OPINION: Lessons from Engola, Jajja Ichuli and Bhandari Killings

Security should not be viewed as a commodity to be purchased, like you can wake up one morning and go and buy a radio receiver.

By Solomon Muchwa Asiimwe

The troika of May 2023 killings; one of minister Charles Engola on the 2nd of May 2023 by his own bodyguard, of vlogger Tusubira Ibrahim a.k.a. Jajja Ichuli on the 6th of May 2023 by unknown assailants, and of Indian money lender on the 12th of May 2023 have once again attracted debate on the state of security in Uganda. Is it spinning out of control? My quick take on that question is a no! The situation is not yet out of the ordinary, but it is challenged by structural and institutional complacency. I will turn to that later in the discussion.

Public discourse respecting security failures has been on and off in the country. It should be recalled that in the recent past, Uganda has been buffeted by incidents of insecurity. Since 2015, waves of killings and assassinations have been meted out against women, Muslim clerics, a police spokesman, a prosecutor, and other groups in Kampala, Wakiso, Mukono, Masaka, Rakai, Lwengo, Bukomansimbi, Kalungu, and Masaka districts. A wave of kidnappings was also noted. The killings then led the Ugandan public to question the wherewithal of the government of Uganda to keep them safe and secure, as they threw security agencies into a near-frantic mode, which struggled to contain the insecurity. Yes, we must appreciate the security forces because they indeed worked tirelessly and the country seemed to have gone beyond such episodes of insecurity.

The May 2023 threesome killings by gun I have mentioned above may look like isolated incidents, but they all focus us in one direction: security sector governance challenges in the country. The security sector is not only central to state stability but also to people’s welfare because security is necessary for effective and durable development. This, however, can only be realized when the country has well-managed and competent security personnel operating within an institutional framework defined by law. This thesis cannot be elaborated more than this here due to space but can be found in my latest publication, “The Security Sector in Uganda: Principles and Practice.” I will, however, use these current three incidents to interrogate a few elements in the security sector governance of the country. It may also be important to first define the two concepts “security” and “security sector,” because they are going to be very common in my discussion.

From a scholarly perspective, security is most commonly associated with the alleviation of threats to cherished values, or it may be understood as the state of being free from fear, want, and danger. This is the aspiration of all human beings and, by extension, all states. In simple terms, “security sector” is a broad term often used to describe the structures, institutions, and personnel responsible for the management, provision, and oversight of security in a country. There is always a propensity to think that the security sector is only composed of security forces. This is wrong because security forces are just one component of the sprawling security sector.

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Therefore, in Uganda, apart from the security forces, which are the providers of security, the security sector encompasses security managers, including the ministries responsible for security policy formulation and implementation and tasking within the executive branch of government, oversight bodies that oversee security provision, including some parliamentary oversight committees, and the civil society that amplifies the people’s oversight over security institutions. I will now proceed to discuss the three incidents one by one in a bid to arrive at what could be the likely challenges affecting the security provision in the country.

The Guard that killed his principal:

As noted above, Minister Charles Engola was killed by his own guard, a Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) soldier. This incident was as petrifying as it was peculiar, not least because it was probably the first time in Uganda’s history that a guard turned on a minister he was supposed to protect. Following the incident, the public bantered that the soldier had welfare burdens that the minister had been adamant to ease. Of course, this account has been dismissed by the UPDF and the government. However, we should for now suspend discussing the reasons for killing the minister since the detectives are still out doing their work.

Col (rtd) Charles Engola was shot dead by his bodyguard

This incident, however, can be used to broadly question the protection of very important persons (VIP) in Uganda. VIP protection is meant to be a specialized function in the security provision in the country, and it should be offered by a specialized section. Therefore, the question to ask the powers that be should be: “Was the killer guard trained in VIP protection?” “Which security department in Uganda is responsible for protecting VIPs?” It has been observed that different VIPs are guarded by different guards from various security departments; some are guarded by UPDF soldiers, others by police officers, and others by intelligence officers. Some may even be using private security services.

In most cases, culpabilities in security provision come to the forefront after misfortunes like the ones we are discussing because of the anonymity surrounding security matters. There is a lot of structural and institutional confusion in the area of VIP protection in Uganda. VIP protection is a close protection operation that requires some basic tactics to be deployed in the VIP protection security services beyond the mere holding of guns by the guards commonly seen in our country. As noted already, it calls for specialized training and management where personnel must be regularly assessed and profiled.

Preparation fortifies all VIP protection work because it establishes the strategies and tactics that are needed to be arrayed and are specific to each individual sentry. The operative phase of VIP protection is normally broken into three areas: 1) the direct fortification phase, where the principal receives close protection on foot; 2) the itinerant protection phase, where the principal is traveling by vehicle, possibly in a convoy; and 3) the static protection phase, where the principal is either at a venue, residence, or momentary place of accommodation. In all three phases, specialized knowledge and tactics are required, and it is the static phase that has become more important of late because of a number of incidents across the world where VIPs and diplomats are being targeted in static locations, frequently their homes, like the case of Minister Charles Engola of Uganda recently.

