Uganda Police officers rough up a man who was participating in a protest

On Tuesday July 12, 2016 opposition leader Dr Warren Kizza Besigye Kifefe was released from prison on bail after being locked up on charges of treason. Ugandans are now familiar with Dr Besigye’s political style, one that at times leaves his followers and the police on a collision path. Every election year is one of mayhem and chaos, bringing to a standstill so many businesses and operations carried out in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

Citing electoral malpractice as the main reason for his failure to assume the presidency on four occasions, Dr Besigye at times takes matters in his hands in an attempt to remedy the ills, going even as far as swearing himself in as Uganda’s president-elect despite the results released by the Electoral Commission showing otherwise. This landed him a two month stay in a cold cellar in Moroto and Luzira, where he claims to have escaped several assassination attempts. But even after his release Dr Besigye still remains true to his word and remained defiant and adamant; taunting the police, calling them ‘incompetent’ and further urging his staunch followers to take up arms and rally behind him as he re-embarks on his journey to State House to claim what he believes is rightfully and justly his.

DEFIANT? Supporters of Dr Kizza Besigye
DEFIANT? Supporters of Dr Kizza Besigye engage a police officer

Let us assume there is a girl in Kampala who deems herself a loyal follower of the Forum for Democratic Change leader (Besigye’s opposition party). Let’s call her Rose. On July 12 Rose and millions of others witnessed the release of her party president and to her joy Rose found out she could also see him in person as he was being transported to his home in Kasangati by the Ugandan police. However, Rose’ joy was short lived as the police detail escorting the Opposition leader started hitting anyone in sight, causing many to disperse in frenzy as they feebly tried to escape the beatings.

For Rose and other Ugandans witnessing this attack on FDC supporters, it appeared to have been pre-planned; whether the supporters had catalyzed the attack or not the police were intent on hitting something or someone that day. This for Rose, like any Ugandan familiar with the signature riots and rallies that rotate around Ugandan elections is not new. However, unlike previous clashes with police where measures were implemented in order to restore peace and order, July 12 was a peaceful day that did not necessitate the police to act the way they did. This left many Ugandans who witnessed the brutal footage wondering whether they should brace themselves for the worst in the near future.

Protesters in the US against the killing of Philando Castillo
Protesters in the US against the killing of Philando Castillo

Police brutality is a very common occurrence not only in Uganda but also elsewhere, in a country like the United States of America. And in most cases it is a result of miscommunication and misconduct between the deviants and the police that is charged with maintaining peace and order within a state, usually leaving the civilians/deviants with the short end of the stick. Although police brutality often occurs due to lack of better judgment on both sides there are some cases where the public is left baffled at the sheer lack of modesty exhibited by the police when they decide to criminalize many citizens and act as if they were operating in a war-zone. We’ve seen women undressed and their bodies subjected to demeaning and humiliating forms and acts of violence over the years whilst men are beaten and handled callously without any remorse whatsoever, even at times causing death of some in its wake. No one can truly pin-point the reason or cause of such unprofessional and unnecessary behavior; the police force in Uganda is slowly but surely deteriorating when it comes to its public relations skills. However, on a positive note, of recent several police officers have had to answer for their acts of commission or omission.

APOLOGISED ON BEHALF OF POLICE FORCE: Inspector General of Police Gen kale Kayihura
APOLOGISED ON BEHALF OF POLICE FORCE: Inspector General of Police Gen kale Kayihura

On July 14 police chief General Kale Kayihura called a press conference at the police headquarters in Naguru, where he apologized on behalf of the police for the brutality his men exuded towards the citizens of Uganda.

“I want of course to regret any incident that disturbs the public. We are pro-people, we are not anti-people and I don’t want these images that police is against the people,” he said. However, Gen Kayihura also blamed people for the ‘provocation of the force’ and warned Besigye about carrying on with his defiance campaign.

Police brutality can mainly be described as the unlawful use of force by the police and in Uganda this normally happens between a specific group of peoples or gatherings and the police. In Uganda followers/supporters of the opposition parties top the list with numerous encounters causing civil unrest especially during campaign seasons. Meanwhile, in the United States of America, police brutality is commonly expressed between the African Americans and the state police; with the former group growing more concerned about the number of their colleagues dying at the hands of the police. Indeed, given America’s history and its journey from slavery dealings between the African Americans and police still remains a touchy issue; one that can be interpreted negatively at any one moment given any kind of false move.

As was the case in the recent shootings in America that claimed the lives of three African-American males in short order: 18-year old Michael Brown; 37-year old Alton Sterling and Philando Castillo, were all gunned down in a hail of police fire.

And on July 15 22-year old Sapphire Williams and 70 other ‘Black Lives Matter’ protestors were arrested but thanks to today’s social media platforms, the videos depicting these incidents went viral causing uproar across the globe. It is such depictions that have caused many to come together and fight against police brutality and racism. Through such awareness people know the power the police are allowed to wield over citizens and the need for such power to be checked when it comes to dealings between the police and civilians. There must also be measures put in place to ensure that those given this power are not influenced in any way that might give rise to any form of discrimination in the force, affecting the lack of bias that is important at law and in the decision-making process.

That said however, in light of recent history, many have surmised that America is slowly but surely turning into a ‘police state’.