By mubatsi asinja habati
Is it punishment or a purge?
On May 11, top security chiefs met in Kampala to discuss security arrangements for President Yoweri Museveni’s swearing in ceremony due the next day. In attendance was the Chief of Defense Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima, his deputy, Lt. Gen. Ivan Koreta, the Inspector General of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, the Chief of Military Intelligence, Brig. James Mugira, and the Chief of Staff of the Land Forces, Brig. Silver Kayemba among others.
The main issue of discussion was the impending return of opposition leader Col. Kizza Besigye from Nairobi on the same day as delegates including heads of state that were due to come into the country for the swearing in ceremony. Given the sensitivity of the event, it was agreed upon a suggestion by Aronda that Kayihura himself takes full command of the operations to control possible riots and demonstrations along Entebbe Road. In fact, it was further agreed that the chief of police would not be available at Kololo Airstrip, the venue for the swearing in ceremony. He would be on Entebbe Road dealing with rioters.
In this operation Kayihura was supposed to be supported by the police Director of Operation, Assistant IGP Fred Kiyaga and the Kampala Metropolitan Police Commander, Grace Turyagumanawe. However, at exactly midnight on May 12, sources say Kayihura called the Director of Interpol, Assistant IGP Francis Rwego, who previously served as an excellent chief of riot police and instructed him to meet with him (Kayihura) at 7am at the headquarters of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) in Najanankumbi along Entebbe Road.
Apparently, sources tell The Independent, Kayihura had had a meeting with Maj. John Kazoora, an FDC coordinator where they had agreed that Besigye would be on Entebbe Road for exactly one hour and would have only three stops along the way. Kazoora confirmed the meeting in an interview with The Independent. However, at 7am the next day, as Rwego approached FDC headquarters, Kayihura called him saying that he (the IGP) would not be available to attend the meeting as he had new and urgent matters to attend to.
Sources say that Kayihura gave Rwego the telephone number of Kazoora instructing the head of Interpol to be a liaison person between FDC and the police on Besigye’s return and the agreements between the opposition party leaders and the police chief. Sources close to FDC say that Rwego met Kazoora and the two drove together to Entebbe International Airport where Besigye was about to land. Besigye arrived just as a visiting president was arriving and was thus delayed at the airport for a few minutes. Later the two drove together back to Kampala.
Kazoora told The Independent that he had planned to drive with Kayihura in the same car to the airport to receive Besigye. However, Kayihura called him that morning saying that he had been deployed to Munyonyo by the president to handle the security of visiting heads of state there. According to Kazoora, Kayihura further said that he had appointed Rwego as commander of all operations along Entebbe Road. However, police sources sympathetic to Rwego say that Kayihura never appointed him overall commander of operations. Rather he instructed him to be a liaison officer between the police and the FDC, or at least Rwego understood his orders that way.
According to police rules there must be operational orders specifying which officer will be in charge of an operation, the rules of engagement specifying what to do and how to respond, and whether or when to use live ammunition or tear gas, or other arms and equipment that can be used. In this case and other deployment relating to protests, however, there has been confusion over the command structure in cases where police was deployed together with other forces. The Independent has confirmed that Kayihura’s orders to Rwego were not in writing, a factor that may explain why there are varying interpretations of the content of the orders.
In this case, for example, the officer in charge of operations was supposed to be Kayihura himself deputised by the police Director of Operations, Fredrick Kiyaga. If Kayihura passed on these powers to Rwego, did Kiyaga know? Did Rwego understand his mandate? Then there was also a VIP protection unit commanded by one Laban Muhabwe. Sources in security have told The Independent that there was also a military police contingent commanded by Lt Col. Michael Kabango, the same officer who had been involved in the beating up of Besigye at Mulago round about on April 28. According to our sources, it soon became apparent that “there were many commanders without a clear chain of command.” In any event, Kabango who commanded his force to beat up unarmed civilians who were cheering Besigye, has since been removed.
Consequently, there was confusion and the police and army were unable to control the speed of Besigye’s drive to Kampala which lasted an entire day. FDC leaders claim the delay was intentional by the police to ensure that Besigye arrives at Nsambya grounds late in the evening when the crowd that had gathered there had gotten tired and dispersed. But President Museveni complained later that FDC breached an agreement with the government to be on the road for only one hour. Besigye’s supporters allegedly threw stones at the vehicles carrying visiting heads of state, causing embarrassment to the government of Uganda and Museveni personally.
After these incidents, Kayihura was under pressure to “do something” and he picked on Rwego for suspension. However many people, including those on the probe committee set up to investigate the incident under the chairmanship of Gen. Jeje Odongo, are questioning this decision because Rwego was not in charge of the operation. “How can Kayihura hide his personal failures by sacrificing someone who was not in charge of the operation,” one angry police source told The Independent, “If there is anyone to blame it was the IGP himself. Rwego was merely a liaison officer, not the commander of operations on that day.”
However, from Kazoora’s testimony, it seems Kayihura appointed Rwego although verbally to be the overall commander of operations on that day and is therefore liable to all its failures. However, it also seems Rwego did not understand Kayihura’s orders in the same way, believing his role was merely to be a liaison officer between the police and FDC. The lesson from this is clear: Kayihura should learn to use formal procedures in issuing orders in order to avoid such confusion.
Kayihura’s harsh reaction has also been partly blamed on the magnitude of Besigye’s triumphal return to Kampala. It is claimed by some that it eclipsed the President’s inauguration. As throngs of his supporters jammed the 35 km road from Entebbe airport to Kampala, the journey that ordinarily lasts 45 minutes only took Besigye over six hours to complete. The police had agreed with the Besigye team that they would use the road for an hour.
When those assigned to handle the operation did not keep Besigye out of the Entebbe Road within the agreed one hour, the operation had obviously gone wrong and Kayihura, who was originally in charge, was portrayed in bad light before his bosses.
Museveni who recently `unmasked’ Kayihura’s cover as “a true NRM cadre” was incensed when the military and the police failed to “eject Besigye from the road”.
In a public statement about the event, Museveni called the police `failure’ shameful as some members of this crowd that welcomed Besigye allegedly threw stones at some of the dignitaries visiting for the inauguration. He demanded that police accounts for its “failures”, hence the suspensions.
Given that there are reports of security chiefs competing for the attention of the President and Kayihura emerging among the top that have caught the eye of the President, Kayihura needed to find a fall guy. However, Rwego was perfect for the purpose because of other reasons.
Kayihura has a tendency to crack the whip swiftly whenever the President complains. Every time the President complains the police authorities act very fast even if the President’s complaint was in passing. Last year when Museveni said he was irked by remarks Besigye allegedly made about an alleged lease of Lake Kyoga, the police acted excitedly about the case. It summoned Besigye to the CID offices. Later, the then Deputy Director of CID, Moses Sakira, one of the most experienced police officers, who was handling the case’s file, was dismissed for “missing files”. Kayihura was later to say someone had to account for the negligence.
Another experienced officer, Senior Police Detective Edson Mbiringi , was suspended in almost similar circumstance as he allegedly summoned the former PPS for interrogation. He was accused of insubordination after he allegedly summoned former Presidential Principal Secretary, Amelia Kyambadde. The police deny the accusations and, without elaboration, saying Mbiringi’s suspension was purely for professional misconduct reasons.
Experienced Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Sorowen was suspended until further notice after chaos marred the Kampala mayoral elections. But when the police shot a 2 year-old in Masaka in the early stages of the walk to work protests, Sorowen was recalled to take over Southern region as commander.
Rwego was suspended for failing to eject Besigye off Entebbe Road and Kabango was transferred to train UPDF soldiers. But the commander of VIP Police Unit, Laban Muhabwe and Turyagumanawe who were also involved in the operation were not touched. Why? The contradictory disciplinary measures have left officers and men in uniform confused about how to deal with the opposition, and especially Besigye.
Rwego, who is serving a 3-months suspension pending ministerial investigation into what government called “shameful scenes” on Entebbe Road as Besigye returned from Nairobi, is the first major casualty in the top ranks of the police force. He is one of the nine top most ranked officers on the 40-strong force.
But some lower rank officers, like Alphonse Mutabazi who was applauded by the public and reportedly got a call from his boss, IGP Kayihura, congratulating him for handling the Walk-to-Work protests in a manner that avoided mayhem, are shocked when they are later punished. Mutabazi was suspended and then hurriedly deployed in the police mechanic unit/workshop on kateebe after he escorted opposition UPC party President Olara Otunnu to his Uganda House office from Jinja Road. Kayihura had ordered any top politician in the walk protest arrested. But others police officers, like Gilbert Arinaitwe, whose attack on Besigye was criticised locally and internationally, are applauded and protected by the system.
In another case, after his return, Besigye was put under `preventive arrest’ where he would not leave his house without police approval. But on May 23, Besigye left his Kasangati home to launch the enhanced campaign on high food prices. Besigye was later seen on TV blissfully blowing a blue vuvuzela as part of the launch of the Hoot and Ride campaign. Kasangati Police Station OC, Collins Mukite, was suspended the following day for “neglect of duty”.
Police has a standard explanation for the suspensions. Most of the time, they say it is either for disciplinary action or accusations of professional misconduct. But many observers recall that before Kayihura was appointed to head it, the police force had at one time been accused by President Museveni of being anti-NRM.
Since taking over the force, Kayihura’s mission appears to have been to change that perception. His behavior has tended to show that his strategy is to replace the old-guard in the police with young but sometimes, inexperienced lieutenants.
“His style has been to transfer officers who seem to challenge him on administrative errors. He consults the young officers who joined the police recently and have not much experience of how the police runs, they have been main beneficiaries of promotions,” says a source who has worked in senior position of police administration. As Kayihura puts young officers in key departments, the older, more experienced police officers are either sent on missions abroad or deployed to work in lower, non-politically critical departments.
Insiders say, for example that when Rwego was head of Operations, around 2007 to the time he was redeployed to the Interpol section, the IGP allegedly preferred to work with his junior, Godfrey Bangirana. Sources say Bangirana was literally planning and managing most of the operations.
The IGP has also hired a Kenyan lawyer, Ambrose Murunga, as his Senior Legal Advisor instead of the official Erasmus Twaruhukwa. Some officers who are dissatisfied with the developments have opted to quit.
Rwego was among the few police officers representing the old guard in the force. He has been the director of Interpol Uganda and heading the police international peace keeping missions and was one of the highly qualified policemen having served as the police’s Director of Operations for over 8 years before he was deployed in the head local Interpol office and overseas missions in the police.
“The old-guard or seasoned police seem to be phased out slowly; when an opportune moment presents itself,” the source noted.