There are many ways to fight corruption. If you encounter it in a boxing ring, you can circle it, gloved fists at the ready, and keep jabbing while you look for an opening to deliver an upper cut. A jab here at an LC1, a short right there at a secretary; with luck, you could nail an out-of-favour technocrat.
If you find corruption in the streets, or if it tries to jump the queue in a waiting room, you may wrestle it to the ground or just lash out and hope to make contact.
Sometimes, however, you might need to double the fight against corruption. In which case, you take two butter knives and, holding them tightly together, lunge at the monster. Should this course of action prove insufficient, you might be required to bring all stakeholders on board, including the steak knives!
In this scenario you gather your brave relatives, friends and in-laws and prepare them for battle. You could ambush the monster or go full frontal, marching with drawn swords towards it in the dry savannah battlefield. It is possible that the contest is in an enclosed space; say a relatively small office or a kafunda; this would require that you mainstream the fight by dragging or luring the monster out into the street or a sufficiently open area.
Here one always has the option of minimising collateral damage by avoiding war altogether. This could be done by signing a pledge of zero-tolerance to corruption, by which a member of your party with a sufficiently big toe draws a line in the sand and makes it very clear – and in the strongest terms possible – that corruption is not to rear its ugly head beyond that line. Or else!
If at this time the monster is lurking and out of earshot, it might be necessary to send out some foot soldiers along the beach and surrounding areas to check every nook and cranny. They should leave no stone unturned. This war against corruption, it shall be fought on the beaches, it shall be fought on the landing grounds, in the fields, in the streets, in the hills, at the airstrip, and we shall never surrender.
Since all we do we do, not as anyone’s servant, but for our children and grandchildren, and since we are One Nation, Under the Gods, and we promise to act For God and our Country, nothing stops us from, every so often, dedicating the fight against corruption. A national prayer breakfast here and a day of prayer there can ensure that the Good Lord of Abraham, He Who Reigns Over All Procurement and Contracts Committees, is on our side; no weapon formed against us, be it a last-minute rival bid, foreign financial sanctions or offshore convictions, can stop us from prospering.
By this time, many bad people – those enemies of progress and development – might be making snide remarks about a war without end, a battle without progress, a farce of a fight. Despite your firm and unwavering commitment, your vows of abstinence, your declarations of intent, your renewed assurances of highest consideration, they might challenge you to walk the talk. This is the easiest part.
Find a busy working day, preferably towards the end of the year when people are trying to make their annual targets or save their struggling businesses; preferably a wet and rainy morning bang in the middle of the week; without sufficient prior warning or advertised alternative routes, and close off the main thoroughfare through your capital city.
Then walk. Don’t walk sluggishly, with drooped shoulders or sagging pants or same such; walk with purpose and a spring in your step. Those boots were made for walking. Walk like your T-shirt, as white as an incorruptible dove, and made of pure imported cotton, is going out of fashion. Show those naysayers and doomsayers that you mean what you say, say what you mean. Walk the damn catwalk.
Your pesky critics, envious that for them wama they did not even get nice white T-shirts or walk with a marching band, might focus on side-shows, like ensuring traffic jam and gridlock that choke the city for the rest of the day. They might even suggest – sacrilegiously – that you arrest some of your fellow walkers, as if they want you to walk alone next time.
They will be fine. Kasta you have walked. They can fight themselves if they want, but you will not be party to such folly. You are smart enough not to cut the branch on which you sit.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter.
On a recent morning, I was nearly forced off the road by a pair of cars that came wailing down the road like a banshee. The one ahead was a police pick-up truck with flashing lights and a hand wildly gesticulating through the front passenger window for motorists to sidle to the side of the narrow road, to make way.
Police cars, of course, have a right of way and for good reason; the long arm of the law should find few obstacles in quickly responding to those in need, or to stop and resolve crime. Behind the police truck, however, was one of those ubiquitous taxpayer-funded 4WD monsters, with government plates, and matching flashing lights.
The on-coming traffic held things up long enough for me to make out the figure sitting pensively in the backseat, a female minister who has been in Cabinet for just a few years. She looked sufficiently bored by the traffic and seemed to wonder who all these people clogging up the roads were and why they did not melt away and allow her to get on with the business of spending their money.
I counted at least four armed policemen on the back of the pick-up truck, The Gesticulator in the front, and the driver. The minister-mobile itself had a bodyguard in the front – the door opener – and the driver. It is safe to assume that the minister has at least one but possibly two guards at her residence, and at least another at the office. That is at least 10 police officers assigned to guard one human being.
