The PM Communications team interviewed General Odongo Jeje, Minister of State Defence of Uganda, and asked him about the security situation in the country and the Armed Forces. General Odongo Jeje spoke about the current political and economic stability of the country and also about the importance of bilateral agreements with other nations in the attainment of security in the country and the region. The economy has been growing and the foreign direct investment increasing because Uganda is probably one of the safeties countries in Africa. National security has been a top priority since HE President Museveni first took office in 1986. How important has the arrival of democracy been, and how are the president and this Ministry working together to preserve the sovereignty of the nation?
It is important to reflect a little back to where we came from. The present government is a product of our liberation struggle from 1981 to 1986. Of course, it goes way back to our colonial time but that is the latest phase. We were struggling for the security mainly of the person and their property. Institutions prior to 1986 did not seem to put emphasis on protecting the human being and their property. They were actually the perpetrators of those goods. Our concern was to restore the dignity of people, and the protection of their property. We also wanted to restore the livelihoods of our people, giving them freedom to decide how to be governed.
When we came to power in 1986, our 10-point program guided us: security, economic and political concerns. In these three major areas, from 1986, we established a system where decisions of governance were made right from the village through the local council system where every member of the village had a saying in how they were governed, and who governed. This climbed ladders to the National Resistance Council. We adapted a multiparty democracy political system, in which people in Uganda are allowed to form political parties to express their aspirations, and to seek the mandate of the people. Since the establishment of multiparty democracy, we now hold two elections, and the third is coming.
We are satisfied by our progress, though it is not perfect. Through elections, the aspirations of people are expressed and represented. It is also important to understand that behind all this, there was the concern of security. None of this would have happened if there wasn’t security. We got state organs into strict control (the army, police and intelligence agencies). This was not smooth. Many groups throughout the country have challenged us. Now, the whole territory of Uganda is at peace. We have law and order issues, but they are not to the extent that they used to be. Generally, there is an atmosphere of security and stability. We are aware of our responsibilities, both internally and beyond. We recognize that the security of Uganda cannot be entirely guaranteed by being within Uganda. In comparison with our neighbours, we have a negative coefficient of defense. That is why we actively seek to engage our neighbors as partners in the security of our country and of the region in general.
Under the East African Community, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, and bilateral relationships, are ensuring the security of the state of Uganda and its people. We continue to engage international organizations like the UN, EU and partners beyond the region. That is why we have relations with the US. As far as security is concerned, our involvement in Somalia is anchored in two legs. One is anchored in our belief in pan-africanism. It is important, as members of the African community, to help one another. We didn’t hesitate on making our contribution to Somalia. What was happening there was a direct threat to the security of Uganda. Insecurity in Somalia, particularly piracy, affected trade into and out of Uganda. That was a serious challenge. And also, terrorism does not know international boundaries. It is a pervasive phenomenon, and we have had to contend it, even before we went into Somalia. We recently engaged the UN to engage elements within the region that continue to perpetrate insecurity. We are familiar with situations that exist in the Central African Republic, in South Sudan, and we recognize that as a threat to our own secutiry and economic well-being. Ugandan trade with South Sudan had a big volume. Therefore, lack of security directly affected us as far as the volume of trade was concerned. What is happening in Kenya is a concern to us because we have significant trade in Kenya. Kenya is our connection to the sea, and therefore, the deterioration of security in Kenya has a direct impact for us. All of these situations are situations that we do not merely watch, but seek to be actively engaged in. We have continuous consultation with our colleagues in Kenya to ensure the situation doesn’t go out of hand. We were invited to South Sudan, but the intergovernmental agency on development has taken a bold step, and is going to deploy in South Sudan, and Uganda will be happy because we are now sure that there is going to be a steady hand. We will happily come back home, and watch the situation from here as it evolves.
That is the situation. Internally, when we came in, the police was an extremely small and weak force. Over the years, we have worked to build a police force that is effective for ensuring internal security. Now, it is significantly in charge of that situation. It is not 100%, but we are comfortable with where we are.
All that we witness did not come on a silver platter; we had to make significant sacrifices: both in terms of manpower and resources. Every country seeks to improve the social welfare of its population. This can only be done by investing in production. The military is not considered a product, it is considered consumption. In 2003, we took a deliberate action, realizing that we were not making significant progress; the government took a unilateral decision of taking away resources from other endeavors and investing them in defense. You were mentioning relationships with bilateral partners. I would like to know about you working closely with the US combating the LRA.
