He had just done one of his signature acts: shuffling police commanders and senior officers.
This, he unfailingly did with remarkable ease and outrageous frequency. But hours later, he too got shuffled. Bang! Sacked. Just like that.
At the time of this writing, his fate remains unknown. On a wet and chilly Sunday afternoon in Kampala, the breaking news flash on TV appeared surreal.
On the streets, folks who effortlessly excel at topical-gossip, the passenger motorcycle riders, had just landed a big one for the day, perhaps for the week. “The man is gone,” one remarked with a rather celebratory tone.
The man ‘who’s gone’ was known to be a patron to factions of this industry that could well have now become the leading locus of a pending national security disaster.
He was known to have used the boda men to build a political network, something that, according to work on the grapevine, may have been one of the reasons for the Sunday sack. For long, the sack appeared inevitable but I thought it wouldn’t happen anytime soon.
I thought because he had become so dirtied and battered in the course of executing his remit, Kale Kayihura remained the best bet to continue doing what the boss wanted. I was wrong!
The man who wielded enormous coercive and financial power, generously granted to him by the ultimate ruler, is no more. At least not as head of the Uganda Police Force, an institution he tossed and distorted with remarkable tenacity.
There is one question, though, that must exercise the minds of concerned Ugandans: who will sack the general who sacked General Kale Kayihura?
Since taking the helm in 2005, coinciding with what I consider the most important turning point in Uganda’s recent political history when the constitution was manipulated to entrench one-man rule, Kayihura took the police on a race to the bottom.
With an uncanny knack for bombastic claims, public posturing, and exaggerated proclamations, he always sought to score victories and wallow in them, however pyrrhic.
Easily the most outrageous claim was the 2015 announcement that he had recruited eleven million so-called crime preventers, purposely sourced as part of the grand scheme to game the 2016 elections. This number is comparable to Uganda’s registered voters, meaning almost every vote was enlisted as a crime preventer’s!
Public parading of suspects and eliciting confessions in total violation of due process, rushing to scenes of high-profile crimes, unleashing unwarranted violence on regime political opponents, among others, were part of his routine modus operandi.
But a sense of inadequacy and personal insecurity remained quite palpable around a man who enjoyed displaying might and projecting power.
The more resources he pulled under his direct control, both financial and human, the dire the state of law and order in the country became. This created gross paranoia and rushed condemnations of subordinates.
The more power he sought to display, the more hostility he generated from both opponents of the regime and other factional actors inside the regime.
The more he worked hard to secure the master in power, ironically, the more his own position became precarious. He is now dispatched out of an institution on which he had had a firm grip for twelve, very long, years, but the damage of the past decade is extensive and thoroughgoing.
For one, Kayihura’s topmost achievement was the transformation of the Uganda Police Force into a frontline political instrument for regime protection and repression of legitimate political opponents.
With his relentless vigor, an institution meant to be professional and non-partisan became an openly active partner of the ruling party, taking sides even in internal political contests.
The most high-profile and consequential undertaking was the demobilizing of Amama Mbabazi in 2015, the primary motivation for the crime preventers project and the need to cook up a figure of eleven million.
The distortions visited on the organizational makeup of the force are severe, mostly driven by the imperatives of what is considered its primary function – regime protection. From the calculated fragmentation seen in creation of forces within the police force to the nefarious crime preventers project and working with criminal gangs.
Then the ceaseless and sometimes bewildering transfers and promotions! It’s possible some police officers in recent years have been in three different command positions in a month’s period: regional police commander (RPC) of Kampala East this week, RPC of Kyoga East next week, and RPC of Aswa the week after.
And to successfully coerce and execute the political mission at hand, a tried and tested strategy was handy: resorting to nepotism. Blatant and shameless on a scale that may never have been practiced at any point in the history of this dear country.
The author is an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University.