Bukenya ‘dresses up’ as police undress a woman

Two equally-shocking events happened last weekend: a nasty arrest of a woman and an ignominious defection of a former vice president.

First, on Friday came the news that Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya – who held the nation’s number two position for eight years, got sacked, imprisoned, and finally emerged as a leading critic of the NRM government – was decamping back to his former master’s corner.

Many Ugandans now consider Bukenya, a professor of medicine to boot, as no more than a political comedian, or perhaps even worse. Last year, he declared that he had “undressed”, ready to challenge General Museveni for the presidency, and would not turn back.

I wrote this column urging Bukenya to draw a line in the sand and do real ‘undressing’: by formally quitting the ruling party and causing a by-election for his Busiro North MP seat. He didn’t.

Listening to him speak from his Kakiri home last weekend, one wonders if Bukenya realizes how much he insults himself more than he insults other Ugandans. The antics of Bukenya can only reinforce one fallacy: that only one man has the brains to rule Uganda. And Professor ‘They Used To Laugh’ said as much last weekend!

A day after Bukenya announced he was ‘dressing up’, there was real undressing, a most dastardly and reprehensive act at the behest of officers of the Uganda Police Force. In this era of unstoppable flow and distribution of electronic information, images and videos of a woman being dragged on the ground, with her clothes getting off, and bundled onto a police pickup truck, were all over social media.

Initial attempts by regime propagandists and apologists to blame the victim appeared plausible until the full picture of what actually happened came out: Ms Fatuma Zainab Naigaga had been physically assaulted, at the very least partially undressed, and humiliated in the most uncouth manner that she finally told her tormentors she would well fully undress, to ease their work if it was their intent to strip her naked.

All Ugandans of goodwill have understandably expressed outrage. This inexcusable act, in the full glare of cameras, has once again created enormous bad publicity for the country around the world. It has likely hurt the tourist promotion achievements of Amos Wekesa and others marketing Uganda.

In the heat of the moment, condemnation has been directed at the individual police officers. But these officers are themselves captives and victims of the institution they serve and the autocratic regime of General Museveni. Let us not forget that the officers who aggressively humiliated Ms Naigaga are fellow compatriots.

Under a different system and setting, they would likely not assault and undress a fellow Ugandan. Their actions are only symptomatic of a big problem. In my view, the source of the problem lies in at least two mutually- related factors.

First, the current leadership of the police, more so the inspector general, has turned the force into a tool for securing General Museveni in power instead of maintaining law and order for all. To fully execute that mandate, the police has to enforce Museveni’s criminalization of the opposition.

Because the police has been set up to this illegal job of securing a ruler who is tenuously holding onto power, officers inevitably end up clashing with members of the public and the leadership of the opposition.

The job of securing a dictatorial regime has to necessarily involve blatant violation of individual liberties and human rights. This point was made more eloquently by General David Sejusa.

When he appeared on Voice of America’s Straight Talk Africa program during his exile time in London, Sejusa was asked to explain why he took part in so many heinous acts such as the 2005 military siege on the High court in Kampala. It is part of the occupational hazards of serving a dictatorship, was his answer.

The particular act of undressing a woman is intended to send a chilling message to all women out there. It is meant to demonstrate the consequences of standing up against the dictatorship by following the chief nemesis of General Museveni – Dr Kizza Besigye. It is not the first time, and will not be the last.

The second factor underlying the misconduct of police officers is the nature and type of a police force that has emerged and evolved under the command of General Kale Kayihura: a highly-militarized and uncivil force.

The militarization of police became inevitable because of the task of working to secure Museveni in power. Because criminalizing opposition so as to protect one- man rule is both illegal and illegitimate, it can only be enforced using excessive force and violent methods. A civil police force is not trained for that kind of job, thus the need to train and equip a ‘military police’.

Unfortunately, some of the officers being used as mercenaries to maim and torment fellow citizens may have to individually answer for their misdeeds at some point. They may wish to know that the regime they are serving, like everything else in life, will ultimately come to an end someday.


The author is a PhD candidate and teaching assistant at the department of Political Science, Northwestern University, USA.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd