People Power speaks out on new army uniform & way forward for Red Berets

Bobi Wine and other politicians aligned to 'People Power' addressing reporters at Magere on Wednesday

Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, the leader of the People Power pressure group, has protested the gazetting of the red berets for the Uganda People’s Defence Forces.

Addressing a press conference in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb, yesterday, Bobi Wine said their red berets are a symbol of change.

He said the People Power supporters will continue wearing them.

“Ugandans should know that they are not committing any crime by wearing a red beret or wearing anything red because this is not a UPDF beret. It is a People Power beret,” he argued.

The UPDF recently made new changes in the institution’s dress code, which includes uniforms, badges, berets, rank designs, insignia, decorations, accessories and pips.

It published a general notice number 1,013 of 2019 in the national gazette on September 18, communicating the changes.

“The public is hereby informed that the marks, accessories, insignia, decorations and uniforms specified in the schedule to this notice are property of the state or classified stores and anyone found in unlawful possession, selling or dealing in them shall be prosecuted under the Uganda People’s Defence Force Act, 2005,” the notice in the Gazette says.

It adds: “Members of the public are hereby informed that unless granted authority by a competent military authority, it is prohibited to; (a) sell, offer or expose for sale or use any uniform of the defence forces; (b) manufacture, sell, offer or expose for sale, wear or use any uniform so nearly resembling the uniform of the defence forces and is likely to deceive the public; or (c) wear or use any decoration supplied or authorised for use by any member of the defence forces or any decoration so nearly resembling that decoration and likely to deceive the public.”

Justice Forum president and Bugiri Municipality MP Asuman Basalirwa said by the virtue of the gazette “all of us here are criminals because all of us are wearing the red berets.”

“But we are saying no! We are not criminals. But in law-making, there is what we call mischief. Now the question we are asking: is UPDF suggesting that by seeing Bobi Wine with a red beret they are confusing him for being a military officer? So, what has been the problem in law that necessitates this gazette now?” he asked.

Basalirwa, who also doubles as People Power lawyer, added: “Now, in this respect, the only problem can only be political. We want to give people all the hope and confidence that you break no law by wearing a red beret with the people power slogan or by wearing anything red.”

Quoting Section 160 of the UPDF Act, Basalirwa said what distinguishes a UPDF beret from the People Power beret is the coat of arms.

“Nobody has banned People Power berets because nobody has powers under the law to do so. Historically, Government has made laws, deliberately misinterpreted them to oppress the opposition,” he stated.

Way forward

Basalirwa said they would ask the Minister for Security, Gen. Elly Tumwine, to clarify which berets were banned.

“Now, if we are not satisfied with the explanation, we will go to court, but this going to court we are talking about will not be omnibus. We shall sue whoever arrests a person wearing a People Power beret so that they tell court that our beret with People Power symbol is similar to the UPDF beret with the coat of arms.”

“If court says it is similar, we will listen, but we will not listen to statements of people who are making pedestrian arguments without even reading what section 160 of the UPDF Act says,” he argued.

Another lawyer, Benjamin Katana, said the timing of the gazette is “very suspicious and it points to the attempt by the government to draw the UPDF, which should ideally be a national army, into a partisan political contestation.”

“It has very serious consequences now and in the future. UPDF should not be allowed to be thrown into partisan political contestation,” he said.

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Patrick Luwagga is the editorial director of cross-platform content for UGANDANZ. He works across the newsroom and with business partners to drive and develop ambitious editorial projects that include digital journalism, video, data research, polling, live events, and thought-leadership series that are supported by outside underwriting. As executive director, he is responsible for the creation of Political news section, prior to joining UGANDANZ, Patrick was the chief editor for the national weekly news magazine of Kasese Times. In that role, he covered several presidential elections, wrote and produced two television documentaries, and was a regular commentator on television and radio news programs. Patrick was born in Masaka and grew up in Kasese. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Makerere University where he was a Knight Foundation journalism fellow.