In the aftermath of the tragic murder of Joan Kagezi, a senior state lawyer who was handling rather high-profile cases, Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura beseeched the Judiciary to support moves to scrap bail for certain categories of suspects.
This wasn’t entirely surprising. Gen Kayihura and his boss have repeatedly called for powers to keep suspects in custody for a year, or longer, ostensibly to keep them from interfering in investigations.
What was surprising was that no suspect had been arrested at the time to justify the request which, it must be pointed out, was quickly shot down by new Chief Justice Bart Katureebe.
Only a fool, however, would dismiss KK’s request out-of-hand without pausing to ponder why a man so smart could propose something so unthinkable.
There are many ways to think about it but let’s consider only two at this point. The first, which I have heard repeated often, is that the police, under Gen Kayihura, has become very politicised and militarised. In the process, the old-school investigative and evidence-gathering skills developed over time have been lost or undermined.
Thus you have a Police Force that has more officers, a bigger budget and more equipment, all thanks to the successful lobbying of its chief, but which appears less capable of solving crimes.
To deliver some kind of results, therefore, such a Force is more likely to resort to more political work, such as arresting protestors, or to populist sloganeering or propaganda long after the crime.
Those who hold this view point out that while some criminals indeed game the system and return to the streets soon after they are arrested, the bigger problem is that suspects are not arrested in the first place. Investigations are yet to tell us who set Kasubi Tombs and all those schools on fire, who shot unarmed civilians in the Kayunga riots and so on.
Obviously, denying suspects bail can’t pass muster if you haven’t arrested the said suspects, neither should it be an excuse to arrest first, then investigate later – an easy way to go after regime opponents, Easter pilgrims with suspiciously long beards, and wise-acre newspaper columnists.
The second way to look at this bizarre request is to give Gen Kayihura the benefit of the doubt and correct his flawed idea.
The underlying assumption behind the no-bail, yes-jail idea is that prison is a safe place to keep people, because they are unlikely to make trouble, hold demos, or commit crimes.
Maybe the solution is to throw all of us good people behind the safe confines of jail, and allow the police unfettered territory to hunt down the fugitives from justice that will be left hiding in the deserted towns and villages.
In the luxurious lake side resort of Luzira, we shall not have to worry about al-Shabaab terrorists setting off bombs or jump up in fright every time a boda boda rider pulls up next to us in the traffic.
Of course, a few bad apples might sneak in with us and join us in jail and try to, say, pinch the provisions our criminal relatives bring us from the lawless world outside. Anyone suspected will be thrown out of prison, to mingle with the undesirables.
Those left on the wild side outside, including most government officials, many lawyers, the police and many soldiers, etc., will have to constantly prove their guilt.
Anyone suspected of being innocent will be sent to Luzira, until they can successfully commit a crime there.
It’s all a bit harebrained, I know, but since our officials are trying to be ludicrous, I think we should at least meet them halfway by being ridiculous.
Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Kalinaki