Be clear on LDUs status, command and control

Thursday August 13 2020

The dreaded Local Defence Unit (LDUs) operatives have returned to security operations after undergoing a month-long training by the army in community policing and human rights.

Before they were withdrawn, they were reputed for notoriety in terrorising and killing people in reckless enforcement of Covid-19 preventive guidelines.

One time at the climax of their brutality before they were taken for retraining, the President described them as pigs because of their senseless criminality in reckless shooting and torture of people.

The intention for which they were introduced was good as they were meant to fight increasing urban crime. If they had lived to the expectation, their deployment would have been a great and popular decision by government, but their conduct became a human disaster.

They have now been brought back after retraining. The army said the LDUs will reinforce the police in checking crime and gathering intelligence. The army also said their operations will, however, be restricted to night time. Time of operation does not matter. Many of the past crimes they were accused of had been committed at night.

Their command must be made very clear to know who is accountable for their actions. At the beginning, the President said the LDUs would be under the army. When they were deployed during Covid-19 operations, they worked alongside the police.

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When they were withdrawn for retraining last month, they were taken and trained by the army. Their redeployment this week was announced by the army, but it was said they would work with police at the latter’s request.

So during operations, who will be in charge of the LDUs command - the army or police? The command issue must be resolved.

However, government also needs to regularise the LDUs status in the armed forces structures and streamline their remuneration to discourage them from extorting from wananchi in order to make ends meet.

Police should take full command and control of the LDUs since they will be working as an auxiliary force in crime handling. The country is entering an intensive election period. If the LDUs are not managed properly, their operations might be a disaster when they are manipulated by some politicians to brutalise opponents and trigger chaos in the country.

The public hopes that after the retraining, the LDUs have acquired sufficient skills in fighting crime and handling unarmed civilians without shedding blood or applying excessive force. The return of the LDUs should improve people’s security rather than cause insecurity, tension and panic among the population.

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