Police should own up to political violence

Police chief Kale Kayihura’s angry reaction to the Amnesty International report which criticised his institution for violations of the constitutional right to freedom of assembly was also very revealing of the mindset in the Uganda Police.

Ours is a Force which has gradually become heavily politicised and militarised. The chief himself has been praised as a good cadre of the ruling party by no less a personality than the President.

In this undesirable environment, the police’s primary function to keep law and order has been confused with what increasingly looks like a determination to succeed at regime protection.

It says something that over the last five years, a wide range and number of human rights groups and defenders have issued reports about politically-inspired police brutality, which by no stretch of the imagination can be described as ‘isolated incidents’ as the General suggested in his piece. Uganda’s own human rights commission has made condemnatory declarations about this institution. It cannot be that all these organisations have a partisan propaganda agenda against the police.

The man at the helm will do well to remember that it all began to go really awry during the 2011 Walk-to-Work repressions. The beatings, teargassing, indiscriminate shootings and arrests of unarmed civilians were well documented. Since then, several Opposition leaders have been manhandled, detained and are almost literally dragged to court on what on many occasions turned out to be trumped up charges.

In a word, the information about police brutality against regime opponents in Uganda is abundant. The police chief’s reaction to the report released Monday revealed a lamentable unwillingness to acknowledge this painful truth a refusal to accept that everyone knows the transgressions.

As long as this mentality is allowed to fester, very little room exists for urgently needed re-orientation and reforms in the police. It is also this attitude which feeds the illegal desire to maintain the national police as some sort of paramilitary appendage of the ruling party, albeit being paid for by the taxpayer.

Ostrich tactics where officials think they can wish away the consequences of their actions, unfortunately, will not be enough to bury the truth. It is no secret that Uganda’s supreme law mirrors those fundamental universal values about human rights and freedoms, to which the violators of these provisions cannot plead ignorance as a defence.