About 33 years ago, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni captured power after a five-year endeavour, mainly in the central parts of the east African country.
His ragtag fighters, some barefooted, marched onto the streets of the capital Kampala to the jubilation of most of the civilians who had witnessed lawlessness since the 1971 coup by military strongman Idi Amin.
The Museveni fighters, then called National Resistance Army and now Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), have metamorphosed into a professional army that is engaged in foreign missions especially in parts of Africa that have had devastating conflicts.
The country’s deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah on Tuesday launched the annual “Tarehe Sita” activities to commemorate the formation of the force. The activities that will run up to Feb. 6, the day the force was formed 38 years ago, include among others, renovation of schools, cleaning of streets and free medical camps.
The activities are carried out by all troops including those on foreign missions, for instance, the peacekeeping troops in Somalia.
President Yoweri Museveni, on Monday, said the UPDF’s foreign missions are based on its patriotism and pan-africanism ideology.
“We have since built a professional army and got Uganda back on the path of progress. With an annual budget of 439 million U.S. dollars, our army has not only secured Uganda but we support some peace efforts in the region,” Museveni said.
Adolf Mwesige, minister of defense and veteran affairs, while speaking at the launch of the commemoration activities, said the UPDF is now a force to reckon with in Africa.
Uganda, in 2007, deployed its troops in Somalia under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Uganda was among the first African countries to deploy its troops in the lawless Horn of African country under the auspices of AMISOM.
The Ugandan military is an important part of the 22,000 strong AU force deployed in Somalia. Part of its troops in Somalia were also deployed as the United Nations Guard Unit, where it provides protection services to the UN. “We have a lot of demand from the UN to participate in peacekeeping missions across the world but of course we cannot over stretch our capacity,” Mwesige said.
The UPDF, according to Muhoozi, at the invitation of the South Sudan government, protected key installations in the capital Juba in late 2013 after fighting broke out between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar.
The military also rescued some Ugandans who were caught up in the fighting. “We do not only maintain peace and stability here but when occasion demands, we do help in exporting peace,” he said.
The Ugandan military is also part of the East African Standby Force, a regional force under the auspices of the AU that can be deployed in the region to restore peace in case a conflict breaks out.
Although the UPDF has played a stabilising role both in the region and internally, there are new threats that observers say must be addressed, including the unprecedented level of youth unemployment. Oulanyah said there are many unemployed youths in the capital Kampala who could engage in criminal activities. He said the youths can easily join any protest because most of them lack what to do.
Oulanyah added that Corruption continues to be a threat in government departments. President Museveni has recently deployed a military officer Edith Nakalema to lead the anti-corruption unit. The unit based at State House is charged with providing support to other government anti-corruption agencies.