Former Uganda Police boss Gen Kale Kayihura.PHOTO/FILE


Gen Kayihura: Patriot or regime enforcer?

What you need to know:

  • In the second instalment of The Kale Files, Isaac Mufumba shows how the sum of parts of Uganda’s security architecture worked to install Gen Kale Kayihura as an unapologetic enforcer of the NRM regime, leaving Opposition stalwarts like Kizza Besigye caught in the crosshairs.

“Kayihura! Kayihura! Kayihura!” bellowed Opposition stalwart Col (rtd) Dr Kizza Besigye in a clip that was aired on NTV for quite a while in 2010. That was perhaps the biggest testament to the frustration that many in the Opposition felt in the face of the methods of the police under Gen Kale Kayihura.

Gen Kayihura’s first test was to preside over the November 15, 2005 arrest of Dr Besigye. The politician had on October 26, 2005 returned from self-imposed exile in South Africa to lead the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party into the 2006 General Election.

In this file photo, then recently re-elected President, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, (R) gives party supporters the National Resistance Movement's (NRM) thumbs up symbol during his swearing-in ceremony at Kololo Airstrip in the capital Kampala, 12 May 2006. 

Dr Besigye was subsequently charged with treason and a rape claim dating back to 1997. He was accused of being the leader of a rebel group, the People Redemption Army (PRA). The arrest sparked off riots that were easily snuffed out.

On November 14, 2005, it was business as usual in and around the High Court in Kampala when suspects alleged to belong to the PRA rebel outfit appeared in court. A day later, men clad in black T-shirts and military fatigue bottoms, who were wielding assault weapons, stormed the High Court premises in Kampala. Col Dr Kizza Besigye and the other suspects accused of treason were set to appear in the court for a bail application presided over by Justice Edmond Ssempa Lugayizi.

The incident, which Justice James Ogoola— the Principal Judge then—described as a “despicable act … rape of the Judiciary … a day of infamy” sparked off widespread condemnation and reprisals in the form of aid cuts.

Justice James Ogoola says the Judiciary is hoping to recruit more magistrates to serve for the next 20 years. PHOTO BY joseph kiggundu

The United Kingdom in December 2005 withheld £15m (about Shs69b) meant for budget support and humanitarian operations in northern Uganda. Lawyers later went on a strike to protest the raid.

Despite those actions, the incident turned out to be the first of several court raids. It, some would argue, set the tone for Gen Kayihura’s 13-year tenure as the Inspector General of Police (IGP).

Looking back now, one cannot help but point out that the first raid on the High Court should have been an ominous sign that the Force had begun a rapid descent into ignominy. This is on account of, among others, impunity and the unnecessary use of lethal force. Whichever way, the country either missed or ignored the warning signs.

Man on a mission
Gen Kayihura seemed to have been a man on a mission. He appeared eager to sanitise the image of the police. It was at the August 31, 2002 wedding reception of Police Cadet Muhabwe Labani in Kitagata that President Museveni voiced his displeasure that was initially treated lightly. During the 1996 and 2001 general elections, candidate Museveni suffered a bruising defeat at polling stations near all police barracks.

“Even if a cow stood against me in a police barracks, it will get 100 votes and I get 10 votes,” Mr Museveni noted.

Analysts were quick to point to the fact that Mr Museveni was facing a political backlash after whittling down the police from 12,000 to 5,000 officers. Cognisant of this, Uganda’s president since 1986 concluded his speech in Kitagata with a promise to recruit cadres to right the wrongs in the Force.

Three years on from the wedding reception in Kitagata, the Force’s image—at least in the eyes of Mr Museveni—still needed to be rehabilitated when Gen Kayihura took on the IGP reins from Gen Edward Katumba Wamala. It is highly unlikely that Mr Museveni was disappointed in the choice. In the middle of 2013, he promoted Kayihura to the rank of General.  

Even when Gen Kayihura was dragged to court on brutality charges, he remained Mr Museveni’s blue-eyed boy.

“Kayihura has done a good job. He stopped fujo (chaos), because people wanted to bring fujo to disrupt business,” the President told members of the Urban Authorities Association of Uganda (UAAU) after Gen Kayihura quelled acts of civil disobedience.

Improving the police
There is no doubt that Gen Kayihura left quite a mark on the police. Mr Muwanga Kivumbi, the Butambala County lawmaker, credits the immediate past IGP for trying to professionalise the police and improving its infrastructure.

“He has created the best trained and most educated police force Uganda has ever had. He has helped to improve the Force’s infrastructure in the form of houses and training schools. They have their own headquarters in Naguru. Those are outstanding contributions for which he will always take credit,” Mr Kivumbi told Saturday Monitor.
Whereas the Police Training School in Kabalya, Masindi, was in place by the time Gen Kayihura took charge, it was poorly equipped in terms of infrastructure. He is credited for having put most of the required infrastructure in place.

Then Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura appearing before Parliamentary Committee on defence on February 4, 2014 to answer queries about the conduct of Uganda police force. FILE PHOTO

Gen Kayihura also received plaudits for setting up the police’s Senior Command and Staff College at Bwebajja. On his watch, the ribbon was cut on the Olilim and Ikafe police training schools in Otuke and Yumbe districts.

