By Ian Katusiime
Control of 11 million men and women shaping 2016 election at stake
Henry Tumukunde is back. Barely two months after the long-time brigadier was promoted to Lieutenant General and retired from the army after over ten years on punitive demobilisation (katebe), Tumukunde is once again in the thick of President Yoweri Museveni’s campaigns. His rehabilitation may have been officially announced in 2013 but Tumukunde appears to have been preparing for it and has hit the campaign trail like the veteran he is.
The man who was once the top honcho at both the Internal Security Orgainsation (ISO) and the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and is considered among the top brains in Uganda’s intelligence community, is once again operating below the radar. Tumukunde played similar roles in previous elections until 2005 when he fell out with Museveni over his alleged presidential ambitions and opposition to the removal of term limits when he was an army representative in Parliament.
This time, however, Lt. Gen. (Retired) Tumukunde’s mobilisation antics appear to have rubbed Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura the wrong way. At the centre of the tension is control over the “yellow army” – the thousands of youths recruited by Kayihura as “crime preventers”.
Apparently, although the crime preventers are recruited by Kayihura and are officially attached to the police stations in their respective localities, they also have covert roles related to the 2016 elections, which are overseen by Tumukunde.
The most challenging aspect of this dual role of the crime preventers are the reporting lines and especially the money involved in financing their activities. Kayihura wants to be in charge of this since the crime preventers have no budget from the government and have been parasites on the Uganda Police Force budget, sources have told The Independent.
Under an MoU with police, the crime preventers are facilitated under the Community Policing budget. They also get logistical items like cars and tents for upcountry events. According to some sources, “building the crime preventers force has left Police running on a shoe string budget” and resulted in the force’s failure to pay its suppliers on time.
Sources have told The Independent that a number of crime preventers recently found themselves on a collision course with Tumukunde. In one case, sources say, Tumukunde was so furious he slapped a crime preventer in an argument over cash payments. The incident reportedly happened at the NRM Secretariat on Kyandondo Rd in Kampala.
The fight over the crime preventers is being seen as a fight between Kayihura and Tumukunde over Museveni’s campaign money and intelligence apparatus. Kayihura was clearly in charge of this until Tumukunde came into the picture, sources say.
Part of the reason crime preventers are becoming critical is the combined candidature of FDC’s Kizza Besigye and the TDA-Go Forward coalition’s Amama Mbabazi and others, which is giving President Museveni a panting race, The Independent has learnt.
Every day since the presidential campaigns started on Nov.09, Museveni has been addressing four rallies – three small ones and one giant one. To do this, he is travelling by helicopter and by road and racing from rally to rally.
Meanwhile, his six challengers have spread out across the country. If each of them addresses just one rally a day, they would cover about twice the ground that Museveni covers daily. Yet some of them, like Besigye, are covering many more rallies daily. Museveni’s opponents are also more geographically spread than Museveni. That means Museveni traditional strategy, of ensuring that he reaches more voters than any opposition candidate, will be washed by the combined force of the six candidates. To win, Museveni needs a Plan B – and he has it. Its name is ‘crime preventers’.
Crime preventers are an army of youths recruited by Kayihura to purportedly “prevent crime” in their localities. Initially, Kayihura set a target of 1.6 million crime preventers; about 30 in each of the 56,000 villages countrywide. But that figure has been surpassed and the recruitment exercise continues.
When they complete the training and hold a final parade, usually at the Police training school, Kabalye in Masindi, they look like a giant field of sunflower in their dark, army style pants, caps, and ruling party-coloured yellow T-shirts with a portrait of Museveni in the centre. Sometimes they are trained in schools and colleges, district public grounds, and community halls.
Every month, a group of crime preventers not less than 5,000 is recruited. The latest was the one at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds where over 6,000 recruits were passed out on Nov. 08, a day prior to the commencement of the presidential election campaigns. A few weeks prior to this, over 100,000 crime preventers were passed out in Mbale. Images showed people believed to be children below the age of 18 among them
Many of the ceremonies are presided over by either Museveni or Gen. Kayihura. Usually, they praise the new crime preventers as “a tool for diagnosing false ideologies like sectarianism”.
Their training is basic. When 500 of the first batch gathered at Kabalye for ten days, they took lessons in crime prevention and self-defense.
They get basic arms handling and intelligence-gathering tips. When the training is longer; say a month, some are taught martial arts, stripping and assembling of an AK-47, and other military drills. Most of the time, however, they will be seen doing parade drills and attending `ideology lectures”. The message is basic. ‘Go back to your communities and guard against anyone causing trouble for the government.’ To do this effectively, recruits are asked to hang around police stations as unpaid volunteers and to stand ready to be called on to support police work.
In reality, observers say, crime preventers are Museveni’s latest voting machine. They are also part of an elaborate NRM election mobilisation strategy that ensures that they are ring-fenced away from the opposition, stand ready to do NRM work in the election period, and vote NRM as a block.
Under this calculation, the NRM is looking back at the last election, in 2011, where Museveni won with 5,428,369 votes – the highest number he has ever won. Five years later, he must do better. Part of the reason the Museveni voting machine cannot afford to falter is because, this time, the President is running in a three-horse race and the threat of a re-run is real.
Mbabazi factor and fear of re-run
Unlike in the past where Museveni has faced a formidable contest from opposition leader Kizza Besigye only, even as there have been several also-running candidates, Mbabazi has added a third force to the election.
