The police chief said the reason for arming the traffic police is to defend themselves against “attacks from errant motor drivers.”
General Kaihura has the authority under the law to arm and disarm the men and women he leads in the police. However,the proposal to allow the traffic police to carry firearms needs to be put in perceptive.
Policing around the world is evolving from the hitherto narrow preoccupation of protecting the state and its rulers to democratic policing which is largely founded on the principles of protecting individual and group rights with minimum use of force or call it violence.
This is particularly important for Uganda because the country is still grappling with the gun-culture problem a manifestation of our violent-turbulent political past. This is why, General Kaihura , most times a well intentioned man, and whose ideas reflect a sense of purpose to do good for the country- should not go ahead to arm the traffic police.
The Police Act allows policemen to use firearms in very few exceptional circumstances. These include cases where a person charged with or convicted of a felony escapes from unlawful custody or when a person who through force rescues another person from lawful custody or when a person through force prevents the lawful arrest of himself or herself or any other person.
The Police Act is even more explicit in section 28(3) where police officers are barred from using firearms unless such officer(s) has reasonable grounds to believe that he cannot otherwise prevent any act referred to above to effect the arrest, or has issued a warning to the offender that he is going to use the firearm and the offender does not heed to such warning.
The other acceptable circumstance where police personnel can use firearms is when their lives are in danger. Perhaps this is the reason upon which the Inspector General premised his arguments for arming traffic policemen. He says that there are instances where traffic police officers have been put on gun point by errant motorists.
But then again, how often will you find a motorists pointing a gun at a traffic police officer? Besides much of the traffic policing work is done during day time. There are hardly any traffic policemen on our roads beyond say 9 O’clock in the evening.
The police force has all the support mechanism including the patrol vehicles -their kintu kidogo syndrome not withstanding to back up police officers on duty. So, what is the logic, rationale of arming traffic policemen if this is not intended to breed more violence.
Given all this, the public’s angry reaction to Kaihura’s proposal is understandable. It seems, often times, our leaders tend to deliberately ignore a historical fact -that this country and its inhabitants have suffered to much ,for so long at the hands of gun wielding leaders and their personalized military machinery.
What the country needs now is to take guns off our streets and towns. Uganda is still listed among the countries that have grossly abused the Russian made Kalashnikov assault rifle also known as AK 47. The gratuitous behaviour where armed people draw a gun at the slightest opportunity should not be allowed to take root in our fragile young democracy.
In just over a month the country will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) to foster democracy and good governance the bench marks for this body of nations. Democratic nations need democratic policing , which is tailored at the peaceful resolution of disputes rather than the use of violence.
The principle of democratic policing calls for democratic values of tolerance and minimum use of force within our armed forces including the police.
Uganda being the host country for Chogm, should recognize the Commonwealth principles of accountability, transparency, participation, adherence to the rule of law, respect for diversity and democratic functioning which apply to police organisations.
Instead of arming traffic policemen, general Kaihura should launch a nation wide campaign to collect and destroy the thousands of illegal guns among the population . Only then shall we cement the peace and security ‘ushered in’ by the NRM government. Arming traffic policemen at this stage of the country’s development is simply a bad idea.
The writer is a Journalist and Advocate
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