Are Criminal Gangsters Responsible For Uganda's Insecurity?

Are Criminal Gangsters Responsible For Uganda's Insecurity?


In the last couple of years Uganda has been experiencing a rising trend in what would easily pass for crime but is notoriously referred to by everybody as insecurity. This situation, apart from evoking fear in the public has also evoked a lot of comments from the general public, Politicians, Security Agencies and Security Experts.

Some people attributed this rise in crime to laxity by the police, collusion of police with criminals, while others blamed it on the feud between the then (Inspector General of Police(IGP) and the then Security Minister.

I am sure the reason we are now referring to them as ‘then’ must have come from this notion. But will their removal improve the security situation in the country?

The President of Uganda on his part said the police was infiltrated by criminals- such an indictment. While it is easy to agree with all the above groups, it is important to look at security from a broader perspective and deal with it from the source if we must enjoy any meaningful security.

The concept of security in a broader perspective looks at the political, social, economic and even environmental perspectives among others.

A few years ago there was a common adage especially in Buganda that ‘we sleep in peace now or rather we have uninterrupted sleep now’ referring to the times after the guns went silent in Uganda. And for a while the thinking continued until the people woke up to the fact that you cannot sleep for long when you are hungry and sick and that both hunger and disease also kills as much as guns.

The above sentiments were raised sometime back by the current Police Spokesman Emilian Kayima while still in the police lands department.

In his article then in one of Uganda’s dailies Kayima argued that the country was now enjoying peace because the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) were defeated and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) no longer existed and so we needed to celebrate. Granted, we had no gunshots but were the people in the areas these two-armed groups operated enjoying security while some of them could not access their land due to land conflicts and later land grabbers? Were they having security when they did not have houses to live in and food to eat? Did they have security when the kids could not go to school because the parents had all died in the war or were maimed during the war?

It is not uncommon to see stories of disease outbreaks and epidemics in our dailies amidst rampant cases of drug thefts in health centres and expiring drugs in the drug stores; let alone stories of fake drugs and vaccines in our society. Consequently, many Ugandans are dying of curable diseases while others are suffering from the effects of fake drugs in the market.

While some members in security circles may not consider this their concern; the fact is that a sick people do not have security and so security agencies should focus more on not only arresting suspected drug thieves but also be guiding government actions on security in order to have a healthy and secure people.

The threat of global warming is very real and we talk about it every day, yet when we chase one peasant from a quarter an acre of wetland we replace him with an investor taking forty acres of the same wetland. As a result, our weather patterns have changed and food production has dwindled dramatically. This is leading to an increase in the number of hungry and poor people in the country.

Unfortunately, hungry and poor people have no security. So no matter how many policemen you deploy around them, they will still die or better still transform into criminal gangs that will terrorize others in order to find food to eat and money to eke a life.

The fuel prices in Uganda continue to go up taking with it basically the prices of everything else- commodities and services alike. The problem is, salaries and other incomes are not climbing at the same pace.

These among many things including moral decay have forced many Ugandans to resort to corruption and many other underhand means to survive.

While I do not condone corruption and any such vices such as theft, vandalism and armed robbery, I am factually aware that many Ugandans are struggling day in and day out to bring food to their table and have a roof over their heads.

While the above issues and many more not mentioned are true in my opinion, some people may disagree and continue to argue by their own standards that we have security. If that is true, then we need to ask ourselves some of these questions raised by some real security experts and we answer them.

Who defines security in this country? Universally people tend to define security according to their position in life and or circumstances. Most people in government will conveniently define security as absence of war and or gunshots at night as it used to be.

This argument is partially true and can hold some water. But what about this family in Bududa that cannot go to sleep at night while it is raining because they fear to be swept away by landslides? What about this poor family in Bwaise who live in fear of losing everything every time it rains due to the flooded water channels in Kampala, whose children spend the whole day in class sleeping because they couldn’t sleep at night and who thus cannot perform well- do they have security?

It is therefore, important that those who deal with security look at it from the bigger picture and deal with the cause of insecurity and not its symptoms.

If there is security, then security for who? Sometimes security is meant for certain individuals within the country and not all people. I may feel safe because of my place in society and so could the IGP, the Chief Justice, the Speaker of Parliament and her deputy, etc. That is if having a large convoy with armed escorts means security anyway. But what about the rest of Ugandans who walk around and live in areas where there are no police posts or with police posts but cannot get police assistance because they cannot afford fuel for the Officer in Charge(OC) to put in the Police pickups? Even though I agree that the Very Very Important Persons(VVIP’s) need more security, I believe there should be a fair consideration for the general public as well if we are to talk about security in the country.

The issue of which threats we are dealing with and the means of achieving security also need to be answered. The security measures or strategies being adopted should be clear.

As to what threats it’s meant to address. If the threats are not clearly defined then we miss the point. A lot of times in Uganda, we deploy most of our security resources on issues that can be dealt with through dialogue and leave issues that pose a bigger threat to the country.

A hungry, a sick people and a poor people are a bigger security threat than a handful of politicians making noise on television and with placards on the streets. These can only thrive on the availability of a desperate and hungry population. If you keep the bigger population satisfied, healthy and economically empowered, the politicians the state worries so much about will have no fertile ground on which to plant their seeds of ‘discord’ as some people may want to call it. Knowing the threats and taking the right means will ensure security in the country.

We may also need to ask ourselves how much security we need in order to feel safe in this country. This is a question I know has generated a lot of debate worldwide and will forever remain contentious. While some people will view security as a matter of degree others think that security is absolute. The truth is that the word security itself means an absolute condition- something is either secure or insecure. However, it is worth noting that absolute security is a situation that cannot be attained; so a country or state may be excused for not having absolute security yet it is very important that a state should be seen to be doing its best to attain the highest degree of security.

Finally, security by what means? Threats are defined differently and the concept of security is also perceived differently, it becomes difficult to have an agreed position on by what means the question of security should be handled. The means most times is determined by the way each group views the problem. While the security problem may be very grave to one group and so suggest tougher actions, the other may see it as insignificant and as such recommend the use of a fiddle for ending the problem. It is important that we understand the security situation from an unbiased point of view in order to come up with appropriate means. Remember, international law advocates for proportional response to the threat and not excessive force far and beyond the threat or the problem.

Apportioning of blames, parading suspects on television and trying to impress the appointing authority and the public will not solve the problem of insecurity in the country. I believe security is no showbiz and those who thought so have unfortunately ended out of scene. Let us look at security from the broader perspective and deal with it at that level and we shall soon all be enjoying real peace in this beautiful country of ours. Truth be told, criminal gangs are just a symptom of the bigger problem and they can easily be isolated if agencies work together.

Herbert Ogwal

CEO- Bert Consults International and founder member Great Lakes Strategic Information and Research Consults (GLSRC)