It is a few minutes to 6pm on a Thursday afternoon and as the sun is setting, I arrive at the flashy Mbuya hill, the headquarters of the Ministry of Defence overlooking the panoramic Lake Victoria on the side of Luzira.
As I arrive, at the place’s ceremonial grounds, I notice something unusual- officers seem to be relocating some items from one of the offices at the White House, the offices of the Chief of the Defence Forces.
Some officer whispers to me that Gen David Muhoozi, the Chief of Defence Forces was clearing his desk after President Museveni, who is also the commander in chief, had appointed a new CDF, Gen Wilson Mbadi.
Shortly, Gen Muhoozi’s Aide De Camp(ADC) arrives and asks that we prepare for the interview with his boss and a few minutes later, he(Muhoozi) arrives.
“I wouldn’t want to blow my own trumpet. The jury is out there with the rank and file of the UPDF and also with our leaders to talk about our achievements,” Gen Muhoozi begins the interview as he recounts his journey of four and a half years in charge of the Ugandan Army.
“I don’t want to come here and start to say I did this or the other. After all, I worked with other people and it was not my achievements. I was just the team leader. I think it is up to the rank and file to say what we did together during the last four and a half years.”
Gen Muhoozi, is however quick to point out that he is leaving behind a better force in terms of both quality and quantity.
“Since I came into office, we have worked on many aspects of force improvement in terms of quality and in terms of numbers because of the challenges of national security. I think am leaving behind a better force both in quality and quantity.”
The trained lawyer who once served as a defence counsel in the army court says that after appointment to be in charge of the UPDF, there are things he set to work on in the army.
He says that whereas his predecessors had worked on the training bit of the army, his main focus was welfare of the men and women in the UPDF.
“My predecessors worked on training areas. I have added my brick on working spaces. We have done seven brigade headquarters and these come with a hospital, commander’s house, storage and other basic infrastructure,” he says.
Gen Muhoozi mentions homes in the 403-brigade in Matany Sub County, Napak District, Pajim(5th division), Palaro(fourth division) and Kakyomya in Kabarole constructed during his tenure.
In 2018, groundbreaking was done for the UPDF National Referral Hospital and the facility has since taken shape.
Constructed from funds which are part of savings made out of reimbursements to Uganda by the United Nations for the country’s wear and tear of its equipment in Somalia under the AMISOM, the shs123 billion state of the art facility will have a capacity of 250 beds.
The outgoing CDF said the flagship hospital constructed during his reign is almost complete and that had it not been for the Covid pandemic, by September, it would be opened.
“It is our hidden treasure and is about to be completed. Equipment for it has been ordered. What remains to be done is identifying staffing aspects but will serve both the UPDF and the wider public,” he says.
“We have thankfully done the preparatory work for the National Defence College, signed off the contract for acquisition of premises in Njeru, put in place directing staff and school leadership under Gen Francis Okello and even the maiden student team selected,” he says.
Gen Muhoozi says he hopes the new team will ignite the process.
The outgoing Chief of Defence Forces boasted of having led the UPDF to augment Police efforts in fighting crime especially in the central part of the country.
He says the introduction of the Local Defence Unit personnel was a game-changer in fighting criminality.
“When crime was at its peak and UPDF was called in to work with police, we sorted it out.”
He says there has been cordial relationship between the UPDF and other security agencies.
“We were available whenever they wanted us to make our contribution in a respectful cordial way, be it with police or intelligence organs.”
In the past few years, the UPDF has been in the spotlight over human rights abuses where some of its officers have been implicated.
On many occasions, the army and Gen Muhoozi himself have come out to defend the force saying these are individual acts.
Speaking of the same during the interview, he repeated the same, insisting there is no rule of thumb but rather the answer lies in the wider society beyond the UPDF.
“We are part of the wider community and we recruit from them. These are challenges of democracy. You get mistakes here and there. The operational environment is complex and charged. We need to comprehensively look at the country and our values. Young people should be nurtured and raised well with respect to elders and authority. Other than look at UPDF, we need to look at these issues in a complex way,” he said.
To the new team
Gen David Muhoozi says there is a lot that has not been completed during his tenure but says he has left all plans in place for the new team to continue with the same.
“I want to say it is not a one man show. We work around teams. There is a lot to do. There is a lot of unfinished business and undone aspects of improving the force awaiting them.”
Muhoozi said he has enjoyed the team he has served with, right from the Ministers of defence, Permanent Secretary, other staff in the ministry, his deputy, division commanders and chiefs of the UPDF.
“It was fun working with the team. My family has also been supportive. I remember this song by Lucky Dube that big boys don’t cry but we also cry since we are human beings. We have a life. We are mindful of a need to balance between family and work. We have the unseen and unsung heroes who make it possible for us to deliver on the job. I salute them for their contribution and support through thick and thin as we serve our country,” he said.
Best time to serve
The outgoing Chief of Defence Forces says he wouldn’t have asked for a better time to serve his country and go up to the helm of the UPDF than the past four and half years .
“I thank God this has come in a glorified way. I have my contribution, I am handing over to a colleague I trust and I am handing over a better force. So what else would I ask for?”
“I thank the president for among my equals, to choose me to hold the mantle of the huge and mighty UPDF for the time I have been CDF. I thank him for choosing me, supporting, guiding and being like a father to me. He pushes you, scolds you but to make you a better person. I can’t thank him enough. I have been a soldier for all my life and now will have to adjust to that environment and will make our contribution even there. It has been an illustrious and enjoyable journey and I am glad it has ended this beautiful way on this hill when the sun is setting and my tour in UPDF and Ministry of Defence is setting,” he concluded the interview