Uganda: 10 things about Kale Kayihura, Museveni’s (once) trusted general

By Musinguzi Blanshe

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Posted on August 7, 2023 08:58

 © File photo of Uganda’s former police chief Kale Kayihura in  military court in 2018. ( Isaac Kasamani/AFP)
File photo of Uganda’s former police chief Kale Kayihura in military court in 2018. ( Isaac Kasamani/AFP)

Who is Uganda’s Kale Kayihura? What have been the twists and turns of his life? A look at his life, from ambition to the abyss, and back.

Kale Kayihura, 67, a four-star general, wielded a lot of influence in Uganda’s power structure but later fell out with President Yoweri Museveni. Sacked from the police chief portfolio, he spent time in jail.

Sacked in March 2018, retirement is tacit approval that Museveni has forgiven Kayihura of several charges he had been facing in a military court, though there hasn’t been an official announcement about the end of his litigation.

Army officers are not retired with pending disciplinary cases. Gen. Kale Kayihura continues to lobby through Museveni’s son Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba for the official end of the legal case, sources say. Muhoozi has publicly expressed support for Kayihura.

Kayihura was rarely seen in public during the years of his tribulations. However, in April, he met Muhoozi in Kabale district which borders Rwanda where the politically active general held several activities to celebrate the reopening of the Uganda-Rwanda border.

But Kayihura is not down-and-out; his experience at bouncing back could serve him in the future.

1. Longest serving police chief

Kayihura is Uganda’s longest-serving inspector general of police, serving from 2005 to 2018. During his tenure:

  • The police budget increased from around UGSh50bn ($13.8m) to UGSh650bn
  • Police personnel increased from 14,000 to 43,000
  • Built new police headquarters and learning institutions
  • Established police uniform factory
  • Extended police presence from urban areas to the countryside, with thousands of police posts established in rural communities

There was an extended police presence in northern Uganda, especially in areas that were recovering from the devastation of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). However, this was viewed as a defective model of policing and as a consequence, police started closing hundreds of police posts quickly.

2. Informalising promotions

With the influence he wielded, many of his decisions were not questioned and turned out to be disastrous. Despite overseeing the biggest number of promotions in Uganda police history, the criteria for who got promoted, when, and how left many unanswered questions. In 2016, the government ombudsman launched an investigation into police promotions after receiving complaints about how Kayihura was rapidly promoting his friends who skipped the ranks.

The consequence of the 2016 probe was a halt of police promotions for five years. Despite promoting more than 15,000 police officers during the past two years, Inspector General of Police Martin Ochola recently explained that the freeze created a backlog “with dire consequences…this phase [in which 9,000 officers were promoted] has the highest number of promoted officers in the history of Uganda Police Force, but still, there are many other deserving officers pending.”

3. Relationship with criminal gangs

During Kayihura’s tenure as police chief, police worked closely with or created a number of informal criminal groups which were used on several occasions to beat protesting opposition politicians in Kampala. Prominent among them were kiboko squad and boda-boda 2010. When Kayihura was arrested, one of the charges he faced was allowing authorised access and use of guns by some members of these groups such as boda-boda 2010.

Kayihura was also the brain behind another group called Crime Preventers, a volunteer force of civilians recruited and managed by police to report on and prevent crime in communities. However, it turned out to be more political than a crime prevention group. Human Rights Watch and other rights organisations which called for its suspension ahead of the 2016 presidential elections noted that “crime preventers are strongly affiliated with the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. Its members have acted in partisan ways and carried out brutal assaults and extortion with no accountability.”

4. 76 days in military prison

Two months after his sacking, he was arrested and detained in military police jail. Not for one, two, or three days, but a total of 76 days without trial. During his jail time, various petitions were filed in court demanding his release. It was an abuse of his rights as the constitution of Uganda stipulated that suspects aren’t supposed to be detained for more than 48 hours without being charged in court. The irony was that during his time as police chief, he was urging the government to extend the 48-hour cap for certain criminal offences to  90 days.

5. Connection to Rwanda

Kayihura was sacked at the time of rising tension between Kampala and Kigali. Some of his close associates in the police were also arrested. Though charged differently, one case common on their charge sheet was aiding the kidnap and illegal repatriation of Rwandan exiles, refugees, and Ugandan citizens to Rwanda. A prominent case was that of former Rwandan presidential guard Lt Joel Mutabaazi who was deported in 2013 and later sentenced to life imprisonment.

6. Sanctioned by America

The US treasury department sanctioned Kayihura in 2019 for having “engaged in serious human rights abuse” and corruption during his time as police chief. The sanctions included visa restrictions and blocking properties he owns or had interests in within America.

7. Bribing politicians

Not just a soldier dealing in military or policing affairs, Kayihura also understood the art of politicking. A key method of his politicking was bribing politicians, from dissuading Uganda student leaders in universities from participating in strikes to recruiting them into the ruling party. He allegedly bribed senior politicians as well.

There have always been talks of prominent politicians in Uganda who were a permanent feature on Kayihura’s list of those who used to receive “fuel allowance”. When it sanctioned him, the US government noted: “Kayihura has engaged in numerous acts of corruption, including using bribery to strengthen his political position within the government of Uganda.”

8. Savvy online propagandist

Beyond reportedly bribing politicians, Kayihura is considered a savvy propagandist. He ran an online propaganda campaign during the 2016 presidential election. Kayihura is said to have hired university students during the electioneering season who were attacking opposition politicians as they promoted the ruling party message.

9. Museveni’s bush war comrade

Kayihura is among the coterie of soldiers who fought with Museveni in the bush war that brought the current regime to power.

He joined the National Resistance Army (NRA), Museveni’s rebel movement in 1982 which was just a year old, after graduating from the London School of Economics with a master’s in Law.

10. What lies ahead for Kayihura

In March 2022, he enrolled as an advocate of the high court, readying himself to practice law in the evening of his life. He registered a law firm, Kale Kayihura Associates and Consultants. He could also be looking for an appointment in government through Muhoozi or his constituents who are already calling upon Museveni to reward him with a ministerial position.

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