This evening while driving from the drug authority offices I heard a story on the news in which one man had tried to sell a goat that wasn’t his. While trying to make the sale a few folks asked where it was he had reared from a goat, since as far as they knew he had never owned one before. He had no answer because, frankly, he had never owned a goat before and stolen the one he was now trying to sell. The crowd proceeded to have him arrested. Feel free to laugh out loud but this is a true story, and similar instances of which happen more frequently than you can imagine.
I don’t know where else thieves are hated as much as they are in Uganda. Here, if someone’s caught stealing, chances are high that a crowd will gather and beat him up, often to the point of death. In some neighbourhoods, particularly those that have been riddled with these criminals for a while, the death may even be more brutal. Petrol will be poured on an old car tyre and these items used to light the thief to fire. The crowd will then let him burn. In other instances this thief may just be beaten to death. It’s amazing how so little people value human life these days. Thief or no thief, I don’t think anyone should be beaten or burnt to death. Sometimes the police gets there in time, to rescue the criminal. Sometimes they are just in time to pick up the remains and take them to the relatives.
This is not what always happens. Please don’t go saying ‘guess what’s done to thieves in UG’, because it’s not what always happens. Aggrieved parties also often go to the police and have a case file opened. More often than not, though, a thief will be beaten up first before being delivered to the authorities because people are just too darn tired of working hard to earn then getting robbed.
Part of what encourages this mob justice is that the judicial system sucks. Criminals have been known to bribe their way out of police custody or jail, and compensation/redress is almost unheard of. Or if it does come around it takes ages. So people will solve the problem the fastest way they know how. Not the right way, I might add.
The authorities discourage mob justice, and perpetrators of mob justice if caught, are usually arrested and prosecuted for taking the law into their own hands. They are very elusive, though, and usually run off upon completing their act. Our police isn’t known for it’s speed, either.
I think this mob justice is an extension of what used to happen in the olden days, before the advent of police and modern judicial systems. Different cultures punished differently. Every now and then we’ll see these old forms of punishments repeated. I must emphasise that these things usually happen in areas with a greater semi-literate to illiterate population. Sometimes you’ll hear a story of a man or woman who, as a punishment, was stripped and ordered to walk naked around the village, sometimes with the stolen goods hanging around their necks. Forget what else you’ve heard. THAT is the real walk of shame.
Of course after going through that, the citizen in question won’t want to go through it again, and may even emigrate to another village where he is little known and where little children won’t be following him around and singing songs of shame as would happen in the neighbourhood where the crime took place. Actually, sometimes the punishment is to be chased off the village. The Local Council authorities will sit, hear all parties out, and if found guilty it may be decided that the perpetrator of the crime leaves that neighbourhood. Remember, this usually happens in peri-urban and rural areas. And those are the lucky ones because the beating to death is more common in the more urbanised areas. Maybe that’s because people are more stressed in towns, and are farther away from the resounding sense and wisdom of village elders and older folks that promote humane behaviour and a return to cultural norms and values.
So, if you are out there, aren’t the straightest of individuals and you are eyeing Uganda as a potential destination, you can start to forget about it. The rest of you are more than welcome. We are a hospitable lot, have 70% of the world’s population of mountain gorillas, and were named the number one tourist destination for the year 2012 by Lonely Planet.
Hehe…what a way to end a post on mob justice, right?