News and Views
Army General speaks out on corruption
His office is neat. With a Tarehe Sita calendar hanging on the wall, a big table with several books including an Oxford dictionary, newspapers and a novel “Failed States” by Noam Chomsky. This is the office of the Chief of Military Doctrine of the Uganda Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF), Major General Pecos Kuteesa in Mbuya. He is the author of a book “Uganda’s Revolution 1979-1986: How I saw it.” Kampala Dispatch sought his audience to give his views on the current situation in the country. Edward Ronald Sekyewa interviewed the battle-hardened General.
KD: You joined the struggle as a young man to free this country from the turmoil then. After 25 years in power, how do you count the successes of the struggle?
Ans: The struggle in life has never been won. New challenges keep on coming. What was pertinent then is not pertinent now. When we started fighting, Uganda was at zero. We secured security, after that was growth and the challenges of growth are different from the challenges of attaining security. You cannot fulfill society’s needs today using yesterday’s tricks. The battle lines have changed. The answer to today’s challenges cannot be provided through bullets and bombs, as was the case during the liberation war.
KD: The biggest challenge today is corruption, and this is one of the things you came to fight, according to the Ten Point program.
Ans: But can you fire a rocket-propelled grenade against corruption? Can you shoot at inflation? During the war, we attacked Kiboga and got money from a bank, which we used to buy medicine and food, that money was taken as military equipment.
KD: How about disciplining the individuals who have engaged themselves in corrupt practices?
Ans: We had total control then because our biggest recruiting agent was the Obote government, which used to terrorize people. The people sought a way of survival by joining and supporting us in the bush. The original movement then was perfect because each person was known and nobody could misbehave because all people existed as a community. There was accountability.
But now with multi-party dispensation, it is hard to discipline these politicians because most of them have bought their way to power and want to recoup their money.
KD: This is the biggest challenge to the revolution. Not so?
Ans: Yes, of course. Samora Machel once said that the deathbed of a revolution is the capture of the capital city and state power. If you know how we came in 1986, the highest-ranked officer and a recruit all had one voice. We knew what we were doing and how to do it. But now everybody thinks that he or she is so informed, they think they are so knowledgeable, they are all equal and equally confused. Guidance is the problem. How do you call people to order? Whom do you arrest for being a thief when he hides in the current divide of political parties, religions and tribalism? All people are firing blanks, and have no set objective. Everybody is fighting.
KD: Do you think that the thieving government officials today are out there to sabotage President Museveni’s government?
KD: From inside the National Resistance Movement?
Ans: Yes. This movement started as a mass organization of Ugandans moving forward. It was not a party originally. We were just forced by the powers that be to become a political party. I am afraid what will happen when politicians become pro-party and not pro-people. When they start owing everything to party affiliation and not the people. I personally abhor politics because I think it is cheap. I believe in self-discipline and not imposed discipline because imposed discipline can be dodged. The way to fight corruption, no matter how many you arrest, it will still be hard. In my time at school, if anyone said that your father is a thief, I would not have entered the class. But today, if they say that general so and so or minister so and so has stolen this amount of money, people just cheer these thieves. I sometimes ask myself who owns Uganda, because owning something goes with responsibility to maintain that asset. You find that an official will steal money meant to construct a road somewhere and instead build a mansion somewhere. Corruption can be fought from the people’s mind.
KD: These are the things that are affecting the revolution.
Ans: The movement is like a train. People come in and go out. Society will reject those that are creating mayhem in the movement.
KD: So you have early-warning mechanisms in the movement already?
Ans: Making people politically conscious was the first step. How long can corruption be sustained? Is it sustainable?
KD: At the moment it is gaining strength and people are asking themselves when it will end.
Ans: Victimizing one individual will not help in fighting corruption. At the moment, society can do much by identifying and rejecting corrupt individuals. The movement then had a policy of not killing individuals physically but politically, by exposing him or her to the people.
KD: Between 1981 and 1985 in the bush, those individuals who used to steal cassava from the peasant’s gardens were put on firing squad. There was zero tolerance for corruption.
