A Tale of Two Crimes: of Mayhem and Wanton Theft

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A Tale of Two Crimes: of Mayhem and Wanton Theft


A Tale of Two Crimes: of Mayhem and Wanton Theft

(Written a few days after 9 October 2020)


 “What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?” ― William Golding, Lord of the Flies




Around this time four years ago, I used this platform to express the relief that I felt, at that time, that on the eve of Uganda’s 54th "Independence" anniversary, I was as far away from Uganda as possible in the capital of a South East Asia country, and not in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. I went on to say that if I had been in Uganda, I was afraid that I would never have been able to celebrate Uganda’s "Independence" day in the way that I saw fit. I gave reasons for my tampered joy. For one, in Uganda, there were going to be only Museveni-Government sanctioned and organised Independence celebrations, and nothing else. Also, the homes of opposition leader Kiiza Besigye Kifefe, Kampala Mayor Elias Lukwago and other Ugandans who did not agree with Pulezidenti Museveni were at that time surrounded by state militia to prevent them from holding “Independence” Day celebrations of their choosing. How could I feel any joy when some of my fellow citizens were denied freedom simply for standing up for what are their inalienable rights as citizens of Uganda and as human beings?


For expressing the frustration that I had no heart to jump up and down to celebrate Uganda’s Independence, I received some stiff rebukes and telling-off from some Ugandan readers of my post. “You are not a patriotic Ugandan! ….. You should be ashamed of yourself.” So, went some of the refrains. This Uganda Independence season, I am in coldish North America. I am riding out the COVID-19 pandemic’s work-from-home regimens in relative isolation. I am waiting on Old Man Winter to arrive. Also, I am waiting and hoping that the coronavirus to get weaker and peter away. And still, the situation in Uganda brings no more joy than I could muster 4 years ago while in South East Asia.


A few days before the actual date, one of children reminded me that it would Uganda’s 58th Independence Anniversary on 9 October 2020. Sadly, I still had not heart to celebrate. Two Ugandan friends, from Ontario and the UK respectively, called to see how I was doing around Independence Day. They were as subdued as I was. It is not that we are not grateful that Uganda is no longer a colony of some powerful. It is that, somehow, the meaning of “Independence” has fallen so far short of the freedom that our parents had hoped that we and our children would be experiencing today.


During this Uganda Independence Season, I was told about two criminal incidents that crystalized, to me, the dire situation that Uganda is in. The situation is that, over the past 58 years, and possibly starting before that, Uganda has been digging itself into a rat hole. A real rat hole entails a situation where many rats end up rushing down a hole in which there is practically no food or any other sustenance materials, AND there is no or every little prospect of climbing back out of the hole for the rats. The hole is too deep, and the slope is too steep and slippery, and the way up is blocked by the enormous number of in-coming rats. Eventually, the rats in the hole end up crushing and suffocating each other to death. Any surviving rats end up starving and/or cannibalising on each other to the point of extinction. Uganda’s metaphorically parallel rat hole is the prevailing situation in the country in which lying and misleading others, inflicting of pain on others, wastage of human lives and human talent, and stealing, devaluation, wastage and weaponization of cultural, historical, natural, man-made, financial and other assets and resources seem to have become a way of life.


I hope that a long and deep look at these two, actual life, and not made-for-TV, criminal incidents can set the stage for some more nuanced understanding of contemporary Uganda, and also help in the search for solutions to “Uganda’s  Problem”.




The first criminal incident was an act of mayhem. In human rights circles, mayhem is the deliberate willful and wanton maiming of a person with the intention of permanently disabling, disfiguring, or killing the victim. It is what is called obutemu in Luganda. The mayhem incident that I am referring to happened just a few days before the 58th Independence Day. A young man was returning home to his wife and child in the evening after work. On the way, he stopped at a neighbourhood shop to buy some snacks for his child. Soon after he resumed his journey, he was set upon by a group of people who brutally assaulted him and presumably left him for dead. The attackers took the bag of snacks!! The injured young man will need to go through many rounds of rehabilitative and reconstructive, surgery as well as psycho-social treatment. His full recovery may take a long time. Also, the long-term impact on this young person’s cognitive responses and ability to function efficiently in various aspects of live is unknown.


