This week, two more families buried their children – Maria Nagirinya and Ronald Kitayimbwa – in yet another case of kidnapping and murder. Does anybody know how this ends, or if it will end?
Maybe hypothesising about the beginning might help us make sense of this harrowing maze in which we are entangled. My earliest memory of tear gas and rubber bullets in Kampala is from the mid-90s, when irate Express FC fans often ran rings around the Uganda Police Force during on-pitch disputes.
President Museveni was very popularity back then. No pro-change campaigners battling police on the streets. Politics was mellow and in the boardrooms. It also helped that at the time, probably only Museveni knew that he would be around a lot longer than he had made everyone else believe.
Football was synonymous with chaos, infamy and under the thumb of “potato growers.” It was hard to imagine when and how it would ever clean up and move off the streets into boardrooms, with ties and fitting suits to boot.
It was also unimaginable that security, the bedrock of NRM’s own existence, would ever come under question. This, even amid the carnage fashioned on citizens by the now vanquished Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in northern Uganda or the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in the west.
But soon those wars got won at about the same time that the systemic desecration of public institutions like the courts of law and the armed forces started to raise the stakes, and make boardroom politicking and activism untenable.
His former colleagues in the NRA had found finally out, much to their angst, that Dear Leader was here to stay. So they came onto the streets and basically took over from Express fans. But because theirs was a fight for power and not over a disallowed goal, when the police, now under the command and control of the army, came around, it was with grave long-term consequences.
This time they showed up with live bullets and couldn’t even be bothered with shooting in the air. Every other street brawl left a couple of protesters – sometimes innocent bystanders – killed or maimed. The hapless ones who got arrested ended up in the inappropriately-named ‘safe houses’ or Nalufenya. When they were brought to court, it was with grisly wounds from torture, after which they would be rearrested within court premises.
The lackadaisical handling of investigations and convenient silence of the powerful, especially when State operatives were prime suspects of gross abuses, illegal arrests and detentions didn’t help. The State was overtly pursing violence against its own and enforcers were getting absolved, promoted, transferred or sent abroad to attend some prestigious course.
Even worse, State agents, some irregularly recruited, also started side hustles in criminal activities. They would be competing for the same booty, on the same turf and using the same methods as the hoodlums they were meant to apprehend.
So how were the thugs to behave, now that their territory had been invaded?
My theory is that this confluence between elements of the State, lawlessness and thuggery eventually normalised crime and hauled it to our doorsteps. Cue the unresolved assassinations, the not-so-random waves of murders in greater Masaka and of young women in Entebbe and of boda boda riders, and now the kidnappings and murders.
In the grand scheme of things, Uganda, the territory, is safer and more stable today than it has ever been. But it also says a lot about that security, if individual persons are hard-pressed to say with certainty that they feel safer today walking home, than they did 10 to 15 years ago. To untangle this maze, the State must start by trying to regain its moral authority.
It is hard to tell how this ends. Whether women will be safe again? If this criminality and violence will end or get worse? Whether the police will get better at its job? If this is what happens when a President stays in power for more than three decades?
I wonder if there is a country we can look to and predict the future or if we’ll have to wait for time to tell. Who knew that Paddy Serunjogi, aka Sobbi, an avowed criminal, would be aiding investigations on crime; or that the notorious Mukwano Gwabangi would eventually enter the boardroom, under the patronage of several NRM hotshots?
Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds.