and agent of modernisation or economic development and is touted by the claim that ‘military bureaucracies are modernising and stabilising, a last stand-by reserve, which could be called in or could take over to prevent subversion’.
Neo-authoritarian perceptions of the role of the military in maintaining the sanctity of the State are reinforced by Goethe’s dictum: ‘I prefer injustice to disorder: one can die of disorder, one does not die of injustice; an injustice can be repaired’, which on the surface seems to be a reasonable argument.
Can loss of life arising out of a coup be repaired?
But the military could collaborate with the civilian bureaucracy and seek guidance from it on matters of economic management; especially where it lacks expertise and respectability in fronting for the regime both in its contacts with the civilian population in government and in its diplomatic relations with other countries.
The dishonesty, mistrust, corruption, unfair practices and intrigue inherent in politics can adulterate military professionalism. Huntington’s observation on the role of the military is insightfully good as a preamble to the conclusion that society changes, so should the role of the military over time.
The writer is former diplomat