There are mixed reactions among local leaders in the Karamoja sub-region as the UPDF 3rd division commander prepares to leave his office to undergo a strategic course at the National Defense College Uganda. Brigadier General Joseph Balikudembe, who has been commanding the greater Eastern region since 2019, has been sent for a one-year strategic course at the National Defense College in Buikwe district.
The National Defense College – Uganda (NDC-U) is the highest military institution in Uganda, where policy analysis and ground strategy formulation for strategic security, stability, and prosperity take place. The course is a career undertaking in leadership development and is done by commanders identified to take on key positions and responsibilities in government and other institutions. However, the decision to send Brigadier General Balikudembe away has caused mixed reactions from local leaders across the district of Karamoja.
According to some local leaders, despite the achievements made by Brigadier General Balikudembe, his leave was timely considering the long period he stayed in the region. Paul Lokol, the LCV chairperson for Nabilatuk district, said that although the region is still grappling with insecurity, it is the right time for Brigadier General Balikudembe to step down so he can refresh himself and allow another leader to take over the battle.
Lokol noted that some of them had become too used to the army commanders to the extent that they steal intelligence from the security forces and leak it to the warriors who commit crimes. He said it is now time to give another command the chance to assess the situation.
Lokol urged the government to consider taking away other commanders who have stayed longer in the region so that they can bring in new officers who might have new approaches to end insecurity. Lokol said the officers who have overstayed in the region are frustrated with their efforts, which they are putting in to develop the place, but there are no positive results.
Joseph Pulkol, LC3 chairperson for Tapac Sub County in Moroto district, said that he is happy for Brigadier General Balikudembe to take a break from the Karamoja insecurity because it escalated in a manner they have failed to understand.
Pulkol said that the new army leadership should first consult local leaders on how best they can cooperate to deal with wrongdoers causing havoc in the region. He noted that the security forces are struggling to contain the increasing cattle raids because they disregarded the local leaders who could help guide their operations.
Emmanuel Lodio, the speaker for Kotido district, said that security forces should not be blamed for the insecurity but instead, the local communities who are harboring criminals and not reporting them to the authorities. Lodio says the peace in Karamoja can only be reclaimed by the local communities and their leaders because all the problems and solutions emanate from them.
Lodio noted that the army leadership of Balikudembe tried their best, and it is now time for the commander to rest and allow a new commander to take responsibility from where the outgoing commander has stopped.
John Robert Adupa, the LC3 chairperson of Lotisan Sub County in Moroto district, says that although he supports the transfer of Balikudembe, he is also worried about the cows that have been raided and the commanders vowed to trace them.
Adupa also shares the same experience with a section of leaders who believe that only the local community can address the problem of cattle theft in the region. Adupa said that they want the new army leadership to summon all the local leaders in the region and to discuss new methods of fighting cattle rustlers because Balikudembe seems to be known by criminals.
However, this did not go well with the Elders Council in Kotido district who said the transfer is a threat to the security in the region. John Bosco Akore, the secretary of Kotido Elder’s Council said that the insecurity of Karamoja could only be addressed by Balikudembe because he had mastered the art of fighting the warriors.
Akore said that Balikudembe has sacrificed a lot to reclaim peace in Karamoja and taking him away before completing his mission is a big blow to the people in the region.
During his tenure as the Division Commander and chairperson of the disarmament committee, Brig Gen Balikudembe is credited for overall command, control, and coordination in the disarmament operations making significant strides with 1,128 and 11,177 guns and ammunition recovered respectively since 2019.
He will always be remembered for overseeing one of the most recent (April 2023) bloodless operations against the Turkana armed pastoralists where joint security forces recovered 31 guns at Lokeriaut village, Nadunget Sub County in Moroto district.
The joint security concept notes that if it was not for rearmament stemming from the neighbors (Turkana, Pokot, and Toposa) criminal elements who trade in small arms proliferation, the security situation would be much better and desirable.
Gen Balikudembe leaves at a time when local leaders through inter-district security meetings are on board in the fight against armed cattle rustling. As he spearheaded the security mobilization, the resolutions, and outcomes are bringing about peaceful coexistence among the Karamojong, Iteso, Bagisu, and Sabin communities.