In my country we have the hated mob justice. I am against it. Totally against it. But when i take a step back and look at it differently, I find that if we are to stop the evil of mob justice then we have to change how we tackle it. Why do people continue to take the law into their own hands when we have judiciary institutions all over the place?
I am a strong believer of this, “Once you lack conscience and a sense of integrity then you are not qualified to contemplate issues of justice, fairness, righteousness, and law and order. It does not matter what your academic qualifications are nor how much experience you have in the legal field.”
1. Common Sense and the Obvious.
So a 28 year old man (let’s call him Malowa) in a downtown African market is seen by over 10 witnesses stealing fruits from an old woman’s stall in the crowded market. They ‘arrest’ him and report to the police only to be told “we shall investigate”. Days and years down the road the police still say “we are investigating”. What is there to ‘investigate’ about something as direct and obvious like this? Such attitudes from law enforcement institutions and officers are what frustrate the people into feeling their safety and that of their properties or business does not top the agenda nor taken seriously by those who should.
The underlying question therefore is, “if an illiterate child can tell this is a crime, this man actually stole, this man should bear consequences for his action, the old lady should be compensated, the thief should be punished–then why should it be so hard for a police officer, magistrate, or judge who is ‘highly educated and trained’ in this fail to reach such a simple conclusion? Unless of course, there are hidden motives involved.”
2. Bribes and Corruption.
I would love to believe there is transparency and financial integrity in the police and judiciary but history and the present would prove me wrong–a ‘bribe-corrupt free’ justice system does not exist as yet.
The worst part is this: either the law enforcer is bribed with money or corrupted in his or her conscience and integrity. The corruption is both moral and financial. Now we can try tracking financial corruption but what has it standing tall, ‘the moral corruption’, is something almost impossible to deal with.
So, back to Malowa the 28 year old thief. He is taken into police custody and the officers in charge are broke they need some ‘small money’ or ‘soda’. The ‘good’ officer in the corner ( let’s call her Kela) hates corrupt people and ‘thieves’ but puts forth a stronger reason through some random story told to her colleagues loud enough for Malowa to ‘hear’. She mentions ‘and you see we had to sleep over at the hospital last night because my daughter and her grandmother were down with a terrible malaria fever. The bill was too much my friend, I paid some of it but you all know how government has not paid us yet for months and am already in debt‘. Later Kela, walks over to Malowa and offers a good deal. He gets her half the money she needs to settle ‘hospital bills and debts’ and she will ‘order’ her officers to release Malowa the thief ‘on bail’. It won’t be long and the people downtown will see Malowa idling around most probably looking for something else to steal.
The interesting concern here is this, “If they were investigating then why is he out so soon? He better not steal again because it seems the police can’t help us take ‘care’ of him properly. Should we report him next time or deal with him ourselves–because then he will learn his lesson and it will save us all the headache and time?”
3. The Accused: Police, Judiciary and the Government
Of late, when you go to the market you will hear a fresh twist to Malowa’s story. Remember, that ‘Wanted‘ poster the police hang all over town saying Malowa had this time round robbed a bank and in the process killed a security guard last month? Well the poster read “Ugx 1 million to the person who find him and alerts the police“.
The old woman (Mama Teopista), and the other traders in the market told me this morning when i went over to buy groceries that every person has been trying to find this thief since the police ‘failed to catch him‘ and more so because there is a money-gift involved. I hear someone knows where the thief is. Yes, Ali, the shoemaker with a funny haircut said he had information of Malowa’s hideout.
Me: “Why don’t you quickly alert the police? Ali should go in haste and claim that 1 million, right?” I ask Mama Teopista. But she nods her head, looks slowly about her, and when she notices no one is close enough to hear our conversation, she leans slightly forward and whispers…
Mama Teopista: “Ali cannot. We fear what happened to those people in Wima town might happen to him…did you not hear that when the people in Wima reported a criminal and claimed the police-gift, everyone who claimed to know the criminal’s whereabouts was threatened with arrest…?”
Me: “No, old woman, i dont think it’s true, the police ‘cannot’ do that…at least they have not stooped that low, have they..?”
Mama Teopista: “My dear young friend, believe whatever you want but we don’t trust them. Some of us here think the police might have been conniving with Malowa all this while and the government might have been using him as a spy.”
Me: “Mama Teopista, you peope and your theories are very interesting! But how do you people always seem to come up with such FBI-level information yet all you do is think and sell fruits day in day out? At this rate, you market people will soon tell us what the president has for breakfast every morning as if you have ever been anywhere near statehouse. You are watching too many American movies my old friend, eh ..Haha , anyway, so what are the people thinking of doing with Malowa?”
Mama Teopista: “I fear that this time round, if he commits even one tiny crime it will be enough to have him lynched…the people are angry, Tinka, the people are too angry and feel they betrayed by the police so they might most likely take the law into their own hands…
(Meanwhile, in the distance someone is shouting ‘catch that thief’. The crowd is gathering fast in pursuit after the thief–people are armed with bricks, sticks, metal bars, petrol and matches… Tomatoes, Clothes, everything is flying in the air or falling all over the place. The others are standing by and no one is bothering to rush to the police station nor phone them this time. We wonder if it’s a new thief…someone shouts from a distance ‘Its Malowa, we have caught him’. From where we are standing, almost frozen, we hear a loud growl–someone is in pain…and the hell is just beginning…)