When future generations ask why political contests were a matter of life and death, they will judge not only those who wielded pliers and tore off the flesh of innocents, but all of us who defended it or remained silent or indifferent
Critical questions. When you round up on a man in the middle of the street, clearly middle-aged from the grey in his hair, clearly a journalist from the camera he is holding, and clearly harmless from his immediate submission to his knees and pleas for clemency, does such submission trigger revulsion towards the pathetic coward?
A man stumbles through the door of his house and slumps into his couch. His young children run to him and smother him in hugs, hoping that he will somehow produce a stick of chewing gum or sweets, but nevertheless happy to have him back. He is visibly tired from a long day’s work.
Later, lying in bed, childrens sleeping next door, his wife asks him about his day. “It was very tough,” he says, stretching out. “I hurt my hand today.” ‘Why, what happened?’ she asks, tenderly. “I accidentally punched a wall while beating up a suspect,” he says, “but it is nothing serious. It is not like last time when the man I was feeding to the crocodiles almost dragged me with him.”
‘Oh sweetie,’ she purrs. ‘You work too hard and never get the credit you deserve.’ “It’s a hard-knock life,” he puns, and they both roar with laughter in the dim darkness.
This is, obviously, an imaginary scenario, but I have always wondered about the men (it is mostly, but not entirely men who beat up and torture others for fun or for a living. How does it feel when you see a man you beat to within an inch of his life hobbling into a courtroom, hardly able to sit unsupported let alone stand? Do you feel sad? Indifferent? If there is any remorse is it for what you have done (torture) or for what you have failed to achieve (death)?
How much boot camp training goes into kicking an unarmed woman in the chest and stepping on her neck with a leather boot? Do you kick a woman with the same force you kick a man? If she is poor, do you kick her with more or less force?
Does the training involve formulae and algorithms for calibrating force application to ensure that a round kick to the power x plus a knee to the chest at 20km/hr is enough to send one to hospital, but not to heaven?
Is there a module on ethics and the reasonable use of force against unarmed civilians? Or one on the legalities of getting away with murder – see section on ‘stray bullets – or planting evidence?
When you are beating a small defenseless woman do you think of your wife? Your sister? Your daughter? Your mother? Or an ex who left with your heart and humanity?
When you round up on a man in the middle of the street, clearly middle-aged from the grey in his hair, clearly a journalist from the camera he is holding, and clearly harmless from his immediate submission to his knees and pleas for clemency, does such submission trigger revulsion towards the pathetic coward?
When you tie one end of a short nylon string around a fellow man’s low-hanging fruits and a clay brick on the other end, then let the brick fall just shy of the floor, do you burst out laughing or involuntarily clench your own thighs with shared masculine vulnerability? If you pull out a man’s fingernail with a pair of rusty pliers, can you ever cut your own nails without wincing? How much do you have to dehumanise others before you can torture them without thinking of them as being human? How much of your own humanity do you have to lose in order to do nasty things to fellow man?
There are moments in life that require us to be non-partisan. Think Milton Obote’s funeral in October 2005. Think the aftermath of the July 2010 bomb attacks in Kampala. Think Stephen Kiprotich crossing the line to win the Olympic Marathon Gold.
In these and other moments, we put aside all our differences, even momentarily, to be Ugandans. Whatever our hues and stripes, we bleed, cry and laugh in black-yellow-red. The anarchy in Arua, while lacking the one-off drama of a bomb blast or the poignancy of the passing of a major public figure, ought to be such a moment.
When future generations ask why political contests were a matter of life and death, they will judge not only those who wielded pliers and tore off the flesh of innocents, but all of us who defended it or remained silent or indifferent.
History will ask us how we were able to tuck our children in at night and kiss them good night then sleep soundly when other parents were lowering theirs into graves and kissing them goodbye.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter.