Why Do Regimes Love to Torture?

Police on guard outside Nalufenya detention facility

Governments and times change in Uganda, but the one thing all of them have had in common is the appalling reliance on primitive torture of suspects. You can trace this in varying forms from British colonial rule to the NRM regime today. Why is this so?

First, to the distressing case of Kamwenge Town Council and area NRM chairman Geoffrey Byamukama that was reported in Daily Monitor.

Byamukama, who was visiting Kampala, was seized on what has turned out to be a cock and bull story about having links to the March assassination of former police spokesman Andrew Felix Kaweesi.

So many people have been held in connection with the Kaweesi murder, it is likely to turn out to be the biggest conspiracy in Uganda, even bigger than any of the country’s past coups. Already right there, one begins to see the possibility that some chiefs up there just don’t know what they are doing.

Anyway, Byamukama and others were driven to what the Daily Monitor described as the “dreaded Nalufenya detention facility in the eastern Jinja District”, the NRM government security’s latest torture dungeons of choice. When he eventually emerged there, he was in a horrifying state. He was not the first, and won’t be the last. Many people who go to Nalufenya and don’t emerge from there a whole one piece.

The choice of Nalufenya is not accidental.

It is out of Kampala where most of the media, the international community, lawyers, human rights activists, and other prying eyes, are based. Most people who are arrested in Uganda are also more likely to have family and relatives in Kampala, as the capital, than in Jinja or other towns.

This practice of transporting suspects across the country over long distances from the place where they were arrested started in the colonial period, and in the Museveni years, it has become an elaborate exercise.

And so back to that question of why from Obote governments, Idi Amin, and the Okello generals, to Museveni’s rule, torture has continued to deface this fair land.

The first reason is the normalisation of relative morality in our politics.

For example, after Obote and UPC returned to power after the disputed 1980 election, with the rebellion of the NRA/NRM, UFM, Fedemo raging in the south, the gruesome torture of the Amin years just continued.

But because the UPC government had been elected, however controversially, and there was an opposition in Parliament, the Obote government felt it was far better than Amin’s, and its atrocities were, therefore, “better”.

And thus, in a remarkable case, on one of the occasions that Obote came to Parliament, he took on the opposition DP’s accusations that the “UPC government was as murderous as Amin’s.”
It wasn’t, Obote argued.

There is Parliament, he said, that didn’t exist during Amin’s time, and in a bizarre pushback, said that under his government, the relatives of people who are arrested and die in detention are able to get their bodies and give them a dignified funeral. In Amin’s time, he said, people just disappeared! It’s like someone saying you should thank them for killing your loved one quickly with a single bullet to the head, rather than bludgeoning him to death for an hour.

Same today. Savagely tortured people are produced in court, and the security men don’t think their wounds should be shown. They should be somehow grateful that they got their day in court. The Obote II and NRM mindsets are pretty much the same in this regard.

So why does this national disgrace continue? That is where it gets even more troubling. It seems there is a part of this that governments want the public to see, because somehow they believe it has a deterrent value.

The fear of facing so much pain will discourage a government opponent from taking to the street; instill the fear in the hearts of a prospective plotter; or get the population to accept the “lesser” abuses by the State (e.g. arbitrary arrest, or tear gas) as a “fair” settlement. One could ask why the government needs this at all.

Well, because, like the colonialists, Amin, and Obote, the government is facing a legitimacy deficit.

For a plot to kill a senior police officer to succeed, you need an environment where it can be hatched and carried out successfully without a government-loving citizen or co-conspirator having a change of heart and rushing to leak it to security authorities or the LC1 chair. If you asked me, it was very difficult for such plots to take place in the Kampala of the 1990s. Today, from the rampant insecurity and heavy-handedness of the security forces, they are par for the course.

This will get worse before it gets better – if at all.

Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africadata visualiser Africapedia.com and explainer site Roguechiefs.com.

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Source: The Citizen

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