national security starts with you and I

Uganda Police LogoABOUT five years ago, in the thick of the night, I was on my verandah thinking things through with the help of a well-formulated tonic and generally being alert when I spotted some movement on the road outside.

Focusing my sights through the wall railings, I watched as someone lithe and quick slithered over my neighbour’s wall and went over silently using the method of an athletic high jumper.

I was only alarmed for a few seconds, during which I worked through my options and then whipped out my phone to call the Police. I had the number of our local police station and the direct line of the Officer in Charge (OC) there, as I normally walk over to collect such details when I move into a new neighbourhood.

The station number went through and I quickly reported that I had probably witnessed a possible burglary or robbery either starting or in progress, and gave them directions to the location. Jittery about the likely response time, I tried another number to escalate the issue then walked up to my night guard to work out a plan – just in case we needed to be heroic in some way.

We were still whispering about it a few minutes later when there was a light tap at the gate. Our astonishment at opening to find the police right there only increased when we found that they had not only arrived stealthily but had spread out along our road in some formation I cannot describe.

The commander of the operation explained that they had sneaked up in order not to alert anyone to their presence, and had parked their vehicle a distance away. He asked for more details all in very hushed tones. I explained myself and insisted on going over to the house with them – in the unlikely event that my eyesight had played night-time tricks on me.

When we got to my neighbour’s gate I started to recall that I had heard a little hooting there at the time I was walking to where my askari normally ‘takes cover’. I also recalled seeing the lights of a car driving down in that direction.

It took a while for the gate to open up but eventually the askari opened up and reluctantly went off to call his employer, my bemused neighbour, who did not appreciate being woken at that hour. I explained myself to him and insisted that he allow a search of the premises just in case the person I had seen was hiding somewhere waiting to strike.

The reluctant askari seemed to be against the idea but we prevailed and the police gained access and conducted a search. They found nothing amiss and no-one of interest. My neighbour was quite perturbed but humoured us enough to allow a second search rousing everyone in the household.

That was when his wife expressed surprise since she had just returned home a short while before that, hence the hooting I had heard.

During that time I realised that this particular neighbour was the only one of the houses around me whose phone number I did not have. I had the contact numbers of all the others, and have had to call them on occasion for things other than to borrow sugar and salt.

Eventually, we worked out that the person I had spotted going over the wall was my neighbour’s askari. It turned out that he had a habit of going for drinks at a nearby kafunda after his employers had retired to bed. This night, his employer (the wife) had stayed out uncharacteristically late but the askari spotted her vehicle from his kafunda and sprinted back to the house.

He arrived a little too late, finding her already hooting at the gate, and took the athletic route over the wall. He deservedly joined the unemployed shortly thereafter, and I added my neighbour’s contact details to my database.

We discussed how badly things could have gone if indeed the person I had spotted had been a burglar or worse, and how my not having my neighbour’s contact details would have caused me great regret forever after.

Right there, at that late hour of the night, we also discussed how impressed we were with the police, as I neither had to invoke any big names nor provide fuel for whatever vehicle they were using. Some of them had even trotted over on foot from their night patrol, I later realised. I applaud those men and women in uniform whenever I get the chance because it can’t be easy to spend nights doing this day in, day out.

Our neighbourhood or community watch has since developed into an institution working closely with the police and local council structures. The recent incidents of highly visible insecurity have triggered off an increase in community policing efforts that we should all take seriously.

In our neighbourhood, we’ve resolved to step up our community policing or neighbourhood watch efforts, starting with information sharing and keeping in touch with each other as neighbours.

We know that crime will not be stopped entirely, but it can be decreased significantly. If we are more alert as citizens and neighbours.

We are the first line of our own security.

security needs to be ‘gulu gulu’ from now on, but I’m grateful to these guys

Me with the MacBook Pro that went, a few weeks before the incident, a few metres away from where it actually happened. Photo by Pius Kwesiga.

A FEW days ago I met with the inconvenience of being visited by Property Re-allocation Operatives taking advantage of an unbelievable amount of luck and surviving narrowly because of the casual ineptitude of their should-be nemeses.

I could have written, “The other day my stuff stolen by some lucky thieves who got away because the security wasn’t at its best…” but I don’t want to point fingers and sound angry at people who I cannot demand more from fwaaa like that.

