On the evening of Sunday, March 4, 2018, President Museveni brought down the curtain on Gen Kale Kayihura’s tenure as Inspector General of Police (IGP).
Gen Kayihura, who had held various positions including that of Chief Political Commissar and Director of Political Education in the army and also headed the Anti-Smuggling Unit, had by the time of his sacking held the office for 13 years, making him the longest serving IGP of the NRM era. He took office as Uganda headed into the 2006 general election.
Shortly after he was relieved of his duties, the Shadow minister for Internal Affairs and MP for Butambala, Mr Muwanga Kivumbi (DP), said “if it was a mission, it was one that he delivered on.”
The problem was that in the process, the Force etched itself a name in the hall of notoriety as it opted to employ a Machiavellian approach, with the guiding principle being the dictum, “the end justifies the means.”
It did not matter that former FDC leader Kizza Besigye’s car windows had to be shattered and that his eyes had to be sprayed with pepper before he was bundled onto a pickup truck like a common criminal; it did not matter that Opposition leaders were arrested so many times without charge or not allowed to leave their homes.
It did not matter that the breasts of female members of the Opposition were squeezed or that they were stripped naked during arrests; or that Parliament was raided and MPs beaten up and others denied access to Parliament.
It did not matter that stick-wielding police officers beat up journalists and supporters of the Opposition or knocked them with police cars. It did not matter that the Force was increasingly working to skew the political landscape in favour of the NRM.
What did matter was that the Opposition was stopped and Gen Kayihura and the police were rewarded for it. In mid-2013, he was promoted to the rank of General and on several occasions the President publicly endorsed him as a “good cadre.” Gen Kayihura then marched on the streets, from which he often tear gassed Opposition leaders.
On August 23, 2016, less than two months after Gen Kayihura was dragged to court for brutality, Mr Museveni while addressing members of the Urban Authorities Association of Uganda (UAAU) lavished praise on him for a job well done.
“Kayihura has done a good job. He stopped fujo (chaos), because people wanted to bring fujo to disrupt business,” he said.
NRM’s uneasy relationship with police
The ruling NRM had always viewed the police with suspicion.
Shortly after taking power, NRM subjected the Force to a purge, which reduced from 12,000 to 5,000, but by the time Gen Kayihura took over from Gen Katumba Wamala, it had been rebuilt to 14,000, but still receiving only about Shs50 billion per year.
It is difficult to explain what precipitated the uneasy relationship between the Force and the NRM in the early days, but politics seems to have been a major factor, especially in the 1996 and 2001 polls.
In both, Mr Museveni suffered humiliating defeats at polling stations near police barracks around the country.
On August 31, 2002, Mr Museveni expressed his displeasure with the police while speaking in Kitagata during the wedding reception of police cadet Muhabwe Labani.
“Even if a cow stood against me in a police barracks, it will get 100 votes and I get 10 votes. I always lost badly in their barracks,” he said, adding that he would recruit cadres to beat it back into line. The appointment of Gen Kayihura and Katumba before him would, therefore, appear to have been part of the process of “sanitising the Force.”
Mr Muwanga Kivumbi, who also suffered brutal arrests at the hands of Gen Kayihura’s men, says Kayihura had been unwaveringly loyal to Mr Museveni.
“He had been a trusted cadre and very loyal to the President… He managed to subordinate the police to Museveni and the NRM by recruiting cadres to execute Mr Museveni’s mission,” Mr Muwanga Kivumbi says.
He adds that Gen Kayihura had also helped Mr Museveni and the NRM reach out to political groups that had been out of their grasp, which could be seen in the recruitment of 500,000 NRM cadres who passed off as crime preventers.
Gen Kayihura did some work in rebuilding the police. Facilitation to the Force increased from Shs50b in 2005 to Shs500b and the number of vehicles increased from 572 to more than 5,000. Two helicopters were acquired and manpower increased from 14,000 to 43,668.
The quality of officers also increased. Uganda has many more educated officers than it had ever had, has better headquarters, training facilities and in some places better accommodation.
However, the Force also came across as inefficient. The Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions, Joan Kagezi, AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi and at least seven Muslim clerics were among the high profile people killed during his tenure, but not once did the police nail any of the killers.
The Special Branch, a specialised unit for preventive intelligence to avert crime, was disbanded on grounds that it owed more allegiance to Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) than to the IGP.
Retired former Deputy IGP, Mr Julius Odwe, always partly blamed the inefficiency on haphazard reorganisation of the Criminal Intelligence and Investigations Department (CIID), which saw well trained and experienced detectives replaced with inexperienced and ill-trained young officers.
