Uganda entices students to army

February 20, 1998

Uganda plans to modernise its army by retiring officers and replacing them with university graduates.

About 1,000 officers are to be sacked and replaced with 400 graduates in an effort to cut down on military spending and make the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces more efficient.

By recruiting graduates into the army, President Yoweri Museveni intends to give the army respectability, a characteristic that is missing elsewhere in Africa.

Addressing Makerere students, Major General Mugisha Muntu, a former army commander, said: "The time is over when the Ugandan elite left the defence of their country to their less educated brothers and sisters."

According to Major General Muntu, the only suitable public sector jobs for graduates are now in the armed forces.

Recruiting officials will have to overcome student reluctance to join what they regarded as a risky profession, especially now the government is fighting insurgent rebels in the north and east. Last year the army recruited only 20 graduates, mostly doctors and engineers, out of 300 advertised graduate posts.

Lecturers at Makerere University have been encouraging students to take up posts. Bernard Tayebwa of the department of agricultural economics said the army offered a partial solution to the unemployment problem in Uganda and other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Sources say President Museveni has ordered modernisation of the army officers' cadre to get rid of officers who are unable to carry out their duties or whose education level is too low. Such officers enjoy army benefits until they have completed 12 years to qualify them for "honourable demobilisation".

Between 1992-1995 the government forcibly demobilised 30,000 soldiers and managed to reduce defence expenditure by 40 per cent.

In the past few months, Uganda had been under pressure from the international donor community to negotiate with the rebel Lords Resistance Army.

However, President Museveni is bent on a military victory and has accused Sudan of aiding the rebels, who have been implicated in atrocities in Uganda, and then sought refuge in southern Sudan. Military sources said apart from fighting insurgents, the authorities are interested in using the army for development activities.

The army is already establishing community farms in northern Uganda and providing basic health care in operational areas.

Recruitment into the army in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa is often on tribal lines and in total disregard of education of the applicants, leading graduates to shun the armed forces.

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