KAMPALA – On the morning of Saturday August 21st, I was driving to Fort Portal but got a puncture 20km before Mityana. While trying to fix my car by the roadside, a friend called me. Andrew, he said, our friend Paul Lokech, is dead.
What? When? How? Why? I asked! Andrew, he is goooone. He is dead. I have been struck by so many death of friends that I’ve been wondering why! Do I know so many people? But this was not the case before October 2020. I do not know how to digest these developments.
I had talked to Lokech on Thursday night and he was in good health and buoyant mood. He had had a minor accident and was staying and working from home and was recovering well. In fact he had called on Wednesday but I was away from my phone. He then sent me a WhatsApp message and I reproduce it here: Hi Andrew, You wrote avery good article and I will send it to the Defence college of the USA.” The defeat of liberal imperialism ”
I returned his call on Thursday night and, in his usual joking manner, said he was going to arrest me for a “very” delayed return call. He told me that he had loved the article and had sent it to the US defense college at Fort Leavenworth, where he studied. “I asked my lectures to read it and think deep about it” he said, thereby massaging my ego a little bit. I did not know it would be our last conversation.
I met Lokech in Mogadishu in 2012 and we became instant friends. He was Uganda’s contingent commander in AMISON, the AU mission to Somalia. My brother, Maj Gen Kayanja Muhanga, was the battle group commander working under Lokech. They had fought pitched battles against the Al Shabab, and chased it out of the city. These battles cemented their friendship. Both Kayanja and Lokech admitted Al Shabab was a tough cookie.
When he was appointed DIGP in December last year, I called him to congratulate him. We then began talking about the challenges to security in Kampala, especially during the elections. Lokech got interested in what I was saying. In characteristic style, he drove to my home so that we can have a face to face discussion. At my house we talked for five hours nonstop and he left at 2am the next day.
In November, police had arrested leading opposition presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine. This sparked off mass demonstrations most especially in Kampala. The police had not coordinated with other security agencies about the arrest; and it was ill prepared to handle the situation. As a result, the different security agencies deployed, but there was lack of centralized command and control leading to many people dying in the crossfire. Lokech wanted ideas.
I told him that the problem of Kampala is not primarily a security one in need of military intervention, although riots make it seem so. It is at root a political problem, which needs police to engage the different stakeholders in the city to gain control of angry youths. Police needs to reach out to stakeholders in markets, garages, mosques, churches, taxi and bus parks, streets where vendors work, carpentry and metal workshops, etc. It is through these engagements that police can win youths away from riots.
Lokech went to work. He pulled me closer to him and asked me to help him reach some these stakeholders. I now was able to watch the man work his magic at close range. He went to great lengths to meet all the leaders of different social groups that make up Kampala, including opposition politicians and Western diplomats. I attended most of these stakeholder meetings.
His message was simple: my job is to ensure a peaceful election. We do not want rioting. We have credible intelligence that some people are planning to burn down Kampala. The youths involved in this are being misled by unscrupulous politicians. As police our mission is to protect the life and property of all citizens. If such rioting to burn down this city happens there will be no winners. All of us will lose.
Police, backed by the army, can crush any riot but that is not what we want, what uganda needs. Uganda needs all of us to work together to deliver a peaceful election. Aggrieved parties can seek redress through the courts but we cannot allow rioting that destroys lives and property. I am not here to change your political views. That is your right. I am here to work with you for a safe country.
For the most part, all the leading pillars of opinion in the churches and mosques, in the streets and markets, in garages and taxi and bus parks listened and were won over by this tall, lean general. His tone was sincere, his manner simple and his voice genuine. In less than three weeks, Lokech had turned the tables and the city was no longer the bastion of hostility teaming with youths planning to burn it down.
Yet as a security professional, Lokech did not leave anything to chance. He proceeded to work with UPDF to build a security plan for Kampala. If all the engagements he had done did not deliver cooperation as he expected, he put in place Plan B: an airtight security cordon that anyone who dared burn down Kampala would be apprehended and neutralized.
I was so impressed by his political and security skills that I went on radio, television and elsewhere and told people that if one stone is thrown on Election Day I was willing to go to jail. I organized a group of western ambassadors to receive a briefing from him on election eve and they were so impressed by his command of the situation, his overt confidence and yet simplicity in his work, they could not hide their feelings.
That is the man Uganda has lost: thorough, meticulous, dedicated, smart, exemplary. Police has lost a pillar. His career was heroic, and I am the least qualified to give testimony. Those who worked with him can do better.
He was in the rebel Uganda Peoples Democratic Army (UPDA). He surrendered with others to NRA, now UPDF, and became one of its most loyal officers. He fought in northern Uganda, DRC, CAR, South Sudan and Somalia. At one time he led his forces on a 750km trek on foot from Kisangani to Uganda. At another time he went into CAR and restored a government that had been overthrown by a military upstart.
That was Paul Lokech. Simple but tough. Jolly but thorough. He was a workaholic who left office at 3am and was back in office by 7am. He ate little, and tragically did little or no exercise as well, a factor that I suspect contributed greatly to his early death. He was straightforward, and told it as he saw it. No mincing words. He was loyal and kept his friends. He loved good things yet pleasure never interfered with his duties.
But most importantly he was a great listener and learner. He was quick witted and could smell a good point quickly and was not shy to accept it and use it. He understood that he had a short temper and kept close to him friends who helped him manage it better. He was firm and decisive in his style. Once he has decided on a course of action, Lokech proceed with speed and clarity. He did not allow anyone to doubt his intentions and his commitment.
When he joined the police, he qualities became manifest. He was blessed to have a boss, an IGP in Martin Okoth Ochola, who gave him space to employ his boundless energy and zest. Ochola is a great leader because he knows how to delegate. Lokech had ideas to reform police and had began his work in earnest. It is sad he was only eight months on the job. He has stayed a few years, Uganda would have seen the fruits of this giant of a man.
Rest well my friend, you played your role with dedication and distinction. Your works will forever live in the memory of those of us who saw them, felt them and experienced them. Uganda is proud of you.
The author, Andrew Mwenda is a veteran journalist and founder of The Independent Magazine