For a while now the BBC Knowledge channel on dstv has been airing “Infamous Assassinations”, a series of historical documentaries on high profile killings – successful and unsuccessful, which have changed the course of history.
They have explored the assassinations of the Indira and Rajiv Ghandi, Reinhard Heydrich – the author of the Jewish Holocaust, Che Guevara and Beetle John Lenon.
However the one that struck a code with me was the assassination of US President William McKinley.
Mckinley was the president of the US at the beginning of the last century, a period of great economic growth in the US. A period during which great wealth disparities begun to show themselves in that country.
It was as a protest to these economic disparities that an anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, assassinated McKinley.
The anarchists had the misguided notion that by assassinating the leaders of the western capitalist nations – in the previous year King Umberto I of Italy had been struck down, they could bring down capitalism and cause the emergence of a socialist world.
Fast forward to the 21st century and our new anarchists are called terrorists.
Who is a terrorist?
Many times it depends on who you are talking to – Nelson Mandela was branded a terrorist by apartheid South Africa, the Reagan White House and British Prime minister Margaret Thatcher. But it is generally agreed that these are armed parties that attack civilians with a view to causing disaffection and eventual overthrow of their respective governments.
The world is particularly ripe for these “sovereign individuals” to go to war with whole states. Advances in telecommunications, travel and the proliferation of military technology, following the fall of communism at the end of the last century, means individuals now have the ability to wage war mo re than ever before.
Following the attacks on Kampala on July 11, security has been heightened in and around Kampala.
Long lines of people and cars now snake their way around many corners in the city as people wait in line to be checked.
The delays while understandable are an inconvenience nevertheless and have cost millions of shillings in foregone sales and lost business over the last three weeks.
In this respect the terrorists are winning abetted by our government and local businessmen.
The current situation is unsustainable.
We have to decide as a nation to stop operating in silos – to see challenges as belonging to all of us and not one or another sector of society.
Our businessmen need to look long term. It is in their best interests to keep their premises safe, however the customer wants a safe environment to consume goods and services with minimal hustle. We want to have our cake and eat it.
What the lines are doing is reducing impulsive buying, the situation where a buyer goes looking for milk but buys deodorants, rags and other unrelated stuff in the process. Not good at all for business.
So businessmen are going to have to have to put a bit more thought into their security systems, which will inevitably mean additional investment. Security systems that are less intrusive (accusations of sexual harassment have popped up), not time consuming and at the same time thorough.
That is where the government comes in. This is not an issue for the security services alone.
It would be useful to make security systems mandatory by law for public places, while allowing some tax relief for their importation and sale in the country even if for a limited period of time, say six months to a year.
These systems can set back a businessman several million shillings but are necessary investment because now many people will not patronize places where we feel security is lacking.
Let us not kid ourselves. The terrorists will not give us a break because we were recent victims. If we let down our guard even a little they will hit us again.
The flip side of the issue is that our patience is wearing very thin, albeit after only two weeks of lengthy, intrusive checks. We are going to cut down on our shopping forays (a not all together bad thing) or go to places with less security ( an option too dangerous to contemplate under the circumstances).
This is the cost of security. But if we can all come together, business, government and the people we can find a way to maintain vigilance at the least cost to all money or timewise.
Published in New Vision on 31 July 2010