The vigilantes are out, cattle thieves are burning in Uganda
7 days ago, 16:17
A few days ago something remarkable happened in my home village. Villagers destroyed someone’s car and set it on fire. I don’t know yet whose car it was. The person who called me to convey the news said it was a Toyota Ipsum.
This particular model of perhaps Japan’s most popular vehicle exports to Uganda, if not to the entire region, is well liked by many here. It is a small car. The size of its boot, however, is enormous, and its fuel consumption is very kind to those who do not have deep pockets.
And it is in the very size of its boot that lies the reason villagers in Buwanuka, which is located only 23 kilometres outside the capital, Kampala, torched the one that Mr Ssalong (father of twins) called to tell me about.
By the time it was stoned, hit with all kinds of blunt objects, overturned and burnt, villagers had rescued two cows that had been stuffed into it by a group of clever and daring young men. They were trying to stuff in another one when they were ambushed.
These young men, experts at stuffing cows into small vehicles, were part of a group of thieves who for the past few years have prowled Buwanuka with impunity. Sometimes they have turned up in the dead of the night with pick-up trucks or lorries, parked the vehicles in secluded places, and then proceeded to collect livestock from people’s homes, load it, and drive off.
There are also times when they have slaughtered the animals in the bush near Buwanuka and neighbouring villages. They take the meat, leaving skins, some entrails and, when the cows have been in-calf, foetuses behind. The distress they cause their victims is immeasurable.
Buwanuka has a good number of very hardworking peasant farmers, the kind who respond enthusiastically to opportunities for self-advancement, of the kind the Museveni government has been trumpeting in its ceaseless anti-poverty campaigns over the years.
Several villagers are vegetable growers and are among the major suppliers to Kampala’s markets. Many, like their colleagues in neighbouring villages, have taken to cattle keeping on a zero-grazing basis to supplement their incomes from tilling the land.
There many reasons these industrious peasants have endured the terror for so long. One is that they have always feared that the thieves are armed with guns, and that they risk being shot if they put up any resistance.
The other is that the neighbourhood watch system that the Museveni government introduced way back in the mid-1980s collapsed long ago, and with it the capacity of elected local leaders to mobilise and co-ordinate collective action. Even worse, on several occasions, the villagers have run to the police for help and returned home with empty promises.
One day, the victims and potential victims decided that enough was enough and decided to “do something.” When the thieves turned up, the community was prepared.
That is how the car fell into their hands. The thieves fled, but one was unlucky. He was captured, beaten to death, ...
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