Kiru­mira and Uganda's reign of ter­ror

The East African - - OPINION -

The shoot­ing to death of As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent of Po­lice Muhamad Kiru­mira on Septem­ber 8 capped a se­ries of 17 un­re­solved mur­ders of prom­i­nent Ugan­dans over the past six years. In a killing that fol­lowed an estab­lished pat­tern, the mid­dle-level of­fi­cer was slain in the early evening hours by masked as­sailants rid­ing on two mo­tor­bikes.

It was the sec­ond killing of a se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer in just over a year and came ex­actly three months af­ter Ibrahim Abiriga, the rul­ing party leg­is­la­tor for Arua Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, was felled by a hail of bul­lets, again by as­sailants rid­ing on mo­tor­bikes.

In all in­stances, the state ap­pears clue­less, as not a sin­gle sus­pect among the dozens ar­rested in past killings has been proven guilty.

If the mur­der­ers’ mo­tive is to cre­ate a sense of de­spon­dency, then they have largely suc­ceeded, be­cause no­body feels se­cure any­more and politi­cians across the di­vide have been united in call­ing for a co­her­ent re­sponse from the se­cu­rity sys­tem.

Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni’s re­sponse has been pre­dictable. He sees the cur­rent spi­ral of vi­o­lence as a sur­mount­able chal­lenge that can be de­feated by a com­bi­na­tion of new and old meth­ods. He has re­called 24,000 boots from the re­serve force and rushed through a pro­cure­ment of sur­veil­lance cam­eras.

While only time can tell what th­ese mea­sures can achieve, it is not dif­fi­cult to see why they are un­likely to stop the killings. One im­ped­i­ment is scale. The mur­ders have been so asym­met­ri­cal that one won­ders whether the cur­rent re­source en­ve­lope can see Kam­pala blan­keted by sur­veil­lance cam­eras. Equally, the cam­eras need to be backed by a nim­ble and well equipped se­cu­rity sys­tem.

Also, Kiru­mira’s killing fol­lowed a month of vi­o­lent po­lit­i­cal con­tests that left three dozen peo­ple charged with trea­son and two leg­is­la­tors nurs­ing life-threat­en­ing in­juries in­flicted on them by uni­formed of­fi­cers.

Af­ter sur­viv­ing decades of in­sur­gency against his rule, it can be ar­gued that the lat­est com­bi­na­tion of events is the big­gest chal­lenge to Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni’s legacy, and how he re­sponds mat­ters.

First, he must re­sist the temp­ta­tion to clamp down on his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, be­cause that will only po­larise the nation fur­ther at a time when it needs unity. Also, let­ting the dogs loose, as he has done in re­cent weeks, only serves to blur the lines be­tween his record and that of his pre­de­ces­sors, for whom he has pro­fessed lit­tle ad­mi­ra­tion.

Ul­ti­mately, the so­lu­tion is to be found in get­ting the state to func­tion again. For the bet­ter part of his rule, Pres­i­dent Mu­sev­eni has, like the Greek god At­las, at­tempted to sin­gle­hand­edly carry the bur­den of run­ning Uganda. It may now be time for him to step back, al­low the or­gans of the state to func­tion and de­mand ac­count­abil­ity from those to whom he del­e­gates the dif­fer­ent state func­tions.

Decades of mil­i­taris­ing the po­lice have blunted its ca­pac­ity for in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The net ef­fect of this has been to em­bed a cul­ture of spec­u­la­tive pros­e­cu­tion that only un­der­mines its cred­i­bil­ity and alien­ates the pub­lic that could be the source of cred­i­ble in­tel­li­gence.

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