By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
I still can’t believe this is the same police force I almost joined a year ago! Thank God the recruitment wasn’t fair after all,” said Rose Amdoi after watching a video clip of a lean-looking man vandalising opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Kizza Besigye’s luxury car as the men in police uniform watched on as spectators on April 28. The overzealous man then sprayed some liquids into Besigye’s car forcing him and his aides to jump out but unable to see. The police then pounced on the FDC president and threw him on a waiting police pick up car.
The man who attacked Besigye is Gilbert Bwana Arinaitwe of the Rapid Response Unit (RRU), one of the many unconstitutional outfits of President Yoweri Museveni’s regime. Arinatwe’s brutal acts, however, put his boss, army Maj. Gen. Edward Kalekezi Kayihura, who is the Inspector General of Police, under the spotlight.
Since he took the leadership of the police force, Kayihura, 55, has been accused by opposition politicians of being a cadre of the ruling NRM party of President Museveni. Opposition politicians say Museveni appointed him to rid police of its tendency to support opposition leaders like Dr Besigye. The slender Kayihura who always looks harassed has always denied these accusations. But Museveni blew his cover by praising him as a “true and loyal NRM cadre” for the way he handled the walk-to-work protests.
The Walk-to-Work protests have put Kayihura’s double-speak to the test. The walkers, who are usually peaceful, do not break any law. But President Museveni’s government does not want to allow their protest to succeed for political reasons.
So when a police officer, Alphonse Mutabazi, peacefully escorted UPC President Olara Otunnu to walk to work, sources say Kayihura personally called and congratulated Mutabazi for his professional conduct. Later on, in a dramatic turn and for yet unexplained reasons, he suspended Mutabazi and re-deployed him to the Police Mechanics Unit.
If asked to defend such indefensible actions, Kayihura often maintains a wry sense of humour. On April 11, for example, when the police first arrested Besigye as he attempted to take part in the Walk-to-Work demonstrations, Kayihura struggled to explain to journalists why he had ordered his men to arrest peaceful demonstrators. When journalists laughed at his explanations Kayihura retorted: “If you don’t believe what I have said, then get ready to be witnesses in court.”
A lawyer and veteran of the bush war that brought Museveni to power in 1986, he quickly rose through the ranks to work as President Museveni’s Military Assistant, Chief Political Commissar, in the army and head of the Special Revenue Protection Service (SRPS).
The SRPS under him was notorious for shooting and manhandling suspected smugglers. Like the police today, Kayihura shaped it into a dreaded force.
When he had just been appointed IGP in October 2005, two officers in uniform, one from the police and another from the army did not stand up to salute him at the launch of the `Code of Conduct’ for security personnel during an electoral process” at Hotel Africana in Kampala.
The then Director Police Special Branch, Joventain Odeket, had ordered all officers in uniform to stand up to show respect to the IGP as he entered the hall. Kayihura asked: “What about those two? Because now I’m in police you don’t stand up? Where is CID? Investigate those two officers. ”
Kayihura possibly thought that they refused to salute him because he was a soldier heading the police.
At the time, a journalist asked Kayihura if it was proper for the army officers to head the police. “There is nothing new about soldiers being deployed to head the Police. It is happening in other countries,” he said, without naming any country.
Kayihura immediately ordered all senior police officers to enroll at the National Leadership Institute at Kyankwanzi, the bastion of NRM ideology. When Fred Nabongo, the then Director Human Resource Development, asked why police officers had to go to an institute that inculcates the political ideology of one party, Kayihura suspended him although the IGP has no power to discipline an officer at the rank of commissioner.
Kayihura remains tough and trigger-happy but it appears that police has been an opportunity for his mellow humaneness to show. When a 2 year-old baby in Nyendo Masaka, was shot dead in the on-going riots, Kayihura visited the family with a contrite face and Shs 1 million cheque to help with the burial. He aggressively preached ‘non-lethality’ and community policing.
Under him, police men and women clad in myriad coloured-uniforms walk with a swagger, totting tear gas canisters and riding police speed boats, patrol cars, and motorcycles. Kayihura, who has President Museveni’s ear, has lobbied and got a bigger budget for the force and doubled its size to 35,000 strong. But critics say the increase in the police budget has only increased its efficiency in political repression.
Militias have emerged under Kayihura’s reign in the police. At the height of the 2006 presidential elections campaigns, a gang of hooded thugs laid siege on the High Court. The next day, the members of the same gang were seen wearing police uniforms. They became the infamous `black mamba’. Another gang, the `kiboko squad’ which first emerged from the precincts of Kampala’s Central Police Station to beat up civilians with sticks, are now an everyday sight on city streets. In the brutal arrest of Kizza Besigye on April 28, people in plain clothes were the ones vandalizing his car as men in