Ugandan Police: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Ugandan Police: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t
Police in Uganda arrest suspected protesters after they demonstrate their support for opposition leader Kizza Besigye. Courtesy Photo

Someone can argue that it is the job of the Police to fight off robbers – armed or not. Another might argue that it is their job to keep law and order. We might also say that it is the role of the police to curb crime across the country. That is what police owes Ugandans. That is why they are paid – to suspect everyone and trust no one. Or is it?

In May this year, this berated force stopped a rally organized by a group of anti-FDC protestors largely opposed to the leadership of Col. Kiiza Besigye. The police argued – and rightly so – that they had not been informed of the protest and that more importantly that central Kampala cannot accommodate chaotic scenes.

Kayihura was applauded by the leadership at Najjanakumbi and the press ran screamers for this. A few weeks after, newspapers ran other screamers that the police had broken the taxi robbery racket and exposed the faces that had made their occupation by robbing passengers of their valuables.

In the preceding weeks, the police in Jinja foiled a robbery attempt where 300 million shillings would have been robbed had the police not acted promptly. Shortly after, there was an announcement by the Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura that under the Public Private Partnerships (PPP), the housing problem that had dogged the force over many years would be history. It was long over due, but never too late.

The Uganda Police is under-going a review process; they have been to different regions meeting local leaders and councils, creating sub county security committees, discussing necessary reforms and reviewing the existing policies of the force. Also, the consultative meetings are geared to opening up relations between the police and the populace and ensure that the force is accountable to the citizens.

In Karamoja, under the Anti-Stock Unit (ASTU) the police have partnered with other security agencies to restore law and order. Meanwhile, their participation as security monitors in the recent by-elections that passed with out a hitch is an indication that this force has since matured. Surely, all these cannot be washed or wished away.

Obviously, there is heavy concentration of police in the city because of the high levels of crime and political violence. To expect the Police to react to any would-be violence with rosaries and bibles is an attempt at theatrical drama. Uganda must not be allowed to degenerate into another Kenya or Zimbabwe because of political differences. Someone must guard our security, our country and our future.

However, in order for the force to develop stronger ties with the community, it could devise more ways and approaches. For example, the police could start to commemorate an annual “Community Policing Day” in different regions where citizens and police compliment and learn from each other. The establishment of the different departments that supplement this awareness is commendable as is the training of police officers in the geo-politics of different regions. Public relations officers have eased the communication flow and given the Police a fresh face.

The addition to the police of an increasing number of women, previously referred to as an endangered species in the force, is a plus. Serving in the police is now badge of honour. This is largely seen with the young men and women in new leadership positions who exude confidence while executing their duties.

However, it still remains a tall order for the police to regain the damaged image that was once part and parcel of their lifestyle. Yet, cases that continue to arise of police negligence like slow responses to citizen demands must also be dealt with. Slackness on duty cannot be excused whatsoever. But a public that wants to gain mileage out of Police exploitation must not be allowed to continue either.

by Pamela Ankunda