Were Ugandan police really groping women in public?


At first glance, it did look like male Ugandan police officers were getting a bit frisky as they carried out searches on female fans attending the football match between Uganda and Burkina Faso held at Mandela Stadium in Kampala on March 29. Social media users widely condemned these photos... but it turns out that the scene was not nearly as scandalous as one might think.

The photos of women having their breasts and inner thighs searched by a solidly built Ugandan police officer with short-cropped hair certainly made the rounds on social media all across Africa. Many assumed that the Ugandan police were allowing men to search women: “Don't they have police women to do the search for ladies?” one asked.

Many others shared the photos accompanied by dirty jokes, many alluding to the fact that the women being searched were enjoying the process.

“I can assure you she’s a woman and many female officers shave their heads”

But for Polly Namaye, these photos are serious business. She is an assistant commissioner for police in Kampala and deputy spokesperson.

First of all, the officers in the photo are women. In Uganda, it is against the law to have men searching women.

We had a strong security presence at the game, including undercover detectives and counter-terrorism officers. Our officers were asked to carry out very serious searches, to really scrutinise the population. When you look at the photo, you can see how serious the officer is taking her job, even if the fans are smiling.

The stakes are high. In 2010, there was a terror attack on people watching a World Cup match in a rugby club. Many lives were lost and no one wants a repeat of that.

Moreover, Uganda is on a high terror alert right now. We’ve received terror threats from both Al Shebaab and Al Qaeda for Uganda’s role in the Somali mission. Our neighbour, Kenya, has seen terrible deadly attacks in the past few years. And this game occurred in the wake of the deadly attacks on Brussels.

On top of that, we also deal with local criminality at games. People slip in small knives or razor blades, which they use to threaten people to steal their phones or wallets.

One of the photos shows the officer making sure that a woman is not hiding anything in her bra. So, security-wise, this officer is just doing her work.

Many people suggested that this officer was a man. I can assure you that she is a woman. When police women are training, they are required to shave their heads. Many choose to keep it that way when they join the force. The only thing we’d like to improve about her appearance is to make sure all of our officers wear gloves for the safety of all concerned.