The anticlimax of Gen Kayihura’s 40-year walk with Museveni

Former Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura in the dock at the General Court Martial in Kampala in 2018. PHOTO/ ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • After serving in the military for more than 40 years, Gen Kale Kayihura, who served close to 12 years as the Inspector General of Police (IGP), is going to retire. The military officer who was hell-bent on furthering the interests of President Museveni at all costs, but it didn’t end well, Derrick Kiyonga writes.

From his country home in Kasagama, Lyantonde District, Gen Edward Kale Kayihura, who was sanctioned by the United States of America over alleged corruption, human rights abuses, and bribery, has been waiting for news of his retirement.

As retirement beckons, Kayihura, at least in theory, has been facing charges ranging from failing to protect war materials, failing to supervise and ensure accountability for the arms and ammunition issued to specialised units under the office of the Inspector General of Government (IGP), and aiding the kidnap and illegally repatriating Rwandan exiles, refugees, and Ugandan citizens.

Though a lot was said about these charges, Kayihura, according to sources close to him, never expected to stand trial for the charges as the real accusation had been being the alleged mastermind of the 2017 murder of former police spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesi. 

Kayihura had been arrested on the orders of President Museveni who was acting on the report by the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) that claimed that he had a hand in Kaweesi’s murder.

A team of security honchos put together by Museveni later concluded that the report was false, nevertheless, after spending more than 76 days in jail at Makindye Military Barracks, Kayihura was charged at the General Court Martial with the aforementioned charges.

“Even when he was held in jail for a long time, he never challenged the system. He didn’t file any habeas corpus or constitutionally challenge this process. He is a true NRA [National Resistance Movement] man,” says a lawyer who has represented Kayihura.

About 35 years ago, Kayihura was at a lowly rank of Private. The army at the time was known as NRA and it would later morph into Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF). 

Being of a modest rank, in itself, wasn’t a hindrance. Museveni, who had ruled for just three years, dispatched Kayihura, a son of John Kalekyezi, a prominent anti-colonialism activist who crisscrossed the continent spreading the gospel of pan-Africanism, to join the Constitutional Commission. The commission’s role was to draft the current Constitution. 

In his 2005 book, The Search for a National Consensus: The Making of the 1995 Uganda Constitution, retired Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki, who led the commission, explains how actually besides Kayihura, Museveni dispatched another soldier to join the team. 

The soldier’s name was Sserwanga Lwanga, who was at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In his book, Odoki tries to draw a distinction between these two soldiers. This comparison could help historians understand Kayihura’s meteoric rise to the top echelons of Uganda’s security apparatus.
When critically deducted, Odoki’s impressions of Kayihura explain why until recently he was the engine of NRM’s (the political wing of the NRA) political agenda and machinations.

Despite being close to Museveni, having served as his maiden principal private secretary, Odoki describes Lwanga, who passed away in January 1996, as a person with “balanced views and did not have to support the NRM blindly” and that “he always explored alternatives.” 

Justice Odoki lionises Lwanga as an extremely respectful soldier who during this tedious process “exhibited principled compromise and patriotism”. 
Kayihura, in the book, is first described as “sober and soft-spoken” though he “presented very pointed and thoughtful arguments”. 

But as Odoki goes on describing Kayihura, it becomes apparent that despite being 34 years old at the time, Kayihura was deeply ingrained in the NRM ideology as lectured by Museveni, a person he could later christen as his “hero”. 

Being an ideologue of the NRM partly explains why Museveni was giving him sensitive assignments. Such placements pointed to “big things to come”. 
Odoki based on his interactions with Kayihura, characterising him as “a freedom fighter and a believer in the objectives of the Movement struggle and politics”. 

Though Odoki says Kayihura did not impose his partisan views on any member of the team, since the working rule was that they were not on the team to promote the views and interests of those they represented, it’s patent that Kayihura, unlike Lwanga, was on this commission to represent the NRM agenda.

Though in the late 1980s and early 1990s Kayihura represented the future of NRA/NRM, when you dig into the history of this military turned-political outfit, he wasn’t among its senior members. This wasn’t a surprise, either.
He had joined the NRA guerrillas in the Luweero jungles in 1983, three years after Museveni and his group had declared war against the president Apollo Milton Obote.

They accused Obote’s Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) of stealing the 1980 general election. Kayihura’s commitment to Museveni’s cause saw him substitute the neon lights of London where he had obtained a Masters’s Degree in law at the elite University of London for the unknown: the Ugandan bushes and shrubs. 

President Museveni

Those who know him say he had planned to do a doctorate, but when the NRA war started, he found his way into the jungle and became, first, an aide to Gen Salim Saleh, Museveni’s brother who was commander of the Mobile Brigade between 1982 and 1986.

From 1986 to 1988 Kayihura, served as a staff officer in the Office of the Assistant Minister of Defence and served on the Constitutional Commission, after he was appointed by Museveni to be chief political commissar and director of political education in the NRA.

