Why police are enemies of the people and government in equal measure

Monday January 13 2020

  Emilly Comfort Maractho

Emilly Comfort Maractho 

By Emilly Comfort Maractho

There is nothing as belittling as going to a new place and people make you explain how your country is such a terrible place because they have no respect for basic human rights.

Every time I travel, people quickly direct the conversation to what is happening politically in Uganda. The handling of MP Robert Kyagulanyi in the beginning of January put me in that awkward place an entire week.

I am on the one hand impressed that people who do not live in Uganda and may never travel to Uganda know so much about it and follow the events probably more than most Ugandans do.

On the other hand, I resent that I am expected to give some justifications for what many of them consider an insane attack on human dignity, or at least explain it.

But how can this be explained? Someone recently said that the Opposition in Uganda are just being ‘cry-babies’, which I believe can be loosely translated to mean making noise about nothing.

She claimed that they are so weak and they are no competition at all to match the mighty National Resistance Movement (NRM).

She spoke about the NRM party and its powers and strength in a way that left me wondering how come, this party is so afraid of competing fairly? It seemed to me that given their strength and the supposed lack of credible Opposition, they could win almost every election with their hands tied to their backs.


And I have heard some even more disappointing claims that the Opposition have after all not suffered as much as our forefathers did fighting colonialism.

The point is, we are not in the colonial era anymore and we are a self-professed democratic nation, which means there are basic standards.

Seeing the Uganda Police Force behave the way it does is heart-breaking and scary to say the list. It seems to me, the Uganda Police is increasingly as much an enemy of the people and the government in equal measure.

What if the police allowed all interested politicians to go around the country and meet the people? And what if the Uganda Police saw all citizens as ‘all my children?’ What if the NRM actually considered the rising of various groups to compete for political power as their legacy for Uganda?

What if the country acknowledged that we were on a multiparty discourse and could nurse a healthy culture of political competition as is the case, say in Kenya?

In many countries that are civil, the police is the symbol of civility and respect for human rights. They are given the noble duty of maintaining law and order, protecting citizens.

Diversity is an important ingredient of democracy and catalyst for development. It is not possible that our leaders today think that they can transform Uganda through defining what people think and where they belong. It may work in the short term, probably not long term. It is a wonder how we got here in the first place.

The Uganda Police in the last decade have perhaps suffered a huge crisis of identity and definition of purpose. It appears to be lost in its own cause-either to play a political game or be citizen centric. It is a problem of leadership that has brought in a level of intolerance almost unprecedented.

The police force sometimes is now focused on protecting very important persons rather than citizens, crushing those in their way. Maybe we need to redefine the role and functions of the Uganda Police, a common practice in many organisations where job descriptions are defined and redefined according to context. Perhaps, there is need to ideologically reorient it.

The manner in which the Uganda Police have been enforcing the Public Order Management Act, an already bad law, stretching it as much as possible, makes it difficult to appreciate their mandate or their dilemma. Ultimately, it is Uganda Police standing in the way of democracy, a venture that our government is spending billions of shillings to pursue and our friends the developing partners are putting in so much through civil society to achieve.

The powers that be need to call on the Uganda Police to restrain itself and do their job professionally. If the police continue this way, we are going to have a terrible year preceding the elections. Some of us shall just relocate to the villages and become farmers.

There is no reason for the Uganda Police to be brutal and underhanded in dealing with supporters of Opposition politicians.

Most of these gain traction because of how they are treated by the security forces. Some could have already been easily forgotten had they not been given credibility by these events.

Some would not have been material for occupying important media space and national conversation without this drama. The Uganda Police should make it their mission to support government to build a more democratic nation.

Dr Maractho is the head and senior lecturer, Department of Journalism and Media studies at UCU.