If you extrapolate that number to the 70 or so Cabinet ministers, you have 700 police men and women; throw in the other important officials in Parliament, the Judiciary, the coterie of presidential assistants and advisers, and diplomatic missions and you are probably close to 3,000 or more police officers.
I don’t know who wants to assassinate a junior Cabinet minister in Uganda – and whether six guards are necessarily more effective than one or two. But I am sure that deploying even half those police officers in residential suburbs of the city would make them safer neighbourhoods, even for ministers.
As fate would have it, that point was made clear later that day when, stuck in the afternoon traffic, I noticed a similar 4WD monster driving ahead of me. For about two kilometres, we inched forward in tandem: We stopped at the red lights, let other cars through and so on, until the car turned off the road. It was then that I noticed the occupant in the same backseat ‘assassination corner:’ Gen Katumba Wamala.
Gen Wamala has worn many hats and indeed won many hearts for his country: He was Chief of Defence Forces, the highest position in the army; he was Inspector General of Police, the highest position in the police force; he has served for at least three decades in the military. I am pretty sure his last two postings at the helm of the armed forces, to say nothing of his rank, entitle him to a phalanx of armed round-the-clock protection. If anyone deserves jeeps with machine-gun and soldiers totting rocket-propelled grenades, by George it is he!
But there he was, in one car, with a driver and one bodyguard in the front, respecting the traffic like everyone else, patiently waiting his turn. He did not pull rank neither did he bully anyone and not because he isn’t capable of it. I have heard that he opens his own car door and does not have a small army camped out at his home.
There are a few others like Gen Wamala: Public officials who go about their work quietly and purposefully, without drama and attempts to draw attention to themselves. We should praise them more and try to emulate them.
Talking of humbled and dignified people, Matthew Rukikaire launches his autobiography today. I have read the book (and even advised here and there) and can tell you it is a remarkable book by a remarkable man. Read it and make your own judgments.
It is good to see more Ugandans telling their stories in their own words. Our post-colonial history remains contested and the dominant narrative always seeks to airbrush alternative narratives or revise history for self-serving purposes.
Current and future generations need a more nuanced and accurate version of history and the best antidote to misrepresentation and revisionism is more first-hand accounts of who did what to whom, when, where and how. May we have more please?
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter
Colonial adventurers venturing into new lands often faced similar circumstances. They had superior technology, which is what allowed them to travel across great distances to colonise, rather than remain at home to be colonised; and which allowed them better firepower, often gunpowder against native bows, arrows and spears.
However, they also faced two crucial disadvantages: They were often far outnumbered by the people they sought to colonise, and lacked local knowledge of where to find food, water, shelter, or how to navigate the foreign lands. There were two broad ways to overcome the second challenge.
First, was to use deception, which ranged from having mesmerised local chiefs sign over their kingdoms in exchange for a few beads or the odd mirror, to capturing the local chief and holding them to ransom.
The second, and most common, way was to divide and rule. A marginalised section of the population was offered redemption in exchange for turning against their fellow native oppressors, or greed offered to those who’d long nursed ambitions to advance their own interests. It rarely failed.
There might have been something disturbing about recent footage of a four-star general saluting a three-legged man goose-marching to animated cheers, but there is nothing to laugh about President Museveni’s overture to disaffected ghetto youths willing to trade local knowledge for side-mirrors.
Neither is the selection accidental. The best local collaborators are those with more ambition than talent, especially those with a history of trying their hand at some endeavour and being found out by the market. The conquistador, when he arrives, promises redemption and glory; all they have to supply is cunning and detailed maps of the local palace.
Politically they also primarily serve three important roles. First, they give the conqueror veneer of nativity; he is one of us, they say, and has always been. He has just been too busy dealing with more pressing matters elsewhere, but has never really forgotten us.
Second, they serve as alternative routes to glory. The local kings or opinion leaders come to power and retain their positions by offering or promising rewards to their followers. In Buganda, the colonial adventurers won over the support of local dissidents by promising and offering positions in the new political order and large tracts of land.
Direct cash infusions, in the case of the ghettos, are a much cheaper alternative to providing housing, water or digging sewer lines. They are also particularly effective if they short-circuit all known formal channels, including party officials and can draw a direct reward connection to the political beneficiary of changed voting intentions.
