Imagine, Dear Reader, that you are one of the parents of the young men and women, numbering in their hundreds, arrested across the country over the last six months.
You would have received the news of the arrests with trepidation; young people get into all sorts of foolish schemes, so what had junior done this time? Had be been caught in a pub after curfew despite your efforts to raise him in an ascetic life of abstention? Had he done something worse, say “given the neighbour’s lass a stomach?”
Your heart would have sunk on hearing that things were, in fact, a lot more serious. Junior was being held not by the police but by the military. And he was being held for possessing military stores. Had this boy been playing around with guns and bullets? Had he read and understood the hashtag of removing a dictator literally?
The rollercoaster of emotions would have continued. On the one hand there would have been relief from learning that the military stores in question were just a red beret that looked similar to that worn by the military police, but visibly and distinctly different. On the other hand, that would have been followed by frustration that they would be charged in military court, denied bail, and remain in custody for a long time.
That frustration would triple if you learnt that your particular kid did not even own a red beret but just happened to be collateral damage. How dare he support someone else?
Fast forward, five months later. Junior is languishing in jail, on trial but without being convicted or being granted bail. Then the television news shows a military retreat happening at the National Leadership Institute, Kyankwanzi. You look out for familiar faces of decorated officers but all you can see are over-eager new faces, and a few recognisable older ones, of newly-elected members of Parliament from the ruling NRM party.
You look closely. The uniforms are real, fresh out of the stores of the mighty Uganda People’s Defence Force. They even have the Ugandan flag on the sleeves. It doesn’t make sense. These are civilians who are not authorised to possess or wear military fatigues. They are not freshly recruited cadets joining the military; they are politicians, with clearly defined partisan sides, wearing the uniform of the national army which is, by law, supposed to be non-partisan.
Then, from the corner of your eye, you see some movement. Soldiers – this time the real deal, with guns, bullets and other military paraphernalia – enter the picture. They are here to make arrests and nip this treasonous rebellion in the bud. But you are mistaken, the soldiers are there to guard the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
While he is the Chief Custodian of the Constitution, he also happens to be the Chairman of the Party. These are his people and what’s wrong with them having a little weekend fun playing Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, right? You can shoot a bazooka here, lob a hand grenade there as long as no one does anything dangerous like wearing a red beret, okay kids?
The retreat ends. The military uniforms are handed back and the new MPs are bused back into town, free men and women freshly trained political ninjas yahoo!.
Elsewhere, scattered in prisons and in ironically named ‘safe houses’, young men and women remain detained for having civilian attire that resembles that used by the military. The civilians who actually wore real military attire retire to their homes and beds.
So we carry on, normalising criminal hypocrisy, legitimising partisan and punitive application of the law. And we expect those whose children remain in jail to smile, laugh and build a shared identity with us as we preach water and drink wine.
We expect mothers whose children are returned half-dead in the night or dumped by the roadside with visible signs of torture to weep quietly at night then march forward by day towards a secure future of shared prosperity?
Lawyer and writer Daudi Mpanga, in a rare moment of erudition, captured it best: “We shall never see the Uganda we want until we develop a central nervous system that enables us to feel each other’s pain.”
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and poor man’s freedom fighter.