opinionBy Irene Kiiza-Onyango
'.... you have to be wise enough to make sure you satisfy his marital needs without inconveniencing neighbours or alerting the children.' Melissa Littles, a police officer's wife in the United States, writes on her blog in the article The police wife life, selfish is not an option, that "Being the wife of a police officer is not for the weak, nor the self-centred, nor the needy, clingy, insecure or high-maintenance type of woman."
Whatever Littles' situation, her observation distinctively describes a Ugandan police officer's wife. Recently, a group of policemen's wives from Kireka Police barracks took to the streets of Kampala protesting their living conditions.
The women, carrying charcoal stoves, saucepans and some mingling sticks, among other items, wanted electricity to be restored to their barracks. Part of Kireka Police barracks had been in a blackout for three weeks.
The Police Council, in a bid to check illegal connections and also cut down on the Force's high electricity bills, had ordered that the power outages in the different police quarters be harmonized and all illegal connections be disconnected.
Whoever was tasked to do that, according to a source, switched the power off without communicating to the concerned parties. Police officers pay for their water and power bills through salary deductions.
A day later, policemen's wives and children in Naguru and Ntinda barracks also demonstrated against their pitiable living conditions. Electricity could have been the reason for demonstrating, but police wives have many more bitter stories to tell.
"My husband has been in Somalia for four months now and he has not sent a coin. I have four children to feed, two of them in school," says Edith Nalubwama.
Nalubwama's family lives in a dilapidated room in Naguru Police barracks, housed on a piece of land allegedly bought by Picfare Industries.
When I visited, Nalubwama had just bought her two youngest children two small packs of popcorn each at Shs 200.
"When my husband is here we get some maize flour and beans.
"Now when we attempt to get such help from the stores, we are told to back off because our husbands are in Somalia minting dollars," she says.
Nalubwama, who says she solely lives off her husband, says she believes if she had an income, she would help supplement the family's upkeep. Earlier, the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura, had been in the barracks for two consecutive days, and there was talk that he would spend the whole week there trying to put the place in order.
On Saturday November 17, Kayihura was conducted on a tour of both Naguru and Ntinda barracks and he ordered for immediate changes in a knee-jerk reaction.
On his tour, the Inspector General was shocked to find families living in dorms. Kayihura immediately directed that all married people be accommodated in more private quarters and the dorm-like structures be left for single people.
"How do married people live in such a state? How do you even fulfil your conjugal obligations?" the stunned highest-ranking policeman asked.
A naughty Cissy Owor, married to a policeman for seven years, wonders too.
"We have to find a way to survive. And men don't have that much patience. You have to be wise enough to make sure you satisfy his marital needs without inconveniencing neighbours or alerting the children. For us there is no noise," Owor told The Observer.
And, because of the congestion, extra-marital affairs are also on the rise. "Our men end up with women in Nakawa because they are looking for good uninterrupted sex - we are not happy," Owor says.
The quarters are also dogged with squabbles, leading to relocation of families or impromptu transfers.
"It is because of quarrels that my family got this house," Nalubwama says in reference to her single room. "The wives constantly quarrelled until it was decided that one of them leaves before something worse could happen. My husband was nearby when the family was evicted and he immediately placed a padlock on the house, then we forcefully occupied it," she adds.
When it comes to transfers, although the contract is between the Police and their officer, a policeman's wife cannot escape the challenges that come with being espoused to a man in uniform. She has to follow him on his escapades and if she is not made of tough skin, she may end up giving up on the marriage altogether.
Those in the Field Force Unit (FFU) are worse off. Police transfers take immediate effect, but for the mobile unit or madowa-dowa as they are referred to, police trucks are always on standby to ferry them wherever they are required.
Sometimes the transfers come like a special duty and they end up staying in those places longer than anticipated. Recently, two groups, one in Kisoro and the other in Karamoja, left their wives and children in Naguru hoping to return soon. That was about six months ago.
"If a woman is not clever [innovative] ,how does she fend for her family in such a case?" a wife asked.
When an officer dies, the Force usually caters for the burial expenses. But that is it. The widow, orphans and their property are loaded onto a truck and henceforth, they are on their own.
In the recent past, policemen's wives brewed local malwa and waragi, to earn a living, but that has been outlawed. Now, some sell pancakes, fried cassava chips and other small items, while the majority live off their husband's meagre pay.