To enforce the presidential lockdown restrictions, the army deployed its strategic auxiliary force; the Local Defence Unit, at most checkpoints and night foot patrols.
Some LDU men and women often used sheer brute force; they beat, shot, maimed and killed people, sparking an outpouring of public condemnation.
Faced with a sobering hurdle, the army last week quietly recalled the LDUs from the streets, ostensibly to retrain them. Interviewed last week by Yudaya Nangozi, UPDF spokesman BRIG RICHARD KAREMIRE explains why the strategic auxiliary force was recalled and why it cannot be disbanded despite loud public outcries.
Has the UPDF withdrawn or disbanded LDU personnel?
We don’t intend to disband LDUs because they are our strategic auxiliary force that forms part of our reserves. Our doctrine is to have a small well-equipped force backed by a big reserve.
So, LDUs have been with us for a long time and done a very good tremendous job. We have fought alongside them in northern Uganda to end the LRA and other insurgencies in the Teso region. We have LDUs in Karamoja region and [they] have done a good job during the disarmament campaign. Generally, we have peace and stability in Northern Uganda.
This peace is unprecedented because we have not had peace in Uganda for almost the last so many years. There’s no doubt that these LDUs have made a significant contribution to building this peace. The LDUs were involved in the distribution of food. Although the food did not go to everyone, after all, it wasn’t meant for every household, they benefited from the work of LDUs.
The public is still concerned about their ruthlessness while on duty
Like any human being, these brothers and sisters are not angels. There have been issues with a few LDUs but matters are always amplified and you may think that all the thousands of LDUs have been involved in committing mistakes. We have more than 12,000 LDUs but the public interprets things differently.
There’s no day we have quietly punished LDUs. The media is always invited. In the field, LDUs are commanded by the UPDF. When they make any mistakes, we deal with them according to the laws provided for in the UPDF Act. Indeed, a good number of them have appeared before our units’ disciplinary committee, division and general court-martials.
We don’t condone their mistakes because impunity has never been part of the UPDF. We have meted out harsh punishments to these LDUs and a good number of them have appeared before court. One LDU even got a life sentence! That’s a clear sign that we do not overlook any acts of indiscipline. We shall continue to educate, correct, punish, and intensify training and ideological orientation for our LDUs. We know some people don’t like political education but it has worked very well and will remain one of our vaccines in building a professional force.
Does this imply some LDUs have already been enrolled for the police-taught public order management course?
That’s not true. None of the LDUs have started retraining yet because they are still deployed in different locations. I know the training will soon take place in a phased manner.
A sizeable force will be committed to patrols, protection of key security installations including factories as the rest start retraining. LDUs will be retrained in a wide range of things including; political education, fresh military training, and human rights. During day or night time, LDUs are still operating covertly and overtly depending on the environment.
I know the public display of LDUs is important to deter thieves but we have not abandoned those modes of operation. The LDUs are still fully operational and to those who don’t want them, it’s bad news for them.
Has UPDF bowed to public pressure to review the deployment of LDUs?
With the easing of the lockdown, the situation has now changed. We have had an internal review of their deployment – the reason many people will say they no longer see them on checkpoints. However, this does not mean that LDUs have gone away because they are still needed and enforcement continues.
LDUs will continue to engage in joint patrols with other security agencies. This change of deployment strategy is going to give us an opportunity to have them re-trained since they are part of our defense security architecture. Security forces have faced one challenge that our people are not used to restrictions because they have enjoyed freedom for a long time.
So, any restrictions imposed on them, even for the purpose of their life, they feel it’s an inconvenience and a violation of their rights. In this process, people have had friction with security forces. However, the crime rate in the Kampala Metropolitan area is extremely low compared to the times before LDUs were deployed. The police have good data to back this. I am sure even people feel they are safer today.
President Museveni said LDUs would operate in their villages. Why are they deployed outside their villages?
The initial mission has since changed. During that time, the mission was to deal with crime in villages. Today, we are dealing with broad enforcement of Covid-19 measures. This meant that LDUs needed to spread out more across the country. That said, UPDF is a national force that should be able to serve in every part of the country no matter where one is deployed.
