Minutes after protests broke out in the Kampala City suburb of Kamwokya, the music base of Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, on Friday, soldiers armed with guns and batons cordoned off the area.
A few hours later, the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) head, Brig Abel Kandiho, was in the protest-prone Kisekka Market directly overseeing the operations.
In different parts of the city, army snipers were on standby, their colleagues travelling in armoured vehicles as they patrolled the streets. Others with guns and sticks mounted search operations looking for any signs of dissent. Meanwhile, traders closed their shops as other citizens scattered for safety away from possible whipping and arrests that have characterised the army’s operations.
Soldiers were seen flogging suspected protestors. Journalists too, as has become the norm, were not spared.
Footage recorded by an unidentified person from a nearby building shows about eight soldiers surrounding a cameraman attached to NBS Television and roughing him up.
It later emerged that Mr Joshua Mujunga, who could easily be identified because he was wearing his media house’s press jacket with logos clearly inscribed on it, was assaulted by soldiers and later admitted to a Kampala hospital. His equipment, including a camera, were either destroyed or confiscated by soldiers.
Army takes over
Since violence broke out in Arua on August 13, the military has since taken a leading role in managing civil strife in the country. So prominent has the army’s role become that it now appears the force, whose main role is to protect the territorial boundaries of the country, is babysitting the police to do its core function of keeping law and order within the country. But Uganda Police Force maintains it is in control.
Senior police commanders at Kampala Metropolitan Police, who ideally would take a lead role in such operations, have either been behind the scenes, or, as sources say, sidelined from the operations.
In Kampala, for example, Central Police Station (CPS) Commander ASP Joseph Bakaleke has been the highest ranking police officer involved in the operations. His bosses, including Moses Kafeero, the Kampala Metropolitan Police commander, have been mute throughout the incidents of the past two weeks.
At least six people have been shot dead, and many more have taken bullet wounds in demonstrations in Kampala and Mityana District and other areas arising from the Arua fracas.
An unknown number of people have been arrested. Activists and observers have blamed much of the violence on the army’s handling of the situation, with soldiers treating citizens as enemy combatants and not merely civil strife.
Both the police and the military say they are fulfilling a provision of the Constitution which requires the police to cooperate with other security organs established under law, including the army. The government, through that law, can deploy the mainstream army and or other special units on law and order duties.
“It is the problem of your eyes. Police is in the lead but nonetheless, we work with the military as mandated by the Constitution. Whatever the case, the police takes the lead in controlling internal security. The DPC of the area is in charge and the commander, Kampala Metropolitan, is fully in charge of his area of operation,” Police spokesman Emilian Kayima said when asked whether the police has abdicated its role to the military.
Contrary to what had happened in Kamwokya and other areas around the city, Mr Kayima insisted that the army only join the operations on the invitation by the police commander of the area.
Does the police lack capacity, for example, to police areas such as Kamwokya? It is the same question we put to Mr Kayima.
“No, thank you. Some operations are joint inter-agency operations. We do it jointly for the bigger service to Ugandans with their best interests. It is not that we cannot manage, we can manage but what is wrong with working together to give that service for everyone to enjoy their rights and freedoms. There is no problem at all,” he said.
Asked whether the current situation in the country requires the intervention of the military, UPDF spokesperson Brig Richard Karemire said the police had made an assessment and found there is need for the army to support them.
“Our functions under the Constitution are very clear, and in this case, the police takes the lead in ensuring that there is law and order, and where there is need, they call us to support them. And this is what we are doing but police continues to take the lead. If we take the lead, you would have heard me issuing statements every day.
ARMY OVER POLICE
Background. The involvement of the army in what would ordinarily be police work was predominant at the turn of the century, with the standard argument being that the police ranks were understaffed. The staffing problem seemed to have been resolved during Gen Kale Kayihura’s reign as Inspector General of Police when the number of policemen rose from less than 20,000 to more than 40,000.
The police remained at the forefront of the dealing with civil protests until President Museveni’s trust in the police under Gen Kayihura declined and he started to publicly describe the Force as being infested with criminals and weevils. The army started by being deployed to investigate and arrest a number of senior police officers and their auxiliaries, and it has now moved to policing civil unrest.