In fact, during his tenure, the number of officers increased from 14,000 to 43,668. The number of vehicles also increased from 572 to more than 5,000. The police also acquired two helicopters for good measure. This was largely due to the fact that the budget increased from Shs50b in 2005 to Shs550b. The conditions that compelled a number of officers to turn their backs on Mr Museveni’s candidature in 1996 and 2001 were decisively addressed.

A section of police headquarters in Naguru, Kampala. Some people credit the former IGP for trying to professionalise the police and improving its infrastructure.  

It is difficult to tell what it was that convinced the powers that be that the police under Gen Kayihura was best placed to take the lead in counter-terrorism and national security. Regardless, it soon became just that. This came with huge budgetary allocations, increased visibility and unfettered access to Mr Museveni.

That set the stage for conflicts between him and the leaders of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), as well as the Security minister.

On February 14, 2018, President Museveni was forced to publicly comment about the fights, but suggested that it was down to individuals and not agencies.

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

Mr Museveni reduced the friction down to a tiff between Gen Kayihura and Gen Henry Tumukunde, who was then Security minister.

“They (security agencies) are not the ones fighting, but their heads and we shall not allow it,” Mr Museveni was quoted to have said while addressing the media at Kawumu demonstration farm in Luweero.

By then, Ugandans had been treated to months of stunning actions, including the launch by both the police and ISO of parallel investigations into the killings of women in Entebbe and Wakiso, and later the arrest and arraignment before the General Court Martial of several officers and civilians believed to be protégés of Gen Kayihura.

Gen Kayihura had earlier called on police officers going about their duties not to be intimidated by army officers. Before then, he had accused ISO of working with criminals on the police’s radar. The battle lines had been drawn.

NRM tool
Whereas some insinuations have in recent times been made about where Gen Kayihura’s loyalties lie, observers insist there be no question. Writing in his 2005 memoirs titled The Search for a National Consensus: The Making of the 1995 Constitution, Justice Benjamin Odoki described Gen Kayihura, then a captain, as a “freedom fighter and a believer in the objectives of the Movement struggle and politics.”

Looking at it from the Chief Justice Emeritus’s conclusion, one just might as well conclude that Mr Museveni knew Gen Kayihura would address issues he had about the police and Opposition. The conduct of the police under Gen Kayihura reinforced the belief that he was a tool that the NRM was using to bottle the Opposition.

Whereas Gen Kayihura was appointed IGP four months after the July 28, 2005 referendum, which returned Uganda to a multiparty dispensation, the police continued operating as if Article 269 of the 1995 Constitution was still in force. Article 269 barred parties from engaging in “any activities that may interfere with the movement’s political system.” Consequently, political parties could not operate branches, hold public rallies or sponsor candidates for public office.

The Force made it a habit to invoke Sections 32(2) of the Police Act to deny political parties the right to assembly. A May 27, 2008 Constitutional Court ruling made clear that the said section that the Force was using to block public assemblies and demonstrations was inconsistent with Article 29 (1) of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of association, including the right to demonstrate. The ruling, however, did not seem to matter.

The 2008 judgement ruled that empowering the IGP to prohibit assemblies “contravened the fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and to demonstrate together with others peacefully.” It also struck down section 8 of the Public Order Management Act, which had returned those powers to the IGP; the police continued to operate as if it was not aware of those rulings. This also seemed to matter precious little under Gen Kayihura.

Regime enforcer?
In April 2011 when the Opposition announced that it would be staging the “Walk to Work” demonstrations to protest spiralling fuel prices, Gen Kayihura indicated that he would spare no effort to install order.

“They should know that there is a government,” he said of the Opposition, adding, “This business of going to FM stations and talk[ing] in a manner that suggests that there is no government and that you are going to do what pleases you, sorry! Sorry!”
This set the stage for various confrontations between members of the Opposition and security organisations, culminating into the violent arrest of Dr Besigye in 2011. 

Police arrest Forum for Democratic Change founding president Dr Kizza Besigye shortly after he left his home in Kasangati, Wakiso District, during the Walk-toWork protests on April 11, 2011. PHOTO/ FILE

Images of Gilbert Bwana Arinaitwe smashing the windscreen of Dr Besigye’s car, dousing his eyes with pepper spray before bundling him into a police pick-up truck, left the Force’s image in tatters.

Did Gen Kayihura love the NRM regime more than he loved Uganda? The jury is yet to return a verdict. 

Questionable methods

Besides jam-packing the Force with NRM cadres, Gen Kayihura was also accused of allying police work with suspected rogue elements. It all began on June 9, 2009 at the Clock Tower with the launch of the infamous Kiboko Squad. 

The Kiboko Squad was always at hand to beat up demonstrators. It was subsequently joined by other vigilante groups such as the Boda 2010 Association of Abdallah Kitatta. The Kifeesi group, a criminal gang that once terrorised Kampala and Wakiso districts, was also believed to have had links to the police.

It is not clear whether it was to those groups that the President was alluding when he famously claimed that the Force had been infiltrated by kawukuumi (weevils).
Gen Kayihura then famously claimed to have recruited 11 million crime preventers. 

Those turned out to be tools for mobilising support for the NRM and Mr Museveni ahead of the 2016 elections.

Next week, in the third instalment of The Kale Files, we will zoom into how Gen Kayihura’s overbearing character exacerbated with near catastrophic results a colonial-era standoff between the Inspector General of Police and the director of the Criminal Investigations Department.