What is important is that, as a developing country, two of our bigger constraints are resources and human capacity (and technical capacity). Our relationship with the US, as far as LRA is concerned, has been extremely helpful. They have technical knowhow, and in the process, we are benefited directly in two ways: one, from the products of the technical knowhow; and second, by way of acquiring the capacities through associations in terms of training. We are a little better off than we were before association. They have been able to provide us with equipment, consumables and direct assistance. It has been an extremely beneficial relationship and we are happy that it is continuing because it continues to improve our capacity.
In fact, our relationship is continuously renewed; we are now in the process of renewing our relationship with the US in a formal manner.Is this one of the main reasons you are attending the summit?
I hope so. Since it is for the whole of Africa, it is the reason we are attending. We would like to share with my colleagues our experiences, and discuss a little further some areas we need to emphasize. One of our first interviews was with the Minister of Security. He said it was important to send a strong message to investors from the US who would like to come here (especially because investment in oil and gas are long term investments). What message of confidence would you send them?
Uganda is an extremely stable state now. We have developed the capacity to be able to contain any insecurity. We think that with the capacity we have acquired, this stability and security is something that can be guaranteed for a foreseeable future. Anybody can be sure that the stability will not be disturbed. As if that were not enough, everybody in other sectors recognizes the need to take advantage of the security and stability, so there is a significant development of other sectors to deliberately demonstrate the advantage that Uganda, as an investment destination, offers.
Part of the problem that worries investors is the tax regime, laws regarding investment, infrastructure on the ground, and having stability and security, our primary concern now is to be able to establish the necessary infrastructure to enable business to be done cheaply. We are investing heavily in road infrastructure, telephony and power resources to enable investors to take advantage of that infrastructure. Obviously, being a landlocked country, cheap access to the sea is a great concern. That is why we are heavily interested and investing in a railway. Under the East African Community, we have the Northern Corridor. If that was not enough, we have significant natural resources. If they are exploited and developed, they can contribute to the development of the country.
You were mentioning the importance of human capital. What makes you proud about your special forces?
From my point of view, I used to be the chief of staff. First, Uganda’s Special Forces are extremely disciplined. Disciplined in the sense that they understand their condition and appreciate the endeavors the leadership makes to improve it. Second, they are extremely resilient. Even with meagre resources, they are capable of achieving significant progress. Because of our level of development, we are not able to provide our soldiers with everything they wish to have, like adequate clothing, or food all the time, but they understand, and they are able to perform with what we are able to provide. Through our polarization programs, they understand what this country is capable of giving them, so they are able to make sacrifices for the sake of their countries. They understand that we require investing in areas that will eventually make their lives better. Third, the military is receptive of new ideas, like technology and training, and hence continuously capable of renewing itself. This is a very important aspect.
The Ugandan population has been very helpful in many ways. One, UPDF is a volunteer army. Now, if the population were not appreciative, certainly, they wouldn’t encourage their children to join the forces. I take my hat off for the population of Uganda. We are very happy about that. Secondly, the population has an interest to wanting to know what goes on in as far as the Ministry is concerned. They are continuously asking, advising and cautioning us (particularly in the area of the relations between the military and the general population). I am very happy that the population has been very supporting. What UPDF has been able to demonstrate, outside Uganda, is a product of all of this: the population, and the type of people in the forces. All that combination has given us what we call the UPDF today.
What image do you think Uganda has now in the international community, and what image would you like to show to the world?
We are very proud that UPDF has been able to put Uganda on the international map. Everybody now knows Uganda through UPDF performance in international missions. We would like the international community to understand us as serious partners, committed partners, in the peace and security around the world. We will play our part if we are asked to, and we would like the international community, particularly in the fight against international terrorism, to join hands with us, and support us. We don’t want to leave this point without saying a big ‘thank you’ to the international community, for the support they have given us. As I mentioned, we may have the manpower, but not the resources. Having resources and manpower is an important thing. If you think of pizza, you think in Italy; if you think of red busses, you think of London. What would you like people to think about when they think about Uganda?
I’d like them to think of a smiling Ugandan.
Kampala, 11 July 2014
PM Communications Team:
Fernando Mora & Belen Buenaventura