In other words, while it is bad manners for Madam Catherine Kusasira to “undermine” and talk down to elected party officials in the capital, it is good politics because it sets up a competition for favour and attention of the Conquistador-in-Chief between different camps in the party.
Yes, it is good to be loyal to the party officials and to remember all the hard work they put in, but if they were so good they would have won the city for the President in the last election. They didn’t, and in fact, he lost market share; so competition among the sales teams is good, if you think about it.
The third role is perhaps the most insidious and politically important. The political threat emanating from the ghetto is asymmetrical; you cannot respond to it conventionally, say by granting them district status or appointing Shabba Ranks to cabinet, or Dreadlock Soldier to the UPDF.
The best way to deal with it is to remove the wow factor by creating political look-alikes. Like vaccination introduces variants of the same germ into the body, the best way to deal with a Bobi Wine problem is to create very many Bobi Wines; there is no limit to the number of ghettos, or ghetto presidents for that matter. They may not come with legitimacy or support immediately (depends on how quickly they are able to divert resources to the disaffected) but they create a very useful distraction. See how much column space and media attention they have commanded, for instance, in recent weeks.
So while the pivot to the ghetto looks untidy, it is good but ultimately desperate and short-term politics. See, the political fights have shifted from civil war (LRA, UNLA), to Parliament (see the 6th Parliament, for instance), to the streets (Walk-to-Work, and Besigyemania) now to the ghetto. We are scrapping the bottom of the barrel and sooner or later, something will have to give.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter. email@example.com.
In response to a surge in violent urban crime, President Museveni last September ordered for the recruitment and training of 24,000 local defence force unit (LDU) personnel. More than 10,000 were rushed through their paces and deployed; another 13,000 are waiting in the (training) wings.
It was evidence of quick and decisive action in the face of a clear and credible threat. Or was it? Under normal circumstances – such as where checks-and-balances institutions like Parliament keep the Executive in check – this was the point at which some basic questions ought to have been asked.
The primary institution responsible for detecting and preventing crime, the core problem that was being resolved, is the Uganda Police Force: Why weren’t the police working effectively? If there weren’t enough boots on the ground, what was the right number and more cops or some militia/reservists?
If it was a case of poor skills, why not retrain and reskill the police force or re-orient them to their primary duty, which had over time morphed into the maintenance of the regime, rather than of law and order.
It was a classic case of providing answers where what we needed to do, first and foremost, was to pose the right questions about the insecurity problem. If you ask the right questions, the correct answers always reveal themselves; the wrong answers, on the other hand, always produce more questions.
The latest of these questions emerged this week when Defence ministry officials appeared before Parliament to defend a supplementary budget of Shs130 billion to pay for, among others, salaries and other costs associated with the LDUs. Questions have been popping out of the woodwork.
About Shs15 billion is for back pay for the first batch of about 11,000 LDUs, which makes sense seeing as the call to recruit came three months into the financial year. But there is another Shs40 billion for those recruited in the current financial year; why wasn’t this money budgeted for since we expected to recruit?
In their submission to Parliament, MoD officials also revealed they’d borrowed money from the Army Sacco to pay salaries to the LDUs. Information available to the public does not show how much money was borrowed, for how long, and at what interest rate. It isn’t clear, in any case, which law allows government to borrow from Saccos, and if this was done with the knowledge and approval of Parliament (MPs do not seem to have taken much interest in this aspect).
To their credit, MPs asked about reported cases of LDUs harassing civilians, which were downplayed as individual cases of a few rogue elements. But there are serious questions about oversight and accountability: If LDUs fall under the military and are deployed on law enforcement duties, where does this leave the police? Who is in charge of law enforcement; Internal Affairs or Defence? Are we operating under de-facto martial law?
Which brings us to incentives. If we take any of the figures provided for the LDUs’ remuneration (the Shs57 billion mentioned by the President last year, or the Shs40 billion as presented to Parliament), it works out at between Shs139,000 to Shs197,916 per LDU per month.
Having an army of young armed men trained to kill walking around in the city suburbs at night and living on less than Shs10,000 per day is a poor script for a low budget horror film. It can’t end well.
Addressing the underlying causes of violent crime require deep-seated political, economic and technocratic reforms that this government, in its current form, is incapable of.
There are certainly smarter ways of treating the symptoms. For instance, an armed private security guard from a high-end firm costs almost $200, which is higher than what privates in the army get (the ones usually assigned guard duties).
If every 10 middle-class homes contributed between Shs50,000 and Shs150,000) per month they would afford a well-trained armed guard to protect them. The guard would make more money and could call for back-up from the next cell and motivated guard; if this payment is tax-deductible, citizens would gladly pay even more, to a limit, for their security.
Of course this would drive many private security firms out of business; some of their guards would venture into crime. But these poorly trained guards would then have to deal with soldiers who are better trained, armed and motivated.
It is of course far from ideal, but many folks, if they have a choice, would rather have the well-trained guy fighting on their side, not taking on their sleepy, poorly-fed, bow-and-arrow-totting, LRA-war-surviving askari. In fixing violent crime you do not bring a butter knife to a gun fight.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter.
One of my all-time favourite stories comes from a kindergarten in Tel Aviv, Israel. Parents dropped off their kids at 9am and picked them up at 1pm. Some parents, however, often came late, to the chagrin of the teachers. Some came a few minutes late, others as late as half-an-hour.
It meant keeping caretakers at the school longer and paying them over-time allowances. The kindergarten owners decided to charge a $20 penalty for every late parent.
Yet instead of reducing, the number of parents coming late increased and they now came even several hours late. It did not take a psychologist brought in by the kindergarten long to figure out the problem: The $20 fine was a cheaper price to pay than the emotional value parents attached to keeping their kids wailing and waiting. Now they could finish their meetings or coffees confident that their kids were safe.
Now that the teargas has somewhat dissipated from Makerere, we can try to make sense of some of the events at the hill. Let’s stick with kindergartens. A half-decent one charges for a term anywhere from a million shillings to the price of a small car for the privilege of having Little Mukasa pick up the flu and nap with other kids in the neighbourhood.
So why would a parent happily pay Shs2 million for three hours a day for pre-school then complain about paying the same for a semester at Makerere where the reward is a degree?
Part of it is simply psychological; parents want the best for their kids and the younger they are, the easier it is to squeeze money out of them, especially first-time parents who will buy every toy mbu to help with early cognitive awareness. (Worry not; by baby #3 you’ll expect them to bathe themselves when they make two weeks and run errands and contribute to the rent as soon as they can crawl).
Another reason is basic economics of demand and supply. There are too many runny-nosed kids chasing very few kindergarten places, especially close to home where the maid can walk Little Timmy home from lunch. Universities, on the other hand, are now a dime a dozen; yes, even Busoga has one – and stop sniggering in the back.
But the real reason is somewhere in-between. One part of it is a case of taking over one of the few remaining quasi-independent (and rich) spaces. Watch the appointments there closely, as well as the real estate, but this requires a book-length article.
So let’s try to summarise the easier part: Universities used to be elitist and rarefied academic and intellectual spaces. Then in the early-to-mid 90s, they were thrown open to anyone with money, including people who, if we were all to be honest to ourselves as a society, would have served their country better by going to plumbing or welding school. Anyway, people who had jobs they did not qualify for, suddenly had money to pay for the degrees they had not qualified for, in order to keep and grow in those jobs. Are we together?
The degree became transactional, or what the Baganda call mpa-nkuwe. One paid a certain amount of money, got their name on a piece of paper and that piece of paper got them a job from which they could recoup their investment.
Today, with the high levels of youth unemployment, a degree can hardly get you a bar waiting job. (Ironically, a good plumber is still hard to find). Thus the problem at Makerere can be summarised as asking for a bit more while offering a lot less.
Unlike the kindergarten, which solved its problem by asking for a lot more ($50) for just about the same service and solved the problem, Makerere, in the minds of many, just doesn’t have the quality to justify its current takings, let alone ask for more.
Many parents would gladly pay Shs5m a semester, even with a struggle, if the experience at Makerere was positively transformative, offered a guaranteed higher return on investment and if they could defer the financial outlay to the future, say through student loans.
But this is now a society where professors earn less than some lowly bureaucrats, where court jesters and ghetto ‘snake beaters’ are driven around in taxpayer-funded monster vehicles, past scientists dodging potholes on bodas. Few believe that those who destroyed the Ivory Tower can rebuild it with a bit more money. As with the kindergarten, Makerere’s real problem is one of value, not price.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter.
There is a grainy black-and-white picture taken at a campaign rally in Katwe, near Kampala, a few months before the controversial elections of December 1980. In it, the UPM candidate, Yoweri Museveni, is on a makeshift stage, standing next to Kirunda Kivejinja.
It was a relatively small rally, nowhere as big as the rival rallies called by the UPC and DP candidates. The UPM candidate knew he stood no chance of winning, but the new party offered a third way or force, for the country’s polarised politics after more than a decade of war and political instability.
Many of the people at the rally had come out of curiosity to see the lithe man who spoke clever words and a lot of English, but those who turned out at a similar rally at Makerere University, only a few kilometres away, mostly came out of conviction – conviction that Uganda could do and deserved better.
Milton Obote, who, never short on confidence, considered himself an intellectual, had hobnobbed with the Student Guild at Makerere, turning them into targets in the eight murderous anti-intellectual years of Idi Amin that followed.
Uganda had attempted, through the transitional UNLA government, to return sober civilian heads to political affairs, but the conduct of the 1980 elections put paid to this idea. Still, the UPM did enough to present itself, genuinely or not, as a progressive force that appealed to new entrants to the political arena.
Not surprisingly therefore, it would find many of its young early ‘elite’ recruits, once it took up arms, from within the ranks of the university students or recent graduates: David ‘Sejusa’ Tinyefuza, Jim Muhwezi, John Kazoora, Kizza Besigye, Amanya Mushega as well as later converts like Specioza Wandira, Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile and others.
As fate would have it, President Museveni was campaigning in Kibuye, near Katwe, this week, as violence raged at Makerere University. The government has blamed the violence on some unnamed external influence seeking to “corrupt” the morals and pockets of the students, and on students refusing to subject themselves to authority.
Yet, instead of prayer warriors, the government sent in heavily armed military police in a series of punitive expeditions. The brutality towards students appears to have been arbitrary and premeditated.
On at least two occasions, the military police waited for darkness to fall, locked the gates and, away from prying eyes of journalists, kicked in doors, beat up students and destroyed property. Some students are still in hospital. A few remain unaccounted for.
Officially, the students are protesting against a 15 per cent annual fee increment. They say it will put degrees out of reach for smart, but indigent kids. There’s a bigger argument here, dating back to the 1990s, about the priority and cost of higher education and how to pay for it, but that is an argument for another day.
Some have drawn parallels between events at Makerere this week and those in August 1976 when Idi Amin’s soldiers raided the university and did some of the same things, and a lot worse. There is something to be said about history repeating itself, or rather people never learning from history.
But there is also something more profound in the transformation of the NRM itself. The appeal to intellectualism and some form of higher ideal seen in its formative years has, once the realities of being in power and attempting to manage dissent kicked in, fallen by the wayside, replaced by a the-end-justifies-the-means pragmatism and populism.
While claims of external influences at Makerere and elsewhere sound like conspiracy theories to the reasonable man on the street, they are disturbing reminders for anyone with even passing knowledge of how to fomenting urban disorder or discord towards the regime of the day. We have been here before, four decades ago.
Whether due to a failure to renew or what some might regard favourably as institutional memory, Hon. Kivejinja is still in government serving with Mr Museveni so many years after that rally.
But he would be booed today if he attempted to address a rally at Makerere.
In fact, the most startling thing is how dramatically tables have been turned over the last 40 years. Were he alive today, it is unlikely that Prof Foster Byarugaba would be standing on a campaign platform for the NRM; the hop-step-and-jump of political gymnastics is now more likely to feature titans with names like Buchaman, Master Parrot or Bad Man, a Rasta or same such.
The kids born in the ghettos are now at Makerere while those who campaigned amongst intellectuals at Makerere in 1980 are campaigning with the riff-raff in the ghettos. UPM/NRM campaigned in poetry and governed in prose, now it is hanging on in patois. You see the gunshot? When that fire it hot!
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter.
There was Miss Biology – as short as a specimen, hair pulled back in a puff at the back of her head, hips and lips moving across the front of the class, going on about chromosomes and chlorophyll. All I recall was the small white plastic bottle in which she constantly and, as surreptitiously as possible, spat the tell-tale signs of her morning sickness.
Then there was Mr Mathematics, who, clearly ignorant about biology or the human anatomy, believed that by repeated applications of the cane to the buttocks, could somehow imprint algebraic formulae and simultaneous equations onto our brains.
Or the A-Level ‘Divinity’ teacher whose favourite direct-translation phrase, “The Christians for them they say…” always triggered alternating feelings of mirth and good Old Testament anger.
