March 4th, 2019 marked a full year since Martin Okoth Ochola became the Inspector General of Police (IGP). He replaced General Kale Kayihura who had severed as IGP for 12 years.
Immediately after assuming office, Ochola issued 12 directives to heads of different police units including Regional, District and Division police commanders for immediate implementation.
The guidelines rotated around fire arms management, discipline, crime, dress code and observance of human rights.
“To this effect, ensure proper accountability and control measures of all fire arms and restoration of full command and authority. Take proactive action to recover all fire arms being illegally and irregularly possessed. File a full inventory of all fire arms and ammunition to this office,” Ochola leaked memo read in part.
He also directed commanders to reorganize the management firearms including those in the possession of private security firms and individuals. He also tasked all police commanders to adopt effective tactics to curtail serious crimes that had dented the last two years of his predecessor. These included among others kidnaps, vehicle thefts, land conflicts, domestic violence, drug trafficking and murders.
“Take deliberate efforts to improve, protect and promote [the] image of the police at both individual and unit levels. Ensure strict adherence to human rights by all officers under your command,” stated the Memo.
This publication spoke to some human rights defenders, senior police officers and civilians about Ochola’s year in office at the helm of Uganda Police Force. Renowned human rights lawyer, Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, said nothing much has changed in as far as human rights are concerned.
He says Ochola’s reign has so far maintained the status quo in as far as obstructing political freedoms, freedoms of association and blocking rallies. He cited the blocked music concerts of singer, cum politician Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine and several rallies of former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC,) President Dr. Kizza Besigye dispersed by police.
At least 124 scheduled music concerts of Bobi Wine including one for Easter Monday at his One Love Beach in Busabala have been blocked by police since 2017 when he became Kyadondo East MP. “In respect of political rights, freedoms of association and assembly, nothing has changed. Police still break rallies, Bobi Wine is not allowed to sing and Besigye is teargassed where he goes, radios that host him have been switched off,” Rwakafuuzi said.
He also noted that police has remained brutal as it was under Gen Kale Kayihura’s leadership. His observation coincides with several incidents where police have killed unarmed civilians while quashing peaceful demonstrations or conducting security operations.
One of those killed under Ochola’s watch is Ronald Ssebulime who arrested, handcuffed and shot in cold blood by policemen last month on suspicion of trailing the State Minister for Information, Communications and Technology (ICT), Idah Erios Nantaba.
Police officers also killed Rachael Ayebazibwe, a student of Kyambogo University when they opened fire in August last year to disperse protests in Kyebando against the arrest and detention of Bobi Wine following the Arua Municipality MP by-election fracas.
Vicent Sserungaya, a Bodaboda cyclist and resident of Lusenke-Bukalagi Trading Centre in Kanoni Town Council in Gomba District was killed in the Free Bobi Wine protests in August. Two other people were also gunned by police officers in the Free MP Zaake protests in Mityana Municipality constituency the same month.
“As a lawyer, I will say police brutality has not changed. Maybe what has reduced is torture [of suspects] and I think police has tried to reduce that. There is some improvement when it comes to treatment of suspects,” Rwakafuuzi said.
Police Spokesperson, Fred Enanga, says officers don’t intend to injure or kill civilians during protests or their operations. He explains that police officers are sometimes forced to fire bullets to disperse rowdy protests ending up injuring or killing people. Enanga says a police officer may fire bullets when he finds himself in a life threatening situation like when he comes under direct attack.
“Bullets are intended to maim would be criminals. We call other teams to take the maimed criminal to hospital. All shootings are for maiming. Shoot to kill policy is not there,” Enanga says.
Rwakafuuzi doesn’t believe Uganda Police Force will change from its brutality and human rights violations claiming that whatever it does serves the interests of reigning government. “I don’t think anything can be changed under the leadership of Museveni because he believes in violence. As long as leadership has not changed, torture and brutality will remain,” Rwakafuuzi said.
In his second month, Ochola closed the infamous Nalufenya Police facility on the shores of River Nile in Jinja District. He also reconstituted the Flying Squad Unit (FSU) that was at the center of all torture claims.
Rwakafuuzi exonerates police from recent abductions of suspects by non-uniformed security men for instance the brutal arrest of suspects in the murder of former Buyende District police Commander, Muhammad Kirumira on September 8, 2018.
The Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) arrested several suspects including shooting dead Sheikh Abdul Kateregga, a prime suspect in Kirumira’s murder. CMI also violently arrested Yusuf Kawooya at Christ the King junction, a scenario that was captured on camera.
A police director told this publication on condition of anonymity that Ochola has succeeded in streamlining the police command structure. The officer said Ochola has restored confidence in all police commanders and unit heads that they can handle issues within their areas of jurisdiction compared to the former IGP who micro-managed everything.
“This IGP has made us regain the respect we had lost among our juniors. This is because everything has to follow steps before it is brought to IGP office. But our former boss was in charge of everything. Imagine a situation where OC [Officer In charge] called the IGP directly skipping his DPC, RPC and director,” the officer said.
Another police officer at the rank of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) said Ochola has scored poorly when it comes to improving officer’s welfare. He bases his argument on the struggles that happen when officers try to withdraw their money from the Police Exodus Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisation (Sacco).
“You don’t know how many times I get bounced when I come here [Naguru] to withdraw my savings. This Sacco has lost the purpose it for which it was formed. It seems a few individuals withdraw our money and use it for their own businesses. This is something we expected Ochola to address immediately but he seems to have failed,” an SSP ranted.
Nevertheless, the Deputy Police Spokesperson, Polly Namaye has since issued a statement, saying Exodus Sacco is in final stages of establishing a banking hall to ease the process for police officers seeking to access their funds.
Namaye’s response followed media report about chaos at the Sacco where officers almost went physical with their seniors and Sacco managers.
“Kampala, which has the biggest number of clients, is in the process of opening up a banking hall at the SACCO headquarters at Naguru. The banking hall will be completed by the end of this month. Today alone, the SACCO has disbursed Shillings 490 million in withdraws to clients,” Namaye said.
Julius Muheirwe, a driver says Ochola needs to do a lot to streamline the traffic police department alleging that some officers extort money from motorists.
“I was among the people who secretly complained when Julius Luyima was extorting money from us as OC traffic CPS and was transferred. But I haven’t seen change because even those they brought still do the same. They impound motorcycles every minute,” Muheirwe said.
Luyima was among the 120 traffic police officers who were probed on allegations of extorting money from drivers. He was transferred to Masindi District but was later reverted to the General Police Force.
Ochola is currently implementing a directive by President Yoweri Museveni on finger printing all firearms to stem gun violence. The process is currently being conducted in regions like Katonga after Kampala was completed last week.
President Museveni ordered for gun registration following the murder of Kirumira whose gruesome elimination came just 90 days after the brutal murder of Arua Municipality MP, Ibrahim Abiriga and his brother, Saidi Congo.
On corruption and indiscipline, a senior police officer at Naguru Police Headquarters, said Ochola has tried to manage corruption and indiscipline in the force through transferring police officers that had overstayed at particular work stations. He re-echoes the decision by the IGP to restore the command structures where each officer knows his immediate boss.