The thieves made off with my Rose Nakitto bag with a Macbook Pro in it (Serial Number C02J9385DQK), a notebook with very special handwritten notes in it (please return this? A reward awaits – seriously), a pen, my wallet with cash and identity cards, a bag of medicinal drugs, and some other personal items.

It happened at an up-market shopping mall, in Kampala. The thieves were two females, whose efficiency is commendable in many ways. In all, I was away from the station for just three minutes. During those three minutes I walked to the toilet and back, killing two minutes in hurried chit chat with people I met along the way.

I never stay away from my laptop (or other) bags for long because I am afraid of them being stolen – and this is the first time it has ever happened in many years of my conveying one wherever I go.

Normally I will have my laptop out and plugged into the wall in order to make it awkward for a snatch and flee theft. But I had completed my meeting and walked away leaving the bag with a lawyer friend who was unfortunate to be on the scene this way.

As soon as I left the first female took the seat behind him, on the verandah, and tapped him on the shoulder to borrow a pen. That went too quickly, apparently, so she whipped out an identity card of sorts and struck up a conversation about crossing the border using the random card.

It didn’t get far before she quickly said her thanks, stood up, and left hurriedly.

I returned a minute later and asked after my bag, at which point his eyes lit up as the conversation finally made sense, and this is where we began dealing with the private security guards. Having made it to the most likely exists within seconds, we lost precious time trying to get them to focus on the need to trace or chase after the thieves.

During the many seconds it took to get it through to them why we were moving urgently, one of the guards thought we were simply striking up a casual conversation, and even started a story about a similar incident having taken place some time back, perhaps at a different location in a totally different country. I shut that one down quite quickly and tried to be as professional as the investigators are in all those television crime thrillers we enjoy reading and watching.

That was part of my problem, I realised, but could also become a solution because next year I will be getting some of these security guards to watch these dramas so they understand where we get our expectations from.

After a few minutes of frantic ‘preliminary enquiries’ we realised that one of the thieving females had actually used the exit we were at, and determined the direction in which she had gone – mostly thanks to a bystander who confirmed that the woman fitting our description had appeared odd (read ’suspect’) rushing about the way she had. By that time we had waded through very many unnecessary questions and comments from what eventually became a gathering of private security guards, allowing the perpetrators of the crime to get further and further away with their loot.

We arranged access to the CCTV (closed circuit television) monitoring room and retreated there to do some more scientific scrutiny and within minutes realised we had to take over the manipulation of the technology.

The poor fellow in control, another private security guard, seemed to have a limited appreciation of what the video cameras and computers were capable of doing besides forwarding and rewinding at different speeds.

By the time we identified the thieving females I knew there was no catching them that night.

In the process, though, we got told that some of the cameras covering critical parts of the Mall were in boxes right in that room where we stood, and would be installed the very next day. I was too irritated to get into the reasons why the cameras were still boxed and not being installed that very minute, let alone from the time they had been delivered!

I won’t even go into the analysis of the footage we reviewed.

As I said at the start, I found it hard to complain too much because I know that these fellows are not paid a lot of money and probably don’t get the training we believe they should have.

I actually once started drafting a “Letter to the Random Askari” but stopped halfway because not only was it condescending, it was downright escapist from their reality.

This Christmas I am tipping security guards (government and private) in a special way just to say “Thank You” to them for all the times things haven’t gone wrong, rather than blaming them for the times they did go wrong.

And next year I’ll dedicate a little bit of energy to helping them operate more efficiently where I can contribute, so that they can do even better than they already are doing.

the pope is secure – why aren’t you?

SOMEONE at Namugongo Martyr’s Shrine on Saturday made a remark with some measure of wonder and not little happiness, that has stayed in my mind till now.
The line was something like: “Whereas we’re accustomed to hearing developed countries issue travel advisories and security notices against countries on the African continent when we are engaged in national elections, Uganda is hosting the Pope!”
This Pope, meanwhile, must be a source of headaches for his security team in the way he operates, yet at the same time that should be a source of comfort for everybody.
At Kololo, for instance, I noticed the bullet proof side shields being removed after a lengthy discussion between the SFC and  Vatican security shortly before @Pontifex arrived – that wasn’t an oversight – it was deliberate.
I checked this morning and found that there is, indeed, an advisory on Uganda by the United States government but it is NOT a travel advisory – it is just a “Security Reminder”.
US Security Reminder over Elections
We have to pat ourselves on the back quite a lot for being so solid that we can achieve this – and applaud our security services a lot more than we pat our own backs.
While doing so, however, we also have to take up issue with some of the international media and set them right on this specific matter.
I don’t like joining in the chorus against the international media whenever they report wrongly about Africa and countries on this continent because I have a day job that would suffer greatly if I took away so much time to address this.
Media houses like Fox News are not worth responding to because their basic stance is anti-racial-harmony <—a new term I have coined in order to avoid accusing people of being racist.
We must acknowledge that on the continent we do create a lot of opportunity for the world to continue calling us violent, conflict-ridden and so on and so forth.
But we must always stress that this is NOT true of the entire continent and certainly not true of every single African on this soil.
Checking online for the approach the international media took to the issue of security gave me the results that I expected, but a couple of juxtapositions were really amusing.
Sky News reported, back in September, that the United States had thwarted a security threat to the Pope ahead of his visit there, and that: “The US Department of Homeland Security has said the visit will be a National Special Security Event – meaning the Secret Service will head the planning of security.”
Meanwhile, the @Pontifex US visit was that country’s “largest security operation in US history“, according to a former Deputy Director of the Secret Service.
The same Sky News, however, describes the Pope’s visit to the Central African Republic, “the most dangerous destination on his three-nation Africa tour”and talks about, “he was greeted by acting CAR president Catherine Samba-Panza under tight security, with roads leading to the airport bristling with troops and security forces.”
Which country in the world would the Pope visit WITHOUT security, and which President would receive him under ‘loose security’?
Plus, what is this nonsense of “the most dangerous” as if the other two countries are dangerous but just less so?
In the US, Sky News reported, “New York officials announced … a series of new security measures ahead of the visit, including airspace restrictions, screening checkpoints and a ban on balloons, selfie sticks and backpacks at papal events.” even though in Uganda we had a blast without any such restrictions.
Compare this:
Pope US Security
The United States
With this:

According to Reuters, “Protected by the heaviest security ever seen on his trips, Pope Francis on Sunday preached reconciliation in the divided Central African Republic, a nation racked by bloodshed between Muslims and Christians.” <—that last part is our fault, stupid fighting Africans!

But in the story, they say, “Central African Republic’s government is deploying around 500 police and gendarmes to secure the visit. More than 3,000 peacekeepers from the MINUSCA U.N. mission will also be deployed and French troops will be on alert as well.”

And there are only 900 French troops in that country, the same story says.

Now, in the United States leg of his tour a couple of months ago, “In New York, security screening will be just part of “layers and layers and layers of protection” the pope will receive during his visit, including a deployment of 6,000 extra police officers and specialized counterterrorism units, said John Miller, the NYPD’s top security official.”

So…what do YOU think about YOUR security, where you are?

about the one photograph i regret having missed at Namboole yesterday

THE one photograph from yesterday’s #NRMconference at Namboole that I wish I had taken was the first one of the day, right at the security checkpoint where I was waiting to get my laptop cleared.

The access at the start of the day where the President is involved is a somewhat uncertain affair that involves explaining oneself to many polite but firm soldiers whose commitment to the task they are assigned is such that you would rather watch somebody else put it to the test than volunteer for the caper.

I have had many years’ practice of standing patiently by the side till the soldiers in question have done their job, and Sunday morning gave me another thirty minutes of experience during which the photo opportunity presented itself:

A large fellow employed by Silk Events as a ‘Bouncer’ had squeezed through the Sentinel security checkpoint, inescapably rubbing his massive muscles along the inside of the thing as he went through, and walked quickly past the small-bodied, plain clothes soldier doing the checking in spite of the beeping sound that occurred as he had gone through.

“Gwe, allo!” the small-bodied, plain clothes soldier declared.

And the bouncer stopped, a little bit surprised.

I could tell that the large fellow was uncomfortable being taken through a process that he probably runs on a much less dangerous scale every weekend or every other day. He had this demeanour about him that I would expect from a doctor who finds himself being processed through a clinic in a foreign land where he fails to start up the conversation that says, “You know, I am actually a doctor myself…”

That conversation is useless because of the famous taunt, “Physician, heal thyself!” as well as the practicality of things when one is not feeling well.

The doctor could be an orthopaedic surgeon, for instance, but when he gets a toothache he would have to totally succumb to a dental technician without asking questions. Or he could be a professor of epidemiology but once he sprains his ankle he is as good as a cabbage farmer being asked to design a political campaign poster.

This was my bouncer pal, about the size of a cow, being stopped by a mere human being at a security check point.

He came to a halt quite quickly but then I saw him doing a mental calculation that took in the diminished (compared to himself) size of the plain clothes soldier who had said, “Gwe, allo!” and factored in the numerous other plain clothes and uniformed soldiers within walk-over-and-slap distance.

His mental mathematics clearly involved the fact that there were possibly many years of intense and specialised training in ways to maim or kill people identified as a threat or a danger, all compacted into the humbly sized body of this fellow.

The equation must have made sense because the only way anyone could say, “Gwe, allo!” to a person with muscles the size of a modest commercial building, was if they had some hidden element within them that could neutralise the strength and energy he could muster up in anger, irritation or at the call of duty.

Actually, judging from the speed with which he lowered his shoulders, turned his head down, and took a couple of steps back, I could tell that his calculation had replaced ‘slap’ with ‘mortally-destroy-beyond-possible-recognition’ – which made me realise that the fellow was actually a fairly wise man.

But that’s NOT when I would have taken the photograph.

He came back to the sentinel checkpoint and submitted himself to a pat-down that was not very efficient since the small-bodied, plain clothes soldier could not reach his neck. In fact, if the bouncer had somehow implanted bullets or a small landmine into that neck as thick as most people’s thighs, then we would be reading a very different flavour of news today.

The photograph I would have taken would have been the one after the hulk had finally completed his check and been cleared of most of the suspicion the small-bodied, plain clothes soldier harboured either by default or because of the beeping.

My missed photograph opportunity occurred as the traumatisingly-sculptured Silk Events giant cautiously bounced off into the stadium, and the small-bodied, plain clothes soldier turned quite deliberately and watched him carefully.

My missed photograph opportunity would have captured the small-bodied plain clothes chap thinking to himself the thought: “But if this guy had caused any trouble after I said, ‘Gwe, allo’… eh!”

I will regret for a long time, missing that photograph.

Pierre Nkurunziza: the man of ironies could learn something from Yoweri Museveni

Nkurunziza from

BURUNDI’S Pierre Nkurunziza is a man of ironies.
His political party is called the National Council for the Defense of Democracy, but he is right now caught in the headlights of accusations that his election to a third term of office is most undemocratic – even though Burundi’s Constitutional Court ruled that he was within his legal rights to stand for another term.
Before being appointed President he was even Minister for Good Governance in the transitional government there, but today his adherence to governance principles is being held questionable.
For a sports enthusiast who normally shows up on public kitted out in colourful track suits and who’s a common figure on public soccer pitches playing footie, it was weird last year to hear that Nkurunziza had banned jogging because of security risks associated to the exercise.
Indeed, after the announcement, opposition members from the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) were jailed for jogging, as their run had reportedly turned into a political demonstration.
And the chatter in Kampala when it was announced that the mediation over Nkurunziza’s third term deadlock would be run by Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, was that it most most ironic because of the number of terms Museveni himself has served as President.
For Museveni, though, Burundi presents more nostalgia than irony, and as he arrived in Bujumbura for the talks, he might have either felt a small twinge of it or triggered some in Burundians.
The nostalgia of the Barundi must lie in the number of Presidents they’ve received at Bujumbura airport since the mid-90s to mediate in political conflict there. Counting from the top, they’ve hosted Presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Nelson Mandela and Jacob Zuma of South Africa, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (all more than once).
Museveni’s own nostalgia, on the other hand, is not over the political battle he faced when he stood for the Presidency in 2006 and in 2011, as all indications are that he will be on the ballot paper again in Uganda come 2016.
Instead, it must be linked to the number of times he has been at the helm of mediations for peace in Burundi – which goes back about twenty years when, at the behest of Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Museveni got Burundi’s Sylvestre Ntibantunganya to reach a settlement with his opposition that settled tensions for a few weeks before it fell apart again.
In the years following that, Museveni featured starkly in the negotiations, pushing a hard line that eventually swept away the more radical players accused of genodical tendencies, and those labelled coup plotters.
Back then the Tanzanians took lead in managing the peace process mostly because they found themselves hosting heavy flows of refugees that had crossed the border, as well as funding a large deployment of Tanzanian military personnel to secure said borders so the violence didn’t follow the refugees.
Museveni, though, always at Nyerere’s side in the mediation continuously spoke of the need for Burundi to be settled in order for regional cooperation to become a reality, since Rwanda had been sorted out – cutting his teeth further as a regional leader.
The opportunity was the first in which African leaders took full charge of resolving a conflict on the continent, which also gave Museveni a further boost to his anti-imperial ideologies.
Since then, he has been central in conflict resolution in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Somalia and now, again, in Burundi.
This time round, though, the concerns Museveni faces are much greater in number and scope.
To start with, the reasons for the conflict in Burundi are too close to home – just months to national elections in Uganda, political upheaval over a tussle for the presidency is the last thing Museveni and many other Ugandans  would want to see, after all these years of relative calm.
The closest to civil upheaval Uganda has seen in the capital city came in 2011 after the national elections, when opposition politicians launched a volley of demonstrations veiled as attempts to “walk to work” because, they argued, economic conditions were so bad they couldn’t afford fuel. Ironically, like Nkurunziza, the protests threatened to make the economy worse by paralysing business in the city centre.
The government clamped down hard on the “walks”, deploying squads of anti-riot police with water cannons and tear gas canisters, while frequently jailing demonstration leaders. The message was clear – the sight of demonstrators on the streets was unwelcome, especially so soon after North Africa had hosted so many to the detriment of the countries themselves.
When Nkurunziza left Burundi in May for crisis talks in Tanzania demonstrations broke out on Bujumbura’s streets leading to the attempted coup or coup announcement.
The glee with which the opposition in Uganda received the news of his toppling was worrying enough for any sitting President to be concerned.
Allowing any opposition leaders or groups of youths to casually exhibit a sustained defiance to leadership would be highly problematic for Uganda, where the population of the youth is a sometimes scary 70%.
If Nkurunziza needed to be removed, it had to be through peaceful, regularised means otherwise there was a chance that the ghosts of the Arab Spring would return to wreak havoc.
Luckily, Nkurunziza returned and restored himself into the seat but shortly thereafter noises were made about Rwanda possibly being involved in the attempt to remove him.
Museveni was keen to put a stop to those noises as a priority, otherwise East African Cooperation would suffer.
Besides the political worries, Museveni is also keenly aware of the dominoes of instability caused by the combination of conflict and refugees from Burundi through Rwanda and Tanzania into Uganda, which even now probably hosts the largest number of refugees in East and Central Africa – close to 500,000 of them from every other country.
And, most importantly, Burundi is a good opportunity for Museveni to emphasize the importance of his philosophy that African countries must first settle security issues before tackling democracy and their economies – quite distinct from some views that democracy should always come first.
As he quipped about Somalia a few weeks ago: “If you say defence is not connected to agriculture, then I invite you to start a coffee farm in Somalia.”
Whereas Museveni’s mediation in Burundi was focussed on a political solution, the defence and security angle was so central that when he left Bujumbura his assigned placeholder was Uganda’s Defence Minister, Crispus Kiyonga.
Nkurunziza did not need a veiled message from Uganda about what would happen if war broke out afresh today. He knows first hand how adept Uganda is at deploying troops and holding ground more than two borders away from their own, as Burundi has run peacekeeping operations side by side with Uganda under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
The disputed election has taken place and the expected result has been achieved.
But what Nkurunziza now needs to learn from Museveni is how to hold his Presidential seat and his country together two terms away from the peace accord that first brought him into power, as the old man has managed quite comfortably these many years hence.
– a version of this article ran in the Sunday Independent of South Africa on July 26.