By Independent Team
Tactical base at CPS
Sticks kept in UTODA, KCC outlets
At first it was the Black Mamba. Then came the Kiboko Squad. When these two squads first unveiled themselves in 2005 and 2007 respectively, it was a puzzling experience. They emerged from total obscurity to the consternation of the public. Many wondered where these squads had been trained or based.
The Black Mamba were the first to strike in 2005 when they besieged the High Court in Kampala to re-arrest the FDC opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye and 22 others who had been released by the court on charges of treason and terrorism.
Later it emerged that the Black Mamba was a special commando squad of the Joint Anti-Terrorism Taskforce (JATT) under the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).
In April 2007, there emerged the Kiboko Squad. Dressed in civilian clothes and armed with big sticks, they beat up demonstrators who were protesting President Yoweri Museveni’s proposed sale of Mabira Forest, the natural forest along the Kampala-Jinja highway, to the Mehta Group for sugarcane growing. Later Museveni, while meeting Asian business people, commended the Kiboko Squad even though he did not own them. He praised the stick wielding men as courageous patriotic citizens who were fed up with hooliganism engineered by political opportunists.
What shocked the country and probably anyone who cared was that the Kiboko Squad burst from the precincts of Kampala Central Police Station to charge at the unarmed demonstrators. The charged demonstration now turned bloody and left many with broken limbs and other bodily injuries. The police did not own the squad either. But neither did they condemn its acts, nor arrest anyone in connection with them.
Recently in February, the Kiboko Squad was in action again, beating up Kisekka Market vendors who were protesting the sale of the market to Col. Clovis Mugyenyi’s Rhino Investments.
What puzzled and still puzzles the country is how such a gang of stick wielders could have their base at the police station without the knowledge of the police, or operate alongside it without being arrested or identified. Until now, it has not been clear where this Kiboko Squad comes from, who its members are and under whose command it operates.
The Independent has been tracking the Kiboko Squad and has finally found out, from various security agencies, details about its formation, operational bases, and its command structure.
Who are Kiboko Squad?
From The Independent‘s investigations, the Kiboko Squad is part of the various informal security squads trained and mobilised to do dirty work for the NRM party and government. The Black Mamba of CMI is in charge of organising the Kiboko Squad. The squad was formed by CMI during the 2007 anti-Mabira riots. It comprises security operatives especially from CMI, intelligence agencies like ISO and ESO, the police and paramilitary groups such as the Kalangala Action Plan, who disguise themselves in civilian clothes.
It also includes members from army veteran groups across the city, reserve force elements in Kampala, vendors, boda boda cyclists, taxi touts, and drivers especially from Uganda Taxi Owners and Drivers Associations (UTODA) and vigilante groups.
According to one of the squad members who spoke to a foreign journalist during their first day in action, they were called on April 10, 2007, the day before the demonstration. The orders were vague, but orders are to be followed. They were to report to Kampala’s Central Police Station the next morning for a job that would take some hours. The next day, the day canes ruled Kampala, the Kiboko Squad gathered: they were a group of plain-clothes civilians who roamed Kampala Road indiscriminately beating people with sticks to effectively quell the demonstration.
They came from the Taxi Park, the busy hub of transport. They came from the ranks of the police. They came from the boxing ring near the poorest of poor parts of Kampala. They came from Kampala Road, where they stood guard at ATMs and directed traffic. They came from previous paramilitary squads, the Black Mambas.
They arrived at Kampala’s Central Police Station, were photographed and identified, and given breakfast of bread and milk tea.
‘We were taken to a room downstairs and given sticks to beat whoever was violent,’ one member of the Kiboko Squad, who refused to reveal his name, told the foreign journalist in Kampala. His large body dwarfed the metal chair in a small take-away eatery. Sweat emanated from every pore of his shaved skull, collecting in his temples, dripping off his sizable earlobes.
‘We didn’t aim at beating just anyone, but in case they were a suspect, we just beat them,’ he continued.
‘I don’t know where they got the sticks from,’ said a second Kiboko Squad member. A boxer by trade, his strength was written all over him ‘ as was the reason behind his recruitment ‘ his biceps burgeoned from beneath the edges of his yellow tank top. He also refused to give his name.
‘They told us not to beat up the leaders of the Opposition [Political Party] but small people because they were causing the chaos,’ said the second squad member through a translator.
Command and operations
According to our sources, the Kiboko Squad command-post is at the Central Police Station and the squad is commanded by officers from CMI, police, Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and External Security Organisation (ESO). An insider in the security system told The Independent that the sticks they use to beat up demonstrators are stored in Kampala City Council law enforcement offices all over the city especially in Owino, Kisenyi, New Taxi Park and Old Taxi Park, and at CPS.
When asked about the Kiboko Squad last week, police spokesperson, Judith Nabakoba flatly said: ‘We don’t have anything like that.’
When she was reminded that the Kiboko Squad was seen emerging from the Central Police Station during the riots against the giveaway of Mabira Forest in April 2007, Nabakoba challenged The Independent whether it had photographs to prove the claims. But when The Independent cited published photographs in the press and TV footages of the Kiboko Squad bursting out of CPS with their sticks, she retorted: ‘Anyway we don’t have anything called Kiboko Squad. That’s what I can comment.’
However a senior police officer, who declined to be named for fear of reprimand, told The Independent that on the said day of the Mabira riot, the Kiboko Squad had been kept in CPS and that’s why they trooped out at once. He said UTODA is deeply involved in the mobilisation of the Kiboko Squad, although the command and instructions come from someone ‘above.’ He did not name the person ‘above.’ He said the Kiboko Squad is paid whenever they carry out such operations.
Although he admitted it’s a security outfit and comprises disguised security operatives, he said its members are mostly boda-boda cyclists, taxi drivers and touts, UTODA agents across the city and army veterans. He said the Kiboko Squad ‘bosses’ have their telephone numbers to contact them whenever they need them.
‘It’s very easy to call up the Kiboko Squad. They are all over the taxi parks, bus parks, boda-boda and UTODA stages. And they are highly committed because they are paid,’ the officer said.
He said the sticks they use are kept in diverse places in the city.
Asked why they use the Kiboko Squad instead of the regular forces, he said the police and army would be easily taken to court and the government would be held answerable. ‘But who knows the Kiboko Squad? Whom do you take to court? That’s why everyone disowns them [Kiboko Squad],’ he said.
Why use Kiboko Squad?
A security source who declined to be named told The Independent that it is effective to use the Kiboko Squad against demonstrators because people have now learnt to counter the effects of teargas. ‘They wear polythene bags around their faces to shield off the irritating gas. They also go armed with water containers which render tear gas less effective. But sticks inflict direct pain on the rioters because they have no gadgets to shield themselves like with the teargas. They have to disperse immediately to avoid further pain inflicted by the sticks,’ he said.
He added that the state was also trying to avoid earning the tag of ‘military or police state’ so it makes sense to use the Kiboko Squad to disperse rioters rather than deploy armed police or the army. If the state used the regular security forces like the police and the army who are in uniform, it would damage the image of the state internationally and create an environment of state-inspired violence.
So according to him, using the Kiboko Squad has two advantages; one, it shields government from liability in case the aggrieved party wants to sue in court or in the Human Rights Tribunal for compensation because the Kiboko Squad has no known address and command authority. It’s in the same category as a mob and easy for the government to disown it. Two, the government is not seen internationally as cracking down on dissenters and peaceful demonstrators using the police and the military. The Kiboko Squad can be seen as fellow citizens trying to protect themselves and their property against errant civilian rioters. Therefore the state cannot be accused of harassing civilians.
These views were echoed by a retired security officer and former guerrilla fighter in the NRM government, Maj. John Kazoora, who says the deployment of the Kiboko Squad by the state has two dimensions. On one hand, he says, it’s an admission by the government that the state machinery has failed to provide security in the country and has resorted to such rag-tag groups. Kazoora says this means the country is sliding into a state of anarchy where the established security organisations like the police and the army can no longer maintain security.
‘It’s an admission that the state machinery has failed,’ he said adding that this implies the security of the country is now to ‘whom it may concern’.
