What the wananchi have said for a while about Boda Boda 2010 being a nefarious organisation, yet shielded by the top police command, has been borne out.
The obvious telling sign is that the military, not the police, led the operation last weekend to arrest Mr Abdallah Kitatta, the organisation’s head, in connection with a murder. The police simply could not be trusted to do the job.
Regardless of the outcome of the case against Mr Kitatta in relation to the grisly killing of hospital worker Francis Ekalungar, Ugandans deserve to know the depth of the relationship between the police and Boda Boda 2010.
A full-scale special inquiry is an obvious way to go to try to unearth the dealings between the law-enforcing agency and the law-breaking outfit. Who benefited and how from the mutually reinforcing relationship? How did Ugandans lose?
The police force does not have much public respect as it is. Failure to establish what happened and address it can only hurt the police image further.
According to Gen Kale Kayihura, the police chief, Boda Boda 2010 has helped in keeping law and order in Kampala. Just days before the arrest of Mr Kitatta and dozens of his associates, Gen Kayihura was at it again praising the group before MPs. He lauded the louts for helping break up demonstrations by the political Opposition. This is interesting candour, although of the type that betrays a sky-high level of hubris.
In bringing Boda Boda 2010 into its protective bosom, the police chose sides. It chose against the political Opposition, it chose against those whose lands and motorcycles were grabbed, it chose against those who were maimed.
It is not surprising that some celebrated the arrest of the association’s leaders. The long suppressed tears of boda boda riders who did not belong to Boda Boda 2010 found full expression when within a day of the arrests they descended on the association’s properties and vandalised some, and torched others in and around Kampala.
When the group’s chiefs come out of the coolers at some point, revenge may well be on the cards. Their rivals know this and must be busy girding for battle. If Kampala has never known gang wars, it can’t count itself lucky just yet.
If you have nothing much to lose, it is easy to take your chances. And the young men we are talking about have not much to lose because most live on the margins.
Politicians, security chiefs, and underworld characters have thus swooped in to promise better things if the young men can do a little dirty work here and there.
Instead of working on durable solutions to urban poverty, made worse by a fast-rising population and a failed rural economy, the big people are manipulating the small people.
Politicians use them as crowds for hire and as cheap vote providers. The underworld characters — drug dealers, money launderers, pimps — use them as toughies and worse.
Some security services use them as informants. Sometimes, as we are seeing now, the relationship rises, or falls, to the next level. Instead of keeping the informants on a leash, the informants grow too big and begin to actually control their security masters. At which point everyone concerned for national security has to worry.
Once I asked IGG Irene Mulyagonja whether there was organised crime in Uganda. She paused. Then said there was organised corruption. She and others should probably start to think organised crime. The mafia world could be here already.
The mafia run visible businesses, although they always ensure they corner an entire sector through tactics both lethal and non-lethal. They also ensure they have people in the politico-security world to protect them.
For the rest of us? To hell!
Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.