Will today’s chicken thieves also pose as liberators?

Sunday February 2 2020

Alan Tacca

Alan Tacca 

By Alan Tacca

The name ‘City Square’ did not mock Ugandans as ‘Constitution Square’ does. Moreover, the old name is much easier. Semi-literate presidential advisors and ghetto ambassadors can pronounce City Square. So, too, our peasants when they come to town.
When the serial constitutional mockery has been put behind us, the old name should be restored.

The December 2019 anti-corruption walk from that square to Kololo hinted at the same mockery. The chief walker of the day, President Museveni, already had all the constitutional power he needs to fight corruption.

What he lacked was the compelling sense of responsibility, or the will to fight; a personal weakness he attempted to transfer to other people by acting as the leader of helpless protesters; the First Victim of his government thieves! Can Africa’s playwrights match this exercise in the theatre of the absurd?

But if, even as theatre, the walk had marked a beginning of Executive commitment, the most-suspected thieves would not have been retained in the January 2020 Cabinet reshuffle. Also, the most notorious GAVI and Chogm-2007 villains who have been lying low would not have received encouragement at the recent NRM National Delegates Conference.

The ruling clique has, therefore, indirectly indicated that the vampire state will remain largely intact. Corruption, the glue that holds many government officials and party mercenaries together, masquerading as NRM/Museveni supporters, will not be broken.
Small government-employed thieves look up to their superiors and are emboldened.

Young village loafers, as well as those who have lost or sold land to land grabbers and the new rich, look up to the government sharks and learn that stealing makes getting the day’s bread and socio-economic power much easier.


With increasing power, moral sanction becomes more diminished. Even in their churches, they note that the really powerful thieves are received as heroes.

But in our villages, the most exposed items are usually peasants’ unfenced crops and poorly secured farm birds and animals.
The theft of livestock and foodstuff from village gardens is so rampant in some districts that it is almost a type of ‘work’.
And a few weeks back, this ‘work’ might have got an unexpected boost.

Whether pre-arranged, in which case a democracy walk to the Electoral Commission would have been more appropriate, or improvised to draw attention away from the hollowness of the anti-corruption walk, another walk was organised; this time to retrace some of the ground where Museveni’s NRA rebels fought for power in the early 1980s.

If the city good-for-nothings rubbished his will to fight corruption, his peasants would acknowledge that this man was here doing battle when only the tough stood up to be counted. And he is still going strong!

During this walk, Museveni recounted how the rebels sometimes paid peasants for the food they needed; but also how they sometimes harvested without paying, taking advantage of the gardens that had been abandoned by the internally displaced owners.

Considering the cynicism with which the NRM constructs the schemes that keep it in power, it is conceivable that the NRA rebel leaders would have probably suspended their morality and explored the pros of creating situations where peasants were forced to flee. Why, because that displacement would make free food available.

The nobility of the cause of the liberation struggle removed the mark of shame from food theft. Their enemy, Obote’s soldiers, of course, had government supplies.

Now, if the idea of liberation struggle decriminalised or sanitised food theft in the 1980s, what if food theft seeks to dignify itself by claiming to be a feature of liberation in the 2020s?

Put it a different way: A liberation war justified extensive food theft. Can extensive food theft masquerade as an act of liberation?
Will today’s chicken thieves rise to bigger things and also one day claim that they were freedom fighters?

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator.