By Joel Kenneth Ndawula
In a 1986 New York Times article titled Rebel Sworn in as Uganda President, the author goes on to paint a picture of a renewed nation under the militant government. The writing was so elaborate that the reader could have a virtual experience of the freedom felt by Ugandans then.
In this aged piece, the then rebel leader made promises that would have made the American liberals drool. “This is not a mere change of guards,” Mr. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was quoted. Under presidents like Milton Obote, Idi Amin Dada, Tito Okello Lutwa, Ugandans lived in fear. They were victims of instinctual force at the hands of security officials and very often ‘presidential personal goons’. As such, Museveni’s statement carried a promise of home to the Ugandans.
Quite likely, if the forty year old rebel Museveni met the seventy-something year old militant Museveni, we would have another bush war. During his swearing in ceremony at the Parliament in a tattered Kampala, Museveni said, “The people of Uganda should only die from natural causes which are not under our control, but not from fellow human beings.”
Fast forward to the year 2007 when a security organ that had changed names more times than an identity free millennial was taken on as a wing of the police force under the leadership of then IGP Gen. Edward Kale Kayihura Of course, this was with a new name: Rapid Response Unit (RRU). This organ became the epitome of Human Rights violation in this country.
Without a care in the world, the operatives of RRU conducted unlawful arrests, extreme torture, forced confessions, illegal prosecution and extrajudicial killings. In a three year long Human Rights Watch investigation with over 100 interviews, it was revealed that at least sixty of every seventy seven victims suffered brutal torture. Many times, these extreme interrogations ended with the death of the interviewee.
Over the last ten years, Ugandans have witnessed shameless police brutality administered to civilians in broad daylight. It seems that security persons have, over time, become arrogant with no fear of the sovereignty of the constitution and its limitations to government. It’s almost as though they have assured immunity for their actions.
After the dismissal of Gen. Kale Kayihura and appointment of Senior Counsel Martins Okoth Ochola, many hoped that an end, or at least what could come close to it, had been put to this blatant misconduct. However, the army stepped up to continue the long unpunished abuse of the law.
By the time of Kayihura’s downfall, majority of Ugandans had become skeptical of any administrative shuffles. In fact, very few expected much change. It was rather obvious! When one cuts a head off a hydra, two grow in its place. As fate would have it, that’s what happened or in this case a much bigger head emerged.
Not so far back, a business man, Yusuf Kawooya was forcefully arrested near Christ the King church in midtown Kampala. As is often the practice, the assailants (military officers) manhandled the business man. The arrest wasn’t without beatings and threats. Stunned civilians stood on and watched the event unfold before them without the ability to do anything. Who would? These were angry men with guns. They threw their victim into an awaiting van and drove off.
Yusuf Kawooya joins a long list of unfortunate civilians. The UPDF paraded five of their own for the public to see what good a job they were doing. Corporal Daniel Ssenkungu, the man that led the assault was bold enough to plead for lenience on grounds that they have families.
Obviously, dishonorable discharge is to be expected. Nevertheless, a life sentence would not harm them any more than they harmed Yusuf Kawooya. After all that Ugandans have been through I, like many, would sleep better with their likes dead and buried.
Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima dubbed the incident ‘unacceptable’. The UPDF, as it did with the Bobi Wine protests, offered an apology. Nonetheless, that doesn’t erase the fact that this has been ongoing for so long. There are rules that govern country Uganda and without them, we are simply animals. These security organs have made simpletons of the public. ‘Sure, batter the taxpayers, apologize and then move on’ is soon to become the new military code of conduct.
In September, Lt. Gen. Ivan Koreta stood before parliament to explain the claims of brutality made by civilians against the UPDF. It was apparent that the legislative representative of the military couldn’t defend the actions of the soldiers. UPDF combatants who were tasked with guarding Uganda waters and fishing communities had instead subjected civilians to rape and other forms of ferocity. Similar atrocities were cited by Hon. Nsamba Oshabe in mining villages of Mubede.
It’s clearer now more than ever that the institutions tasked with protecting the public have become the terror that haunts it. Whoever is in charge of cadet training should do a better job. The militia have become savage lunatics that are unleashed upon the public whenever a ‘high rank’ feels an itch. UPDF should stop offering apologies and tame their demons.
The army we see today is a far cry from that which President Museveni led to victory in 1985, or the one that he promised after that. Even though Y.K. Museveni has fulfilled many of his 1986 inaugural pledges, he still owes it to the public to correct the degenerating military behavior.
Whatever happened to “governments not being masters but servants of the population”? If President Museveni is going to cling onto power, he should be gracious enough not to torment the public. It is appalling for the government to treat taxpayers like subordinates.
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