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Uganda Table of Contents


Postindependence Security Services

Uganda's independence constitution in 1962 reaffirmed the British policy of allowing the kingdoms of Buganda, Bunyoro, Toro, and Ankole to maintain local police forces, which were nominally accountable to Uganda's inspector general of police. When the 1967 Constitution abolished the federal states and Buganda's special status, the local police forces merged into the Uganda Police Force or became local constabularies responsible to the district commissioner under the inspector general's authority.

During the 1960s, the Uganda Police Force comprised a Uniform Branch, which was assigned mainly to urban duties; Special Branch and Criminal Investigation Department (CID); Special Constabulary; Special Force Units; Signals Branch; Railway Police; Police Air Wing; Police Tracker Force; Police Band; and Canine Section. Four regional commanders directed police operations and assisted the inspector general. The Police Council--composed of the inspector general, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and four other members appointed by the minister--recommended policies regarding recruitment and conditions of service. The Public Service Commission, in consultation with the inspector general, appointed senior police officers. The Police Training School in Kampala conducted initial training for new recruits. In-service training for noncommissioned officers and constables took place at the Uganda Police College at Naguru, and many officers studied in Australia, Britain, Israel, and the United States.

By 1968 the Uganda Police Force was a multiethnic, nonpolitical, armed constabulary of between 7,000 and 8,000 officers and constables. In addition to regular urban police activities, it undertook extensive paramilitary duties, provided honor guard detachments for visiting dignitaries, and performed most of the public prosecution in the criminal courts.

During the late 1960s, the government increased its use of the police, and in particular, the CID, to eliminate political dissent. Some politicians complained that this emphasis allowed street crime to flourish. President Obote also created the General Service Department (GSD) outside the police organization to monitor the political climate and report disloyalty. Some GSD agents infiltrated other organizations to observe policies and record discussions. They reported directly to the president on political threats arising from other government agencies and the public. Ugandans both ridiculed and feared GSD agents, whom they described as spies in their midst.

During the 1970s, the police force was practically moribund, but President Amin, like his predecessor, used a number of agencies to root out political dissent. More arrests were made for political crimes than for street crimes or corruption. Amin's government relied on the Military Police, the Public Safety Unit (PSU), and the State Research Bureau (SRB) to detect and eliminate political disloyalty. In 1971 Amin created the SRB as a military intelligence unit directly under the president's control. Its agents, who numbered about 3,000, reportedly kidnapped, tortured, and murdered suspects in their headquarters in Nakasero. Many SRB personnel were non-Ugandans; most had studied in police and military academies in Britain and the United States. Most served one-year tours of duty with the SRB and were then assigned to military duty, government service, or overseas embassy guard duty.

During the early years of the Amin regime, the PSU and the Military Police also acquired reputations as terrorist squads operating against their compatriots. In 1972 the PSU, which was created as an armed robbery investigative unit within the civil police organization, was equipped with submachine-guns. Amin ordered PSU agents to shoot robbers on sight, but in practice, he exerted almost no control over them, and PSU agents became known among many Ugandans as roving death squads.

In the early 1980s, the strength of the police force was only about 2,500, many of whom were trained in Britain or North Korea. The heads of the four police departments--administration, criminal investigation, operations, and training--reported to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Special Branch of the CID assumed the responsibilities of the SRB. The Police Special Force, a paramilitary riot control unit, engaged in widespread atrocities against people who opposed the regime, especially in Buganda.

Another internal security agency, the National Security Agency (NSA), was formed in 1979. Many of its first recruits were former GSD members. NSA agents testified before human rights investigators later in the 1980s that although they did not wear uniforms, they carried arms, and many believed themselves to be above the law. Their testimony also related instances of torture and murder, as well as frequent robbery and looting. Detainees were sometimes held in military barracks, in keeping with the NSA policy of avoiding police or prison system controls. In the notorious Luwero Triangle in Buganda, NSA agents became known as "computer men," because they often carried computer printouts in their search for reported subversives.

When the NRA seized power in 1986, Museveni inherited a force of 8,000. A screening exercise revealed that out of the 8,000 personnel, only 3,000 qualified to be retained as police officers. The government augmented this force by contracting 2,000 retired police officers. However, at 5,000 this force was too small to maintain law and order. Museveni therefore ordered the NRA to assume responsibility for internal security. He also announced plans to upgrade police training and equipment, increase the force to 30,000 personnel, revive a defunct marine unit to combat smuggling on Uganda's lakes, improve the Police Air Wing's reconnaissance capability by acquiring more aircraft, and form a new paramilitary unit to bolster internal security.

In December 1988, Uganda's inspector general initiated investigations into charges of police abuse, in the hope of improving the force's reputation. In July 1989, he also announced the creation of new departments of political education, legal affairs and loans, and local government, but their authority had not been fully defined.

In December 1989, President Museveni announced that the police, then numbering almost 30,000, and other internal security organs eventually would assume responsibility for law and order in all districts except Lira, Apac, Gulu, Kitgum, Moroto, Kotido, Soroti, and Kumi--where antigovernment rebels remained active. He also announced plans to end the army's internal security mission as the police assumed greater responsibility for law and order. These changes would enable the army to pursue new training programs and, he hoped, improve morale. Museveni also directed the minister of internal affairs to augment police salaries by providing basic rations, such as food, soap, and blankets, and to investigate ways of supplementing educational costs for the police.

During the 1980s, Britain, France, North Korea, Egypt, and Germany provided assistance to the Uganda Police Force. British instructors taught courses on criminal investigations and police administration, and they trained future police instructors. British assistance also included equipment, such as highfrequency radio sets and Land Rovers, and London had agreed to furnish bicycles, office equipment and supplies, and crime detection kits.

In 1989 French police officials provided three-month training courses in riot control and suppression techniques. The first thirty Ugandans to complete this training became instructors for subsequent courses. In December 1990, another French team of five police officials trained 100 Ugandan police officers in antiriot techniques. Museveni also accepted North Korean offers of equipment and training assistance. By July 1989, P'yngyang also had trained and equipped Uganda's newly established Mobile Police Patrol Unit (MPPU) of 167 officers.

By May 1991, the police force numbered about 20,000. Despite British, French, and North Korean training, the government admitted that the police still needed specialized training programs to improve its investigative capabilities.

Data as of December 1990

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