When Gen Kale Kayihura was appointed Inspector General of Police in 2005, there were significant undercurrents whose study those interested in assessing his just-ended 12-year tenure might find useful.
First, a judicial commission of inquiry headed by Justice Julia Sebutinde had revealed a police force that was so demotivated and underfunded, it had become a criminal racket full, literally, of guns for hire.
Little of what the Sebutinde report said was new, but the judge’s gavel gave an important imprimatur to the reforms that would follow. These reforms were broadly operational and deeply ideological.
Operationally, it opened the door for military oversight over police affairs, first with Brig Elly Kayanja’s shoot-to-kill Operation Wembley against armed robbers in the city and on the highways, followed by the appointment of Gen Edward Katumba Wamala as IGP.
But there was a lot more at stake.
The NRA/M government that had taken power in 1986, had been militarily strong but politically weak. While it hid its political weakness under the cover of alliances and restrictions on political pluralism, it quietly went about dismantling or swallowing up all the power centres of pre-1986 Uganda, including churches, cooperative societies, traditional kingdoms, State-owned enterprises and the civil service. The police force was next in line and the Sebutinde report created a crisis that would not go to waste; far from merely reforming it, Gen Kayihura’s job was to build a new police force.
His appointment triggered a significant increase – five-fold at the last count – in the police budget, as well as changes in the structures and operations of the Force, but the most significant ones were in the ideological orientation and the composition of the men and women in police uniform.
Gen Kayihura has overseen arguably the largest expansion in the size of the Uganda Police Force as well as the most visible realignment of its ethnic composition.
In all fairness, some of this realignment was necessary and overdue. The police, like other colonial era institutions, was a blunt instrument for the coercion of natives, and populated by those natives regarded by racist colonial policy to have the most martial attributes – mostly, in this case, people from the north and east of the country.
However, whether by accident or design, what started out as a makeover, appears to have become a take-over: A mere swinging of the pendulum of ethnic chauvinism and the appropriation of mission from colonial to regime enforcers.
A more empirical study might be necessary to put flesh on the claim of the former, but the latter is self-evident.
To see the profundity of this, we need to go back to the 2001 election. The internal contradictions of the NRM spilled over into violence, most of it perpetuated by army officers.
Although the army was barred from involvement in the electoral processes, it was the only security agency in which the incumbent held sufficient faith and control.
The police, nominally in charge of law and order enforcement, was seen as too untrustworthy that candidate Museveni was quoted saying that given the choice between him and a jerrycan of water, many police officers would throw their lot behind the plastic.
While the army was involved in the 2006 election and in the September 2009 riots, by the time the 2011 election came around, the police had emerged as keepers of the peace and the political status quo, replacing CMI, ISO and PGB/SFC as the villains in Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports.
The conventional way of auditing the performance of a police chief is to look at the crime rate when they take over and when they leave office. To measure Gen Kayihura’s tenure this way is not only difficult – the police stopped publishing the annual crime report a few years ago – but also misses the point.
There are probably more grounds today for a judicial commission of inquiry into the police force than there were in 1998 and, even adjusting for the shrill nature of social media, there is anecdotal evidence of rising crime.
Yet only a fool would bet on Kayihura facing a judicial commission of inquiry soon as his successor Martin Okoth-Ochola did more than a decade ago. The smart money is on him bouncing back, job done.
Any one who, in just a decade, turns a police force from one whose men and women would rather vote for a jerrycan of water into one whose men and women are the regime’s water carriers is a genius, whatever the crime statistics show.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s
freedom fighter. email@example.com