His contract was renewed because his enemies inside the government underestimate him while the opposition demonise him
Parliament last week approved President Yoweri Museveni’s reappointment of Gen. Kale Kayihura as Inspector General of Police (IGP). With 12 years at the helm, Kayihura is now the longest serving IGP in Uganda’s history and equally the most controversial. This is unprecedented. No one has held such a sensitive job while exercising the amount of power Kayihura does for a long period under Museveni. He has achieved this is in spite of (and also because of) having many enemies in the system and criticism from the opposition and media.
To explain Kayihura’s success, we need to understand the historical context. When Museveni captured power, he inherited an established, even though enfeebled, state. All he brought with him was a new army, the National Resistance Army (NRA) now Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and intelligence services i.e. Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and External Security Organisation (ESO).
Thus, when it came to the internal organisation of the state, Museveni inherited a civil service, a diplomatic corps, a police force, a prisons service and a parastatals sector from previous governments. These institutions had suffered atrophy but they were functional. The personnel in them had been appointed by previous governments and many were not favourable to NRM.
Uganda had not suffered the kind of deep social shredding that was, for example, seen in Rwanda where state institutions, church, and traditional collectives had been either destroyed or grossly discredited when RPF took power after the 1994 genocide.
Regarding relations between state and society, the forces that exercised social control in Uganda; including religious and traditional institutions, had retained their legitimacy. The churches had substituted the state in the provision of many basic public services like education and health, not to mention their role in providing spiritual and moral leadership; factors that bolstered their prestige.
These factors were both an asset and a liability for Museveni: an asset because he had a base from which to rebuild Uganda; a liability because he had to work through public institutions largely staffed by personnel who may not have shared his vision. He also had to compromise more with existing social and political forces like Mengo and the Roman Catholic Church that enjoyed high levels of legitimacy.
Museveni had captured power by military might. However, his National Resistance Movement (NRM) was young, with a weak and shaky political base. His genius was to recognise that he could not use NRA’s military strength to compensate for NRM’s political weaknesses. He recognised that overt military rule was likely to be counterproductive. Rather than rule militarily, he decided to govern politically.
So he invited leaders of other political parties and forces into a broad-based (which later became a bread-based) government. However, the military remained a fall back force: if threatened politically, he could call upon it to buttress his political fortunes. At the time, each time Museveni faced a severe political protest, the police proved ineffective to handle it. So he would call on the army to “crash” it.
But remember that Museveni seeks to rule politically, not militarily. He, therefore, always uses hard methods (“crashing” a protest) as tactical measures to achieve a short term objective of ensuring stability. His medium to long term strategy has always been to politically counter-mobilise against his opponents by infiltrating centres of resistance, co-opting and buying off leaders of such protests, and/or meeting some of their demands.
Between 1986 and 1996, this latter job fell to ISO then under Maj. Gen. Jim Muhwezi. From 1997 to 2005, the centre of gravity shifted to the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) then under Brig. Noble Mayombo who was a tool for Museveni’s politics. Throughout this period, the police remained on the side-lines – under resourced, ineffectual, disloyal, and ignored in the power calculus.
In 2005, Kayihura was appointed IGP. Either deliberately or intuitively, Kayihura realised that the police could be the main centre of dealing with resistance to Museveni’s rule if its power structure were changed. So he fired the old guard who were nonpartisan (or even anti-NRM), or transferred them to nonstrategic positions. He hired new and young officers and placed only those who exhibited a partisan bias in favour of Museveni in charge of sensitive positions.
Hence, Kayihura’s most critical role has been to transform the police into an arm of the NRM. He secured for Museveni the loyalty of a major security institution that had been independent of NRM politics, hence reducing the role of the army in quelling protests. Kayihura did for Museveni what Central Bank governor, Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile did for IMF. Mutebile converted Museveni into a free market ideologue, thereby turning a Marxist revolutionary into an agent of imperialism.
Finally and most importantly, Kayihura brought both the hard (the capacity to crash protests) and soft (the agility to infiltrate and co-opt leaders of protests) under one roof. He has performed soft roles by converting police into the centre of political intelligence gathering (remember the Amama Mbabazi tapes?). This intelligence role is not the professional variety even though that plays some role. It is what can be called “popular vigilance” i.e. individuals and groups with information about political schemes by the opposition and/or NRM insiders volunteer it to the police out of political loyalty as opposed to professional effort. This is typical of revolutionary movements of the NRA/M type.
This masterstroke significantly shrunk the role of ISO and CMI in the soft game of consolidating Museveni’s power. Kayihura’s success here has come at the price of reduced emphasis on criminal investigations, hence negatively impacting the rate of its professional development in the force.
However, overall Kayihura’s strategy has bolstered the position of the Uganda police politically, making it a powerful centre of power. This has led to a rapidly growing budget that has made it possible for police to perform other functions such as traffic policing, fire fighting, and even criminal investigations. It has opened the doors for police to become professional like UPDF. Pundits have ignored all this achievement because they obsess too much with the emphasis he has placed on regime maintenance.
Yet in the wider scheme of things, it is possible that without making it a political arm of the NRM, Kayihura would not have succeeded in building the police to its current logistical, manpower, and financial capacity. It is, therefore, possible that the politicisation and partisanisation of the police may have been the necessary short term price for its professionalisation and capacity development in the long term.