No one seems to know who the assailants were and how and why they particularly chose to attack this young man. If the assailants wanted to take his packet of snacks and or anything else on him, why did they not just take these items instead of also trying to kill him? Were they acting on their own or were they acting on behalf of another party or parties?


Why would anyone inflict this kind of cruelty on another person?


Many who came to know of the young man’s fate expressed deep sympathy for the victim. However, people also tended to shrug off the attack on the young man as a “routine operation” by hoodlums. There was, in ways, a fatalistic attitude to the young man’s near-death experience. Someone said, “Things happen! I hope it does not happen to him again!” But is there any guarantee that this type of cruelty will not happen to this person again or to someone else?


I personally asked some people to suggest some possible reasons as to why this young man was singled out for attack. Most people I spoke to thought he had not been singled out. They thought that the young man was just there when the hoodlums chose to strike. The hoodlums got what they wanted and left. What they wanted also included letting everyone know that they were a force that could do whatever they wanted to anyone without any repercussions.  


There were also other conjectures. Some people said that the hoodlums “just like” to inflict pain and even to kill people. In other words, the young man happened to fall in the hands of, obviously, a sadistic and mentally deranged group of people; he was just a victim of the blood-thirsty ruffians. Some theorised that may be someone was jealous of the young because he is educated and has a job. Another person said that may be the young man did not show due respect to the members of hoodlum gang. Still, others thought that may be the young man had some secret connection to Robert Kyangulanyi Sentamu (aka Bobi Wine), the pop star youth who seems to be leading a youth resistance against Pulezidenti Museveni’s rule. If so, then the young man was bound to be set upon and brutalised by supporters of the ruling party and the Government. According to this train of thought, may be a relative or relatives of friends of the young man were involved in opposition politics; then, attacking the young man would teach those people a lesson.  And so, the conjectures went on. 


How can anyone get away with mayhem in a public setting?


Since the assault took place in a public place, I asked why no one in the vicinity of the incident went to help the young. Intervening to help the young was something that seemed to be completely out of question. It was off the table. It is something, I was told, that could only be suggested by a “naïve foreigner”. No by-standers or passers-by could help the young man because the hoodlums are, in and by themselves, so powerful that neither the police nor the members of the Local Councils (LC) that are supposed to serve as the grassroots governing authority in Uganda can countenance them. In fact, the hoodlums are known to terrorise policemen and LC members with the same verdant impunity with which they terrorise the common folk.


Another reason why such criminality is not confronted by the general public and authorities, so I learned, is that the Government of Uganda itself appears to be an enthusiastic and systematic encourager and employer of the so-called hoodlums in enforcing its agendas and in containing any signs of alternative ideas or dissent in the population. This has been done in a number of ways. One way has been through the establishment by the Government of what it calls Local Defence Units (LDU). LDU are so called armed civilian forces. They mainly comprise recruits from unemployed and under-employed youth in congested urban residential areas and rural settlements. After a few days of para-militia training, the youth are deployed to villages under the command of respective Uganda People’s Defence Forces brigades in local areas. In anyone area, no one seems to know which citizens belong to the LDU and which ones do not. Sometimes, members of the official armed forces are camouflaged as LDU members.


Often, no one knows when members of LDUs are acting on behalf of the Government or when they just enforcing their own personal or mafiosi agendas. The LDU members have also been known to act as hired killers for private individuals and interest groups. Since the agenda of the Government seems to be to instill terror in the lives of the citizens, this situation of deliberately sowing and cultivating fake news, ignorance and mistrust suits the Government very well.


Sometimes, the wanton brutality and killings of the LDUs are highlighted by the press and human rights organisations. In some of those cases, the Government may occasionally put the offending LDU members on trial for acting outside of their prescribed scripts. However, such cases are few and far between. Moreover, the supposedly offending LDU members are easily acquitted, given light sentences, and can be released without serving their sentences. Such trials are, hence, considered by many people to be mere exercises in window dressing.


Another way in which the Government encourages and uses hoodlums is through state-sponsored vigilantism. In this case, the Government dresses military and paramilitary (police officers, intelligence agents and LDU members) staff in civilian clothes. For good measure, they may also add co-opted and compliant boda-boda drivers and other reputedly bad-tempered sorts in the mix. These fake civilians are fitted and armed with big sticks, iron bars, fist rings and even machetes. They are, then, sent out and let loose on innocent citizens on the pretext that they (the government-armed hoodlums) are “concerned citizens” who are out “to restore public order and to protect lives and property” – and other nonsensically cynical pretexts like that. More often that not, the government-sponsored vigilante groups are accompanied and encouraged and supported by policemen and soldiers. The latter are there to ensure that if any citizens resist the vigilantes, such citizens are dealt with by gun fire, kidnapping, imprisonment and torture.


There are few living Ugandans who have not experienced or otherwise known of the legendary cruelty with which Uganda’s police, defense and intelligence institutions enforce the will of those in leadership roles on the people. Over the years, these institutions of oppression and suppression have been rolled out under labels like Uganda Army, Uganda Armed Forces, Uganda People’s Defence Forces, Presidential Guard, Uganda Police, Criminal Investigations Department, Special Police, Public Safety Unit, General Service Unit, State Research Unit, Directorate of Military Intelligence, Directorate of Internal Intelligence, and so forth and so forth. This is not to speak of Government Ministers, Members of Parliament (MPs) and other well-connected people who, knowing that they will face no civil or criminal liability and consequences, publicly draw weapons, and shoot people that they do not like or disagree with.


Through LDUs and state-sponsored vigilantism, the Government has added some more layers to the mix of mechanisms of state repression, oppression, and suppression. It has also generated more confusion about and blurred the responsibility and accountability of the state for the safety and security of citizens and residents of the country. This is in line with the will and way of the Government of Uganda is to instill doubt, confusion, and unmitigated and unmitigable fear in its own citizens.


Little wonder that some years ago at an international meeting in Peking, upon learning that I was born in Uganda, someone chimed: “You come from the most well disorganised country in the world. It is a national mafiosi they have over there.”




The second criminal incident that accentuated the bad taste in the mouth as I contemplated Uganda’s 58th “Independence” was a fraudulently criminal and impunity-laced act in which an innocent and well-meaning citizen was dispossessed of his property. A close equivalent of this type of criminal impunity in Luganda is “obulya z’amaanyi”, literally meaning “taking by force”. It is also the forte of the school yard bully and the rapist. This particular incident was narrated to me by a friend a few days after 9 October 2020. My friend told me that he had lost some of his land and the cattle on it. He said that one day some people came to his house and told him that a certain portion of his land belonged to them, and that he had to stop whatever he was doing on it at once. The people gave him an ultimatum to be off the land when they came back. He was to leave all physical assets, including his cattle on the property.


The friend went to his lawyers and asked them to investigate the matter. They decided to go to court to contest the land grab. Even that was not easy. For a start, they were told that they had to file the case in a court that was some 70 kilometres away from the said land! Then, due to COVID-19 restrictions, all court appearances, including lodging of cases were strictly by appointment. The Court Clerk’s palm needed a heavy dose of before she would put the case before the judicial bench. The clerk then reported back that the presiding bench also wanted some grease before hearing the case. Then the bench ruled against my friend – on a technicality. Apparently, the people claiming the land had put a little advertisement in a Uganda newspaper some time in the past, saying that a particular parcel of land that is located in so-and-so place was disputed, and whoever was interested in it should lodge a claim within a certain time. No one had lodged a claim, and so the land was given to the claimants.


How was my friend supposed to have seen an obscure advertisement in an obscure newspaper about his obscure piece of land? That did not matter. The law is the law, as they say, even if the law is an ass! My friend’s land would go to the claimants. There may have been the possibility of a consolation reward: my friend could sue the Registrar of Lands for some monetary compensation for “the mistake” that the latter had made in giving away the land. On quick examination it was found that the particular person that had been involved in “the mistake” was “no longer with us”, presumably implying that the latter was dead. At that point, my friend's lawyers and relatives told him that any further pursuit of the matter could end up with my friend losing more than his land. So, my friend gave up on the matter and lost his land.


Such is the viciousness of land grabbers and the impunity with which they can use the apparatus of state to protect them. I had no reason to doubt my friend’s account of the fate of his land and animals. I have myself had some brush with marauding land grabbers in Uganda. Not too many years ago, I was with a party that included a certified surveyor inspecting some land that I inherited from my parents. Someone arrived in an SUV, parked his car, and came up to us, matching through the jungle. As soon as he reached us, he announced: "My name is Arinaitwe. This is my land. What are you doing here? ..... Do you know me?" (The real name used in this exchange has been changed for the safety of others who were present.) Since we were with a certified surveyor, we let the Surveyor speak for us. He told “Arinaitwe” that the land belonged to me, and he (the surveyor) was doing some inspection on my behalf. He showed Arinaitwe the land titles and asked Arinaitwe to show him proof of his ownership of the land. Arinaitwe changed the story and said: "I am from State House. I just wanted to see if you are selling this land." The relevance of “State House” with the selling and buying of land can be anyone’s guess. By the sounds of it, Arinaitwe was telling us: “I am from the President’s Office. …. I am connected.” It was intimidation of the first order. The surveyor told “Arinaitwe” that we are not selling any thing and the latter left.


How can some people dispossess others of their property with such impunity? Sadly, people like "Arinaitwe" are opportunistic thieves that are, more often than not, enabled by national leaders. They would like to instill fear in people like me that may be one day they will come back to snatch my land from me in the same way that my friend lost his land. The way “Arinaitwe” announced and pronounced his name left no doubt that he wanted us to know that “Arinaitwe” was not just a name. To him the name “Arinaitwe" was also a badge of superiority and authority over other people. He was the embodiment of a bully. What “Arinaitwe” was doing was going around misusing a name from Ankore and his possible connection the President’s office to steal property. Some would go on to say that “Arinaitwe” steals property on his own behalf and also on behalf of members of the ruling clique.


“Arinaitwe” wanted to give the impression that he is entitled to take other people's property simply because he, presumably, has some ancestral roots in the same area of Uganda as the President; and he, again presumably, works for the President. Now, I was born in Buganda. One line of my ancestry goes back to Mubiru (of the Mamba Clan) who arrived in Buganda during the time of Kabaka Kintu Kato. I have Kiganda names and I struggle to string together a full sentence in any other language of Uganda. Yet, going up and down from generation to generation, I have always had many people from other parts of Uganda that are relatives of mine by birth and by marriage. Thus, I have relatives who identify themselves as originating from other areas of Uganda.  Suffice it to say that if I were asked to name five of my closest friends, at least three or four of them would be people from Ankore.  Hence, I get really riled up by people like “Arinaitwe” who try to make dirty livelihoods using fear-laced nefarious ethnic innuendos.  


An ironic twist to the “Arinaitwe” saga is that someone in our land inspection group said they that did not think that "Arinaitwe" was even a person from Ankore or for the matter even a Ugandan. In all probability, “Arinaitwe” was a person born in Rwanda and a citizen of that country. He seems to have had a bad reputation with the land surveying and licencing community for a long time. But, somehow, he also seems to survive and to thrive, apparently through his supposed connections to State House.


It is, thus, important to stress here that I am not concerned about the 3 - 4 million fellow citizens of Uganda who may identify themselves as Banyarwanda. I am not even concerned about any person from Rwanda who comes to Uganda to engage in legitimate business. My concern is with criminals from any country who come to Uganda and often work with some equally criminal Ugandans to exploit and perpetuate the failed governance in our country for their own selfish ends.


