The Observer | Retired Col. Fred Bogere Speaks Out On Term Limits and The President’s Desire to Neutralize Him

Posted February 22, 2018 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Inside Politics ~ 889 views


Thirteen years ago in 2005, Col Fred Bogere, a quiet little-known army representative in parliament, was cast in the public spotlight for refusing to vote for passage of the controversial legislation that lifted presidential term limits and effectively handed President Museveni a new lease on his political life.

That bold defiance of the army and ruling party position set him on a collision course with the establishment. Bogere, now retired from the military, spoke candidly in a recent interview, about the aftermath of his action.

“There was too much pressure on me that I must come out and correct what they considered a mistake. I said I can’t do that. When I refused, the pressure intensified to the extent that my close friends and relatives were used. I got attacks from everywhere; external and internal,” he said.
He said he was summoned by the president and the late Gen Aronda Nyakairima, former chief of defence forces. He said during the meeting with the president in Mbale, the head of state warned that Bogere and his “legalistic mentality would be neutralised.”

In the wide-ranging interview, which will run in three parts, Bogere speaks about betrayal of the country by its leadership and how Uganda is teetering towards chaos and conflict as marauding gangs grab control over whatever is left of the state.

He says that what happened last year when the elite force which protects President Museveni, the Special Forces Command, stormed parliament, attacked and violently dragged out mainly opposition MPs, is the darkest moment in Uganda’s history.

“It was a terrible abuse of authority, it was a terrible insult to this country; I don’t think we can ever have a leading case of abuse of power than that one….” Bogere said. “There is no doubt the constitutional order was overthrown”.

“I don’t know whether it’s a military junta or what but what is available now is a coup.”

“I must confess that I felt betrayed and up to now I feel betrayed. You know we are not here to stay perpetually, the only constant is change and indeed it will come. Unfortunately, we squandered the opportunity of being part of that change. If change had come and it was attributed to the foundation work we had done, I would be a very happy person.”

Why did you retire from the military?

I chose to retire because I had become weak health-wise. But before that, my first application to retire was in 1996. When I joined the army, I joined as a liberator; I never chose it [army] as a career. I wanted to get back to what I wanted to do before I was forced into joining the struggle.

Actually around 1991, I did a diploma in Journalism with Betty Nambooze [Mukono Municipality MP] at an institute now called the Uganda Institute of Business and Media Studies.

I had a desire to do journalism after the military. But my application was not allowed. By the time I retired in 2016, I had applied six times. After 2005, I felt I was no longer liked; I had this feeling that I was no longer part of the institution; so, I felt it was the right time for me to leave.

I felt I shouldn’t be part of a force that was doing things that seemed to be anti-people. When the right time to judge comes, UPDF will be judged harshly. So, I wanted to be as far away from it as possible.

How does it feel like having people who were once your juniors promoted to senior ranks and responsibilities in the army?

It is a very big challenge to the officer being sidelined. For your information, from 2001 to 2016 when I retired, I remained a colonel. But during the same time, there were people who were recruited and promoted either to the same rank as me or even higher.

Ordinarily, if maybe you have service offences, it would be understandable but for my entire time in the military, I was never presented for any marching orders. It’s really a challenge not only for the sidelined officer but also the one who is fast-tracked.

It’s like if they announced tomorrow that you’re the managing director of The Observer newspaper but then they retain James Tumusiime [present MD] to be under you. You will find problems. How do you order a person who has been your boss? Even him, he will find problems taking orders from you. So, this creates indiscipline in the force.

Even the UPDF Act says that if you have been holding an officer rank for more than five years and you’re not promoted, you have to be discharged. These were my arguments when I applied to retire.

Since you were not seeing eye-to-eye with the minister of defence, how were you elected army MP?

After the 2001 elections, I was elected Member of Parliament to represent the UPDF in the Seventh Parliament. The president makes his list of about 30 people and then he sends it to the Army Council which starts awarding marks on different criteria. Those with the highest cumulative marks are appointed and I was among the 10.

Not so long into my term, I left for Nairobi for a military course. I made sure I travel back before the 15 consecutive sittings of which if you miss, you lose your seat. In 2005, in the heat of the lifting of term limits, I returned to Kampala because I wanted to be part of the debate. When I came back, some people told me to support the lifting of term limits but I flatly rejected the idea, saying if I did, we would have lost the whole purpose of the struggle.

My opposition got back to various authorities who got concerned. There was one particular general who was also in parliament who was most concerned. He started mobilising us. He asked me why I was siding with people in the opposition.

Then they used their mouthpiece, the Red Pepper to say that the army was very worried about Bogere; he might not vote for the lifting of term limits. I travelled back to Nairobi but kept on monitoring what was going on.

I came back near voting day and talked to some MPs. I told them they were very young; that they have this country at their disposal. I told them that if at your age of 30, you are already a member of parliament, you can assume that in the next 20 years you will be the president. Why should you then allow such a thing that blocks your opportunity to take place?

What did they say…?

Some would say we fear this, we fear that. There was all this intimidation that the army was uncomfortable and will take over if term limits were not lifted. I would always try to deflate that kind of thinking. The army was not ready for that; we had come to liberate this country from such undemocratic paths.

I talked to a number of them and we agreed that term limits shouldn’t be lifted. Disheartening as it was, when it came to voting, they didn’t vote as we agreed.

But didn’t word get to your superiors that you were trying to mobilise against lifting term limits?

It got there that’s how it got into Red Pepper. They invited me and warned me against my activities. I told them that what I was doing is what I’m supposed to do…They couldn’t do much because I was an MP in my own right.  Finally, the D-day came and I stood up and said I’m abstaining.

At the second reading you abstained but on the third and final reading you disappeared. Where did you go and why?

There was too much pressure on me that I must come out and correct what they considered a mistake. I said I can’t do that. When I refused, the pressure intensified to the extent that my close friends and relatives were used. I got attacks from everywhere; external and internal.

What I did was to leave home. Only my wife knew where I was. What the army and the politicians wanted was that I call a press conference and say that I’m sorry, I was misled; that in the subsequent voting I would vote yes. So, by the time of the third reading, I wasn’t anywhere. I only reappeared after the voting.

After abstaining, which was as good as voting no, what happened to you?

I was summoned by the president and the late Gen Aronda Nyakairima (former chief of defence of forces). Aronda wanted me to travel at night to Mbale to meet Museveni but I made sure I didn’t travel as he had dictated. I feared for my life; so, I got to Mbale on my own, not on the dictates of the CDF.

I remember the meeting had Amelia Kyambadde [now minister for Trade], Francis Babu, Maj Gen Silver Kayemba and Aronda. The president asked why I had departed from my colleagues yet the army needs to move together. Generally, taking me through semantics of military science; but I said we are discussing political issues; we were determining the future of the country as MPs in our own right, not as a military force.

He then sensed from the way I was answering that I had some level of confidence, which he didn’t expect. Then he asked Aronda: “Is it you or [Amama] Mbabazi who was telling me that he is a lawyer or you were referring to [Henry] Tumukunde?” Aronda answered:  “Both of them are lawyers, Your Excellency.” Then he said, “I can see the legalistic mentality but we are going to neutralise him.”

I answered: “I was not aware of that, Your Excellency” and he did not like that. He thought I was being disrespectful. He told me to go back to Kampala but that they will continue to talk to me.

The intention was to move me to a press conference so I could say I was misled into abstaining. I never met the president again. I was identified as a prime target and there was never any promotion or deployment since then. But I took it in good faith. Even when recently they talked of giving me a rank in retirement, I vigorously fought against it because my brand now in this country is Colonel Fred Bogere.

If I’m made, say; brigadier, it acts against my brand and honestly I don’t want it. The best reward for anybody is to feel that you are liked by people you live with. I walk on the streets of Kampala, do whatever I want freely, not fearing anybody.

How did you feel that President Museveni led the push to remove term limits and rule forever?

I must confess that I felt betrayed and up to now I feel betrayed. You know we are not here to stay perpetually, the only constant is change and indeed it will come.

Unfortunately, we squandered the opportunity to be part of that change. If change had come and it was attributed to the foundation work we had done, I would be a very happy person. But you see the way we are managing the affairs of the country now; change is no doubt going to come. Problem is; it might be the change that is not under any of our control.

It might be change that is disorderly; that will turn this country upside down. We are walking in the footpath of Somalia.

When I went for my military training in Nairobi, I thought that I was wasting too much time in the military, I decided to enroll in the University of Nairobi for a master’s degree in international studies, focusing on international relations and conflict management. I know a thing or two about failed states. Also, during that military course, you are taken to failed states and in our case we visited Mozambique.

We were taken to states which are coming out of chaos and conflict, we were taken to Namibia. We were taken to emerging economies and that was Brazil. For the first world, we were taken to France. So, you globetrot trying to learn what happens if you mismanage the affairs of the state.

With this background, you see certain things and realise where you are going. That’s why I’m saying I felt betrayed; that’s why I was eager to talk to some MPs, some of whom are now ministers. I asked them why they were messing up the country. These people they fear have no powers over them.

They were elected by their constituents; why should they be intimidated? They should determine their own direction of the state. While they agreed with me in preliminary discussions, when it came to voting, I didn’t see them. I think they succumbed to the temptation of money.

When I had just come back, a certain minister I will not name came to me and said, ‘Honourable, why should you miss this opportunity because whether you support it or not, this thing is going to pass anyway.’

He said, why don’t you receive your five million; it’s here. I said I’m sorry I can’t take it. He is still a minister up to now but whenever he sees me even at a function, he shies away. As far as I’m concerned, he lost it. How can you be so cheap that you’re paid Shs 5 million; even if it were Shs 100m how far does it take you?

What do you make of the melodrama that surrounded the 2017 amendment of the constitution to lift presidential age limits?

For quite some time majority of the people who have come out to discuss Uganda’s politics have always discussed the bad side of [former presidents] Apollo Milton Obote and Idi Amin. They draw us to the so-called [1967] pigeonhole constitution.

They tell us how forces surrounded parliament but when you interrogate it further, you realise that the so-called encirclement of the House which we have ways condemned in the biggest terms was only on Parliamentary Avenue, then near City Hall and National theater.

That was the furthest government forces went to parliament. But now what happened [in 2017]?  Forces escorted goons not only to surround parliament but to step on the table of the clerk and started showing their skills in acrobatics.

It was a terrible abuse of authority, it was a terrible insult to this country; I don’t think we can ever have a leading case of abuse of power than that one. Where does that leave the concept of separation of powers?

If I’m to agree with what professors, Joe Oloka-Onyango and Fredrick Jjuuko taught me, the constitution was literally overthrown. We are here in some shaky thing called a government and all that, but there is no doubt the constitutional order was overthrown.

We can pretend that everything is normal because somebody has a microphone he can talk and nobody can remove it from him but, honestly, the constitutional order was overthrown. 

I don’t know whether it’s military junta or what but what is available now is a coup. What we have is not a government envisaged under the 1995 constitution. There is now one side with a microphone. If we got people who are impartial to interrogate this matter, they would certainly rule that there is no constitutional order here; it was overthrown.

Did it surprise you that all the nine army MPs voted yes?

It didn’t; I expected it. But nevertheless, I sympathise with them, they had to oblige with what they were told to do. But on the other hand, I only urge them to put the interest of the country first.

They are setting a very wrong foundation for our children. There has been this assumption that President Museveni is good, which I don’t want to go into. But how dare you or how dare me create an atmosphere that will allow a despot to emerge on the political scene and find such a fluid atmosphere and take advantage of it when this good one has departed for one reason or the other?

He might depart by God’s action but he might also depart by an uprising which might come up and it is uncontrollable. A despot will say he is ruling according to the constitution.

We are playing with fire; and all of us are participating in the condemnation of our children. By the time our grandchildren come crying that their mothers and fathers have been imprisoned anyhow, we shall be simply helpless. Probably you will be using a walking stick and as a former minister, your child will be arrested for no reason or simply because he doesn’t agree with those in authority. 

What do you make of the army being in a multiparty parliament?

I don’t agree with it. I actually wrote a paper to the military that it was not in order for us to remain in parliament after parties were allowed back. We also need to liberate this country from politicians.

We need to come up with constitutional provisions that require that a person can only be MP for three terms while the president can have only two terms. We have turned being MP into a career and it is becoming hereditary now. What’s this?

Much as these people have been good, it doesn’t matter, this country is not short of good people. We even have better people who have not emerged because they have been denied an opportunity.

Obote used to say that Museveni is a bandit who he will find in the bush and leave him there. Did he leave him there? If Museveni has been so good, what happened with what Obote used to say that he knew this young man so well that he cannot run the affairs of the state? 

This idea that there is nobody [else] with a vision is an insult to some of us.

Your comment about sending our military to places like South Sudan, Somalia etc…

There is no problem for as long as there is parliamentary approval. When those countries remain in chaos, it overflows to our countries. So the main objective is very good but the dilemma is; it is not done within the framework of the law. Some people would like to simply force it on us that once they approve, then it’s given.

The military is now effectively in the hands of young people; good thing for the country?

It’s a good thing because many of us, with the exception of a few, never joined the military on our own free will. But those who are in the military today we recruited them; they chose the military as their career.

Therefore, they are better placed to lead. The only problem comes with the nature of promotion that tends to be one-sided, bordering on nepotism. But as long as that is addressed, there wouldn’t be a problem.

I share the sentiments of Hon Aggrey Awori of the possibility of genocide due to tribalism. In the military, there is that element but it’s not to the extreme like you see in the police. You cannot [rationalize] to Ugandans that more than 85 percent of our district police commanders come from one region; this is a disaster.

What do you make of the fast-tracking of Museveni’s son Muhoozi Kainerugaba to major general?

I left that to him and his conscience. I believe anybody can see whether it makes sense or not. You think people can just look at it and ignore it or they make interpretations?

During the peak of the age limit debate, Evelyn Anite, the state minister for privatisation and investment said they had the magye (army).

She knew what she was saying; after all it came to pass. You saw the forces accompanying the goons and they wreaked havoc. But that is one statement she will live to regret having made. It will hang around her neck for quite long yet she is still a young lady.

She said it excitedly, having the misconception that after all she is associated with those with authority. She forgets that those with power have it only today and tomorrow. The other days or months or years to come you don’t know who will have the authority.

There might come a time when certain commissions of inquiry are established and such statements might be attributed as the cause of conflict afflicting the country and she is called upon to answer.

You have worked closely with police chief Gen Kale Kayihura; how do you assess him?

Allow me not to comment about him because the assessment might not be fair, if I’m to be honest. I have attended various military courses with him starting with our first military training in Libya in 1981. When we took over government, Kayihura and Aronda Nyakairima were all juniors under me.

Actually, a certain minister one time came to see me and I showed him an internal memo written to [former army commander] General Muntu who had asked me to find a suitable officer under me to go and take over as intelligence officer for the Presidential Protection Unit which is now SFC.

I wrote on that note which I photocopied, recommending Aronda Nyakairima. By that time [I showed the minister the note] Nyakairima was the chief of defence forces. The minister asked me, ‘you mean this officer was under you?’ I said yes. He said ‘no, no, no, this world is unfair’. But I just told him we are used to this. 

What do you make of the fights between Kayihura and Minister of Security, Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde?

From the little I read on my master’s programme, some of what you are seeing today is what is lined up as one of the characteristics of a failing state. To an ordinary person, when the minister for security is not on talking terms with the inspector general of the national police, it simply means that the centre is no longer holding.

What if their boss is in control and simply enjoys the fight knowing it has no bearing on his grip on power…

I don’t know whether he is enjoying it but my issue is that why is there nobody emerging to say ‘stop!’? There are ministers, deputy prime ministers, the prime minister, the vice president you mean all these can’t call these people to order?

This means we need to wake up because we have a very serious problem.

The president has promised that by 2020 we will be a middle-income country…

It is good for the president to give people hope but one thing I know is that some of these goals can’t be achieved by mere wishes. They come about by practical action by both the state and other stakeholders.

Those of us who travel in the region, Kenya is way ahead of us but it’s not thinking of a middle-income status at least to the level of say Egypt. When we talk about middle-income, we are talking about the second world and we know what this means. We are talking about countries like Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia.

Source — The Observer

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


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