Under estimating the enemy is the biggest mistake in war. As Kenyans push their failed government into retaking Migingo island from Uganda’s military, it is important to reflect on the strengths of the enemy.
Kenyans still believe that today’s Ugandan military is the same rag-tag guerrilla force defeated by Administration Police in Western Kenya back in the 1980s. The reality is very different.
The Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) is a battle-hardened outfit of at least 45,000 soldiers well armed with artillery, tanks and combat aircraft. The Kenyan military consists of roughly the same number of personnel spread out across the Army, Navy and Airforce but without combat experience.
Since its birth as the National Resistance Army, the UPDF has engaged in fierce warfare within and outside Uganda. UPDF has put down almost all the armed groups that roamed Uganda after the overthrow of Idi Amin in 1979. At the moment, war is raging against Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army (LRA) but the bulk of the fighting is in the Democratic Republic of Congo after the UPDF chased Kony away from northern Uganda and Southern Sudan.
The UPDF has fought in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where it vanquished rebels of the Allied Democratic Front (ADF). However, the UPDF was sucked into the Congo wars where the United Nations accuses them of looting Congo’s abundant minerals and timber. At the moment, the Congolese Army (FARDC) has joined the UPDF in a joint operation against the LRA. UPDF aircraft have fired explosives into suspected LRA camps though the rebels had already deserted the outposts.
UPDF is part of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) where, together with Burundian soldiers, they have helped sustain the Transitional Federal Government against the onslaught of insurgents. In Iraq, retired UPDF soldiers have gotten jobs as security officers in the US led coalition.
In contrast, the Kenyan military has not engaged in major combat operations since the Shifta Wars of the 1960s – 1970s. Shiftas were bandits fighting for the secession of the Somali-dominated North Eastern Province. Since then, there has not been any rebel activity in Kenya until the Sabaot Land Defence Force emerged in 2006.
Operations against the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF) were the first counter-insurgency experience for Kenya’s military since the Shifta Wars. However, the conduct of the Army certainly did not win hearts and minds for the government. The operation was so ruthless that accusations of human rights abuses are rife. People were abducted from homes and tortured because of mere allegations of supporting SLDF.
The Kenya Army dubbed its successful anti-SLDF campaign “Operation Okoa Maisha” (Operation Save Lives) but locals have described it as “Operation Haribu Maisha Kabisa” (Operation Destroy Lives). It is said that so many men disappeared that Mount Elgon District is now dominated by women, who are either widows or caregivers to broken men.
Back in the 1980s, the Administration Police fought back several incursions by Ugandan soldiers. This time though, Kenya’s armed forces may not be up to the task. Infact, the annexation of Migingo Island and the growth of piracy on the Indian Ocean are proof that all is not well with our national defences.
Recruitment into the forces is marred by corruption and political interference, meaning that the calibre of recruits is very low. Qualified candidates are shunted aside in favour of those willing to pay hefty bribes to recruiting officers. Even after joining the forces, promotions in the hierarchy are heavily influenced by corruption and ethnicity.
The situation in the police and prisons services is reportedly worse than in the military. An investigation into Kenya Prisons found that female officers had to sleep with senior bosses in order to get promotions. In the Kenya Police, traffic police offices collect bribes from drivers in order to fulfill a daily quota imposed by their supervisors. Those who fail to deliver their targets are transferred to less lucrative postings in the rural areas.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has sent the UPDF to all of Uganda’s neighbours except Tanzania. Museveni is a calculating, former rebel leader who exploits weaknesses in his neighbours to expand Uganda’s influence. With Kenyans divided on ethnic lines and ruled by corrupt leaders, Museveni must have realized that this is the best time to strike.
By occupying the small island of Migingo, Museveni was testing Kenya’s political and military defences. Next time, the catch will be bigger and it will be too late for Kenya to defend itself.
Filed under: Analysis, Politics Tagged: | administration police, corruption, kampala, kenya, Kenya Army, lake victoria, Lords Resistance Army, LRA, migingo, mwai kibaki, nairobi, Uganda, uganda peoples defence forces, UPDF, yoweri museveni