About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Monday, August 30, 2021

Lokech; the passing of a giant

The life and work of the former Deputy Inspector General of Police who made a lasting contribution to Uganda

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | On the morning of Saturday August 21, I was driving to Fort Portal but got a puncture 20km before Mityana. While trying to fix my car by the roadside, a friend called me. Andrew, he said in a loud voice, our friend (Deputy Inspector General of Police, Paul) Lokech is dead.

Who? What? When? How? Why? I asked! I have been struck by so many death of friends and family in the last one year and I’ve been wondering why! I had talked to Lokech on Thursday night and he was in good health and buoyant mood. He had had a minor accident and was staying and working from home and was recovering well.

In fact he had called on Wednesday but I was away from my phone. He then sent me a WhatsApp message and I reproduce it here: Hi Andrew, You wrote a very  good article and I will send it to the Defense college of the USA. The Defeat of Liberal Imperialism.” I returned his call on Thursday night and, in his usual joking manner, said he was going to arrest me for a “very” delayed return call. I did not know it would be our last conversation.

I met Lokech in Mogadishu in 2012 and we became instant friends. He was Uganda’s contingent commander in AMISON, the AU mission to Somalia. My brother, Maj Gen Kayanja Muhanga, was the battle group commander working under Lokech. They had fought pitched battles against the Al Shabab, and chased it out of the city.

When he was appointed DIGP in December last year, I called to congratulate him. We began talking about the challenges to security in Kampala, especially during the elections. Lokech got interested in what I was saying. In characteristic style, he drove to my home so that we can have a face to face discussion. We talked for five hours nonstop.

In November, police had arrested leading opposition presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine. This sparked off mass demonstrations. Police was ill prepared to handle the situation. As a result, there was lack of centralised command and control leading to many people dying in the crossfire. So Lokech wanted ideas.

I told him that the problem of Kampala is primarily political, not a security one in need of military intervention, although riots make it seem so. It needs police to engage the different stakeholders in the city to reach out to angry youths. Police needs to reach out to leaders in markets, garages, mosques, churches, taxi and bus parks, streets, carpentry and metal workshops, etc. It is through these engagements that police can win over the youths.

Lokech went to work. He asked me to help him reach some these stakeholders. I now was able to watch the man work his magic at close range. He went to great lengths to meet all the leaders of different social groups that make up  Kampala, including opposition politicians and Western diplomats.

His message was simple: my job is to ensure a peaceful election. We do not want rioting. We have credible intelligence that some people are planning to burn down Kampala. The youths involved in this are being misled by unscrupulous politicians. As police our mission is to protect the life and property of all citizens. If such rioting to burn down this city happens there will be no winners, only losers.

Police, backed by the army, can crush any riot, he said, but that is not what we want; not what Uganda needs. Uganda needs all of us to work together to deliver a peaceful election. Aggrieved parties can seek redress through the courts. I am not here to change your political views. That is your right. I am here to work with you for a safe country.

For the most part, all the leading pillars of opinion in the churches and mosques, in the streets and markets, in garages and taxi and bus parks listened and were won over by this tall, lean general. His tone was sincere, his manner simple and his voice genuine. In less than two weeks, Lokech had turned the tables and the city was no longer the bastion of hostility teaming with youths planning to burn it down.

Yet Lokech did not leave anything to chance. He proceeded to work with UPDF to build a security plan for Kampala. If all the engagements he had done did not deliver cooperation as he expected, he put in place Plan B: an airtight security cordon that anyone who dared attempt burning down Kampala would be neutralised.

I was so impressed by his political and security skills. I organised a group of western ambassadors to receive a briefing from him on election eve. They were so impressed and told me so.

That is the man Uganda has lost: thorough, meticulous, dedicated, smart, exemplary. Police has lost a pillar. His career was heroic, and I am the least qualified to give testimony.

He was in the rebel Uganda Peoples Democratic Army (UPDA). He surrendered with others to NRA, now UPDF, and became one of its most loyal officers. He fought in northern Uganda, DRC, CAR, South Sudan and Somalia. At one time he led his forces on a 750km trek on foot from Kisangani to Uganda. At another time he went into CAR and restored a government that had been overthrown by a military upstart.

That was Paul Lokech. Simple but thorough. Jolly but tough. He was straightforward and told it as he saw it. He was a workaholic who left office at 3am and was back in office by 7am. He ate little and, tragically, did little or no exercise as well; a factor that I suspect contributed greatly to his early death.

But most importantly he was a great listener and learner. He was quick witted and could smell a good point quickly and was not shy to accept it and use it. He understood that he had a short temper and kept close to him friends who helped him manage it better. He was firm and decisive in his style. Once he has decided on a course of action, Lokech proceed with speed and clarity. He did not allow anyone to doubt his intentions or commitment.

Rest well my friend, you played your role with dedication and distinction. Your works will forever live in the memory of those of us who saw them, felt them and experienced them. Uganda is proud of you.


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