When one was recruited, for instance in Masaka, it does not mean you will secure only residents of Masaka. That is wrong because it goes against the patriotism we impart in our forces. So, LDUs should be able to operate anywhere they are deployed.
LDUs are subjected to six-month training. Is this period enough to give a former civilian a gun?
When I joined the forces many years ago, I was not trained for even four months. However, I had the basic skills to handle a gun and deal with any situation.
In the army, training is a continuous process depending on the need. We have never said the six- month LDU training was enough. They trained for that period because they needed to respond to a situation that was prevalent at the time. With more resources and time, LDUs will definitely undergo more training.
During the recruitment process, the minimum and maximum qualifications were P7 and S4 certificates, respectively. What happened to graduates that were identified after passout?
If you were recruited as an LDU, you have to perform that duty regardless of your qualification. For graduates that offered themselves, you should not be disgruntled to serve under the unit. This implies that you weren’t a good person from the start. If we made clear the required qualifications for LDUs, you cannot come up now and say you’re a graduate but serving as an LDU.
LDUs earn Shs 200,000 monthly. Out of that, Shs 20,000 is sent to the UPDF-led Wazalendo Sacco. Is the remaining balance enough for them to live decently?
First of all, contributing money to Wazalendo is voluntary. However, we always do financial literacy for our forces and the only way to boost our welfare is by saving. I don’t know how much you can pay someone monthly to live a comfortable life but we are paying our LDUs. We fully understand that no one is earning enough money though it’s true they need more money.
We are competing with other national priorities and not all resources will be channelled toward us when the country doesn’t have good roads, dams, and drugs in hospitals. When we do our job of securing the country, more investors will be attracted into the country. This will translate into increased revenue through taxes.
So, such an environment will get our salaries exponentially increased with time. For now, LDUs get only Shs 200,000 but are given free meals, accommodation, medical care, dressed in uniform, and our army schools for their children to study free of charge. When you calculate all these fringe benefits, government spends more than Shs 200,000 monthly on each LDU.
Is the UPDF comfortable with this pay or pushing for better remuneration?
As long as the resource envelope is not favorable, however much you negotiate for better pay, you won’t have it. Whenever we appear before the parliamentary committee on defence, we always request for increased resources but we shall progressively become better. There are times when we didn’t get payment for some good years but we stayed humble and served.
I don’t think there are Ugandans who have sacrificed for this country like us in the security forces. Every day, we see this situation improve for the better.
Talk about cases of extortion by LDUs during the lockdown...
These are individual bad manners of an LDU asking money from civilians. In some cases, even before an LDU asks for money, people easily give money and that is wrong as well. Once a case of extortion is not reported, there’s no way we can take it on. We encourage people to report any such incidents so that appropriate action is taken.
Why are LDUs always holding big sticks, the size of hoe handles, to clobber people while enforcing Covid-19 measures?
Definitely, that is wrong because LDUs are not supposed to carry those big sticks. There are certain type of sticks [batons] recommended and normally carried by law enforcement agencies to subdue those who resist arrest.
Those big sticks are individually hand-picked by LDUs because they think they are the easiest tools they can use against an errant civilian instead of using a gun. However, their commandants are supposed to check what they carry with them during deployment but this could be a weakness because our standing operating procedures do not dictate carrying big sticks to the field. The big sticks will be revised and their commandants will take charge.
It’s two years since LDUs were recruited. Do you have any LDU deserters?
To the best of my knowledge, I have not heard of any. But desertion happens in security like in other sectors. There could be some cases but I am not aware of any particular case.
Your message to the public….
The LDUs have done a great job and there’s no doubt about that. We should not make a mistake of lumping them together to demonise them.
The best way is always to separate the bad from the good. It is absolutely wrong to give a blanket condemnation of the LDUs to the extent of forgetting the good things they have done for us. As the leadership that commands them, we know how to deal with errant members of the security forces and there’s no need to despair because we are still in charge of the situation.
The public should know that confrontations with security forces can be avoided because most of the incidents involve people abusing Covid-19 measures like riding on boda bodas.