At some point it was felt that the mischief of the Uganda Police Force (UPF) was just a temporary, bad, controllable experiment. One that was helping to perpetuate the well-meaning NRM government in difficult times. Similar things happen the world over. It is common in situations where sticking strictly to the law may delay or hinder government from achieving something that is ‘necessary’ for the general good. So you bend the law a bit using rouge and other unacceptable elements as an exception and not a rule.
It is common practice that law enforcement agencies employ undesirables like prostitutes, drug pushers and thieves to mix with people of a similar ilk in society to gather intelligence, for the sake of knowing them better and finally annihilating them.
Here it is assumed that those who hold the reigns of power are knowledgeable and capable in terms of management and control of the coercive tools of the State.
They are so able to the extent that they can easily and effectively switch on and switch off this aspect of law breaking by the law enforcer, at the right moment to stop it from getting out of hand like an untreated cancer that ends up becoming malignant and terminal.
For the last 31 years under the NRM rule, we have had many situations where the law has been circumvented by the UPF to achieve what they think is good for society - but seemingly helps the NRM government’s hold onto power.
An example is the rude introduction of the so-called ‘Kiboko Squad’ in the body politic of Uganda. Because the Opposition was exercising their right to assemble and demonstrate so often, the apprehensive agents of the State came up with a strategy. Here, stick wielding men emerged from ‘nowhere’ and indiscriminately beat up people on the Streets to disperse them.
It was claimed that this was an effort by the business community to save their businesses from disruption and looters posing as demonstrators.
Conspicuously, whenever they acted, it was alongside the regular police, who did nothing as they assaulted innocent people. Soon, keen people noted that at times, the same individuals appeared in police uniforms elsewhere and in cases of law breaking as well.
Under the NRM government, incidents of law enforcers being suspected of involvement in law breaking have been many and are increasing both in scope and number.
The Justice Julia Ssebutinde Commission way back in 2001 recorded cases of police officers hiring out guns to criminals and protecting them. Today, cases of kidnap, extortion, bribery, murder, rape, theft and many other ills committed by police officers are reported on a daily basis.
Most of the land grabs and forceful evictions by people connected to the regime in power, even against court orders, happen with the help of the police, and there are no sanctions on those involved.
Why are police officers known for breaking the law promoted or not sanctioned? Why has the situation become so dire that even the President publicly dismissed the UPF as a law breaking outfit that requires a cleanup?
It is the classic case of the monkey going out to steal with its baby on the back. The habit is passed on by the power of example.
To establish itself right from 1986, NRM came up with the idea of building a new UPF that was more politicised and not tainted with the so-called dark history of the past regimes.
But the NRM also had another agenda of hanging around for much longer than the four or five years it had proposed.
It had to apply a mix of co-opting its opponents, cajoling some and using hard methods on others. In this vein, it needed a compliant police as an aid. The army would come in when diplomacy failed and there was no more need for pretence.
The new police officer needed to understand his or her role in promoting the wishes of the government in power to stay in power at all costs. This meant that the role of keeping law and order became only secondary.
When a police officer who knows the law breaks it for the sake of the government, it gives him a valuable lesson that the law is just a doormat on which one wipes their boots as they move to their next destination.
There is a fine line between an officer being used to advance the cause of the government by breaking the law and promoting his own quest for enrichment by breaking the same law. So this lesson has overtime been used effectively for the self-aggrandizement and advancement of police officers.
As officers help the government, bend the law to entrench itself, so does the habit become entrenched in the UPF. It is now very hard to break because it has become a wide spread acceptable way of life. That is why even those from the Police Professional Standards Unit, charged with ensuring discipline in the Force, are also among those accused of law breaking.
Even if we disband the entire Force and replace it with another, we may still have the same problem if the ruling government does not change its ways of using the force for its perpetuation. The ball is in NRM’s court, for the habit starts there.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. email@example.com