Mbabazi’s calculation, according to individuals close to his campaign strategy who spoke to The Independent, is to appeal to the growing block of registered voters who have consistently stayed away on polling day. In 2001 and 2006 they were 30% of registered voters, but grew to 40% in the last election in 2011. The Mbabazi camp calculates that this group is not attracted by either Museveni or Besigye and aims to capture it. Mbabazi’s strategists also hope to snatch voters from both Museveni and Besigye camps. If this happens, they argue, Mbabazi can either win outright or garner over 35% of the vote. If Besigye holds on to the average 30% of the vote he has won in the previous three elections, Museveni will get only about 35%. In which case, there would be a re-run of the election with Mbabazi and Museveni as the only candidates.
On the other hand, the NRM is mobilising to ensure that none of that happens. That’s where the crime preventers come in.
Innocent Owino, a lawyer who is the Head of Management at National Crime Preventers Forum (NCPF), says the target for the group is to recruit 11 million crime preventers all over the country. He says the time frame for the recruitment is not tied to the 2016 elections.
According to Owino, there are coordinators for crime preventers at a district, sub-country and village level. “Every village coordinator has to recruit 30 crime preventers,” he says.
The Forum has also introduced a ‘Mayumba Kumi’ concept where every ten households are assigned to a crime preventer. “He/she has to be conversant with who stays there, if a stranger starts living in one of the houses, the crime preventer should be in position to know details about them”.
On top of that, there is a ‘1+10 concept’ whereby each crime preventer must recruit ten others.
As police recruitment of crime preventers picks up steam in the final three months, there has been debate over the role of crime preventers not just in security-related matters but also in politics as the nation heads to the February 2016 election. Some people are apprehensive that the unit may cause mayhem.
Created over two years ago, the crime preventers have come under scrutiny from lawmakers and the wider public, with the argument against the outfit saying it is not sanctioned by Parliament and that it just adds on the number of security organisations in the country that have been created clandestinely with ulterior motives. One of the most dominant views is that the recruits are agents of President Museveni’s campaign for the election.
Andrew Karamagi, a lawyer and opposition activist, says Gen. Kayihura and the NRM government have failed to take lessons from past militias that started out like crime preventers.
Karamagi told The Independent: “In spite of the horrific scars left on the Great Lakes Region by the Interahamwe of Rwanda, the Mungiki of Kenya…and most recently the Imbonerakure of Burundi, the military rulers of Uganda remain intransigent in the face of the evidence and insist on training and arming a patently unlawful rag-tag militia comprising desperate, mostly uneducated and underfed young men and women to prop what has without a doubt become a rogue regime that has no qualms about sinking to any depths in the insatiable pursuit of longevity and primitive accumulation of illicit wealth.”
Vocal opposition stalwart and MP Mathias Mpuuga (Masaka Municipality) is equally opposed to the whole idea of crime preventers.
“The whole issue is politically vulgar and is not fit to be part our polity,” he told The Independent. “It is not properly oriented into what is aimed at doing – community policing”.
Mpuuga says the main issue with crime preventers is that they are not seconded by the community they serve and are instead being seconded for recruitment by the NRM-government machinery, which includes the District Internal Security Officer (DISO) and officials of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO).
Mpuuga, who is a leading mobiliser for Mbabazi, says the crime preventers are already involved in partisan political activities for NRM. He says they have been defacing Mbabazi’s posters.
Mathias Mpuuga says Police is using wrong elements in society to monitor opposition figures under the guise of community policing.
Mpuuga says “people are very concerned and the Police should explain and stop hiding behind community policing” because the group has the potential to “cause a mini-genocide in the country”. He says most crime preventers have “fertile crime records and are pariahs in society”.
“These people have been involved in crime in my constituency and people there can attest to this,” he adds.
There were reports that Museveni’s mammoth crowd at Kololo on the day of his nomination had a significant number of crime preventers drawn from all over the country. Some opposition activists also say members of the outfit are being used to swell up numbers on Museveni’s campaign rallies all over the country.
Faced with constant criticism, the government has taken a number of prominent people over to Kabalye to witness the training of crime preventers. In September 2014, the Leader of Opposition Wafula Oguttu led an eminent team that included MP Odonga Otto (Aruu County), businessmen, pastors, musicians and professionals in fields of ICT, agriculture, manufacturing to speak to recruits at the police training school.
A number of observers have wondered whether crime preventers will still have any role to play after the 2016 election considering how they have been labelled “voting machines” by some people. However, Owino refutes this assertion and says “NCPF wouldn’t be involved in organising its members into production units for future economic empowerment if it were to only last until 2016.
He says the crime preventers’ forum has a MoU with the Police.
“The MOU does not say that after 2016 we should dissolve the organisation and move on to other things,” he says.
Owino says the forum has a SACCO for its members known as Mwanghaza where agricultural loans are given out.
“How can people say we are only meant for the 2016 election? We have an ICT section, which young innovative people are going to use to incubate their ideas. We are also developing a call centre.”
The Crime Preventers Forum has made plans to integrate with programmes such as ‘Operation Wealth Creation,’ which aims at boosting agricultural productivity across rural communities, Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF), Peace Recovery Development Plan (PRDP) and the Youth Livelihood Programme.
“Young people are organised and they are providing management,” Owino says.
Crime preventers were officially launched on Oct.03, 2014 when Uganda Police Force was celebrating 100 years as part of the Community Policing concept. A young graduate trained as a crime preventer for a week in 2014 says it was initially a promising concept.
“I think it had started off as a tool for civic education or something like that. But as we now head towards 2016, it has been turned political,” the youth who requested anonymity, told The Independent. If true, it does not matter whether it is Kayihura or Tumukunde in charge. Both are on Museveni’s campaign team.