There is a close connection between President Museveni’s millions in the slums and the brutality of his “errant” soldiers on the streets of Kampala. One only needs to have their ears on the ground and their eyes on the prize.
Let me tell you of a memorable incident I witnessed during the 2011 presidential election, which puts this connection in proper perspective.
We were in Kyengera during the evening traffic jam when an errant motorist in a Toyota Ipsum with newer plates, advancing to the city, took the right-hand side of the road – the one meant for vehicles exiting Kampala.
There seemed something urgent and authoritative about this driver as he forcefully wanted road users on that side – their right side – to actually give way. Even ambulances do not have the ferocity this God-blessed Ugandan exhibited.
Traffic officers often let these mad men get away with their indiscipline, especially if they are driving cool wheels. You know, a dark-tinted Land Cruiser, a Jeep Cherokee, or Range Rover allows you all the road indiscipline in Kampala.
Experience has shown us that to afford such flashy wheels, you must be rich by our standards, and most of Kampala’s showy rich men and women are thieves. Experience has also shown us that there is no successful large-scale thief operating without the support of the state – directly or indirectly.
Thus, our underpaid, famished and terribly abused traffic officers – as Afande Muhammad Kirumira would confirm – are tired of intercepting these Kampala’s elite burgles who are released by a simple phone call – to their painful embarrassment. But this specific motorist was riding in a God-forsaken Toyota Ipsum, which is by good measure, a cheap automobile.
For being an Ipsum, the officer was encouraged to wave the car down, by almost standing in its way. He demanded that the driver parks on the side. The fellow behind the wheels simply stopped the engine in the middle of the road.
A beautiful well-built woman opens the co-driver’s door and majestically approaches the officer. “Why are you stopping us?” she angrily asked. Before the officer would squeeze his lips to say a word, the woman slapped him hard, forcing his head to swish behind.
“I could have you arrested right now. You don’t know who is running this country!” she warned.
An armed fellow in civilian clothes had emerged from the back door of the Ipsum. He did nothing but simply stood by the car brandishing his rifle for the world to see. The woman walked back to the car and they sped off like they had come. The authority with which the powerful lady spoke was consistent with her build. She seemed well-fed and “deep in things.”
The armed fellow demonstrated their connection with power. As the crowd shouted in bewilderment, one of the onlookers loudly remarked, “eyo motoka eva tuletera sente, oyo ofisa abade ki?” loosely, “that vehicle has just brought us money, what is wrong with that officer.”
In pain and embarrassment, which he calmly tried to subdue, the officer sauntered to the other side of the road, joined his colleague, shaking his head in disbelief. We also drove off. Like many of us, his mistake had been to assume all Ipsums were the same. This one had the price of a Range Rover. How I wish he knew, poor soul!
We left thanking the onlooker who gave us the only clue about the vehicle and its occupants. It was about three weeks to the election, and surely we did not know who was running the country.
The lady’s accent and build was telling of the part of the country in which she came from – western or southwestern Uganda. That she had an armed bodyguard tells that she belonged to the party in power, which is the only organ entrusted with arms. There was no money on the scene, but if our onlooker is to be believed, we can conclude this was the incumbent’s money, Mr Museveni.
There is never foolproof evidence for these things, except ethnographic moments like the one we witnessed in Kyengera. Political scientists will tell you that money and violence move together. If power cannot get its way through open purchase, the wretched of the earth have to be whacked into line.
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.