Safe Houses:When the oppressed bite each other, instead of biting their oppressor or the cage trapping them, that is horizontal violence.


Interpersonal and intergroup group violence is so pervasive in Uganda that, what we see as torture in safe houses is just an aspect, if not a secondary or even tertiary symptom of a much bigger disease.

Those so-called state agents are not imported from mars. They are brought up in homes where spouses barter their partners. Many of those characters have seen their mothers being tortured by their fathers. Many have had their lips scalded by mothers when two grains of sugar were seen there….’abye sukali wange’. Many have grown up in homes where the husbands/dads are terrorist beasts, who, when they return in the evening after their war gin (waragi)/tekwe/foot-and-mouth drink (mwenge bigere) sessions, every body hides under their beds. Even the geckos and mice of the home scamper for cover because they know the husband is back.

The head teachers of the schools behave exactly the same way as those husbands…terrorists who cane the lights out of their pupils. Even the parish priests/sheikhs behave in the same way: they abuse and torture their flock…we have seen some in the news that sodomise young men in their flock. The nurses in dispensaries will whip the kid that is scared of the quinine injection, or scared of the pain of having a fracture set without anaesthetic…torture in itself.

So torture is all around! One of the modes of correcting wrong doers in Uganda is by killing them. You have 5 instances on your law books in which you reform wrong doers by killing them.. Every now and then you hear people saying: kill defilers, kill child sacrificers, kill embezzlers, kill reckless drivers, kill witch ‘doctors’. Civilians kill each other daily in frenzies of mob justice…they kill even the goats and chicken and banana plantations of victims of lynchings. If you are so liberal with “Kill”, why can’t you torture? When you torture you are being nice, in fact.

What we are experiencing is what psychologists call “horizontal violence”. When mice are trapped in a cage and they fail to find a way out, they start biting each others’ tails and ears off. By the time they are freed, they are even too weak to run away. When the oppressed bite each other, instead of biting their oppressor or the cage trapping them, that is horizontal violence. When they bite the cage in order to free themselves, that is called vertical violence…liberation. Ugandans, like all entrapped organisms have opted for horizontal attacks on each other….Kony cutting off ears of fellow Acholis in order to overthrow YK Museveni (and then a genius like one UPC supporter from Canada….. rationalizing or white washing Kony’s action by saying it is Kabaka Mutebi doing that)…all that is horizontal violence.

When you recruit someone from such a social context into the armed forces, what you have is someone who knows only one mode of interpersonal interaction: inflicting pain. Such a person will not disappoint. As they say, when the only tool one knows is the hammer, everything starts to look like a nail…even politicians will use the hammer as their campaigning symbol….Ssenyondo!

Bottom line, Uganda is a pervasively violent society, and the security agencies are just a perfect mirror image.Is there something called legal torture? Do state agents torture in order to find some use for the safe houses, which would otherwise stand idle? Are there types of houses that are specially constructed to be used as safe houses? Won’t you set caves on fire also?

Lance Corporal (Rtd) Otto Patrick

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