Thursday February 15 2018

Is Uganda Police Force teetering on the brink?

Karoli Ssemogerere

Karoli Ssemogerere 

By Karoli Ssemogerere

Not much has been reported about the IGP Kale Kayihura’s relationship with his boss. He has been an effective right hand man of the establishment. In the last two elections, 2011 and 2016, he has presided over a machine that put the victor’s stamp onto the political system. He has been at the centre of civil-political relations with police.
He presides over very flush times in the police force allocated more than Shs500 billion in the budget, that’s 300 billion short of agriculture and largest budget in the law and order sector.
At face value, the IGP is very distinguishable from the rest. He is well educated and affable. Of recent IGPs, he rates among the top three - John Cossy Odomel and Wamala Katumba - are the other two. After a few years presiding as a military officer over the police, he has remade the Force through rapid appointment, promotion and deployment of young police officers who do not have ties with the past.
He has used roadside announcements to hire and fire people. Man of the people further ingratiated himself at the grassroots through community policing, mauled functions, etc.
Cracks in this armour began when the traditional police started to lose steam fighting demonstrators and crime for reasons we are starting to learn. First the young police officers even where they were ideologically and filially tuned in, began to question being sent as human grenades to detonate in front of the public, opening tear gas canisters, water cannons and shooting in the air in the name of operations, which had little strategic value like arresting people “walking to work”.
The excessive police deployment has done a lot to sour the domestic economic environment in the metro area. The police over the years also quietly created a parallel state structure, a politburo of sorts overseeing land, media, turning the police into a hub of so many sections, divisions and task forces. The Force became quite powerful that they once summoned a former minister of Internal Affairs for questioning.
To replace or augment the “sausage eating soldiers”, police began turning to paramilitary methods recruiting civilian agents, informers, crime preventers and as we learn, actual criminals to help discharge its law enforcement mandate.
Where key personnel like CID, Special Branch, Interpol, Traffic and Operations used to provide collective leadership, these ranks were diluted by rank inflation. The new rank of AIGP, took the chink from that of Deputy IGG, a presidential appointment. In the diluted rank, you had “generals” in 18 years serving alongside career police officers.
Words of wisdom cautioning against over politicisation of the police by peers like Herbert Karugaba, a former SACP and head of CID, were ignored.
Soon a spate of murders and executions, violent robberies caused more finger pointing. Apart from thugs such as Kifeesi, who were accused of setting up organised crime hubs and doing some of NRM’s political work, fingers started pointing inside the Force.
Civilians would appear in the middle of police operations, police officers would drive civilian numbered cars while on duty, and police uniforms would be distributed to non-service personnel, who would wear them without name tags.
The IGP appears to have met even more pushback after the appointment of a battery of officials to man Security, ISO, and CMI, who have seized public outrage at the crime waves to call their colleague to order. Security minister Henry Tumukunde, who famously fell out with his bosses in 2005 for trying to run for president and a former CMI chief; has not lost time trying to expose police misconduct.
In day to day operations, police have fallen victim to “orders from above”. These orders sometimes come mysteriously through phone calls. When police tried to bring Brig Kasirye Gwanga to order for burning a grader at a construction site, orders from above silenced the investigating officers.
No one really knows where these orders come from, but they have poisoned police operations in the country.

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