Uganda beefs up marine surveillance on its waters

Saturday May 09 2009

An Elettra Commander interceptor surveillance boat from Selex Communication of the type acquired by the Police Marine Unit at a cost of $8.6 million

Uganda has stepped up security on its waterways and is quietly revamping its marine police in anticipation of tensions with its neighbours over the country’s natural resources.

Although the force acquired high-speed interceptor boats as part of the budget for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that Uganda hosted in 2007, it is now emerging that the acquisitions form part of a broader strategy to secure Uganda’s territorial integrity by filling in existing gaps, especially on water.

Apparently, the discovery of high-value natural resources such as oil and gas under and near Uganda’s lakes and the need to protect fisheries resources are the imperative behind moves to improve security on the country’s waters.

Officials say terror threats have also underscored the need for improving security on the country’s lakes because Uganda’s main Entebbe airport — the kind of key infrastructure usually targeted by terrorists — is located on a peninsula in Lake Victoria.

The EastAfrican has learnt that a presidential directive was issued early this year for the marine police to be made the leading force on the country’s waters, with all other forces only being allowed to conduct operations there with authorisation from the Inspector General of Police.

The Police Marine Unit has acquired four specialised boats at a cost of $8.6 million to be paid over a period of five years.


The acquisitions and keen interest in marine security come in the wake of an incident in August 2007, when Congolese troops on the disputed Rukwanzi island in Lake Albert shot and killed oil prospectors who were carrying out surveys on the Ugandan side of the lake.

Much as the boats are up and running and have recently been seen around Migingo island, over which Kenya and Uganda are squabbling, questions are being raised over the capacity of the police to take on and maintain such infrastructure both financially and technically.

In his annual report released last month, Auditor General James Muwanga noted, “The decision to acquire these boats appears to have been made without due consideration of their sustainability.” It is understood that each of these boats has two engines with a total package of 1,640 horsepower that consume 160 litres of fuel per hour at top speed.

The Auditor General reported that high operating and maintenance costs could make the equipment redundant unless sufficient resources, as requested by the police, were allocated.

He also noted that the police spent Ush28.4 billion ($14.2 million) over and above the approved budget, adding, “Unauthorised excess expenditure is a result of breakdown of controls over budgetary expenditure.”

The Auditor General’s annual report to Parliament for 2008 reveals that police spent an extra Ush28 billion ($14.2 million) without parliamentary approval on top of the authorised budget of Ush134 billion ($67 million).

The national budget framework paper for the next five years shows that the police department wants an allocation of Ush152.5 billion ($76 million) in the next financial year — about Ush12 billion ($6 million) more than the running budget.

The blueprint states that a significant part of the increment will pay for a helicopter and speedboats for the marine unit. The police budget is projected to reach Ush179 billion ($89 million) by 2012.

Nonetheless, officials at Police Force said that maintenance costs for the units are inevitable due to terror threats and resources such as oil and gas being explored near lakes on Uganda’s territory.

“What they [auditors] do not understand is that these boats were not for CHOGM alone, but for long term plans to improve our marine unit given terror threats and guarding national resources near water bodies,” said Peter Okoshi, Commander of the Police Marine Unit.

In March 2009, a plane heading for Mogadishu to take supplies to the soldiers on the Mission crashed into Lake Victoria shortly after taking off from Entebbe International Airport, and the government of Uganda’s first official communique on the matter stated; “We cannot rule out terrorism.”

One of the interceptor surveillance boats has been deployed on Lake Albert in the oil-rich Albertine Rift in western Uganda. Uganda has confirmed huge oil deposits in this area near the Uganda-DR Congo border, and the pace at which it is moving to start excavation has raised tension with Kinshasa.

Uganda and DR Congo have at the same time clashed over the ownership of Rukwanzi Island, currently being used for fish landing by both Ugandans and Congolese, but which could later be a strategic point in oil exploitation as it is in the vicinity of oil deposits.