In a move that could shake President Museveni’s tight control of the army, a group of MPs and a political activist have petitioned the East African Court of Justice, accusing the president of personalizing management of the UPDF.
The petitioners have particularly challenged Museveni’s recent army promotions that brought Gen Katumba Wamala and a host of fresh faces to the top of the UPDF leadership.
The petitioners are MPs Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda (Kyadondo East), Hassan Kaps Fungaroo (Obongi), Paul Mwiru (Jinja Municipality East) and FDC National Vice Chairman Patrick Baguma Ateenyi.
In their petition filed on Wednesday, they claim that the recent appointments, reshuffles and promotions of UPDF officers by President Museveni were done without the involvement and participation of the Army Commissions Board and are “contrary to the UPDF Act 7 [of 2005] and inconsistent with and an infringement of Articles 6 (c) and (d), 7 (2), 8 (1) and 123 of the East African Treaty.”
If the East African court upholds the petition, the Army Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Edward Katumba Wamala, his deputy Maj Gen Charles Angina, Maj Gen Fred Mugisha (head of national counter terrorism centre), Brig Wilson Mbadi (Joint Chief of Staff), Brig David Muhoozi (commander, Land forces) and Brig Samuel Turyagyenda (commander, Air force) could lose their jobs and ranks.
According to the petition, which The Observer has seen, Gen Kale Kayihura (Inspector General of Police), Brig Joseph Ssemwanga (Commander Armoured Brigade), Brig Augustine Kyazze (Chief of Logistics and Engineering), Brig Francis Chemonges (Commandant War Fare Training School), Col James Birungi (acting Chief of Staff Air Forces) and Brig Deus Sande (attached to Amisom) are the other officers who could lose their ranks on the order of court.
“In the past, the president has continuously promoted UPDF officers contrary to the UPDF Act, 2005, bypassing the Commissions Board and had even promoted officers already in retirement. The applicant shall adduce evidence of UPDF officers previously promoted by the President/Commander-in-Chief, contrary to the UPDF Act, 2005 including those in retirement,” the 13-page petition to the East African Court of Justice reads in part.
The petition was filed through lawyers Nyanzi, Kiboneka & Mbabazi Advocates and Rwakafuuzi & Co Advocates. The MPs have challenged government and they want the Attorney General Peter Nyombi to explain what they call “irregularities in the promotion of UPDF officers by President Museveni”.
When contacted, one of the lawyers, Mohamed Mbabazi confirmed that he and other lawyers had indeed filed the petition at the regional court’s Division One in Arusha, Tanzania.
“The reference is filed as No. 6|2013 in the East African Court of Justice,” he said.
Attorney General Peter Nyombi yesterday declined to comment about the case, whose hearing date is yet to be set.
However, UPDF spokesperson Paddy Ankunda told The Observer the petitioners were wasting time.
“The president has the powers to appoint or promote any officer,” he said.
The MPs also argue that the Special Forces Command (SFC) that protects the president is not legal.
“There is a service of the UPDF called Special Forces Command commanded by Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the son of the President/Commander-in-Chief, which service is not established in accordance with the law,” the petition states.
The petitioners argue that the SFC is well-equipped and has a higher strength than the statutory land and air services.
“In effect, the land and air services of the UPDF, as components of the Uganda defence and security forces, are there in name with nothing but hollow and empty as against the Special Forces Command,” the petition reads.
The petitioners say they embarked on their research after Museveni announced reshuffles and promotions of UPDF officers between May 25 and June 5, 2013. They found that the president had usurped the powers of the Commissions Board, as prescribed by law.
“Promotions are made without officers undertaking courses and doing promotion examinations as prescribed under Section 20 of the UPDF Act, 2005,” the petition alleges.
The petitioners also argue that the appointment of the Chairman of the General Court Martial was made by the President/Commander-in-Chief and not the High Command as required under Section 197 of the UPDF Act, 2005.
“The President/Commander-in-Chief discharges and/or dismisses officers of the UPDF instead of the Commissions Board under Section 20 of the UPDF Act, 2005 and Defence Forces Council under Sections 65 and 67 of the UPDF Act, 2005 by appointing officers of the UPDF to political offices that cannot be held by UPDF officers,” the petition states.
The MPs also want court to establish the possibility that there is a service of the UPDF established (alongside and parallel to the statutory services of the land and air forces) by the Commander-in-Chief for “his personal political goals that is not prescribed by Parliament under Section 3 of the UPDF Act, 2005.”
The petitioners also want court to declare Gen Caleb Akandwanaho alias Salim Saleh’s committee, recently set up by Museveni to scrutinise the retirement of army officers, null and void. They argue that Saleh’s committee “is constituted illegally to usurp the duties and functions of the Commissions Board and the Uganda defence council contrary to the UPDF Act, 2005.”
To anchor their arguments, the petitioners say they “shall apply and seek for a full disclosure of all documents including minutes of meetings, operational orders, directives and orders, letters, taxes, e-mails and all other forms of correspondence, notes, tape recordings, photographs, electronic data, website and other publications, as well as SMS and phone records as evidence in support of the applicants’ reference.”
Petitioners want court “to declare the acts in question as a breach or an infringement of the Treaty provisions viz Articles, 5, 6, 7 and 123 of the Treaty for Establishment of the East African Community (herein after referred to as “the Treaty”) as amended.”
The petitioners argue that these “impugned acts” by Museveni are inconsistent with Article 99 and the Presidential Oath in the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution and by extension infringe Articles 5, 6, 7 and 123 of the East African Community Treaty.
The petitioners, argue that: “The creation of the Special Forces Command (purportedly for the protection of the presidency) as a service force under the UPDF parallel to the statutory service forces amounts to raising an armed force by the President/Commander-in-Chief as a Praetorian guard or Elite Protection guards for absolute rulers and despots.”
The Praetorian Guard was a force of bodyguards used by Roman emperors.
However, the sticking point in all this is whether the East African Court of Justice can give a verdict that member states can respect. Is the petition a waste of time?
The Observer talked to Makerere University law don, Prof Fredrick Jjuuko, who argues that the judgements of the court are binding on member states and that the regional court helps in weeding out the bias that local judiciaries tend to exhibit when dealing with political cases.
“The court helps a great deal. Its main jurisdiction is to interpret the treaty. However, of late its mandate has extended to human rights and democratic issues,” he said.