Kham Kakama and the future of the rule of law

“God is Good” is inscribed on the tyre flaps of a boda boda purchased with what now appears to be the blood money in the kidnap and murder nightmare visited on the family of Sven and Naome Karekaho and all of us.

There is a bitter irony about the tale of a life gone too soon. The fact that it does not make any sense inflicts a mortal blow on our collective conscience. That’s the thing about funerals in general. They force you to ask big questions about life, about values and about the future.

Where innocents are victims- their helplessness makes us numb with anger and frustration. It calls on us to do something.

It is a heavy burden- that emotional call to action, to retribution or to find solace in forgiveness. It is because we feel a common vulnerability like condemned men lining up at a firing squad or that jab in ones heart when walking with a friend they scrape off a toe nail and wince in pain.

If it can happen to Kham Kakama it could happen to us. The hail of bullets will eventually find you and the doom of that knowledge builds like a black smoke-cauldron of hopelessness that fills us with anger, regret fear and frustration and bellows in our bellies like that angry oil spill in Mexico filling the ocean with hate.

After the emotions have drained out like the poisons they are many shed off bad events like a bad dream. Just as it was senseless that something so evil could happen; so they let the dark memory dwell in the past.

But if God is good it is because He allows lessons of the past to shape the future for the best of us; the next time we fall out of the sky and hurtle towards a death-like certainty, past reasonings will appear like runway lights to tell us what to do next.

And so here are my lessons from Kham Kakama on the future of law enforcement.

Along with the gifts of loving parents he will never know how a whole nation launched a man-hunt for his kidnappers. I myself stumbled on the spider’s web that had been cast to catch the perpetrators of this crime by accident. I was told about it by a friend of a friend of the family. After asking about the circumstances and hearing about the small sums demanded for his release I quickly jumped to the conclusion that it was not about the money. Perhaps I reasoned there was malice afoot here which had roots elsewhere.

Maybe.

But what I learnt too was that almost every single security agency and a band of brothers and sisters had volunteered to deal with the situation.

And thus with a room packed with well wishers with influence another reality about our criminal justice system once again returned to me. Uganda has soft institutions but also a multiplicity of them. Part of it has been the business of creating a new law, a new organ, a commission, tribunal, special task force and so forth for every new problem or even old problem viewed with fresh lens.

As we have seen with policing taskforces or divisions that now deal separately with child sacrifice, land evictions or media, the growing number of stopping centers to getting safe and secure are not necessarily a sign of strength.

They also are not a sign that justice as a public good is being delivered effectively.

Police allegedly botched up the most high profile child murder case, the Kajubi scandal, despite the public spotlight and the resources it had injected into it. At the end of the day, it appears that their enthusiasm was not matched by forensic tools and some say integrity.

Because Justice is sold at so many stalls in this marketplace its quality has suffered. Everyone knows about corruption in law enforcement but the different hawkers of quick fixes have not only advertised different prices for justice but made its access arbitrary.

From the lowest peasant to the political fat cats the practice is to encourage the police and the other may security outfits both known and faceless to take up your case more seriously with a few shillings or the bribe with social capital.

It has made the ground uneven and assaulted public confidence in law enforcement as seen from many recent surveys. At a broader level it has also marketed impunity. Those with influence of either money or politics are more likely to get away with crime or are in a better position to punish those who aggrieve or wrong them.

In many ways the black market for justice at the multiple stalls, hawker stands and freelance sellers now reflect the product in the multi-colored hews of our society, its rich and poor, its tribes and the contours of its politics.

This perversion of law enforcement has set the stage for a new age of criminality based on the principle that since the law givers and enforcers are partisan in one way or the other; aggrieved parties who cannot get the law to work for them turn elsewhere.

They take the law into their own hands. Thus the arbitration of social, political, economic or personal conflict is in a freefall.

And so my lesson is that perhaps it’s time to de-institutionalize our approach to law enforcement, decolorize it, sanitise it of its many faces and strengthen its core.

That way we can get by knowing the future is in better hands not just many hands.