When the army or police recruit for the forces, there are no specific calls for individuals to work or train as bodyguards.
Successful police recruits join training schools where they undergo three months of military training, followed by an additional six months of law courses, completing a comprehensive nine-month training program. Upon graduation, officers are assigned to various units within the Uganda Police Force. Those assigned to the Very Important Persons Protection Unit (VIPPU), a department under the Directorate of Counter Terrorism, undergo a three-month induction course before being deployed in the field.
However, interviews conducted with several bodyguards who spoke to The Observer on the condition of anonymity revealed that some officers bypass the induction course based on “orders from above,” but proceed to offer bodyguard services to principals of their choice.
The assassination of former minister of State for Labour, Charles Okello Engola, at his residence in Kyanja on May 2, 2023, shined a bright light on the recruitment, training, deployment, and remuneration of bodyguards assigned to Very Important Persons (VIPs).
As the country was still coming to terms with Engola’s death, incidents of gun violence escalated. Vlogger Ibrahim Tusuubira, also known as Jajja Ichuli, was fatally shot just a few meters from his home in Kyanja. On May 12, Police Constable Ivan Wabwire entered Raja Chambers along Parliament avenue and killed an Indian moneylender, Uttam Bhandari. Investigations into all three cases are still ongoing.
The state of security and gun violence has become a national topic of discussion, with bodyguards at the forefront. It is worth noting that in June 2006, former Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Naki- bus Lakara narrowly escaped death when his intoxicated military driver went on a shooting spree that began at his residence in Mutungo village and ended in Mbuya zone village, both suburbs of Kampala.
While fleeing the scene, Corporal Charles Tamale killed Lakara’s escort and three other people, including two policemen. Three police officers from the Mobile Police Patrol Unit, who attempted to arrest Tamale, were also seriously injured in the process. The patrol team was responding to a distress call from Lakara when they encountered the violent driver.
The shooting of Engola evoked mixed reactions. In Uganda, VIPs are guarded by officers from various security departments, including UPDF soldiers, police officers, and intelligence officers. Some VIPs employ private security services. Bodyguards interviewed for this story strongly condemned the brutal way Engola lost his life, while highlighting significant concerns about their working conditions.
One bodyguard, who has worked as a VIP bodyguard for over five years, stated that on the fateful day, their principal called for an urgent security meeting.
“Our boss appeared frightened and politely requested that, in case of any dire circumstances, we should refrain from resorting to extreme measures such as taking their lives. We shared similar challenges that led Pte Wilson Sabiti to end his own life after killing the minister, but the meeting failed to address our concerns effectively. We saw images of bodyguards being taken to KFC and hotels on social media, which only deepened our dissatisfaction because it seemed that our bosses had become accustomed to the situation, as if nothing had happened,” the bodyguard said.
He added, “If bodyguards are well facilitated, you won’t encounter any problems with them. You could even bark or spit at them, and they wouldn’t care if their salaries and allowances are paid promptly. Some bodyguards didn’t choose to enter the forces; rather, they are the breadwinners in their households with numerous dependants.”
A driver for a member of parliament stated that his boss remained unaffected by whatever occurred. “It’s not that I intend to harm him, but I expected him to behave better. When he’s not in the car, I’m driving his family. It’s lunchtime, and he finds me in the parking lot. He doesn’t care whether I have had lunch or not. I still must drive him upcountry on an empty stomach!”
On the other hand, another police bodyguard mentioned that the shooting served as an eye-opener for VIPs to respect the officers who sacrifice their lives to ensure their safety amidst poor working conditions.
“In our WhatsApp groups, some colleagues said that more incidents like Engola’s should happen so that our bosses start taking our welfare seriously and even consider Sabiiti as a hero. However, our superiors in the groups condemned the act and assured us that if we face any difficulties, we can always report them,” the police bodyguard said.
The guard added that since the incident, there has been a slight improvement in his boss’s behavior. He occasionally provides random cash, spouses show more respect, and they offer fruit to the contingent. However, he emphasized that this doesn’t negate the fact that some guards still go hungry every day while their bosses enjoy expensive meals in their presence.
A Counter Terrorism officer, whose boss is a female minister, mentioned that the incident led to a significant improvement in her behavior.
“I used to carry her bags and files and run errands on her behalf. She never inquired about my family or whether I had been served lunch. Now, she leaves me money for a meal or two. She can now carry her handbag, and I can fulfill the true meaning of being a bodyguard.”
The various bodyguards interviewed, agreed that this work is a demanding duty that only a few can handle, and it is not as glamorous as many people might think. According to the bodyguards, there is a concerning trend of principals disrespecting their work without any consequences from their commanders.
In principle, bodyguards are required to submit monthly reports to their commanding officers regarding their principals. However, despite the numerous complaints and reports about principals, it seems that the commanders’ hands are tied.
