By Steven Candia in Juba
The UPDF and the SPLA on Wednesday took their cordial relations a step further, when they jointly raided the Juba Teaching Hospital and the famous Konyo konyo market, but for a noble cause: To clean them.
When they were done, they left the places much better and cleaner than they found them, winning praise from the locals.
Given the recent conflict, heavily armed soldiers, some with guns strung to their backs others with rifles dangling off their shoulders attacked piles of rubbish and garbage with various implements such as spades and cleaned them out. In some places they just swept. The rubbish was loaded on to waiting trucks to be dumped away.
The exercise was part of the numerous activities to mark the annual Tarehe Sita, Feb 6, army day which is commemorated in Uganda annually. The year, the national celebrations will take place in Busheyi under the theme: National Consciousness and Pan Africanism the Cornerstone for African peace, Stability and Transformation.
Several other activities to mark the day have been held by Ugandan troops in Bor, the capital of the troubled Jonglei state which the UPDF help recapture from the rebels on January 17, six days after leaving Juba.
The exercise in Juba began with a march by the UPDF from the air-force base with a motorcade comprising many vehicles, momentarily paralysing activities in the town. Upbeat and armed with spades, brooms, rakes and hoes they marched as they sang martial songs.
Residents abandoned whatever they were doing and lined the roads, flashing the thumbs up sign for the soldiers who marched on before splitting up into two groups. One headed for the market while one stayed at the hospital.
It is at the hospital that they met with the SPLA with whom they embraced and launched into the exercise that was launched by Col. Muhanga Kayanja, the commander of the UPDF Joint Task Force (JTF) in South Sudan.
Also in the procession was the JTF second in command Col. Ham Kaija, Lt. Col. Bob Ogik and Maj. Asaf Mueteise, the Special Forces Command (SFC) commander in South Sudan.
The director general of the hospital Dr. Wani Lolik Lado hailed the UPDF for the gesture, emphasising the historical cordial relations that the two armies have enjoyed. “I am very grateful to the UPDF for their contribution in cleaning the hospital as part of the Tarehe Sita celebration,” Lado said.
Major Anei Awan, the SPLA commander of the First Battalion who led his team in the exercise remarked, “I am very happy with the UPDF decision to clean the hospital. This has never happened.”
At the market the excitement was palpable as civilians also joined the UPDF in the exercise. “What the Uganda army has done is very good and is what every army should do. Garbage has always been a problem here,” Samson Wani, a vendor said. “However, the challenge is going to be how to maintain this. The public needs to be sensitised on health matters and cleanliness,” he added.
J. B Kayongo, a vendor at the market said the exercise reflected positively about the UPDF. “This is good and gives a positive picture about our army”. Brian Kefa added that the joint exercise would reinforce the bondage between the SPLA and the UPDF.
Tarehe Sita is the day the National Resistance Army (NRA), now UPDF launched an armed offensive, against the UPC regime led by the President Apollo Milton Obote. The exercise led to the NRA capture of power from the Tito Okello junta on January 26, 1986.
It is celebrated annually and preceded by an army week in which the UPDF carries out numerous activities in select communities.