Officers denied US training for their role in quelling ‘walk-to-work’ riots
The US embassy in Kampala, unnerved by Uganda police’s brutal handling of the opposition, responded by quietly blacklisting some senior officers, The Observer has learnt.
Sources have told us that the major source of concern was the policing of the opposition-led ‘walk-to-work’ protests in 2011 and the subsequent arrests of key opposition figures. But police authorities were kept in the dark until recently, when several officers nominated to attend a US sponsored training course in Botswana were rejected.
The officers who include Grace Turyagumanawe, Laban Muhabwe and Joel Anguma, are on the US blacklist largely because of their role in the often violent breakup of the opposition-led protests in 2011.
The Observer can exclusively reveal that the blacklisted officers cannot travel to the United States or attend any US-sponsored training programme owing to what embassy officials call their “bad human rights record.”
On realising that some officers had been rejected, the police tried and failed to get an explanation from the US embassy in Kampala.
“It is true there are some officers who had been listed for a course but were dropped but no explanation has been given…,” Kampala Metropolitan police commander Andrew Felix Kaweesi told The Observer in a recent interview.
“We [police management] have tried asking them [US embassy] to avail us with the list of the blacklisted officers but they declined because their diplomatic policy does not allow it,” he said.
However, an embassy official, who declined to be named, confirmed to us that indeed some Ugandan police officers are on the US blacklist. The official ,however, added that there was no reason for the police management to panic.
“Why should they panic [over the list]? Don’t they know their bad record in human rights violations?” the official said, tongue in cheek.
Several foreign missions representing Western powers have been critical of the police’s handling of protesters and opposition political rallies. They were also critical of the recently-passed Public Order Management Act that seeks to regulate public assembly.
The 2011 ‘walk-to-work’ protests led by the now- banned political pressure group, Activists for Change (A4C), are the reason the US Embassy singled out some police chiefs, we have been told.
Some of the confirmed names on the US blacklist, according to Kaweesi, include Joel Anguma, the former commandant of the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) in Kireka, and Laban Muhabwe, who allegedly assaulted two WBS TV journalists at Namboole stadium in August 2008.
In March 2011, US-based Human Rights Watch released a report implicating RRU in acts of torture, extortion, and extrajudicial killings and called for an independent investigation into the unit’s conduct and activities.
The unit was instead renamed Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and had its command changed.
“Anguma and Muhabwe were the ones on the list for the course at the US academy in Botswana but they were dropped for reasons that we have not known yet,” Kaweesi said.
Kaweesi himself is reported to be on the list alongside Turyagumanawe, the director of operations in the police. However, in an interview, Kaweesi was quick to protest his innocence and dismiss any suggestion that he is blacklisted.
“There are some officers that were blacklisted for their roles during the ‘walk-to-work’ protests, but you’ll remember that at the time I had not been posted to Kampala, and besides that, my track record is clean. I have no trace of human rights violation. I am in fact a renowned human rights defender,” Kaweesi said.
Kaweesi, whose training programme in the US was interrupted after the US government shut down temporarily a few months ago, said his return had nothing to do with his conduct.
“Whoever is speculating that is either ignorant or up to [something else]. I was nominated by the US embassy in Kampala, and was fully sponsored by the FBI,” he said.
Kaweesi had been nominated to attend an intelligence course codenamed, Course session 255, at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, USA. A news story published on October 2 on www.iReport.cnn.com, suggested that the course was affected by the US government shutdown.
“The current session, Session 255 arrived this past Sunday [September 29] and was supposed to start classes on Tuesday, however, due to the current shutdown the FBI’s instructors and support staff have mostly been furloughed,” the report reads in part.
At the height of the ‘walk-to-work’ protests, Turyagumanawe was Kampala Metropolitan police commander under whose watch former FDC president Dr Kizza Besigye was brutally arrested at the Mulago roundabout on April 27, 2011.
After Besigye refused to drive away upon being blocked from proceeding to his preferred route, junior police officer Gilbert Bwana Arinaitwe smashed the FDC leader’s car windows with his pistol and doused him with pepper spray before bundling him out and onto a police vehicle.
This is not the first time Turyagumanawe is being singled out. He is remembered for commanding the infamous 2009 blockade of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II’s entourage led by the Katikkiro JB Walusimbi from travelling to Bugerere county (Kayunga district), sparking riots across Buganda that left nearly 40 people dead.