KAMPALA. When the military last October arrested senior police officers known to be close to Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kale Kayihura, security insiders knew it was a warning shot that the IGP’s downfall was imminent.
The countdown began in earnest when the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) intensified operations and on occasion substituted police.
CMI and ISO inserted themselves to investigate the killing of women in Wakiso District, helping to capture suspects tracked using their mobile phone communication details, and even re-arrested suspects freed by civilian courts.
The inter-agencies rivalry, which pitted ISO and CMI against police, worsened. The disagreements played out in public spats between Security minister Henry Tumukunde, the political supervisor of the internal and external intelligence outfits, and Gen Kayihura.
The strident public remarks concerned deficit of professionalism in police under Gen Kayihura and control of the boda bodas, some of whom double-cross as security informers.
CMI, ISO intervention
When the leader of the influential Boda Boda 2010, Mr Abdullah Kitatta, was arrested, police declined to record a statement from him, forcing CMI that had arrested him to charge him in its Unit Disciplinary Court.
“This defiance, in military terms, was a mutiny. We call it mgomo baridi (Kiswahili phrase for cold war),” said a highly-placed source.
Security officials determined that the trial of the incarcerated senior police officers as well as Kitatta and his co-accused would go nowhere with Gen Kayihura still in-charge.
People familiar with the inquiries said detectives have assembled evidence likely to enable prosecution to amend the charges of kidnap and illegal possession of government stores against the senior police officers to treason and espionage or some other capital offence.
The purging of Gen Kayihura’s allies being done by ISO and CMI has touched, among other things, on their suspicious links with Rwanda with which Uganda currently has a frosty relation.
Some of the officers such as senior Police commissioner Joel Aguma had trained at Rwanda Police College and shortly after returning, helped in October 2013 to arrest and extradite Lt Joel Mutabazi, a former body guard to Rwandan President Paul Kagame. The unconventional repatriation of Lt Mutabazi, who was a duly-registered refugee, became a diplomatic nightmare for Kampala with international actors questioning President Museveni about the safety of high-value political refugees in the country.
Police, five years ago explained Mutabazi’s arrest as being in line with a memorandum of understanding (MoU) they had with Kigali.
With no record of such MoU being scrutinised or cleared by the Solicitor General, the Foreign Affairs ministry or State House, intelligence notified the President that the IGP had assumed outsized power to unilaterally commit Uganda internationally without following due processes.
Those illegal repatriations did not start or end with Rwanda. Many Congolese and South Sudan citizens in Uganda were abducted and irregularly deported, some never to be seen again on arrival in their home countries.
The security challenges of the time, including perceived threats from some neighbouring countries, prompted major security shake-ups in 2016 and 2017.
High-placed sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to discuss national security matters, said President Museveni recalled Col Frank Kaka from retirement and paired him with Brig Abel Kandiho as head of CMI because both were experienced dealing with present-day decision-makers in Rwanda.
The pick of Lt Gen Tumukunde as security minister was to clip the powers of police and clothe the country against threats near and far.
Another senior government official said Uganda instead slipped into a security conundrum because the egos of Lt Gen Tumukunde and IGP Kayihura, both lawyers, led them to clash and confused the lower rank-and-file.
Attacks and killings as well as gun grabs from on-duty police mounted, armed robberies increased and a wave of kidnaps rattled the country, the latest being that of 28-year-old Susan Magara, killed after the kidnappers took Shs700m ransom from her family.
The inter-agency rivalry had peaked, with the police chief a fortnight ago decreeing that his officers should not share information with any security or intelligence organ without his personal clearance.
“Our national security has been messed up due to this infighting,” an official said, choosing not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
President Museveni mid last month warned rogue security chiefs of jail, saying “security organs are supposed to serve the interests of Ugandans, not any individual. It’s going to be sorted out”.
It was an open-ended warning that any security or intelligence officer could be incarcerated, irrespective of rank.
In the exercise of his power as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Gen Museveni last evening dropped both Gen Kayihura and Gen Tumukunde and by not deploying them, raised the question of what next for the duo.
“President Museveni has appointed Gen Elly Tumwiine as Minister for Security and Mr Okoth Ochola as Inspector General of Police. Brigadier Sabiiti Muzei is [the new] deputy Inspector General of Police,” a State House statement read in part.
It was a return of a civilian and career officer to head police after two decades, but the placement of Brig Muzei, the current commander of Military Police and former deputy commander of the Special Forces, means the police will continue to be held on a military leash.
The President gave no reason for the changes.
“Thirty years’ experience in police! We are set to go,” Mr Ochola said last night, saying he will lay his agenda to make the police professional again after Parliament’s vetting.
The Opposition politicians that have repeatedly accused Gen Kayihura of militarising and politicising the police yesterday welcomed the changes, but said the President remains the problem to be removed.
Police, for unexplained reasons, declined to release its annual crime report, raising the possibility the statistics likely showed the Force of could be falling back on its duty.
The Force under Gen Kayihura witnessed a dramatic jump in personnel numbers and budget, making it an envy of other sister security agencies.
Gen Kayihura, who celebrated his promotion to a four-star general with a band-led procession of police officers in town and an elaborate parade during which Parliament Avenue was closed off for the function, rendered himself vulnerable.
He was accused of harbouring political ambitions and the recruitment of a reported 11 million crime preventers, without an enabling law or formal structure and command, fueled more speculation.
He travelled to Mbale District to celebrate his re-appointment early last year at a time when unknown people had started dropping leaflets, particularly in Masaka, warning of planned attacks. He had boxed himself into a spot of bother and in attempting to reassure the appointing authority, told President during a thanks-giving for the IGP’s late father that he would never disappoint Museveni.
Within police, he faced a near revolt. The sidelining of more senior and experienced officers in preference for rapidly promoted junior officers, alongside the recruitment of crime preventers, rendered the IGP to allegations of building a personal force.
He denied these allegations and told the police council meeting last week that some propagandists were intentionally smudging the reputation of the Force to discredit its good work.
Rather than support him, the Internal Affairs Minister Jeje Odongo, the political overseer of police, told Kayihura that they need to examine themselves and assess the wrongs police have done to become unpopular with the public.
The outright censure signalled that things had reached a point of no return. In any case, President Museveni had in March 2017 tasked Gen Kayihura to clean up the Force he said had been infiltrated by criminals after police spokesman Andrew Felix Kaweesi was killed in a volley of bullets in broad day.
The IGP did not act, at least publicly, and the military intervened to effect arrests of the suspects.
A security source said the appointment of Gen Elly Tumwine as Security Minister in theory signals more possible future arrests requiring the direct command by a military general.
We were unable to reach both the former IGP, whose fifth term the President renewed last year amid public protestation, and Lt Gen Tumukunde.
A highly-placed source said Lt Gen Tumukunde, who has his own baggage of unrestrained public comments, was likely a “collateral damage” as the President balanced the forces in sacking Kayihura.