Arming the traffic police is a little on the extreme
The Uganda Police leadership is never short of surprises. This time round, they want to arm the traffic police with automatic rifles to defend themselves against violent motorists. Whereas the traffic police have a right under the Constitution and the Police Act to defend themselves against violent criminals, employing guns is a little on the extreme.
The Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura, though a military man, is said to be a supporter of democratic policing - a principle that calls for less confrontation. This notion of democratic policing is fundamental, given the country’s history.
Uganda is one of the countries that have grossly abused the Russian made Kalashnikov assault rifle also known as AK 47. According to a report by Control Arms Campaign spearheaded by Amnesty International , Oxfam International and the International Action Network on Small arms, the AK47 assault rifle will remain a killer machine in Uganda for the next 20 years unless urgent measures are put in place to regulate its use.
Already, an estimated 50,000 illegal guns are in the hands of rogue elements including some security personnel who at times hire them out to robbers. It’s also on record that there are about 100 million AK 47s and variations of its design produced in 18 countries and used in 82 countries. About 30 million illegal guns are in circulation in black Africa - (including south Sudan and Somalia).
These killer weapons have led to the death of an estimated 3 million people globally. To back-up their misplaced idea of introducing more guns on our streets, the Police leadership have cited the examples of USA, Indonesia and Thailand where traffic police officers are armed.
What the Police don’t tell the public though is that the countries they are citing are far more developed democracies than Uganda and have punitive gun laws. The levels of training for security personnel in those countries are more superior.
The level of gun abuse by the Special Police Constables is testimony to this. The human cost as result of gun-related crime is frighteningly high. No week passes without reports of innocent Ugandans killed by armed gangsters.
Not long ago, the government through the Uganda Police and Uganda Revenue Authority introduced the express penalty scheme where wayward motorist are fined on the spot.
This is a good scheme because whoever came up with the measures knew that traffic offenses should be of civil nature and only assume a criminal element where there is malicious injury to or loss of life and damage to property.
Arming traffic police to police petty traffic offences is contrary to the principle of democratic policing. This measure, if implemented, can also be misunderstood to mean that government is militarising the Police whose role is different from that of the army.
The Inspect General should instead launch a nationwide campaign to rid our city, major towns and the countryside of illegal firearms. The proliferation of illegal fire arms especially through our porous borders with DR Congo and Sudan, coupled with trafficking in the city and towns is a complex local and international problem that calls for a tough legal regime.
Parliament should review the Police and Fire Arms laws to make it difficult for people to posses guns illegally.
The writer is a Journalist and Advocate