Pain ‘Uganda’s finest’ soldiers have to endure to honour flag

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On March 1, the General Court Martial in Kampala jailed two soldiers of Uganda Peoples Defence Forces for spreading harmful propaganda.

In January, the two had recorded and released a video to the mainstream and social media, in which L/Cpl Apollo Bigirwa, 41, vented his anger, pain, desperation and curses at President Yoweri Museveni, Commander-in-Chief of the UPDF, over the treatment they had undergone in the Somalia peacekeeping mission.

His co-accused, Pte Stuart Nuwahereza, 33, uploaded the video on social media platforms, where it went viral.

The two are among thousands of veterans of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, who have missed pay for years but live in fear and are unable to speak out.

‘Ill and false statements’

According to the GCM records, prosecution argued that L/Cpl Bigirwa and Pte Nuwahereza contravened Sections 137(1) of the UPDF Act 2005, when they “made and spread ill and false statements against the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces and the Government of Uganda where they allegedly forward messages on different media platforms indicating that the government wasn’t paying UPDF soldiers in Somalia.”

“The offence the convicts committed carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment; but since they are first time offenders who never wasted court’s time by pleading guilty, a period of nine months and six months respectively is appropriate for them,” ruled Brig-Gen Freeman Mugabe, GCM Chairman.

Uganda has been in the news recently for failing to pay its troops that form the bulk of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (Atmis), and its predecessor Amisom for groups of soldiers deployed since 2018.

The EastAfrican has learnt that for weeks, the European Union, which foots all allowances of the peacekeepers in Somalia, has been leading frantic “high level inquiries” between Brussels, Addis Ababa, Mogadishu, Kampala, Nairobi and capitals of other troop-contributing countries.

Not paid

The inquiries were triggered by media reports that the Somalia mission veterans have not been paid, even though Brussels had released all allowances for Amisom/Atmis.

The EU and the African Union both said they hold no power over the TCCs to pay the soldiers once money leaves the AU Commission.

Indeed, pressure is mounting on Kampala to explain the whereabouts of peacekeepers’ allowances, after it emerged that the UPDF recently paid soldiers only a fraction of their arrears.

On February 17, thousands of UPDF soldiers from the Battle Groups 34, 33 and 32 deployed in Somalia in 2022, 2021 and 2020 respectively, received only four months’ pay, out of 12 and nine months arrears that they were owed.

Atmis maintains that the only group of former Somalia peacekeepers that is owed part of their allowances — which are currently being processed — is the cohort identified as Battle Group 34, which deployed at the end of 2021 and returned from the Horn of Africa country on December 31 2022.

“Atmis can confirm that the African Union Commission has paid all reimbursements to Troop Contributing Countries up to August 2022 and is currently processing reimbursements for September and October 2022,” said Gifty Bingley, the spokesperson.

She added that Souef Mohamed El-Amine, the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission and Head of ATMIS, has ongoing engagements with the AU headquarters and other stakeholders to discuss Uganda’s non-payment of troops’ allowances.

An EU spokesperson told The EastAfrican that the European Commission applies substantial controls across its financial instruments, through its audits and expenditure verification, and on the basis of its contractual engagements with the AU Commission.