Ans: But now that we are a government, we cannot do like the old regimes did by killing people. If we start perpetuating what we fought, people will throw us out. At the same time, we cannot be seen to be protecting thieves. We want them to be exposed and let the courts of law do their work. We do not want mob justice. The thieves should be named and ashamed.
KD: That is what Mohammed Nsereko (NRM MP, Kampala) wanted to do at a rally in Kololo but he was stopped by police.
Ans: There is one thing that has not yet been done: that is differentiating between governance and politicking. Take an example of Mrs. Jennifer Musisi, the executive director of Kampala city, and Mayor Erias Lukwago. While Lukwago goes on politicking, Musisi is busy doing her work to improve the city. What Nsereko wanted to do was mere politicking, though the idea was good.
KD: Is it justifiable for people today to stand up and fight government in form of demonstrations against corruption?
Ans: Before you start a war, you have to find out whether the people are angry enough to join you in the war. The timing also matters. On a bigger scale, apart from your personal anger, is that anger cutting across the board? Is the best solution war? War is normally the last resort when all other means have failed. How many people in 1980 were exposed to other forms of coercion? Is this the right time to start a war? In the army, we have a policy of identifying and isolating the enemy. The question today is who is the enemy now? During the campaigns, we held a prayer breakfast for the soldiers, and I asked them a question. There were eight political groupings vying for political power in this country, so I asked the soldiers to raise their hands if they do not have a brother, a sister, a friend, a neighbor or even a parent who belongs to any of those political groups. No soldier raised a hand. I asked them again that if they were to shoot at a gathering of people, whom would they shoot? No response came.
KD: But most of the thieving officials do it individually, and they thereby soil government. And these individuals are part of government.
Ans: True, but you cannot overthrow government because an individual has stolen. You also know what government is. I met some rioters some time back, and asked them if they could identify the government they were fighting.
KD: The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government Mr. Kashaka Muhanguzi has stepped aside after being accused of corruption in the procurement of Local Council bicycles. That is a government official. Why can’t other implicated officials in even higher offices do the same? Are they untouchable?
Ans: Kashaka is not a politician. Government hired him. If he were a politician, he would not have stepped aside. In the same case, Musisi can be fired but Lukwago cannot, because he is a politician. So if we want government to run, we should disassociate politics from it. Let the system run and if one is caught, let them be penalized.
KD: What do you think of the alleged selective prosecution in corruption scandals?
Ans: That is so because it is all political. If Mbabazi, Kuteesa and all these people accused of corruption were government employees, they would be rotting in Luzira Prison already. But the problem is they are politicians.
KD: Is that not playing double standards?
Ans: Government once mixed with politics leads to this. People are not appointed according to their competence but because of one’s political clout. What is America doing? It started with Iraq and took all the oil. In Afghanistan, the people are still resisting and now they moved to Ivory Coat and tamed it. Libya has been erased. Who do you think is next? Why are we so naïve? When did the World Bank become an expert on Ugandan issues and how does Bill Gates come in here to start lecturing us on how to use our oil revenues? When an elephant dies, the vultures surround it and eat it up. That is now the new enemy.
KD: Don’t you think we Africans are making it easier for the outside forces to overrun us by failing to solve our problems internally in time so as not to attract external intervention?
Ans: That is because we do not identify the enemy. When you are in the house and it catches fire, you do not start fighting inside about who is best suited to put out the fire. You first jump out of the house and reorganize on how to put out the fire from a position of safety.
We should be united to safeguard the resources we have before we see how to share its spoil, but not start fighting for oil, which is still in the ground. If you are willing to be manipulated, how can you protect your national resource?
Will they in turn allow Americans to come here and protect civilians just as they have just done in Libya? The opposition wants to create a situation where the British and Americans will come in this country and occupy us.
Do you think foreign forces can come in here and after a so-called liberation hand over the natural resources back to the people of Uganda? Ugandans should wake up, and very fast. When Tanzanians came here in 1979 to liberate this country from Amin’s terror regime, they took with them everything. When I went to Tanzania for military training after the 1979 war, the trucks that picked us from the Kilimanjaro Airport to carry us to Monduli had inscriptions “Masaka Growers Cooperative Union.”