Then, of course, there was King Osca, whose idea of using newspapers to teach English to middle-schoolers triggered a life-long friendship and addiction to mischief, trouble-causing, and telling stories.
There were dozens, maybe hundreds more over the years, some fondly remembered, others thankfully forgotten, even if, to be honest, I hardly remember most of the stuff they taught. I can’t, for the life of me, convert amps to volts, but I know that if you stick a metallic fork into an electric socket you might, ohm, ask ‘watts going on’?
I also know, although not sure whether from physics or civics, that when the missus is pissed off at you each and every one of your actions will have an equal and opposite reaction. I also know that it was the great American philosopher Mike ‘Tython’ Tyson, who made the rather profound observation that everyone has a plan…until they are punched in the mouth.
These life lessons are shared in response to plans by the government to compel teachers to ‘upgrade their papers’ and get at least one, but ideally two degrees. I have not seen or read the research findings that inform this policy but, as a life-long student, I can tell you for free that it isn’t very clever.
Part of it is basic economics of demand and supply. There was a time when degree holders were few and far between, and people listed their MAs and BScs on their business cards. Now it is blasé even for doctorate holders to append PhD to their name, except among fellow trauma survivors.
With so many degrees sloshing around, including some you can buy from vending machines, it is not surprising that as many as one in three graduates end up with non-graduate jobs – and that’s in the United Kingdom. Trust me, it’s much higher here and the investment in graduate studies doesn’t necessarily promise a higher return of income, or on investment, and certainly not on a teacher’s salary. Your Boda guy was probably in Mitchell.
Of course, on average, people with higher degrees often earn more than those without, but some research suggests it is the person – and their initiative, including pursuing and obtaining the degree – that determines the success and higher income, not the degree. No wonder many enlightened employers now look beyond qualifications to competence, including soft skills like emotional intelligence, which they don’t teach in school.
Asking teachers to become subject matter experts speaks to an age of the enlightened master, with their well-thumbed copy of Ordinary Level Physics by A.B. Abbot, at the front of the class, with obedient subjects taking copious notes. That age is gone, buried under the weight of the knowledge on the Internet. We now exist in a new world order of self-teaching and peer learning; in which knowledge evolves constantly; in which textbooks can become obsolete before they are printed and bound.
Good teachers should, of course, master first principles and have practical training in and knowledge of pedagogy, or how learning takes place. Atop this they should then layer practical skills of mentorship and other life skills that will allow them to help their charges find themselves, first within the confined classroom space, before being released into the gladiatorial amphitheatre of modern life.
Rather than endear quadratic equations to me, violence by Mr Mathematics only steeled me in the ability to take 20 lashes of the cane, walk back to my seat nonchalantly, and hold it in until I could weep into my porridge at break time.
Yet, through kind and patient encouragement, the late Prof Rose Mbowa revealed to me all the mathematical truths I needed over a month of private lessons. Good teachers need not have master’s degrees or master the universe; they just need to be great teachers and role models. Get your degree if you want, by all means, but don’t let it define you – or become the key criteria for those who shape our learners.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter. firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2008, researchers from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands conducted experiments to observe people’s behaviour in conditions of order and disorder. One involved placing an envelop with five Euros sticking out in a mailbox, clearly visible to passers-by.
When the mailbox was clean, only about one in 10 passers-by stole the money. When the same mailbox was covered in graffiti, however, thefts rose to about three out of every 10 passers-by. This was one of several experiments that have been carried out to test the ‘broken window’ theory that emerged in the late 1970s, and which argues that untended disorder and minor offenses lead to serious crime and urban decay.
The writer, Malcolm Gladwell, popularised the theory in his book, The Tipping Point, and its contribution to brining down the rate of violent crime in New York City in the 1980s. Despite widespread debate on causation and correlation, several experiments since prove what common sense should tell you for free: You are more likely to be mugged at Clock Tower in downtown Kampala than at Acacia Mall.
The two regular readers of this column might recall this subject many months ago, when we postulated why Kololo does not have signage warning people of fines for pissing on the streets.
We return to the subject due to yet another presidential directive giving the police two days to show plans to deal with a surge in violent crime.
The directive came after a Daily Monitor cover story revealed how city residents were living in fear of armed gangs that attack homes, with apparent impunity, often harming residents before taking off with property. The story referenced at least six incidents in the past fortnight in and around the city – and that is by no means an exhaustive list.
