22 March 2018

Uganda: The Curious Case of the Missing Cattle in the Market and the Cop Who 'Thugged' Me

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The Old Man received a call sometime last year. A fellow, wandering through the Old Man's farm, had come upon a herd of cattle and, whether by malice aforethought or merely on the spur of the moment, had decided that he could find better use of the cows. So he drove off eight.

He did not get far. At the local 'wakisoni', the fortnightly market that took its name from corrupting the word 'auction', someone recognised some of the animals. An alarm was sounded and, in the ensuing pandemonium, the Cattle Thief melted into the crowd. He had only sold one of the eight cows.

What followed is why we are here. Of the seven cows that were recovered, the District Internal Security Officer, in cahoots with market authorities, decided they deserved a finder's fee. So they took and quickly disposed of three cows. The rest, now down to four, were driven to the nearest police post.

There, while waiting for the Old Man to arrive from the city and claim what was his, the Officer in Charge of the police post separated another animal from the dwindling herd and quickly sold it. By the time the Old Man arrived, there were three cows standing.

Initially, the matter was recounted in triumphant tones. Weren't it for the pre-emptive intelligence and the quick action of the law, the Old Man was told, he would have lost all eight cows. But not only had three been recovered, the Cattle Thief would soon be hauled in, put on a short leash, then sent to zero-graze at the nearest detention facility.

As the Old Man is well known in the area, however, it did not take long for the truth to emerge. Presented with witnesses, Officer in Charge fessed up and promised to refund the money.

He paid some, but a significant sum remains outstanding. The DISO denied and, when pressed, made threatening noises. The Old Man, seeing as he has enjoyed a long and healthy life, was willing to let the matter be. Until another recent episode of similar impunity.

An elderly man died in the village. Interstate. His estate, as is custom, contained clan land, which, as is custom, was to be passed on to his offspring, but among the claimants emerged one of unknown provenance.

A decision was taken to administer a DNA test and, until then, a stay of execution ordered. Before the test could be done, the police officer in charge of the area intervened, arbitrarily decreed ownership of the land to the claimant, who swiftly sold it on and, helter-skelter, made for the hills.

To this day, the Old Man remains apoplectic when retelling the story. "How can a police officer take it upon himself to give away clan land?" he thunders to whomever he finds? "What has this world come to?!" It does not help that the Old Man is the head of the clan

Senior officials in the police force have been appraised of these developments - the latter relatively recent in occurrence - and their promises of justice eagerly awaited, but we retell the two stories to show how far deep the diseased tumour of impunity has grown in our security agencies - and thus how much work awaits the new police leadership.

While a lot of attention has been paid to the thuggish behaviour of some senior officials on the national scene, little has been said about the example their indiscipline has served to small-town OCs and intelligence officials.

There, removed from the scrutiny of television cameras and social media stalwarts, many are a law unto themselves, arresting innocent people on a whim, grabbing property, threatening violence and worse.

There are, of course, thousands of men and women in police uniform and in the security services who are honest, hardworking and diligent. While many these days have been turned into mere guards to clear the way for their tardy bosses, there are many more who stand in the rain to direct traffic, patrol the streets at night, and meticulously investigate crimes to find the bad guys.

We must not let them become a minority. And we must not let such impunity, even of the variety of police officers and DISOs eating four-legged exhibits go unpunished.

Otherwise we shall become like a certain country in the region where one is advised to run when one sees thugs. Or the police.

Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man's freedom fighter. 

Twitter: @Kalinaki.

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