Kirumira and Uganda's reign of terror
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.