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Monday, May 22, 2017

UGANDA SHOULD NOT SWEEP TORTURE UNDER THE CARPET

Almost 20 years ago a Kampala magazine published the picture of a young female model on their cover.

That would not have been a big deal as models can be found around every corner in our capital. What made this one so memorable was that the picture showed a hint of her underwear peeking through.

Ugandans went ballistic. The uproar was such that the promoters of the offending magazine had to make a public apology for fear of their license suspension.

Far from bringing a close to any such repeat publication this actually served as the opening of the door to even bolder pictures taken from every imaginable angle, to the point now that it seems like the ethics minister is the lone crusader against such salaciousness.

We are now desensitised to such images. Who would have thought it in 1999.

Last weekend we were assaulted by images of the Mayor Kamwenge, Godfrey Byamukama, lying comatose in his bed at Nakasero hospital, the flesh of his knees and ankles exposed, apparently 
evidence of torture he had suffered at the hands of our security agents.

The police say Byamukama is a suspect in the March murder of Assistant Inspector General of Police, Felix Kaweesi.

The revulsion was palpable everywhere you looked in social media or the traditional press. It was bad enough that President Yoweri Museveni came out to criticise torture as a tool of investigation and ordered the security agencies to stop it, if it was found to be going on.

But the public reaction was interesting for very disturbing reasons.

A few days prior other suspects in the same case were brought to court bearing wounds and injuries from their time in police custody and the public reaction was not as dramatic.

Maybe we need to define the public. The social media public.

"It can be argued that Byamukama’s wounds were more graphic than those of his fellow suspects. But most probably the reaction was more dramatic because the chattering masses of social media came to their senses that if Byamukama, educated, urbane and middle class could find himself in such circumstances….? Suddenly this was too close to home and we had to rise up in righteous indignation...

That is disturbing for the same reason that we are now desensitised to the sight of naked people being paraded in publications on sale on the streets and in broad daylight.

Blame it on our disturbed history. During the 1970s and 1980s it was not out of the very ordinary to be hop-stepping over dead victims of extra-judicial killings. But the vast majority of Ugandans cannot relate to that time as they were not yet born.

But maybe it is a throwback to that time when it was everyone for themselves, God for us all and let the devil take the hindmost.

Despite our deeply Christian roots it seems the lesson whatever happens to the least of our brothers happens to us, has gone begging.

It would be good for us to remember the poem “First they came….” Written at the height of the holocaust in Nazi Germany by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemollor.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”...

Granted. There are very bad men – and women, who walk among us and the security agencies are trying their best to apprehend them or keep them from doing their worst. Us the chattering masses have little to no clue about what this involves. But surely there has to be a line where as a society we do not cross (And please don’t compare us to the US and their Guantanamo Bay).

It has taken the plight of Byamukama to awaken our moral sensibilities, but the thought has to arise that if they had the audacity to mete such horrors on a “VIP”, how man lesser mortals have been brutalised to get to this point?

And by logical extension you have to ask yourself how far up the “VIP” ladder are you before they get to you?

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