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Government Must Stamp out Black Security Operations

By Ofwono Opondo

Feb. 20, 18

Thirty-two years ago, NRM came into power inheriting a dysfunctional, unprofessional and criminal state security apparatus that knew no boundaries of civility, democracy and the rule of law. The NRM under President Yoweri Museveni pledged a “fundamental change,” which is being realised. Critical to that change has been a solid, pro-people, pro-democracy, self-respecting and gradually professionalizing security apparatus that has provided the bedrock of Uganda’s peace, security, stability, democracy and rule of law, and economic recovery.
However, of late, those achievements are being threatened by rising incidences of what may be described as black security operations conducted by established government security agencies especially the Uganda police force, Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), and Internal Security Organisation (ISO), in an effort to curtail violent and organised crime. There are increasing cases where security operatives in civilian wear have arrested civilians at night and in broad-day light under suspicious circumstances including, quite often, re-arresting suspects within court precincts after being granted bail.
These follow many cases where police have either failed, and unable, or as President Yoweri Museveni has publicly said, police seem infiltrated by suspected criminal gangs, and therefore cannot perform to the expected standards, This, is addition to backdrop of a sluggish, compromised, and loose justice system that lets suspected criminals off the hook easily.
The recent incognito production in court of veteran journalist, and parliamentary reporter, Rev. Capt. (Rtd) Isaac Bakka, charged silently with misprision of treason, and then quietly remanded to Luzira prison without his relatives or lawyers knowing is chilling. In addition, the reported ‘abduction’ of New Vision investigative journalist, Charles Etukuri , held in confinement for six days, then released and dumped at his place of work are an indictment on government, democracy, and the rule of law, we proclaim, and may lend credence opposition claims that all is not well.
Etukuri’s ‘abduction’ and treatment in a “safe house” allegedly operated by ISO, where he was occasionally allowed to have telephone contact with his family and office, borders on impunity by elements within Uganda’s security services which must be stamped out. And despite the silent denials, the manner by which Etukuri was dumped at The New Vision, and what he has publicly narrated so far, leave a bold trail as to who his captors were. These two episodes, it seems, demonstrate that foolishness, is, perhaps evenly distributed between the clever and the not-so-clever in our country. It doesn’t cost a leg for genuine security operatives to identify themselves to local leaders, and those they seek to arrest.  
For whatever crimes, offences or operational security breaches Etukuri could have committed in the course of his work as a journalist, there are well established, known, legal and accepted methods by which an aggrieved party including government agencies should have sought redress. Equally, the prolonged underground detention of Bakka and silently charging him with treason is blight. After all, there have been many suspects of violent crimes including murders, terrorism and treason charged in open courts of law. Now, the managers of Uganda’s security agencies should know that there are things they won’t to control forever.
Firstly, ISO isn’t by law an arresting, detention and prosecuting authority in Uganda, and therefore whoever it arrests will eventually be handed over to police and DPP for possible prosecution, and that requires the uttermost professional cooperation of the later two institutions.
Secondly, security agencies cannot control what those they have illegally held like Baka and Etukuri will say in public, which could as well be calculated fabrications, and agencies will find it very difficult discrediting them or to convince the public that those ugly narratives didn’t happen.
Incidences like these will make it very difficult in future for the public to differentiate between ransom takers and criminal gangs, of Idi Amin and Obote II era, from lawful, safe and genuine arrests by government agents. Even more scaring is how government will exonerate itself in the event that those abducted through black operations are harmed, robbed, injured or even killed.
Ordinarily, if any of the above is the case, then drastic measures including prosecution and purging rogue elements from security agencies would be desirable, and no reasonable Ugandan will fault government. Alternatively, if the failures are because of maladministration and professional ineptitude, then changing command, and increasing in-service training at all levels becomes necessary.
Otherwise, by holding the stupid end of the rope, security agencies make former Prime Minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi’s impassioned, albeit, infertile call for political ‘change’ appear plausible, although he couldn’t deliver that change when still in government. And you see, although Mbabazi had scorned opposition politics for thirty years, when he joined it, many Ugandans wildly cheered him as bringing the much needed vigour, creativity, and freshness to bolster a credible following. They, unfortunately, believed that Mbabazi, hitherto presumed smooth NRM operator and President Museveni’s protégé was responsible for many successes the government had scored. Alongside Kizza Besigye, Mugisha Muntu, Mbabazi was seen as the club of political adults joining opposition tent, but as recent election and its aftermath demonstrate, they are shells.