For almost two weeks now, the media in Uganda has been awash with the story of 5 Pakistani nationals who gang raped a 21-year-old young Ugandan woman. It is alleged that the young woman who was a lover to one of the 5 accused was taken captive and raped several times by the said men for a month while tied to a chair. This story has caused a lot of public outcry in Uganda. It emerged that the case was reported to the Ugandan Police but some elements within the force who took bribes from the accused had sabotaged the delivery of justice. The women and human rights activists have also come out to demand for justice for the young woman whose life was shattered. Two of the suspects who had been released were consequently re-arrested and remanded to the National Maximum security prison in Luzira while the other suspects are still on the run.
As this news has been going on, I have had time to internalize it and come up with two major observations;
There is an increasing misconception of what investment is by Ugandans and may be Africans at large. Why do I say this? The 5 suspected rapists are of Pakistani origin all attached to YUASA, a car bond importing mostly Japanese vehicles. Once the case was reported, the Police spokesperson is quoted to having said that “this was a highly sensitive case involving investors” and somewhere along these lines, he must have justified the reason for the speedy grant of bail. Ugandans have heard this excuse thrown around from different corners where people labelled “investors” seemingly enjoy more rights than the citizens themselves. We formerly had a similar incident involving a paedophile who was allowed to get away without facing justice.
It is surprising that as if by common practice, any foreign national having a business within Uganda is labelled as an investor. It does not matter the scale of business that the person is engaged in. Our government cares so much about these “investors” that it showers them with “unbelievable” favours; sometimes to the detriment of citizens. Blood was shed a few years back when Ugandans rose to oppose the give-away of our biggest natural forest to an investor for sugar cane growing. These investors further enjoy big tax breaks while citizens toil with a big burden of taxes. I always wonder what the logic is. Do Ugandans working abroad also enjoy this kind of treatment? It is disappointing to note that in most of these firms, foreign expatriates are employed and Ugandans only get to play a role at the lower levels of organization administration. Furthermore, some “investors” come in and deal in a line of business that directly competes with or stifles small scale ventures by nationals; actually, some of them are involved in the informal sector and I find this absurd.
More so, naturally, these “investors” always send tons of their profits back home and have done little to feed the cow that they milk.
I feel that we need to re-visit our policies and apply fair treatment to all inhabitants in our land. It makes no sense for foreigners to enjoy more rights in a country than its citizens. And we have seen the effects of this; in most strikes within Kampala, naturally rowdy crowds attack and kill people who belong to the class of investors. Who is to blame for this animosity?
Secondly, I have observed that there is an underlying cultural dynamic in people’s attitudes in situations that involve foreigners in Uganda. Everybody went up in arms against the Pakistani nationals and there were threats to boycott their products and some people went as far as to ridiculously suggest that these should be sent back to their countries (just as Idi Amin Dada did in the 1970s when he expelled Asians from Uganda) True, everybody wanted justice for the young lady; but I found it a bit overboard for people to harbour violent hatred for an entire race just because of a mistake of a few individuals. One only has to look at various situations to note this culture of segregation; whenever there is a strike in Kampala, it is no shock to hear that rowdy mobs beat up an Asian businessman down town. Yes, some Ugandans are not comfortable with the strictness in which these people carry out their business but truth be told, there is nothing illegal about it! Why then should we victimise them just because they are better at plying their trade?
We keep talking about global citizenship and preaching a world in which we are free to exist wherever we feel like. We are signatories to international statutes that allow for the facilitation of a free space for all. We also expect that when we travel to other countries, we should not be given sneer looks, arrested because of our skin colour or hear stereotypes about us. We want this for ourselves, but we are not offering it to others!
The Pakistani community came out last week and apologized to Ugandans for the wrong committed by their fellow nationals. I believe that as a country, we put them in a position where they felt they had to apologize to us for wrongs committed by a few of their very own. I imagine a situation where we as a nation have to apologize for every single wrong committed by our nationals in other countries. That would really be absurd.
We must therefore realize that as we seek for justice, we should not fall victim to culpable character ourselves. We must fight racial and national stereotypes to realize a global village which we all so earnestly yearn for. For as it is said, he or she that seeks equity must come with clean hands! Our government and governments in Africa should also cease to look at foreign business men as “gods” doing us a favour. Truth be told, these people reap billions of dollars from us. We should also not stifle local investment at the expense foreign investors; we must find a way to have both co-existing and enjoying level ground.