John Kisembo: A steely IGP with a warm heart

Sunday July 21 2019

Deceased. Inspector General of Police John

Deceased. Inspector General of Police John Kisembo. Courtesy photo 


Departed former Inspector General of Police (IGP) John Kisembo, who oversaw the Force between 1999 and 2001, leaves behind a legacy of a humble but firm police chief, who believed in systems.
As IGP, Kisembo once told off a minister who had gone to his office to ask for a promotion of his relative in the Uganda Police Force (UPF).

“Leave me to do my work,” he brushed off his demands.
Later, that afternoon, while addressing the media at the police headquarters at Crested Towers in Kampala, Kisembo did not shy away from making the encounter public. “I received a minister who came to ask that I promote his relative. When I asked him why? He said he had not been promoted in a long time. I told him what would happen to his relative when he is no-longer minister,” Mr Kisembo told the media.

Kisembo coolly schooled the minister that the police had an elaborate system of vetting and promoting its deserving officers.
In a similar manner, at an earlier press conference, a journalist had shot what most would consider an embarrassing question, asking why he had been appointed police chief, yet he was an habitual drunkard, but Kisembo kept his composure and ignored him.
Such was Kisembo, a humble, smart, intelligent but disciplinarian officer, who ensured that every police activity was documented and recorded.

“He is the IGP who was appointed without a deputy and he quickly created effective systems. He was a tough decision-maker basing on laws and police standing orders,” Mr Good Mwesigwa, who closely worked with Kisembo, says. “We shall greatly miss him,” he adds.
“Kisembo would consult colleagues before issuing an order, but above all, he was not corrupt,” another officer says of his former boss.
“You could easily joke with him, but once he took a stance, that was it. He would stand by his decision and would not be shaken,” says retired Assistant IGP Elizabeth Muwanga.

But beneath his humility laid a humble and warm heart. Even when he was appointed IGP, Kisembo never displayed his authority like many are wont to do.
Described by many as jolly and full of humor, Kisembo joined UPF on February 12, 1980, and was part of the first batch of 26 graduates recruited and trained at Dar es Salaam Police College. He trained together with Mr Stephen Oonyu, Ms Elizabeth Muwanga, Mr David Tinyefunza now Sejusa, and Mr Jim Muhwezi.
Other peers included former IGP John Cossy Odomel, who he deputised before taking over the baton from him on January 3, 1999.

As IGP, Kisembo is credited for building a strong Mobile Police Patrol Unit (MPPU) in Kampala then commanded by AIGP Andrew Sorowen.
“Kisembo was a good administrator, who would listen to all views brought to him. He was a leader who was easy to reach, and we were comfortable with him as our leader,” says retired Assistant IGP Ahmed Wafuba.


Climbing through the ranks
After his training in Dar es Salaam, Kisembo was first posted as officer-in-charge of Gulu Police Station.
In 1981, he was sent to Special Branch and transferred to Mbale as Regional Special Branch officer until 1982.
From Mbale, he was posted to Moroto in Karamoja for one year and later transferred to Mbarara for another two years.

In 1986, when President Museveni took power, Kisembo was transferred to Special Branch headquarters in Kampala as the government protective security officer.
Described as brilliant, Kisembo was promoted to deputy director Special Branch before becoming the substantive director of Special branch.

He was later appointed deputy IGP and later IGP.
Later, the Sebutinde Report on corruption in the police would note that his BA Arts (Sociology) qualifications made him suitable for the job.
However, the same report took exception that under his reign, the police professional standards, discipline and observance of human rights had declined.

In 2001, following the release of the report on corruption in UPF, Kisembo was replaced by Maj Gen Katumba Wamala, ending a long tradition where all IGPs were once Special Branch officers. His stay at the helm of the Police Force also became the shortest besides that of IGP Luke Ofungi.
Soon, Kisembo secured another job as deputy director, United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders (UNAFRI).
In 2013, after the director resigned, Kisembo became acting director, a position he held until his death last Thursday.

“As acting director, he ensured the survival of the institute and continued to provide statistics for crime rates of countries in Africa. He has participated in all international meetings in the UN system,” says Mr John Ssali, the UNAFRI administration/finance officer.
“Kisembo was highly qualified in research and had a wide experience in policing matters. The staff will remember him as a jovial approachable and very considerate leader,” Mr Ssali says.

Failing health
Mr Kisembo became unwell in November 2018 after attending the UN Crime Commission in Japan.
“When he returned, he was admitted to Nakasero hospital in January 2018, and was referred to Nairobi, Kenya, where he spent one month but returned to be managed in Uganda until his death,” Mr Ssali says.
Kisembo will be laid to rest at his ancestral home in Kitema, Kagadi District in Bunyoro tomorrow.

Kisembo the sportsman

Sportsman. Besides his policing duties, Kisembo had great love for sports.
“A quiet man, soft-spoken and assertive and an excellent sportsman,” one police officer says of former IGP Kisembo.
Kisembo was the president of Uganda Golf Union between 2009 and 2010. He is famed for taking the 2009 Uganda Golf Open outside Kampala.

“He followed up with the promise of his predecessor and took the Uganda Golf Open championship to Entebbe. Every time we met and he saw an empty space, he would ask me whether a golf course would not fit in the space,” Mr Innocent Kihika, the president Uganda Golf Union, says.
Mr Kihika says the golfing fraternity will dearly miss Kisembo.

About Kisembo

Background. Born on October 1, 1955, at Kitema, Kibaale District, Kisembo attended Mugalike Primary School, and later Moroto Municipal Primary School.
He then joined St Mary’s College Kisubi and St Edward’s Secondary School Bukuumi for O-Level before joining Old Kampala Secondary School for A-Level and Makerere University where he studied Sociology.