A Tough Job Defending the Uganda Police

By Ofwono Opondo

July 15, 16    
The Uganda police is under renewed virulent, sometimes unfair and misdirected criticisms on the way it handles violent protestors particularly those in politically motivated public demonstrations, who, themselves neither respect the police nor its instructions at all. Increasingly, it appears that some of the confrontations with the police are premeditated in the cunning hope for media attention and orchestrated condemnation of the police. Under public fury, government is bending far backwards to avoid giving offence even to those like perennial presidential sour loser Dr Kizza Besigye and his ilk whose aggressive public conduct and lingering claims of supremacy so richly deserve offending.
While it is true that the police are duty bound to employ civil means in dealing with rowdy behaviour, it remains an institution authorized by law to use forceful and lethal means to suppress aggressive public conduct especially where lives and property are under threat. In order for the police to offer good, timely and effective law enforcement services, we should all as a first point, accord it the respect it deserves as an institution, and refrain from assaulting officers when line of duty.
Understandably, the Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura and his law enforcement officers haven’t handled certain situations according to stipulated laws and regulations or common decency. They should own up on such occasions when uniformed and non-uniformed personnel, wielding sticks descend clobbering the public mercilessly including those fallen in sewers in full view of media cameras.
Such behaviour by an otherwise civil police, calls into question its professional integrity, command and administrative control when working outside public view, and lends credence to the widespread perception that the force is derelict, corrupt, and shouldn’t be trusted.
The hullaballoo about canes is an excuse because, after all, some Ugandans don’t want police to use non-lethal means provided in the law like body weapons, batons, tear gas, water cannon and spray, or coloured water that drenched Olara Otunnu a while back. This group even makes endless noise over traffic diversion as happened recently when foreign guests visited. And they usually complain on occasions when Besigye appears in court, although he and his supporters have publicly vowed and attempted to make his trial impossible.
For a start, peaceful assembly even for political purposes like those being propagated by Besigye is a every one’s constitutional right, regulated with due regard to the common good of the public. Unfortunately, in Besigye’s case, both he and the police appear ever willing and ready for belligerent confrontations even where common sense dictates otherwise. We all know that Besigye, and group have publicly stated their motives known as to “make Uganda ungovernable,” when calling for public defiance and demonstrations especially around busy and congested Kampala.
And while Besigye has tapped into the anxiety prevalent in Uganda today, many don’t believe that he reflects the principles of an inclusive democracy built over thirty years now, and neither does he represent Uganda’s nor FDC’s future. However, it is perhaps time police leaves Besigye to bring his mischief to fruition for all to see so that when action is taken, few will express misguided sympathies.
The Police as an institution are the only ones ordinarily permitted to openly carry weapons including at parties, rallies, or within the precincts of parliament because it is known that violent people with criminal intent respect no boundaries.
Where, as often has happened that police actions go overboard, brutalizing those it confronts, there are indeed established means to legally and peacefully seek redress within the police operational structure as well as political and court systems. However, what police administration should know is that professional misconduct by its personnel including senior officers is widespread and a thorough review is needed.  However, in speedy effort to assuage public anger, officers shouldn’t be subjected to draconian processes as seems to be the case now.
Often, public complaints even with prima facie evidence available against police personnel and operations have gone without adequate or convincing response, which is gradually eroding police standing among reasonable people, and therefore letting the narrative of the brigands hold sway. The discretionary powers enjoyed by the police are often abused with impunity for financial gains mainly due to cobbled layers of laws, regulations and procedures.
It is, un acceptable, in a functioning democracy, that a few political brigands should elect to willfully and violently defy the police in the false belief that orchestrated condemnation will help or absolve them from individual or group obligations. This false belief, if allowed to germinate and flourish, will make Uganda a jungle where a very one lives by their own wits, and only the fittest survive.
Should there be a break down in policing on account that the police force fears misplaced criticism, the whole society will certainly suffer, and gangs for hire will emerge as we have seen in some other countries. Some people of ill intent seek to make it appear that bad behaviour is only confined to the police and worsening, as though a dark corner has just been illuminated to reveal the mess swept there long ago and willfully ignored.