I can think of many friends who would flee at the first sign of trouble with the law. Robo would disappear in his coffee shamba and reappear in Manafwa under a new identity. OO would be found trying to scale the fence at State House, calling out for Mzee to help. Tim would be found at the General Post Office, insisting that African detectives are too incompetent to look for him on Kampala Road, and so on and so forth.
The one I am sure would calmly present himself at a police station, in a dapper suit and bail money ready, is Nicholas Opiyo. In fact, few lawyers spend as much time hobnobbing with the police trying to find “disappeared” people, helping folks post bail or just press back against the overreach of executive authority.
Much has been made about the manner of Nick’s arrest, as well as that of the other three lawyers - Herbert Dakasi, Anthony Odur and Esomu Obure. It is, of course, intended to tell all those who have him on speed-dial for legal assistance that they should be afraid, be very afraid.
But more intriguing are the “crimes” as police said on Twitter: Money laundering and other malicious acts. How did we get here? Truth is, it all happened while “we are seeing” Civic rights and the civil space have been nibbled away right in front of our eyes.
There are the break-ins at civil society offices and the homes of people of interest in which electronic gadgetry always goes missing. I know; been there, suffered that. There are the quiet agents planted in offices, media houses allowed to run off-balance-sheet accounts to capture and control public opinion.
The low-key tax audits. The well-meaning relative who, having been targeted, asks why you don’t “stop disturbing these people” and worry instead about taking care of your children. Unlike a high-profile arrest that happens every so often, these are routine and insidious. And they are widespread.
A lot of it is facilitated by illegalities dressed up in the military fatigues of faux legality, or what others might term legislative and institutional tyranny. Regulators behaving like rulers. Investigators turned inquisitors, using their legal mandate to carry out unwanted and unwarranted colonoscopies into corporate and individual buttocks. It’s all shitty, man.
Money laundering is just the latest trick in the handbook. We know which betting houses, both virtual as well as brick-and-mortar, have long been the bathtub of dirty money in this town. We know why most hardware shops only take cash. We even know who receives the chits that authorise cheating and the eating of taxpayers’ money.
Only the FIA doesn’t know. So it goes after NGOs receiving foreign funding. The net effect is to criminalise receiving money from abroad. Officials whose capacity has been “built” under Western donor funding to the “Justice, Law and Order sector” go around hunting for people receiving money from abroad. The government is happy to beg and borrow and prostitute itself to “development partners” but will spear any citizen it finds in bed with the aforementioned partners. It is a jealous lover.
This column has previously bemoaned the silence over egregious crimes - including at least three public massacres in the last decade alone in which dozens of Ugandans were shot dead. None of those murders have been officially investigated.
Sometimes, as happened in Kasese, the families of the victims are identified and small sums pressed into their palms as blood money. Ensi egula milambo, we are reminded, without being told how many bodies gone, how many to go.
But back to Nick. I honestly never had him down as a money launderer. But now that I think about it, the drug barons are the guys in the flowery Mexican shirts, Panama hats smoking Cuban cigars. The money guys - their launderers - are nerdy, bespectacled and in slim-fit suits. A bit like Nick, that is.
It makes perfect sense! This has nothing to do with Nick helping investigate perpetrators of crimes against citizens or human rights abuses. Nothing to do with the system fighting back against the guys who profile and help hold personally responsible those who use the law to break the law. Of course Nick’s a launderer - just look at his crisp white starched shirts! I can’t wait for his day in court. The laundering allegations will, of course, be interesting, but what I really wanna hear are these “malicious acts.”
Nick is a big boy and will ride this storm. Naza kubagye. But pity the smaller guys who dare fall into The Man’s radar. Who will speak out for them? Who will hide them in the coffee shamba or lift them over the wall? Who knows them? Ogu noha?
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and poor man’s freedom fighter.