How the opposition has been joined by elements inside government to fight the IGP and the risks it poses
Over the last few weeks, the police and its Inspector General Kale Kayihura have been in the eye of the storm. The opposition see Kayihura, and correctly so, as the biggest stumbling block in their pursuit of power. He has tenaciously blocked their rallies and riots. So they want him removed. They have successfully used social media to demonise him.
Personal ambition and petty bickering of some elements in government have led them to join with the opposition in the struggle against the IGP.
While the intentions of the opposition are understandable, those of the anti-Kayihura elements inside government are regrettable, if not downright tragic. Sadly the judiciary has been unwittingly dragged into this circus – in the long term to its own detriment.
The section of the opposition led by Dr. Kizza Besigye say that they are fighting for democracy. They insist they want freedom to hold rallies and processions wherever and whenever they want in the city. Besigye sees his right to protest as the supreme political value our country should respect. And he wants to protest in complete disregard to the interests of other city users, as his processions close major roads, disrupt traffic and cause business shutdowns.
Kayihura has blocked Besigye’s plans; so the opposition accuses him of turning the police into a partisan force to defend President Yoweri Museveni’s power. That is not an entirely wrong assessment but it is an overly simplistic view of the problem.
Poor states like Uganda are by definition fragile; many of them are either failing or flailing. The biggest challenge facing them, especially when they have rapidly growing economies, is not freedom to hold rallies but the ability of the state to maintain order. This is because modernisation produces many new groups – urban workers, school dropouts, underemployed and unemployed youths, university students etc. All these want to express their anger and frustration often in a violent way. Because they are not firmly institutionalized, weak states can easily be overwhelmed by mobs demonstrating, students rioting, and workers striking etc.
Uganda is exactly in this situation. As its economy has grown, it has also produced many of these new social groups. Many of them see Besigye’s demonstrations as opportunities to express their anger, exercise power over other road users, and even cause mayhem. Many Besigye supporters want to downplay this risk or even claim it does not exist. One only needs to read their posts and threats on social media to appreciate the risk they pose to Uganda’s stability.
Besigye lacks basic organisational infrastructure to turn these people’s anger into purposeful political action. He often leads mobs over which he has no control. He has said the primary objective of his mass demonstrations is to bring about an unconstitutional change of government – because elections have been rigged. And he doesn’t even care about the repercussions of his actions – partly because he is blinded by his reckless pursuit of power and partly because he is deluded. If he succeeded in using mobs to grab power, he would not control them. Instead they would control him leading to a government by street mobs and for street mobs. But Besigye is too obsessed with settling a personal political score against Museveni, and too consumed with becoming president to appreciate the risks of his actions.
It is Kayihura who has a clear appreciation of Besigye’s aims. For we must remember that for many years, Museveni’s government sought to contain these forces by using the military.
In those days, each time police were deployed to handle a riot they would easily be overwhelmed. Consequently, police became increasingly irrelevant, often under resourced, sidelined, ignored, and therefore unable even to perform basic functions. Then Kayihura became IGP. He understood intuitively that for police to wrestle control of policing power from the army and its intelligence arm – the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) – he needed to position it as the enforcer of political order.
From the day Kayihura became IGP he made the maintenance of order the cornerstone of his job. This placed him in direct conflict with Besigye’s disruptive ambitions. Perhaps more than any Ugandan I know, Kayihura understood that Besigye’s claims to be fighting for democracy were a smokescreen to disguise his actual ambition i.e. to grab power by all means. Besigye had failed to gain power by electoral means and sought it by organising armed resistance. It failed. He has since sought it via mob action. He knows the streets of Kampala are teaming with angry and frustrated youths whom he uses as fodder to foster his ambitions.
In the police trying to contain Besigye’s riotous mobs, many wrong things happen as would be expected. However, Besigye’s supporters and unwitting Ugandan elites (who think their country is Belgium) have used social media to portray Kayihura as an evil man presiding over a brutal police. The Museveni administration has been beaten hands down in propaganda on social media. With the opposition controlling over 90 percent of all conversations, Besigye’s group has effectively gotten a blank cheque to brand Kayihura as they wish. The government and the NRMhave thus let down the very man who is responsible for security in Kampala.
By ensuring that he keeps Besigye’s riotous mobs at bay, Kayihura has convinced Museveni that he is the best man to be IGP. Perhaps this explains why he has been in the job for this long. It also explains why Kayihura has accumulated a lot of power, which has brought him envy and rivalry from other NRM bigwigs. It is this later development that is now causing many inside the system to seek his downfall. What would be tragic is Museveni caving in to these demands and thus firing Kayihura. That will be tantamount to abandoning one’s injured soldier on the battlefield.
But the enemies of Kayihura know that if he were removed, it would only make his successor careful. Most likely his successor would learn that it is risky to take all necessary means to contain mobs in Kampala. He would be reluctant to use the force needed to ensure order, believing that Museveni will not protect him. This may incapacitate the police in cracking down on mobs, with tragic consequences for the country, the economy and for many of Kampala’s elites who take stability for granted. It actually takes little for poor countries to go the way of Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. Kayihura understands this very well.