Gen Kayihura’s long journey to the top
PEOPLE | When my Editor asked me to write an end of year article about “the rise and fall” of former Police Chief Kale Kayihura, I sought out the views of one of the best young lawyers, in my view, in this city. I asked this lawyer who knows the four star General, for quiet sometime, what was his main strength: “Commitment,” was the answer that I got.
So while writing this piece I chose to follow that line: commitment. What was Kayihura committed to?
About 29 years ago, Edward Kale Kayihura was at a lowly rank of captain. The army at the time was known as the National Resistance Army or NRA. It would later morph into Uganda People’s Defence Forces or UPDF. President Museveni had famously resisted change in name, perhaps due to nostalgia.
Being of a modest rank, in itself, wasn’t a hindrance.
Museveni, who had ruled for just three years, dispatched Kayihura, son of John Kalekyezi, a prominent anti-colonialism activist who crisscrossed the continent spreading the gospel of Pan-Africanism, to join the Constitutional Commission. The Commissions’ role was to draft the current constitution.
In his 2005 book, “The Search for a National Consensus: The Making of the 1995 Uganda Constitution,” retired chief Justice Benjamin Odoki who led the commission explains how actually besides Kayihura, Museveni dispatched another soldier to join the team. The soldier’s name was Sserwanga Lwanga , who was at the rank Lieutenant Colonel.
In his book, Odoki tries to draw distinction between these two soldiers. This comparison could help historians understand Kayihura’s meteoric rise to the top echelons of Uganda’s security apparatus. When critically deducted, Odoki’s impressions of Kayihura explain why, until recently, he was the engine of NRM’s (the political wing of the NRA) political agenda and machinations.
Despite being close to Museveni having served as his maiden Principal Private Secretary; Odoki describes Lwanga — who passed away in 1995 — as a person with “balanced views and did not have to support the NRM blindly” and that “he always explored alternatives.” Justice Odoki lionizes Lwanga as an extremely respectful soldier who during this tedious process “exhibited principled compromise and patriotism.”
Kayihura, in the book, is first described as “sober and soft-spoken” though he “presented very pointed and thoughtful arguments.” But as Odoki goes on describing Kayihura, it becomes apparent that despite being 34 years old at the time, Kayihura was deeply ingrained in the NRM ideology as lectured by Museveni, a person he could later christen as his “hero.”
Being an ideologue of the NRM partly explains why Museveni was giving him sensitive assignments. Such placements pointed to “big things to come.” Odoki, basing on his interactions with Kayihura, describes him in as “a freedom fighter and a believer in the objectives of the Movement struggle and politics.”
Though in the late 80s and early 90s Kayihura represented the future of NRA/NRM, when you dig into the history of this military turned political outfit, he wasn’t among its senior members.
This wasn’t a surprise, either. He had joined the NRA guerillas in the Luweero jungles in 1983, three years after Museveni and his gang had declared war against Apollo Milton Obote’s government.
Kayihura’s commitment to Museveni’s cause saw him substitute the neon lights of London where he had obtained a Masters Degree in Law at the elite University of London for the unknown: the Ugandan bushes and shrubs.
Those who know him say that he had planned to do a doctorate but when the NRA war started, he found his way into the jungle and became, first, an aide to General Salim Saleh, Museveni’s brother and, later, commander of the mobile brigade between 1982 to 1986.
By 2002, Kayihura had risen to the rank of Brigadier and he got involved in the long unsolved Congo question. He was now the Operational Commander of the UPDF forces in Ituri Province. The UPDF had entered DR Congo ostensibly to flush out ADF rebels. But they instead ended up fighting with Rwandese forces which had also camped there.
Getting closer to Museveni
After the DR Congo expedition, Kayihura was assigned by Museveni to be his military assistant and his exact role was to head the anti-smuggling unit called the Special Revenue Police Services (SRPS). While SRPS which was a combination of UPDF personnel and detectives from the Police was accused gross violation of human rights, Kayihura as usual had a different perspective. He chased thumped before Parliament how this unit had enabled Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) recover Shs34.7 billion in revenue from the start of this millennium onwards.
