Stop using soldiers to fight internal crime

Herbert Karuhanga

What you need to know:

  • Damaged professionalism. The appointment of Gen Kale Kayihura as Inspector General of Police (2005-2018) damaged the professional capacity of the Force in ways which will have lasting repercussions in Uganda

On July 16, there was an article in the New Vision titled: ‘Deployment of army officers in police good news for Ugandans,’ by Faruk Kirunda, a private secretary to the President in charge of media management. He begins by erroneously asserting that “Sections of the public, elite and “sponsored” groups in Opposition have questioned the logic and motive of President Museveni’s action recently when he appointed senior army officers to police”.
One of the “groups,” which criticised the decision of Mr Museveni’s action, is the Uganda Law Society, to which I belong. The Uganda Law Society was set up by an Act of Parliament, and was acting within its rights to add its voice in opposition of the unnecessary militarisation of a civilian law enforcement function as prescribed by the Constitution of Uganda.

The Constitution categorically says armed forces may be employed only as a last recourse, after authorities of the different branches of government have been unable to contain the threat at hand, and the Uganda Law Society’s position is that there are no conditions existing in Uganda today, which warrant the deployment of soldiers in the Uganda police.

In Mexico, for example, Mexican authorities turned to the military because of the entrenched corruption of local and state police, who were often on gang payrolls. A disturbing sense of lawlessness pervades much of the country. But even there, critics argue (the ones Mr Kirunda glibly labels “elites and sponsored groups”), reliance on troops has become a counterproductive crutch and a disincentive to police reform. Others are human rights organisations and a wide range of civil society actors. These are not “sponsored groups”, but rather organisations whose voice and opinion contribute to the development of democratic institutions in any civilised country. They do not exist only in Uganda.

Lastly , while on this point, what is wrong with the elite voicing their concern about what they see as a blatant, but unnecessary militarisation of the Uganda Police Force? Aren’t the elite part of the Ugandan populace? Why should their opinion matter less?

Mr Kirunda follows this by asserting that “It is normal practice of seconding soldiers to other organs and departments, including civil ones like Cabinet and customs.” I do not know how old Mr Kirunda is, but it is not normal for serving soldiers to be shunted from the army to take up civil service positions.

These positions have specific functions for which soldiers are not qualified to do. The military-trained in tactics of war-is ill-suited for police tasks. Deployment of soldiers to the civil police undercuts trust in the military itself, long among the nation’s most respected institutions. A simple example is the appointment of Col Chris Serunjoji Damulira (Director, Crime Intelligence). For those of us who have been long time practitioners of the policing function, we are hard-pressed to understand what training and professional experience a military infantryman will bring to that post.

Criminal intelligence is as different from military intelligence as day and night, to say the least. The CMI function is very different from the mundane crime intelligence of day-to-day internal law enforcement, and they are not even complementary in terms of procedure and tasking.

Mr Kirunda further asserts: “The wisdom of doing so is based on the competence of an individual and clear achievables.” What are the “archievables” in this case? My humble submission is that it is a continuation of putting square pegs in round holes as has been seen in such past appointments, and nothing useful will be added to the policing function of Uganda.

The appointment of Gen Kale Kayihura as Inspector General of Police (2005-2018) damaged the professional capacity of the Force in ways which will have lasting repercussions in Uganda. His militaristic to policing resulted in very many arrests while real prosecutions remained flat, and this has grossly and negatively impacted on the criminal justice system of the country.

In addition, accusations of extrajudicial killings, torture and other human rights violations against UPF soon piled up. You only need to read the annual Human Rights reports of various NGOs, including the Uganda Human Rights Commission itself, to confirm these facts.

In conclusion, Mr Kirunda should advise his boss to do Ugandans a favour if he is focusing on fixing the police service and strengthening crime intelligence, and stop pursuing unhelpful ideas like using the soldiers to fight internal crime.

Mr Karugaba is a retired detective and former CID director. [email protected]