Comparisons are being drawn between the 120-year-old Uganda Police and the country’s army, whose official age is either 38 since its launch as a rebel force or 23 since the Constitution creating the Uganda People’s Defence Force was enacted.
This comes after a bizarre incident last Sunday involving three soldiers, one a retired general and his two guards, who descended on a uniformed policewoman and beat the daylights out of her after she tried to direct them where to pass.
Otherwise the period of lowest morale for the Uganda Police was in the 1970s after army commander Idi Amin captured power in 1971 and promoted himself from two-star general to four-star general.
Amin transferred his police counterpart, Inspector General Wilson Oryema, to the army, effectively demoting him from four-star general equivalent to lieutenant colonel – without even a red collar (full colonel).
From then on, soldiers started calling policemen their wives! The police was relegated from keeping public order to mounting colourful parades, for entertaining “their husbands” in green.
Amin even went to Kenya and negotiated with Mzee Kenyatta for the repatriation of a Uganda-born Luo cop called Venansio Okello, who was a music maestro. With Okello conducting the Uganda Police Band performances, the army were satisfied that “their wives” were fully engaged and wouldn’t bother them again.
When the army was overthrown in 1979, their “wives” stayed widowed during the subsequent seven years of instability, descending into decadent corruption that included hiring out guns to gangsters, until a commission of inquiry set up in the late 1990s turned the force inside out.
Reorganisation of the police started in early 2000 and it included upgrading their training to military. This was justified by the changing nature of crime, with most thieves being civil veterans using abundantly available automatic weapons.
Meanwhile, one Brigadier Matayo Kyaligonza had revived the “wifing” of the police by beating up the officer in charge of Jinja Road Police Station, a major station in Kampala city. Another army brigadier, recently retired as Major General Kasirye Gwanga, who had actually served in Amin’s army, also took up the habit of slapping uniformed police officers around.
Last Sunday, Matayo Kyaligonza, now retired as major general and a diplomat serving as ambassador to Burundi, inflicted a well-timed humiliation on the police, just after the 42nd anniversary of the murder of the first Ugandan IGP by the army (on February 16, 1977), the same Wilson Oryema named above. His party descended on a Sergeant Esther Namaganda when she tried to make them observe the traffic code.
A “wife” who was actually a woman telling the army vet what to do must have driven the general mad. She said the general slapped her so hard on the ear that she was ironically saved from falling by the two uniformed tormentors who were holding her. The beating of a uniformed police officer on duty in the city left the public and the police scared.
Those are not a civilian’s words. It was Assistant Inspector General of Police Stephen Kasiima, Director of Traffic and Road Safety who told the media that the police are living in fear.
In the 1970s, the “wife” was young and teasing was enough to keep her in her place. Now she is menopausal and there is no more patience with her.
Joachim Buwembo is a social and political commentator based in Kampala. E-mail: [email protected]