Uganda at 60: Our police is barbaric, unscientific, old-fashioned and outdated

Author: Gawaya Tegulle. PHOTO/NMG

What you need to know:

  • As civilised countries go scientific, Uganda is going barbaric and brutal.   

Two little stories, two years apart, the first 20 years ago. A serial killer had troubled the American city of Baton Rouge in Louisiana, raping and killing women. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), easily the world’s finest investigative apparatus, intervened. From the criminal profile developed and witness claims, the police began looking for a young White male, driving a white pick-up truck.

Nothing happened and the killings continued, until Dr Tony Frudakis, a molecular biologist, challenged the police, saying they were on the wrong track. He offered to process the DNA samples on file and tell them who to look for. 

At first the authorities were disbelieving. They sent him 20 samples to test his claim. Dr Frudakis was able to break down details of the owners of the samples by race, with exactness. When they took him the actual sample of the serial killer, he processed it and announced that the killer was a Black man; 85 per cent sub-Saharan African, and 15 per cent American-Indian (native). In a few days, Derrick Todd Lee was nailed. He was tried and later executed. Sound fancy and fascinating? Maybe, but Dr Frudakis wasn’t impressed with his prowess. 

He claimed it was still too raw and that in the very near future, it would be possible for DNA analysis to tell you everything you need to know about someone to the point that a criminal may as well drop his National ID or driving licence at the crime scene.

Two years later the FBI contacted Dr Frudakis over a double murder in California. It just got better! This time Dr Frudakis concluded that the killer was a White man, descended from north-western Europe; he had green eyes and blonde hair. It was so precise that Eric Copple, who was watching the news broadcast, simply walked into the police station and surrendered…and confessed, without waiting to be looked for.

Should Uganda Police ever reach these levels? Definitely yes. But can it do so? The answer is that it is possible; but not under the Museveni administration.

In civilised places, inter alia, police maintains law and order, protects people and property, detects and prevents crime and ensures that people enjoy a peaceful, quiet and high quality life. When a citizen is in distress, calling police must be their first instinct. That’s why Uganda, at 60, still has a long way to go because the political superstructure has deformed and disabled it, reducing it to an unscientific, barbaric, old-fashioned and outdated establishment.

It only stocks up on what the late Andrew Felix Kaweesa used to call “anti-riot consumables” – tear gas, bullets and the like; basically any and everything that can be thrown at the President’s opponents. Nothing else. An Opposition meeting will be detected and viciously broken up within minutes; but if robbers attack you at home, the same police officers will not be able to help. They will either have no fuel or no personnel available…that is if the call goes through. Citizens, therefore, largely cater for their own security.

Things are so bad that the President’s vision of making things better is to get soldiers and dump them in police as the strategic leaders. As civilised countries go scientific in their approach to policing, Uganda is going barbaric and brutal. As civilised countries set up scientific ways of bringing criminals to book, Uganda relies on torture to compel people to talk and even confess to crimes they didn’t commit, just so they don’t die in the hands of police or better still, the military and intelligence agencies. 

Our police has no fingerprint or DNA database or even laboratories to process crime scene materials. Instead of hiring scientists, police hires raw, brutal “crime preventers” and purely for political purposes. To get promoted, the poor cops have to outcompete each other in pleasing the powers that be and showing loyalty to the ruling party. The whole concept of police as a meritocracy is dead. Something really must give!

One more thing: “unscientific, barbaric, old-fashioned and outdated” are immortal words of “comrade” (now Dr) Robert Kyaligonza, our Literature (plays and poetry) instructor at Namilyango College in the good, old days.

Mr Gawaya Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda