THE â€˜birdsâ€™ are in the country. In fact, they have already flown over areas around Entebbe with resounding success. President Yoweri Museveni officially â€˜launchedâ€™ the planes on Monday.
The news that Uganda was going to acquire those very modern birds elicited a lot of mixed debate from the public. Some supported the buying of the planes, others did not.
One of the overriding factors for those against the acquisition of the weapons is that we are very poor. That Uganda is spending so much money on defense, compared to other countries! And that this money should be used to â€˜construct hospitalsâ€™ instead of going to the defence of this country.
For military enthusiasts, the â€˜birdsâ€™ are a joy to own. At the moment, there are only two African countries with these planes in their inventory. The only other country to have them is Algeria, which together with Egypt have got the largest and most modern air-forces in Africa. Since these planes are some of the latest Uganda may not need to buy fighter jets in over 10 years.
Too expensive for poor Uganda
For those who opposed the purchase, it was largely because of the cost vis-Ã -vis priority needs. â€œWe should not be wasting money on jets when there is no medicine in hospitals,â€ Hussein Kyanjo, an opposition MP said. But when one looks at the Ugandaâ€™s budget spending, it is within regional limits. For example, Uganda defence budget did not exceed 2.2% of the GDP.
At the moment, according to various international sources, including the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), Uganda is ranked as the 73rd country in percentage defence spending vis-Ã -vis the GDP in the world. It is not true as some people put it that defence takes the lionâ€™s share of the budget expenditure in Uganda.
At the moment, roads lead with around 1.2trillion, followed by education with over sh1trillion, health with about sh800b, public service and then defense.
In summary, Ugandaâ€™s defence spending has been hovering over 1.9% of GDP, Kenya at 2% in recent years, Tanzania at 1.5% of GDP.
The war in the north
At the peak of the war, the government had to â€˜kneelâ€™ before the donors to allow it acquire better weapons against the LRA. In 2003, the Government got a supplementary budget of sh23.5b that was used to buy better attack helicopters, a decision that was again seriously criticised by sections of the political opposition-including those from the north.
However, it was the acquisition of these MI-24s that finally chased the LRA out of Uganda. The choppers and others weapons that were subsequently acquired improved UPDFâ€™s air attack capabilities and transport. President Museveni is on record as saying that because of the choppers that were acquired, the UPDF was now able to deploy faster.
Deploying faster is of a strategic importance in military operations. Further more, during the late 90s, the Sudanese used to fly into Ugandan airspace and drop bombs in many areas. This was until Uganda acquired a few interceptors (jet fighters) that the Sudanese never returned to harass Ugandaâ€™s airspace.
At one time, the UPDF had to hire trucks to carry troops in the war zone. They had to hire tank carriers to carry tanks to the war front. This was until the late 90s when drastic measures were taken to acquire more trucks and fighting vehicles. The UPDF operations against the LRA then improved.
It is wrong for critics to claim that because Uganda defeated the LRA with the weapons that they have, they do not need the jets. When the UPDF attacked the LRA in Garamba in December 2008, the results would have been better had the army deployed SU-30s for example. This is because they are more agile, identify targets easier and are faster than the Mig-21s and Mig-23s that they used.
Even if the UPDF defeated Kony with the weapons that they had, they must continue modernising their inventory if they are to remain a regional force.
Regional countries are arming too
Besides, not only Uganda is arming itself for eventualities in the region. Sudan has acquired new planes, battle tanks and support artillery in recent years. Kenya acquired new tanks and is also in the process of acquiring new fighter jets, even the Government of Southern Sudan is building a new army. Further north East, Eritrea and Ethiopia are also up grading their weapons systems. So why should Uganda be left behind?
Had Gaddafi identified his real enemies and armed his armed forces better, even those attacking him would have thought twice. As it turns out, Gaddafi spent a lot of time talking and not acting. Gaddafi is paying for being a â€˜scare crowâ€™. 10,000 soldiers is nothing to pose about, but even then, he has managed to stay a little longer because he did some things right.
If Gaddafi had identified the Western world as his main threat and he should have armed himself in response to that threat. North Korea has done it, Iran has acquired â€˜nuclear weaponsâ€™ purposely to fend off, not just Israel, but the â€˜naggingâ€™ Western powers. China too, is militarily a step ahead of most countries in the Western world.
If it was Egypt for example, the Western powers would have had second thoughts about attacking it. Egypt has over 2,500 tanks most of which are American M1-Abrams, which are rated as the best in the world. The Air-force largely uses the American F-16, while the air-defence is equipped with modern Western â€˜guidedâ€™ weaponry. Other than the US and UK, Egypt is a more powerful army than most of the other European countries involved in the coalition against Libya. The argument here is that if Libya was really armed, the coalition would have thought twice.
By purchasing the weapons, Uganda may be dealing with â€˜regional threatsâ€™ because at the moment, Ugandaâ€™s threat is not coming from America or any of the Western countries.
Across the world, the most powerful countries are those that are not ashamed of arming their forces.
Although many Western countries have been holding the best weapons for many years, they have continued to spend heavily because they have to maintain that modern inventory. This is exactly what Uganda has to do.
Uganda is a regional force-the only country to significantly support the Somali government and the SPLA/M for longer periods. This position must be maintained with better arms.
It is strategic for Uganda to acquire military gear