Kayihura: Trekking General signs out

Gen Kale Kayihuru (right) speaks to policemen manning a police post in Kampala. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Gen Kale Kayihura was officially retired from active service on Thursday, with President Museveni advising him and other retirees to use their retirement package judiciously.
  • Andrew Bagala looks back on the four-star General’s time as the 15th police chief in postcolonial Uganda.

As Gen Kale Kayihura was waiting to receive the instruments of power for the new office of Inspector General of Police (IGP), a call came through. It was Apolo Nsibambi on the other line.

Nsibambi revealed that “the Senate building [at Makerere University] was on fire.”

Was it possible, the prime minister at the time asked, for the soon-to-be IGP “to rush there as fast as possible?”

Sporting a civilian suit, Gen Kayihura mobilised a few senior officers and reached Makerere University. He soon noticed that “all the university officials had fled the campus.”

The students, the General added, “had set fire to new cars that had been left parked in the yard.”

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

When Gen Kayihura sought audience with the students, they made it clear that only the release of their colleagues detained at Wandegeya Police Station would pull the plug on the protests.

After consenting to their demand, the students also indicated that they also wanted to witness the release of their colleagues.

“I called police officers and detailed to them the plan of my escape. I ordered them to close the main gate (at Makerere University) and just leave a small one. That as soon as they exit, they would lock the students inside,” he said.

But when the General and a rowdy big group of students escorting him approached the gate, the police officers opened the gate wide.

Shocked by the sheer size of the crowd, the police officers fired teargas and rubber bullets. In the ensuing chaos, one stray rubber bullet hit Gen Kayihura, leaving him with a minor injury on the leg.

“See what they have done to me!” Gen Kayihura told the officers as he displayed his injured leg. It was a close call.

Gen Kayihura’s 13-year tenure in the police was characterised by frequent visits to the field that often put him in harm’s way.  His style was unpopular among some of his commanders who wanted him to command from the police headquarters.

The former Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura (left, first row),  and 10 other senior officers whom President Museveni retired from the army at State House Entebbe on August 31, 2023. PHOTO | PPU

Mr Julius Odwe, his former deputy, often said Gen Kayihura was better off in the field than in the office.

“I found a police system that was reactive, where law enforcers would wait for the crime to be committed and then respond when the damage is already done,” he said of his proactive law enforcement.

Through his community policing strategy, he traversed the countryside and at one point became the face of the government. His policing was often done on foot and would span from morning to evening. Save for drinking breaks, there were no meals. Breaks were only taken when the General made a stopover to interact with residents.

Some police officers would disappear midway through the journey since Gen Kayihura often asked members of the public about their opinion of the Force. People rarely had good words for the law enforcers, forcing Gen Kayihura to take action—including arrests.

On-site tours
A few days into his new job as IGP, the General made a surprise visit to Katwe Police Station. One of the former personal assistants said he walked straight to the counter and asked to speak to the Division Police Commander (DPC). “The police sergeant was so arrogant. The officer said to Gen Kayihura: ‘What do you want with the DPC that I can’t solve? You won’t see him.’ He fruitlessly pleaded. It was then that Gen Kayihura identified himself, to the shock of the officer. The officer took two steps towards the door and took off.” 

Gen Kayihura never ceased surprise visits and tours to problematic areas during his tenure as IGP. A tent, which was his accommodation facility and also the base, would be established at the centre of the region he visited. The morning started with physical exercises, including jogging for 10 to 12 kilometres.

In May 2010, the High Court in Masaka dismissed a case involving the October 27, 2008 ritual sacrifice of Joseph Kasirye, 12, by a traditional healer Umar Kateregga on orders of businessman Kato Kajubi.

After six years of waiting for court’s decision on his appeal, jailed businessman Godfrey Kato Kajubi learnt that he was to serve his life imprisonment punishment for the murder of a 12-year-old boy. PHOTO/ FILE

Uganda went up in flames. The judge in the case had accused the police officers of failing to do their investigations.

Gen Kayihura agreed to visit the home where the deceased lived. His visit opened old wounds of the villagers who had gathered at the home of the deceased’s grandfather.

As soon as Gen Kayihura alighted from his car, the village flocks started weeping and cursing the police. Residents wanted to block him and his officers from accessing the home.

The General tried to physically calm them down, but the women threw themselves on the ground as they wept. Gen Kayihura was overpowered as emotions ran high. When he was given an opportunity to speak, he ordered the officers who investigated the case to immediately leave as the residents demanded. He promised to appeal the case, which was done and Kajubi was convicted for the murder of Kasirye.

No holds barred
In July 2009, when President Museveni made a surprise visit to Nateete Police Station and ordered the arrest of the officer-in-charge over an illegal land eviction, Gen Kayihura copied the practice.

