Using military personnel to get things done in East Africa’s public institutions is becoming a trend that has not gone unnoticed, but has garnered praise and suspicion in equal measure.
In Uganda, military officers are serving as ministers, in Rwanda they head important institutions, while in Tanzania they are called upon to enforce economic policies.
Observers say this is warranted given that the military is trained to implement orders, and is considered less prone to corruption.
“The constitutions of EAC partner states do not stop the deployment of the army in government institutions as long as they have the qualifications,” Ismail Buchanan, a professor of international relations and political studies, told The EastAfrican.
“Soldiers have proved to be more direct in their approach to work, and have a better work ethic than many African elites who tend to become inept when in government positions. They are also less likely to be corrupt than your typical politician.”
In Rwanda, several army officers head key institutions. Major Regis Gatarayiha serves as Director General of Emigration and Immigration, after heading other institutions like the Ministry of ICT, where he was the Permanent Secretary.
Lt Col-Patrick Nyirishema is the Director General of Rwanda Utilities and Regulations Authority.
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni appointed two serving generals to his current Cabinet: Gen Katumba Wamala serves as State Minister for Works while Gen Elly Tumwine is Minister for Internal Security.
In Tanzania, President John Magufuli often assigns the military to implement programmes.
Last year, he assigned the military to monitor and ensure the completion of the $1.9 billion standard gauge railway line contracted to Turkish firm Yapi Merkezi.
President Magufuli also deployed the military to collect cashewnuts directly from farmers in the southern region after failing to agree with private buyers over pricing of the harvest.
He also deployed them in Arusha in a campaign to root out illegal forex bureaus.
But some believe that the employment of the military is a form of intimidation, while military-linked businesses could also lead to unfair practices in the procurement of government tenders.
“In most cases, the army officers are not appointed to these offices based on merit. Yes, they have served well in the army but are not proven in the particular office,” said Arthur Mwebase, a Ugandan political analyst and lawyer.
Rwanda and Uganda have strong military-linked firms that have previously won massive government tenders.
Rwanda’s Horizon Group, owned by the Ministry of Defence, often competes for government contracts with private sector. The firm’s subsidiary, Horizon Construction, focuses on infrastructure development, and among its previous projects are the Kigali Public Library, roads and irrigation projects.
The company is currently executing a work order book of about $138 million, which makes it one of the biggest companies in the country, though it is barely a decade old. Another subsidiary, Horizon Logistics, specialises in providing logistics to peacekeeping missions, and won tenders in Sudan and the Central African Republic missions.