Who is determining our security agenda?

For a number of months, we have witnessed increased cases of murder, kidnap with kidnappers demanding ransom from families of victims, and cases where unknown criminal gangs that drop cheats alerting particular communities of their eminent attack.

These criminals have indeed, sometimes, matched their threats with action as was witnessed at the beginning of the year in Bukomansimbi district and generally in the greater Masaka area when machete
wielding men attacked and gruesomely hacked some people dead while others escaped with injuries.

Every time we have had such incidences, politicians and society call for enhanced security measures.

Indeed, security agencies like police address media, announce increasing security presence in affected areas and to hunt down these criminals. Sometimes police warn criminals with phrases like; we will
get these criminals, we will leave no stone unturned and other promising phrases meant to give assurances to the population that is always thrown into fear as a result of the attacks.

The question is, how appropriate and effective is this “standardised” response to such crimes and attacks?

Fighting high-level crimes such as kidnap, attacking people with machetes that sometimes result into death is not an easy task. Sometimes it may require time. Well thought response and strategies
being taken by security operatives should not be made public especially hurriedly.

Put differently, our security operatives deploying heavily in the aftermath an attack is like responding to the criminals’ acts. The tragedy is, this strategy can hardly produce long lasting positive results because responding this way, you are reacting to criminals’ initiatives.

The challenge is that, if you force people to react to your initiatives, you’re in control. And if you react to their initiatives, you’re being controlled.

Literally, this means that police reacting to these criminals’ initiatives such as deploying where they threaten to attack, criminals are determining our security agenda which makes it difficult to be
successful no matter how our security agencies maybe willing or determined to win the battle!

A closer analysis of this new wave of crimes especially wherethreatening letters to attack residents are thrown in villages, it is clear that the primary aim of such act(s) is to cause fear among populace and asking for money from the victims is secondary.

This means that such acts are aimed at the people who hear or even watch and, hence, the effects of these attacks are predominantly aimed to be psychological causing fear with a possibility of creating a
feeling among people that security is failing to protect them.

This observation has profound implications for security. To successfully create fear, criminals do not have to overcome security measures.  They simply have to be good at creating fear.

Crimes like dropping threatening letters and attack(s) are meant to cause fear (the psychological effects of criminals) are separate domains. Even low levels of crimes (such as simply dropping threatening letters without following them to attack), can cause high levels of alarm.

Therefore, criminals with limited capabilities can achieve disproportionate effects, which results to more fear to the extent that some people may think security agencies are not doing much which in most cases is wrong.

This is especially true in the context of today’s media-drenched society. Media coverage greatly extends the reach and effects of criminals. If crimes such as kidnap are theatre, contemporary communication through social media enables criminals to spread their fear and reach a big audience almost instantaneously. Fear sells.

This means that the fight against this wave of attacks should have an element of outsmarting fear should contain a psychological element complementing the already existing security efforts to prevent further attacks.

Therefore, as our security agencies fight these crimes, countering perceptions and disproportional feelings – reducing fear should be key.

Secondly, politicians must give security agencies opportunity to do their work. We don’t need partisan politics if our societies are to be safe. The tendency by some politicians to politicise every attack as a
failure which someone must be blamed for and demanding resignation or that heads should roll plays well in ears of criminals.

Sometimes partisan politicians take these crimes/attacks as opportunities to present themselves favourably as they point fingers at others claiming they are not doing enough to provide security.

While it is right to demand for answers from authorities and demand that more be done, the challenge is that, these security measures demanded by partisan politicians drive up subsequent threat portrayals
because there is no point in diminishing the dragons one promises to slay.

It worth to note that it is not only politicians that should recognise their (at times) unhelpful role in enabling the workings of criminals by trying to use unfortunate events to present their case to be seen
as the best alternative.

Often, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the public demands and expects absolute security. Certainly, by demanding and unrealistically expecting absolute security, CSOs and the public contributes to fear which encourages the government to overpromise how such attacks will not happen again, sometimes promising to hunt down perpetuators and bring them to book setting it up for failure, which
will, in turn, exacerbate public alarm especially when such attacks happen again!

Arguably, today’s criminals have perhaps better understood these mechanisms than most of the above-mentioned actors. The fact that we still have these crimes that seem to be on increase, one can conclude that the development of a countering crime(s)-strategy has to a larger extent not produced the best or expected results and that fear in the public is still real.

A winning strategy that can effectively counter crimes should not beabout increased security measures alone. Criminals pause a real threat and one that seems to be on the rise. However, there is much to gain if we help society members to understand the likely or primary objective of these criminals and then working together to foster a psychologically more resilient and less vulnerable mindset.

So yes, the “standardized” response of increasing security measures after an attack is a sensible and indispensable course of action. But it is not enough. It should not be seen as an overt reaction to criminals’ action. The same level and intensity of inquiry should be devoted to understanding our response to attacks and to work on fear and impact management, else we are likely to help energise these poor and weak criminals who may see security response as a mere reaction, thereby giving them chance to determine our security agenda.

The writer is a PhD student in International Relations and Diplomacy