As Kayihura was performing his various roles as Museveni decided, something strange happened. The postmortem of the violence-riddled 2001 presidential elections that pitted President Museveni against his former physician, Dr Kizza Besigye, showed something that Museveni didn’t like. It emerged that Besigye had outperformed Museveni at many polling stations in the country from where police personnel voted. Museveni was enraged and vowed to clean up the Force.
“Many policemen would rather vote for a jerry can than for me,” Museveni said and consequently instituted a commission of inquiry into the force.
The Justice Julia Sebutinde-led probe unearthed dirt, underhand dealings, incompetence, corruption within the force and recommended radical measures, including sacking some of the senior officers. Museveni swiftly appointed Gen Katumba Wamala, a distinguished soldier to lead the clean-up.
The appointment of Wamala, who had fought Kony’s rebels in the north , to superintend police which in theory is supposed be “a civilian force” led to all sorts of speculation. Though popular belief was that he had been appointed to “NRM-ize” and militarize the force, Katumba wisely steered away from politics and tried to act professionally.
In late 2005, two things happened: Kayihura replaced Wamala and Besigye returned from exile in South Africa and mounted arguably the biggest challenge to Museveni’s hold on power. The relationship between these two Luweero veterans came to define Kayihura’s policing regime.
Mr Fixt It
In fact, one of Kayihura’s first assignments was to quell a demonstration championed by Besigye’s supporters. They stormed the streets of the capital following Besigye’s arrest upon his return from exile, baying for blood. On one hand, Besigye fervently believed that Museveni’s regime was illegitimate and it will be swept away by a people’s insurrection he called a “tsunami.”
On the other hand, Kayihura took upon himself to stop any uprising that had the potential of sweeping the NRM from power. An analysis of security honchos showed how Besigye had massive support among groups like Boda-Boda riders and in city markets like Kiseka and thus he could easily cause chaos in the city.
Armed with this analysis, it’s said, Kayihura decided to form an alliance with questionable characters like Abdallah Kitatta who later came to lead a gang now known as Boda-Boda 2010. Kayihura’s belief was that Kitatta and his lieutenants could nullify Besigye’s support among fellow Boda-Boda riders.
Co-opting all these groups also meant that Kayihura’s police had to have considerable financial muscle; a luxury Wamala didn’t have. Museveni was supportive of Kayihura, financially, and police’s budget shot up during his reign. For instance, in 2003/4 the year before Kayihura could takeover, the budget was Shs 64b. But financial years: 2013-2014 (Shs272b), 2014/15 –( Shs 331) 2015/16 – (Shs357) and 2016/17 –(Shs382).
In many ways, the relationship between Museveni and Kayihura could be described as a symbiotic one; both somehow need each other to thrive. Without Museveni’s trust and confidence, it is debatable that Kayihura would have scaled lofty heights in the leadership of this country.
And without Kayihura’s help, Museveni would have had trouble weathering the political storm that has come his way since Besigye challenged him in 2001. To Museveni, Kayihura had become “Mr Fix-it” and the president’s unofficial political strategist.
It is Kayihura who devised Museveni’s 2016 re-election strategy, through his crime prevention programme. On the surface, the millions of youths recruited under this programme were supposed to work hand in hand with the police to curb crime ahead of the elections. Unofficially, they were NRM mobilisers.
In the run-up to the 2016 election where it was revealed that to become a crime preventer, the essential requirement was to have a voter’s card and to be a known supporter of the NRM. During the presidential campaigns, many donned NRM colours and, at Museveni’s rallies, many crime preventers actively participated in the mobilization of people.
On the other hand, Kayihura’s defenders, rather not surprising, they want look at his reign using different lenses. They insist that by the time he took over the force, it was too bureaucratic, laidback and where work moved in slow motion, Kayihura’s high-tempo military approach to doing things rattled feathers. Kayihura‘s defenders say he wisely moved to introduce graduates in a force which was renowned for having Senior four graduates.
