Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Mbarara Police Swoop Counter-productive

Early in the morning on Wednesday 3rd July 2013 the police in Mbarara municipality conducted a pre-dawn security operation in the municipality’s Kakoba division ostensibly to weed out criminal elements that have been terrorising the area's residents for some time. The event that triggered this operation was, supposedly, the murder of a World Food Programme employee Andrew Mpubani, who was killed outside his home in the area a few days earlier. During the raid the police rounded up hundreds of people and detained as suspects those who could not immediately identify themselves with resident identity cards.
While the police should ordinarily be applauded for vigorously trying to combat crime, one cannot help but think that the Kakoba operation was nothing more than a show for the public and media, which will ultimately prove counter-productive.
 In a country which has no national ID and in which one has no legal obligation to carry an ID, it makes no sense to demand ID from random individuals and arresting those that do not have any identification. Even if, for arguments sake, we assumed that everybody had some sort of ID, how does carrying one prove that the individual is not a criminal or that not having any ID proves that one is intent on doing harm or committing a crime?

Anybody who has walked along Nasser road or Kampala road, around Cairo International Bank, in Kampala will tell you that "Resident IDs" are sold in the open. It is therefore more than likely that Mbarara has its own areas where such IDs are sold. On top of the fact that these IDs have no weight of legality to them, what is to prevent a criminal from owning up to 5 different ones, all conveniently signed and stamped (another thing that is easy to forge)?  Does the police have a record of all LC1 officials’ signatures and official stamps against which to cross-check.  Even if one had a duly signed, stamped and recognised Resident ID, how does that in any way prove that they are/were not involved in committing crimes?

The Uganda Police should get serious and invest in doing proper policing as opposed to operating through reactive knee-jerk operations. They should invest in cultivating community cooperation and in encouraging the citizens to be vigilant and act as the eyes and ears of the police as a way of helping the police to help them.

The "panda gari” tactics employed in Mbarara are another result of filling the Uganda Police Force with military people who do not know much about civil policing. They lack the skills and finesse to carefully carry out investigations that are likely to yield better results than their preferred tactics of running roughshod over all that's in their wake, which only serves to alienate the very people they are meant to serve and whose help they need to do their work better.

While the police might claim that the operation was a success because they got a few weapons and army uniforms, there is no indication that they are any closer to solving the insecurity issues in the town yet in all likelihood they have made many Kakoba residents unhappy and resentful. This does not bode well for the future of the harmonious relations between the police and the people they are meant to serve and protect.