In Uganda's 2016 national election, international and national commentators raised questions about the role that the government’s Crime Preventer Programme would play. Many claimed that they would be used “as tools” to rig the elections, intimidate voters, and be manipulated into a voting block for the ruling NRM regime. Based on over 250 interviews and eight months of ethnographic fieldwork between February 2014 and February 2016, this paper presents a study of the Crime Preventer Programme in Gulu District, examining how it developed from a seemingly innocuous community policing programme into a tool to recruit a valuable segment of the population that might otherwise have been a strong supporter of the Opposition. In particular, the author asks why the government fostered a programme that connected unemployed, marginalised and disenfranchised youth, who theoretically could have used their newfound organisation to challenge the state, whether through votes or violence. The paper examines specific instances when Gulu District’s Crime Preventers were mobilised to support overtly political ends, such as altering the voter registration list and blocking the movement of Opposition candidates. The author uses these anecdotes to analyse why youth participated in the programme while posing neither a threat to the government, nor inspiring a meaningful backlash from the Opposition. The paper concludes that—despite low and unpredictable rewards and the high social and psychological cost of supporting a government that many Acholis find reprehensible—the high rate of participation in Crime Preventers and obedience to state authorities can be explained through the militarisation of Uganda’s neo-patrimonial system and the concomitant securitisation of livelihoods.
Tapscott, R. Preventing Change and Protecting the Regime: Crime Preventers, Local Livelihoods, and the 2016 Ugandan Elections. Justice and Security Research Programme, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), London, UK (2016) 35 pp. [JSRP Paper 31]