June 2009
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Day June 3, 2009

Background checks in Uganda

1/11 This question of background checks is related to many other questions that we have debated here, including that of the tribulations of Uganda Police, the ubiquity of violence in Ugandan society, and broader questions related to our general capabilities across the board.  Even when you look closely at the debate on political participation, the autocratic propensties of leadership/political elites at every level of society (not just in the state, a point we often refuse to acknowledge), the question of the capabilities of a pre-industrial, mediaeval society always catch up with us.
2/11 Now, background checks: what are these? What do they entail?  Me, myself, Corporal Otto: I was born in a banana plantation at the back of our kitchen.  My illiterate grandmother was the midwife.  My dining table, the placenta, for the 9 month intrauterine phase of my life was eaten by our dog, Popi.  There are no records anywhere in Uganda that I was ever born.  In places where they carry out background checks, things start from there: you are born in a hospital, your DNA is harvested, your blood group is established, bottom line, you get onto some database.  You are registered with a general practitioner in places where there is a national health system, and every ailment you get is placed somehwere on a database.
3/11 You will go to school and this is compulsory, lest your parents end up in jail, and that means you will end up on the national educational system database.  You will be mistreated by your booze-loving Mzee and end up on the vulnerable children’s database.  Your parents will be entitled to child benefits, that will place you on the revenue services database.  Your parents may get you a passport, and you will end up on the Home Affairs database.  Every trip you make abroad will be logged somewhere, right from your infancy.  And they will automatically have your finger prints.
4/11 As soon as you clock 16 years, you will see a card coming through the post, telling you that you have a social security number (SSN) or national insurance (NI) number depending on the country.  Because all your correspondence comes to you by post, it means that your physical address is known, by post code or zipcode.  You don’t live at “ekikkilira, kumpi nekiyinja, noyita kumuyembe, kumpi nakavule”.  No! If you are Otto, yours will be, 117 Coffin Grove; Death side, Warwickshire; CV40 10QT; United Kingdom (thanx Mr John Nsubuga).  In other words, you are on some one’s radar.
5/11 As you advance in your education, you will be entitled to a student’s loan.  You will open a bank account where monthly instalments of the loan will be deposited.  Every time, and whereever you draw cash, and where ever you do shopping, that is logged somewhere on a database.  You will take bus/train rides using a students swipe card.  Where ever you swipe it, someone knows already which city or town you are visiting.  You will own a mobile phone, and not pay-as-you-go, but contractual.  Whenever and where ever you make or receive a call, that is logged somewhere by GPS.
6/11 You will have a login to use the computers in your local library or your campus.  When ever you use those computers, that is logged somewhere.  You will have an email address.  What ever you do with that address and whenever you log in, that is captured somewhere.  Some camera will even have already recorded some of your biomentrics like the character of your iris…without your knowledge.
7/11 If you live in a country like Britain, which has 1 CCTV for every 13 members of the population, the highest CCTV density in the world, everywhere you walk, you are advised to smile, because you are on camera, being recorded somewhere.  If you acquire a driving permit, you are already on the database of the agency that licences drivers and vehicle owners, by address etc.

8/11 In other words, where ever you are, you are leaving a massive electronic footprint, and that is the real content of your “back ground” in that “back ground check” that you are wondering about in the Ugandan context.  In countries where individuals have such a huge electronic footprint, by the time police come to you to arrest you, you know they have their data: you just ask with a smile, for the handcuffs to be put on your wrists, because in your heart, you know they have the data: wamenikamata, bankutte, bangemye!

9/11 The other day we were talking about safe houses and torture and so on.  Where people undergo subtle surveillance like I have tried to describe above, there is not torture.  It is not because of democracy, as some of us argue here simplistically, it is because you do not have to whip some one to get information from him.  You have it by just one push of the button.  In Uganda, you lack that background information, whether on criminals, prospective judges ( I heard of a Senior Justice Kalanda who was found to have used some one else’s papers to advance his education), MPs, presidents, let alone military recruits.

10/11 So, let us get real and understand what makes things work or fail to work, instead of spending all our time ridiculing ourselves, wishing that we were like others, and generally cursing the dark without ever lighting any candle.

11/11 The lack of such infrastructure as I describe above accounts for such proverbs as “Ente endhirugavu enakuleta”, in other words, I can’t catch you now but when darkness sets in, you will come back to roost……I think that is Lusoga, your language.  In other settings, whether it is shining or not, they will get you.  Why?

Lance Corporal (Rtd) Otto Patrick


How the 2009 Namugongo Martyrs Day went

Summary: THE 123rd anniversary of the execution of the workers/pages at Mwanga’s Court took place at the two shrines as is always the case. On the Cathoric side, it was hosted by KABALE Dioscese while on the Protestant side, it was Mukono Dioscese in charge.
1/4. Traditionally, there is no change in routine save for the language of the songs, which will be Alur when Nebbi is in chrge and Ruchiga , as today, when Kabale is in chrge, with a colouring og Kichiga dance by Mbabazi of Temangalo fame with his tormentor Banyanzakyi jining him to stamp the ground (Hmmmm).
2/4. DIFFERENT APPROACHES: While at the Anglican site [further to the East of the Catholic site] the occasion is marked with sorrow and the Martyrs; anthem [BEEWAYO…] is the song to be heard (the Namirembe Boys’ Choir not missing), there is full choir and the event is highly choriographed, even as a “harvest presents” occasion.
3/4. The debate on wheather these boys were matryrs or traitors of K ing and Country contiunes to be discussed in the press on this occasion. Colour was added last year or so when the Mukajanga lineage went to namirember and delivered a “letter of apology” to Bp. Ssekade for their “grand-fathers’ attrocities”. But today, in the opposite vain, the care-taker of Mukajanga’s grave took tourists around with new bark-cloth desplayed above the body in the mausoleum [Hmmmm]. “He was a great “OMUMBOOWA” (Royal Guard)” the tourists were told. (Confusing like two people seeing the same cow, one says it is white while the other says it is black. This is the World).
4/4. Other notable things on today’s occasion:
  • M7 was present. In his address, he paraphrased the Kabaka who, in a recent speech, called for his people to “talk less and work more“.
  • For the first time may be in 10 years [from1999 when Besigye wrote his anti-establishment letter], M7 and the Colonel sat in the same tent and to the surprise on many, Dr. KB did not march out, this time around (he has done so not once, e.g. at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Mbale). He sat side-by-side with Ssebana Kizito, the DP suprimo: (will they unite from now hence-forward??).
  • Ms SARA EPERU of FDC and another were put in Police custody for distributing FDC “martyrs sympathy cards”.
  • 100 pick-pockets and petty thieves were apprehended.
  • In Tooro, at ythe birth-place of one of the martyrs, people gathered and went into inexplicable trances (un-catholic like, one would think).
  • The “kasikyi” (eve) of martyrs’ day was celebrated on the streets of Namugongo, Kireka, Kiira and Kyaliwajala settlements/towns and other surrounding areas such that, during the day most of the pilgrims, even those from Kenya, Rwanda and Sudan who HAD FOOTED FOR WEEKS TO PARTICIPATE, slept/dozed the ceremony out. Business boomed, especially in meat-snacks {roast} and in drinks. That is NAMUGONGO on Martyrs’ day for you.

Christopher Muwanga,




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