By John Semakula and Chris Ocowun
Opposition political parties have started forming youth squads to defend their interests during campaigns for the 2011 elections.
Three parties have confirmed that they have formed youth brigades to counter the Kiboko squad that is well known for dispersing opposition demonstrations, rallies and riots.The Kiboko Squad, commanded by one Juma Semakula, however, vows to crash the opposition youths if they dare cause trouble. The Police has also warned that they will arrest anyone who will disguise as a member of any of the brigades to cause violence during the elections.
The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) special campaign envoy, Reagan Okumu, told Saturday Vision that his party was setting up two brigades, of about 400 veterans and youth countrywide, to counteract the Kiboko Squad and other paramilitary groups.
Okumu said their youth brigade is in response to the famous Kiboko Squad, which he accuses of harassing the opposition in favour of the NRM. He vowed that if the Kiboko squad dares attack them, the FDC youth brigade will fight back.
The Government has always disassociated its self from the Kiboko Squad, which consists of dirty and ragtag men who wield canes during the city riots and beat up suspected rioters. The squad members say they are peace loving, ordinary citizens who will not sit by and watch, while the opposition members riot and disrupt business in the city.
Okumu said the brigades would also deal with soldiers and resident district commissioners (RDCs), who he accused of unlawfully interfering in elections.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The law does not allow civil servants, like the RDCs, and serving solders to participate in divisive politics. If they get involved in the 2011 elections, our brigades will stop them,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
Okumu added that the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Red brigadesÃ¢â‚¬Â will not beat up people like the Kiboko Squad does, unless they are provoked. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The members in the brigades will arrest those causing chaos on our rallies and hand them over to the Police. Only those who will resist will get punished,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“FDC is forming the brigades after seeing that the Police have failed to maintain law and order,Ã¢â‚¬Â Okumu said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“You have seen the kind of violence that has characterised the NRM party primaries. The FDC brigades will prevent such violence from creeping into the general elections.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Okumu said the FDC would not seek permission to form the brigades. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is our responsibility to ensure that law and order is maintained in this country.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Meanwhile, the Democratic Party (DP) said it would use the youth in the partyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s youth wing, the Uganda Young Democrats, to provide security during the election period. Kenneth Kakande, the partyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s deputy publicist, said that UYD youth have received training in dealing with violence during the campaigns.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Their work will be to arrest and handover those who cause violence to the Police,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kakande said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“But their operations will be peaceful because we are a peace-loving party.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Like DP, the Liberal Democratic Party of Hajji Nasser Ntege Ssebaggala, the Kampala mayor, is planning to use a youth brigade for security in the campaigns. Ssebaggala said the brigade was formed for self defence. If the brigade members are not provoked, he added, they would not cause any harm to anyone.
On receiving the news, Juma Ssemakula who commands KampalaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s infamous Kiboko Squad said his group would prepare for a fight if that is what it takes to control lawless youth who disturb business and loot property.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our might has been tested because we have quelled several riots. We shall fight, defeat and chase them out of the city,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ssemakula vowed.
He also denied that his group belongs to any political party. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are purely a group of concerned Ugandans who want peace in Kampala .Ã¢â‚¬Â
But the Police warned that they would arrest anyone who disguises as a member of any of the brigades to cause violence during the elections.
Asan Kasingye, the Assistant Inspector General of Police, said the Police do not need any extra help to keep law and order.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have not complained that we have failed to play our role. We have trained our personnel and equipped them with the necessary skills to deal with any kind of violence during the elections,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
Kasingye said instead of forming paramilitary groups, politicians should engage the Police before the campaigns begin to see how they can be helped.
The Kampala Metropolitan Police Commander, Andrew Sorowen, said the Police have always done their part. Ã¢â‚¬Å“HavenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t you seen us arresting trouble makers?Ã¢â‚¬Â he asked.
Sorowen said the Police have the potential to arrest those who cause violence and vowed to deal with those in the paramilitary groups if they cause any violence.
Such paramilitary groups plunged Kenya into chaos in the previous elections and hundreds of citizens died as a result.
Meanwhile, scholars have warned that the confrontation between members of the various brigades would lead to unnecessary bloodshed.
Tanga Odoi, a professor of history at Makerere University, said forming such groups was not necessary because the country is not a failed state.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Political parties should engage the Police to ensure that there is equality for security services provided during the campaigns than forming the groups. The Police should also disassociate its self from the Kiboko Squad.Ã¢â‚¬Â
TangaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s fears are not far fetched. In the aftermath of the December 2007 elections in Kenya, vigilante groups belonging to different parties killed more than 1,000 people and displaced over 200,000 more.
The violence took ethnic dimensions, initially targeting President Mwai KibakiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tribe, the Kikuyu. Later the Mungiki group made up of mostly Kikuyu youth, started killing other tribes. The resultant economic paralysis injured not only Kenyans, but also Ugandans. The violence disrupted the flow of imported goods to Uganda and caused direct losses.