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Uganda's longest serving army commander

By Vision Reporter

Added 25th May 2013 12:30 PM

Gen. Aronda Nyakairima is the new internal affairs minister. Joshua Kato looks back at his life in the army.

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Gen. Aronda Nyakairima is the new internal affairs minister. Joshua Kato looks back at his life in the army.


By Joshua Kato

Gen. Aronda Nyakairima moved from the lowest ranks of the army to the top as Chief of Defence Forces. And on Thursday night, Nyakairima was moved from chief of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and deployed as Minister of Internal Affairs.

In 2003, he was named Army Commander, replacing Maj. Gen. James Kazini and in 2005, he reached the very pinnacle of this journey, when he was appointed the first Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) of the UPDF.

Aronda now holds the record of the longest serving Army Commander in Uganda of 10 years.

Improved the army

Things changed for the better during his reign. Nyakairima was the sixth army commander since the National Resistance Army (NRA) captured power in 1986.

According to people who have worked with him, it is no surprise that he succeeded. He is naturally very organised, amazingly calm even under the most extreme circumstances and as fearless as a lion when the need arises.

Those are the characters of a good soldier, says one of his aides.

Aronda made a study of the reasons why the war in the north was not ending and issues of motivation of soldiers have been dealt with. “There were so many photos of soldiers in tattered uniforms,” an officer says. Soldiers are now smarter and many of them live in better conditions.

“We are now given four uniforms each year, instead of the two that we were getting before he came,” observed a lieutenant. Another said: “Our salary arrives on time these days.”

Such improvements are seen across operational areas like in Somalia and the Central African Republic, where soldiers are well supplied.

Former Chief of Defence forces Gen. Aronda Nyakairima talks to a resident of Kilembe mines in a tour of areas ravaged by heavy floods this year. PHOTO/Ali Waiswa 

Construction of barracks

During his reign, construction of several barracks has been done. These include Kakiri, Kalama and Kasenyi. This was the first concerted effort to try and get rid of the infamous Mama yingiya pole (unipots) that had become characteristic of the army.

Nyakairima has emphasised training as a basic requirement for modernising the army. Kimaka Senior Command Staff College Jinja, an internationally recognised military academy, was established.

The first intake that included senior army officers has formed the basis for the army restructuring. Other heavy training was undertaken by most of the specialised units, including Artillery and Air Defence in Masindi, Armoured warfare at Kalama and the Airforce at Entebbe.

Efforts to weed out ghosts were made, all units are now clean and the right number of soldiers is deployed.

“These days, the standing order is that there should be regular reports about the strength of each unit, before and during the course of deployment. Casualties are immediately reported, as are defections,” says a soldier based at the Artillery and Air Defence Unit, Masindi.

By streamlining procurement in the UPDF, the army establishment has ensured that the best equipment is acquired.

Among key acquisitions in Nyakairima’s reign are brand new fighter jets from Russia, the SU-30s, new Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), modern air-defence equipment and APCs. Cases of junk equipment not been heard of for 10 years now.

Over 30 years as a soldier

Born in 1959, Aronda is the son of Mzee Nyakairima of Rukungiri. He joined the bush war in 1982 right from Makerere University, where he studied Political Science.

In the bush, Nyakairima, who was in his 20s, had several responsibilities, most of them risky. For example, at one time he was involved in urban subversion under a squad famously known as the Black Bomber.

Another time, he was under the command of Maj. Gen. Matayo Kyaligonza, whose squad used to operate behind enemy lines.

Nyakairima and the likes of Brig. Elly Kayanja used to attack UNLA units within and on the outskirts of the city with devastating effect. After the war, he attended a Basic Officers Course in 1989.

Later, he was sent to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, USA, where he took a course in strategic studies. On top of that, he also attended the highly billed Nasser Military Academy in Egypt.

The new internal affairs minister is seen here mingling with education minister Jessica Alupo in a meeting

Friends say he reads a lot, especially about military strategy. He can explain, off-hand, why mambas, tanks and choppers should be deployed at the same time or why they should not.

For example, while he was commanding officer of the Mechanised Division, he came up with a concept paper on which the creation of new formations within the division were based.

His concept saw the separation of the Armoured Brigade, which mainly comprises APCs like mambas and buffalos from the Mechanised Division that is composed of main battle tanks.

He was among the architects of the new command structure of the army. These units are now bigger and better equipped.

“The armoured and mechanised units have performed well in Somalia because they provide the vanguard of the support tasks. This is because of such input by the outgoing CDF,” an officer said.

The LRA menace that had affected the region for many years was pushed out during his reign.

Some of his friends say that he took northern Uganda to be his home. Perhaps this is because in the 70s, he undertook his secondary school education at Kitgum High School.

As a student, he interacted with the local population, learnt their language and culture.

He used these abilities to improve the image of the UPDF in the north. There is no doubt that the image of the army before the eyes of people in northern Uganda has gone up.

Previously, it was difficult to hear Acholi civilians praising the army. Today, they say ‘thank you’.

This is a result of the creation of a de facto information desk specifically for the north through the Directorate of Information in the UPDF.

There is a UPDF spokesman for every division, brigade and region in the country and spokesmen for units serving in CAR and Somalia.

From the Bible, his favourite book, one of his best quotes is, ‘Here I am my Lord, send me.’

Gen. Nyakairima addressing AMISOM troops in Somalia in March 2011

In the trenches with the troops

There is also Nyakairima, the motivator. In the first months of his appointment, he visited virtually every army unit in the country. He talked to the officers and men and listened to their problems. He then went back and drew plans for solving them.

Nyakairima is often at the frontline, lying in trenches with his men. His last assignment was in Somalia last week, when he visited Ugandan troops. Nothing motivates a soldier more than knowing that his chief is with him in the line of fire. “He talked with us directly.

This motivates us,” says a soldier in the 1st Division at Kakiri. Another innovation is that he has ably supported the army SACCO, the Wazalendo, through which soldiers have saved money, borrowed and developed themselves.

“We are not depending on the army salary alone, thanks to this innovation,” Lt. James Lutwama says.

Early this year during a visit to Hima barracks, he talked about helping soldiers produce food for consumption and for sale. “We want to create an entire production unit in the army. It will help improve the standard of living of the soldiers,” he said.

Aronda: Uganda''s longest serving army commander

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