These trucks had been looted from Uganda. And you call that liberation? If that is what people call liberation, then the Americans are very willing to come here and liberate us. It’s true that western powers do not want to see strong leaders and institutions in Africa because they become untenable to the interests of the west.
KD: True as that might be, it is also frustrating to see our leaders in Africa not taking steps to show the masses that they are with them instead of appearing to be siding with a few cronies around them. The so-called untouchables.
Ans: That is true and has to be highlighted. Government should show that it is with the people. It has to show willingness to isolate and discard corrupt fellows. The President is not corrupt but the people around him are creating him problems.
So many people are not patriotic. If I may ask, what makes us Ugandan? If a foreign force attacked Uganda, would all of us Ugandans fight on the same side? Or would some Ugandans fight on the side of the invading force?
KD: What is your view about Uganda’s failure to correct our own mistakes without attracting external intervention?
Ans: The thing with politicians is that when they go to parliament, they start fighting personal wars. If someone there is asking for Amama Mbabazi to step aside without having interest in his office, that is fine. But if someone wants to grab Mbabazi’s seat then that is a personal battle. In my book, I wrote about my disagreements with Mbabazi, which is fundamental and started long ago when he told me to wash his car in Nairobi, but to me that is trivial. But the general picture is different.
KD: Why is the President reluctant to act on Mbabazi even when many of the NRM party members ask him to do so?
Ans: A human mind is not quantifiable. Museveni might be seeing all this differently. I do not know which calculations the President is making on this because I am not in his brains, but I’m sure the messages from the people are reaching him and hopefully he will take the appropriate action. My friend Mbabazi is very unlucky because he is repulsive; many people do not like him, he is not appealing. They say he is arrogant. Maybe it is his nature, but the movement says that we will derive maximum good of him until he is discarded.
KD: How does the army view these thieving politicians?
Ans: In the army, we are politically conscious but not political agitators. We are not like politicians who compete for political offices, but as people who are holding the destiny of this nation, we are cautious. We always meet the President for briefing and tell him our views freely, and then come up with a consensus.
KD: Lenin wrote, “No revolution is worth anything unless it can defend itself.” You as one of the pioneers of the NRM revolution, are you ready to defend it?
Ans: What we are talking about is about our own physical survival. Whatever happens in this country affects our families, friends and our future. When we were young in the bush, we were reckless with no responsibilities, but now we have families, and other dependents. The stake is now higher. As a rebel fighter, all I could lose was my life and nothing else because I had no family. But today I have a family. We in the army are concerned, but the question the army asks is, “Are we on the side of the people?” The name Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) was chosen deliberately. We are answerable to the people of Uganda who are our mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, etc.
KD: Should the corrupt officials be disciplined the way you used to discipline errant officers during the bush war?
Ans: The Kiboko is already there. There are many ways of disciplining these people. I can tell you that I have some friends who used to walk with their heads high, but since they were mentioned in the corruption scandals, they have cowed down, their children have been isolated and that is a big punishment.
These people are being shunned by society because of their involvement in corruption. If a thief comes and donates 10 bags of cement to a church, all people in this country should turn such donations down to shame the thieves.
When I was in the Constituent Assembly, I put a question to the two opposition leaders there, Mr. Ssebaana Kizito and Mr. Ken Lukyamuzi. I asked how both of them would react to a scenario when the city was to be vandalized and shops looted. Ssebaana already owned prime property in the city (Sure House among others) but Lukyamuzi had not yet even started building his own house. So it was clear that Ssebaana had more to lose if there was any chaos in the city. This is the same thing I told some youths I found demonstrating on the day when President Museveni was sworn in at Kololo. I discovered that these youths were demonstrating because they had nothing to do and nothing to lose in case looting spreads out. I got some of them and managed to find them employment, thereby decreasing Besigye’s recruitment numbers. If somebody is selling something, they will be reluctant to go for demonstrations because they will know that their properties can as well be looted during the demonstrations.
