It seems Mr Ochola will need sustained charisma and goodwill of the population and powers that be to undo a number of things that did not go so well over the years. If that happens, police will embark on a new chapter. A visibly angry President Museveni did not hide his feelings about the police during the Women’s Day celebrations on Thursday.
Speaking for the first time since sacking Gen Kayihura, President Museveni tagged problems in the force to “some weevils” that he said have been uprooted. So, what are some of the things that either dipped or highlighted the police image under Gen Kayihura?
One of the hallmarks of Gen Kayihura’s reign will be the activities at the dreaded Nalufenya facility. Described as a police station, the operations at the facility near Jinja bridge were anywhere close to standard police, according to former detainees and other sources within the security circles. Some described being slapped, kicked, clobbered using sticks, wires, plastic cables and rifle butts and cut with small pangas. Others never returned to tell the story.
At the height of its activities, suspects in the killing of former police spokesperson, Andrew Felix Kaweesi, his bodyguard and driver, arrived at Nakawa Chief Magistrate’s Court premises, some limping and others displaying to the world the scars of their time at Nalufenya. The High Court would later award each of the 22, Shs80 million as compensation for the torture.
In 2016, Jamil Mukulu, the leader of Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) shocked the country when he, in a startling allegation, accused police before Jinja Chief Magistrate’s court of torture, including forcing him to “consume things” prohibited by his faith. He claimed he was forced to eat pork and drink Waragi—both prohibited by the Islamic faith. He called Nalufenya a “slaughter house” and “pig sty”.
The word ‘Nalufenya’ in street slang would come to imply torture and even dwarf the reports of torture, extrajudicial killings, and lack of accountability at the Kireka-based facility that changed names overtime from Rapid Response Unit (RRU) to Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and later to Special Investigations Division under Gen Kayihura.
Accounts of former detainees put the former police boss and some of his lieutenants such as jailed Senior Superintendent of Police Nixon Agasiirwe, Assistant Superintendent of Police James Magada, as well as Herbert Muhangi the commandant of police’s Flying Squad, of having played an active role in what was happening at Nalufenya.
A spate of women killings, mainly university students, started in 2014 and went on into 2015 without answers to the families of the victims and the country.
Then in 2017, cases of women being raped, brutally killed and sticks inserted into their private parts by unknown people, emerged. The police and Gen Kayihura seemed clueless about what was happening. He would turn up at the scene every time an incident was prominently reported in the media and make pronouncements.
The killings continued to more than 25 women. Within the same period, anonymous leaflets were circulated in villages, warning residents that not even the presence of the police and the army would save them from more of the deadly night attacks. The attackers, despite assurance of security from Gen Kayihura and his men, would, in some cases, go ahead and execute their mission. Many people lost their lives.
Machete attacks were first reported in Mbarara Municipality in October and November 2016. In February 2017, the crime spread to Sembabule District and hit the peak when it spread to Lwengo, Bukomansimbi and Kampala Metropolitan area.
DISRESPECT FOR THE JUDICIARY
A If there was any doubt of Gen Kayihura’s opinion of the courts, then it was manifested at Makindye Magistrate’s Court when in August 2016, pro-Kayihura protesters turned riotous and threatened to harm anyone with plans to prosecute him and seven other police commanders. Neither Gen Kayihura nor his lawyers showed up in court. For hours, the prosecuting lawyers took refuge in the Chief Magistrate’s chambers as the pro-Kayihura mob went on a rampage. Police officers looked on and after sometime evacuated the court officers. The mob remained until its own volition dissolved.
Under Gen Kayihura, it was police’s way or the highway when it came to court decisions in cases in which he and his team had particular interest and were not getting their way.
When the Nakawa court granted suspects in the Kaweesi murder case bail, they were brutally re-arrested, minutes later, by shabbily dressed gun-brandishing goons. They emerged after sometime in police custody.
In 2016, Deputy Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, then a High Court judge, acquitted five men after prosecution failed to prove that they were involved in bomb attacks that left 76 dead and scores injured.
The men: Dr Ismail Kalule and Abubakari Batemyetto (Ugandans), Omar Awadh Omar, Yahya Suleiman Mbuthia and Mohamed Hamid Suleiman (Kenyans) were immediately re-arrested after being released from Luzira. To date, the five remain in prison with no trial scheduled for their “new” crimes.
The police under Gen Kayihura and attendant militia were not done. On January 12, 2017 armed men travelling in a car registration number UAZ 992M stormed the premises of Gulu High Court and re-arrested Dan Oola Odiya, the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) national deputy mobiliser and his two co-accused, Mr Kenneth Otto and Mr Sam Ojok Obama. This was after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) dropped charges, including treason, concealment, and murder by shooting and attempted murder against them. They ended up in police custody.
In the most recent episode, suspects that had been granted bail had to lock themselves in the court house after police officers led by Mr Joseph Bakaleke, the commander at Kampala Central Police Station (CPS), moved to arrest them. Police eventually overpowered and took them away. One of the suspects accused Gen Kayihura of having a hand in their predicament and promising to report him to President Museveni.
Brutal. Police officers beat up Opposition activist Kizza Besigye’s supporters shortly after the 2016 presidential elections. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA.
All the unexplained killings were happening amid increasing cases of burglary and armed robberies involving, among others police officers, whose job, ideally, is to protect the masses from the same. Police, without explanation, ceased to publish the crime report in what many say was to avert embarrassment over the spiraling crime rate in the country. President Museveni, meanwhile, made a public indictment of the Force under Gen Kayihura, saying it was infiltrated by criminals. He tasked him to “clean up his house” yet things only got worse.
A January survey by this newspaper based on police’s own data revealed that more than 50 police officers, including senior personnel, had either been arrested or implicated in thefts and robberies in less than six months. More have since been implicated, including senior officers accused of robbing Koreans of more than Shs1b.
One of the many names Gen Kayihura earned was “Mr teargas” for the effective deployment of the chemical on Opposition leaders, supporters and other anti-establishment forces.
Seen as a regime enforcer, the partisan accusation hang over Gen Kayihura for his entire career at the helm of the police and on many occasions had to come out and defend himself. At one point in August 2014, he said he does political work but he is not partisan.
As ruling party and regime supporters freely conducted their activities, police under Gen Kayihura tightened the noose on the Opposition, allowing activists close to no breathing space. On many occasions, they were met with teargas, rubber bullets, water cannons and worse, police-backed paramilitary groups and live ammunition. Many lost their lives, including innocent bystanders.
The “Kale leaks”, leaked tape recordings, in which Gen Kayihura is heard speaking against former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, remove, if any, doubts about these claims.
For these activities, President Museveni showered him with praise. Speaking at the East African Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation meeting, Mr Museveni said Gen Kayihura had found the perfect antidote for the Opposition.
MILITIA IN POLICE
To quell political dissent, Gen Kayihura relied mainly on militia and paramilitary groups. The groups grew so strong to a point, some observers said, of running police. While Gen Kayihura defended their role, including in appearances in Parliament, many critics contend their presence exacerbated tensions, worsened the breakdown in public order and aggravated crime.
In an interview with the government owned New Vision, jailed Boda Boda 2010 leader Abdallah Kitatta bragged about having a force to save Gen Kayihura. Mr Kitatta’s Boda Boda 2010 was, for example, in the lead as a mob lay siege on the Makindye Magistrate’s Court. Using their police connections, the group ensured that the court process could not go on as planned. Police officers at the scene, commanded by Kampala Metropolitan Police commander Frank Mwesigwa, mainly looked on.
During the riots against the giveaway of Mabira forest in April 2007, a group that would earn the name of Kiboko Squad was seen emerging from the Central Police Station (CPS), Kampala with sticks before pouncing on demonstrators. A practice of stick and sometimes gun-wielding goons beating up people in police operations and sometimes commanding police officers was to dot the reminder of Gen Kayihura’s reign in the Force. It would emerge that groups such as Kifeesi that terrorised Ugandans, especially in Kampala City, had roots in police.
While Gen Kayihura claimed crime preventers are a volunteer force of civilians recruited and managed by police to report on and prevent crime in cooperation with the police and communities, the group whose structures were slowly being integrated into the Force, is affiliated with the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. Its members, for example, openly backed President Museveni in the 2016 polls and many have been caught up in criminal activities, with some people labelling the group as crime promoters.
Gen Kayihura’s reign at the police was not all about doom, his achievements, even for his critics, won’t just be wished away. In 2005, when he took over, the police budget was just Shs74b and had grown to more than Shs500b.
Police acquired more equipment during his time at the helm such as Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), ambulances, more patrol cars and troop carriers. In the more than 12 years he spent at the helm of the Force, police numbers grew from 18,000 in 2005 to more than 45,000 and nearly matched the United Nations recommended ratio of 1:500. His leadership also established police schools and colleges and had big plans, including a police university.