Gen. Aronda, who only a month ago said the army would respect whoever wins the 2011 presidential election, on Friday made comments that suggested that his position may have changed.
“We liberated this country in 1986 and we will not allow bad characters from coming back to power,” Gen. Aronda said at Mubende Military Rehabilitation Center (MMRC). “We will fight all these forces.”
Gen. Aronda did not explain what he meant by “bad characters” or “these forces”, both politically charged statements that clearly, are at odds with public comments recently attributed to him.
It is unlawful for officers and men of the UPDF to make divisive political statements or participate in active politics.
Opposition Forum for Democratic Change President Dr Kizza Besigye and former Internal Security Organisation Director General Brig. Henry Tumukunde have before been in trouble for making political statements – for what the Commander-In-Chief likes to define as “speaking in the wrong forum”.
Before his latest statements, Gen. Aronda had said at a Makerere University function for the National Guild Presidents’ Council that the army would stay out of partisan politics as required by law. The army chief said the UPDF would support any candidate who wins the 2011 general election, even if it was not President Yoweri Museveni, the commander in chief of the UPDF.
At MMRC, Gen. Aronda was addressing 222 UPDF officers and men who included graduands in tailoring, brick-laying, motor vehicle mechanics, agriculture and computer science and rehabilitated officers awaiting redeployment and promoted officers.
Gen. Aronda said plans were underway to make it compulsory for UPDF officers to undertake political science courses at the Kaweweta-Ngoma School of Political Science before deployment.
“We want to ensure that the people who are going to operate our guns are politically right,” Gen. Aronda said, after graduating officers sang songs in praise of Mr Museveni while also doing the thumbs-up sign to declare their support for his ruling NRM party.
The UPDF evolved from the National Resistance Army, the guerilla outfit that brought Mr Museveni to power in 1986. Mr Museveni, who recently ended his tour of eastern Uganda and is currently in south-western district of Kanungu, says he will accept his party’s nomination to run for president in 2011.
Dr Besigye, Mr Museveni’s main challenger in the last two elections who is spearheading a united opposition ahead of the 2011 polls, has also said he would accept his party’s nomination to run for president. Asked about Gen. Aronda’s statements, Electoral Commission chief Badru Kiggundu declined, said , “Ask (Gen. Aronda) for a comment.”
Conservative Party chief John Ken Lukyamuzi, who has signed a protocol for cooperation with at least three other opposition parties as the 2011 electoral cycle draws closer, said Gen. Aronda’s statements are “unconstitutional”.
“He must stand warned that that kind of talk…has outlived its usefulness,” Mr Lukyamuzi said yesterday. “No matter how strong you are… there are greater global forces that can fight you beyond the ordinary.”
Mr Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a Makerere University historian, said Gen Aronda’s statements were “dangerous”. “Who will define bad people? Because they are going to allocate themselves the responsibility of defining who is good and who is bad, the criteria will be biased,” Mr Ndebesa said. “They are ready to interfere in the civil politics of this country,” he said.
Uganda’s general elections have consistently been marred by violence. Human rights activists, the opposition and the Supreme Court condemned the army’s involvement in elections.
In the run-up to the 2006 polls, Lt. Ramathan Magara of the UPDF shot into a crowd of Dr Besigye’s supporters at Mengo, instantly killing three and injuring several others. He never went on trial and remains a free man.
The 2001 presidential election had been given notoriety by the involvement of the Kalangala Action Plan, a quasi-military outfit run by Maj. Kakooza Mutale, which reportedly beat up opposition supporters and earned the condemnation of human rights activists.
Ironically, one of Mr Museveni’s 2001 re-election themes was a promise to professionalise the army, even though he famously warned Dr Besigye to keep off the army after the retired colonel claimed he had 90 per cent support in the UPDF.