21 June 2018

Uganda: Did Kayihura Finally Rattle the President?

opinion

During the presentation of the Budget speech last week, the President seemed a bit forlorn. After all only a few days had passed after the bloody murder of former Arua Municipality MP Col Ibrahim Abiriga and his brother. This was a signature crime executed in similar fashion to the other recent high profile murders of the past five years.

The President was not in the mood for heavy combat, the Opposition were absent from the Conference hall, a matter which received little coverage, protesting the arrest and detention without charge of opposition MP Betty Nambooze Bakireke, a colourful yet controversial figure.

He defended his government's borrowing, which publicly is disclosed at 38 per cent of GDP even though close observers believe the true figure is much higher and actual numbers are difficult to come by.

Infact, his own BoU Governor began raising concerns about off the books payments as early as 2011 at the height of Walk-to-work, which was interpreted like an external military threat necessitating purchase of costly military hardware.

The budget did its best to end as a non-event. The exchange rate that has spiked on its move to dollar 5,000 rested temporarily as a result of BoU interventions on the market that have left its coffers raided. The Finance minister had some new "facts" reporting for the first time that unemployment was just 9 per cent a figure that would earn him the accolade of a Nobel Prize in economics.

Mr Kasaija also stated that the economy grew by 3.9 per cent in the last financial year, a figure that reflects robust growth and very different from the situation on the ground.

But in the room were many gloomy uncertain faces. The arrest of former IGP Kale Kayihura last Monday and continued detention has rattled feathers. It is hard to believe that Kayihura just a few months ago, provided lead PR praising the raid on Parliament that left the image of the institution and its leadership tainted for good.

It turned out police played a more modest role at the edges of the chamber transporting ring leaders of the protest to different police institutions for processing.

The General, for some purposes, has been a defacto Number 2 as an enforcer, communicator and security man. It has escaped his lips at least once that he wanted to be president someday, an often kiss of death that has consigned future presidents Amama Mbabazi, Gilbert Bukenya and others to the abyss of history.

The General's use of force and belief in muscular display of power has been unprecedented for a nation largely in peacetime. But as the assaults continued, crime stubbornly crept up reaching the level of regular human sacrifices. Against all wisdom, the former police chief simply multiplied exit points for small arms, vigilantes and other means of violence to beget even more violence.

The normal soft targets like Muslims were on the receiving end of being arrested after every major crime, accused of operating terrorist cells defined in Uganda as possession of firearms, which are regularly used to enforce law and order in the underground world.

The adverse mention of Gen Kayihura in a number of cases must be a shock to his allies both in the Judiciary and in Parliament.

The courts simply refused to hold him accountable for anything, including torture, where a High Court Judge Margaret Oumo Oguli ordered compensation for suspects, who had been maimed in police custody.

Parliament for its part both sides of the aisle regularly approved his re-nomination for fresh terms as IGP. It is said the man had something for handling politicians that endeared him to them.

In fact, when Kale began getting into trouble, the sharpest voices came from the Opposition benches asking why he was being given trouble. You would think it was the NRM Whip, Ruth Nankabirwa Ssentamu voicing concern, yet it was the DP Whip, to the contrary. Kampala is a big rumour tree, this and other stories continue to develop.

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

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