8 March 2018

Uganda: New Police Chiefs - a Change of Direction? Which Way?

Photo: The Independent
Left to right Henry Tumukunde, Kale Kayihura and President Yoweri Museveni
opinion

Sunday's appointment of a new IGP, deputy and surprise appointment of Gen Elly Tumwine as Security minister were a public relations coup for the President. By releasing the news on a Sunday afternoon, it began the week's press cycle at the top until it was exhausted.

A few events may have hastened the changes. First was the not so colourful security advisory from the United States. Second was the adverse publicity police suffered from the execution of Susan Magara and the potential leaks that may have undermined her rescue. Third, the President's man, [Gen] Kale Kayihura, was a logistics man, used to running the Force in very flush times.

Police unexpectedly went public stating that they could no longer pay bills due to budget cuts. Lastly, the extended stay of the IGP at the top had created competing power centres as every order has winners and losers. There are a couple of other things, the President had started feeling comfortable with, he often lends power to subordinates, but not permanently, especially in the case of Kayihura, who has political ambitions.

The press coverage of the new IGP Okoth Ochola revealed the hollowing out of institutions in Uganda. It took the press two days to start sketching a profile of the top police officer. Like Kayihura, he is a lawyer. He is the author of the Ochola memo, which unilaterally declares that police officers are personally responsible for court awards made against police in court for their misconduct.

This position attempts to rewrite the laws of Uganda and the doctrine of vicarious liability with respect to police.

For scores of victims of police torture, high-handedness and hooliganism, this is a fresh wound every day. The second notable thing about him is that in his more than 30-year career, he has never held an operations or command position despite an above average record in the Force. The roadside adhoc style of his predecessor left many situations like these.

Very few people believe that Article 214(b) of the Constitution has ever attracted anyone's attention in Parliament requiring that police recruit in its membership and by implication its leadership from every district in Uganda. Invisible power turned many senior officers like Ochola into placeholders limiting their abilities to make a full contribution to the Force.

At 59, a few months short of retirement age, Ochola has a choice to simply cap out his career and retire or brave the winds and the likely stature gap with his deputy, Muzeyi Sabiti, an army general, who is likely to be his heir apparent.

The appointment of Gen Tumwine as minister is a surprise. Gen Tumwine has been busy with the processing of medals in the Office of the President. He has been out of command and front bench politics for nearly 30 years. His return may have been recommended by ISO, which is led by someone from the same era, Col Sam Kaka.

Dropping Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde exposes gaps in NRM's western flank. Rukungiri District has steadily been turning blue, and it is likely, NRM is about to concede Kinkizi District as well. Gen Tumwine is a loyalist, he can be very critical of his boss without anything ever leaking in public. In the theatre, he is a soldier first even where he disagrees with the context and content of his actions.

The new security structure underlines some basic truths. The President is not ready as yet to concede power to anyone, not even the young turks who were very active in the recent amendment of the Constitution.

The President decided to moderate his need for a political machine operator with an unclassified budget. Many members of Parliament, including those from the Opposition, have been in the former IGP's clutch. When he began facing "problems", it has been "Opposition" MPs pleading his case. On many nights, Gen Kayihura would be in hotels dining with them. In Runyankore, the story went, "Kale namanya omuntu"- he knows the flock well.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.

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