There is a proverb in one of our vernaculars, to the effect that “when you punish errant children, you punish all of them”. This proverb teaches us not to be discriminative or selective when we are meeting out punishments for similar offences, and it admonishes us against treating Consequences, and ignoring the Causes of a problem. Relating this to our current goings-on at the political –security level, since the end of the 18 Feb 2016 general elections, we are faced with interminable scuffles between the police, and activists for Col Dr Kiiza Besigye, former FDC presidential flag bearer on the streets on a regular basis. And between Besigye himself and the police, it has become a cat and mouse chase whose trend and effect has become a nuisance to the general law abiding and hardworking public. People are often settled in their tranquil working places, iking out a living from whatever they legitimately lay their hands on, only to be rudely interrupted and disrupted by unplanned processions anywhere, at anytime! These processions would be alright, if they were planned, together with police to ensure that those processions and demonstrations are conducted by those involved, and without inconveniencing those who are not party to them. Unfortunately, because these are usually politically motivated , and that is why they are mobilized around a former presidential candidate and flagbearer,they have high propensity to turn rowdy, tumultuous and even riotous, not to mention the criminal elements within whose intention in the procession is pinch citizen’s merchandise. In this context, the custodian of law and order, the police, have a legitimate right of responsibility to insist that such processions and or demonstrations should, and must be undertaken with their guidance, management and control for the greater good of all. Unfortunately because the chief object of these disruptive processions is someone whose mission is to defy all, including police guidance and regulation, there is constant arrests, detention, release, ad infinitum of these unplanned and unregulated processions and demonstrations at the scenes of arrest, to the places of detention, and at the times of release, practically appearing like the political rallies in Kampala have never ended since the last general elections. And for whatever other reasons, this is exactly what Col.Besigye wants and needs to keep his defiance campaign active and afloat, which he has sworn to maintain, even when the defiance campaign issue is awaiting its interpretation in the constitutional court, as Besigye himself gets in and out of court! It is this endless scuffle between police on one hand, and Besigye and his activists on the other, that has sucked in other players from civil society, now parliament and government, as some police officers get TIRED and begin to make mistakes!
So, on 13 July 2016, after Col. Besigye got out of prison and was heading to his party Headquaters, these processions which police say are prior organized, swammed and swamped the roads including the Entebbe Highway. Because police had not deployed earlier to manage these crowds, they chose to disperse them using what the IGP said is the currently only means available; “Baton charge” –sticks. But the caning was not done in a professional manner by some of the police officers as shown on video and it attracted condemnation from mainly opposition elements, who mobilized support in parliament, and government found itself against the wall to explain and answer for what was widely seen as “police brutality”!! Indeed, brutality against any citizen by any State actor must be condemned and correctional measures taken. But, like our lessons in physics taught us, “any action attracts an equal and opposite reaction”. So I may be wrong, and indeed, I wish I were wrong on this, but my diagnosis of the problem is that most people, whether in parliament or government or part of the sympathetic public, are looking at, and making judgment on the police “REACTION”, and ignoring the primary CAUSE, which is the defiance “ACTION”. Yes, the crowds are Col.Kiiza’s “supporters”! Supporters for what? For the defiance campaign as Col Kiiza has himself stated, whose input is to take power from what he calls a Criminal regime, “back to the people”. Ok! Let us ask; who has no supporters? If President Museveni had to mobilize his supporters as well, or any other presidential, parliamentary, or local government former candidate mobilized their “supporters” to protest whatever cause, and indeed, nobody is short of supporters, where would Uganda be, lead to, or end? So, unprofessional and harmful application of force on demonstrators by police must be reined in, but equally, the primary Cause, which is the defiance campaign that congregates these impromptu crowds onto our streets, markets and other public places must be reined in, by whatever legal means, so that both the protestors and managers of law and order do not degenerate into undesirable consequences, which unfortunately, defiance campaign has as its primary objective.
It’s not enough to condemn police reaction and simply tag it as brutality! Government has a duty to ensure all, without exception, act within the law! If there is “no law” to regulate defiance campaign, then withdraw police, let the campaign continue, then we can all learn the hard way! “All errant Children” of the State must be punished or corrected without discrimination.
Col Shaban Bantariza.