In January 2014, when Peninah Kobusingye, a second year student at Makerere University, was gang-raped before being killed near the same university, Gen Kale Kayihura, the Inspector General of Police, quickly ascended the campus.
Kobusingye, like several other girls attacked at the university, died without a fight.
Gen Kayihura quickly organised a seven-day training for 700 Makerere University students in self-defence skills. The students’ response to the training in a university that often demonised him was something to celebrate about.
The group was swiftly transformed into the National Youth Crime Preventers Forum (NCPF) under the leadership of Blaise Kamugisha, a law student at Makerere University.
The difference between NCPF and other student groups was that it didn’t focus on crime prevention alone, but was “ideologically upright” and was ready to mobilise for government in areas where the ruling party has been a minority universities.
Funding came along, so did the mobilisation.
In November 2014, more Makerere University students were mobilised and taken to Police Training School, Kabalye in Masindi District where they underwent training in political ideology and economy, martial arts, military drills, and gun stripping and assembling skills.
The forum recruited more students in different tertiary institutions around the country.
Mr Kamugisha claims his forum now has five million crime preventers, but many of his members say the statistics are exaggerated.
The mobilisation is now full-blown that some political sections are fearing that the trained youth could be used in politics as was the case with crime preventers who were recruited in 2010 but were later given police uniforms to provide security during the 2011 general elections.
Others were taken on as Special Police Constables. In many areas, residents were shocked to see people they regarded as criminals in police uniforms.
Some crime preventers even run away with police property after their contracts ended. Police had to send them a warning.
First crime preventers
In 1994, when the first crime preventers were passed out at Katwe Police Station in Kampala, the idea was to have citizens who would sensitise the community about policing.
The programme continued at the same pace until Gen Kayihura was appointed the police chief in 2005.
“I found the police on one side and the people on the other. But when I looked around, there was a programme that could bring the two together and the programme was community policing,” Gen Kayihura said during the opening of the first community policing post at Muyenga, a Kampala suburb.
By 2007, the programme had started taking a new shape after spontaneous riots in major urban areas. Most of the riots hard taken a political direction.
Taxi operators were rebelling against then leading public transport organisation, the Uganda Taxi Operators and Drivers Association (Utoda).
Market vendors were demanding better leadership. Universities had become hotspots of dissenting views and took to the streets to express them.
Boda boda cyclists were also blocking roads. Police needed to get some of these groups on their side.
In 2010, towards the general elections, city boda boda cyclists were engaged through Abdu Kitatta as crime preventers and they established an organisation called the Boda Boda 2010.
Mr Kitatta, the head of Boda Boda 2010, then said the organisation was to stop criminal activities among cyclists and empower them to fight poverty.
The organisation turned out to be a political outfit used against the Opposition during the 2011 general elections.
Boda boda cyclists who demonstrated their support for the Opposition were either forced off their stages or targeted as criminals.
Like the boda boda groups, Kamugisha’s forum is also looking in the same direction.
At the launch of one of the five recent trainings at Kabalye, Mr Kamugisha boasted of how his group had helped the ruling National Resistance Movement party win leadership in universities.
“We have taken over some leadership. Our agenda is to take leadership of students in universities and youth in the country,” Mr Kamugisha said.
The spokesperson of Kamugisha’s forum, Ms Sylvia Ampumuza, is now vying for National Youth Member of Parliament on NRM ticket.
Gen Kayihura, however, denies training youth for a political or militaristic agenda.
“I don’t even know the political parties these students belong to. If there was any sinister plan, I wouldn’t have you called here (Kabalye). But I know it is done by people who don’t want this country,” he said recently.
Asked why he chose to carry out the trainings at a police facility, the IGP said: “it is part of our democracy. By opening up the police, you bring checks and balances. If you are criminal, they will be exposed.”
‘Good concept in ideal situation’
However, Mr Muwanga Kivumbi, the Shadow minister for Internal Affairs, says crime preventers under community policing is a good concept in an ideal situation.
“What we have here is a political manoeuvre to recruit and train a militia to protect the interest of the regime. There is no legal framework, condition of service or policy guidelines in place,” Mr Kivumbi says.
Without measuring the success or failures of the programme, it is bound to be used for political goals, which can lead to killings, the Butambala MP warns.
“The danger is that if they become brutal and you know they are few. The people will fight them and overpower them. You will have a scenario of one group hunting the other,” he says.
As the funding becomes reliable, NCPF members are now fighting for shares. Some of the founding members are quietly complaining that their leaders direct the resources police gives them to mobilise youth for personal gains.
A dissenting group of NCPF visited police stations recently, threatening that they were going to join former prime minister Amama Mbabazi’s camp if police did not come up to resolve the stand off.
It is also alleged that they stormed NCPF offices in Wandegeya on Thursday demanding for a share of the funds police gave the organisation.
Officials described the attackers as hooligans with self-motives.
Used to inspect police
Kamugisha’s group is also reported to be unsettling police officers, especially those at the stations and on the roads.
Crime preventers are used to check the alertness and service delivery of the officers on duty often at night.
In one of their operations in Kampala, crime preventers went to a police booth near Mulago National Referral Hospital at midnight. The booth had two police officers.
One officer had worked during and had not been relieved by his colleague. He remained because the rules are that you cannot leave a police post until you have been relieved by a colleague.
When the crime preventers arrived at the booth for their on-spot checks, pretending to be seeking help, they only saw one police officer.
They went back and made a report that only one police officer was on duty, contrary to the police standing orders. They wrote that the officer was found dozing.
Through their structures, the report was sent to police headquarters. The officers were arrested for neglecting their duties and were detained at Central Police Station Kampala.
Gen Kayihura said President Museveni directed him to use crime preventers to carry out inspectorate roles on corrupt traffic officers.
“When the President (Museveni) was meeting some Americans, they complained about corruption in the traffic police. He told me that if I don’t sort out the traffic police, he was going to disband it. But later he directed us that why don’t we use crime preventers at the university. Now you don’t hear of corruption in the traffic police,” Gen Kayihura said.
Crime preventers once hunted for a suspected corrupt traffic officer who had to flee to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Crime preventers operations have irritated some police officers. After the operations, police officers are now passing the information to their colleagues to beware of the crime preventers.
President Museveni has been so passionate about the youthful crime preventers that he has positively responded more than four times whenever he is invited.
Some police officers told PeoplePower that police deployment duties are methodical and should only be supervised by technical people.
“We do have an inspectorate department and Professional Standards Unit that are supposed to do that. They are trained and well quipped to do that work. What if you find an indiscipline officer and turns the gun on you. How will you defend yourself?” a senior officer asks, who asked not to be named, asks.
NCPF claims to have call centres with toll free lines which members of the public can call to report crimes.
We contacted them several times on the most advertised telephone number 0800203029, our calls went unanswered.