Two weeks ago, Ugandans on social and mainstream media went into a frenzy after president Yoweri Museveni made a major shake-up of the police hierarchy, appointing four senior army officers to key positions, in a move interpreted as a preparation for the conduct of the 2021 elections.
The president named army men to the positions of Chief of Joint Staff, Crime Intelligence, Human Resource Development and Training, and Human Resource and Administration.
Civil society, the Uganda Law Society and opposition figures said that the appointment of the army officers to top positions in the police amounted to militarising the force, which could lead to impunity and brutality towards citizens.
The Uganda Law Society noted that the army did not have a good history working together with police.
Some critics have called this a systematic takeover, a fusion of the police and the military that they say stems from a historic discomfort with the Police that President Museveni has expressed since 1986, when he took over the country’s leadership.
Mr Museveni’s sentiments against the police became more pronounced in 2001, after he performed poorly in that year’s hotly contested election at most polling stations in police barracks. The president complained that he would lose if he “stood against a cow” at a police barracks.
This comment was shortly after followed by the appointment of Maj-Gen Katumba Wamala (he has since been promoted to a full general) as Inspector General of Police.
General Wamala was replaced by Gen Kale Kayihura in 2005, who went on to become the longest serving IGP in Uganda’s history. Gen Kayihura’s tenure ended unceremoniously in March 2017, and he was arrested and charged in a military court three months after he was fired.
Kayihura, a political commissar and close aide of the president at the time he was sent to head the police service, was accused of presiding over the most brazen fusion of the police and the military as he moved a number of former aides from the army to work with him in the police.
Gen Kayihura was also responsible for focusing the police sharply on containing the political opposition. While President Museveni has continued to demonstrate his reliance on the army to fix gaps in other service sectors, recent appointments of army officers to head critical departments in the police are being viewed through lenses of the role he intends the police to play in the 2021 elections.
When doctors went on strike over pay in November 2017, Museveni deployed army doctors to government hospitals to fill the gap. The army is in charge of the multibillion Operation Wealth Creation project, the more visible entity under the National Agricultural Advisory Services under the Ministry of Agriculture.
Operation Wealth Creation is headed by President Museveni’s younger brother Gen Salim Saleh who is deputised by Lt-Gen Charles Angina.
When fish stocks were threatened by fishing of immature fish Museveni again fell back on the military to restore them. He has also heavily relied on the army to contain corruption appointing former personal aide, Lt-Col Edith Nakalema to head a special anti-corruption unit.
Such has been the expectation from Ugandans that even when the national football team players who have been playing at the African championships in Egypt refused to report to training over a dispute in payment bonuses, Ugandan took to social media to joke about how “we shall send soldiers” to play instead.
After sacking Gen Kayihura the president named his deputy and career policeman Okoth Ochola as IGP.
The deputy IGP spot was however filled by an army man Brig Sabiti Muzeeyi, a former military police commander.
Some observers view Brig Muzeeyi as the de facto IGP – the man who calls the shots.
Fred Egesa, a security expert in Kampala, believes that Museveni’s appointment of soldiers in key positions in the country is out of frustration that has been brought upon him by underperforming civilians.
He says that Museveni feels he has a better grip on the army, an advantage he wants to use in executing his development programmes.
“What the army officer should do is understand the dynamics of the positions they are put in. If you are put in the police, you should drop military ways and adopt the civil handling of people,” he said.
With a mandate to promote and transform the agricultural sector in Uganda, OWEC, whose top leadership is mainly serving army officers, seems yet to take off.
Last week, district chairpersons while meeting in Kampala said that local farmers under the project have failed to get markets for their produce, are given poor quality or irrelevant seedlings, receive inputs late and are usually not consulted.