Uganda Police Force should probably release Mr. Mathew Kanyamunyu. He is the suspect in a fatal shooting last weekend of a social worker at Lugogo Mall in Kampala. The case has got the blood of many boiling.
The victim was a well-liked community organiser from the North of the country and his alleged killer; Mr. Kanyamunyu, is a handsome member of the socially networked political aristocracy. The conspicuous wealth and privilege of these have-more class is part of the ubiquitous glitter of the long-rule of the Movement under Museveni.
Mr. Kanyamunyu’s privilege has been a major feature of the online commentary to which one must return.But first, the legal case against him is unlikely to stand because in summary it is a thin circumstantial case. The allegation against Kanyamunyu is a dying declaration of the victim Akena Watmon made to a relative.
It is the only claim.
No witnesses have come forward to corroborate it. If the police are able to match bullets that ended Mr. Akena’s life to a weapon that his alleged killer may have had access to and placed that weapon at the scene, perhaps a case could be made but this is also an unlikely path.So in effect the only witnesses to the slaying of Mr. Akena are Mr. Kanyamunyu and his girlfriend who are in police custody. They have denied the allegation and as can be expected- are unlikely to incriminate themselves.
This is the actual legal picture that the police is facing and bearing new and dramatic events will not lead to a charge of murder or even man-slaughter. There are other aspects of the case, which however shadow the suspicion with which the public, including some of the suspect’s relatives are approaching this matter.
A “statement” from Mr. Kanyamunyu’s family suggested a different theory; that his girlfriend could have been the target of an assassination plot. She is a Burundian national whose family is allegedly caught up in the political violence in Bujumbura. In addition lawyers, acting on his behalf, took the rather inadvisable step of writing to the regulator of public broadcasting to ask for stern action against a television station for an equally underwhelming graphic reconstruction of the alleged incident.
In both instances these attempts to win public empathy for Mr. Kanyamunyu were well intentioned but perhaps unnecessary. The family, if they believed in the innocence of Mr. Kanyamunyu, could have left the matter to the authorities and offered this version to the police. The lawyers on the other hand inexcusably complicated their legal case by seeking to protect their client from the court of public opinion.
That court could only respond negatively to such moves given the view that the stakes were already stacked in the suspects favour as a birth right of his privilege. As it is the tragedy of the Watmon affair is fundamentally about the distrust of public institutions in Uganda and with it their ability to manage the high voltage of our inheritance of ethnic-based political identity.
Let us first address the first in order to undress the second.
Most of Africa’s post-independence class, the one’s in charge of its “state houses” today are an ideologically denialist horde. First, despite their fight for self-determination against colonialism, they did little to address the fact that the colonial state was not of their making and therefore probably an imperfect way to address their co-existence as diverse communities.
Instead they clustered around the idea of “nationalism”, whatever that means, and held on to the geography, structures and ideas of the colonial state as a primary means for self-determination. Overtime, as seen from Uganda’s own violent history, “self-determination” has been a farce, reduced to native scrambling for whatever value “stateness” has brought with it.
This has caused many distortions that cannot be addressed at length here but one can see some of them at play in the Watmon case. First that political privilege tends to be the right of whichever ethnic cluster that controlled the power of the state and that this would be the envy of the rest. In return the rest would “deny” their trust of these very institutions when they are called upon to resolve a dispute. That Kanyamunyu is privileged is undeniable. It is a political fact as much as it is a social and economic construct that is repeated countless times over as Ugandans of all works of life go about trying to live with each other.
The average Ugandan will generally exploit their social networks, primarily ethnic ones, that stand the most chance of negotiating better returns to them and their families, within the logic of the public institutions we have accepted to work with. If the Kanyamunyu case had not been at the centre in Kampala but happened in some district, the bickering may have been about the tribes intersecting there or even the clans that are in contention.
Many well-read public leaders who have piled up on Kanyamunyu are exercising the same intellectual dishonesty that is a national culture today. They are part of the same industry that fuel the denialist traditions of their predecessors, you know the kind who belong to ethnic political caucuses in parliament but argue against districtization based on tribes or clans, who comment on cabinet choices designed to appeal to the politics of tribe but complain about how patronage is hollowing out the public service – these guys who are their mother tongue first – but speak in English about the public interest.
Second that public institutions – being essentially made up of this dishonest DNA cannot but imperfectly respond to disputes brought on by communal anger at such tragedies. This is especially real in this case because compassion cannot simply be quartered in ethnic quantities. The shame is on us not to see that young people can make mistakes and tragedies do happen regardless of who is involved. In the same way that people from the South West can feel for the loss of the Watmon family, we can empathise with the Kanyamunyus of this world.
Mr. Kanyamunyu himself apparently lost a brother just weeks ago.
One of the problems of approaching the incident at Lugogo through the lens of the perennial ethnic handwrestling within our political establishment is that it depresses our instincts to recognize a tragedy and to bond, as Africans often do, with both the victim and the perpetrator. As for the law and justice, springing as they do from the political conditions within our “nation” they are easy to capture and it becomes a double jeopardy when we aid this malformed system with our anger instead of our compassion and understanding.
This is surely what people feel when they hear the police speak about due process.
It is a mockery for the most part especially in political cases because the weighing scale is different for different members of the society. I have been told in the past by detectives in the very police station where Kanyamunyu is held – how they themselves live in fear of big cases involving the politically connected. One tale was how a group of detectives and constables called to make an arrest on the hills of privilege nearby were instead “arrested” by their suspects.
Perhaps finally as we mourn with the Watmon family, we must keep in mind that the privilege that many feel the Kanyamunyus of our world enjoy, constructed as it is on structural inequalities is not a restful privilege. It is in constant fear – because of its weak foundations and its inherent dishonesty. In many cases, as I have friends who were born in this privilege, many, of the good ones, bear it as a burden. An entire generation which I call the “waiting room” generation, drive good cars, live a good life but feel trapped as well because the economy and political power from which they derive their status does not reflect the character of a society they want.
Many have taken to drink and drugs or, worse they have interpreted the dishonesty in the national condition as a license to abandon all decency in their personal dealings. You have met them. The kind who will lie, steal and subvert all processes just so they can get enough cash for blankets and wine.