He also argued that the other advantage of the state using the Kiboko Squad is to avoid or conceal liability. He said if the military were deployed to quell demonstrations, there would be outcry from the international community and human rights groups that the state is using the army to crack down on a political opposition. But with Kiboko Squad, the government cannot be directly held culpable because it can easily disown the group.
He laughed off claims by the police that they had no knowledge of the Kiboko Squad. ‘Obviously that’s a lie. Why didn’t the police round them up or call up the military to quell their actions [during the Mabira riots]?’ Kazoora asked.
But for senior politician and president of the People’s Progressive Party Jaberi Bidandi Ssali, this is only a precursor to the torture and intimidation that the country will witness in the 2011 elections.
‘President Museveni has led Uganda into a police state. A police state has so many arms of coercion and the Kiboko Squad is one of them. It’s one of the paramilitary arms for torture and intimidation for 2011,’ Bidandi said.
Asked why the government would go to the trouble of training such a force instead of using the existing security organs, he said: ‘If you want to carry blocks, you don’t use a Land Cruiser. If you are fishing and you want to catch emputa (Nile Perch) or ngege (tilapia), you carry the appropriate net. You start with Kiboko Squad, Kalangala Action Plan, Local Defence Units, then later you bring the police and the army.’
Be that as it may, the Kiboko Squad is not the only loose security group. There are several such unknown armed groups whose existence has no legal basis but clandestinely operate under the law that governs established security bodies such as the UPDF and Uganda Police.
The Kalangala Action Plan
The KAP is headed by Maj. Kakooza Mutale. It was established by Mutale in Kalangala Islands in 1996 with President Museveni’s knowledge and blessing. Security sources say Museveni commissioned the first cadres of KAP at a ‘pompous ceremony.’ That time Mutale was a presidential advisor on political affairs. KAP is headquartered on Bombo Road. It’s not clear under which ministry or government department its operations are funded. But sources say it’s funded directly by the President’s Office and State House.
Like any other NRM associated security outfits, KAP has no legal basis. It merely exists as a mobilisation tool and militia for the NRM party. It comprises former soldiers and former policemen including criminals who can attack any opponent, perceived or real, of the government. Its mandate is to mobilise for NRM in Buganda, the north and east where NRM is not very popular. It mobilises through intimidation, coercion and blackmail rather than persuasion.
Oil Wells Protection Unit
The OWPU has no clearly known structure or chain of command. However it is placed under the Uganda Police and therefore it reports to the respective regional and district police commanders in the oil exploration areas.
According to security information gathered, when oil and gas were discovered in the Albertine region, some strategists said this would attract a security threat to Uganda which required a specialised force to counter it. It was decided that the special force be drawn from the various security organs including ISO, ESO, the UPDF, police and prisons. This force is not regulated by any law except the UPDF, Police and Security Organisations Acts. Until the Petroleum (Exploration, Development and Production) Bill is passed into law, the Oil Wells Protection Unit remains illegally constituted. Its mandate is to provide physical security for the oil and gas industry, conduct strategic intelligence activities in all areas where the oil will be processed and marketed.
Other unofficial security groups include:
–Nyekundire: This usually becomes active during elections.
–Citizens Concerned: Involved in pre-election mobilisation. It became well known in 2001 when Gen. Salim Saleh was being investigated during the Justice Julia Sebutinde’s commission of inquiry into the imported junk military helicopters from Belarus.
–Boda-boda Association: Mobilises during elections and is also used to gather and surveil targets of interest. They work closely with and are supervised by Resident District Commissioners.
-UTODA and other taxi associations have elements who act for security organisations.
Observers and political analysts say the security organisations are too many and could at any time become uncontrollable. Such a myriad of security groups account for the huge government budget expenditure on public administration at the expense of provision of basic social services. Each organisation can ignore any intermediary levels of bureaucracy and report to the President himself. This causes problems of organisational command and control. In the event that there is conflict, there is likely to be massive confusion and violence.
‘There is urgent need to streamline all security organisations into formal and accountable forces regulated by law,’ said a senior security official who declined to be named.