Story of a thief, president and socialite 

Friday September 18 2020
By Benjamin Rukwengye

As a child, I was told the story of a young man called Mucunguzi, who apparently took his name quite inversely, and saved people from their possessions.

 The story goes that in his village, they had had enough with thieves and the police’s inaction, so the residents decided to take matters into their own hands. It didn’t matter whether you had stolen goats, cash or saucepans, when you got caught you got wrought.

So it was inevitable that several of Mucunguzi’s enterprise partners lost their lives, in his witness, and yet he remained unfazed still, even when everyone could tell he wouldn’t hold out for long.

 But you see 40 days can pass by in a whiff, so it wasn’t long before he was in the throes of an angry mob that was baying for his blood. Details of the crime were pretty hazy but all that mattered is that he was an offender, who had finally been caught in flagrante delicto. 

The evidence wasn’t very conclusive either, because the witness claimed she had seen someone in a shirt that looks like his and that she had also heard the culprits speaking Swahili during the heist. With the crowd closing in over each other, the hapless man went for one last desperate plea, to avoid an early appointment with his creator. He claimed that he had only been gifted the shirt that morning. 


He also wondered how he could be accused of speaking Swahili yet “I don’t even know that when they say Habari, the response is Mzuri”. As you read this, there is a storm brewing in the Ivory Coast because the man in charge, President office, against the advice of nearly everyone. 

Ouattara, has probably craned his neck around the continent and seen several examples of mischief-makers, who got away with it, and wondered why not. The trouble for him is that with the exception of East Africa’s wrangling strongmen, nobody else had it easy when they attempted to cook the Constitution.

In fact, Ouattara himself follows in the line of predecessors for whom things didn’t end well, exactly because of this meddling. General Robert Guéï, in 1999, came in through a coup that had displaced Henri Konan Bédié. When he organised an election the following year, he was roundly defeated by Laurent Gbagbo, but he refused to relinquish power, till street protests forced him to flee the capital.

 Gbagbo himself would try to steal Ouattara’s victory in 2010, forcing a violent stalemate that ended with him and his wife arrested in night clothing; and eventually paraded at the International Criminal Court. 

In short, Ouattara shouldn’t need any convincing because he has everything he needs to desist from this course of action. And yet he, like Mucunguzi, watching his comrades get clobbered to death, he will not see the folly of his ways. 

And because you can only connect the dots looking backwards, now is when I see that story for what it was. The moral, if it’s lost on you, is a cautionary tale that you can only get away with roguery for so long; and that when your time eventually comes, you won’t even master the coherence for it. 

But even more important, the story of Mucunguzi should get us to ask why we do the things we do, even when we have every reason to cease and desist. Why a president who has seen the worst, would walk his country back into it, risking the lives of those he is sworn to protect. Why a security operative would shoot into a crowd of unarmed citizens. Why a socialite would be strutting around with a gun, and even using it to shoot into others’ premises.

 And thought of on a grander scale, why a government would repeat the blunders of those they replaced, seemingly oblivious of the disastrous fate that befell those who came before them.

If you have the same level of naïve intellectual depth as I did in my childhood, you might simply laugh at the story’s punchline. You might even wonder if it’s real or simply a work of fiction. But older people, with the benefit of history, here or wherever, should read more into it. Because you see, the story of Mucunguzi actually ends with a stone landing on his head, sending him to wherever people like him go. 

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds.