500 Ugandans shot dead in three years

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As the country mourns the gruesome killing of Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIGP) Andrew Felix Kaweesi, his drivers and bodyguard, latest shooting statistics reveal what Internal Affairs minister has called “a dangerous trend”, with nearly 500 people shot dead in the last three years.

The data released by Gen Jeje Odongo during an awareness workshop on the proposed Small Arms and Light Weapons Control Bill in Entebbe on Friday indicate that 503 people were killed between 2014 and 2016, while another 1,477 survived with serious gunshot wounds. The killings were as a result of shooting involving legal and illegal guns in circulation.

Shot dead
Gen Odongo told MPs on Defence and Internal Affairs Committee, who are currently scrutinising the Bill and other invited stakeholders, that in 2014, at least 181 people were shot dead, and another 151 people killed in 2015, while more 171 people were again shot dead last year. He called the development “a dangerous trend that should be addressed.”

“According to the Uganda Police crime statistics, homicide cases, through use of firearms, have been registered in various parts of the country, with statistics showing a dangerous trend that should be addressed,” Gen Odongo said.

Quoting statistics from the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), Gen Odongo said there are an estimated 875 million illicit arms in circulation at the global level and about 740,000 people killed by perpetrators using the illicit arms annually.

Illegal guns not known
For Uganda, the minister admitted that the government lacks the data to estimate accurately the number of illegally held guns that have been used in illegal operations. He said only 6,000 of the civilian-owned guns are registered in the country, while more 16,783 guns are held by private security organisations.

There are security concerns that as a result of the country’s porous borders and widespread corruption, criminals at times smuggle illegal guns into the country, particularly from the volatile neighbouring countries such as the DR Congo and South Sudan.

When contacted yesterday, police spokesperson Asan Kasingye admitted there is a problem, saying: “Illegal guns are linked to transnational and cross-border crimes. The law alone is not the solution to the problem. You can have beautiful laws but they will not deter gun violence in the country. We must focus on community policing and ensure that we stabilise the region to stop the proliferation of illegal firearms in the region.”

He added: “Some of the people who are carrying guns are indisciplined and they are giving guns to wrong elements. This must be sorted out and we are going to deal with this problem….You go to bars, discos, massage parlours in town and churches and all sorts of places and you see security guards collecting guns. Others are simply showing off with pistols yet these guns are given for specific purposes; particularly when one is under threat but not for show off”.

Ms Almaz Gebru, the UNDP country director, said dealing with the widespread availability of SALW has become a priority for many states such as Uganda, which has been severely affected by SALW with some regions like Karamoja sitting in what she termed as the “Gun Corridor”.

Although the government and the MPs led by their chairperson, Ms Judith Nabakooba (NRM, Mityana Woman) have insisted that the consideration of the Small Arms and Light Weapons Control Bill was not motivated by the killing of AIGP Kaweesi and two police officers but a coincidence, the object of the Bill is to stop what Opposition leaders have called, “unexplained gun deaths” in the country. In the proposed law, the government has set out to repeal the 1970 Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) Control law and introduce a new law that spells out harsh penalties for people misusing firearms.

“The current legal regime on small arms and light weapons control is largely ineffective and does not conform to the required legal framework…..We need urgent and serious interventions to control the abuse of firearms, including strengthening legal and institutional mechanisms for the management and control of SALW,” Gen Odongo said.

The minister also explained that although the proposed amendments seek to repeal the present Firearms Act 1970 Cap. 299, many good provisions of the parent law on the control of firearms have been considered in the proposed legislation and even strengthened or harmonised with other recommendations. The minister didn’t disclose the details.

The UPDF representative in the 10th Parliament, Col Felix Kulayigye, however, blamed the smuggling of illegal guns into the country on the conflicts in the neighbouring states and sought to absolve the security agencies of any wrongdoing even as some shooting incidents involved the men and women in uniforms.

The process of reviewing and developing legislation on SALW control started in 2003. At the time, the National Security Council mandated the Ministry of Internal Affairs, to develop and make proposals for review of legislation on small arms and light weapons in line with the recommendations of the national mapping exercise on SALW and the Nairobi Protocol Best Practice Guidelines on harmonisation and review of legislation in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa.

Mr Anthony Nakhaima, the head of the legal drafting team, said the proposed law seeks to enable proper control, regulation and management of SALW, establish management structures, provide for a centralised registration and licensing of small arms. The Bill also seeks to regulate the manufacture, transfer, transit, export and import of SALW and ammunitions, and also takes care of the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which entered into force on December 24 2014.

When passed, the law will, among other things, require one to have a licence to transit a gun, register the guns as is required by international standards, allow brokering of guns between the manufacturer to the buyer, placing of a committee in place to oversee gun regulations, people to first get licence, trained and examined to ensure they are fit to hold firearm, blocking anyone with a history of domestic violence to get a gun licence, destroying of unlabelled guns, and co-ownership of a gun between partners, which were not the case in the 1970 Act.

In a related development, the senior presidential advisor on Special Operations, Maj Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, has regretted the recent killings that left the country in shock, and echoed his father’s call for installation of CCTV cameras in major towns. He asked security forces to be on top of the situation in the fight against criminal like they did in the fight against Joseph Kony, ADF and the al-Shabaab.

Gen Muhoozi, also the former commander of the Special Forces Command that guards the President and key installations in the country, was speaking to the press on the sidelines of the function for donation of mattresses to the army health facility at the 2nd Division Headquarters in Mbarara on Thursday.

On the President’s directive on CCTV camera, Gen Muhoozi said: “Most big cities in the world have CCTV cameras and they help in fighting crime. If we acquire them, it would be another asset for fighting against crime and criminal behaviour.’’ Before he spoke to hospital staff and army officers, Gen Muhoozi asked the congregation to stand and observe a moment of silence in honour of AIGP Felix Kaweesi, who was shot dead in Kampala on March 17.

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