By Patrick Nakabale
Proposed amendment of Police Act should give Force parliament slots similar to army
As the Uganda Police Force (UPF) celebrates over 100 years of dedicated service to the nation, there is a proposal to amend the Police Act, which will among others, change the name of the Force to Uganda National Police (UNP). The idea behind the change of name is that Ugandans fear the word “Force”, which to me is ironical considering the fact that the NRM government has demystified the gun and made state-inspired violence a thing of the past.
The proposed amendment of the Police Act should not only change the name of the Force but also accord more powers and parliamentary representation to the Police to enable it effectively carryout its constitutional obligation of protecting life and property, safe guarding law and order, and prevention and detection of crime.
As is the case with the Army which is duly represented in Parliament, the Police should not be an exception considering that the men and women in police uniform play an equally essential role in peace and security, besides the above cited constitutional obligations.
The empowerment of the Police is also essential in fostering a better relationship with the masses and enhancement of peace and security.
Unlike in the past where the men and women of the Police Force were accorded the respect they deserve by civilians and did not have to assert themselves; the situations has changed and the police has to evolve.
In the recent past we have seen men and women of the Uganda Police Force engage heavily militarized masses on the streets of Kampala and other parts of the country. Some of these engagements have resulted into heavy casualties on both sides; civilians have lost their lives and some police officers have been killed by the unruly mobs.
The situation is made worse by the fact that a number of people have undergone military and security training; for instance those who have gone to work in Iraq, and not mentioning the numerous private local security personnel. All these pose potential security challenges that the police need to be urgently equipped to handle.
The debate on the Police Act amendment should also consider the aspect of broadening the space and platform through which the citizens and leaders across the various political divides can meaningfully engage the Force on crucial issues affecting the wellbeing of our nation. Key of this should be peace and security.
We, as members of the ruling party, are duty bound to support the Police Force to remain a respected and strong institution. This is the only way the Police will ensure that the elected-NRM party remains in power.
The lack of an effective public relations strategy has meant that the dynamics underlying some of the police’s activities are not fully understood by the masses, the international media, and human rights watchdogs. The force has sometimes been unfairly portrayed as an instigator of the scuffles it has been engaged in. As a result, local and international media has been awash with images of the Force seemingly brutalizing civilians. The impression would have sometimes been different if the underlying dynamics behind these scuffles were better appreciated.
What we all know and believe is that we can have a peaceful co-existence of the civilian populations and members of the Police Force. The mandate of the police includes working closely with the masses if we are to have a peaceful and orderly society without rampant crime. We could become like other countries where there is no need for police officers to carry automatic machine guns on the street. Our current operations have the presumption of insecurity even when there is no insecurity.
Of course we have those other voices that would snigger at this proposal for a “more empowered Police Force”. Their view would be that the Force is already powerful. What such people forget is that the police officers work under severe challenges including policing a militarised population, with limited resources, and low and late pay.
The writer is Youth MP-Central/General Secretary NRM Parliamentary Caucus