How Ugandans exposed themselves to terrorists as police dropped their guard
Saturday October 30 2021
On October 20, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the end of curfew in the country, ending the nationwide limitation on movement at night, instituted in March 2020 at the onset of coronavirus pandemic. "It is now time to shift our focus from survival to co-existing with the disease," he said in a televised address to mark a Mashujaa Day.
In neighbouring Uganda, this was received with excitement and the video of Kenyatta’s speech was circulated widely on social media, even as Uganda maintained a 7pm to 5am curfew. Perhaps in anticipation of a similar “gift” from President Yoweri Museveni in a week’s time, Ugandans took to bars with reckless abandon. Three days later, a bomb exploded in a Kampala suburb, Kawempe, killing a 20-year-old waitress and injuring other people.
The last time such as attack happened in Kampala was on July 11, 2010, when crowds watching a screening of the 2010 Fifa World Cup final at two locations in Kampala were bombed. The attacks left 74 dead and 85 injured. Al-Shabaab, the Somalia-based militia, claimed responsibility.
President Museveni blamed the latest attack on the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) a rag-tag rebel group that fought the army in the late 1990s in western Uganda, but retreated to the restive DR Congo when it was flushed out of Uganda. Security sources have recently pinned the group on killings of high-profile individuals in the country such as Muslim clerics, police spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesi and the recent attempt on the life of Works minister and former Chief of Defence Forces Gen Katumba Wamala.
The Director-General of Internal Security Organisation, Col Charles Oluka, while visiting the Eastern Africa Fusion and Liaison Unit in Entebbe on Tuesday, said they were narrowing investigations, to ADF. He said 47 bomb attacks have been thwarted in recent years. The Liaison Centre coordinates intelligence from 10 cooperating countries, including Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Somalia, and Ethiopia.
Despite warnings from France and Britain about an imminent attack, security agencies did not seem alarmed. Police spokesperson Fred Enanga said they were always ready for any attack. As had been the norm, checkpoints at entrances, despite being manned by security personnel, were taking only temperatures and spraying out sanitisers to prevent Covid-19 infection. Those manning bus parks no longer conduct body searches.
President Museveni, a few years ago, after the shooting of former senior police officer Muhammed Kirumira, ordered registration of SIM cards, fingerprinting of guns in security agencies and private hands, installation of security cameras, use of drones and recruitment of local defence units, and more recently, trackers on all vehicles. Efforts were made on some of these measures, but little was achieved in fighting crime.
After a number of kidnaps where the kidnappers would ask for money to be to their mobile phones, security officers were finding it hard to track the criminals. The president admitted there were loopholes that he promised to fix them. “The unregulated sale of mobile phone SIM cards to people without electronic identity cards are some of the gaps that we are in the process of closing,” he said.
Three years later, there are still Sim cards registered in dead people’s names.
The exercise that started in October 2019 saw about 57, 000 guns fingerprinted by December that year. President Museveni ordered test-firing and fingerprinting of all firearms in the country at the peak of assassinations targeting prominent and ordinary citizens. He said fingerprinting would simplify investigations. But the President would later say that the gun used in the attack on Gen Wamala on June 1, 2021 was the same one used to kill Maj Muhammad Kiggundu in 2016, but there has been no further information on who held the gun and where it came from.
Upon arrest of suspects, security is reported to have recovered the guns used through one Juma Sserwadda, a chapati seller in Namuwongo, a Kampala suburb. Sserwadda led the investigators to the home of Juma Saidi, a Boda Boda rider, in Namuwongo.
Two guns and a pistol, wrapped in a polythene bag and buried underneath a poultry house were recovered.
All major roads and installations within Kampala and other urban centres have been fitted with security cameras. The Police have a centre for manning these cameras. However, they have been accused by citizens of clamping down on dissent.
There is nothing much these cameras have done to help security net hardcore criminals and some activists argue that the cameras were strategically installed near homes of opposition figures such as Kizza Besigye and Robert Kyagulanyi to monitor their activities rather than fight crime.
According to Police, over 5,000 cameras were fitted and covered many places. However, in Komaboga, where the attack happened, there were no cameras. Moreover, in other areas such as
Kitgum in northern Uganda, the district security personnel have raised concerns about the non-functional Closed Circuit Television cameras (CCTV) installed.
A local leader and head of security in the district William Komakech had complained that for a year, none of the cameras had been in operation despite growing cases of crimes.
Museveni has in the past blamed the Police for not utilizing the security cameras, saying: “The cameras I put in place did their work," he said. "As you saw the killers were running from one area to another area. Why didn’t the camera center alert all the patrol cars and cause even the unmanned air vehicles to chase and block these killers?" He was referring to suspects in the shooting of Gen. Wamala.
He said the Police camera managers think the cameras are for storing videos for forensic analysis as part of the postmortem of the operation.
In April 2019, over 6,000 LDUs were deployed in major urban centres such as Kampala, Wakiso, and Mukono. However, there were several complaints about the conduct of the LDUs since their deployment, especially at the height of the Covid-19 outbreak. They were enforcing the guidelines with so much brutality that many people were shot and killed, severely beaten and had to be withdrawn for a refresher course. They were accused of torture, extortion and misuse of their firearms.
Although Museveni pledged that drones will be used for security surveillance, they are yet to be deployed.
The fact that people were not respecting curfew guidelines and that the Police had joined the people in the merry in bars came to the fore when nobody seemed to have been in charge of the place that was bombed. The team formed by the Police to investigate the fact that bars were open at the time of the attack says that all the three policing divisions have disowned the area.
Curfew starts at 7am and ends at 5:30am. However, by the time of the attack at 9:30 pm, the revelers were enjoying their pork, washing it down with a beer in a place dotted with various bars, which according to residents, have never closed despite bars being closed since March 2020. The IGP to order for a probe to establish which police commander is in charge of the area.
Residents say even the security officers were aware that nobody seemed to be in charge of Komamboga and also frequented the place late in the night in violation of the curfew guidelines. Police patrol vehicles seemed to either bring patrons or would just pass on their errands.
According to security arrangements within the city, the area seems to be in the middle of three divisions; Kawempe, Kira and Kasangati, and the three Police Commanders (DPCs) have denied being in charge after some MPs suggested punitive action against the officers who did not do their job.
“Kawempe DPC says she is not in charge of Kwata Zone where the bomb exploded, Kasangati DPC says his jurisdiction does not reach Komamboga and Kira Division also insists the place attacked is not in their policing are,” according to an officer involved in the investigation.
Police publicist Mr. Fred Enanga says the public should not rush to accuse the commanders, saying the investigative team will establish the commander who should be in charge of Komamboga and he or she will be held responsible.
“The whole incident of Komamboga is being reviewed administratively and also in regard to our responses as well," Enanga said.
“If we find that there are police officers who didn’t respond appropriately or who have been giving protection to the eating points at Komamboga, all that is going to come out in the investigation,” he added.
Police’s political commissar Asan Kasingye says the force is aware of some commanders who had relaxed on enforcing the curfew rules and were investigating the matter, saying action will be taken against the officers.
Former intelligence operative and presidential aide Charles Rwomushana says the problem is not the enforcement of rules or not. “The problem is bigger and the President does not want to worry the country,” he says. He says by the president’s admission in recent years, the security systems, including the Police, have been infiltrated by criminals, which according to Rwomushana makes fighting such criminals harder. He says the president knows the enemy more than any other person, including the fact that they have big businesses in town in fuel and real estate. He says some of the criminals could be working with some opposition members who are fighting to remove the government with external backing. Indeed, during the president’s address on Thursday, he mentioned that a number of opposition members were fronting the ideas of instability and thanked some of their members who have rejected the idea.
Across the country, security has been heightened with police and army manning roads blocks on major highways and doing on-spot checks on passenger vehicles especially those travelling in buses.
Public spaces and shopping malls manned by private security companies have too heightened security away from the laxity that they have had of simply checking for temperature and sanitizing entrants.
“Police has embarked on a campaign of awareness to citizens to take caution for their safety, report suspicious people and items and we believe that in case the public corporates we shall defeat these terrorists,” Enanga said.
On Wednesday, parliament faulted the government for ignoring warnings on imminent terror attacks on Uganda and house leader of opposition Mathias Mpuuga asked the president to account for the funds that have been released to security under classified budget and for security forces to make clear communication.
“One of the biggest challenges in fighting terror is by state actors, communicating in riddles because we have a dozen of them that are managing security in the country – each communicating variously and throwing the public into confusion. We invite the security agencies to give the country coherent and consistent information,” Mpuuga said.
A source within the Internal Security Organisation intimated to The EastAfrican that one of the lines investigators are following is a possibility of a neighbouring country offering logistical support and training to ADF rebels in retaliation of claims that Uganda is also supporting groups that want to destabilize her.