President Museveni inspects a guard of honour at Naguru Police Headquarters in Kampala recently. FILE PHOTO/ PPU

Four days later, he visited Rapid Response Unit headquarters (now Special Investigations Division) at Kireka unannounced over a case of human rights abuse by the operatives.

In a public arena, he questioned two of the operatives accused of beating residents. The accused officers said they acted in self-defence, but the police chief wasn’t convinced.
“Arrest these two officers. You cannot justify beating up people,” he said.

The General wasn’t done yet. In the afternoon, he visited Nateete Police Station where President Museveni had witnessed the arrest of two police commanders.

Gen Kayihura was baying for the action, but Rubaga Division leaders led by Mr Peter Ssematimba were sympathetic to the arrested officers.

“I thank him that he has been helping you to deal with the local crime problems. But I don’t know why he didn’t follow orders from above,” Gen Kayihura said.

Before he could complete his thought, the then Officer-in-Charge of CID at Nateete Police Station, Mr John Bosco Onzere, who was dressed in civilian clothes and in attendance, stood up and murmured a few words to help drive the General’s opinion home.

“Who are you?” he asked and Mr Onzere identified himself. “Oh! You are the OC CID. Why didn’t you arrest the OC Station for failing to follow lawful orders or report to?”

Before Mr Onzere could explain, Gen Kayihura ordered the regional police commander to arrest him as local leaders pleaded with him to spare the officer. Mr Onzere was held for neglect of duty and criminal negligence. He was later found to be innocent.

Uhuru clash
On July 30, 2011, at around 7am, Park Yard Market in Kampala City exploded in a fireball. Gen Kayihura visited the scene to assess the damage and the police’s response. Some traders accused the police fire brigade of responding late, something Gen Kayihura denied. 

Mr Salim Uhuru, an area councillor at the time, reiterated the accusations of first responders being sloppy. Gen Kayihura tried to ignore the claims. Unable to do so, he went for Mr Uhuru’s throat.

“What are you doing here?” the General angrily asked. “Who are you?”

Mr Uhuru grabbed Gen Kayihura’s collar before identifying himself as the area councillor.
Embarrassed by the clash, Mr Godfrey Kasiita, St Balikuddembe Market’s security officer at the time, tried to defuse things.

“Oh! This is Uhuru, my friend,” Gen Kayihura smiled after remembering that TV cameras were rolling.

Salim Uhuru (Right). File Photo

The two warring parties thawed out sufficiently to allow a hug. They crossed the Nakivubo channel bridge together, only to find a drunk man who sprinkled water on both of them. But they were not ready for another confrontation. They both retreated from the scene and walked away.

Baby incident
During his onsite tours, Gen Kayihura was soft on women. But at Nsambya, while touring criminal-infested areas, the actions of one woman caught him unawares. The woman welcomed his team and even gave him her baby to carry, which he gladly accepted and even posed for photographs.

As he handed over the baby to move on, the woman declined to take her baby back.
“The baby’s dad doesn’t hand over the child without giving it milk,” the woman told the then IGP amid chants from the public.

Shockingly, when the general reached out to his pockets, he hadn’t carried even a penny.
He sought police spokesperson Fred Enanga to bail him out. Mr Enanga pulled out a wallet that had Shs50,000. As the police spokesperson attempted to look for smaller denominations in other pockets, the General pulled out two Shs50,000 notes and handed them over to the woman.

Besigye run-ins 

In 2006, Kampala Extra (now Kampala Metropolitan Police) police leadership allowed Opposition stalwart Dr Kizza Besigye to hold a rally at Constitutional Square. Gen Kayihura was against the idea.

Angered by the decision of then Kampala Extra commander Benson Oyo Nyeko, Gen Kayihura drove to Central Police Station (CPS), Kampala, to find out why he had allowed the event to go on.

“Why did you allow Besigye to hold a rally there?” Gen Kayihura barked, adding, “Where is the commander?”

Mr Oyo’s arrival and salute was met with a perilous question. “Why did you allow Besigye to hold a rally there?”

Gen Kale Kayihura shakes hands with Opposition stalwart Kizza Besigye, who had led a delegation of other Opposition leaders to the IGP’s office in August 2010. PHOTO/ANDREW BAGALA

When Mr Oyo explained that Dr Besigye was within his rights to hold the event, the General was so incensed that he ordered the former’s arrest. Perplexed officers just looked on before Mr Oyo fired back. 

“I am the most senior officer here. I am following the law. If you don’t want me to follow the law, I will resign,” he said, his steely stare meeting that of Gen Kayihura.

In the following days, Mr Oyo and other commanders were transferred from Kampala Extra to the police’s central region (now Savannah Police Region).