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Police for hire

Dangerous trend leaves public unsafe

Kampala, Uganda | MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | The most interesting news about the gun shots that rung out near the head offices of the opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) in the Kampala City suburb of Kamwokya is the police reaction.

When The Independent asked Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson SP Patrick Onyango about the incident, he could not confirm whether the shooters were security agents, private guards, policemen or whatever.

“The matter is under investigation,” Onyango said.

But for residents of the Old Kira Road area where the incident happened at 3pm on Aug.30, it is an open-and-shut case.

According to many of them the commotion-prone socialite Charles Olim aka Sipapa had a hand in it.

Many accounts say Sipapa, who has previously been photographed with President Yoweri Museveni at State House, got involved in the disorder when he arrived in the area which also has the studios of the Firebase Crew; a music recording outfit ran by NUP leader and presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine.

The accounts suggest that Sipapa, was travelling in a van with two men who fired three shots in the air to scare off an angry mob upset about their presence.

Some accounts say the two men are police guards of the socialite. In any case, it should be easy for the police to explain.

Instead everything remains vague since the shooters were not dressed in security forces uniform although they were guarding Sipapa.

The incident has reignited debate on how the police force and other securities agencies are being misused in guarding “rich and powerful”.

Dubious police deals

Many citizens pass off as Very Very Important Person (VVIPs)  and have armed police guards these days. This has led many to believe that the police are up for hire to anyone who has money, power, or influence or whoever can fake it. A photo op with President Museveni is a perfect ticket.

It is not clear how Sipapa ended up having police guards. He gained fame and notoriety for getting into brawls, throwing money around and driving expensive cars although his source of income was shadowy. At one point photos emerged of him handcuffed to a hospital bed like a criminal.

He appears to have become VVIP since he was in a photo-op with President Museveni on October 31, 2019.

Sometimes all one needs is to be a known socialite or zealous supporter of the ruling NRM party. Then you can have a police lead car chase other motorists off the road as they clear the way for you to pass. Or, as has become the rage under the tough COVID-19 regulations that forbid large gathering, you can hire police to guard your function with 1000 guests in attendance.

Many police are involved in dubious activities, such as the Sipapa shooting in Kamwokya. A journalist with NBS TV recently exposed a racket involving police personnel in extortion of money from businesses.

Police role threatened

The tendency to hire out police personnel is threatening the traditional role of the police, which is to protect and serve all Ugandan irrespective of their economic status.

Article 212 of the Constitution of Uganda states that the police force shall protect life and property, preserve law and order, prevent and detect crime, and cooperate with the civilian authority and other security organs and with the population generally.

However, 10 per cent of the force is now assigned to guard a few privileged and rich people.

Despite the pencil-thin police strength of 43,000 officers in the country and high crime rates, the police force is concentrating on protecting the few privileged and rich citizens. The poor are left unprotected.

Although it is illegal, it not unusual for convoys of these VVIPs to demand right of way using blaring sirens and flashing emergency lights and menacingly pointing their guns.

The practice became widespread following the assassination sprees of 2017 and 2018. Ministers, judicial officials, police and army bosses, business tycoons and whoever felt threatened soon started moving with guards.

Under police regulations, it appears, anyone can lawfully hire a police officer to guard people, an event, or business. Some Ugandans who occupy sensitive public offices are considered VVIPs and given security in form of police body guards and motorised escorts, including lead cars.

Under police regulations, to get this kind of police protection one needs to apply in writing to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) or his representation like the District Police Commander (DPC) stating reasons why they need special police protection.

One also profiles him/herself and clearly states the reasons why you need security personnel. A risk assessment team looks into the issues, makes recommendations and a decision of whether to approve the request or not is made.

But some “sharp” Ugandans connive with police patrol without notice of the DPC and they will terrorise other motorists off the road in a bid to beat the rampant traffic congestions in Kampala.

On this Onyango says some private individuals can write to the police requesting for right of way. “If their request is honoured, they are given a go-ahead. This kind of request is again made to the IGP or his delegated representative not individual officers,” he said.

When police bodyguards are provided to people that request for them in the lawful way, the recipient must pay government revenue. A third of this revenue goes into Police Welfare Fund and the remainder into the Consolidated Fund.

Many people organising an event that attracts hundreds or thousands of people opt for police security because it is considered cheaper than private security firms.

However, some individuals have resorted to abusing this. Some private citizens are hiring police to beat traffic jams, guard parties, and homes.

Lately, Members of Parliament, political party leaders, business people, religious leaders, artistes and relatives of high profile people in the country are hiring police to guard them.

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