KD: What exactly does the Directorate of Military Doctrine do?
Ans: Every calling has its doctrine. The health sector, the lawyers, even journalists have their doctrine. The defense of this country, how ready Ugandans are to defend themselves, makes a big part of this assignment. There are many forces at play here. After food and shelter, man looks for security to secure his area of influence.
KD: At what point in life did you decide that your calling was in the army?
Ans: At every stage in life, there are needs. If you are not a radical by 18, you are dysfunctional. If you are not wise by 50, then you ought not to have been born. There are things we have to do at every stage in life. What makes someone pick up a spear or a stick to go and fight?
Before you start any war, you have to ask whether you are on the right side. Find out whether the people are angry enough to sacrifice everything and join you in the struggle. That is the most important thing. Before we started the war, Ugandans were really angry enough that is why many joined in the struggle and others offered any support that they could afford.
KD: As a participant and observer in the revolution among many others, why is it that you are the only one who has documented the way you saw the liberation struggle?
Ans: I think the problem here is the reading culture of our people. Today, films are acted about the books we used to read. You find that most children today watch films instead of reading books.
I one time sat with the late Abu Baker Kakyama Mayanja and told him to write a book about how he saw the politics of this country at its formative stages. This was a man who was a moving encyclopedia about Uganda. But he kept on promising me that he would write, until he died without writing one. I even offered him to narrate to me and I write, but that never happened too. Nigerians have a saying that even a fool who does not know where he is going must at least know where he is coming from. So if we here have people who know neither where they are coming from nor going, then that is a very dangerous position for our country. If you do not know where you are coming from and where you are going, can you say you are lost?
No. I have invited my comrades who participated in the struggle to write about how they remember the war, but none has showed up yet. I want by the time I leave this place, the library to be filled with Ugandan books instead of these western books.
I am now reading this book called “The Failed States.” It shows how these western powers can come and disorganize a country to fail it. In fact all that we are seeing today are written in this book. I wonder why people do not read to find out these things in time.
KD: The threat to Uganda from outside because of our oil resource is real. However, can you tell us how grave this threat is?
Ans: The clouds are now gathering and something will erupt soon. Whether this will be positive or negative, I do not know. Whatever has a beginning has an end. The problem with Ugandans is that they do not live but only exist; we do not plan for ten years from now. People should ask themselves where they would be in the next decade with or without oil.
Museveni is not going to rule this country forever. When we came here from the bush in 1986, the population of Uganda was 14 million and in Kenya, it was 32 million. Today, the population of Uganda is over 34 million while in Kenya it is just 40 million. Kenya is three times the size of Uganda, but here we have more than doubled our population in the last 25 years while our brothers in Kenya have controlled the population explosion.
KD: What is the problem?
Ans: The environment here is so good, people do not have to work in order to eat. We have perpetual food security. And where there is food, people produce.
Coupled with the science, which stopped the infant mortality rate and the increase in life expectancy, the population has grown. We captured Kampala when I was 29 years old and at 30, I was already a Colonel in the army in charge of Kitgum, Gulu and West Nile, which was an eighth of Uganda under my control. I have seen it all.
KD: Do you have dreams to go higher in the army?
Ans: People should be ambitious. But there is what we call rational ambition. It should be logical. In army they teach us to know your intentions and abilities. Some people here join the army today and want to become generals the following day.
KD: Any last word?
Ans: My last word is for you journalists to first identify yourselves as Ugandans and for the sake of Uganda. Do whatever you do with a sense of responsibility. Any irresponsible reporting you do affects society. I am sure you do not want our society to collapse. You should not play into the hands of individuals who are forwarding their personal interests. Have you identified the interests of the rioters? Have you ever visited Besigye’s farm? All those rioters do not have even an eighth of what Besigye has. Besigye has his interest, and rioters should ask themselves whether their interests are married to his. At least they can be selfish before being patriotic, thinking about themselves and families’ survival before burning down schools and looting in the city.