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African Human Rights Law Journal

On-line version ISSN 1996-2096
Print version ISSN 1609-073X


NKUUBI, James. When guns govern public health: Examining the implications of the militarised COVID-19 pandemic response for democratisation and human rights in Uganda. Afr. hum. rights law j. [online]. 2020, vol.20, n.2, pp.607-639. ISSN 1996-2096.

The article is premised on the hypothesis that the Uganda Peoples' Defence Force (UPDF) and the attendant auxiliary forces are not an ideal force for domestic deployment in contending with public health pandemics such as COVID-19. The UPDF has been the main architectural tool that has been deployed by the National Resistance Movement party, a former guerilla movement, to perpetuate militarisation in the country for the past 30 years. The conduct, power, authority and prominent position accorded to the UPDF in the management of COVID-19 and the enforcement of the prevention measures laid bare this reality. Thus, unlike in other jurisdictions where the militaries were deployed because of their superior capability to adapt and provide extra and immediate professional services to support the civilian authorities, in Uganda this deployment was different. It was informed by the long-held and widely-documented belief by the President of Uganda, Museveni, that the UPDF, which developed from his personal guerrilla army of the National Resistance Army (NRA), only holds a legitimate vision for the country and is far more reliable. The COVID-19 pandemic, therefore, was an opportunity to continue the deliberate build-up and normalisation of the infiltration of the military in what have hitherto been spheres of operation for the civil and public servants. Thus, a critical question arises as to whether the primary motivation factor for the UPDF deployment was political, to accentuate the presidency of Museveni in power through militarisation. The question is also whether any positive harvests from the deployment of the military in the fight against COVID-19 were unintended consequences and, if they did materialise, how they were used to further glorify the centrality of the military in dealing with societal crises, further entrenching militarism. The article concludes with some recommendations emphasising the need for accountability - more so, parliamentary oversight in the deployment of the military in such situations to counter a breach of rights and freedoms. Additionally, this would check the current trend of the executive having the exclusive power to deploy the military, making it susceptible to hijacking and eventual politicisation and militarisation.

Keywords : militarisation; Uganda Peoples Defence Forces; COVID-19; democratisation.

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