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Police deaths: Imagine the result were this to happen in Uganda or Rwanda!

Wednesday November 21 2012


By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO [email protected] & [email protected]

The ambush and killing of as many as 42 police officers in the Suguta Valley a few days ago in an ambush by “Turkana warriors” was quite shocking.

The government has deployed the Army in the area, and there are some voices criticising the decision.

This business of killing police officers can become messy, and it is generally a wise thing not to do. It is striking how the attitude of the Kenya Government differs from that of other countries in the region, especially Rwanda and Uganda.

In Rwanda and Uganda, there is a very clear view about the “monopoly of violence”. One is left in no doubt that only the State security agencies can go around carrying guns and using them.

In Uganda everyone else can go around making noise, even throwing stones, but you don’t shoot off a bullet if you are a civilian.

As a senior Ugandan minister liked to say; “if you allow the State’s monopoly of violence to be contested, then you concede to the loss of State power”.


Even with that, a regular police officer in Rwanda has more clout than most can imagine in Kenya or Uganda.

Rwanda has strict building laws, and you cannot bring workers to your site without buying workman’s compensation for them.

Three or so years ago, there was an accident at an office complex that was being built in Kigali.

Two workmen died, and it emerged that the wealthy owner of the building, perhaps because he had powerful friends in the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), had not bought workman’s compensation.

A lone policeman was dispatched on a Saturday afternoon to go and serve the businessman with a summons to show up at a police station.

The policeman went looking for the rich man, until he found him at a funeral of a prominent citizen of Kigali.

The businessman was seated in the front row in a tent at the funeral, and on both sides very senior army officers of the Rwanda Army flanked him.

With all the mourners watching in mild horror, the policeman walked and served the businessman with the summons!

The big military officers gently told the policeman that it was “un-African” to serve summons at a funeral, and promised the policeman that they would present the businessman first thing on Monday morning at the police station.

The policeman walked away empty-handed... and promptly reported to his superiors that he had been outranked.

True to their word, the generals delivered the businessman to the police station on Monday. But it was also the end for them. They were thrown into prison.

The powers that be in Rwanda were outraged, and a Big Man there told me: “When a policeman serves you with a summons, even when you are in church or in bed, in Rwanda you must answer them immediately. The day we allow generals to countermand a police officer like that, however good their reasons, we shall begin a slide to lawlessness”. The message hit home.

Which brings me to Uganda in 1991. A radical youth Muslim group called the Tabliq occupied the Ismailia Mosque in Old Kampala Hill.

A small group of police officers was sent there to evict them. The Tabliqs had carried weapons, and in the ensuing scuffle, killed nine officers and two police dogs.

About one hour later, there was a sight that would strike fear in the hearts of all but the truly brave and reckless.

From a distance, one could see a file of heavily armed Military Police more than a kilometre long, making their way in pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns bound for the mosque.

Inside, the temporarily victorious Tabliq were all fired up. The Military Police surrounded the Mosque and ringed off Old Kampala Hill. Then, as Kenny Rogers would sing, they let them have it all.

To cut a long story short, the Tabliq paid a high price — and it was the last time they dared even raise a finger against the police.

Nor has anyone else plucked the courage to mount such an audacious attack that killed that many police officers.

The forces of history work in mysterious ways. Imagine for a second the consequences of killing 42 police officers in Rwanda or Uganda.