People like “Arinaitwe” should never be able to invoke the expression “from State House” to steal other people’s property and engage in all kinds of nefarious activities. In many countries that I have lived in, the place where the Head of State of the country lives and/or works from has a sacred aura to it. It is a place to which citizens can go to in all situations – to be thankful for national successes, to seek comfort and shelter during national challenges, and just to get affirmation of and exalt in the pride of being citizens of their country. Nobody in those countries goes to commit a crime while proclaiming that he is coming from the President’s house!


Now, let me state that in our brief encounter, it was not clear what type of relationship “Arinaitwe” had to “State House”. However, there are some legitimate questions to be asked. Such as, when and how did “State House” (a supposed command post and symbol of national leadership) become such a monstrously abominable institution that all manner of people, real and as well as fake, often claim to be “from State House” when they terrorise, rob and kill Ugandans? To put it another way, how did “State House” become such a reviled symbol of reverse and perverse patriotism that at the mention of “State House”, people’s first instinct is to hold their noses and look for a safe place to run to? Most important of all, what measures is the incumbent resident of “State House” taking to ensure that the powers that are vested in him are not hijacked and subverted by his subordinates and the “Arinaitwes” of this world to the detriment of his fellow citizens?



In one country where I lived and worked for a long time, there is a centuries-old and commonly practised custom that allows any citizen to go to the gate of the Head of State and stand in a certain prescribed posture without saying anything. Once the person presents himself in the prescribed fashion, the gatekeepers must inform the Head of State right away of the person’s presence. The Head of State is, then, obliged to come out and have a private and confidential meeting with that person. If the Head of State is present and cannot meet the person right away, the person is taken to a place in the Head of State’s household where he can await his turn for an audience with the Head of State. If the Head of State is not present, the citizen must be informed when he can come back when the Head of State is available. Also, if the Head of State is out walking or driving in car, he must stop and grant an audience to any citizen who stands and signals to the Head of State with the prescribed posture.


The person who looks for such an audience with the Head of State can confer with the latter about any matter that is on his/her mind.  Before, during or following-up on such a meeting, any gratuitous exchanges (whether financial, in kind or otherwise) between the person and the Head of State is prohibited. For example, the citizen cannot take a present to the Head of State and the Head of State can give or promise give the citizen a cow or anything else. Whatever is discussed is confidential. The citizen has full immunity on anything that he/she discusses with the Head State. The citizen cannot be indicted, prosecuted or persecuted based on anything said or arising from his meeting with the Head of State. The Head of State, who is a constitutional, rather than executive, figure can use his prerogative to take up or not to take up anything arising from these meetings with the Prime Minister and the Government.


Further, on one gazetted day each month, all public servants must be present in their respective offices and directly meet with and deal with the concerns of any citizen that asks to see them. This applies equally to the Prime Minister (Head of Government), to Ministers and Heads of Departments and to all other subordinate staff.


In this country, every citizen or resident, regardless of their position in government, civil, religious, military or other vocational concerns, is obliged to prove to the Anti-Corruption Commission that all the income and wealth they possess was acquired through legitimate means. If one is found to have income and wealth that is beyond their ability to do legitimate work, to do legitimate business or to get that income in any other legitimate means, that property is taken away; and the person may also be jailed once their criminality is established in a court of law.


When I first went to work in this country more than 30 years ago, it was the fourteenth poorest country in the world. Since that time, the national income of the country has grown at around 8% per year. Today, it is an upper middle-income country with one of the most evenly distributed income profiles in the world. The people credit the country’s development to the freedom, peace and tranquility that have resulted from a culture that values respect for each other, good governance, attention to conservation and management of natural resources and the environment, and the building of beneficial relationships with other countries in the region and global community.


These are scenarios that are, I believe, impossible to even imagine in present day Uganda.

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