Obituary: Michael Macoun

Michael Macoun was the last Commissioner of Police in Uganda before it gained independence in 1962, but he was by no means a typical colonial policeman.

A graduate of Oxford and of the Metropolitan Police College, he joined the Colonial Police Service in 1939 and was posted to Tanganyika, where he served for 20 years, less a two-year war-time secondment to Combined Services East Africa (special branch, in short.)

By then a highly experienced senior officer, he moved to Uganda in 1959 as Commissioner of Police, taking command of a force of some 6,000, in a protectorate with a population of 13 million, scattered over 90,000 square miles. A ratio of one policeman to every 2,000 people may seem odd, but responsibility for law and order was shared by police, primarily in the towns; chiefs in the country; and the army in (remote) reserve. The system worked. Uganda was outwardly peaceful, prosperous - and remarkably unaware of the winds of change. The official line was independence in 20 years - it came in three.

Macoun - and others - disbelieved this 20-year assessment. He saw Uganda's colonial days numbered, and inspected his force accordingly. He deemed it well-trained, disciplined and effective, but dangerously flawed in two regards: there were far too few Africans in the senior echelons, and an overwhelmingly Nilotic component, heavily representative of the tribal North.

He set about remedying the first issue, with time against him. He found the second insoluble. Traditionally the Bantu of Uganda were farmers, the Nilotics fighters. So the latter flocked to join the police (and the army) and the former declined. The outcome was to be disastrous - the ghastly regimes of Milton Obote and Idi Amin were yet to come, but their power-base was, in embryo, already established, for both were Nilotic.

Such reservations apart, Macoun was an outstanding commissioner, uniquely suited to the nuances of the time. Intellectually acute, politically shrewd, a convivial extrovert with a keen - sometimes wicked - sense of humour; a courtier in the old-fashioned style (there was a touch of the Regency Buck about him) he was withal a strict disciplinarian, without a hint of arrogance. His particular empathy with Africans, be they ministers or constables, was epitomised by Obote's request that he remain as inspector- general, post- independence, to assist and advise his African successor, which he did, for two years.

He was an ambitious man, with a cool eye for his future. He wanted the top job, and in 1967 - after a year on the Directing Staff of the Police College in Bramshill - he got it: Overseas Police Adviser and Inspector General of Police, Dependent Territories (Foreign and Commonwealth Office). He was an inveterate traveller and this one-man role suited him to perfection. Michael Macoun's memory for people and names was phenomenal. He retired in 1979, but his zest for travel remained. He published his autobiography - Wrong Place, Right Time; Policing the End of Empire - in 1996.

Michael John Macoun, police officer: born 27 November 1914; Commissioner of Police, Uganda 1959-62, Inspector-General 1962-64; OBE 1961; Overseas Police Adviser and Inspector-General of Police, Dependent Territories (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 1967-79; married 1940 Geraldine Sladen (two sons); died 25 March 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture