Thief is one word no one wants to hear. Even the thief abhors it. But you cannot pronounce one thief unless you are before a competent court.
But where there is disregard for the laws of the land, who cares anyway? In downtown Kampala, if one shouts ‘thief’, the eventual consequence is death. It is the riskiest word one can shout. It spells death.
Makerere University community has slowly picked this up. If one shouts thief, he has signed your death certificate. One would expect that in a university community, the students are more civilized and have seen a couple of blackboards to discern that they cannot take the law into their hands. Often, they have had their way before the police intervene.
The Makerere community is now no different from the street persons that we often derided, because it is assumed they lack an education. At the Ivory Tower, a number of lives are lost due to mob justice. If it is not in a boys’ hall, it is in a girls’ hall, often at the intervention of neighbouring boys’ hall.
Most of the incidents have involved victims largely unknown to them and perhaps real ‘thieves’. That is how David Ojok (RIP) met his death under similar circumstances that have always gone silent. What is unfortunate is that he was part of the student community, having only recently graduated with an upper second class bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering.
It is also alleged that he was on prowl to nab a supposed debtor, who had been eluding payment for a while, but failed to identify him. And, in fashion similar to what happens in downtown Kampala, his supposed debtor shouted “thief”. Street smart guys have this technique as one of their last weapons whenever their defaulters or stalkers of a kind give them a headache.
The password to get even with the other is to shout ‘thief’. It works. It is very effective. They have their peace on the street. Could this have been the case for mobbing David Ojok?
The same could happened if a parent or relative of a student strays into the university to check if the son or daughter attends class or sleeps in the hall of residence, then got stuck. This person is a stranger and will most likely be attacked. Sometimes there is no time for proper identification, especially if the person is shocked by a crowd.
The attacker is not the one apprehending. It is someone oblivious of what is happening who will throw the arrest into confusion. And before long, it will descend into mob justice.
If an unpopular lecturer is conducting classes from a hall of residence dining facility turned into a classroom, what are the chances that he or she will not be lynched? Remember the entry point to turn peaceful students into an irate mob is – ‘thief’. What happens to visitors that come to tour Makerere? Will they be safe?
The David Ojok incident is a sad pointer to how powerful hooliganism at Makerere has become. It is very common to find students shouting unnecessarily and hurling insults and obscenities to passersby from their residence windows. What happened to the culture of merrily singing? Singing to praise the university or the hall of residence?
During a strike, you do not have to drive through the university. You risk car vandals. If your car is parked, it will be hit. If you are moving in the opposite direction, the striking students will force you to join them. Any resistance is a beating.
The hooliganism extends to money extortion. It is christened ‘ettofaali’. The Buganda premier has been moving around collecting this goodwill gesture to contribute to Buganda development. Makerere students use the phrase to forcefully grab money from people driving through campus as justification for their hungry endless runs with the authorities.
If you are driving, it is also called a ‘receipt’ or ‘akatwalo’ a luganda word for a ten-thousand shilling note. This is demanded by stone-faced striking girls. It is a jackpot for their salon need. The boys will pick anything especially if you plead to have nothing. They will pick from the car all that is visible.
This hooliganism must be stopped. The police can do as much, but they will be overwhelmed. The administration definitely is always overwhelmed. The hall warden cannot perform 24-hour surveillance each day. But we cannot sit back and allow this situation to go on.
The responsibility rests on the students themselves. Police and the administration should continuously engage the student leaders. They have the power to clamp down on this hooliganism. They should talk to their fellow students. They know each other as students and as leaders among themselves. Sometimes student leaders fuel this hooliganism.
They should be oriented out pf this. They should be acquainted with leadership skills and the use of non-violent means. Student leaders have authority that the police, university administration and staff cannot have in cases of hooliganism or not.
If you are a parent or guardian, caution your daughter or son always. Call them regularly and see if they are safe or whenever the news is about a strike at Makerere. If this does not take shape, more innocent victims like David Ojok (RIP) will meet their creator so soon.
Davies Rwabu teaches Communication Skills at Makerere University.
Source : The Observer