OPINION: History Will be Kinder to IGP Kale Kayihura

Inspector General of Police (IGP), Gen Kale Kayihura

By Ian Ortega

Thirteen Years back, Gen. Kale Kayihura was appointed Inspector General of Police. Before him, this had been a position that saw the highest rate of turn-over. Like his predecessors, Kayihura found, an under-sized police force, worse, an under-funded police. The population of Uganda at the time was 28 million, the size of the police force was 14,000.

This implies that for every 2,000 Ugandans, there was just one police officer. At the time, the Police Budget was just Shs 75 billion. To further break it down, this implies that Uganda Police was spending Shd 2,000 on every Ugandan per year. How on earth does one keep law and order on just Shs 2,000 per year?

It therefore immediately dawned on Kayihura, that the challenge he faced was not purely a military one, but a political one. For crime in a poor country is always deeply entrenched. It is not something that you fight by hiring more police men, crime in a poor country is how a country works, not how it fails. To think otherwise, is to be detached.

Thus, Kayihura set out on two grand missions. He understood that the failures and successes of those that had come before him, lay on one option; whether to define the police as an enemy of the criminals (a sure failure), or to re-brand the police as a friend of the criminals (a double edged sword but one that would surely work in a poor country).

Kayihura took on the latter option, and chose to make police to work with the criminals. He deep down understood that the criminals were not the problem but crime was. The question was; “how would he then structure the police in such a way that it worked with the criminals to fight crime?” In so doing, he would have to co-opt the criminals, infiltrate their circles, use their leaders to influence their members to quit crime. If he successfully did this, he would succeed on his first mission.

The second mission was about his own longevity in the position. Kayihura knew that of all sections, Museveni had been failed by Police. He understood that success in such a position would mean success of the political party from where he derived his power and authority. His own existence would only be assured by his own assurance of the further entrenchment of NRM’s political rule. So, the Police became another arm of the NRM. He understood that he was subtly supposed to play the role of NRM cadre, mobilizer, organiser and when needed, activist against the opposition activities.

It is these two missions that would define Kayihura’s core goals as IGP. Success on these two ideals would translate into success as an IGP. So how did Kayihura score on these metrics?

On the first option, he did infiltrate many political circles. It was the right, if not the only thing to do. It would be folly to think that one can stem out crime in a poor country or even a developed country without infiltrating the inner circles of the criminals. When UPDF fought Kony, it had to use some of Kony’s former fighters for clues. In Somalia, UPDF had to co-opt some Al-Shabaab fighters. In Operation Wembley, former criminals were at the fore front. It is impossible to fight an enemy from without unless one has encircled them from within.

Yet in the process of Kayihura trying to capture the criminals, he did suffer the second-order effects of this strategy. While trying to capture the criminals, the criminals became wiser and captured police. The criminals became the police while the police became the criminals. Kayihura indirectly became a prisoner of his own strategies. The criminals became like the egg of the animal in H.G Well’s Aepyronis Island book, that hatches and then becomes a threat to a man. It is a cathartic end. In befriending the criminals, Kayihura did provide a rope by which his enemies could hang him.

On the second option, he did successfully play the role of NRM cadre. This was more visible in the walk to work protests. Whereas at day time, the police used force to stop the protests, at night, the police took on the gentler, political option. It met with various leaders, bodaboda riders, Kisekka market leaders and together co-opted them. Some of these were asked to set-up income groups through which they would access development funds.

Walk to Work therefore did not fail because the police was powerful militarily, it failed because it was eaten from within. That would form the future strategy of Kayihura when dealing with any form of protests. At Universities whenever students threatened to strike, he would meet up with the student leaders and in a matter of days, the strikes would be history. In this process, Kayihura earned himself enemies from within and without.

The opposition saw him as the man who had kept Museveni in power (a fact not to be denied). Those within the NRM government hated him for being the blue-eyed boy. Never before in history had the police force become the alpha and omega of a party’s rule. Kayihura did succeed on this front.

All the focus was on him, in so doing, he was also able to increase the funding of the police force which further infuriated many.

As such, in analysing Kayihura, we need not to judge him by his many ‘failures’, but by the decisions he took given the circumstances he faced. A man cannot be judged on his outcomes but on the quality of his decisions in a given set of conditions.

If then we apply this criteria to Kayihura, then by all means, he was and is the most successful IGP the country has had. Kayihura was not a book theorist, he was a realist, a practical man, who derived localised solutions for the localised problems he faced. Yet we also need to remember, that in trying to be great, Kayihura forgot that he was human, biting his own tail in the process.

Kayihura the police man was successful, Kayihura the politician was amazing, but Kayihura the human being, was an absolute disaster! History will surely be kinder to him.

Ian Ortega is a journalist and blogger with interests in business, engineering and technology.


  1. Jackie
    January 24, 2018

    You should look into the history of these criminals and juxtapose it against the time when the people who are so bent on bringing his downfall assumed the power to do so.
    I am in agreement with a lot of things you have shared here but I get a feeling there is some degree of set up especially given his commitment to the efficiency he has worked with,how could he have failed to know about all this before hand?

    There is surely something we are not looking at objectively

  2. Paul Kilimi
    January 24, 2018

    Thank you, Ian. I understand now. Alright, yes, I havr always known General Kaihura as a serious, no nonsense man.

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