“For bodyguards working with VIP politicians, the situation is tough. We don’t know if our bosses also fear being questioned for their actions; they label any inquiries as anti-government or opposition. Instead, we suffer and die silently or end up more traumatized, just like the late Sabiiti,” a bodyguard said.
During a pass-out ceremony for counterterrorism and scene of crime officers at Olilim training school last year, the now-retired former police director of operations, Edward Ochom, threatened to withdraw police escorts and bodyguard services from abusive principals. Ochom was concerned that many officers deployed to guard and escort VIPs had been subjected to violent abuse by their principals, who sometimes assigned them duties that were not prescribed by law.
“We cannot train and equip you to this extent only to have a principal who tells you to milk their cows; that is not part of your duty. Carrying handbags is also not part of your duty because a person responsible for protection should always be free,” Ochom stated.
Former political commissar and Assistant Inspector General of Police Asan Kasingye expressed similar frustrations in one of his tweets in 2020. He shared an incident where he witnessed a VIP escort carrying a mug of tea in front of the VIP at an International Women’s day event in Mbale. He found it embarrassing, emphasizing that police escorts were provided for the VIP’s security, not the security of their tea. He questioned what the escort would do if an attack occurred when their hands were full of bags and tea.
A bodyguard revealed that some principals, particularly women, intentionally act “funny and stubborn.”
They would get out of the vehicle and leave their bags inside. For those who brought their bags out, they would hand them to the bodyguards as if organizing their belongings but then refuse to hold the bags again. This created a dilemma for the bodyguards, as they were unsure whether to leave the bags on the ground or create a scene for everyone to see.
Another bodyguard, who was covering for a sick colleague, was asked by the principal to wash their cars and maintain the compound. The bodyguard declined, leading to a severe fallout between them. He mentioned that the most disheartening thing was that their freedom of speech was also restricted, as anyone who voiced concerns could be accused of inciting mutiny.
In his six-year career as a bodyguard, an officer described the most humiliating incident he experienced when his principal belittled him in front of a toddler.
“I was standing in the compound when my boss’ child refused to go to school. Instead, my boss told the child that if he didn’t want to study, he would end up like that dog. When I looked around, there was no dog. The child insisted on asking for the dog, but the father [principal] pointed at me and emphasized that the child would be like that dog with a gun.”
Adding to the challenges, another bodyguard was dragged into resolving a domestic issue at the risk of being withdrawn by his commanders. However, he declined and was subsequently reshuffled based on false accusations.
“On that day, my principal was female, and she started a quarrel with her husband, which escalated into a fight. Yes, principals have fights in their homes, and domestic violence is a real issue. My boss wanted me to enter the house and intervene, but this went against our code of conduct,” the bodyguard said.
Some wives of male VVIPs also forcefully use bodyguards to spy on their principals. One bodyguard was offered a monthly sum of Shs 700,000 to spy on his boss for any extramarital affairs. He failed in his spying duties and requested a transfer before the matter escalated to his commanders.
During election campaigns, some principals task bodyguards with roles such as operating as campaign managers, distributing money among voters, engaging in ballot stuffing, and even arresting opponents. Additionally, some VVIPs are accused of confiscating fuel cards meant for personal and security vehicles.
“If this isn’t greed, then it’s something else. In case you run out of fuel during a journey, you must stop and call the boss [VVIPs]. They never let go of the fuel cash either,” one of the bodyguards from the patrol crews commented.
Furthermore, the bodyguards also highlighted cases of indiscipline among their colleagues, including drunkenness, involvement with the children of their principals, and gossiping about the principals. Such actions often result in unexpected reshuffles.
Every bodyguard receives their regular salaries from the army or police based on their rank. However, when they are deployed, they are entitled to allowances that are supposed to be paid by the ministries or agencies for whom they provide guard services. Bodyguards have confirmed that there are numerous cases of unpaid allowances and arrears that have been forfeited by the ministries.
“I have been owed allowance arrears for three months now, but there are colleagues who have arrears amounting to three or four million shillings. Whenever a bodyguard spends the night away from home, they are entitled to an allowance. Although there are no written records to prove these journeys, the principal’s assistants are supposed to request the travel allowance since they know who accompanies their boss. However, sometimes that money doesn’t come through, or you receive only half the payment. You may make ten journeys but only get paid for two,” the bodyguard explained.
These allowances, known as per diem, are given based on one’s rank or salary scale. For example, the lowest-paid bodyguard, a Police Constable, receives Shs 70,000 when they sleep outside their homes or barracks while on duty with the principal. Non-commissioned officers like corporals and sergeants receive Shs 90,000 for the same. This money is intended to cover the bodyguards’ food and accommodation expenses.
“This money needs to be increased because there are times when you accompany a principal to an upcountry location where the cheapest accommodation costs Shs 40,000. Yet, you have received only Shs 70,000 or sometimes none, and you still need to support your family,” the bodyguard added.
