Thursday March 3 2016

State can’t keep Besigye incarcerated forever

By Karoli Ssemogerere

The ranks of the police today suffer from grade inflation. If the British who introduced these ranks here reviewed the police rank and file structure, they would drop dead so to speak. Inside the police, there is a lot of rank animosity between those who “do the work” and those who “take credit for the work”.

After years of mistrust, the President, in a masterstroke over little opposition, appointed current Chief of Defence Forces Edward Katumba Wamala as Inspector General of Police in 2001 before settling on his anointed choice Kale Kayihura in 2006. Kayihura returned into the political fold after his tenure at the Uganda Revenue Authority had ended unceremoniously as former head of the Special Revenue Protection Services. He had a brief detour as UPDF Chief Political Commissar before becoming head of Uganda Police Force.

In 2016, UPDF and its special units had a role to play in “securing the city”, a vague term that includes keeping the peace, light reconnaissance and protecting key government installations. But the primary vehicle for enforcing the legal order now lies with the police. And if scattered returns from military installations are to go by; the rank and file UPDF in the barracks voted in lockstep with the general population in the surrounding areas.

Police, beefed up from a rump force, benefitted from a huge dose of promotions right before the elections. At least 300 officers advanced in rank. Even those facing disciplinary charges and criminal charges were let loose again to resume ‘policing duties’. In the last one year, police have been in a ‘legal battle’ with the Director of Public Prosecutions over the prosecution of former Central Police Station district police commander Aaron Baguma, whose file has been sanctioned for prosecution for murder in a case that touches on the underground world of used car dealers in the city.

Before the elections, the police were able - for the second time - to mobilise a large force of crime preventers, temporary staffing out of whom another round of recruitment has been made.
Images and footage of the current impasse at Col Kizza Besigye’s residence and running him around like a bunch of matooke ready to cook in different police stations have reinforced a new reality that police generally is above the law. The political police now at the centre of determining who holds power is masking a major problem.

There is an ongoing impasse on whether this election, like all those before it, were free and fair. Part of the battle is now thankfully before the courts but given the posture of the police unilaterally beating up people, and trampling on a number of inalienable constitutional rights, the judges sitting at the Supreme Court would be well advised to suspend proceedings on the presidential petition until a state of normalcy returned to the country.

There is no guarantee at this point that the same “visible arms of the State” will uphold a result otherwise than maintaining the status quo. It may be too much at this point to test all these unknowns of great consequence for the nation’s future while leaving the fixed variable, the police, in place to continue on its path of trampling upon the rights of the citizens it is supposed to protect and defend.
The police should respect the fact that the country, as a matter of urgency, expects the two protagonists, Museveni and Besigye to start talking. It is not the role of Gen Benon Biraaro and others to act as couriers; the President must be the one picking up the phone to call Besigye.

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