IGP faces questions on police approach to opposition protests
Some say he has helped make tear gas and police brutality a mainstay on Uganda’s political scene, others believe he has done a commendable job of transforming the Police Force into a more responsive and humane unit.
Whichever way you look at it, few topics in Uganda today are more emotive than the assessment of Maj Gen Kale Kayihura’s six-year period as Inspector General of Police.
Whilst the opposition loathes him with a passion and believes he is a major obstacle to their political aspirations, President Museveni says Kayihura has done a fantastic job.
The President is so impressed that he has already endorsed another three-year term for his former military assistant, which will take him up to November 2014.
As Kayihura waits for the approval of his new term by Parliament’s Appointments committee, there is little doubt that some MPs will be itching to challenge the President’s faith in him. Some MPs have insinuated that they are likely to point to the concern that Kayihura has transformed the police into a partisan institution which perceives its task as that of protecting the regime while meting out brutality on opposition supporters.
The recent unleashing of treason charges against opposition activists, Ingrid Turinawe, Sam Mugumya and Francis Mwijukye in a bid to stop them participating in walk-to-work protests obviously did not help this image. Hussein Kyanjo (Makindye West MP) believes Kayihura has been more inclined to serving the interests of the NRM as opposed to the country.
“He has a good personality as an individual, but he is not the right person to manage the police because of his military background,” says Kyanjo, also shadow Internal Affairs minister.
Yet regardless of these concerns, Kayihura is almost certain to be approved by the NRM-dominated Appointments committee. Even critics, like Kyanjo, admit that Kayihura is at least amiable, accessible, and will lend you an ear even if he might not offer solutions to your concerns.
Some say in Kayihura, Museveni has found a loyal cadre, as the President recently called him, who can do his political bidding without question. Such people believe that Kayihura’s appointment as IGP in November 2005 was timely as Museveni needed such a person in charge of the police with elections looming.
Indeed a couple of weeks into the job, Kayihura got baptism of fire as his police arrested FDC leader Dr Kizza Besigye on charges of rape and treason. The dramatic arrest, and the spontaneous violence from Besigye’s supporters that followed, kind of welcomed Kayihura into the hot seat. And it has been like that ever since.
One of the most enduring memories from Kayihura’s early days as IGP was when he was photographed taking pot-bellied officers through physical drills at Kibuli Police Training School. Clearly, he wanted a force of fit and efficient individuals. This hands-one style has at times worked for him but at other times backfired.
For instance, he was personally involved in investigating the case of Kham Kakama, the one-and-half-year-old boy who was kidnapped from Bugolobi flats and later killed in 2010. When Kayihura does this, critics accuse him of playing to the gallery, while supporters say he cares.
Yet the biggest criticism he has had to contend with, especially from opposition supporters and some independent minded people, is his force’s violent approach to opposition demonstrations and rallies. It is a fact that the political times he operates in are different from those of his predecessors, but that won’t take away another fact – that his time in charge has seen the largest police deployment operations in our history, with virtually all corners of Kampala and other towns under 24-hour watch.
During this period, Ugandans have also witnessed the increasing fusion of the police and army, from sharing police stations and vehicles, to wearing almost similar uniform and using similar tactics. When his time is finally up, Kayihura will, among other things, be remembered as the police chief under whose reign the police moved from being grossly underfunded to being lavished.
Where his predecessor, General Katumba Wamala, led a broke force that even undertook fundraising activities to buy a few patrol pickups, Kayihura has seen thousands of new officers recruited and hundreds of cars and motorcycles purchased to ease police operations. A lot of equipment has also been acquired, most of it for quelling riots.
However, poor housing and remuneration remain a stain on this otherwise impressive transformation. Another stain is corruption. Just last week, a survey by Transparency International ranked Uganda Police Force as the most bribery-prone compared to its counterparts in the four East African Community states.
In addition, Kayihura’s Police Force faces criticism from local and international human rights groups over its violation of people’s rights. Mohammed Ndifuna, executive director of the Human Rights Network (HURINET), told The Observer that the human rights violation record of police under Kayihura is one of the worst he has seen.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give police 4 because it has violently clamped down on demonstrations and has been cited in torture of civilians in detention,” Ndifuna said.
Judith Nabakooba, the police spokesperson, told The Observer on Friday that irrespective of what people say, Kayihura has demonstrated good leadership and has greatly transformed police.
“We have had our challenges like any organisation but on the whole the Police force now has a human face and is involved in many community activities, which was not the case before,” Nabakooba said.