KABALE, UGANDA — Dickson Bakwesi was in agony after his son was shot and killed by a police officer in October.
The police officer’s target was someone else, but Bakwesi’s 14-year-old son, who was passing by on the road, was hit instead. That officer was later found guilty of murder.
But Bakwesi’s agony was tempered because the police cared well for him and his family, he says.
“The police bought the coffin, took my son’s body for postmortem and transported it here for burial,” he says. “They also gave us 3 million shillings as a condolence fee.”
That’s about $825.
Uganda’s police force has consistently been reported as the most corrupt of all of the country’s government agencies. Complaints about human rights abuses and corruption among police officers are common throughout the country.
But in the remote district of Kabale in southwestern Uganda, where Bakwesi lives in a town of the same name, there are fewer complaints of corruption and human rights abuses than anywhere else in the country, according to government data.
A recent report by the Uganda Police Force’s Professional Standards Unit found that there were 469 reported cases of human rights violations by police in the Kampala area in a six-month period, but very few in Kabale during the same stretch of time, police officials say. The report has not been published publicly, but police officials verbally released the data in an October press conference. They did not state a specific number of human rights violations in the Kabale area.
Dennis Namuwoza, regional police commander for the Kigezi region, which includes Kabale district, says police officers there all attend human rights and ethics trainings. They also convene internal sessions throughout the region to discuss issues that arise in their work, he says.
Community dialogues, known locally as “barazas,” are often held between police and citizens, Namuwoza says.
“We carry out barazas among police officers themselves on challenges they face, how to overcome them and how to conduct themselves professionally,” Namuwoza says.
But human rights advocates say the low levels of reported corruption in Kabale are likely an indicator that people don’t necessarily recognize corruption when they see it, or don’t report it even if they’re aware of it.
Robert Kakuru Byamugisha, executive director of Kick Corruption Out of Uganda, an organization based in the region, notes that it’s the police themselves who track complaints related to human rights.
“They ignore human rights reports,” he says. “There is poor tracking of cases.”
People in Kampala, Uganda’s capital and the place where corruption is reportedly highest, are more aware of corruption when they see it, says Cissy Kagaba, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, based in Kampala.
Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ Uganda
There might also be more opportunities to engage in corruption in Kampala or other large cities, she says, but that doesn’t mean that corruption doesn’t exist in rural areas.
Even at reported levels, corruption in Uganda is high, according to Transparency International, a global watchdog agency. Globally, it ranks 151 out of 176 countries. The East African countries ranking below Uganda are Somalia, Eritrea, Comoros and Burundi, according to that agency’s reports.
Even the Ugandan government has published data showing that there are concerns about police corruption. Most Ugandans believe the Uganda Police to be by far the most corrupt government agency, according the Federal Bureau of Statistics’ 2015 service report. That report is the most recent available.
But in Kabale, many people don’t see a problem.
Nicholas Christmas, a Kabale resident, says he’s seen police officers hold one another accountable, but he also acknowledges that he has personally seen corruption occur.
When Christmas lost his national identity card and went to get a replacement, an officer asked him for 5,000 shillings ($1.38) – a bribe — to secure the formal letter needed to get a new card, he says.
Christmas paid the officer and submitted the letter to another police official, who asked him whether he’d had to pay any bribes in the process.
“I said ‘No,’” Christmas says.
Christmas says he didn’t want anyone to get into trouble.
Apophia Agiresaasi, GPJ, translated interviews from Rukiga.