On Wednesday, two days after it had fired teargas and live ammunition to disperse crowds that were thronging Our Lady of Good Counsel Secondary School, Gayaza, in Wakiso District, where Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, had been scheduled to hold his first consultative meeting, the police in Lira District denied him access to Pacific Grand Hotel, where he had been scheduled to hold another meeting.
The legislator was driven out of Lira and dumped at Karuma Bridge outside Lira with express orders from the District Police Commander, Mr George Obia, to “return to Kampala”.
Another meeting that had been planned for Gulu District had also not materialised because the venue had been sealed off.
It is no surprise that the police has been behaving in such a manner. After all, it had previously dragged the former president of the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, Dr Kizza Besigye, out of studios of FM radios in Jinja, Kabale, Mubende and Lira towns and switched some of the radios off. It had also disrupted FDC rallies in Mbale, Gulu, Rukungiri, Kasese and Mbarara districts.
Speaking in Kampala after the Gayaza meeting had been disrupted, police spokesperson Fred Enanga claimed the police had swung into action on Monday because the legislator had violated some sections of the Public Order Management Act (POMA), 2013, which requires such meetings to have been held in a closed place.
Mr Enanga, however, said the Lira meeting had been given the all-clear since the venue was in line with the recommendations of POMA. It was, therefore, strange that Mr Obia cited lack of preparation as the reason for disruption of the meeting.
Political actors and watchers have been left wondering why the police are acting the way they do long after the Electoral Commission (EC) released a road map, which suggests that nominations for some of the elected offices will be held in April, and those for the position of president in August with elections expected to be held in January 2021.
The secretary general of the Opposition Democratic Party (DP), Mr Gerald Siranda, says there are only two explanations, the first being that the police has become increasingly partisan.
“The police is behaving like a youth wing of the NRM. Police officers are acting more as politicians, and side politicians at that,” says Mr Siranda.
The deputy spokesperson of the police, Ms Polly Namaye, told Sunday Monitor that politicians have simply failed to appreciate the police’s constitutional role in the enforcement of law and order.
“We cannot completely separate the police from the activities of the State. The police are meant to maintain law and order as provided for under the Constitution. Let the people learn to separate the police from their political interests,” she says.
It is difficult not to agree with Mr Siranda because it appeared strange that the Force was blocking meetings that had been okayed by the EC.
On December 20, 2019, the electoral body cleared Mr Kyagulanyi, Mr John Herbert Nkugabwa, Mr Fred Mwesigye and Mr Joseph Mwambazi to hold nationwide consultative meetings about their planned candidatures.
It is also worth noting that the Attorney General (AG), Mr William Byaruhanga, on April 26, 2019, while responding to a letter that the minister for Internal Affairs had written to him questioning the basis on which Mr Kyagulanyi and Dr Besigye were going around politicking yet they are not leaders of political parties, noted the two were well within their rights as provided for under Article 29 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of co-science, expression, movement, religion, assembly and association, including the right to demonstrate.
Mr Byaruhanga pointed out that their freedoms can only be curtailed “if they are deemed prejudicial to the rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.” It would appear that the contents of the Attorney General have never been relayed to the commanders in the districts, which would be absurd.
In the same letter, Mr Byaruhanga says there is no law barring people from wearing red berets, and that putting on a red beret in a courtroom does not amount to contempt of court.
Sunday Monitor has established that copies of the said letter were sent to the Inspector General of Police, Mr Okoth-Ochola, who sent it down to his deputy, Regional and District Police Commanders across the country on Tuesday. Inscribed on the top right corner were the words, “Take note of this legal opinion of the AG”.
The second aspect, Mr Siranda says, is that police officers are taking advantage of the situation to make some money.
“They are looking at their haphazard way of implementing the Public Order Management Act as a way for making money. Every deployment translates into money in the form of allowances, fuel, food and others. That is why they are quick to deploy for purposes of disrupting our activities,” Mr Siranda says.
But Ms Namaye dismisses talk of using operations as a money-making venture, saying it is incomprehensible.
“Maintenance of law and order is the duty of the police. Police officers are paid salaries at the end of every month for doing that work. So who is getting paid?” she wonders.
This is not the first time that such an accusation has been levelled against members of the armed forces. In 1996, Gen David Sejusa told a committee of Parliament that the army had failed to wipe out the insurgency that was at the time raging in northern Uganda because of inefficiency and corruption. The commanders then were accused of creating ghost soldiers on the army’s payroll which gave false impressions of the depth of the Force.
Mr Rogers Mulindwa, an information officer at the NRM Secretariat, is, however, quick to blame the Opposition for often running afoul of the police in order to draw attention to themselves.
“They do it (violate the law and run into trouble with the police) deliberately because when they are confronted by the police they get a lot of media coverage. Those (parties) which are doing things in accordance with the law are not getting as much publicity, which explains why some others are playing to the gallery,” Mr Mulindwa argues.
However, there is a school of thought that argues that what is happening should not come as a surprise because the NRM is synonymous with violence. They argue that despite having fought with a view of implementing a 10-point programme, point number one of which was the restoration of democracy, the NRM has never really adjusted to the multiparty dispensation which would require levelling the political space for all competitors.
Prof Sabiiti Makara, a lecturer of Political Science at Makerere University, agrees with that school, adding that the NRM will always resort to the use of violence whenever it feels threatened of faced with an unfamiliar challenge.
“That (violence) was meted out to Dr Besigye in 2001 and repeated in 2006 and all subsequent elections. They did the same when former prime minister and NRM secretary general declared his intention to contest. I think that the people in government think that violence is part of the equation of politics, so they will unleash it on whoever is deemed a threat,” Prof Makara says.
No reason to resort to violence
Mr Mulindwa disagrees, saying the NRM does not have any reason to resort to violence.
“We are stronger than any political party in Uganda right now. Winning is guaranteed so why unleash violence? The party also does not own any security agencies. Those are for the government. As a party, we want a fair ground for everybody, but player must play according to the rules,” Mr Mulindwa says.
Although Mr Mulindwa argues that the NRM remains very popular nationwide and that it would defeat any opponent on any day, the letter that Gen Jeje Odongo wrote to Mr Byaruhanga seeking guidance on Bobi Wine’s campaigns, the red berets and whether he could be reined in for sabotage are testimony that his emergence has unruffled quite a number of feathers in the ruling party.
Without a known structure or set up similar to what known foes, FDC, UPC, DP or CP have, fighting People Power is akin to fighting a phantom with a following of mostly people who have nothing to lose. This might as well be the biggest test to the NRM’s democratic credentials.
On Thursday, shortly after the meeting between Mr Kyagulanyi’s team and police at the EC headquarters, Ms Namaye declared that “going forward, we (police) promise a smooth running of events without disruption.” Will the Force come good on that promise? We are watching the space.