One of the major talking points in the manifesto of the ruling NRM in the run up to the 2011 General Election was a promise to make 10 interventions aimed at continuing to promote and uphold law and order.
Last on the list of the interventions was a promise to carry out community policing every first week of the month as a part of efforts to tackle terrorism, drug abuse and human trafficking.
“Government will emphasise community-based policing every first week of the month, where police managers in the district will visit villages to sensitise communities on combating of crimes such as human sacrifice, drug trafficking and abuse, human trafficking and terrorism,” the manifesto reads in part.
The promise was made against a backdrop of a rise in the number of crimes in that category.
Uganda was still reeling from the effects of the July 2010 suicide bombings that rocked the Ethiopian Village restaurant in Kabalagala and Kyadondo Club in Lugogo, which left 74 dead and 71 others injured. The Somalia-based Islamist militia, Al-Shabaab, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Drug abuse was also said to be on the rise in the East African region. While the United Nations’ office on drugs had no figures on users of cocaine and other drugs, it said that cannabis users in East Africa were 9,190,000 and those of opiate 1,730,000 as of 2010.
East Africa had emerged as a major transit route for drugs from the far East to Europe and the United States. In 2010, the UN put the volume of heroine making its way through the region at between 30 and 35 metric tonnes, and Entebbe International Airport had emerged as one of the drug traffickers’ favourites. In 2010, the police intercepted 7.5kgs of heroin and 5kgs of cocaine at the airport.
At the time human trafficking was said to be on the rise across the world. A 2005 report released by the United States government indicated that between 600,000 and 800,000 people were being trafficked across international borders, of which 80 per cent were said to be women, girls and children.
Victims of what is believed to be a global trade in human beings, estimated to be worth $32 billion, many of them trying to extricate themselves from the fangs of poverty in their own countries the report said, are subjected to violations, including, rape, torture, forced abortion, starvation, and threats of punitive action against their family members back home.
While there were no actual figures to point at for Uganda, in June 2007, Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) had released a preliminary document, which indicated that the vice had grown quite significantly and that children were being trafficked for various reasons and many are involved in “hazardous forms of labour”, among others commercial sex, drug trafficking and armed conflicts.
In other cases, the institute revealed, some parents were found to be selling off their children due to widespread poverty and food insecurity.
The increment in the number of crimes in those areas was associated with active participation of members of the communities.
The Al-Shabaab were, for example, believed to have carried out the July 2010 bombings with the help of locals some of whom were to later confess to having worked with the terrorists. Drug traffickers too had recruited natives to help them smuggle drugs.
The same goes for human trafficking where MISR indicated that it was being promoted through what it termed as “unofficial networks of relatives, friend, neighbours, parents and village mates”.
Given the situation that was pertaining at the time, the promise to lay emphasis on community policing as a way of stemming the rise in those crimes was very timely. However, more than eight years since it was made, the public has seen very little in terms of community policing.
Whereas the country has not seen a repeat of the terrorist attacks such as that of July 2010, there has been a significant rise in gun violence and the number of drug abuse and drug trafficking cases, which can be partially blamed on the Police’s failure to implement the community policing programme in the form it had been promised.
In 2017 alone, Interpol Uganda recorded 26 cases of drug smuggling and arrested at least 23 people, including Ugandan nationals. The organisation also intercepted a wide range of drugs, including 34.5kgs of methamphetamine worth Shs3.7b and more than 40kgs of heroin and cocaine worth an estimated Shs1.78 billion at Entebbe International Airport.
In all these cases, Ugandans, who were nabbed trying to help the traffickers smuggle the drugs in or out of the country, could not resist the allure of making a quick buck.
The increase in the number of street children, especially from Karamoja sub-region, is also an indicator that there has been no letup in the human trafficking situation.
Some of these children are believed to have been hired out by their mothers to some Karamojong women, who are already established in Kampala, to be used for begging from the streets, a scenario that could have possibly been cured through the kind of policing that had been promised.
At the same time, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people addicted to various sorts of drugs, ranging from alcohol to marijuana.
In June 2015, the Director of Health Services in the Ministry of Health, Dr Anthony Mbonye, said the ministry had recorded more than 85,000 cases of drug and alcohol addiction, of which 57,000 were for alcohol and 27,000 for drugs. This development could have perhaps been avoided were the public awareness levels about the dangers of the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs been higher.
The police spokesperson, Mr Emilian Kayima, says though community policing is not being implemented as promised in the manifesto, the Force has been doing lots of community policing over the years.
“I don’t know whether the community feels that it (community policing) is not as vibrant as it was, but community policing programmes still run throughout the country. It is run by an entire directorate under AIGP Assan Kasingye and trickles down to the community liaison officers (CLOs). The CLOs not only give messages but also get feedback from the public,” Mr Kayima says.He adds that community policing takes different forms.
“Sometimes, we write articles for the newspapers or do television and radio programmes. Other times, we play football, as we did with the people in Kawempe, or visit schools as we did on Friday last week when we visited St Mary’s College Kisubi. We have also visited Lubiri and Mengo secondary schools before in order to address those students about the challenges that they are likely to meet since they will one day cease to be students,” he says.
It is high time the police moved to take advantage of the free airtime that most FM stations offer to government agencies to embark on a more aggressive community policing programme.
It is right that changing times call for the adoption of different approaches to community policing. However, there is a need to stick to practical methods. Use of the mass media would enable the police disseminate more information and get much more in terms of feedback than it would possibly get by playing a football match in Bugembe Stadium. Use of the mass media for policing worked well in the 1990s. It can work well again.
It is, however, important that the country takes a stand against laxity in the implementation of laws. The rise in the number of youth addicted to alcohol has been attributed to the fact that the manufacturers has made it easy for one to carry it around even after government in September 2009 slapped a ban on the manufacture and sale of sachets following the death of 19 people. They were believed to have consumed sachets of waragi that contained unusually high volumes of methanol. That ban was never enforced.
Recently, MPs talked of passing another piece of legislation to regulate the manufacture and sale of the sachets. That is unnecessary. All that is required is for the police to enforce laws such as the Enguli Act, the Liquor Act and the Portable Spirits Act as we at the same time engage in community policing.