27 November 2012

Uganda: Police Wives Demo Spoke Volumes


The twists and turns of events in Uganda threaten to leave my head spinning.

While in Murchison Bay prison on November 5 and 6, I was amazed to watch on TV as policemen's wives demonstrated, protesting the lack of electricity and their miserable lives. Let nobody fool you that it was actually the policemen's wives protesting. It was really policemen themselves demonstrating by proxy.

Don't be deceived into believing that the women demonstrated without their husbands' approval. The Bible, in Mark 10:8, says:"And the two shall become one flesh, so they are no longer two, but one."

Besides, policemen have, in the past, asked me to organise a demonstration highlighting their plight. When I wrote to the IGP, Gen Kale Kayihura, during the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) conference in Kampala, I received a barrage of threats which were later to be followed by my dehumanization.

Indeed, there are several reasons why the police should go on strike. To begin with, no police officer earns a living wage. The police is housed in asbestos-roofed and condemned houses, contrary to ILO convention 162, which Uganda ratified. Some police men and women share unipots; others sleep in tents; they share the substandard food with the inmates; they are not spared the high costs of living and they almost work twenty-four hours a day.

Amidst all these, while the law doesn't bar them from unionizing, I have been told by the police that any efforts to unionize will be vehemently thwarted by the government for they will be deemed to be planning a mutiny. Generally, the Ugandan policeman is the wretched of the earth. Paradoxically, when the opposition proposed an increment in the remuneration of teachers, the police, prisons and military personnel that pays allegiance to the ruling NRM frustrated the proposition.

Mid this year, a policeman was visited by his wife at the Constitution square. I noticed the man was very depressed. When I asked him why, he told me he couldn't have any privacy with his wife because of the nature of his deployment. We have sometimes condemned the police for being brutish against civilian demonstrators. However, we have failed to appreciate the fact that the police are themselves psychologically tortured through, among other things, miserable pay and the degrading conditions of work.

As the cliché goes, a hungry man is an angry man; these hungry, dehumanized, frustrated and dejected gallant sons and daughters of Uganda cannot uphold law and order and protect citizens' human rights when their own rights are violated by the very state they serve. Surely, you cannot give what you don't have.

The demonstration by the police shows that the centre can no longer hold. We have, since the aftermath of the 2011 elections, which were ostensibly won by President Museveni with 68%, witnessed civil action by traders, bodaboda cyclists, trade unionists, teachers, university lecturers, women activists, taxi drivers, lawyers, and the list goes on. It is only the military, the police and prisons personnel that hadn't gone on strike. Sooner or later we may see the military also go on strike as the situation is unbearable for almost everyone.

Ironically, the powers that be continue deluding themselves and believing that they are in control. Do the police and military take their children to a different planet? In 2009, we saw tuition fees hikes in public universities of up to 126%. But salaries were increased by a paltry 5%!

Consequently, a magistrate who has six children in school and four dependants will sell justice in order to meet these domestic obligations; a policeman who has a family of six and has a gun will stage robberies to make ends meet; a civil servant on salary scale U4 but has control over public funds will swindle the funds allotted to his/her office; a medical doctor in a government hospital will either erase the labels on drugs and sell them or will spend 80% of his time in his/her private clinic; a teacher will use the would-be time for prep to ride a bodaboda; a state attorney will connive with the judge or magistrate to subvert justice, and so forth. Ultimately, we will continue reaping incompetence, corruption and a kind of Acquired Integrity Deficiency Syndrome (Aids).

The author is a human rights defender.

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