Kampala. President Museveni has ordered transfer of crime preventers from police to the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), but the decision has attracted scathing criticism from the Opposition and security experts who say it will damage the image of the army.
Mr Museveni said the crime preventers, who have been working as vigilantes by giving information on crime to police, will now be a reserve force, an auxiliary force of the UPDF.
The President said there will be 12 million crime preventers under the UPDF and with such a numerical strength, it would be easy to mobilise a big force to augment the army in case Uganda faces external aggression.
“If anybody was to provoke a war with Uganda, I would just mobilise any number I want and we sort out that stupid person. Of course, Uganda cannot provoke any war against any African country because we are brothers.
But if anybody is foolish enough to provoke us, with this 12 million, we would sort out that person,” Mr Museveni said yesterday at Lugogo in Kampala while addressing crime preventers.
He asked the new police leadership under Inspector General of Police Martins Okoth Ochola to meet with the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen David Muhoozi, to make a plan to streamline operations of crime preventers.
The President’s decision appears a preemptive move to thwart the impending action by the new police leadership on the status of the crime preventers.
During the vetting of his appointment before Parliament early this month, Mr Ochola pledged to make drastic changes to reshape the police command structure and composition.
Last week, police spokesperson Emilian Kayima said the new police leadership would determine the fate of crime preventers in the Force.
President Museveni said yesterday that he had called Mr Ochola to tell him that deciding the fate of crime preventers was not his task.
The transfer of crime preventers to the army has provoked sharp criticisms from various security experts and observers. They say the decision is a complete departure from the initial objective of crime prevention.
“Does this mean UPDF has taken over the role of fighting crime? This is a fundamental departure from the intention of forming the group,” the former Forum for Democratic Change party president and one-time army commander, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, said.
He warned that the transfer of crime preventers, who have been widely accused of abetting and perpetrating crime, will damage the image of the UPDF because of the “wrong things” they have been doing.
“Those in power should not do things that can exacerbate the already precarious situation,” Gen Muntu said.
Crime preventers have also been accused by the Opposition of harassing their supporters yet they are supposed to be non-partisan.
The former director general of External Security Organisation, Mr David Pulkol, too said Mr Museveni’s decision is intended to draw the army into partisan politics.
Mr Pulkol said the UPDF Act must be amended to allow any auxiliary force under the army to fight crime.
“How do you have a reserve army of 11 million people? What is this man planning to do?” he queried.
The Democratic Party president, Mr Norbert Mao, described the crime preventers as “lumpens” who should not be allowed to work with the UPDF.
“It is a filthy idea Museveni has come up with so far this year,” Mr Mao said.
President Museveni applauded former Inspector General of Police Gen Kale Kayihura, whom he sacked on March 4, for mobilising the crime preventers as volunteers to fight crime at village level.
However, he added that it was not Gen Kayihura’s decision to recruit crime preventers.
“The structure of crime preventers [forum] is not a strategy of Kale Kayihura.
Those who thought it was a Kale Kayihura programme are wrong. It is the strategy of NRA (now UPDF)…, but I want to salute Gen Kayihura because he actively implemented this strategy when he was still in police,” Mr Museveni said.
He praised Gen Kayihura as a “loyal cadre” for recruiting the crime preventers who critics say have not helped police fight crime but rather contributed to commission of crimes in the country.
According to the head of Crime Preventers Forum, Mr Blaise Kamugisha, they have been working with police since 2013 to train these volunteers in community policing, self-defence skills, ideological orientation, crime prevention and patriotism.
Mr Kamugisha pledged support to President Museveni and to “end crime” in Uganda.
He said on average, each of 65,000 villages in Uganda has more than 300 crime preventers. However, this figure appears exaggerated as this would translate into 20 million crime preventers, far above the official estimate of 12 million.
President Museveni pledged Shs1.3b to their Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisation, which is decentralised up to district level.
Other reserve forces
The army has previously had auxiliary forces like Arrow Boys in Teso and the Amuka brigade in Lango but it was under emergency situations during the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in northern and eastern Uganda.
Mr Museveni said the idea to have auxiliary forces started during the five-year war guerrilla war that brought him to power in 1986. “These would not go to the bush to fight. But they would guard villages,” he said.