By Denis K. Mukasa
In the Ugandan media and on the streets and village paths, one is often treated to the spectacle of people being violently assaulted, and even killed, by a mob, because they have fallen foul of other people.Suspected thieves are lynched as a matter of course, and society does not raise an eyebrow. Presumed land thieves have been badly assaulted by those “defending their land” or that of their neighbours. Public assault has been elevated to the level of a blood sport, often captured on camera and broadcast with authorial approval.
Amazingly, in all such instances Ugandan society at large approves. You won’t hear a word from our civic leaders; there is not a sermon from our religious shepherds (bless them), not a note of protest from the Human Rights Commission, not a quote of the constitution from our “learned friends” at the Uganda Law Society (ULS); not a single line written against such practices by our watchdog the journalist fraternity.Even the direct enforcers of the law, the police, only come to collect the injured or the mangled body of the victim, without question or comment as to who will have perpetrated this crime.There is really nothing to ask; this is Ugandan life (or death) as usual. It is the silence of consent.
That is, until the violence goes political! Then, when the police or the army brutalises someone, everybody remembers that particular individual’s human rights, but (I suspect) only if there is political capital to be made from the episode. What else can explain the sudden empathy with a particular victim, and not with all the others? People forget that this violence has a history, that it is organically grown in and from our society.Those young men and women that you see in uniform come from within our society, and they have grown up observing and learning the social norm that those who are “in the wrong” are fair game; it is OK to hurt them.
The journalists who are our eyes and ears (and mouth) suddenly find their voice and condemn the barbarity of violence, and protest the beating of journalists especially, and of any other they favour. The men of the cloth now loudly intone solemn reminders of God’s word regarding the sanctity of life. The lawyers wake, and quote loudly from our Bill of Rights. Our friends from afar (EU et al) now react with an irritated “tut-tut!” to this hitherto “normal” phenomenon. The commanders recite for us tales of the glorious history of their forces in defending the people, and promise to do better hereafter. But in the heat (and emotion) of the moment, everyone still fails to see the elephant in the room: that we have accepted violence as a Ugandan way of life.
You can lecture the police and the soldiers all you like to observe human rights, but if as children they were not taught this, and if society at large sees nothing amiss, the lectures will largely remain in their course notes without internalisation, and in the heat of the action, the individuals will revert to who they really are; members of Ugandan society who like the rest of us, believe in immediate violent retribution. It would be much better to publicly discuss this social problem now, so that in future we don’t have to send our youth to prison for outlooks they learned from us!
As a society we need to change our attitudes towards violence otherwise we will inevitably keep bringing the youth up as violent individuals. Indeed if one went only by their respective behaviours, at a confrontation between activist youth and the police, (with journalists thrown in the mix), it would be difficult to tell the three groups apart.
They are just being Ugandan youth. Violent!So; home, school, church, mosque, parade ground, all please come to the rescue and help pull this huge log out of Uganda’s eye, before you turn to condemn the speck in your neighbour’s. The life you save could be yours!
The writer is an educationist