Monday’s scenes at Makerere University must have felt a little surreal for Ugandans who have watched the conduct of the Uganda Police Force in the recent past.
Instead of the usual force of repression, we saw a progressive civilian police dealing with a civilian population aggrieved by the decisions of the powerful leaders of their institution. At the heart of what looked like an over-night transformation was Sam Omala, the operations commander for Kampala Metropolitan North.
Lest we forget, Omala has lately become an institution for confronting and instilling fear, even terror, among people aggressively angry with established authority, especially opposition supporters.
But on Monday at Makerere, Omala and his charges behaved rather differently. There were sights to sevour, of police and demonstrators driving on the same vehicles and laughing together. Omala crowned his ‘transformation’ with a colourful speech in support of the students’ protest against inadequate rations.
He warned leaders to stop making bad decisions in the hope that the police would deal with any backlash from the public. Obviously, we are not sure if Omala was the most competent person to condemn the university administration, especially on the strength of the arguments of one pitiable side.
It is even debatable if he had to sing all that music to the ears of the demonstrating students. But what the police achieved at Makerere, whether by accident or design, was to protect the right of the students to protest peacefully.
This right is enshrined in Article 29 (1) (d) of the Constitution, but the police has often trampled on it with impunity. We can only imagine what would have happened if, instead of reason and restraint, the police had deployed its tear gas, batons, gun-butts and bullets.
We hope that Mr Omala and his colleagues can learn some useful lessons from the little ‘experiment’ at the university, including the fact that civilians only armed with grievances should not be confronted with lethal arms.
Omala’s stance should remind the police of what it is meant to do – to keep law and order, even among unarmed opponents of the state. It may seem a long shot, but it does not have to be.
Source : The Observer