By accounts of the government-funded Uganda Human Rights Commission, the Uganda Police Force has consistently topped the notorious list of human rights violators for the last about 15 years.
Uganda’s formal and informal security agencies have had a long and well-document history of rights violations. From the late Brig Noble Mayombo’s torture chambers euphemistically named ‘Safe Houses,’ to hooligans infamously springing from a police station to clobber demonstrators on the streets, to now Gen Kale Kayihura’s monstrous gulags of Nalufenya - the list is long.
With Nalufenya trending for notoriety, we are back to where we have been before on torture. No one has demonstrated this cyclical movement more eloquently than the President.
With eerie wails from Nalufenya drilling into his ear, the President penned a letter on Tuesday warning security agencies against torture. But for anyone with a bit of history on torture in Uganda, the President’s letter was weak and will make the mallet men of Nalufenya lose no sleep.
The President’s letter had no strong recommendation on suspected perpetrators of torture. He did not order for anyone’s sacking. Neither did he order for someone to leave office to pave way for investigations. The letter is littered with story-telling and has a light tone undeserving of a response to a weighty and illegal matter like torture which erodes human dignity in the worst way possible.
Furthermore, the President wrote his letter as if it was the first time allegations of torture has come to his attention yet it has been as constant as his 31-year long rule.
Weak as his warning letter on torture was, the President has to be commended for pointing out the inappropriateness of torture as a means of extracting information from suspects. But he should have done more than that. Lavrenty Beria, a dreaded Soviet era policeman, is said to have once remarked: ‘‘Show me the man and I will show you the crime.’’
In the aftermath of the grisly murder of former police spokesman Felix Kaweesi, people stunned by the number of arrests have been bewildedly asking: How many people murdered Kaweesi?
There is a growing temptation to believe that Lavrenty Beria’s principle is at work, manifesting itself through suspects from Nalufeenya walking (for those that can) with a wobble, possibly resulting from having their knuckles knocked. ‘So many people have been held in connection with the Kaweesi murder… one begins to see the possibility that some chiefs up there don’t just know what they are doing,’’ is how columnist Charles Onyango Obbo captured suspicions that guesswork is at play (Daily Monitor May 17).
The Golden Rule is still golden: ‘‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’’
Unfortunately, for those drunken with power to the extent of torturing fellow humans, they only learn the benefits of the golden rule when they are not as powerful.
Dr Kizza Besigye, Uganda’s foremost Opposition leader, was once a loyal cadre of the system that the Asan Kasingye’s of this world work for. Today Besigye and many others like him are on the receiving end of mallets from a system they helped create, build and to an extent sustain.
There is sufficient history to show the fluidity of power in Uganda - history that should be used to put in place strong systems that respect the rule of law, guard against human rights violations and most importantly, respect human dignity because such a system benefits all.
And a word for police spokesman Asan Kasingye: Your sparklingly neat police garb is not as neat as the image of the organisation you speak for. You risk having yourself soiled.
Mr Odokonyero has interests in media development, communication and public affairs