Will The Iron Hands Of the Police Produce Iron Citizens

Moses Odokonyero_closeup pix

The police is in the news for all the wrong reasons. General Kale Kayihura, its head, is an unpopular man by a difficult-to- measure but certainly large section of Uganda’s chattering class.

It is generally a good sign for Uganda’s future that the police boss and his methods is loathed by the talking class.

First, in a false-democracy like Uganda, loving the police as it is would tantamount to having a wrong idea on the transitions to democracy path the country is on (the police in such states are never popular and do not represent a broad interest to capture the diversity of aspirations of citizens).

Second, loathing the police for its brutal assault on citizens is an indicator that despite the polarisation of our politics, Ugandans haven’t completely lost sense of what is ‘‘a common good.’’

In July the UPDF made entries in chaotic South Sudan to rescue Ugandans trapped by outbreak of war in the wrecked country. For the heroic act, the army, deservedly, received a round of applause from across ideological divide.

By contrast, when the police recently went on an indiscriminate whipping spree on the streets of Kampala, assisted by a group of dubious characters, Kayihura and his hatched men came under a barrage of attacks.

Under Gen Kayihura, the containment strategy of Uganda’s Opposition especially former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye appears to be informed by a ‘‘pre-emptive strike’’ approach in which it is assumed that Besigye and his ‘‘radicals’’ pose a threat and therefore their wings have to be clipped before they can violently fly.

If you follow Uganda’s politics a bit, you will have noticed that the portrayal of Besigye and his supporters as radicals, has been a growing narrative from the ruling class.

‘‘Besigye has radicalised many youth,’’ bellowed Information Minister Frank Tumwebaze on NBS TV on Monday morning, July 25. ‘‘Ask him [Besigye] where is [James] Opoka? Ask him where is [Sam] Mugumya,’’ the minister railed.

The noun ‘‘radical’’ and the adjective ‘‘radicalised’’ in the global context is mainly used by talking heads when discussing the danger that extremism poses to global peace.

In Uganda the words have been localised and framed to project the supposed danger that Besigye poses. This framing helps give a sneak peek into the minds of our rulers and the weight and extent of the danger they think Besigye poses to them.

Newton’s third law of motion: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, meaning if you push an object, its reaction is equal to the size of the pushing but in the opposite direction.  In 1980, a brutal state pushed Museveni (some say gave him an excuse) to launch a war. The same state, a few year later, forced a young Besigye, then a practicing doctor in Kampala to join Museveni’s war.

In the 2001 election, when Besigye first attempted to bell the cat, Museveni framed himself as a ‘‘cotter pin.’’ Besigye countered that he was a ‘‘hammer.’’ A ground for epic contestation had been set—a contestation that continues without end, fueled by the force the two men use to shove around each other.

By using iron hands to shove Ugandans, could the police also be helping to build and sustain an iron citizenry?

Strangely, the characters the police uses have similar attributes to the Besigye radicals it claims to be fighting. One of them, a certain Mr Godfrey Kasiita told Daily Monitor (August 13, 2016) of his unexplainable deep love for Kayihura:  “My love for Gen Kayihura is very different from what you are trying to explain”—an intoxicating love that could have also come from a fired-up Besigye supporter at war on the streets.

Mr Odokonyero has interest in media development, communications& public affairs modokonyero@gmail.com