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Muhoozi orders arrest of errant army drivers

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A Military Police checkpoint to arrest errant army drivers in Mbuya, Kampala on June 16, 2024. Inset is army chief Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba. PHOTO/ ISAAC KASAMANI

The Military Police have started a countrywide crackdown on soldiers and imposters who breach traffic rules or bully police officers on roads, Monitor can reveal.

High-placed sources said the operation followed an order last Sunday in a radio message by the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

The CDF, who is three months on the job, reportedly acted following rising complaints of unruly behaviour by regular soldiers and operatives attached to the Defence Intelligence and Security (formerly Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence or CMI), Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and External Security Organisation (ESO).

Also adversely named are employees of State House who drive vehicles with the registration plate series UG ....C. Many of the staff are given pistols for personal protection, but many reportedly use them to intimidate traffic officers and civilians.

Witnesses say some of these officers and imposters hang army jackets on their car front seats and often ignore or threaten traffic police when flagged down for violation of road safety rules.

Many speed or intentionally drive on the wrong lanes, including on opposite direction, without justifiable reason, authority, or right of way.

Under Uganda’s traffic laws, only the President, the Vice President, ambulances, fire tenders, and security forces in an emergency or operation have a right of way.

Traffic breaches

However, it is common to sight motorcades of ministers and senior security officers driving on pedestrian walkways, across green carriageway separators, or on the side of oncoming traffic with activated full headlights and sirens.

The motorcades often have police lead cars and the guards, instead of helping to enforce the law, break it for the comfort of government ministers who enjoy no right of way under the law. 

The CDF was reportedly informed that some of the soldiers who shove other motorists off the streets or activate sirens to secure access, do so while rushing to meet lovers, catching up on games of their favourite soccer clubs, or simply when en route home and or the bar.

“Gen Muhoozi is unhappy about the lawlessness on the roads by particularly soldiers who are supposed to be exemplary and subordinate to civilian authority,” a highly placed source said last week shortly after the CDF’s radio message to crack down on errant security operatives went out.

In it, Gen Kainerugaba, who took charge of the army in March, reportedly ordered that the perpetrators be prosecuted and cited a law under which, if convicted, they could face up to 10 years’ imprisonment. 

Another source said the directive was reinforced to all military units in a second radio message a couple of days later, this time by the Joint Chief of Staff, Maj Gen Jack Bakasumba. 

Gen Jack Bakasumba. PHOTO/FILE

Following the high-level directives, heavily armed Military Police, widely identified by their nickname Red Tops due to their red berets, fanned out on major roads in metropolitan Kampala where they staged impromptu roadblocks.

They stopped and questioned soldiers irregularly overtaking other motorists or cruising with activated sirens and extra blinding headlights.

The crackdown began in most parts of the city and upcountry on Wednesday, peaking on Friday when city dwellers heading to upcountry homes and farms were caught flat-footed.

Caught off guard

The Military Police personnel threw spike strips on various roads in Kampala, Wakiso, and Mukono to stop motorists, resulting in hold-ups that lasted several hours and sparked outrage on social media.

They inspected and, in some cases, physically searched documentation of security forces to ascertain that they had permission and justifiable reason to be on the road rather than in the barracks.   

Some brandishing machine guns, sporting ammunition belts across their chests and mean-looks, coupled with a swinging whip at hand, kept all road users, including senior Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) commanders and their guards in check.

No politician, whether minister or not, jumped the queue in places where the operation was underway.

We were by press time unable to establish the number of security personnel caught on the wrong side of the law or taken into custody during the ongoing clampdown.

The Military Police also questioned civilians driving cars with tinted windows and demanded to know the origin and destination of the motorists, including proof of final stop, triggering speculation that the army was hunting down lawmakers wanted over alleged budget corruption. 

Also in trouble were individuals who irregularly installed sirens, emergency lighting, or beam headlights on their vehicles. 

Public complaints

Col Deo Akiiki, the deputy director of Defence Public Information, said last evening that the “UPDF Military Police traffic department has reinforced Uganda Police Force traffic specifically to guide on the best way some of our drivers should use the road. This was after complaints to the [army] leadership about [un]disciplined on the road. They will also deal with unauthorised persons using military stores like uniforms and jackets to intimidate traffic officials as well as check on compliance to standard operating procedures by our own while on the road,” he said.

Deputy defence public information officer Col Deo Akiiki. PHOTO/ALEX ASHABA

Col Akiiki said the impromptu operation, especially in metropolitan Kampala, is to keep everyone safe on the road.

The spokesperson of Traffic and Road Safety, Mr Michael Kananura, had by press time not responded to our inquiries.

The joint security forces mounted several sentries on major roads connecting to the city centre, among them, Kinawataka, Ggaba, Entebbe, and Hoima. The operations have been ongoing since Tuesday, leaving the public second-guessing what security emergency prompted heavily armed Military Police to pour on the streets.

Car boots searched

On Wednesday, soldiers manning the checkpoints searched car boots and asked some motorists for their identification cards. Security personnel was tasked to present leave passes that authorise them to travel outside their area of deployment or responsibility.

The crackdown came as a relief to police whose officers have been a subject of regular ridicule and abuse by some army officers and State House staff driving cars in the UG ….C plate series.

Many high-profile officers and other connected errant motorists have physically attacked traffic police officers on duty.

For example, in February 2020, Uganda’s Ambassador to Burundi Matayo Kyaligonza, a retired UPDF major general, allegedly slapped Sgt Esther Namaganda, a female traffic officer on duty who stopped his car after the driver violated traffic rules.

That was not the only bizarre encounter between personnel of what officially are sister state security agencies.

In January 2022, a soldier shot traffic police Constable Robert Mukebezi who responded to a traffic incident in Nakawa Division, Kampala. The injured leg of Constable Mukebezi has since been amputated and, unable to resume work, his personal and family plight worsened. 

The suspected shooter, a UPDF soldier identified as Cpl Bashir Mango Babangida, was reported to be on the run. It’s unclear if the army every got him or gave up on his chase.r

Recent crackdowns
This crackdown that Gen Kainerugaba ordered is not the first. 

In September 2022, police traffic and military counterparts jointly cracked the whip on errant motorists, but the operation was short-lived, and perpetrators returned to their default setting.

The team at the time targeted security and government 
personnel covering their vehicle seats with security uniforms as a way of scaring away traffic police officers on the road.

This was after armed military personnel in May 2022 grabbed a traffic police officer on Kyaggwe Road on accusations that he held them up in a vehicle queue for long during a traffic jam.  The officers were later charged in the military court, convicted and sentenced to community service.

Another incident was reported in July 2022 when a UPDF Warrant Officer (Class 1) Herbert Kakama, attached to the Chief of Training and Recruitment at the army headquarters in Mbuya, was arrested for allegedly drawing a gun on a traffic officer at Kibuye Roundabout in Kampala.

It is alleged that the soldier parked a Toyota Harrier in the middle of the roundabout in Katwe Division, blocking other motorists and he answered a traffic officer’s order for him to remove the car with a cocked gun.  WOI Kakama was court-martialled.