Mutabazi guilty, Arinaitwe innocent – IGP

Anti-riot police arrest suspected protestors at Kiseka Market in Kampala last month. FILE PHOTO

The Police has come under fire for its heavy-handedness in handling the walk-to-work protestors. Saturday Monitor’s John Njoroge spoke to the Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen Kale Kayihura, on the events of the past four weeks and the criticisms the force and he in particular continue to face.

Do you feel the pressure of your job right now given the events of the last three weeks?
Well, I will be telling lies if I said I wasn’t feeling any additional demands on me, in terms of both physically and psychologically, but it’s not really anything extraordinary.
Remember, this is just at the tail end of the electoral period. At the beginning, we also had distractions by IPC Women staging all sorts of demonstrations which were unlawful. And that was a challenge. Then the period of update and display, we had that turmoil-very limited though. The campaign period and the election itself.

All that period was a threat and remember all this was after 7/11 terror attacks, it was different from any terrorist attacks we have had especially the new element of suicide bombing. Of course we also had the Kasubi tomb fires.

So I don’t know when you start telling me about this pressure now.
Never mind about criticism here and there. But it is surprising that after that, then we started getting these hiccups in terms of public order management which quite frankly where unnecessary. Because had we had those who organized what they called the Walk-to-Work protests. The issue is not walking to work but this was a protest, an organised programme every Monday and Thursday and not on the side-streets, but walking on the main roads.
One would have expected that they would notify us. What does it take to notify us? The other day the lawyers notified us, also the DP wrote to us as they normally do about their intended rally in Kololo and we cleared it. I am sure today it was sorted because I saw here that police blocked DP rally; this is absolutely lies. We never blocked it.

They said that the grounds are now appropriated by the NRM.
No, no, we had agreed there is a space where people normally hold rallies. Our team was there, I saw on NTV that is what not Mao was saying. He said we had refused them; you see the dishonesty?

There is a lot of criticism towards the police from different people about the way this ‘walk-to-work’ has been handled. To what extent are these criticisms justified?
First of all, I say this; this statement is not of fact, that there has been a lot of criticism towards the police from government. What is government, government?

Government has got three branches Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary. Let me start with the Judiciary. The fact that the arrests that have been made and of course the investigation for prosecution and investigations that have been adjudicated on by the judiciary shows that the Judiciary endorsed what we were doing was lawful. They would have said they we are not entertaining such.

Parliament discussed this for three days. Initially they had been given a distorted picture-thanks to the partisan media, a known professional media and Monitor being of them, and not exclusive, also New Vision didn’t help in the matters.

When Parliament got to know exactly what happened, because police these days has the capacity, unlike in the past to cover these riots. Consequently, the Parliament realised we were doing our work. We were acting within the Constitution and law enforcing it. There may have been questions here and there about particular incidents but overall, there was an appreciation that we were doing the right thing under the law.
The President also came out clearly because I had briefed him on what was going on. He was not basing his judgment on simply the selective, doctored images on NTV. NTV is like a propaganda mouth-piece of certain forces in this country, rather than a genuine media which is giving comprehensive information and leaving the public to judge. This is absolutely unacceptable.

The President was not basing himself on this because he had facts and he came out very strongly.
Cabinet came out strongly too. So when you tell me that we are being criticized, I don’t see this criticism except that the media chooses to do whatever.

I have also met the donors and all of them are supportive of police actions. Yes, I got it from them. Their only concern is that human rights activists images who were basing themselves on these doctored images from the media and we have shown them our own side of the story.
We are not editing anything. In fact, the other day, Parliament was given the full story showing how the police were acting professionally by engaging in talking to him. That is what public order management is about. But Dr. Besigye decided to be aggressive and actually fight and I am glad this has come out in the media, you have seen it. Now that is why some of these ugly incidents have happened.

But even then, the police was greatly restrained.
Okay, I concede may be like handling him at the hard end like for example the first incident at Lutete were he sat in the road for hours. They tried to persuade him. Whether it was an error of judgment lifting him the way they did that was not good but again you must not rush to judge when you were not there. These people who are making judgments where not even there and just based whatever they said on what they saw in the media. You see with these cameras, if they want to create something, they can create it such that it looks terrible. Yet if you actually look at the image, there is no story.

They lifted him? We saw things differently, sir.
They lifted him but you know you can increase the speed of the video by manipulating the camera. We are victims to that, and so that image is what outraged a number of people. Then the next time, he was fighting; you saw him. I gave them a vehicle, a van and the decision of how they used that vehicle doesn’t have to involve me. But I saw the video I said, okay, put him in a van. And the third incident at Kalerwe, they put him in a van and there was no problem. This last incident, there was that same van, and they were actually supposed to put him there. Now let us not rush to judge it depends on the man who is on the ground because at that point, you know the crowd he had organised in Wandegeya and Makerere had started gathering towards him and so the officers there must have panicked. Even what they did of breaking into the vehicle, must have been dictated by that.

