Over five thousand soldiers have formally left the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) since 2007, according to Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda, the army spokesperson.
The figures contrast sharply with desertion figures, which according to recent reports have also increased.
On Wednesday, Lt Col Ankunda told our Reporter that 2,332 soldiers retired in 2007 while another 3,015 left the force the following year. However, a few soldiers also told Redpepper on condition of secrecy that the process of formally leaving the military was complicated often forcing many to abscond. Officials from the Ministry of Defence recently told parliament that about 1,000 soldiers desert annually.
Ankunda however insisted that the retirement process that is provided in the UPDF Act 2005 was open for any soldier to pursue. According to the Act, a soldier intending to retire applies to the Commissions Board chaired by the Chief of Defence Forces, which decides whether to grant the retirement or not.
The law provides that one may also leave the army once discharged on grounds of ill-health and incompetence especially when realised within the first two years of enrolment. It also indicates that one is relieved of their membership in the military on the basis of bad behaviour that could affect the reputation of the army and upon a guilty verdict by a court.
However, while the provisions exist for one to formally leave the army, many have also lately opted to merely desert the institution. Ankunda explained that the trend has become more noticeable following the deployment of the UPDF soldiers on foreign missions such as in Somalia and Darfur, assignments that are understood to fetch better pay.
He said the soldiers, enticed by the money they make while on the foreign missions, choose to abandon the army to pursue other businesses, a move he described as criminal.
The UPDF recently published names of soldiers it said had deserted the military. The announcement was followed by arrests of the suspected deserters in different parts of the country. According to chapter 146 of the UPDF Act 2005, a soldier who deserts the force attracts a sentence of death or life imprisonment once convicted.