The last few days have seen the generals taking center stage to comment or direct the country’s political trajectory ahead of the February 18th poll. The Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura was recently quoted prepping ‘crime preventers’ to fight with guns in case of a war-like situation; Lt. Gen Henry Tumukunde recently helped Ugandans understand that close relationship between the army and the NRM political party from a historical perspective; later on, there came remarks from the Chief of Defense Forces, Gen. Katumba Wamala who re-assured Ugandans about UPDF’s commitment to securing the country amidst heightened poll tensions. And just when I thought I had finished the litany of the drama involving our good-old generals, came a tweet about Gen. David Sejusa’s detention at Makindye Military barracks over some ‘political statements’ he made. All these put together would definitely send mixed messages on the role that security agencies during elections or in partisan politics.
Uganda’s legal regime provides for strict political neutrality of army officers although with prevailing contradictions (in the practical sense). In practice, this means that the army or individuals within the army should not be involved in political activities. Their military status precludes them from participating actively in political meetings, exercise propaganda and campaigning activity in favour of or against political parties or candidates. In the same way, serving officers should ideally not be making public/political statements and pronouncements.
While it is very difficult to adhere to these guiding principles under a political structure where the army is represented in Parliament (and other key political organs of government), it is critical that the army leadership consistently implores members of the force both in practice and by example to remain professional, neutral and non-partisan. This way, security agencies indeed stick to their mandate of maintain safety and security for all the citizens.
Some of the recent statements and actions of members of Uganda’s security agencies have high potential of provoking crimes or can be read through the lenses of threatening violence.
In times like these, it is important to remind everyone that we are in the era of models that emphasize individual accountability. Such models make it rather difficult for individuals to commit and get away with criminal acts. On one hand, we have the doctrine of individual responsibility in which an individual is personally liable for committing crimes. On the other hand, there is the doctrine of command responsibility. A classic example given to explain the doctrine of command responsibility is when Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita was prosecuted by a U.S court for crimes committed by troops under his command during the World War II. In that case, Yamashita was charged with failure to control acts of members of his command and therefore permitting them to commit crimes.
The confluence of these two individual accountability doctrines demonstrates the difficulty there is for those who commit crimes or threaten violence to hide under the banner of collective or institutional responsibility.
The key players in the electoral process – especially the security agencies, candidates and their agents must remember that when the time for accountability comes, criminal acts including acts of threatening violence will be pegged to the respective individuals and not the institutions they represent.
Whereas key players are held responsible for their own actions, they too must know that they are justly blamable for the actions or inactions of their subordinates. Therefore, leaders in different spaces will not in any way shirk accountability or feign ignorance of the crimes committed by those under their command.
Instead of sounding war drums ahead of the February 18th poll, leaders should be re-assuring citizens; all frontrunners should by now be pledging to be more vigilant in ensuring a peaceful election.
As we head to the poll, we must all know that each of us will have to file a personal accountability for our actions or inactions at the end of the day.
Should you use your space to incite violence, provoke illicit behavior, arouse conflict, instigate fear, preside over crimes being committed or be seen not to act against criminalities, then, you will be personally liable for the results.