So you think they just panicked because they wanted to get arrest the situation?
I should not even say they panicked, they did what they did to avoid a worse situation. Where now these gangs of youths gather start throwing stones, we may even have witnessed loss of lives.
So they had to act quickly. In the process they had to make a tactical decision. I have had criticism that they should have towed him, but even if they had towed the vehicle, ultimately they should have broken into it to get him out. And I can tell you, In this, they are supported by the criminal procedure court which provides for police powers of arrest.

The question therefore when we are judging Arinaitwe is precisely that they are empowered to break in and to break out. So those who are castigating they should first of all understand the circumstances these things were done. There are principles that govern the use of force and the use of firearms. One; is the use of force lawful in terms of you who is using it and the circumstances you are using it? In this case, it was lawful. It was being conducted by lawful police officers both in uniform and plain clothes.

Number two, the weapons that were used, were lawful? Absolutely in public order management for purposes of apprehending as suspect, using paper spray is an accepted weapon and method of apprehending a resistant suspect.

But don’t you think that they used too much pepper spray?
Well that is a detail we have to investigate because I have a team that is investigating the incident.

Where is Arinaitwe?
He is where he supposed to be. He is not a criminal, he is a police officer, he was doing his work.

How about Inspector Alphonse Mutabazi?
Mutabaazi is also doing his work. We did not suspend him as I heard the media saying. Mutabazi’s problem was that he disobeyed lawful orders. Of course when we considered how to handle this walk-to-work protest, we considered a number of options. One such option was to ignore, with the consequences that, that can have and the risks. Like for example the possibility that hooligans could just march into the city and set it on fire or route.

Then there was the Mutabazi option of escorting them. Now that wasn’t a problem, but why are you escorting them? Have they told you where they are going? So you are walking them to where? Or they are walking you to where?

It looks ridiculous. That option can work. It is there in public order management but when you have been briefed by them.
But otherwise, you see this can create problems, you can be accused of abetting crime because they are violating the law and you are helping them. Then of course the one of blocking is what we adopted. Now Mutabazi’s crime was that he did not obey lawful orders. I don’t know why anyone is complaining about where he was put to work, it is not like he is on suspension.

So in a nut shell, you think Arinaitwe was acting within the law, so he should not be judged?
He was acting within the law and I don’t want you to judge him depending on any TV footage, it’s not fair to him.
The principles of natural justice demand a right to be heard. First of all, his being there was within the law. It was in the course of his duty. What he did there was within the orders that he had; to arrest a suspect. In this case, a suspect who was resisting. So to rush to judge him, without taking into account the totality of what happened, is not fair.

For the last 10 years since Gen. Wamala Katumba’s time, the government has been trying to professionalise. In your own judgment, would you describe the police as professional now?
Well, I can only say it is work in progress. Professionalisation is not an event, it is a process. What I can say is that it is on the road to that direction.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of the police force do you trust?
I can tell you I trust most of it. I will concede that initially when I came in, it was understandable because I came from a different background and I have no relationship with them historically.
Apart from those who don’t want to work, my biggest problem in the police, are those who don’t want to work. Those elements, I cannot accept. But I am encouraged by the attitude. I don’t want to sound complementary but on a scale of 10, I should say 7 and it is fast growing. In two years time, it should be closing on 10.

Do you think that there are elements in the police that would want to tarnish the image of the Force?
Well, I don’t know if it is there maybe by conduct like those ones who sell police bond yet it’s not supposed to be sold. In traffic, extortion has reduced drastically from the feedback I get.
But now the biggest problem is CID. A case file officer gets into the business of extortion. In fact for me after the swearing-in ceremony, my first line of focus is going to be CID.
But largely, I can’t rule out the possibility that there could be evil characters and you find that in any institution. But the system is to detect them early and neutralise them.

His Excellency described you as a true cadre of the NRM does that make your work difficult, especially in face of accusations you are partisan?
First of all, this is a wrong deduction from that statement. What he meant by a true cadre of the Movement was that I am non-partisan in my position.
NRM is the ruling party so a true cadre who is in my position must be a non-cadre. That is what he meant. He said this in the context of his function with the boda boda riders. Those bodboda riders are not necessarily from the NRM. I had just mobilised them as a crime prevention measure. These youths are from different political parties. They were forming a SACCO to avoid manipulation, riots and things like that. The President was impressed, with my initiative. He meant that this is the kind of quality that he wants.

The organisers of the demonstration say they will continue to walk to work, how do you intend to handle them to avoid confrontations?
We have really tried to avoid confrontation and were there has been resistance like I have told you is where there has been confrontations. Really for me, the responsibility of the police is to ensure law and order. To ensure that people’s property is protect and ensure that the kind of violence that these people plan to bring about is prevented. My approach has been professional; engagement. For example I have met a number of opposition leaders. Why can’t the others notify us?

Several army officers have said the police made mistakes in the way you handled the walk to work. What is your take on this?
The comments of my colleagues who have made comments, I am hoping that what they have been reported to have said is not true; while relating to mistakes of police. I will reserve my comments on what they are reported to have said.

Is there anything else that you would like the public to know.
I regret what is happening right now when the country should be celebrating. The elections that happened were a success. Never mind the few criticism but all the observers really applauded them and when you look at the results, it is very clear that it reflected the will of the people and they should be celebrating. Not a moment of stress at the hands of a few individuals.