Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Mob Justice

I had heard about Ugandans penchant for mob justice but had not seen it firsthand until Sunday night, when a thief was caught in the third floor room of one of the undergraduate students in the block next to mine. Having nowhere to escape the thief jumped from the window and, despite the grass landing, must have broken his ankle, or something similar. Unable to move the students pored out of their rooms, stripped the intruder naked and began thoroughly working him over. Brutal? Yes. And also supported by many intelligent, law-abiding Ugandans who believe that in a country where people work so hard for so little money, any thief deserves vicious punishment. In many cases this results in death but this time the police arrived to haul the criminal away amid mutterings of how he would be out by the morning if his friends came with sufficient cash.

While police corruption may provide an excuse for this behaviour, the practice is clearly wrong. The power that a mob feels is dangerous and volatile. It was this same atmosphere that led to the death of an innocent Asian man earlier in the year, when protests against the selling-off of the ancient Mabira Forest to a sugar tycoon took place in Kampala. Thieves deserve to be punished, but it must be under the jurisdiction of the country's laws and not its mobs.

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