KAMPALA- Ongoing developments where the military intelligence have taken over investigations and arrest of suspected criminals is leaving many questions unanswered.
Killings continue to ravage the country but the murder of Case Hospital accountant, Francis Ekalungar, blew the lid off the escalating crime situation perpetuated by different armed gangs who enjoy protection from the hierarchy of the police and some other security agencies.
Gangs like Kifeesi have publicly narrated how they carry out robberies with the knowledge of senior police officers.
The security agencies in Uganda; police, army and intelligence agencies have different mandates.
The police protects life, property and rule of law and prevent and detect crime.
The military intelligence and Internal Security Organisation (ISO) ensure stability of the State. The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) defends and protects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Uganda.
Looking at the current situation where the military have taken over high-profile murders and other crimes, there seems to be huge challenges in the management of the security establishment.
Army intervention in crime
During the funeral of slain former police spokesperson Felix Kaweesi in March last year, President Museveni said police were infiltrated by criminals, confirming the long-held view by the public. Since the President’s statement, there have been significant interventions in police operations by other security agencies.
In the wake of chain killings of women in Nansana and Entebbe in Wakiso District last year when the criminals killed at wish and will without police making any tangible headway in arresting the culprits, the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) intervened in the investigations and arrested several suspects after phone tracking.
The situation had threatened to get out of hand with the women murdered in more less similar manner of brutality. The killings ceased forthwith.
In October 2017, CMI arrested senior police officers on allegations that they had been involved in other crimes, including illegal extradition of Rwandan refugees from Uganda back home to face persecution and prosecution.
Senior Commissioner of Police Joel Aguma, Senior Superintendent of Police Nixon Agasirwe and five others were arrested and charged in the army court. Their trial is still ongoing. No other such arrest of Rwandan refugees has happened since then.
Last November, ISO officials paraded before the press suspects who had been arrested over various crimes, including forgery of passports, human trafficking and car theft, among others, which is ordinarily police work.
Addressing journalists later, the Director General of ISO, Col Frank Kaka Bagyenda, denied they had taken over the police mandate.
“ISO is not taking over the role of the police neither are we in conflict with them but we are only providing support. In this work of ending rampant criminality in Kampala Metropolitan and elsewhere, we are working with External Security Organisation and the police,” Col Bagyenda said then. This seeming vote of no-confidence in police has been heightened by the current storm which kicked off last Friday with the arrest of Abdullah Kitatta, the leader of Boda Boda 2010 gang, and other members over the alleged connection to the murder of Ekalungar. Ekarungar was murdered on January 2 and his body later found burnt beyond recognition in Kajjansi outskirt.
Two weeks later, police threw in the towel and said they were stuck in the investigations into the murder because they had no clue on the killers. The army would not take any of the police excuses. The military intelligence took over the task leading to the Friday storm.
The military tracked the suspects to the Boda Boda 2010, a gang associated with police but working on instructions of specific senior officers in the establishment. Kitatta, his brother Muzamiru Kiwalabye, and two alleged accomplices were arrested by the military. There was information that a senior police chief intervened to stop the arrest of Kitatta and group but the military would not listen to the call.
Clash of roles
Mid-October last year, there was a standoff between police and ISO over a woman identified as Christine Mbabazi Muhoza, who was believed to have been a girlfriend to the late Kaweesi and was believed to know something about the deceased’s death. The ISO deployed at her home in Lungujja to ensure police had no access to her. Police counter-deployed at the same home and the fallout nearly yielded a fire exchange between the two security agencies.
The then police spokesperson, Asan Kasingye, said they had received a call from Muhoza for rescue from ISO operatives. But later it transpired this claim was not as truthful as had been reported. The impasse was resolved at the intervention of the President.
Security Minister, Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde, last month stopped police who were supervised an eviction of Panarama Bar in Naguru. He threatened to deploy counter forces if police proceeded to fire bullets and tear gas.
“How can you cause chaos in town? Why are you firing bullets in town? Now these are my instructions. Stop this otherwise we will be forced to bring counter forces to handle this situation,” Lt Gen Tumukunde is quoted saying.
Ekalungar murder suspects
On Sunday, the army announced they had made significant progress where police had had made none.
The army announced they had arrested at least 30 people over Ekalungar’s murder and subsequent incidents related to the homicide.
The deputy UPDF spokesperson, Lt Col Deo Akiiki, said the army had handed over the suspects to police for further handling.
The army intervention signals a failure or refusal of police to execute their mandate. However, this raises questions, especially given that Kitatta and his group had been committing crime with impunity and protection of the police. How does the public expect justice when the suspects have been handed over to their fathers?
Police chief Kale Kayihura has defended actions of Kitatta and his Boda Boda 2010. Appearing before Parliament recently, he praised Kitatta for doing a good job.
“Kitatta is a city politician. He is also a leader of boda boda riders that is how I know him, his group helps us curtail crime among boda boda riders. You remember during the 2011 walk to work protests? He is the one who helped us neutralise many of those boys that Opposition had recruited,” Gen Kayihura said when asked by MPs about his connections with Kitatta.
Can UPDF evidence help prosecution?
Human rights lawyer Nicolas Opio yesterday said there was no reason to celebrate the army action in arresting suspected criminals.
“If the army is arresting for purposes of handing over suspects to the police, then fine. I doubt whether the army is trained to collect evidence to prosecute suspects in civil courts otherwise such actions show the army is overstepping its mandate,” Mr Opio said.
At the height of women killings in Wakiso, Mr Museveni and Gen Kayihura visited the places. But former chief spy with ESO, Mr David Pulkol, said such visits were mere political posturing but suggest lack confidence in police.
“This shows something big. If the President had the magic to stop these killings by his appearance, why had he not appeared earlier on?” Mr Pulkol asked.