13 March 2018

Uganda: Gen Kayihura and the Lost Decade of Uganda Police

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

Ever since former flamboyant Inspector General of Police Gen Edward Kalekyezi Kayihura nibbled the dust in dramatic fashion, the news has been all about him. His report card has been written many times over most prominently by his detractors and it has not been a good one. To be fair, nearly everything that is visible to the naked eye changed (and improved) under the watch of Gen Kayihura.

What should we make of his reign that saw the budget of the institution climb from less than Shs80b to more than Shs500b? How do we judge a man who in a period of 12 years (2005-2017), grew the strength of the police force from about 18,000 to 45,000 officers? What will we write about the man under whose control the Force acquired a fleet of hundreds of patrol cars, ambulances, anti-riot armoured personnel carriers, water cannons, motorcycles, bicycles? etc. What about the training colleges and the plans for a police university, the smart uniforms of the police of late made by a factory opened in Kampala, etc?

The best assessment for his era (or error) as some have called it, is born out of understanding what the role of police should be - and that is to keep law and order. People must be safe as they go about their work and so should be their property.

In case of crimes being committed, a successful Force must be capable of investigating and bringing the culprits to book; seeing them prosecuted in courts of law and sentenced according to the law. The police must protect persons and institutions that ensure law and order is kept to the letter so that they are motivated to carry on this work, which puts them at the risk of the wrath of criminals in whose way they stand. The officers of such a Force must be exemplary in their duty being committed and not compromised, using the powers granted to them by the law to act fairly as they go about their duties.

For the amount of money at his disposal and the alleged clout he had being a very partisan police officer batting for the NRM government, I am afraid to say, Gen Kayihura failed very miserably. The return on the investment was very poor. It would be safe to argue that his decade plus reign for the sake of keeping law and order will go down in the history of the Force as a lost one.

Under Gen Kayihura, the police have been named in all manner of brutality from murders, to tortures of late in the infamous Nalufenya Prison in Jinja. The Force has been cited in car robberies and other crimes. Gen Kayihura's Force has been openly associated with various militias that have acted outside the law such as Boda Boda 2010 engaging in beatings and suspected murders yet they were defended by Gen Kayihura as being useful in keeping law and order.

The police under Gen Kayihura have interfered with court processes - raiding courts in session and helping law breakers to disrespect judicial orders and threaten judicial officers.

Mario Puzo, the famous author of the novel, The Godfather, which highlighted the activities of the Italian Mafia, once commented that the law many times has disagreeable aspects, but it is still the best way to regulate society and help a civilisation to endure. If the Force that is supposed to be at the forefront of keeping law and ensuring that it permeates all strata of society becomes instrumental in breaking it, then it is of no use or positive consequence.

The police under Gen Kayihura were most active and efficient in brutally neutralising opposition to President Museveni and his NRM government. In this vein, they would break any law, disobey any court in order to achieve this aim. This was perceived as keeping peace and, therefore, law and order. That can't be a national police in whatever way you look at it. It is a partisan Force and these sort of forces will always be at loggerheads with the society they are supposed to serve.

No one in their right mind will volunteer intelligence information to them and that is why Gen Kayihura's force relied on militias and other misfits to gather information, which at times was questionable. Many do not even report cases to the police because they fear the Force will divulge information to criminals and this might endanger the lives of victims.

The sum total of Gen Kayihura's tenure at the helm of the police, is that it ensconced its men with law breakers and made the public cynical about the laws and the judicial process.

Increased lynching and revenge murders are a testament to this. Never trust the police or the courts to protect you. You have to employ your own enforcement mechanism to achieve justice and that is the beginning of anarchy.

That is where Gen Kayihura has left Uganda. The mind set of many Ugandans now is that the police and the law is against them simply because the actions of the police under Gen Kayihura, have not helped to grow and nurture the culture of confidence in the police plus law. It is a good thing that he has left the force.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. 

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