8 November 2012

Uganda: Police Welfare Is a Security Matter


The sad story of police officers' wives protesting poor living conditions cannot go without our take.

The police early this week broke up a protest march along Jinja road which was led by a group of their wives and children from several barracks around Kampala.

The protesters were demanding payment of their husbands' delayed salaries and restoration of electricity. The protest has helped return the spotlight on the plight of police officers and their families.

The officers assigned to stop this protest must have hated doing their job, seeing that the protesters were representing their interests too. It goes without saying that the living conditions of policemen and women are shameful.

Walk or drive past any police barracks, in Naguru or Nsambya, and you will be shocked at what you see. We have in the past agitated for an improved budget allocation for the police force, hoping that such living conditions would be addressed.

Unfortunately, when the government responded, it was not to improve the welfare of its officers but, rather, to equip the force and enable it keep its political foes at bay. Thus the money went to buy sophisticated equipment, vehicles, motor bikes and tear gas canisters.

But the welfare of officers manning these things doesn't appear to be a priority, for now! Apparently the absence of electricity was because the police have been trying to combat illegal power connections in the barracks.

That is understandable. However, the sorry state of police housing, coupled with the poor remuneration, encourage such ills as illegal connections. Therefore, addressing the illegal power connections is only a short-term fix if the fundamental issue of living conditions is not addressed.

Besides, the protesting women's complaint that their children couldn't read for their national exams in darkness cannot be ignored. With many police officers living in utter destitution, the best chance they have of their households graduating from poverty is educating their children. Denying them even this lifeline is not fair.

Finally, that protest should remind us that poor welfare for security officers is a security matter. Yesterday it was police officers' wives but tomorrow it could be the cops themselves, or even soldiers, whose living conditions are not any better. Think about it.

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