Management Watch: Meet Gen Birungi; a hardened and meticulous SFC commander

Mark A Milley, a United States army General and the 20th Chairman of the joint chief of staff’s aptly stated that the traits we seek in today’s army leadership include; agility, adaptability, flexibility, mental and physical resilience, competence and most importantly, character. Character is often demonstrated in how closely our actions, decisions and relations adhere to army ethics and values.

This comes with the training of commanders in great leadership and command skills that include meticulous leadership of a given unit. “It requires paying great attention to detail, being careful and precise in all deliberations,” says Yonah Musinguzi, a security training expert.

Commander is a generic term for an officer commanding any armed forces unit, for example “platoon commander”, “brigade commander” and “squadron commander”.

The title, originated in the 18th century to describe naval officers who commanded ships of war too large to be commanded by a lieutenant but too small to warrant the assignment of a post-captain and a sailing-master; the commanding officer served as his own Master. In practice, these were usually unrated sloops-of-war of no more than 20 guns.

These remain traits Maj Gen James Birungi, a trained tank armour officer replicates as commander and leader of the Special Forces Command, an elite force tasked with Presidential and Government facilities and installation protection.

Maj Gen Birungi who replaced Gen Don Nabasa, with whom share history of military service first under the Presidential Guard Brigade now SFC.

“He is a free man, mature enough to lead such elite force. Our first encounter was during our matches we played at the air force playground. Away from the match, he exhibited leadership as polite footballer, mingling with several other officers below his rank (Colonel). This is a trait many senior officers wouldn’t indulge,” says Godfrey Ssempijja a resident in Bugonga – Entebbe.

Ssempijja’s description correlates with that IbrahimKitatta’s submission of a jolly and God fearing officer, loyal to the fountain of honour, straightforward, humble, down to earth and a hardworking officer.

“He is trustworthy but decisive, determined and principled cadre soldier, a friend of the young people and a son to the revolution,” Kitatta says.

Born in 1973 at Ngoma, current day Nakaseke District, Birungi attended Ibanda Secondary School for O level and Nyakasura School for Advanced level. He later joined Makerere Business School Nakawa – MUBS where he pursued a degree in Business Administration.


He prides in being an officer in one of Africa’s strongest fighting forces, the Uganda People Defense Forces. “Now that it is clear that we have achieved peace with great leadership of the Commander in Chief, it is now time to concentrate on economic transformation of our country and in particular, us officers as men and women of UPDF,” Birungi said during the Terehe Sita celebrations in Entebbe. 

In 1996, he was among the 11 young men who joined the army and did one year basic military training at Kasenyi in Entebbe. He later went to India for a cadet course where he spent a year and passed out as a Second Lieutenant.

On return from India, Birungi’s first deployment was under armored Brigade, a specialized unit of the UPDF Land Forces with its headquarters at Kasijjagirwa Barracks in Masaka District, south of Buganda region.

He later undertook different tank courses at Karama and was deployed in Kitgum District in 2002. Birungi was commanding tanks and Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) to escort supplies for soldiers in the Forward Operating Bases.

He was later transferred to Karamoja to fight cattle rustling. From Karamoja, Gen Birungi was sent to Karama at the rank of Major as the Commandant of the training school. He later joined Presidential Guard Brigade, now SFC in 2008, after attending Junior Staff courses at Gaddafi Barracks (Kimaka), Jinja.

He was in 2013 promoted to Colonel and appointed acting Chief of Staff of the Air Force until he was taken back to SFC as the commander.

Well as his promotion and appointment as Air Force Chief of Staff attracted controversy as opposition MPs led by Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda petitioned the East African Court of Justice, accusing President Museveni of faulting procedures while promoting and appointing officers, Birungi’s ranks were not stripped as intended by the MPs and remained a senior officer of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces.

As the Air Force Chief of Staff, he was responsible for the control and administration of the air forces based in Entebbe.

Additional reporting by Daily Monitor and Wikipedia

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