Something rather ominous has been going on, and many Ugandans are getting apprehensive. We have people undergoing military training in the name of ‘crime prevention’.
Initially, we were told that this is a project under the ‘community policing’ model, something inspector general of police Kale Kayihura touts as the best approach to dealing with crime. It is something that has worked elsewhere, we are told; so, it can work here too.
But before long came the training activities and scary comments of the enigmatic Major Roland Kakooza Mutale (I forget his current official government position), a man previously associated with acts of election-related violence. When he spoke to NTV last week, he was unequivocal: his trainees were up for the job of securing his master in power. Some of Mutale’s unflattering remarks while referring to President Museveni may have puzzled a few people!
The police and security agencies owe Ugandans an explanation as to where Mutale gets the mandate and resources to take people through military training in preparation for the upcoming elections. Is he doing so as part of the project of ‘community policing’ by training ‘crime preventers’?
The very idea of ‘crime preventers’ is obviously absurd when one thinks about it a little critically. It is as if crime is some sort of unified object that can be singled-out and a wall of ‘preventers’ placed around it to stop it from harming society!
How exactly are these ‘preventers’ going to prevent crime? What crime are they going to prevent? What is their mandate and what is the legal regime governing their work? Why now and not three years ago? Will this be a long-term, and perhaps permanent job, for those enrolled into it?
It is tempting to believe that the authors of this nefarious scheme lack an adequate grasp of what crime entails and how to go about tackling it. They are clever enough to know that crime is borne both of economic conditions and social circumstances. To ‘prevent’ it requires addressing the conditions and circumstances under which it festers and spreads. You cannot do so by training hordes of people to prevent it.
The more unequal a society is, the more likely it faces very high crimes, thus part of the solution must be found in creating avenues for better economic conditions for the majority citizens and scaling down income inequality. Secondly, rampant crime is also a consequence of severe breakdown of social norms, values, and the ethos that enable social coexistence.
This stratagem of ‘crime preventers’ has little to do with crime and everything to do with political brinkmanship. If Kale Kayihura and his master General Museveni were seriously interested in fighting crime, they would know that a great part of the solution must be sought in addressing the country’s appalling socioeconomic conditions.
They would also know that a modern, non-partisan, and professional police force is key. It is the job of the police and not vigilantes to protect society against criminal activities.
To leave issues of crime to vigilantes is to abdicate the state’s core responsibility: ensuring security of person and property. Our current rulers, especially the ruler-in-chief, understand this all too well, the reason they have ruled us almost effortlessly for the last three decades.
So, what is the game plan? Uganda faces one of the world’s highest and dangerous youth unemployment. It is very likely that many of these desperate young people form the bulk of the ‘crime preventers.’ They present a serious existential threat to Museveni’s stay in power. Thus, one way to demobilize and contain them is through the scheme of crime prevention, which neither solves the unemployment problem nor in fact will help in ‘preventing crime’ (whatever that means).
But the bigger issue in this game is the militarization of our society, which is the central component in Museveni’s ruling strategy. If we granted that the concept of ‘crime prevention’ makes sense at all, one wonders why civilians across the country must be taken through military drills complete with indoctrination that has nothing to do with preventing crime.
This brinkmanship is setting up the country for a possible tragedy. In a country with a long history of armed violence and, therefore, wide proliferation of weapons, and given the state of desperation and sheer economic squeeze that many Ugandans face, anything is possible.
Recently, during a TV talk show, a leading political commentator told me that Uganda is way past the possibility of breakdown of order. Apparently, there is a convergence of interests between those with the ability to maintain order, that is, those in charge of the state apparatus on the one hand, and the wealthy on the other.
These two, I was told, are more than capable of ensuring a stable and non-violent Uganda. When I asked about the masses who, practically speaking, don’t have much to lose, I was told they are incapable of doing anything that can seriously disturb the current order. That it’s all in the hands of those with the state machinery and those with economic power. I found this more wishful than a realistic assessment.
The author is a PhD candidate and teaching assistant at the department of Political Science, Northwestern University, USA.