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The US sanctions Kayihura; it should sanction those “higher up”.


By Moses Kamya Ssentamu

The surprise imposition last week of travel and business sanctions against Uganda’s former Inspector of Police, Lt. Gen. Kale Kayihura by the US Government may be more an indictment of the Ugandan leadership than a desire to punish the role of an individual officer.

That is the conclusion many Ugandans have come to after analyzing the conduct of the Ugandan state since Kayihura was relieved of office nearly seventeen months ago, and his subsequent prosecution before the General Court Martial. There, his case has not made any visible progress.

“The sanctions against the General would make sense if the aim is to influence the conduct of the incumbent office holders,” commented a Kampala analyst. “But it is coming to two years since he was removed from the helm of Police; yet the very wrongs Kayihura was accused of continue unabated. This suggests that the problem is more systematic and beyond the powers of an individual appointee,” added the analyst.

In the unprecedented move against Uganda, the US announced travel and business sanctions against Kayihura and members of his immediate family – barring all of them from qualifying for US visas. Kayihura was cited for corruption and human rights abuses. Observers point out that these, and similar failures are so entrenched in Uganda that one would need to sanction the entire Ugandan leadership – if the aim is to impact meaningful change in the conduct of the Ugandan state!

Related: Dear Secretary Pompeo, Kayihura violated human rights under Museveni’s direct instructions

More often than not, frontline officers that have been compelled to engage in actions that were plainly illegal but essential to regime survival have often cited “orders from above.” Nobody from above is on record to have contradicted these claims, suggesting that though they implicate him, Museveni is actually comfortable with that association.

An analysis of complaints of human rights violations in Uganda shows a clear correlation between election cycles and spikes in violations by the state against citizens. For instance the correlation in Uganda between election period and state inspired violence suggests that pressures on government institutions and their captains are exogenous.

Also that pressure emanates from a higher power – the President – that needs to be held accountable if any meaningful change is to be effected.

Such hasn’t changed ever since Kayihura left office. Kidnappings and extra-judicial murders have been unrelenting. Election-time violence, most infamously the violence that rocked Arua during 2018’s by-elections for the seat of the departed Ibrahim Abiriga took place months after there was new leadership in Police.

According to people familiar with the challenges of running state institutions under Museveni, whoever President Museveni ever appoints, career officers often find themselves under pressure to implement orders that are in total violation of the law. Typically they revolve around suppression of each and every perceived opponent.

According to this source, whenever Museveni has run into principled opposition from his appointees to some of his wayward ideas, that could even lead to crimes, his response has been to undermine (the principled advisers) by forming parallel, none-regimented groups to execute his agenda.


This is how criminal groups like as Boda-Boda 2010 cane into existence under his direct patronage. Knowing that their power was political, they were not inclined in any way to accept guidance from any other authorities – yet the blame for their acts always fell on Kayihura.

They operated in a near state of anarchy, conducting abductions, torture and dumping of people in un-gazetted places of detention. They acted in full impunity, knowing their power came from the ruler. Kayihura’s successors too have to deal with institutionalized brutality. A prime example was the murder last month of musician, and People Power activist Ziggy Wine – who was eliminated, many agree, because he was one of those the state perceived as a threat.

It fell to the police to cover up the murder and forge a “crime scene” scenario to exonerate the state. Thus Uganda’s security institutions become ever more complicit in crimes, because that’s exactly what their boss expects them to do; and that’s the (unspoken) reason he appoints the heads of those institutions.

As the head of the Uganda Police force for thirteen years, Kayihura was in office at a time President Museveni was increasingly feeling both morally and politically insecure. He was lifting age limits. Opposition to his rule was becoming more galvanized, resulting in serious challenge to his decades rule.

Related: Get used to abductions, torture and disappearances, Tumwine to Ugandans

Pundits believe that whoever he appoints to lead a frontline institution such as the police is simply being set up to enforce regime survival – with whatever tools of violence. “Someone like Kale Kayihura merely is a scapegoat!”

That is the environment Museveni created and the one under which Kale operated and which continues to haunt his successors. Indeed as the county creeps towards another contentious election, incumbent office holder Martin Okoth Ochola and his deputy Brigadier Sabiiti Muzei are already feeling the heat.

The number of violations has been on the rise since mid-2018 as Museveni pushes them to contain the new wave of youthful opposition to his rule, namely the People Power Movement. The duo have already stumbled with at least five election-related deaths under their watch, even before 2021 is around the corner!

This suggests that America, short of sanctioning Mr. Orders-from-above himself, merely targeting his lieutenants will not amount to more than Western tokenism and political theatre.