How the former IGP became a victim of his own success, internal power struggles and changing geopolitics
Former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kale Kayihura, was the longest servicing officer in a top and sensitive security position under President Yoweri Museveni. He must have done a great job. Why then has he fallen out of favour so ignominiously and ended in jail being accused of murder?
Museveni has lasted in power for 32 years by strategy not luck. He always selects the “right people” for sensitive security positions and puts in place the right monitoring measures to ensure first, they hold his enemies/opponents at bay and second, that they themselves cannot overthrow him.
Previous Ugandan leaders had failed to hold power consistently, their average tenure since independence being 2.5 years. Museveni has done 32 years because he understands power better. He has cushioned himself against unanticipated power-grab via a popular insurrection, armed insurgency, a foreign invasion, a military coup or electoral defeat by his keenness to protect himself against the most unlikely events.
Although Museveni fired Kayihura amidst allegations of increasing criminality in the country, this seems far-fetched to be the reason. True, there is a lot of criminality in the country and inside the Uganda Police. But this is not new in Uganda or unusual in any police force, even in rich nations.
Secondly, popular sentiments about criminality in police have never been a sufficient basis for Museveni to fire a loyal aide and even accuse him of murder. In any case criminals were operating inside the Uganda Police long before Kayihura came. Just read the report of the Justice Julia Sebutinde commission.
It, therefore, seems that the decisive point in firing Kayihura was political i.e. a conviction by Museveni that his IGP had a) political ambitions to become president b) was using police structures to promote this goal c) the plot was aided by political structures across the country d) (and most dangerously), all this had the backing of a foreign power.
Museveni is always careful in his public pronouncements to accuse foreign powers of meddling in Uganda’s affairs. But he has been unusually vocal in saying police had been infiltrated by criminals – and then adds “and foreigners”. Now last year senior police officers close to Kayihura were charged in the military court martial for allegedly working with Kigali to kidnap and abduct Rwandan refugees from Uganda.
Many officials of Uganda have told me that Kayihura helped Kigali conduct these operations. I have asked them to give me the list of these abducted people in vain. Indeed, Kampala has not officially (or even informally) complained to Kigali about this. My suspicion is that Kampala suspects that Kigali was working with Kayihura to achieve regime change in Uganda, an accusation they do not want to put on record.
Given Kayihura’s known loyalty to his boss, why would Museveni believe such a claim? Here we need to understand the president’s psychology. It seems the danger detection mechanism in Museveni’s brain is always on a hair trigger. It is fine tuned to maximise survival, not factual accuracy.
This behaviour is found in antelopes. If the grass shakes, the antelope runs. When one antelope runs, all others run – whether they have seen the grass shaking or not. Why? The grass could be shaking because of wind – or because there is a lion! If it is just wind, the antelope that ran away can always return and eat the grass. But assuming there was a lion? The antelope that didn’t run gets eaten.
Therefore, the logic is to always run upon the slightest shake in the grass or upon seeing others run.
When I was young and intelligent, I used to denounce Museveni for this behaviour. As I have grown old and stupid, I have come to appreciate how vital it is to retain power in a poorly institutionalised country. It is the cushion against coups that had made Uganda ungovernable. Look how Kayihura was fired to see this philosophy at work.
Whenever Museveni wants to get rid of a failing security chief, he just fires them. For Kayihura, the process was protracted, lasting almost six months. First, the president deployed officers from the Special Forces Command to sit inside police headquarters and understudy how Kayihura runs the show. He then sent the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence and Military Police to conduct investigations and arrests, literally making the IGP impotent.
Then there came the process of demonisation: police officers close to Kayihura were arrested and charged with conspiring with Kigali to kidnap and abduct Rwandan refugees. This was followed by a spate of highly publicised murders and kidnappings. Then accusations of police infiltration by criminals were carefully planted in media, with criminals appearing on television to “confess” their “collaboration” with the police.
There followed a deliberately orchestrated process of breaking up of political structures Kayihura had built, especially Boda Boda 2010. Although these structures were built with the active support and participation of the president, now they were labelled “criminal outfits”. During the breakup of Boda Boda 2010, “protesters” carried placards of the president as their “liberator” from the tyranny of this group.
Ugandan journalists pride themselves for being independent, and genuinely believe this delusion. But in the case of the fall of Kayihura, they missed the story of the orchestrated plan to neutralise him politically. Instead their biases against him and the police were exploited to maximum advantage to promote a political cause they were not part of.
Some of the allegations against Kayihura were not entirely false. He spent too much time fighting Museveni’s political opponents, thereby paying less attention to crime. His compulsive tendency to keep shifting police officers undermined certain aspects of institutional memory and development. Yet overall, I think he was a transformational figure. His effectiveness won him Museveni’s trust and support but equally the anger of many outside the system and the envy of many inside it.
It is obvious that Kayihura served Museveni well and that is the reason the president rewarded him with a long tenure. Yet he has been kicked out as a villain, not a hero – ending in jail being accused of murder. Why? His enemies inside the system eventually triumphed in large part because relations between Kampala and Kigali became frosty.
Kayihura is an ethnic Munyarwanda. He once told me that whenever Uganda and Rwanda quarrel, he becomes a victim: Kampala accuses him of being a mole, Kigali of being a traitor. Therefore, whatever his misdeeds (which were many) it his ethnicity, not his actions, that became his undoing.