News that Amama Mbabazi had been fired as prime minister has kept Ugandans’ tongues wagging and finger clicking excitedly since September 19. But for the army and some government units, it has been a week of tension and expecting the worst, as Benon Herbert Oluka amp Edris Kiggundu report…nbsp
A day before former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi was sacked, the UPDF’s elite units were placed on “stand-by class one,” the highest level of military alertness, The Observer has learnt. According to a respected military expert, standby class one is where army units keep in their locations, but are placed at the highest level of combat-readiness in case of any attacks.
Military sources told The Observer that the order was issued through a radio message to all “strategic units” on Thursday, September 18, saying it would be implemented starting Friday, September 19.
Coincidentally, the radio message came into force on the day President Museveni announced officially the removal of his long-time comrade Mbabazi from his senior cabinet position. On the same day, Museveni left the country for the USA, where he attended the United Nations General Assembly.
The UPDF’s strategic units that are on standby class one include the Special Forces Command (SFC), the Armoured Brigade, which is based in Masaka and the Airforce. Others are the UPDF air defence unit in Nakasongola and the field artillery unit in Masindi.
“When the army sends a radio message placing soldiers on standby, the order stands until they send another message telling soldiers to stand down,” said the source, adding that the order was still being implemented by the time we went to press – more than a week after the army issued it.
Although the radio message did not mention the reason for the high alert, sources claimed it was instituted in anticipation of any threats from Mbabazi supporters following his sacking from cabinet. However, UPDF Spokesperson Lt Col Paddy Ankunda denied that strategic units had been placed on standby alert.
“That is a creation,” he said. “I would have known. I read the messages [and] it is not there.”
Mbabazi under siege:
A senior Special Forces Command officer, who declined to comment, argued that placing the UPDF on “standby class one” is routinely done during festive seasons, when Uganda is hosting major events and when the president is out of the country.
“Whenever the president travels out of the country, the forces are put on standby class one,” the officer said.
The heightened security situation has resulted in the army adding another twist to the public fallout between President Museveni and Mbabazi, two close architects of a struggle that started in the early 1970s, which brought Museveni to power and has kept him there for almost 30 years.
A week after Mbabazi was sacked, UPDF soldiers led by the Chief of Staff, Land Forces, Brig Leopold Kyanda, raided his home in Kololo to “collect” the soldiers who had been guarding the former prime minister’s residence. Later, it emerged that two of the guards, Ahmed Baluku and Simon Mawadri, were arrested on arrival at the UPDF base in Bombo.
The home of Mbabazi’s long-time driver, called Sam Matovu, a Warrant Officer II in the UPDF, was also searched at 2am on Friday. Lt Col Ankunda declined to comment on the fate of the arrested soldiers.
“I have no position yet on their situation,” he said.
The army has also played a more public role in the past week, with senior officers such as Brig Kyanda and Brig Charles Otema Awany, the chief of logistics and engineering, present during Friday’s announcement of plans to welcome President Museveni from the USA.
Sources also told The Observer that Mbabazi is currently under 24-hour surveillance, with the state monitoring his activities to analyse the next moves of the besieged 65-year-old NRM secretary general. Security circles have been awash with rumours that Mbabazi could flee the country, just like former FDC President Kizza Besigye did in 2001.
On Saturday, Mbabazi released a brief statement on his social media page, saying: “I understand that there are people out there who make it their business to peddle falsehoods. I am in Uganda and have no intention of ‘fleeing’ the country for any reason whatsoever.”
Fear in public service:
Meanwhile, tension, fear and panic have engulfed the public service and government departments over an anticipated purge of people perceived to be sympathetic to Mbabazi, The Observer has learnt. Close confidants of Mbabazi and public officials, who requested for anonymity, told The Observer over the weekend that the purge would likely affect ministries where the prime minister worked or government departments where he held some g sway.
During his 28 years of service in government, Mbabazi worked as director general of External Security Organisation (1986-1992), minister of state for Defence (1992-1997), minister of state in the office of the president for Political Affairs (1997-1998), minister of state for Regional Affairs (1998-2001), minister of Defence (2001-2006), Attorney General (2004 -2006), minister of Security (2006-2011) and as prime minister (2011-2014).
“It [the purge] is not formal. But people are worried that they will be sacked simply because they worked closely with Mbabazi… and some of our bosses are overenthusiastic. They want to show Museveni that he is the only person [in NRM] they pay allegiance to,” said an official in one of the government departments.
The official told us that some people might end up losing their jobs while others might be shifted to less influential positions. The tension is most palpable in the intelligence organisations (ISO and ESO), sources told us. As the fallout between President Museveni and Mbabazi became apparent after the Kyankwanzi retreat, sources told us, it became almost fashionable to write briefs detailing Mbabazi’s alleged mobilisation activities.
Our source claimed that intelligence officers who questioned the validity of these reports were labelled Mbabazi sympathisers and are now living in fear. Some have had to declare their loyalty to Museveni before their bosses. Others have become more careful and have been forced to change their after-work routine.
They are cautious about the places they go to, what they say or the people they meet. Some now carry multiple phones and Sim cards, for fear of their phones being tapped. Similar tensions obtain in some government-owned media organisations, especially the electronic media. Sources claimed that the current re-organisation at Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, for instance, is aimed at neutralising suspected pro-Mbabazi forces.
In the changes made last week by the board, the former UBC TV manager, Tony Geoffrey Owana, was demoted to head of Political Programmes and replaced with Doreen Ndeezi. Sources told us that Owana is a suspected pro-Mbabazi person. But UBC said in a statement released on Friday that the changes were normal.
“… The management is in the process of refocusing the UBC network into an efficient business unit. In order to achieve this interim goal the management has deemed it appropriate to make some changes… As we draw closer to the 2016 elections, Mr Tony Geoffrey Owana has now been transferred to head all political programmes for the UBC network.
UBC TV shall now be managed by Doreen Ndeezi… With these new changes, the public should expect UBC to provide them with quality programmes aimed at educating, entertaining and informing the general public,” the statement read in part.
Even heads of government departmentsinstitutions, believed to have been seconded by Mbabazi to their jobs, are having sleepless nights, a source told us. Some are worried that they could lose their jobs others especially in media-related institutions are trying to outdo themselves to prove their loyalty to Museveni.
A minister who requested to speak under anonymity told us that this perception [that there are pro-Mbabazi ministers] also exists in cabinet, adding that it was largely a creation of the media. But the minister doubted whether Museveni would use this as a basis to fire a cabinet member.
“A minister’s role is to execute his tasks assigned to him or her by the president. If you do your work well, I don’t think you have to get worried about being sacked,” the minister said.
A senior army officer told The Observer at the weekend that the dramatic withdrawal of Mbabazi’s army guards on September 25 had attracted mixed reactions, especially about the way it was carried out.
“There was no need to call the media [or] for all that deployment. For what?” the officer asked. “This has given free publicity to Mbabazi.”
Source : The Observer