NRM’s strategy to deal with youth discontent?
Officially, the thousands of so-called crime preventers being passed out by President Museveni and police chief Kale Kayihura across the country are an effort by the police to fight crime.
However, the timing, the people behind it and the sheer numbers being recruited has raised concerns that this could be a well-orchestrated political scheme to help the incumbent win next year’s elections.
Writing in his weekly column in The Independent magazine recently, Andrew Mwenda, its owner, described crime preventers as Kayihura’s brilliant idea to use police resources to mobilize for President Museveni and destabilize the opposition. Reagan Okumu, an FDC Member of Parliament for Aswa county, recently told parliament that crime preventers were campaigning for NRM and intimidating supporters of other parties.
Indeed, many crime preventers we have interviewed claim they are NRM supporters and fondly referred to President Museveni as ‘Mzee’, a reference commonly used by NRM cadres.
Nicholas Senkumi, a crime preventer at Makerere University, said: “Personally I am an NRM supporter, but there are crime preventers who are opposition-leaning.”
He, however, denied claims that crime preventers would mobilize for Museveni in next year’s elections.
“We are non-partisan and welcome people from all political shades,” he said.
Blaize Kamugisha, the national coordinator of crime preventers, was previously NRM chairman of Makerere University. Some NRM insiders in the know have told us that the idea of crime preventers is rooted in NRM activism and cadreship.
During the now common pass-out events, crime preventers are often seen wearing yellow T-shirts with an imprint of Museveni’s portrait. According to the National Crime Preventers Forum (NCPF), an umbrella body for crime preventers, one of their opening statements reads: “The president assigned the youths a mission to establish a patriotic movement aimed at diagnosing society’s problems and finding practical solutions to the problems.”
In many districts, crime preventers are coordinated by well-known NRM mobilizers or Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) whose partisanship is well documented.
For instance, Peter Mayanja, the regional coordinator for Hoima district, is a Museveni and NRM supporter and party chairman for Kiryateete East cell in Hoima municipality.
In Kibaale district, the recruitment of crime preventers was supervised by the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Samuel Kisembo, closely assisted by his deputy.
POLITICS OF NUMBERS
Oscar Mugabe, the national coordinator in charge of tertiary institutions at the group’s forum (NCPF), said since 2013, they have recruited and trained at least 30 youths per village.
To put the figures into context, Uganda has 57,792 villages, according to NRM. With 30 crime preventers per village, this would translate into some 1.7 million crime preventers. In addition, sources within the forum (NCPF) have told us that they are now implementing a 1+10 strategy, which means every crime preventer is required to recruit between one and 10 other members.
Assuming that each crime preventer recruits another, this would translate into another 1.7 million people, bringing the total figure of crime preventers to 3.4 million.
Moreover, to be recruited as a crime preventer, it is claimed, one must be a registered voter with a voter’s card.
With this requirement, a stage has been set for Yoweri Museveni to start the 2016 race for president Museveni with at least 1.7 million mobilisers or votes or both. Besides crime preventers, Museveni enjoys another advantage of grassroots party structures over his rivals.
Last Thursday, the party tweeted boasting of having elected party leaders in every village across the country.
“NRM has created a very powerful structure of village-based committees covering all the 57,792 villages of Uganda. There are 30 NRM leaders in each of these villages,” the party tweeted.
Hadijah Namutebi, the commandant of crime preventers in the Uganda Police, brushed aside suggestions that crime preventers are a ruse to recruit supporters for candidate Museveni.
“Whether they are NRM supporters or opposition, we don’t mind,” she said. “I think it does no harm; what is important is for people to come and volunteer irrespective of their political orientations.” Namutebi added that at least seven million crime preventers have been passed out.
That figure, however, appears to be farfetched. Namutebi said she got it from the National Crime Preventers Forum. But the same forum told us 1.7 million was their current target.
Passing out crime preventers in Ntungamo some time back, police chief Gen Kayihura told Uganda Radio Network: “Results are here, in Mbarara, the other time we passed out 27,000. The numbers are big, it is very exciting, because you see, it shows you that it is a good idea and those who have tried to vulgarize it, you know misrepresent it, are being disproved.”
Kayihura then added that they are hoping to train 10 million crime preventers in the next two years, another farfetched target. Claiming that fighters who toppled Idi Amin in 1979 were mostly crime preventers, Kayihura said with a bit more training and arming, the group he has assembled will be able to at least defend their own villages.
MILITIA ON THE LOOSE?
“So, we should be celebrating this,” he said. “Each village should have a minimum of 30 crime preventers since security starts with an individual, then the household and villages,” Kayihura said. “We think this is a foundation for security.”
Commenting on the crime preventers craze, Masaka municipality MP, Mathis Mpuuga, posted this on his Facebook account: “Inauguration of militias in every region makes one believe that this is a crime-ridden country. No job centers being inaugurated but promise of handouts during election time. But I need to remind the criminally-trained crime preventers that your predecessors in crime, the SPCs (Special Police Constables) are yet to receive their pay since 2010. Don’t be fooled, you might be the first victims of the genocide you are plotting.”
The criteria for recruiting crime preventers are not clearly known. The sources we interviewed said youths wishing to join apply to the LC-I chairperson of their respective village, mostly verbally.
The chairperson reportedly screens the applicants and selects 30, whose names he forwards to the gombolola (sub-county) security officer known as GISO. The names are finally approved by the District Internal Security Officer (DISO) and the RDC, all under the Office of the President. Then, they are trained at the sub-county level either by police or retired soldiers.
Since the launch of the programme, tens of thousands of crime preventers have been passed out. Only last Thursday, the president passed out some 173,010 crime preventers in Mbale. This batch stood out as it had children among the recruits. On Monday, Museveni passed out 30,000 crime preventers in Kasese.
On August 29, 40,049 crime preventers were passed out in Kabale. Ten days later, another 3,348 were passed out at the police training school, Kabalye in Masindi district. Another 3,433 were also passed out at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST).
Most of the pass-out events are either presided over by the president or Gen Kayihura. The concept of crime preventers came to the limelight around the 2011 elections. However, at the time crime preventers had no central organization.
This time round an organized and facilitated umbrella body, known as the National Crime Preventers Forum (NCPF), has been set up under the leadership of Blaize Kamugisha.
Below Kamugisha is a network of regional and district coordinators. NCPF is registered as an NGO with an office in Wandegeya, near Makerere University.
Today, the organization has an active website, a weekly newsletter and runs a Sacco known as Mwangaza Sacco, which they claim currently has 5,672 members in 12 districts, including Bugiri, Kiruhura, Ntungamo, Kabale, Kisoro, Mayuge, Sheema and Busia. According to their website, the crime preventers’ forum was launched in 2013 at Kabalye by the president.
This was after the president realized youth unemployment could be ‘politically manipulated’ by the opposition or possibly become a security threat to the country, given the youths’ numeric strength.
So, the president sought to have the youths ‘politically groomed’.
According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 6.5 million Ugandans are in the age bracket of 18-30 and the figure was projected to grow to 7.7 million by the end of 2015. Museveni knows that to win the 2016 elections, he must have the youths on his side, and not on that of his opponents.