He over saw the rise of youthful carders such as Grace Akullo, the director of CID; Andrew Felix Kaweesi, the fallen former police spokesperson; Moses Kafeero , Kampala Metroplitan commander, ; Judith Nabakooba, the Mityana Woman MP; and Simeo Nsubuga (MP Kassanda South).
These officers had joined the force in early 2000s and many had been recommended to the force by senior NRM cadres. As he pushed his agenda, Kayihura came to rely on this group more.
Kaweesi, in particular, became one of his most trusted aides and, later, commandant of the training school at Kabalye. He was once accused of trying to inculcate the NRM ideology into some of the new recruits. To reward this group, he quickly promoted them to higher ranks and facilitated them well.
This group quickly eclipsed the old guard and, as more youthful faces (Norman Musinga, James Ruhweza, Polly Namaye, Siraje Bakaleke, Aaron Baguma, etc…) came to the fore, the face of the police force changed completely.
While Kayihura was enjoying Museveni’s unquestioned support some Luweero veterans were getting envious. Kayihura had entered the police as a one star General (Brigadier) but without doing any UPDF work he became a four star General of the Army. Senior UPDF officers, like General David Sejusa openly accused him of being a populist and being close to Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Museveni’s son.
These Generals had convinced themselves that through such tactics, if not shrewdness, Kayihura had got into Museveni’s heart, at their expense.
“So while he was the most hated man by the political opposition of Uganda,” one person close to Kayihura but preferred anonymity explained. ”He was also the most hated in the security apparatus.”
As the saying goes, nothing stays the same, it all gets crushed. After 2016 elections there were ample indicators that Kayihura was losing his invincibility. The first sign, though denied at the time, was the appointment of Lieutenant General Henry Tumukunde as Minister of security, replacing the non- confrontational if not laid back, Wilson Muluri Mukasa.
Tumukunde and Kayihura were never friends, and this appointment was seen as a move by Museveni to clip Kayihura’s wings.
As Kayihura was extremely busy fixing Museveni’s murky politics, it seemed he had paid minimal interest in issues such as training, equipping and motivating detectives to solve crimes committed against ordinary people.
Under his watch, of course, there has been an increase in political demonstrations and in the unresolved murders of prominent personalities such as Kaweesi, his trusted lieutenant and the Muslim clerics.
The policemen seemed to have learnt to survive without help from Kayihura, hence the growth of practices like conniving with criminal gangs such as Kifeesi and other bigger criminals. And when Museveni said that Police had been infiltrated by” Kawukuumi” loosely translated in English as Bean Weevils that seemed to be the final nail in Kayihura’s coffin.
At the year ends, Kayihura has a number of charges hovering his head at the General Court Martial. He is being accused of failing to protect war materials, failing to supervise police officers, abetting kidnap, among other things.
There seems to be no progress in this trial. But still experts who have observed trials of senior UPDF officers at the feared military court the assert that this trial will come to nothing.
They cite examples of officers such as Tumukunde who was tried, exonerated, and later appointed minister. Brigadier Micheal Ondonga was tried at the same court but acquitted of charges including underestimating the strength of enemy forces and under-deploying at the frontline in Somalia, leading to death of troops and loss of battle equipment, and lying about juniors to the Chief of Defence Forces.
After three years of non deployment, commonly known as “Katebe”, Ondonga was in 2016 appointed as one of two deputy directors at the National Enterprise Corporations (NEC), the UPDF’s business portfolio. Another example is that of Colonel Shaban Bantariza who in 2015 was quitted of fraud related charges.
He now serves as the deputy director of the Uganda Media Centre and deputy government spokesperson.
So the deduction from such instances is that Kayihura might be in dire-straits at the moment but those who know Museveni say that he uses this court not as a tool of retribution but a rehabilitation center. Kayihura , they predict, might be rehabilitated, and brought back into the fold, after some time.