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Beats, not batons: Uganda’s singing cop makes waves

OJ does his thing.
OJ does his thing.

Kampala, Uganda | AFP | Michael O’HAGAN

A Ugandan policeman has turned to rap and breakdancing to win over a sceptical public in a popular music video extolling the virtues of the police service.

Inspector Samuel Ojobira, known as “O.J”, is making waves with his hit song “Physically Fit”, although some Ugandans feel officers should spend more time enforcing the law than singing about it.

“The police of today is not like the past,” Ojobira croons in the catchy video, featuring uniformed officers breakdancing, and an obligatory troupe of good-looking women writhing in camouflage trousers and berets.

The officer, a member of the police’s music, dance and drama department, sings in both Luganda and English while the video plots how heavily armed officers foil a kidnapping following a tip-off from a member of the public.

“I wanted to bridge the gap between the public and the police to let the public know we are now a professional force,” said Ojobira.

“I also wanted to boost the morale of my fellow officers with patriotic music that encourages them to serve the country despite the fact that we have difficult working conditions.”

Indeed the president and inspector general of police both get special praise and thanks in the song.

“It took some time to convince my superiors to let me go ahead,” explains Ojobira.

The production cost about $1,500 (1,300 euros), with Ojobira contributing about $600 of his own money, a significant sum given the low wages of a Ugandan police officer.

Ojobira hopes that the song will change public perception of a force that has often been criticised for corruption and heavy handedness.

“The public have been surprised because some people think the police is only about tear gas and baton charges but we are a service for all Ugandans,” he said.

National police chief Kale Kayihura is pleased that Ojobira’s project has been a success.

“We are proud of him. Singing is a means for community mobilisation and sensitisation of communities,” he said in a statement.

 

‘Waste of taxpayers’ money’ 

Out on the streets of the Ugandan capital, Kampala, rank and file police officers agreed. Sitting in the repurposed shipping container that serves as the police post in Kamwokya market officers praised the video.

“It’s the mission of the police to bring Ugandans together and this will help them understand us better,” said one officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Elsewhere in the market, however, ordinary citizens were less convinced.

“They should be sorting out law and order, not trying to be artists,” said Rona Tumuhairwe, who sells vegetables from a dilapidated wooden stall.

“I’m not happy about it. It’s a lot of taxpayers’ money being wasted.”

Telecoms engineer Derek Ayese said the song was catchy but he did not think it would “enter the mainstream.”

“It’s called ‘Physically Fit’ but the reality is more complex because many police officers are not in good shape.”

Such lukewarm reactions are unlikely to discourage Ojobira, who is already thinking big.

“I would like to do some collaborations with officers and artists in Kenya and Tanzania as part of an east African initiative creating awareness of how to fight terrorism,” he said.

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