“Most of the professional capabilities became history. The directorate of training and retraining for command and specialised work ceased to exist. Instead, an officer fresh from training is deployed direct to CID, irrespective of the rank or responsibility,” Mr Odwe says.
He says matters were not helped by abandoning practices such as the maintenance of serious crimes’ registries right from the regions to the centre in Kampala and the refusal to deploy some of the more experienced investigators.
“Katebe (not being deployed) had been unknown in the police before 2006. There were many officers who I know were some of the best investigators, but may have been frustrated due to being underutilised. Some may have retired to avoid embarrassment,” he said.
Following the killing of AIGP Kaweesi in March 2017, Mr Museveni publicly declared that the Force had been infiltrated by criminals. A few months later it emerged that some officers had been involved in the forceful repatriation of Rwandan refugees.
That culminated in the arrest and arraignment before the General Court Martial in October 2017 of senior officers including Nixon Agasirwe, Joel Aguma, Benon Atwebembeire, James Magada, Amon Kwarisiima, Sgt Abel Tumukunde and Faisal Katende, all of whom were believed to be Gen Kayihura’s protégés.
Then in January 2018, following the death of Case Clinic accountant Francis Ekalungar, Abdullah Kitatta, the patron of loose paramilitary outfit Boda 2010, and his brother Huzair Kiwalabye were arrested. Both were believed to have been close to Gen Kayihura.
There was always a feeling during the two Generals’ tenure that the police was sliding down the precipice because it was not easy for them to appreciate the internal workings of the Force. The proponents of that school, including Mr Julius Odwe, argued that the story would have been different had the Force been under a career policeman.
“A career police office would have grown through the system. He would have developed and been groomed to take leadership through modelling and mentoring to multiply, sustain and transfer the kind of competence required for leadership. Army officers in the police cannot model police leaders,” Mr Odwe argues.
“A police officer will have been developed to know police work from the unknown to the known and from a level of unconscious incompetence to conscious competence.”
The appointment of Mr Okoth-Ochola, a career policeman with a background in criminal investigations, was viewed as a real chance for Uganda to, among other things, reorganise the police, rebuild the CIID and reconstitute the Special Branch. It is slightly more than two years since we got the chance to let the police simply be the police, but has anything changed?
Lwemiyaga County MP Theodore Ssekikubo (NRM), who is a member of the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, says very little has changed since Okoth-Ochola took charge.
“He is working in a very complex environment. There is no central command at the police. He has not moved to take charge. The Generals have taken charge. For example, the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which is meant to be chaired by the IGP is chaired by the minister of Security,” Mr Ssekikubo says.
There are many more senior UPDF officers occupying senior command positions in the police than there were during the Kayihura era.
Besides the Deputy IGP, Maj Gen Sabiiti Muzeyi, there is Brig Jackson Bakasumba, who is the Chief of Joint staff; Col Sserunjogi Ddamulira, who is the Director of Police Crime Intelligence; Brig Geoffrey Golooba, who is the Director of the Human Resource Development and Training and, Col Jessy Kamunanwire who is the Director of Human Resource and Administration.
However, Dr Livingstone Sewanyana, the founder and executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), a civil society organisation, believes that a few things have changed.
“The public has started regaining some confidence in the police. We do not see images of female politicians being stripped naked or having their breasts squeezed in the course of arrest. That helps,” Dr Sewanyana says.
The police’s handling of the Opposition remains a major talking point though. Brutalisation of Opposition politicians has continued. For example, last November, in a repeat of what Gilbert Arinaitwe Bwana did at Mulago roundabout during the 2011 walk-to-work protests, SSP Rashid Agero of the Field Force Unit (FFU), smashed the glasses of Dr Besigye’s car before spraying the occupants with pepper during their arrest at Nakawa.
The glasses of Dr Besigye’s car have been shattered more than four times in the last one year.
Arrest of Opposition politicians and forceful dispersion of their meetings have continued in the name of enforcement of the Public Order Management Act (POMA) has also continued.
The secretary general of the Democratic Party, Mr Gerald Siranda, told Sunday Monitor in a recent interview that police behaves like a “youth wing of the ruling NRM.”
The Force’s spokesperson, Mr Fred Enanga, has previously dismissed the label, accusing the Opposition of looking at the police with bias, but Dr Sewanyana says it is an area that the police must work on.
“They still have a lot of weaknesses in terms of policing public meetings. We still see a lot of high handedness and lack of professionalism in the way in which they deal with the Opposition. They have to work on that and also rein in the LDUs and crime preventers,” he says.
Is anyone listening?