Roy Karadag: Dear Jude, congratulations on this great accomplishment. This is really impressive. Now, could you maybe explain what it was, actually, that brought you to investigate the Ugandan police after your earlier work on military and militarization? Why this thematic shift?
Jude Kagoro: Thank you very much for your kind words. Well, during my PhD research on militarisation in Uganda I made several discoveries including the militarization of the Ugandan Police Force. I found out that the military and the police in Uganda were getting closer and closer both in function and ideology. The police force was getting infused with several military officers including the Inspector General of Police (IGP). I discovered that police also used military methods and their trainings were getting more militaristic. Above all, the police force was also getting fused with the ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) and played crucial roles in regime security schemes. So, when I had just finished my PhD a saw a Postdoctoral position at Bremen University being advertised. The position was in the DFG funded project “Policing in Africa”. This caught my attention because I had already got some research results and networks on/in the Uganda Police Force. I applied for the job and was recruited. To me, this was the perfect continuation of my research but with a more detailed focus on the police.
RK: What is the political nature of the Ugandan police? What is it there for, politically, would you say?
JK: I actually have a full chapter on political policing, particularly the partisan dimension of the Ugandan Police Force (UPF). I explain the complex and sometimes cryptic relations between the police and the ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM). The Ugandan police is explicitly partisan, and the president, and by extension the ruling party, has overwhelming powers to determine what the force does and how it performs its duties. My observations indicate that it is not true that the police officers are always under orders to protect the incumbent regime or to harass the opposition. Many officers perceive it that to be seen as a pro-NRM officer is to be considered a good officer and thus do it on their own volition. Police officers not only implicitly know what is expected of them and act upon this knowledge but are also driven by their individual practical interpretations of the sociopolitical landscape. Subsequently, the formal legal logics of a neutral force are often overruled by logics of regime security. However, it is important to note that the unofficial political use of the police force in combating the opposition has a much longer history than the NRM. Since the birth of the force in 1906 during the British colonial era, through the subsequent post-colonial regimes, the force has essentially been politicised.
RK: I understand that you had the chance to meet with many in the police force to debate reform ideas? To which reform and security sector reform ideas were they open? And where, would you say, not so much?
JK: Yes, I met and worked with several police officers at all levels of command. During my research the then Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura requested me to be part of a team spearheading the establishment of a Senior Command and Staff College, where officers would be equipped with both intellectual and policing knowledge. This was in the context that world over, patterns of disorder, crime and criminal practices are continuously becoming sophisticated. These trends demand for police officers that are intellectually and scientifically groomed to meet the challenge. It is in this context that the Uganda Police Force requested for my in-put in the establishment of a police college at Bwebajja to provide cutting-edge theoretical and empirical training to its officers in the view of keeping pace with global criminal, law and order trends. In that sense, the college was started in 2016 to provide outstanding opportunities for police officers’ development in both personal and professional aspects with the aim of enhancing capacities at the operational, tactical and strategic levels for the Uganda Police and beyond. I was able to engage with officers of finest intellect and I have to say many officers are open to improving the policing situation in Uganda.
Though many officers are open to reforms the context seems to inhibit some of their aspirations. Uganda is not a very rich country and some of the reforms needed are costly and not achievable based on the available resources. For instance, a lot of policing technology such as finger prints, cameras are still beyond the reach of Uganda. They exist yes, but most of Uganda is rural and many parts have no electricity. I also noticed that officers improvise to suit the context. The written procedures and policies seem to have been drawn from the western perspective yet in practice the officers are dealing with African perspectives. Take an example of defilement; on paper any one sexually engaging with a girl below 18 years commits a crime, yet in many parts of rural Uganda girls are married off by 14 years. Sometimes, the police will discover when a girl is 17 years and already with two or three children. The man responsible is the bread winner and proving care for both the young mother and the children. The parents of the girl and the elders in the community consented to the marriage and the police has little to do. If they arrest and charge the man they are causing more harm than good and the community will never cooperate. In such a case the police turns a blind eye. Therefore, policing is more complex than the written policies.
RK: Is the Ugandan police somehow representative of how police works in East Africa? Or is it somehow specific in this region?
JK: I have extensively researched on the Rwandan Police and I have some superficial knowledge of the Kenyan and Tanzanian police. I can say that my findings on the Ugandan police are reprehensive of the region. A few things may vary here and there, but in essence the police forces in the region share a lot of similarities. Relatedly, I have read some literature on police forces in West Africa and they seem not so different from Uganda.
RK: Did you come across any long-term colonial British influences of how police works?
JK: Yes, I did and the Ugandan police still carries a colonial heritage including the buildings in which they operate from. Though some changes in command structure and ranks have taken place the police continue with similar approaches that were used during the colonial period, including political policing as I have highlighted earlier.
RK: Having lived in Ugandan and in German cities, what would you say are the biggest differences between police forces in these two countries?
JK: I have not only lived in Germany cities, but I have also interacted with police forces in upper Franconia, Bayreuth and in Bremen. I have held interviews with police officers in Franconia in 2013 and I have spent some days moving around the city with the Bremen police in 2015. In my opinion the police forces in Germany are obviously better facilitated but I think they are too serious and minimally interact with the general population like those in Uganda. The policing arena in Uganda is defined by negotiations between officers and the people, which I think is missing in Germany. In Uganda, one can go to a police station to have a chat with police officers, which may not be possible in Germany. In Uganda officers’ social lives and professional lives seem intertwined which has both advantages and disadvantages. In Germany the police appear to be strictly professional. I was also shocked that the Ugandan police was much easier to study than my experience with the Bremen police for instance. The Bremen police gave me timetables, made me sign several documents, and they would be the ones to chose on what I should do. In Uganda it was much open. I realised that the command structure in Uganda is quite overwhelming with junior officers saluting their seniors all the time. You can hear yes Sir, yes Sir all the time, which is completely not the case in Germany.
RK: Thank you very much, Jude, and all the best with the book!
JK: Thank you!