By Arinaitwe Rugyendo
There is something fishy about the security of person and property in Uganda today. What could be the reason for this?
A few weeks ago, I held a long and passionate phone discussion with a very good friend, the spokesman of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF), Maj. Paddy Ankunda.
Paddy is a young and very promising officer. He exudes an impressive record of civil-military work in Northern Uganda and the troubled coastal failed nation of Somalia.
Our discussion revolved around the welfare of the members of the UPDF and how it has a bearing on the security of the country. I said that as a civil-military expert, he had the patriotic duty of studying the dynamics within the socio-economic progress of the country and how those dynamics march the same progress within the UPDF.
I told him that if he discovered some imbalance that places the rank and file of the UPDF at the bottom of the food chain of the rest of the Ugandan society, then he should be worried of our security now and in the near future.
That week when we talked had been just a few days following an order by the Commander of the Land Forces, Gen. Katumba Wamala, to the effect that all senior officers of the UPDF must never be seen again traveling on 'motorcycle taxis', commonly known as 'Boadbodas.'
I told Paddy that my interpretation of this order was that no senior officer worth his decoration would enjoy a boda boda ride on his way to work. I said the problem therefore had something to do with welfare. I argued that poorly remunerated but highly trained soldiers living in the midst of a vastly prospering city and the country at large, many with minimal hopes of ever retiring into some form of economic stability that can secure their future, was a very dangerous precedent.
I revealed to him that in the last 10 years alone, I have chanced on many retired soldiers, some of them deserters, leading miserable lives in the city. Reason? The army system does not have some formal arrangement in which its retiring soldiers can have a meaningful life outside the military.
Their retirement packages are usually miserable. They don't buy them a house and guarantee school fees for their children, yet they are expected to march the progress of a society whose stability they have struggled so much to build.
As a result, many of them are idling in the city, living a very hard life. But unknown to their superiors is the fact that with their sophisticated training, they are potentially dangerous, ready to carry out any activity that can guarantee a few coins in their pockets.
They probably have come to realize that the wider society has progressed possibly on account of their patriotic activities on the frontline and yet this very society cannot adequately look after them. Even their comrades who are still serving share the same view.
Many of them are as well-read as their peers in civilian life, but their pay and reward for work done is comparably miserable.
So when gunmen numbering about 15, armed with pistols and very sophisticated assault rifles, attacked and torched the premises of the Red Pepper last Saturday, destroying newsprint, the factory building and the powerhouse, there was reason to believe these were not ordinary arsonists. The military precision with which they carried out this attack and which the Minister of Information and National Guidance, Kirunda Kivejinja, described as a 'Sandhurst-rehearsed military coup,' had the hallmark of soldiers' involvement, hired or ordered to either kill or be killed for as long as they perfected their economic sabotage on The Red Pepper's production line for a penny.
And for soldiers to be freely at will to carry out such acts means that in their sub conscience, the feeling that life in the civilian world would be better off, will continue to inform and provide clues to why people are losing their lives and property to gun-wielding men.
With profound anger, I brought these arguments before Paddy and put it him that some elements in his forces are suspects. He said I needed to 'go very slow on some of these things' because we are all stakeholders. What ever that meant, it's now a week since the incident Red Pepper but the military has not rushed to a scene, where an armed aggression was staged, to pick the glaring camera recording evidence.
Today, it's fashionable for people to employ the services of members of the armed forces and the security apparatus to settle personal scores, land disputes and failed relationships.
I have been told of how a young man was recently tortured in a facility for days just because he was competing with someone in the security services over a girl.
It took the intervention of a patriotic citizen who brought the matter to the attention of the Chief of Defence Forces before the boy's life could be spared.
Those who have business scores to settle seem to use similar means of intimidation. The more than 30 fires that have gutted schools since this year began have a motive of an economic nature.
But as the Red Pepper video clue shows, people who want to eliminate their business rivals or cause economic havoc to their businesses have easily found a willing service provider in the idle members of our armed forces.
I have been told by friends in the police force that a person's life in Uganda today can cost just about 100,000/=
As long as the gap between civilians and the armed forces continues to widen in terms of welfare, and for as long as that welfare in the civilian divide does not reflect significant progress in the welfare of the armed forces, armed members of our society will remain serving as the definition between who owns what, where and when.
Until the attack on Red Pepper, we did not know there would be a silver lining to every dark cloud that has hovered over the mysterious fires that have left innocent school children dead and millions worth of property destroyed. That silver lining came when the worthless Red Pepper attackers did not know our living God was recording their crime on our cameras.
For the many innocent lives lost and property destroyed, we hope our spirit will prevail and theirs (attackers) and that of their sponsors suffers a very painful punishment.
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