Letter to Kayihura on notorious police force


Herbert Rheno Karugaba, a Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police (Retired), has written to the Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura, over the notoriety of the Ugandan police force.

Here is the letter:

Re: Celebration of 100 Years’ Anniversary of the Uganda Police Force

About three weeks ago, I was contacted by a senior officer from Police Headquarters who informed me about this anniversary, and invited me to join you and other officers for dinner at Serena Hotel. I declined the invitation. The reasons I declined the invitation are many and varied. I will, however, share with you some of these reasons:

  1. Partisan Policing

“In a democratic society, the police serve to protect, rather than impede, freedoms. The very purpose of the police is to provide a safe, orderly environment in which these freedoms can be exercised.”
–United Nations International Police Task Force

Ever since you became Inspector General of Police (IGP), you have taken the Uganda Police Force (UPF) on a roller coaster of partisan policing which has never been seen in this country. The mandate of the UPF is very clear in the Constitution of Uganda. Article 212 provides as follows:

  1. Functions of the Uganda Police Force.
    The functions of the Uganda Police Force shall include the following-
    (a) To protect life and property;
    (b) To preserve law and order;
    (c) To prevent and detect crime; and
    (d) To cooperate with the civilian authority and other security organs established under this Constitution and with the population.

Democratic, accountable policing is one of the hallmarks of democracy. In a healthy democracy, a police service exists to protect and support the rights of its community, not to repress or curtail freedom and ensure power for the governing regime. Holding the police to account for their plans, actions and decisions provides the necessary balance to the exercise of professional discretion by police officers. Accountability also provides a means by which the relationship between the police and the state can be kept under scrutiny; a way of providing insulation against internal and external interference with the proper function of the police.

Under your stewardship, the UPF has been used to brutally suppress protest, hunt down and harass those in opposition to the NRM regime, to the extent that President Museveni has publicly referred to you as the best NRM cadre. As far as I am concerned, this is a poisoned chalice that you are drinking from.

You have turned the UPF from a civilian law enforcement agency into a highly militarized goon squad specifically aimed at controlling the grey area between what constitutes ‘crime’ and ‘politics.’ In this effort, opposition to authoritarian rule has been criminalised, and any opposition to NRM is now considered unpatriotic, and thus “crime” has been politicised. In Soviet society, for example, ordinary crimes such as theft or murder were labelled as political offences (‘enemies of the people’ or ‘individual lapses of socialist construction’) with consequently higher penalties (Clark 1993:14).

From your recent public utterances, you have developed the idea of the doctrine of an “internal idealogical enemy’ which has blurred the distinctions between common criminals, the urban underclass and the political opposition. This blurring between legal and illegal activities and the wide discretion that the UPF now has in determining what will and will not be allowed-the test being always whether it is of benefit to the NRM regime maintenance-has had important implications in Uganda. We recently saw this in the Luwero by-election where supporters of the DP candidate were repeatedly tear gassed by the UPF for just attending their candidate’s rallies or celebrating the victory of their candidate.

In several cases it has also resulted in the UPF developing too close connections to the criminal groups; the UPF’s relationship with the selected gangs (the Black Mambas who attacked the High Court, and the Kiboko Squad which started out of CPS) in Kampala being a case in point. On the day you were promoted to the rank of General, you brought out the Police Band and marked into the Central Business District of Kampala flanked by hundreds of boda boda riders, none of whom possess riding permits and routinely break every highway law in the Traffic and Road Safety Act (TARSA)!! More importantly, and tragically, it has bred public suspicion and disrespect of the UPF which is now seen not as an impartial and predictable instrument of the state, but as a political instrument.

Critically, the UPF now relies more on fear than on building good relations with Ugandans. Policing, particularly of those who oppose the NRM regime, is very harsh and brutal. The brutal arrests of Dr Kizza Besigye using pepper spray, the tear gassing and use of water cannon on respectable members of the opposition is a case in point, not forgetting the violent and prolonged closure of media houses in the recent past. Instead, President Museveni has on very many occasions publicly gloated about this use of brutally unreasonable force by the UPF under your command.

