By Lt Col Paddy Ankunda
February 6, 2016, the UPDF will celebrate 35 years of its founding. The day that is popularly known as the Army Day (Tarehe Sita) falls on February 6, of every year. The Army Day marks the birth of NRA which metamorphosed into the UPDF as we know it today.
On that day, in 1981, 27 armed patriots and a few others unarmed, attacked Kabamba Barracks to initiate and cause a fundamental change in Uganda. It is that liberation from tyranny of the state that we will be celebrating tomorrow.
However, as we celebrate this day, we also reflect on many things. We reflect on where we have come from, where we are and where we want to go. Most importantly, we reflect on the need to further strengthen our strategic relation with the people of Uganda.
Of course, and as is always the case, the question of how to get there is always the hard one. Last weekend, one of the historical leaders of the NRA, Gen David Sejusa was arrested and arraigned before the General Courts Martial of the UPDF.
By the time the cows went home, he had been charged and remanded to Luzira prison. Interestingly, there hasn’t been much excitement about his arrest.
For the first time in the history of this country, the military court is trying a general of seemingly high profile. But what do we learn from this historic trial?
The first charge is drawn from the UPDF Act of 2005, under article 148 (1) (2) b of the Act. The general travelled out of the country without permission and stayed for over 21 days. This is a crime under our law.
It is called Absent Without Official Leave. Secondly, under Section 16 (1) (c) and (2) of the Political Parties Organizations Bill 2005 (PPOA), serving officers are not allowed to engage in partisan politics.
Apparently, the general has been attending meetings of political parties like the one he attended last year with Democratic Party officials. That is unacceptable for non-retired officers. Thirdly, again under PPOA, section 16 (c) (d) (2), Gen Sejusa attended the nomination ceremony of the FDC presidential flag bearer at Nakivubo contrary to the law.
Under section 136 of the UPDF Act, he has also been charged with insubordinate behavior, having been warned in letter written to him by the Chief of Defence Forces to stop his partisan engagements but refused. In that letter he had been told that the UPDF would take legal measures against him without further warning should he not comply.
Finally, the general has also been charged with conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline of the UPDF contrary to section178 (1) (2) and (5) (a) of the UPDF Act 2005. Gen David Sejusa a.k.a Tinyefuza on 22nd Apr 2015 between 1900 – 2100 hours at Bulange Mengo without proper authorization from the defence forces appeared on a talk show on CBS radio and made public statements, an act contravening the Code of Conduct of the UPDF.
General Sejusa being a lawyer that he is was very much aware of these provisions under the law but deliberately went ahead to break the law. The action therefore taken by the institution should send a message to serving military officers and militants that impunity cannot be tolerated.
The hallmark of our existence as an army is our discipline. The day we lose this virtue is the day we will lose the purpose of our very existence. And therefore, there can never be any compromise on this.
In the other news this week, Hon Ssemujju Nganda and Prof Oloka-Onyango obviously missed the point. The don alleges that where things have reached, Uganda can only have a violent transition of power and that the 2016 elections will be a contest between the military and the civilian voting population. What a sad statement! To this we can only say that there is a good relationship between the military and the civilians.
If the professor is a prophet of doom, we do not want to take his message and we will do everything within our powers to maintain a good relationship with the citizens. Clearly, there has been an effort by some people to pity the army against the people. This must never be allowed to happen.
On the other hand, Hon Ssemujju Nganda published his ignorance of the law in his Observer article titled: It is UPDF not Gen Sejusa on trial of Wednesday 3-4 February 2016. The honorable member alleges that for Gen Sejusa to be tried in the General Court Martial, it has to be presided over by a person of the same rank or higher rank. This is not correct.
Article 197 (1) (a) of the UPDF Act of 2005 states that the General Court Martial shall be chaired by a person at the rank of Lt Colonel and above. There is nowhere in the UPDF Act or in any other law that is known to me, where the requirement for same or higher rank is a condition for the chair of the court martial while trying an officer of a higher rank. This is important for the public to know.
Finally, the UPDF like other security actors is interested in a peaceful election. Therefore, if called upon by the lead agency (Uganda Police Force) to support them in any way to secure a peaceful election, the UPDF while working under the law will be ready to offer support as appropriate. I wish you all happy Tarehe Sita celebrations.
The writer is the Defence/UPDF Spokesman