Uganda was on Sunday rattled again by the grim reality of the ultimate sacrifices our uniformed men and women make in defence of the country and its strategic interests.
The UPDF say we lost a dozen soldiers, another seven were injured. The al-Shabaab ambushed the Somali National Army and African Union Peacekeeping Mission (Amisom) troops in Somalia’s Lower Shebelle region.
First, and most importantly, we salute the gallant officers who died on foreign land so that we, at home, and those they went abroad to serve, can live in peace and prosperity.
In theory, the deaths reflect statistics.
Behind each number, however, there is a family, a brother or sister, a widow/widower, and or relative grieving. They have lost a relation, a benefactor.
We are alive to the agony of personal mourning that eternally consumes them long after official compliments and rituals. Their enduring pain must prick our collective conscience to speak the truth and rightly honour the departed.
This is why we demand that the UPDF make a full disclosure of the number of soldiers Uganda has lost in the battlefront in Somalia since initial deployment in March 2007.
Such information will help Ugandans know the actual cost of the war and inform a decision on whether to stay the course in Somalia or exit.
The gallant soldiers are not incubated by the military and, as such, their families/relatives that raised and surrendered them for national service, deserve to know the truth. A full and timely disclosure will enable those responsible to pursue due payments which, in the case of Amisom, includes $50,000 (Shs180m) pay-out to a fallen soldier’s authorised next-of-kin.
We take note of the army’s reservations that publicising fatality and casualty figures could demoralise troops due for deployment to the frontline and buoy the enemy force. But such is the incalculable risk of uniformed service.
Imprecise or alternative facts birth speculation. In the Sunday incident, some accounts suggest that up to 39 or more soldiers perished.
It’s a timeless refrain that truth is the first casualty in a war.
In 2012, Uganda had a disdainful spat with Kenya whose deputy Foreign minister claimed then that UPDF had lost 2,700 troops since deploying in Somalia in 2007 whereas the official version was that Uganda and Burundi, combined, lost fewer than 500. Relatives of fallen soldiers should not be burdened with the ache of guessing the fate of their own.
Let us resolve to make information about each soldier lost in combat public, soon after notifying their next-of-kin, so that we, as a civilised people, collectively honour and immortalise their service.