18 May 2017

Uganda: Are Police Harbouring Criminal Syndicate Within the Force?

Photo: The Observer
IGP Kale Kayihura chats with some police officers at Lubaga cathedral recently.

Some weeks ago, President Museveni made a candid statement about the police, which I believe most Ugandans applauded. The Force, he said, was "full of mafias". Present on the occasion was Gen Kale Kayihura, the man who has been at the helm for the police for more than a decade. Many must have hoped that the axe was about to fall on the man at the top of the force, now that the big chief himself had declared that he was heading a force full of wrong elements, whom Kayihura should have known if he was on top of things.

By implication, the President was saying the police have in its ranks, a collection of evil characters, including thieves, con men, fraudsters and other scum of the earth. Mario Puzo's best seller novel, The Godfather, and its sequels Godfather II and Godfather III brought out the character of the mafia better than anyone else. It was a fictionalised version of the mafia in America and their origin in Sicily, Italy. Starting from the late 19th century and for the better part of 20th century, it was a deadly scourge in at least 26 major American cities and ironically, the mafia even infiltrated the police at the highest levels. It controlled drug-trafficking, loan sharking, fraud, gambling and routinely carried out murders on orders from the heads of the mafia families. New York alone had five such families namely, the Gambino family, Lucchese, Genovese, Bonanno and Colombo family.

Any police clogged with mafias surely needed cleaning it up right from the top. President Museveni in his wisdom, however, chose to ask the IGP to do the cleaning and, as a sign of his confidence in the man in the 'eye of the storm', the President awarded Kayihura the unprecedented third contract to head the police; stretching his reign to 2022.

The Uganda Police has consistently over the years been ranked as the most corrupt institution in Uganda. It has also had an appalling human rights record, putting it at the top not only in Uganda but in the entire region. The police has been so militarised that it is more 'military' than the military itself. While in previous regimes one run away from 'army types', today people find the UPDF more approachable and more 'civilized' than the police.

The police have imposed illegal curfews on people's homes and done it with unprecedented impunity. It has tear- gassed and beaten up so called suspected wrong doers in the full glare of cameras and has hired spokespersons who are trained to lie with a straight face.

The most recent case of the police torture of the mayor of Kamwenge Town council, Mr Geoffrey Byamukama, accused of "masterminding AIGP Kaweesi's killing", showed the police descend into the unsayable. From the pictures we have seen in the press and on television of the gruesome injuries inflicted on Byamukama one is forced to wonder what kind of 'animals' are capable of such horrific acts! The whole world has now seen and it definitely does not make one proud of being a Ugandan.

The torture is alleged to have taken place in the infamous Nalufenya detention facility where he was held incommunicado for four weeks before being transferred to Nakasero Hospital when his condition, became critical. In his statement at his hospital bed, Byamukama said: " I think this is the right time for God to take me. I am tired and angry. I deserve to rest forever". This is a powerful indictment of the police.

Ugandans have a right to know what is happening behind closed doors to suspects under police custody. Telling us Byamukama had "prior medical conditions" which "aggravated his situation" is absurd. It can't justify the torture he went through and the pain he suffered. This is the 21st century for Heaven's sake and not the 16th century. Statements that the public should hold on until "you get the right information" or that "the culprits will be brought to book" are empty and insulting to all decent people.

Mr Kasingye, the police spokesman, and colleagues should put themselves in Byamukama's shoes and those of his family. They should realise that what happened to Byamukama and others before them, can also happen to them, members of their families or friends. Brutality like history, has a way of repeating itself and its perpetuators today should know that they may be the victims tomorrow.

Mr Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired ambassador.


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