Power steals officially. When those in power steal, they use official letterheads and government stamps.
Their loot is sent through official mails and post boxes, and their crimes are enshrined in law. If colonialism was theft, it was all officially sanctioned – so was slave trade, and most recently, apartheid. Many Ugandans believe Mr Museveni, and most of his former NRA rebels now in government are thieves. But they have never visited Nasser road.
Their 10 sq. miles of stolen land and properties in Kololo all have titles from the official registry. But these guys have neither income nor known businesses to enable them to this wealth.
As a reader in politics, popular culture and peasant studies, it is my sobering conclusion that the thing frowned at as “forgery,” symbolised by Nasser road for Kampala, is best appreciated as both survival, and a form of protest against the shamelessness of power.
The problem is that we tend to see forgery, especially of documents such as cash receipts, birth and death certificates, bank statements, stamps, education certificates, etc., through the problematic lens of morality. If it is not morality, see it through the lens of fear – that is, the fear of catastrophe when you land in the hands of a quack – whose medical degrees and licenses are forgeries. [Although most deaths actually occur in the hands of officially qualified doctors].
Dear reader, I am no sadist; I am acutely aware of the dangers that come with forged driving licenses, or land titles. Many lives are risked when untrained motorists take to the roads, and ordinary folks have been left in destitution after thugs with forged land titles pushed them off their land. This threat is real.
But this fear has terribly blurred our appreciation of the liberationist, survivalist, anti-colonialist, and anti-capitalist roots of forgery, a response to the oppressiveness of power. We have been blinded to the pains and everyday struggles of millions threatened by the violence of capitalism (merchants and politicians). Let me break this down:
The problem with written law: Forgery is not original behaviour. It is derived from an earlier process that seeks to exclude and deny the existence of others through specific codes such as writing. Forgery emerges with the capitalist obsession with written law – where evidence of all interactions and transactions cannot be recognised as existent unless they were written.
Sadly, this near-obsessive privileging of writing has instead de-personified our interactions. The more we have written our agreements, contracts, certificates, constitutions, land titles, the more we have deprived our interactions of any humanity – and the more we have looted from each other.
The truth is, so little of human interaction can be captured and expressed in words. There will always be gaps lost in translation, transcription or text. In fact, in the Islamic tradition where writing is equally privileged, it is simply for the aid of memory, not a guarantor for trust – as understood under the regimes of Western law. Sadly, writing often favour the powerful – at the expense of the weaker ones. Nasser road becomes the option to counter power. And as I noted two weeks ago, there is no country without its Nasser road.
Forgery as protest: oppression is the mother of invention. It is after they have been pushed against the wall, that the poor – Frantz Fanon’s wretched of the earth – find alternative means of challenging their oppressors. These responses could be grand to the level of an armed struggle, but they could also be meek and haphazard.
In agrarian studies, coerced into growing cash crops for a pittance, peasants found [quiet, gentle] ways of protesting their oppressors. They told lies about their soils – as unsuitable – after they had roasted the cotton seeds before planting them. They feigned laziness and sickness, going as far as forging medical documents.
Seen through some creepy Anglo-Saxon values, these seemingly “immoral liars” would be condemned and punished. And indeed, when caught, they were often flogged, or as happened in Belgium Congo of King Leopold II, their limbs or the limbs of their children would be cut off. But in truth, these poor peasants were struggling to find ways of retaining their freedom, and keeping their land. The poor often find security in Nasser road.
Forgery as survival: power often determines what is right and wrong. By setting these standards, in which are embedded [invisible] exclusionary and discriminatory codes. In the end, power disenfranchises many, as it privileges itself.
For example, a university degree as access to a job is quintessentially exclusionary – where university degrees are not free. It means, children from poor backgrounds are condemned to a life of menial labouring – their entire lives.
Having a specified amount of money on one’s account as requirement for travel visa to Europe or North America is both colonial and racist. It speaks to traditions of exclusion. If Nasser road can successfully collapse these walls, then it needs to be saluted.
Indeed, I extend my salute to whoever is standing for political office in this election cycle on Nasser road papers. Keep protesting! Keep surviving!
The author is a PhD fellow at Makerere Institute of Social Research.