Police barking up the wrong tree inside FDC

FDC national chairman, Wasswa Birigwa arrives at the party offices ahead of the party national council meeting on July 28, 2023. PHOTO/ ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The issue: FDC delegates extraordinary conference
  • Our view: Now that the police have detected the possibility of bloodshed, what should remain is to apprehend the likely culprits before they act.

Two days ago, the Uganda Police Force took a political decision which has left it contending with the twin accusations of dereliction of duty and an abdication of its constitutional functions.

The patently partisan decision was to purport to stop a political meeting from taking place on the contentious ground that it would lead to violence.

There has been no indication that delegates invited to attend the September 19 national conference of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) are arming themselves to the teeth. On the contrary, recent violence inside FDC has reportedly been instigated by some of the very individuals who have cried wolf to the police.

To be clear, the police does not have the powers to interpret the internal rules of, and choose what is allowed, inside any political organisation. That power, if at all, would rest in a court of law.

All that the police can do, and they actually referred to this limitation in their letter to FDC national chairman, Mr Wasswa Birigwa, is to ensure public safety and order. Along with the duty to maintain security of person and property, Section 4 of the Police Act authorises this organ of state to prevent and detect crime. Those functions are also clearly outlined in Article 212 of Uganda’s Constitution.

Unfortunately, the police has a very poor record in carrying out these functions where political activity is concerned. It has been partisan and selective in enforcing the law; its interventions being skewed in favour of the political establishment. Because of that lousy history, the police now faces credible accusations that it may again be capriciously interfering in the FDC affair.

It will be recalled that in the last week of July, police officers either refused to prevent crimes of aggravated assault during the first flaring of violence inside FDC, or actively participated in the commission of some of those odious offences. This uncontested fact would, therefore, poke holes in any and all self-righteous claims about wanting to prevent chaos through sweeping, unilateral and possibly illegal pronouncements.

If we were to believe the police ‘analysis’ that they fear an outbreak of violence, then it is incumbent upon the same Force to go for those who are suspected to be plotting bloodshed. Stopping an entire political meeting because of the risk of violence would be to mistake the forest for the trees; to not appreciate the wider context because one is focusing on only a small part of the problem.

We must always remember that of themselves, political disputes tend to lend themselves to the excitable. Now that the police have detected the possibility of bloodshed, what should remain is to apprehend the likely culprits before they act.