What you need to know:
Just like the rampant rise of petty crimes like theft is linked to a bad economy, so is the situation where small arms are exchanged and in use on the black market.
I was exchanging a business message with someone in Kampala when he replied with an image of burning smoke around City Square, a small but determined patch of green a few hundred meters from the center of Kampala, the main Post Office building.
Central Police Station is the most prominent government installation there. A few seconds later, another image sputtered of burning cars on Parliament Avenue. This one spot was even starker, there were two police vehicles on fire outside the former police headquarters, now the Ministry of ICT, opposite the Ministry of Justice, and next door to Jubilee House that houses the Inspectorate of Government. The fires were a stone’s throw away from Parliament and City Hall, in short what passes as government row. This street was once so important in prestige it was named after the sitting president at the time, Milton Obote Avenue.
The rest of the day proceeded with a few pieces of news. Three suicide bombers, and three ordinary persons including police officers died in the blasts. The hospitals incited they had admitted 33 injured people, police officers a big number of them. This was perhaps one time when the introduction of a national ID system made a lot of sense because identifying most people is now much easier in whatever life form they are found. The security infrastructure problem existing now is that with such red hot demand for this document for all functions and services of the Uganda government, and low wages at the NIIRA, the card issuer, bribes are extracted at different stages of the process to issue these cards. People from border communities face other surcharges when they apply for national ID cards away from their places of birth or origin, this time from LC officials, District Security Officers etc. There is also a “VIP” service offered inside the organisation to fast track applications.
In the future, this process must be reviewed. In the evening, the President posted the names of the suicide bombers, and in stark language labeled them as “pigs”. This language while fashionable in the past does not contribute much to solving what is now a bigger imminent threat around us, the rise of low and medium intensity conflict. At the low end are sleeper terrorist cells activated by crumbling social and economic infrastructure and germinated by extremist ideologist rancor in the form of religion. These sleeper cells have access to resources to literally “hire bodies” for self-execution.
The President stated that a Muslim cleric in Lweza about six km from Kampala was behind the indoctrination of these young people. Lweza, a small residential suburb being home to quite large schools, churches including the Pentecostal ones and a few small mosques, is not different from many parts of the country. What the country also needs to address urgently is the current state of economic anxiety, panic and joblessness, especially in the urban enclaves, where a quarter of the population now lives.
If you wanted to understand urban squalor, you don’t have to limit yourself to Kampala. Jinja recently declared a city with very many beautiful establishments is a good example. A short trip on the main thoroughfare from the main Kenya highway to Kimaka area past Gadaffi barracks and the Airstrip tells you something and this is before you reach the depth of the situation in Mafubira. When government finally woke up to perform long overdue road-works in Nyendo-Masaka, the situation was the same. The Catholic Mission in Kitovu had lobbied to pave the access road to the Cathedral at a time when the entire bedroom community around it was collapsing in potholes. The same situation in Jinja Lubaga or even Bujumbura Hoima where overgrown grass surrounds these establishments.
The President’s message recognises that this economic situation is in the mix. The fast portending rise of conflicts all around us, and the rise of ADF/ISIS cells that are causing mayhem especially in the DRC are growing out of this need. But they are also feeding on organised crime cartels – the mafia that now dominate various industries, energy, minerals, agriculture, construction, fisheries and even public transport. Just like the rampant rise of petty crimes like theft is linked to a bad economy, so is the situation where small arms are exchanged and in use on the black market. The political classes must address this porous economic situation urgently and without delay.
Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate. [email protected]