No, no, no entering here!" they yelled, " Journalists go back!"
The plainclothes police officers were on the periphery of a protest by police officers wives, demonstrating against the living conditions of police. As the scuffle got bigger and the women and journalists managed to scramble through the ring of corrugated iron-sheet the plainclothes officers were guarding, it soon becomes apparent why they were defending the entrance to a dilapidated block of flats.
Police is illegally occupying Nakawa Quarters, a decrepit former housing estate opposite the Kampala Rugby Club affiliated to the controversial Naguru Housing Estate that was partially demolished after the genuine tenants were pushed out to allow for redevelopment.
The development of the estate, which allegedly belongs to Opec- a British company, has stalled and the estate remained empty. Eventually over 900 police officers were crammed into the three open and stinking building shells that are even without protected pit latrines. Men and women sleep in the same rooms with up to 8 people sharing a tiny room, without doors or windows.
One of the police cadets living in the Nakawa Quarters says they were brought there two years ago. None of them knows who ordered them to be brought but another officer says vehicles picked them from Masindi Training School.
The toilets they use are uncovered pits in the bush, no walls to cover their privates as they go about it, and only a chipped concrete slab for them to stand on and stabilise themselves. They clearly also cannot afford any toilet paper either.
They say men and women stay in the same rooms, exposed to each other and they say the pressure cooker atmosphere of stress, depression, alcohol and substance abuse, poverty and loneliness eventually encourages easy, quick sex. Most have university degrees, and joined the forces in search of a decent job. Instead they found hell.
The place has been nicknamed 'Mogadishu' because living there is that horrifying. Some of the officers call their living quarters "toilets".
Police has trained 5,187 recruits from 2010 but not commissioned them. They are paid Shs 290,000 a month and are not entitled to any other benefits. Of these there are 270 women in Kampala metropolitan area, and during the Inter-parliamentary Union there were over 1000 officers in this so-called barracks.
Another officer said the problem is not confined to Kampala. In Entebbe police struck off 140 officers from the payroll in the Entebbe Barracks, following their decision to contest why they are not being commissioned as officers. Robert says they have been undergoing training for four years, adding that they are used for manpower during the riots then shipped back to Masindi for further training.
They are the foot-soldiers used to whip the populace into submission yet they are hungry, living in stinking conditions, looking at the opposition members' nice suits and full stomachs and wondering what they would do if they lived like police. "These riots are mental torture for us," says one officer.
On Nov.3, the Inspector General of Police, Lt. Gen Kale Kayihura, had promised improved permanent structures for police officers country-wide, during festivities he hosted for various divisions, to commemorate Uganda's Independence Golden Jubilee.
The police wives protest was brought about by two weeks without electricity, and started at the Kireka barracks attached to the Special Investigations Unit (Rapid Response Unit). They were joined by their Naguru counterparts and were marching to the police headquarters on Parliament Avenue in the city centre when they were blocked, ironically by their husbands, the police.
The women were angry that the police's meager salary is slashed further to pay for utilities like water and electricity that they never have, and to service loans they take to build the single-room mud huts they live- in in the barracks. They said only police commissioners are enjoying their jobs.
The Kampala Metropolitan Police Commander, Andrew Felix Kaweesi, who met the women, said their concerns are genuine. Police Commissioner Simon Kuteesa and the Spokeswoman, Judith Nabakooba, refused to comment.