To English, the German language bequeathed the noun ‘schadenfreude. Schaden’ for damage or harm, while ‘freude’ is joy or pleasure. In a general context, schadenfreude is the pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.
Brutality meted out to innocent civilians by security agents, especially while enforcing the guidelines on the lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus, is the talk of the town.
The security agencies are almost doing it for fun. At one time, it seemed like they were desperate. When some Local Defence Unit (LDU) operatives, decided that when they did not have someone to beat, they went into people’s homes and beat them ‘just for the sake.’ There is also footage showing a dog being beaten for good measure.
Security agencies in Uganda have had that infamous violent history following them from the colonial times. From then, their order has always been a simple, but tall one as well. Cow and soften the population for those in charge find it easy to lord it over them. Running efficient autocratic environments requires a lot of ingenuity.
One of the tricks is to divide the population distinctly such that there is no cohesion and meeting point on what bedevils them, even when they are in the same boat. In the case of security operatives, many of them are as poor and desperate as the people they superintend and beat.
The only difference is that they have a uniform, a gun and a stick to wield.
Societies that are in the clutch of poverty and poor governance are likely to produce three types of people. First, there are those who will simply find the predicament too unbearable and daunting. They will take the easier option by giving up, lie low like an envelope or drown their sorrows in alcohol and waste away.
Then there are those who will fight back physically and violently at every opportunity that presents itself. These are the ones who will organise, write, complain, riot and demonstrate to make their point. Then there is the third and most dangerous one. This group looks at itself as the most exploited and ill-treated by the system.
People here assume that everyone else is better than them. They take it further by thinking that the status of those they see as being well off is because they are profiting from the very system, which has short changed others. In other words, they are secretly in bed with the exploiter. As a consequence, they do everything to fight, hurt and bring those people down. It is a dog’s life for the foot soldier, the police officer and LDUs. The living conditions, the poor pay, the long hours, the lack of insurance once you die on duty are just a tip of the iceberg.
They look at civilians as people who are pampered by the very system that puts them down. Many of them take it that people look down upon them and despise them because of their lowly standard of living. So whenever the opportunity avails itself, they try to rub into the minds of the population that they are not as small and powerless as they think. They whip and brutalise them to send this point home and teach the population that they are not as great as they think simply.
But this spirit possesses many other people in Uganda despite their station in life. There is a tendency to think that whoever is well off has first and foremost attained all they have by being in bed with the system.
Secondly, that they are arrogant and mean. That, they look down upon others and scorn those who are struggling. This mentality is evident in the way people we assume are prosperous, are treated. In the village, people will raid their plantations claiming that they deserve to be robbed because they are thieves themselves.
In urban areas with the advent of social media, every rumour will be conjured up to show how unscrupulous those who succeed are. They will lie about them because ‘there is no way’ a person can do well in the environment in which we are ‘all suffering.’
(It is this attitude that has made nugu music very popular – these are the songs that tell the tale of jealousy and ill-will directed at those who prosper.)
This mentality is no different from that of the LDU. It intimidates and humiliates others so as to manipulate them. Deep down in the heart of many Ugandans, there is an LDU waiting to pounce on his next victim. Spoiling their reputation and hurting others will bring joy and pleasure. It will make them feel powerful that they have dragged someone down to their own level.
When you complain about the excesses of LDUs and other security agencies, be sure that you are no are different from them if you are in the habit of peddling falsehoods and forwarding unsubstantiated messages about others on social media and beyond.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org.