By 2002, Kayihura had risen to the rank of Brigadier and he got involved in the long-unsolved Congo question. He was now the operational commander of the UPDF in Ituri Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).
The UPDF had entered Zaire, as DR Congo was known then, in the late 1990s and occupied parts of eastern DRC. During the time, they ended up fighting with Rwandan forces that had also camped there.

Even if the Congo expedition is treated as a massive fiasco, in respect to the UPDF due to the battles in which they were trounced, Kayihura is largely credited for finishing off Thomas Lubanga’s militia.

Lubanga was a Bunia-based warlord who commanded the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of the Congo (FPLC) and wanted to oust Joseph Kabila’s government.
With its tail between its legs, the UPDF left Congo amid claims of looting the country’s vast wealth which included minerals and timber, but Kayihura was still destined for big things.

But at first, he was assigned by Museveni to be his military assistant and his exact role was to head the anti-smuggling unit called the Special Revenue Protection Services (SRPS). While SRPS, which was a combination of UPDF personnel and detectives from the police, was accused of gross violation of human rights, Kayihura as usual had a different perspective.
He chest-thumped before Parliament how this unit had enabled Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) to recover Shs34.7b in revenue from the start of the millennium onwards.

As Kayihura was performing his various roles, something strange happened. The post-mortem of the violence-riddled 2001 presidential elections that pitted Museveni against his former physician, Dr Kizza Besigye, showed something that Museveni didn’t like.

It emerged that Besigye had outperformed Museveni at many polling stations in the country from where police personnel voted. Museveni vowed to clean up the Force. 

“Many policemen would rather vote for a jerry can than for me,” Museveni said and he consequently instituted a commission of inquiry into the Force. 
The Justice Julia Sebutinde-led probe unearthed dirt, underhand dealings, incompetence, and corruption within the Force and recommended radical measures, including sacking some of the senior officers. 
Museveni swiftly appointed Gen Katumba Wamala, a distinguished soldier, to lead the clean-up.

The appointment of Katumba, who had fought Kony’s rebels in the north, to superintend police which in theory is supposed to be a civilian force led to all sorts of speculation. 

Though popular belief was that he had been appointed to “NRM-ize” and militarise the Force, Katumba wisely steered away from politics. 
One of the most enduring memories of Katumba’s short-lived reign was a fundraising campaign he undertook to purchase police patrol pick-up trucks. 

This made him popular among the public, who contributed generously to the cause. Yet, at best, the campaign brought to the fore Katumba’s struggles on the job, the fact that he did not have adequate resources to run the Force efficiently.

In late 2005, two things happened: Kayihura replaced Katumba and Besigye returned from exile in South Africa and mounted arguably the biggest challenge to Museveni’s hold on power. The relationship between these two Luweero veterans came to define Kayihura’s policing regime. 
In fact, one of Kayihura’s first assignments was to quell a demonstration championed by Besigye’s supporters at the end of 2005. 

Protestors stormed the streets of the capital following Besigye’s arrest upon his return from exile. On one hand, Besigye fervently believed that Museveni’s regime was illegitimate and that it will be swept away by a people’s insurrection he called a “tsunami”. 

On the other hand, Kayihura took it upon himself to stop any uprising that had the potential of sweeping the NRM from power.

An analysis of security honchos showed how Besigye had massive support among groups like boda boda riders and in city markets like Kiseka and thus he could easily cause chaos in the city. 

Armed with this analysis, it’s said, Kayihura decided to form an alliance with questionable characters such as Abdallah Kitatta who later came to lead a group now known as Boda Boda 2010. Kayihura’s belief was that Kitatta and his lieutenants could nullify Besigye’s support among fellow boda boda riders.

Co-opting all these groups also meant that Kayihura’s police had to have considerable financial muscle; a luxury Katumba didn’t have. Museveni was supportive of Kayihura, financially, and the police’s budget shot up during his reign.

For instance, in the financial year (FY) 2003/2004, the year before Kayihura could take over, the budget was Shs64b. But financial years 2013-2014 (Shs272b), 2014/2015 (Shs331b), 2015/2016 (Shs357b), and 2016/2017 it was (Shs382b). 

In many ways, the relationship between Museveni and Kayihura could be described as a symbiotic one; both somehow need each other to thrive.
Without Museveni’s trust and confidence, it is debatable that Kayihura would have scaled lofty heights in the leadership of this country.
And without Kayihura’s help, Museveni would have had trouble weathering the political storm that had come his way since Besigye challenged him in 2001. To Museveni, Kayihura had become “Mr Fix-it” and the President’s unofficial political strategist.

It was Kayihura who devised Museveni’s 2016 re-election strategy, through his crime prevention programme. 
On the surface, the thousands of youth recruited under this programme were supposed to work hand in hand with police to curb crime ahead of the elections. Unofficially, they were NRM mobilisers. 

In the run-up to the 2016 election it was revealed that to become a crime preventer, the essential requirement was to have a voter’s card and to be a known supporter of the NRM. During the presidential campaigns, many donned NRM colours, and, at Museveni’s rallies, many crime preventers actively participated in the mobilisation of people. 

On the other hand, Kayihura’s defenders, rather not surprisingly, want to look at his reign using different lenses. They insist that by the time he took over the Force, it was too bureaucratic, laidback, and where work moved in slow motion, Kayihura’s high-tempo military approach to doing things rattled feathers.

Kayihura‘s defenders say he wisely moved to introduce university graduates in a Force that was renowned for having Senior Four graduates. He oversaw the rise of youthful cardres such as Grace Akullo, the director of CID; Andrew Felix Kaweesi, the fallen former police spokesperson; Senior Commissioner of Police Moses Kafeero, Lands minister Judith Nabakooba; and Simeo Nsubuga (former MP Kassanda South).

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These officers had joined the Force in the early 2000s and many had been recommended to the Force by senior NRM cadres. As he pushed his agenda, Kayihura came to rely on this group more.

Kaweesi, in particular, became one of his most trusted aides and, later, commandant of the training school at Kabalye. To reward this group, he quickly promoted them to higher ranks and facilitated them well.
This group quickly eclipsed the old guard and, as more youthful faces (Norman Musinga, James Ruhweza, Polly Namaye, Siraje Bakaleke, and Aaron Baguma,) came to the fore, the face of the police force changed completely.

Kayihura also created the Flying Squad Unit which was serving as the Force’s violent crime crack unit and it was accused of human rights violations, something that was reflected when the US sanctioned him.

“As the IGP for the UPF [Uganda Police Force], Kayihura led individuals from the UPF’s Flying Squad Unit, which has engaged in the inhumane treatment of detainees at the Nalufenya Special Investigations Centre (NSIC). Flying Squad Unit members reportedly used sticks and rifle butts to abuse NSIC detainees, and officers at NSIC are accused of having beaten one of the detainees with blunt instruments to the point that he lost consciousness. 

Detainees also reported that after being subjected to the abuse they were offered significant sums of money if they confessed to their involvement in a crime,” the indictment read.

While Kayihura was enjoying Museveni’s unquestioned support, some Luweero veterans were getting envious. Kayihura had entered the police as a one-star General (Brigadier) but within no time he became a four-star General.
“So while he was the most hated man by the political Opposition of Uganda,” one person close to Kayihura, who preferred anonymity, explained: “He was also the most hated in the security apparatus.”

Fading invisibility
As the saying goes, nothing stays the same, it all gets crushed. After the 2016 elections there were ample indicators that Kayihura was losing his invincibility.

The first sign, though denied at the time, was the appointment of Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde as Minister of Security, replacing the non-confrontational Wilson Muruli Mukasa.
Tumukunde and Kayihura were never friends, and this appointment was seen as a move by Museveni to clip Kayihura’s wings. 

As Kayihura was extremely busy fixing Museveni’s murky politics, it seemed he had paid minimal interest in issues such as training, equipping, and motivating detectives to solve crimes committed against ordinary people. 
Under his watch, there was an increase in political demonstrations and in unresolved murders of prominent personalities such as Kaweesi, Prosecutor Joan Kagezi, and a number of Muslim clerics.

The policemen seemed to have learnt to survive without help from Kayihura, hence the growth of practices such as conniving with gangs such as Kifeesi and other bigger criminals. And when Museveni said police had been infiltrated by Kawukuumi (weevils) that seemed to be the final nail in Kayihura’s coffin.

Even as he was charged before the court martial, those who had observed trials of senior UPDF officers at the military court insisted that the trial will come to nothing. They cited examples of officers such as Tumukunde who was tried, exonerated, and later appointed minister. 

Maj Gen Michael Ondoga was tried at the same court but acquitted of charges including underestimating the strength of enemy forces and under-deploying at the frontline in Somalia, leading to the death of troops and loss of battle equipment, and lying about juniors to the Chief of Defence Forces.
After three years of non-deployment, commonly known as ‘katebe’, Ondoga was in 2016 appointed as one of two deputy directors at the National Enterprise Corporations (NEC), the UPDF’s business portfolio.

Another example given was that of the late Col Shaban Bantariza who in 2015 was quitted of fraud-related charges. He went on to serve as the deputy director of the Uganda Media Centre and deputy government spokesperson. 
Kayihura, it was predicted by some analysts, might be rehabilitated and brought back into the fold after some time. 

No wonder, Museveni’s son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who is seen as his father’s heir apparent, pushed hard for Kayihura’s “forgiveness”. 
“Gen K Kayihura was one of those special cadres in the early 1990s who inspired us to serve our nation. Others were late Generals [Nobel] Mayombo and [James] Kazini. If he made mistakes, let us use revolutionary methods of work to rectify them. I request the CIC [Commander-in-Chief] to forgive and rehabilitate him,” Gen Muhoozi tweeted in 2021. 

It didn’t come as a surprise when in April this year Kayihura publicly met Muhoozi in Kabale District. Muhoozi has been moving around the country as he targets to replace his father in the future.