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OPINION: The “Militaristic” Element And The Special Forces’ Command (SFC) Involvement In The ‘Boys Mentorship Program (Boot Camp)

By Mathew Ikondere

Over the past week, a number of questions have been raised in regard to the military’s involvement in a boys Boot Camp dubbed ‘The Boys Mentorship Program’ which is held every holiday and brings together young men from different families in Uganda and different parts of  the world.

I’ll respond to some of the questions raised from an informed point of view.

A one Richard Nyombi, probably out of ignorance, states that “The Special Forces Command is secretly training boys from selected families loyal to the regime”. This is just a sensational and reckless statement aimed at diverting Ugandans from the truth, therefore his statement holds no matter whatsoever.

Mary Serumaga on the other hand asks for answers in regard to the Armed forces (UPDF-SFC) involvement in the program, and the purpose of including the military element in the Boot Camp.

First and foremost, one needs to understand what a ‘Boot Camp’ is, and what it entails. Boot Camps are military-style institutions that use discipline, military exercises and rigorous physical training and other components set out to fine tune and in some cases ‘break’ a defiant adolescent and return home ‘a good soldier/individual’ who will obey authority, follow rules and improve behavior at home and school.

According to the Boys Mentorship Program website, the goal is to break the misguided traits of manhood, and create a generation of men who are emotionally, socially and economically strong. The whole idea is to instill sense of responsibility in these young men who will become leaders of tomorrow.

After understanding the concept of a ‘Boot Camp’, let me demystify the purpose of the military component/element in ‘Boot Camps’, its importance, and why the Special Forces Command (SFC) was involved.

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George Washington said “Discipline is the soul of the army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.

This quote drives me to the fundamental principles or goal of most ‘boot camps’ and in particular the Boys Mentorship Program. There is no better institution other than the military to pass on some of the values they subscribe to such as Leadership, Discipline, Endurance, Team work, Initiative, etc. to the young generation.

Military Discipline is a state of order and obedience existing within a command. Self-discipline in the military is where soldiers do the 4 rights without being told, even in the absence of the commander.

Discipline is created within a unit by instilling a sense of confidence and responsibility in each individual. Without military discipline, members of the military wouldn’t be able to function as one team during missions, exercises and training.

Respect is another important virtue in the military. It eases cooperation, team work and mission accomplishment.

The above values can be passed on to young people(adolescents/teenagers) by the institution of the military, since this is what they majorly live by, hence the inclusion of the military component in boot camps, aimed at serving the purpose set out by the program.

The military element in boot camps involves military drill/parade, commonly referred to as ‘mchaka mchaka’, an activity that has widely been practiced in most schools in Uganda. It involves standard marching (shoulder to shoulder), and its purpose is to aid in disciplinary training by instilling acts of precision and response to the leaders order as well as general smartness.

This, I believe is the reason as to why the proprietors of the “Boys Mentorship Program” a private initiative reached out to the Special Forces’ Command(SFC), a highly specialized and elite formation  of the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces(UPDF),which is charged with carrying out special operations at a moment’s notice. Given its success since inception, and the strong values that have enabled them to accomplish most of these sensitive operations/missions, it would be a positive move to call upon such an elite force to take through civilians/young men through some drills in a bid to pass on some of the values that have made them a success story.

I wonder why some people would be worried and skeptical about a very well organized and elite formation of the UPDF, whose mandate is not limited to only military operations, but rather active civil-military activities when they are called upon to. It doesn’t operate like a ‘militia’. It is a force we all should be proud of, and actually encourage children and teenagers to attend some of the programs they are involved in like the Boys Mentorship Program.

It forms the broad concept of Civil-Military Cooperation which seeks to link civilians and the military, and ensure coexistence between the two parties. The UPDF has a special mandate to serve the people, utilize and pass on some of these skills for cooperation, development and safety of the people.

All in all, Boot Camps are not any different from ‘Scouts’ associations, Girl Guides, National Service and ‘Mchaka Mchaka’. Therefore this particular program should not raise unnecessary claims and speculation. I don’t speak for the organizers of the Boys Mentorship Program, but I urge those skeptical about the program to reach out to the children that attended and the parents that sent them to attend it.

One thing I am sure about is that the children have returned home fitter, better disciplined, focused and stronger, thanks to the Special Forces Command, and the organizers of the Boys Mentorship Program.

The author is a Civil-Military Cooperation Staff Officer in the Office of the Senior Presidential Adviser for Special Operations

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