None of the actions above by the UPF resulted in a single criminal charge that could be proved before a court of law. There is seldom any due process of law, with the important result that the UPF now have little tradition of investigating, preserving or presenting evidence to convict offenders in an impartial court of law. As a tenacious NRM cadre, you do not need proof to eliminate NRM “enemies” nor want evidence of atrocities or illegal behaviour committed by NRM “friends.” Even when court processes are convened they are often charades which are highly unlikely to lead to due process. The fact that you can personally appear in Nakawa Chief Magistrate’s Court when some opposition politicians are arraigned in court speaks volumes. That case, incidentally, failed to take off.

The Criminal Investigations Department has been rendered almost dysfunctional during your tenure of office. A case in point is when the DPP sanctioned charges against the widow of one Nsenga for allegedly killing him (Nsenga) and instructed the Director C.I.D not to take her to court just because the suspect was related to you. During the eight months I have been back home, there have been very many kidnappings and murders of young women in particular, and murders of prominent Muslim businessmen around Kampala. Many people in and around Kampala have lost billions of shillings to conmen in dubious pyramid (Ponzi) schemes.

In Uganda today, the problem of improving the investigative function of the police, and the danger of reverting to old style methods such as torture, is one of the key stumbling blocks to building a democratic police agency as envisaged by our Constitution. Our Constitution clearly provides that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. However, I now routinely see police officers parading criminal suspects before TV cameras, so now an accusationand guilt amount to almost the same thing in the eyes of the UPF!!

  1. Recruitment, Training and Promotions:

Recruitment and Promotions in the force are currently based on allegiance to the NRM party other than qualifications, performance and experience. The litmus test is whether one is a good ‘cadre’ or not. At the time of recruitment, an applicant must be a known NRM supporter or an offspring of an NRM supporter. Most of the trainees come out of Masindi half-baked and do not even know the simple procedures of saluting and do not know who should salute who and when to do so. In Bukedde newspaper 29/05/2014, I was shocked to see a photograph of Assistant Superintendent of Police Joel Tubanone, in full uniform saluting with the left hand!!!!! It is my assumption that his squad mates do not know any better.

Since I came back 8 months ago, I have attended at least two weddings of these police officers and I was embarrassed that the parade party did not know proper drill procedures. This brings me to another question: if these C/ASPs do not know parade/dill, what else don’t they know about police duties and Administration? Constables are promoted to the rank of Assistant Inspector or even Inspector just because they are ‘ideologically clear.’ Do you expect a police probation Constable hurriedly promoted to the rank of Assistant Inspector without any specialised training or experience to perform effectively the duties of an officer?

Being IGP is more complicated than being Medical Superintendent of Mulago Hospital. Since you are not a police officer but a political appointee, the best you should have done is to surround yourself with well trained and experienced police officers to help you understand the complexities of this job. Instead, you harassed them, posted some very far away from Police Hqs, dismissed some, or put some on “katebe.” Quite a lot of others who could not stand your erratic and arbitrary ways of management simply left the UPF. I have seen you dismissing police officers on TV, contrary to the Police Statute and Police Standing Orders.

In the gazetted ranks you hurriedly promote officers because they are “malleable” when it comes to obeying unlawful orders. Sometime back a large haul of narcotic drugs worth millions of dollars was intercepted by Entebbe Airport security. It was handed over to the then Officer in Charge of Entebbe Police Airport Police Station, Herman Owomugisha, and was properly exhibited. Shortly afterwards, this exhibit went missing. Instead of you ordering for a proper investigation of the matter, you transferred Herman Owomugisha away with great alacrity, and hurriedly promoted him. He is currently a full Commissioner of Police, barely 13 years after he joined the UPF, and having never attended a Senior Staff Command Course. These cases of hurried promotions without justifications are so rampant during your tenure as Inspector General of Police. Special courses for CID, Traffic, Refresher and Promotion are no longer conducted. Certainly, there are no officers being sent for overseas courses.

  1. Police Uniforms:

During your tenure, you have introduced very many uniforms. The uniforms are just too many and confusing not only to the public but even to the Police Officers themselves. What is the rationale for one Police Force to have so many uniforms? At a function one might think that there different groups of militias belonging to different War Lords in the bushes of Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. In fact an unscrupulous person can come up with some uniform and do a lot of bad things in it and the public will just believe that it is one of the several police uniforms or another new one. I wonder whether you are aware that before a police uniform comes into use, it has to be gazzeted as a police uniform. You and Felix Kaweesi, the Regional Police Commander for Kampala, routinely appear on TV and public functions dressed in fanciful garbs which have never been gazetted as police Uniforms. The reason for gazetting a Police uniform is very clear: Sec 169 of the Penal Code provides as follows:

  1. Offences in relations to uniforms.
    (1) Any person who, not being a person serving in the armed forces of Uganda or in a police force in Uganda, or in any naval, military, air or police force or constabulary of any other Commonwealth country, wears without the permission of the Minister the uniform of any of those forces or any dress having the appearance of bearing any of the regimental or other distinctive marks of such uniform, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years; except that nothing in this section shall prevent any person from wearing any uniform or dress in the course of a stage play performed in any place in which stage plays may lawfully be publicly performed, or in the course of a music hall or circus performance, or in the course of any bona fide military representation.
    (2) Any person who unlawfully wears the uniform of any of the forces aforesaid, or any dress having the appearance or bearing any of the regimental or distinctive marks of any such uniform, in such a manner or in such circumstances as to be likely to bring contempt on that uniform, or employs any other person so to wear such uniform or dress, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.

(3) Any person who, not being in the service of the Government or having previously received the written permission of the Minister so to do, imports or sells or has in his or her possession for sale any such uniform as aforesaid, or the buttons or badges appropriate thereto, commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.

(4) When any person is convicted of any offence under this section, the uniform, dress, button, badge or other thing in respect of which the offence has been committed shall be forfeited unless the Minister shall otherwise order.
On the other hand, because of the poor training, the police uniform is no longer respected by the officers and men of the force. You will not be surprised to find two Police officers in uniform iding on one motor cycle. Officers entering Church services with visible side arms and wearing berets. Sometimes back I found a Cadet ASP dancing in a bar in full uniform and he looked not bothered at all as if it was normal. I have yet seen other officers riding on boda bodas in uniform. Last month I found a C/ASP in uniform at a wedding meeting at Rock Gardens at 7pm. No police driver is supposed even to sit in a police vehicle and drive without a police Uniform. Nowadays, over half of the police vehicles on the road are driven by people wearing civilian clothes, contrary to Police Standing Orders. I could go on ad infinitum.

  1. Police Operations

Police operations are no longer intelligence based and end up appearing like the ‘panda gali’ of the Obote regime. I attribute this to your arbitrary and reckless disbanding of the Special branch department. This department was always manned by highly experienced and dedicated officers whose duty was to collect, collate and analyse intelligence affecting public peace. The department would then produce high value intelligence reports for the IGP and other stakeholders to use in preparing and executing security operations.
People arrested in these operations nowadays are immediately paraded on TV and condemned by the public court as criminals before any inquiry, and this leads to disappearance of vital evidence that would support some of the cases; all in the name of cheap popularity. Operations done in the name of the Public Order Management Act are unprofessionally conducted and applied selectively. Opposition meetings are brutally dispersed and those of the ruling NRM party go on undisturbed.
Most, if not all the police sub posts along the Northern Bypass are currently not manned. They were constructed without toilet facilities, yet they are supposed to be manned on a 24 hour basis by police officers (men and women). Recently, the Regional Police Commander, Felix Kaweesi, appeared on TV sensationally promising to sack DPCs if they do not send staff to these sub posts. He had a TV crew in tow, looking for cheap popularity. It is nowadays a fashion for every DPC to yak yak into every microphone or TV camera pointed at them. Talking to the press requires particular skills which many officers in UPF do not have. This is why officers like SSP Omara end up making imbecilic statements on national TV. Police Patrol cars no longer patrol the city. They are usually parked at road sides because they are not given enough fuel, and criminals know this.

The UPF Fire Brigade no longer visits buildings to carry out inspections and educate property owners about fire prevention. Most buildings are fire traps. I visited one building (Ham Towers) where all the stairs have no side railings, meaning that in case of a fire, people would be falling to their deaths in the thick smoke and panic.

  1. The Traffic Department

The traffic department has become extremely unprofessional and reduced just to a money collecting machinery. They impound vehicles and fill all compounds of police stations awaiting owners to pay them bribes. Vehicles which have been involved in accidents are supposed to be sent to the Inspector of vehicles, not parked in police yards. Over the years, I have traversed the EAC countries, and certainly, the traffic officers of the UPF are the rudest and most discourteous in the region. I even saw the Commandant of the traffic department kicking someone’s car on national television. Apart from being rude, they spend most of the time yapping on their mobile phones instead of attending to the traffic flow.

Every time I use public means, I listen to the comments of fellow passengers, and observe the deportment of traffic officers. They nowadays receive monetary bribes in full view of the public, something I last saw in Lagos, Nigeria some 25 years ago!! I have even had opportunity to ask some of them some questions about the Traffic And Road Safety Act (TARSA) and their replies range from appalling to plain ignorant. Almost all Public Service Vehicles (PSVs) are in a dangerous mechanical condition. For want of a better description, they are all dilapidated pieces of ironmongery.
The “kawunyeemu” (breathalyser) operations conducted by the traffic department have brought the reputation of the UPF to an all time low. Normally law abiding citizens and very good taxpayers are bundled into filthy police cells with ordinary criminals, usually on weekends. The O/C Traffic then appears at the station on Sunday afternoon to collect bribes and set the drivers free.

  1. The UPF Budget

The budgeting process is deliberately flawed/distorted. I once watched you on TV issuing food donations to Moslems during Ramadan, and one wonders from which vote of the police budget such an activity is catered for. During your tenure, you have been making hefty burial contributions/compensations to relatives of people killed by the police or who die due to Police negligence without any court order. I have credible information that some NRM political mobilisers get food rations from the Police Quartermaster stores. A lot of money from the UPF budget goes out to pay people who have won court cases against the Attorney General, as damages for the brutal and very unprofessional actions of the UPF.

At the time of considering the UPF 2013/14 budget, you told MPs that UPF was intending to purchase three twin engine helicopters at a cost of Shs 22.5bn, which have never been purchased. After a review of the framework paper, the MPs established that the force used Shs 10.3bn to make assessment visits!!! On top of this perturbing expenditure, you failed to give the Parliamentary Committee an explanation on the force’s failure to “honour contractual obligations on vehicles.” You also failed to explain the expenditure of Shs. 13.1bn which was reportedly spent on repairing a grader and the procurement of two tractors.

While attending the recently concluded AGM of the Uganda Law Society, I learnt that Mrs Ingrid Turinamwe, the lady who was brutally arrested (but never charged) by the UPF filed a civil suit against the Attorney General demanding for a hefty sum of money as general and punitive damages. During that arrest, police men were seen squeezing Mrs Turinawe’s breasts, and disciplinary action was never taken against them. You were interviewed on TV and you showed no regret at all, which left many women wondering whether the UPF has the capacity and willingness to protect them from Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). I was told that the Attorney General refused or neglected to enter a defence in that civil suit, and the case is proceeding exparte. You know what that implies for the UPF budget.

During the recently publicised tapes of you, you were clearly heard ordering someone to give this or that amount of money to various persons. I have also seen on TV and in the print media that the UPF is sponsoring this or that music gala. Having sat on the Police Finance Committee myself many years ago, I do not know which vote such expenditures come from.

  1. Police Welfare

The welfare situation in the UPF is very appalling. The living conditions in the police barracks are horrible. The buildings have never seen any renovation since their construction during the colonial era and the hygiene situation is very threatening due to the leaking water pipes and overflowing sewerage lines. You have nowadays resorted to hiding the dilapidated barracks behind huge commercial posters. There are no planned barracks in various towns and police stations are in shop buildings. Nowadays, you find police officers scattered all around slums because they cannot afford to rent decent accommodation. There is no scheme for school fees of school going children of fallen police officers who die in line of duty like it is done in the army.

As if getting a meagre salary was not bad enough, some police officers go for months without salary and even those who get it do not get it on time and sometimes it is less than what they are supposed to get. Recently I watched on TV a certain police constable from Isingiro by the names of Yusuf Musinguzi complaining that he has not been paid for four years. A report appeared in the Saturday Monitor of 7/6/2014 in which Police Officers in Karamoja Region petitioned the Minister for Karamoja Region, Mrs Museveni, on grounds that their salaries had gone unpaid for years. How can this situation occur under your watch in this day and age of computerised pay rolls? And mind you, these angry and hungry policemen are armed with guns!

  1. Human Rights Violations

Human rights violations/abuses are committed by the UPF with impunity. Some time back a certain Arinaitwe ASP, smashed a wind screen of Col Besigye’s car and sprayed him with pepper spray direct into his eyes, and he was only deployed/hidden in Masindi instead of being charged for such abuses. You recently brazenly told a Parliamentary Committee that you were not aware that police officers have been deployed outside Dr Besigye’s house for a long time!!!

There is a persistent lack of respect for court orders and court processes by the police. Ignoring several injunctions in Mayor Lukwago’s saga are also some of the examples of police’s disrespect for court processes and rule of law generally.

Uganda is a signatory to the following International Instruments:
. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
. The Convention Against Torture (CAT)
. The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights

The UPF is therefore bound to abide by the provisions of these instruments. However on 23/3/2011, the Human Rights Watch released the following report: ‘The Ugandan Police Rapid Response Unit frequently operates outside the law, carrying out torture, extortion, and in some cases, extrajudicial killings.”

The 59-page report, “Violence Instead of Vigilance: Torture and Illegal Detention by the Uganda’s Rapid Response Unit’ documents the unit’s illegal methods of investigation and serious violations of the rights of the people it arrests and detains. The unit has a history of violent and unlawful operations since it was formed in 2002 as Operation Wembley, an ad-hoc security entity commanded by an active member of the Uganda military.

Later, the unit became the Violent Crime Crack Unit and was formally taken under police command. In 2007, it was renamed the Rapid Response Unit. It is currently called the Special Investigations Unit, and nothing much has changed about its modus operandi. Talk in town is that when suspected criminals refuse to confess to the alleged crimes (especially in cases involving heft sums of money) complainants request police to take them to Kireka for the so called ‘panel beating’ which in essence amounts to torture.

The unit’s mandate is to investigate “violent crime,” but officers and affiliated personnel have made arrests for a wide range of alleged crimes, from petty offences to terrorism.

The unit’s personnel typically operate in unmarked cars, wear civilian clothing with no identifying insignia, carry a variety of guns, from pistols to larger assault rifles.

The unit’s members have on some occasions transported suspects in the trunks of unmarked cars. This is a throwback to the days of the Amin era Public Safety Unit which operated out of Naggulu Police Barracks. It is instructive to recall that the then head of that Unit, Kassim Obura was later tried and convicted for murder.

On Sunday 25/5/2014, you gave a press conference in which you unveiled plans for rebranding the UPF in the next five months. You blasted the Colonial Police Force as being anti-people, but the UPF you are running is no different, if not worse.

I joined the UPF in 1980, and served for more than 17 years as a Police Officer in various capacities and I never saw teargas, pepper spray and water cannon deployed even once. During the last 8 or so years of your tenure as IGP, these have become the first weapons of choice by the UPF on an almost daily basis.

The fact that we see police officers dressed up in riot gear at Police Stations every other day makes the UPF of today worse than the Colonial Police that you conveniently lambast whenever it suits you.

I am old enough to have seen the Colonial Police in action, and I know that they promptly arrested murderers, rapists, robbers, thieves etc and promptly produced them before courts of law, a far cry from your UPF of today. You know this very well: I saw with you in the same Criminal Law classes at Makerere.

We quoted criminal case precedents from that era. The UPF will have to prove its legitimacy through effective operation, often through direct engagement with citizens on the ground. Political partisanship on your part and the growth of crime in Uganda have in many cases undercut the development of democratic policing by ensuring more militarized responses to disorder.

Key to building the legitimacy of the UPF is to ensure effective forms of control and accountability-in effect, to make citizens believe that the UPF is responsive to their needs, and not those of the NRM Secretariat.

You will have to stop militarized reponses to crime (e.g. shoot to kill) and develop more specialised responses such as the revamping of the CID and make it a high profile national investigative Directorate.

Given the complexity and sophistication of modern criminals, the CID is an essential tool available to the UPF to fight crime. Currently, there is poor co-operation between the UPF and the Office of the DPP.

Given that one of the outcomes of democratic policing is the presentation of evidence before an impartial court of law, improving these mechanisms is essential to the long term success of a more democratic policing effort.

The above observations are some of the reasons I will not be joining you in the 100 years festivities of the UPF, however you label them. My observations above have not been shaped or coloured by any political persuasion at all.

To prove this, I have attached a paper I published some 20 years ago, espousing the same principles about democratic policing. I have also attached some internationally accepted guidelines, if you have the wherewithal to withdraw the UPF from the brink.

For God and my Country.

Herbert Rheno Karugaba

Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police (Retired).

The Minister, Ministry of Internal Affairs
The Attorney General
The Auditor General
Chairman, Uganda Human Rights Commission
Representative, UNHRC
Chairman, Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs

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