After almost one and a half years of battling rioters in Kampala, the police recently found themselves hitting closer to home, when their spouses took to the streets protesting the poor living conditions at their ramshackle housing in Naguru.
After the protest, the Inspector General of Police Lt Gen Kale Kayihura swung into action. He is now camped in Naguru overseeing efforts aimed at improving services there. Police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba says the attention is needed.
"Outside Kampala, the situation is not that bad. They could be having some challenges, but we have more personnel here [Kampala]," she says.
On Monday, Kayihura demonstratively replaced a tiled roof at Naguru police barracks that was falling to pieces with iron sheets. Kayihura has ordered for the demolition of some dilapidated units and also directed that civilians staying there illegally be removed from the barracks.
But it appears that many of those in the force were afraid of protesting against the squalor. The 50-year-old Naguru quarters were declared unfit for human habitation by the old Kampala City Council but desperate police constables have found use for the five run-down flats there.
These flats have no windows and the roofs are falling apart. The officers who live here came on their first deployment from the Police Training College, with a promise to be relocated. The promise has not been fulfilled, giving rise to the name Mogadishu.
"Do you see any difference between this place and Mogadishu [in the aftermath of severe al-Shabab bombing]?" a police officer asks in a matter-of-fact way.
Others simply erected mud and wattle huts, unipots and wooden shacks nearby. Although built on police land, these structures are individually owned and departing police constables usually sell them to those taking their place after a transfer. It is these that Kayihura wants destroyed.
However, razing the structures must have left even Kayihura astonished at what they held inside. There were lots of coloured television sets, computers, cookers, DVD players, music systems, electric kettles, and lots of classy household property.
"Most of us take out salary loans in order to buy that property. And by the way, many get those things through hire purchase from organisations like Tunakopesha," says a junior officer.
Yet another offers: "But some people have been lucky enough to go on foreign missions and their pay is good; that is how they manage to acquire even cars and build houses outside the barracks," he adds.
Theft in the barracks:
Anyone who has never lived near the security forces will be shocked at the level of lawlessness among those charged with maintaining law and order. Most leave their shacks locked for fear of theft.
"There are break-ins almost daily, that is why we keep our units permanently under lock and key," says a Kyambogo university student who lives in the barracks with her uncle.
For effect, the striking wives also complained to the police chief about poverty and Kayihura directed that a supermarket be constructed within the barracks. He also wants a makeshift market to go up in one week. Kayihura assured the women that he would arrange for development loans from the police SACCO, which, so far, has savings worth Shs 2.5bn.