A large part of the surge in violent crime is a predictable outcome of poverty, youth unemployment and income inequality. These require deep reforms that are often painful and slow to show results.
But it also reflects failed policing, a failure of law and order, and urban decay. For every house break-in there is a missing manhole cover sold to scrap metal dealers or a streetlight shining bright from some middle-class compound.
For years, we warned against turning the police away from their basic work into a partisan political militia that hobnobbed with the flotsam and jetsam of the criminal underworld to maintain the regime, rather than law and order. This violent crime is the bastard child of that defilement. Melons, when planted, do not bear apples.
The change in police leadership does not necessarily signal a return to basics, neither does the appointment of military cadres to the top echelons suggest a return to civilian roots. Do not expect a public auction of teargas trucks to buy ambulances.
Within this limited mandate, the police should focus on being more visible and cracking hard on ‘soft’ crimes. For instance, this newspaper has been running a campaign to encourage discipline and restraint among motorists. Many, out of their own upbringing and conscience, have heeded, but even the matatu miscreants toe the line when traffic police are on hand to enforce the law.
Now imagine every car found not obeying the rules was impounded, kept at Namboole Stadium for a week, and the owner fined Shs500,000 for towing and custody. If we did this for two months discipline would return to the streets. Simultaneously we would deal with the spare-parts gangs in downtown Kisekka Market, deploy armed police officers on the streets to deal with phone snatchers, and raid the scrap metal dealerships for road furniture, and so on.
There are two obvious outcomes. First, citizens are more likely to trust the police if it is responsive and professional. Going to a station to report a stolen phone or laptop and having a police officer give you a telephone number to call and bargain with the thief, is not how you build confidence or trust.
Second, a young man who gets away with routinely grabbing phones in the traffic will, before long, graduate to grabbing car keys or robbing banks. Dealing with hygiene issues can prevent many diseases; similarly, to tackle violent crime the police must start with minor crimes and win the trust of those they claim to serve and protect. Put another way, a city that can’t build public toilets or arrest those who piss in the streets is just taking the piss.
This column argued last week that the fight over the red berets, nominally worn by sections of the military but also beloved by the People Power movement reflected the violent political history of civilian-military relations.
We also argued that the fight over a beret and a colour, as opposed to say the rosary or some other religious or tribal symbol, was a form of progress, as political mobilisation went from the primal bases of tribe and religion to common vested interests.
Of course, our politics remains patrimonial, patronage-based and infused with ethnic chauvinism, especially at the highest or most important parts of the puzzle, which is what makes the emerging agitated political discourse, of which People Power is just a small part, rather interesting.
It is easier to explain in Luganda, Lusoga or Swahili but that will take us back a century so let me try in English: A fascinating battle is underway to control and determine the narrative of who means well for Uganda and its people. It plays out in different ways but a couple of examples might help.
When Uganda Airlines takes delivery of its aircraft and starts flying across the region, what is the ‘correct’ line to take? The natural instinct is to rally behind our own and pick it behind other carriers if it offers a competitive price and good service, right? What about pointing out that the business case that was made for it was patchy and unrealistic? Is the person who points out the latter doing worse for the country or better than the one who blindly cheers on what could become an eye-wateringly expensive venture?
Or, take athletics. There is a stirring of pride and emotion when a Ugandan takes on and beats the world, especially on the global stage, and when our anthem and flag play out in foreign lands – but what are we to make of those who point out that this success is happening mostly in spite of our lack of support to these athletes and not because of it?
When someone points out that sports fields across the country have been grabbed and turned over to property developers and used car salesmen, are they doing their patriotic duty of holding the government accountable or are they enemies of the country’s development?
These answers should be pretty obvious but they are anything but in our political discourse. It is becoming polarised into two extreme camps: One that can see nothing good in the current government and one that can see nothing wrong with it.
The fight for the soul of the nation – or at least the fight in the public political discourse – then becomes a fight of those who are inside the feeding trough and those clamouring and elbowing their way to get a spot.
In reality, many of the young people shouting pro-and anti-government slogans are all far removed from the trough. Some on one side hope that by adding the Ugandan flag to their Twitter handles and retweeting every kilometre of tarmac will get them noticed and invited.
Others on the other side want to move in and overturn the feeding trough or make sufficient noise to have maize bran stuffed into their mouths, as they have seen happen with others, to keep them quiet.
Those kicked away from the trough suddenly see everything that is wrong with the country; those who latch onto it then discover things are not that bad, really, and that, in fact, “Mzee is not a bad man, it is the people around him…”
If there is a point to be made here, it is that young people need to identify their struggle and redefine what they are fighting for, not whom they are fighting for. The NRA harnessed the hopes and aspirations of Uganda’s young people and fought its way to power. Then one young man after the other – Tinye, Besigye, Mande, Muntu, Kazoora, et cetera – left, citing they had been lied to and betrayed.
Some of the problems in 1979 when these young men were being recruited into the UPM/NRA still exist today, while others have developed or worsened over time. High youth unemployment, systemic corruption, inequality, ethnic chauvinism and poor health and education systems affect those in People Power as much as they affect those in the ‘silent majority’.
The current fight for the soul of Uganda pits young people against each other, as it did with the UPC youth wingers and the UPM ‘patriots’ and has always done.
What would really move the needle is if the young men and women of Uganda finally found a generational voice to fight for, and not amongst, themselves. Think about that.
Here is a question and try to answer it honestly: How many readers knew, until a few days ago that the Army has a Dress Committee? Hullo? Anyone? Is that a hand in the back? No? No one? Okay – I didn’t know either.
Yes, armies march on their stomachs, a short, fat French emperor once said, so we understand the need for brass bands and quartermasters and all that.
But it is not immediately clear that there is actually a committee that deliberates the important business of the military’s look and feel, colour-coding and so on.
One is tempted to crack silly jokes about a few folks twiddling their thumbs with embroidery while others crack on with the serious business of war – but identity is not a laughing matter.
Neither is the recent warning by the Army against civilians strutting around in military camouflage and, most notably, the red berets worn by the Military Police but, notably, also favoured by members of the People Power (PP)pressure group.
The Army says it is protecting its stores. PP folks say the announcement is a political move to yank away a powerful tool and image of political mobilisation ahead of the elections. Whatever your view, the fight itself is more revealing.
To see why, consider that it is possible, in tourist shops in many cities across the world to buy cheap T-shirts emblazoned with the initials of a security agency, from FBI to NYPD, FSB, LAPD, CIA, Mossad, etc. I have even seen a boda boda rider in Kampala with a ‘New York City Mortuary Attendant” T-shirt, but who am I to judge the living and the dead?
The point is that it says a lot about a society when there is a danger of mistaking an ordinary civilian for a highly trained killer just by the T-shirt or beret they wear. But peel back the layers and you will see that uniforms, especially those associated with the military, carry very powerful lessons and messages.
This goes back many years, including during the Obote I and Idi Amin days when the sight of military uniform, far from being reassuring, was often a sign of impending doom. When the armed conflicts became two- or multi-pronged, such as during the Bush War, distinct uniforms were an important distinction of good guys from bad guys. It signalled to civilians whether to either flee or come out of hiding. It also meant that one or both sides could commit atrocities then blame them on the other just by a mere change of uniform.
To this day, it is common for one to drive past a police checkpoint undisturbed just by showing off just enough military camouflage. A military or police jacket hanging loosely off the back of the driver’s seat is often enough to hoist the occupants and their associates above any pesky law or regulation obtaining in that moment, whether it is security checks or traffic rules. To that end therefore, and whatever the motivation, the fight over uniforms is political.
It is also more than just military uniform. A Yellow ruling-party T-shirt with The Candidate’s picture on the front can serve the same ‘hoisting above the law’ purpose described above as an army jacket. But it can also bring the wearer into a lot of trouble if they are caught in a dark alley in an Opposition stronghold even if they don’t support the NRM and are only wearing the shirt out of need and the guaranteed supply every five years.
This represents ‘progress’, in a counterintuitive way. Political mobilisation is traditionally built around identity – tribe and religion, for instance – not interests.
Where social economic classes emerge, such as in the higher income urban constituencies, it is easier for people to coalesce around interests and individuals seen as likely to defend them, and thus vote for “non natives”.
But in poor urban areas where tribal and religious identities are blurred, and where incomes have not risen to create a propertied class with vested interests, mobilisation is around very primal needs: The need to continue eating or get a chance to eat. In these unsophisticated spaces one needs basic primary colours – yellow, red, blue and green – to signal. Few candidates with fuchsia-coloured posters have been known to win elections.
More seriously, and as we shall argue next time, this is quickly becoming a bitterly divided fight for the soul of the nation. Whichever way it goes will have serious and long-lasting implications.