10 February 2013

Uganda: Police Creates Heroes, Chaos


Two newspaper photos caught the eye last week, with one common denominator - the Uganda Police.

In the first photo, policemen were shown helping Kyadondo East MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda to clean the city suburb of Kireka. In the second photo, former Kampala Assistant Bishop Zac Niringiye was shown making a statement from Wandegeya police station. Dr Niringiye had been arrested from Makerere, as he distributed leaflets with messages against fraudsters who steal taxpayers' money.

The first photo represents a commendable operational climb-down by the police. On previous occasions, Mr Ssemujju had tried to meet his constituents and the police had dispersed the meetings. Teargas was fired and shops were closed as armed police roamed the roads. In the present case, however, the police, deployed ahead of a scheduled cleaning exercise, appear to have feared the embarrassment of being seen to side with dirt and garbage.

Instead, they returned with gloves and participated in the cleaning. The MP later addressed his constituents and everyone went home happy. No bullets fired. No teargas canisters thrown. No one injured. Imagine the chaos that would have ensued if the police had not been reasonable. At Makerere, however, the police decided to, literally, support the thugs who steal public funds in what we, rather euphemistically, call corruption.

Activists peacefully distributing awareness-raising leaflets were arrested like pickpockets. In so doing, the police conspired to shield thieves in the Office of the Prime Minister and the ministry of Public Service from further public scrutiny. But the police also helped to give even more attention to the activists, considered heroes of popular concerns. It is this kind of needless attention that politicians like, and the police seem keen to give.

Between Kireka and Makerere, where Uganda's premier university is located, there is no prize for guessing where common sense prevailed. But a prize should go to anyone who can make the police leadership realize the folly of preventing unarmed citizens from enjoying their constitutional rights.

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