As the spate of kidnaps-for-ransom, and unexplained murders continues unabated, security chiefs on Monday night heaped the blame on people they say are working to discredit government.
They also observed that widespread unemployment and sensational media reporting, which they said incites hatred, could be driving the unprecedented insecurity the country is seeing in recent times.
In this environment, Chief of Defence Forces Gen David Muhoozi; Inspector General of Police Martin Okoth Ochola and Commissioner General of Prisons Johnson Byabashaija appeared on live television to reassure the nation.
They were joined by Defence minister Adolf Mwesige, Security minister Elly Tumwine and Internal Affairs minister Gen Jeje Odongo.
Their joint appearance on TV comes days after Arua municipality legislator Ibrahim Abiriga, together with his brother-cum-military bodyguard Saidi Buga Kongo were mowed down in a hail of gunfire on Friday.
“We are still in charge. If we weren’t in charge, we would have lawlessness everywhere. Where there have been these killings, we have made arrests; so, we are working,” Ochola said.
The IGP said that police’s deduction is that the killings are partly facilitated by the large number of guns in wrong hands. As such, Ochola said he has stopped issuing firearms to private citizens and that police was registering guns in private hands.
“We are having an exercise to document the firearms in lawful hands and those who have illegal firearms will be dealt with seriously,” he warned.
“Once the audit is done, we shall be able to verify those who have the firearms, what eligibility do they have? Are there security threats against them? At the end of this month, I expect to get that report.”
Gen Muhoozi, who pointed out that criminality has been influenced by publicity in the media, said the gun audit will note a firearm and its features.
“If a gun from an official is used for mischief, it can be easily identified,” he said.
While cases of kidnaps for ransom were attributed to unemployment and people wanting to make quick money, and get publicity, the wave of women killings in Entebbe and Nansana, and shootings of prominent people was said to be intended to spread fear in the public and discredit the government.
Gen Odongo, however, didn’t rule out drug abuse as part of the causes.
“Their motivation is to cause fear; for the public to lose satisfaction against government. We want to inform the public that don’t succumb to what they want,” Muhoozi said.
Yesterday, national coordinator for Human Rights Network for Journalists Robert Sempala warned that blaming the media is simply looking for a scapegoat.
“The public needs to know about the security situation in the country we report on. As media, we need to be alert because the state could be planning to crack down on us on false allegations, which they have always wanted to do,” Sempala said.
He urged media not to be scared into shying away from reporting on issues affecting the community in a professional and accurate manner.
A similar crackdown is looming as the state moves on social media and the boda boda industry. There is widespread belief that violent crime around the city is being carried out by people associated with the motorcycle taxi business (bodas).
At the burial of Abiriga, President Museveni said government would ban cyclists from wearing hooded jackets, and that they must wear helmets labeled with numbers that are reflective at night.
Tumwine revealed that the ministry of works and Kampala Capital City Authority are in advanced stages of planning to have motorcycles fitted with tracking devices connected to GPS.
“This will be supplied to the government at a cheap price, it is coming very soon because of its importance,” Tumwine said.
The tracking option has been welcomed by some boda boda leaders who said they too want to weed out criminals from their ranks.
Sula Lubega, the chairperson of Century Boda Boda Cooperative, said wearing reflectors, GPS and identification numbers on helmets is what they have been advocating for.
“We have no problem with it. We support it 100%. We could also use different colours for different stages so that we can tell that this one is from Lubaga or from Nansana depending on the colour they are putting on,” Lubega said.
He sounded a warning to passengers to only use boda boda riders picked from designated stages.
“When you get any problem, you can always go back to the stage and inform them that the boda you used was from there,” he said.
The chiefs said that apart from joint operations in gathering intelligence and investigations, government is contemplating reviving Local Defence Units (LDU) at village level.
“It is the view of government that in most cases we respond late and the people are vulnerable; so, a first line of security in form of LDUs is in the offing. It is a little bit cost-friendly because they are at their places, they have a stake and they are nominated by the local leadership,” Muhoozi said.
But while many suspects have been arrested, there has been no successful prosecution so far. Muhoozi said this is because the burden of proof is high at certain levels in Ugandan courts.
The prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt yet that complete evidence might not be available sometimes, Muhoozi said.
“Some people are not convicted because of technical reasons and when they are released, they do what they did. You might know someone who did something but it is hard to prove it,” Muhoozi said.
Tumwine said even with these challenges, a lot has been done in combating violent crime partly through infiltrating criminal networks.
“There might be weaknesses here and there but the bigger part is only if you know how much we have prevented. When just one thing happens, they make noise. If a new challenge comes, we change our tools and capacity to tackle the situation,” he said.