The recent reports of UPDF soldiers invading a police post and releasing their colleagues may be stained the image of the country’s force. But the Uganda People’s Defense Forces is largely a peaceful and patriotic army with an unflinching focus and determination to protect the peace in Ugandans against internal and external threats.
During an exclusive interview with this reporter, the UPDF Spokesperson, Brigadier Felix Kulayigye highlighted some of the achievements of the UPDF last year 2022 as well as the strategies for 2023.
Fight against cattle rustling in Karamoja
Brig. Kulayigye observed that there has been tremendous progress in curbing the menace of cattle rustling in the Karamoja sub-region.
He said: “We have made tremendous progress in Karamoja. Since its inception on July 2021, the Karamoja operation referred to as USALAMA KWA WOTE is progressing well under the command of Brigadier Joseph Balikuddembe.
Several guns and thousands of ammunitions have been recovered from illegal hands. According to Brig. Kulayigye, they have managed to recover 683 guns and more than 40,000 head of cattle through operation USALAMA KWA WOTE.
In addition to recovering guns, the operation has led to the arrest and prosecution of several suspects. Some have been sentenced by the 3rd Division Court Martial while others were handled by relevant civilian courts. If you go to Karamoja now you will realize that life is back to normal although there are still some thefts of one, two or four cows.
According to Brigadier Kulayigye, another operation where the UPDF scored highly in the year 2022 was in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where they ventured, with permission from Congo government, to pursue ADF rebels at source.
Commanded at first by Lieutenant General Kayanja Muhanga and later by Major General Dick Olum, the UPDF was able to estroy all key bases of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) from their hideouts in Congo forcing the remnants to split into smaller groups. According to Kulayigye, many were killed in battle while others were captured or surrendered after being over-powered by the mighty UPDF.
“Some of them crossed into Uganda with a hope of hiding and operating from here, but did not find any place to rest on either because our intelligence-led forces followed them up and continue picking them up. I am sure you heard the story of Matugga, Luweero and Mityana plus that of Ntoroko” said Brig. Kulayigye.
He added that operation Shujja in Congo was among the best and successful programs of the UPDF in the year 2022. Apart from destroying the Command and structures of the terrorists, we cleared the way that enabled almost all internally displaced Congolese and some refugees to safely return to their family homes in Congo.
Several Children were also rescued and reunited with their parents both in DRC and Uganda. Kulayigye went further to heap praise on their UPDF operations in Ntoroko and Bundibugyo areas where several ADF rebels were either captured, killed or forced to surrender when they were over-powered by UPDF troops.
“As a result of the UPDF success, the entire Rwenzori Sub Region is now very peaceful and stable,” said Kulayigye. Everybody enjoyed Christmas and New Year Festivities from either home or place of preferred choice because nobody is in hiding as a result of insecurity.
Kulayigye sought to clarify about the two operations in the eastern part of Congo. One against ADF and the other against the M23 group. According to Kulayigye, both have suffered the wrath of the UPDF but at varying intensity.
Kylayigye said that although the primary focus of the UPDF was to right ADF, the “M23 became our target when they attempted to destroy the road network in Bunagana and also displacing thousands of Congolese who became refugees in Uganda thus causing a financial constraint on Uganda. Otherwise, the M23 is an issue of the Congo Government and the Regional Forces.”
He disclosed that being a national army for an East African member state, UPDF has a contingent that is currently deployed in DRC to stabilize the country.
He said the UPDF troops are in Ituri Region while Kenya Defence Forces are in North Kivu while South Kivu is being occupied by Burundi troops.
“Our role is to ensure that all the negative forces in Ituri are disarmed and suppressed,” said Kulayigye.
Talking about Somalia, Kulayigye noted with pride that the people of Somalia were far better off in 2022 as compared to previous years since 2007 when Uganda decided to engage in the peace operation.
The first day our troops arrived at Mogadishu Airport in January 2007 it was hell and one could only move with a bullet proof plus other defensive equipments.
It was just hell and lifeless at Mogadishu. Not many countries were willing to deploy their troops to Somalia and that is a reason why the initial contingents were UPDF and Burundi troops. But since then and to be specific, by December 2022, the number of peace forces has grown to include Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti. The Initial mission’s mandate of peace-keeping has also been revised to one of a transition mission known as Africa Union Transition in Somalia [ATMIS].
Kulayigye says ATMIS has a clear mandate to fully implement the Somalia Transition Plan [STP] which details the handover of security responsibilities from the Peace Keeping Forces to the Somali National Army.
“Currently we are training and mentoring the Somali army and police forces in Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya and we are preparing them to take full charge of their National Security in the near future.
“Last year, Members of the Parliamentary Committee on Defense and Internal Affairs visited Somalia to assess the progress and operations of the UPDF. We held talks with several stakeholders including the force commanders in Somalia and our Members of Parliament were satisfied with the progress towards restoring law and order in Somalia.
“The Ugandan MPs were very happy and have pledged to increase funding towards UPDF Operations in such peace missions,” said Kulayigye who was a member of the visiting team then. He further noted that Mogadishu is now booming with business and encouraged Ugandans to take advantage of the stability and fly there to make money.
Brigadier Kulayigye dismissed as mere propaganda by disgruntled persons, who claim that UPDF is becoming an occupational force in Somalia.
He explained that the UPDF deployment into Somalia was fully approved by all relevant organs for such operations. They include Uganda’s Parliament, the host Somali Authority, the African Union, United Nations Security Council and the European Union among others.
Beyond combat and peace-keeping operations, the UPDF has played other functions in helping to protect natural resources such as the fight against illegal fishing.
Kulayigye observed that despite challenges, the marine forces and other support teams have managed to restore the once depleted fish stocks in the country’s major water bodies.
Most Lakes and water bodies had run out of fish forcing more than fifteen factories to close down thus creating unemployment. ”As we speak fish is back on market and the industry is flourishing,” said Kulayigye.
Focusing on the year 2023, Kulayigye said they are fully prepared to consolidate what they have so far achieved and go further to supplement Governments programs such as operation wealth creation, strengthening information, communication and technology [ICT], agriculture, and the recently introduced Parish Development Model [PDM] among others.
The Author Henry Baguma works with UBC Radio