This, therefore, demands that security professionals and agencies intensify cognizance and introduce effective countermeasures such as personal protection, constrained admittance, and other humdrum search rules in order to secure static premises. There are other tactics that are also vital, like information gathering on the principal and the proposed schedules, in order to identify any potential threats.

There is a need for liaison for every VIP protection operation, whether with local enforcement, neighborhood media, or at various leadership levels; hence, the team must nurture strong relationships with all key stakeholders and ensure a smooth operational plan. Likewise, there is a need for investigation to gain a thorough tactical appreciation of the area of operation, its inherent strengths, and its vulnerabilities. Because of space, I may not be able to elaborately describe VIP protection and security services beyond this.

The other two-gun killings mentioned above

As the country was still coming to terms with the minister’s assassination and even before his burial, another incident of gun violence happened. A popular vlogger, Ibrahim Tusubira, was killed by unknown assailants on May 6 in Kyanja, an urban suburb. As we were still discussing the vlogger’s murder, on May 12, yet another gun killing occurred on Parliament Avenue, this time by a police officer who entered Raja Chambers on Parliament Avenue and gunned down an Indian money lender. The motive for the killing is still under investigation, like in Tusubira’s case. These killings also beg many questions about the security architecture in the country.

Police Constable Ivan Wabwire on return to CPS on Monday.

In both instances, the security cameras could not be used to foil the unfortunate murders, but in the case of the killing of the money lender, immediately after the incident, CCTV footage emerged. The killer police officer was able to walk away from the scene of the crime with his gun all the way from the busy Parliamentary Avenue scot-free. There are so many guarded places on the Avenue, including the Parliament building, yet the killer roamed uninterrupted up to the central police station, a distance of approximately one kilometer, returned his gun to the armory at the central police station, and disappeared.

This particular incident involving the police officer raises many questions to be answered by the managers of the security forces, in this case the Uganda police. How does a police officer sign out a gun, and how does he sign it back in? The killer police officer was seen on CCTV footage walking into the central police station, and we are told he turned in the weapon to the armory. Is there any system of accounting for the bullets one signs out at the time of signing in the weapon? Because if this system existed, this officer would have been arrested for not accounting for the missing bullets. The other question is, how does a person enter a financial institution armed with such a rifle? Wasn’t this place supposed to be guarded like other financial institutions? Whose responsibility is it to ensure that such places are guarded? Shouldn’t the government take an interest in compelling all institutions of such a nature to have armed protection? All these questions are pertinent because the killer officer was not restrained at all. He had wide latitude and plentiful time to walk out after the first shooting and to get back into the building a second time to finish off his victim. One wonders why the neighboring security personnel did not intervene! Was it the lack of alertness on the part of these many soldiers around that place, or was the building so soundproof that no one from outside could hear the sound of the bullets? I think we will wait for answers from the security managers on these and many other issues.

Late Vlogger Ibrahim Tusubira alias Isma Olaxes.

Back to the issue of the Kyanja shooting of Tusubira, the killer is still at large, like the police officer who killed the money lender. Of this incident, there is no CCTV footage that has been shared yet, meaning there are no police security cameras around that place, probably because it is far from the city centre. However, my take on the police security cameras is that we seem to be overrating them in Uganda as the panacea for insecurity, and yet we have no capacity to connect the entire country on CCTV. My suggestion to security managers is to instead go back to the old but tested systems of people-led security provision and sensitize communities to security collaboration. This could strengthen the uptake of community policing, popular intelligence networking, and neighborhood watch structures.

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In conclusion, security should not be viewed as a commodity to be purchased, like you can wake up one morning and go and buy a radio receiver. If the government goes on spending heavily on security cameras and deploying guns without strengthening foundation security—which does not come from trees or cameras alone but from people—we shall continue asking many questions without answers. Rather, security should be appreciated as a relationship between different actors, which include the community and the security providers or the state. The relational sense of security entails a degree of confidence that should be built into the people by the behaviour and actions of the security forces. The security officers must, therefore, change the way they behave as they carry out their legitimate duties.

The community should know their security agencies and personnel properly in the way they dress, move, and act if the community must be relied on to provide intelligence or information about the wrong guys moving with guns because they will be identified by their appearance. Currently, some of the security personnel dress and move in the same manner as the reprobate groups, which cause insecurity in the country. This needs to be addressed.

Solomon Muchwa Asiimwe is a security and strategic analyst at the Security Studies and Analysis Centre (SESAC) and a professor of security and international relations studies at Nkumba University asiimwesm37@gmail.com.

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