Even a plague can be defended

One of my uncles is an agricultural scientist. Growing up in the countryside, we often looked up to him for inspiration.

He had a car and two beautiful houses. He also carried himself around with a gentle swagger that even in old age, he had remained stylish. Our cousins – his children – went to big-name schools in Kampala and conversed amongst themselves in English. Imagining ourselves as parents, our uncle offered the perfect impress.

While I contemplated my combinations for my A-level education, I sought him out for guidance. I wanted to be like him. Like many children of the 1980s, natural sciences were the thing. We wanted to be doctors, vets, engineers, etc. [Nowadays, the government of President Museveni has elevated politicians to the level of role models for our children]. While we spoke, his positions were radically different from the man I had grown up admiring:

“Go study literature and become a lawyer. You’ll make so much money. I studied with many of my friends who are lawyers, they have made so much money,” he advised. And to illustrate his point, he dramatized an incident between a lawyer and a client accused of murder.

“A poor lawyer will ask a murder-suspect client; did you honestly kill the person? The client answers yes. Then the lawyer asks another question; how much do you have for me to win this case? At the end of this conversation, you will have a new millionaire on one side of the table, and a murderer on the other, all of them speaking one language. You do not want to make money, my son?” he rhetorically concluded.

I must have been too young to appreciate the immorality of the scenario my uncle painted. I simply found the illustration fascinating.

But coming of age, and reading Karl Marx and Foucault, and understanding Islam better, I have often returned to this conversation and realised that perhaps one of the biggest dupes of the enlightenment period was the invention of modern law, which was claimed to be free from the encumbrances of culture and religion.

To this end, even the plague can be defended – as long as one learned friend was eloquent enough for the job! Foucault has showed how power makes the legal system function without exposing its ugliness.

See, the profession does not thrive on evidence as often claimed, but on best arguments and automated encryptions. Say, if a judge witnessed a murder scene, he stands down from that case, leaving it for one judge, whose ignorance over the matter is assumed to be better.

Recall a case of a man who is officially dead because the books declared him so? Marxists have showed us that the more sophisticated and coded the law has become, the more distant from justice and fairness it has gone.

The strangest thing about modern law is that it does not see humans as moral beings. But as functional-technocratised bodies who interact through encrypted codes. This de-moralisation of the law explains a great many ignominies afflicting Uganda.

Through coded contracts such as the constitution, penal codes, amendments etc. lawyers and our government merchants shamelessly steal from their compatriots. So, by a few coded sentences in the constitution, Mr Museveni has potential eternal residence in the State House.

What we learned from the Occupy the World movement was that contracts bereft of morality were terribly exploitable. Because they are creations of human beings, other smarter and more cunning humans often find exploitable loopholes in these contracts.

This is only because these contracts are bereft of any moral codes to challenge the individual selves to go against them. This is why, in my religion, contracts are not items of trust, but simply aids to memory. Trust is cultivated elsewhere.

As Makerere University law school celebrates 50 years of life, there is no better time to tell our dons and their products – by far the majority – are actually a core part of the problem.

The country died when these fellows failed to decolonise but instead succumbed to the intoxicating effects of wealth and fame. Like capitalists in their prime, advocates – with a few exceptions – see themselves riding on the high road to accumulation – and thus happy to defend or work with anything including a plague.

The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd