Blaise Kamugisha, the national coordinator of crime preventers, a brainchild of the former inspector general of police, has said they shouldn’t be disbanded simply because Gen Kale Kayihura was relieved of his duties. Kamugisha spoke to Baker Batte Lule on Monday in Naguru. Excerpts:-
How did you become national coordinator of crime preventers?
I was chosen by the national assembly of crime preventers which is constituted by district and sub-county coordinators. What I’m doing is what the coordinator at the sub-county is doing. My role is to liaise with the national stakeholders on behalf of crime preventers. I was chosen, I think, in 2014.
What do crime preventers do?
The work is categorised into two; security work, which entails working with police at the local level but we are not stationed at police stations. We serve as an information system that feeds into the police structures.
When there are operations, a police commander may ask for five crime preventers; these operate under that commander. We have also been trying to build the system of neighborhood watch where we do foot patrols.
It’s generally bulungi bwansi or ggwanga mujje (voluntary work). If you want to fight crime, you have to look at its root cause. The biggest cause of crime is unemployment and you know majority of crime preventers are young people. You have to engage them economically. We have tried to organise crime preventers into Saccos.
Government can’t afford to fund these groups; so, we have tried to engage the private sector.
There is contention about your actual numbers. How many are you?
We are 11 million crime preventers across the country. I have also heard people say ‘how can you mobilise 11 milion people’? But like I told you, it’s a coordination thing from the village to the district.
Initially, each village had 30 crime preventers but afterwards we said each of the 30 should mobilise 10 others and that translates to 300 crime preventers. I know some villages don’t have those numbers but for Kampala those are very small numbers.
You realise that 11 million is more than one third of Uganda’s population…
It might look impossible but we have them. You can mobilise crime preventers within hours without even spending any money.
If we have 11 million crime preventers, why is crime on the rise?
Not all the 11 million people are active; some are not but they are registered. Some are not actively working with the police but they are there. Others don’t want to get involved in operations but we have them in the system.
Do you receive any form of training?
We receive basic training. We are trained in ideology. Achievers in society give us inspirational pep talks. These range from public servants to members of the business community. Mentorship is very important.
We also train in self-defence, especially for girls. In case of rape, they should be able to defend themselves. That’s the ideological and physical training we receive. There is training in weapon handling. It is part of the basic training at police training schools like Kabalye.
We have heard stories that some of you are armed…
No crime preventer is armed. Armed for what? Those stories are not true.
You said your roles are two; security and economic but we have seen you do NRM work…
Yes, it’s true as a group we believe in the president. If there is any political work to do, we do it. We are civilians who have a right to vote. If there is any candidate who has better ideas, he can also be supported.
But what’s wrong is the claim that we have been stationed by the state to be their voting machines. There was no deliberate recruitment of us by the state. It was us who voluntarily organised ourselves to support the state.
But the president returned just above five million votes in 2016. Who did his 11 million crime preventers vote?
You can’t know who each crime preventer voted. We believe in our commander-in-chief but like the case is in the UPDF and police, you can’t know who has voted whom.
Kayihura funded your activities because he was using you to do his political mobilisation.
I don’t think he was doing any political mobilisation for himself.
For the time I have worked with him, I have never heard him say such a thing. I’m telling you the truth. I have never heard the IGP say he had political ambition. I’m telling you the truth. So, whoever is saying that rubbish has his/her own intentions. Crime preventers work for the president and government.
What is your reaction to the sacking of Kayihura?
The IGP has been supportive of crime preventers and community policing in general. Even after he puts off the uniform, he can probably be a crime preventer. He said so several times.
How did you take his sacking?
We don’t question the commander-in-chief’s powers and decisions. He knows why he sacked him. So, for us we are ready to work with whoever he brings.
Police chief political commissar Asan Kasingye has disowned you; he says you reported to the IGP’s office directly…
That is not true. In the coordination of our work, we work with the political commissar. But you have to also realise that this is a widespread structure. If the IGP’s office thought there was work for us to do, he would engage us directly.
What do you say to those calling on the new IGP Okoth Ochola to disband your group?
It can’t just be calls to disband; they must provide a better alternative and we discuss it. You have to present reasons why, not relying on political or other emotions.
The president said the police had weevils; are you part of the weevils?
I have not heard of a crime preventer who is in police because we are civilians. There are checks and balances but I cannot say there are no bad elements.
People say you have made a lot of money from this business of crime preventing…
Which money? I don’t know what makes them draw those conclusions. There has been a wrong interpretation that whoever works with the IGP has money but that thinking is rubbish. People think that there is money attached to this programme yet they don’t know that there is a real struggle inside the system.