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Gawaya Tegulle: When the thieves kept coming

Of those moments when burglars won't stop wiping your home clean

COMMENTARY: GAWAYA TEGULLE

OPINION–When I saw the early morning phone call of my neighbour, Mr. Makumbi, I knew something was wrong. I was right. “Your house was broken into last night,” he said solemnly. “You won’t believe what these boys have done.”

That was 11 years ago. I found the lock to the front door had been literally hewn out and thrown away; and the house swept clean. The young men had had plenty of time to do whatever they’d chosen, without any interruption or fear of being heard; seeing the closest neighbour was a good distance away, given the size of my land.

I didn’t even bother reporting the incident to police. I forgave readily and moved on. I faithfully replaced what had been stolen and the house was back to good standing.

To be fair, this was a suburb with a village feel to it; most of the people were poor. The young men, to this day, are jobless and idle, at least during day. Violent crime is a major economic activity. So theft, robbery, murder and whatever else, are rife.

A year or two later, I got a similar call from my neighbour. This time they’d broken through the burglar proofing in one of the windows; and once again, literally taken me to the cleaners. I wouldn’t have minded that, but they’d also taken my music equipment, including an expensive drum set and guitars. That was very painful. At that time I was doing the Bar Course at Law Development Centre (LDC); I had taken up residence in a hotel near the Centre to ensure maximum concentration and didn’t have time to keep checking on home stuff. My family was staying in Ntinda, as we developed what was to be our proper family home, in another suburb.

I quickly replaced what had been stolen and life continued. This time, the call from my good neighbour came only a few days after I had replaced what had been stolen. I had secured all the doors and windows, but this time the thieves had the audacity to dig through the wall. Unbelievable.

The fourth visit came a few years ago, this time when we were all at home. I had finally moved my family into our new home; not yet fully developed, but perfectly habitable. The very first morning after we moved in, we woke up to find our car – a Toyota something – had been stripped of everything that could be carried away.

Now with my family in the house, the stakes were much higher. I called the Police Spokesman and explained my dilemma. In those days I travelled a great deal; it did not require a prophet to tell us that the goons would this time attack my family the moment they found out I was away.
I went through a bit of paperwork and got clearance for two armed guards – policemen ideally work in pairs at the minimum. It was a formal arrangement in which I paid the policemen, fed them and transported them.

When the goons came back, they found a warm welcome from two angry cops.
“You are young men,” they told them. “We’ll give you this one chance, next time you come back you’ll die.” Very professional.

They scampered to safety, as fast as they could go. The entire village enjoyed peace, because of the incident, for three years. The Officer in Charge of the Police Station held a different view. “You should have killed them,” he fumed. “Then nobody would ever have bothered again.”

I didn’t want blood on my hands, and I insisted to the cops that there was no need for people to die. These were good people; just boxed into a corner by an economy that works for only a few people. As I drove through the community I always felt eyes on me; preying and prying eyes of young people who felt angry at me, because they felt I was kind of privileged and they, by some stroke of bad fortune, had nothing.

We grew crops, but the neighbours helped us harvest everything – maize, banana, potatoes, cassava, sugarcane, avocado, jackfruit, vegetables, name it. People stole from us with a sense of entitlement; probably feeling that they had a right to partake of what we worked for. In fact, on one occasion, somebody overheard a mother instructing her children: “Tea is almost ready, go get some maize from Tegulle’s garden”. Just like that.

Soon we had to get guards on day duty, for whenever we had to leave home. On other days, the maid had instructions to keep the gate firmly locked at all times during the day, not to keep the kids in, but to keep thieves out. I had to make constant checks on the home folks, just to ensure all was well.

Then one night the guards didn’t show up.

The following morning I found my car, a beautiful German machine then, had been badly vandalized; even the windows had been smashed. To this day, it has never regained its glory, even after heavy spending on it. The goons, clearly had been watching every night, waiting for opportunity.

The guards resumed duty thereafter, but soon we learnt that nothing we owned was safe at all. Finally, I gave up. I moved my family into a different kind of neighbourhood. Everything changed; because here, everybody is employed and busy at work. No idlers. No thieves. People have a bit of money. Nobody touches your car, because they have much better cars anyway and even when you drop stuff by the roadside, you find it intact. You don’t have to watch anything, because it is a different economy. I don’t have to fear my neighbours, for they want nothing from me, except courtesy and conduct expected of a good neighbour.

But this is a temporary victory for us; because it is an island of wealth in an ocean of poverty. You may want to know that as soon as I left the village, my immediate neighbour, who had benefitted from my having guards, lost all her stock of exotic chicken the following week. Two other neighbours were robbed; one or two women were raped.

Economics, when stripped of all the charts and graphs and fancy theorem, is the means of putting bread on every table in society. When you understand it like that, as a leader, you ensure that your people are living in an environment where systems, structures and processes work for them and enable them to exert and exhaust their potential, with the end result that there is food on the table. And that tomorrow, their children too, will have a chance in this tough world.

All factors equal, at the end of the day, the best security is the economic certainty of your neighbour. We need to build a nation where the economy works for everyone; where everyone feels they have a stake and that the system works for them.

It is sad that the Museveni Administration has, over three decades, carefully and deliberately build this nation on the politics and economics of exclusion; where a small predatory elite run the show, have all the money and have a monopoly of all opportunity. Policy and law are formulated not on the basis of the greater good and general public interest, but purely on the premise of enlightened self-interest.

Uganda is a nation where the President is all-powerful and he dispenses power and resources at his whim and pleasure, thereby making all who wish or aspire to grow, unable to achieve their objectives unless they bow to the ruling party.

This too, I contend, is a very temporary victory. The eyes of the poor run to and fro, throughout the whole country, seeking to eat up whomsoever is found to be in possession of wealth, or anything that they can feed on.

This, I say, is a prime cause of much of the insecurity and instability. Economic inequalities will always haunt and ruin a country that does not care about its ordinary people.

The longest lasting solution is to build a nation based on the politics and economics of inclusion; where people’s theory of change is based on the hypothesis that if they work hard and patiently, they will be able to achieve their life objectives. Even in politics, we shall have stability, when people know that they too can get power after every few years, through an election which is free and fair, and where there is no need to use guns and money to win.

That, my friends, is the Uganda that we shall enjoy.

This article was originally published on the author’s Facebook page

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