COMMON SENSE: The thin line between a joke and a serious policy

A policewoman dealing with the traffic on Kampala Road. While the Police force has been lauded for doing a good job with the traffic jams, they have been accused of doing a shoddy job in other areas. PHOTO BY YUSUF MUZIRANSA

If ever there was an institution in Uganda that would rival the Fun Factory in churning out jokes, the Ugandan Police would be a strong contender. Their material is of the rib-breaking kind.
Sometimes you even wonder where to start from when it comes to this force. You are literally spoilt for choice.

Could it be their haphazard campaign of ensuring all cars had speed governors or the over vigorous – for one week – helmets’ campaign? Perhaps it could be the seatbelts in taxis campaign! Like I said… spoilt for choice.

Personally my favourite is the recent one where the police issued new “guidelines” that required a gathering of more than five people to first have clearance from the Inspector General of Police (IGP) before they could go ahead with whatever activity it is they want to do, be it attending a funeral or watching Chuck Norris in a kibanda!

I’m sure this one must have had President Museveni reaching for his white handkerchief, wiping away tears brought on by laughing too hard. And he wasn’t the only one. From Katanga to Munyonyo, people were simply cracking up. This was some funny joke.

Jokes aside, what does all the above show about our police? Apart from spotting numerous police uniforms, (can’t wait for their 2011 “summer” collection!), they come across as a bungling bunch, who lack thoroughness in the policies they deliver to the public. That’s being as polite as I can be.
Take for instance the campaign to fight road accidents.
The police required all taxis to have seatbelts that will have to be worn by all the passengers in all taxis. Now I would assume we all have travelled in taxis before, right? Close your eyes and imagine you and over 12 people all strapped up in a taxi from the Old Taxi Park to Kiwatule?

Not only is such a measure unhygienic and inconvenient, it’s simply maddening. Where in the world, with such models of taxis that Kampala has, have passengers all strapped up like herds of cattle as a measure to counter car accidents? The intention is good, the execution, not so good.

One institution that needs a clean reputation is the police force. It simply can’t afford ridicule.
It’s dangerous when the public you are supposed to police think you are clowns. The respect and trust they have about the force evaporates.

Now the Ugandan police have fought to avoid such a predicament. And credit must be given to them.
Despite the dismal salaries, poor housing conditions and rowdy Kampalans, these people give it their all. They will stand on the road in the blazing sun for hours organising the traffic.

They will patrol our neighbourhoods in the wee hours of the morning while we snore away. They will hunt down the child sacrificers despite lacking the technological gadgets that would have aided their pursuit more efficiently. I’m tempted to call them heroes.

But it is images of watching a Kiboko Squad hooligan mercilessly beating up a demonstrator, while a policeman is watching, that endears them less to the public. If you don’t know the origins of the Kiboko Squad, then why don’t you intervene when they are whipping up people? That’s assault, right? Besides the only ones that do the “whipping” at any demonstrations are the police, so why allow thugs to “surpass” you, masquerading as “peacekeepers” of sorts?

It is statements like having to register with the IGP before you throw a child’s birthday that reinforce the belief that this police is more bent on cracking us up than working.
The Deputy Police spokesperson, Vincent Sekatte, later clarified saying it’s not necessary for individuals holding private ceremonies to seek the IGP’s clearance. And then later, the IGP himself, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura said the statement was erroneous. But the damage was already done. In developed democracies, the author of that original statement would be on suspension pending investigation! However this being Uganda...

We know you are hunting al-Shabaab thugs, fighting irate taxi drivers and so on, but could the police tone down on the jokes?
Honestly it’s ceasing to be funny. Moreover if reports like the IGG’s put you (disturbingly) and the judiciary as the most corrupt government institutions according to public perception, that ceases to be funny. Don’t you think so Afande Kayihura?