For those who don’t sleep away from home, they receive monthly allowances, but the amounts vary depending on the ministry or government agency. The bodyguards mentioned that the best-paying government entities for monthly stipends include Parliament, Bank of Uganda, Uganda Communications Commission, Uganda National Roads Authority, Uganda Revenue Authority, the ministry of Finance, oil and gas sector companies, and wealthy private individuals.
The least-paying entities are embassies and high commissions, as well as police commanders and headquarters. There is also a group of guards who are unaware of the amount they are supposed to receive in allowances.
“While guarding a minister, she would occasionally give us some money like Shs 50,000 each, but I don’t know if it came from her own pocket or the ministry. If my police salary is Shs 450,000 per month, the Exodus (police SACCO) deducts Shs 30,000 as a monthly contribution. With nearly 90 percent of junior officers servicing loans, you may end up with just Shs 200,000 per month,” one guard explained.
The guards urged the relevant ministries to refrain from depositing their allowances into the accounts of principals or their assistants.
“When this money is deposited, these people go silent, and as a bodyguard, it becomes difficult to demand money from your principal. We have personal accounts, and the money should be sent directly to us,” the guard said.
A FRUSTRATION TACTIC
He further added, “There’s also a tendency for principal accountants in ministries to use the excuse that the government does not pay arrears for allowances once a new financial year begins. This tactic is used to frustrate bodyguards, and it has never been resolved. In the last financial year, I lost around Shs 5.2 million in accumulated allowance arrears.”
To improve their working conditions, the bodyguards encouraged their deploying commanders to meet with the principals and discuss the expectations and guidelines of their service. It was observed that some commanders randomly assign guards to people based solely on introduction letters, which leads principals to believe that they cannot be held accountable for their actions.
They also reported that some bodyguards are not adequately trained for VVIP work, while others bribe their commanders to secure deployments.
“Our bosses should stop deploying people via phone calls. Some VVIPs make calls ordering specific people, often relatives, as bodyguards, and this is detrimental to the VVIP unit. These individuals are usually undisciplined and negligent because they know they have backing, and no one will withdraw them. They also don’t listen to their commanders.”
Security and mental health experts have shared their perspectives on the recent incidents involving bodyguards in Uganda. Dr. Solomon Muchwa Asiimwe, a security expert and professor at Nkumba University, maintains that the security situation is not yet out of control but faces challenges due to structural and institutional complacency in the country.
He highlights the need for improved training and management for bodyguards, emphasizing that the current training is inadequate for VVIP or VIP protection. He calls for specialized training, regular assessments, and profiling of personnel for VIP work.
Regarding secluded killings, such as the case of vlogger Tusubira, Asiimwe urges security managers to revisit proven systems of people-led security provision and promote community collaboration. He emphasizes the importance of community policing, intelligence networking, and neighborhood watch structures.
He believes that relying solely on security cameras and weapons without strengthening foundation security, which involves active community participation, will not effectively address the issue of killings in the country. Asiimwe also suggests that security officers should alter their behavior while carrying out their duties to differentiate themselves from criminal groups, as their current approach contributes to insecurity.
Dr Loyce Kobusingye, a psychologist from Makerere University School of Psychology, highlights the deep-rooted frustrations experienced by guards who resort to violence against their principals. These frustrations are exacerbated by economic challenges, unfulfilled aspirations resulting from rural-urban migration, and a general sense of blame directed towards external factors for their suffering.
Kobusingye asserts that many Ugandans are angry without fully understanding the reasons behind their anger. She emphasizes the need for the government to address economic disparities and harmonize the remuneration system across all sectors to provide people with a sense of fair compensation.
Explaining why armed guards turn to violence, Kobusingye points out that individuals resort to weapons when they have access to them, driven by a mistaken belief that killing someone will solve their problems. She suggests that emotional intelligence tests should be conducted before arming individuals, and periodic refresher evaluations should be conducted to identify potential mental health issues.
This approach would minimize instances where mentally ill officers harm others under the pretext of carrying out their duties. Bodyguards admit that their mental health is rarely assessed before deployment, with assessments typically occurring during refresher courses.
Some colleagues who report mental issues receive treatment at Butabika hospital but are subsequently reintegrated into the forces without further in-house checkups. Despite their working conditions being unlikely to improve soon, bodyguards stress the need for proper facilitation, as being patriotic and obedient alone is insufficient.
Attempts to obtain comments from police spokesman Fred Enanga were unsuccessful, as he declined to provide a response. Similarly, Col Deo Akiiki, the UPDF deputy spokesperson, refused to disclose the criteria for deploying bodyguards, citing concerns about exposing the individuals they guard to security threats.
He states that there are well-structured reporting procedures within the UPDF to address any disagreements, with immediate action taken based on the rank of the officer. Akiiki clarifies that guarding people is not simply a job but a part of the UPDF’s security responsibilities, and the salaries of bodyguards are paid by the UPDF, not the individuals they protect.
Source: The Observer