I’d planned to write about the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. I wanted to argue that they are a symptom of the country’s unfinished effort to unbundle the economic legacy of apartheid, spiked with weak and opportunistic leadership.
Then I saw the story about a magistrate dismissing the case in which several people were accused of stealing at least Shs165 billion meant for pensioners.
This is a matter I know quite a bit about; I was editor of this newspaper when we broke the story more than two years ago. It had not been easy, and several journalists and media houses had been ‘persuaded’ not to report the story, until it somehow fell into our hands.
I thought of writing about the origins of the story, and the source who, frustrated and angry, decided to leak it to us, and the rather clever way they went about it – deliberately passing it through the hands, along the way, of people likely to try and “kill” the story. But to what end? That story was long overtaken by events.
I thought of writing about the suspects and the anecdotes of how much wealth they reportedly amassed, and how some of them had so much property, they reportedly needed a wardrobe-sized safe to store all their land titles. But to what end? Everyone is innocent until proven guilty and maybe they sold their cattle or inherited their cash!
Then I thought of writing about the investigation itself and how it was corrupted, right from the start. I could show how it took months before an honest magistrate could be found to issue orders freezing accounts, and how almost the entire Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Directorate (CIID) was decimated as detectives scrambled to cash in.
But to what end? The CIID boss Grace Akullo has already revealed how subordinates went behind her back and issued contradictory reports, and how vast sums of money were sent her way, including $350,000 reportedly sent via a senior journalist. If the country’s leading detective can’t name names, who am I, a mere nosy hack, to do so?
Maybe I should write an open letter to the President, I thought to myself, and request him to use his Executive authority to cause a fresh investigation. Surely he can’t condone such a travesty? Many pensioners are his supporters and voters; would he sleep at night knowing that many have died in poverty while their money was being used to buy property? But to what end? These matters do not pose an electoral threat and there is no apparent link to Amama Mbabazi or Kizza Besigye. In any case, the President does not sleep much at night.
I considered writing the open letter to the First Lady, instead. She is a religious woman and a mother; maybe she would put in a word? But to what end? She has her hands full with Karamoja and can’t be expected to do the work of her Cabinet colleagues in Internal Affairs and Justice who, in any case, are Generals. Matters of generals and all that…
Desperate, I thought of wrapping myself in the robes of satire, wearing a headband woven out of irony, and using the watercolours of cynicism to paint a picture of the suspects as modern-day Robin Hoods, investing money the pensioners would otherwise spend on local brew or waste on medicine. But to what end? It doesn’t matter that I didn’t choose to write – writing chose me – few people appreciate style and most don’t care about corruption anymore. Give them a chance and they won’t just steal from pensioners; they’d murder them to destroy the evidence.
So I wrote this. A postcard of pain. An indictment of indifference. A tribute to tragedy.
Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi. firstname.lastname@example.org &Twitter: @Kalinaki