The Daily Monitor newspaper ran a rather sad story about a reverend of the mainstream Anglican Church of Uganda in Rakai district near the Tanzania border.
The middle-aged man of God is lying in hospital in critical condition but under state custody, having lost a lot of blood and sustained serious wounds after a farmer hacked him repeatedly with a machete in his banana garden.
The poor reverend was stealthily trying to harvest something to go and feed his hungry family – a wife and four kids.
Reading the story, which quoted all the relevant authorities confirming and explaining what happened, left me wondering why the farmer hacked the priest so mercilessly and repeatedly over a banana; it wasn’t as if he had been forcibly breaking into the man’s house.
More intriguing is the authorities’ determination to pursue the law all the way against the hungry man over the banana. The top cop of the district vowed to have the priest prosecuted as soon as he recovers – if he ever does – from his injuries.
It left me wishing that the same determination to prosecute was applied to big thieves who every year steal millions of dollars’ worth of public funds from the health sector and thus cause the deaths of many women and children who cannot afford to pay for private medical care.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, the respected Mike Chibita, was recently challenged over the government’s apparent after-the-act sympathy with big thieves, judging from its not-so-vigorous attempts to prosecute them. The DPP of course defended the government, and cited the example of a whole minister who is being prosecuted for taking a bribe of five million shillings.
Now five million Uganda shillings is just about 140,000 Kenya shillings, three million Tanzania shillings or 1,350 US dollars. In other words, the minister the DPP is so proud of prosecuting is in the little league with the Rakai reverend.
We have had ministers suspected of grand crime including taking bribes stupendously larger than $1,350 and there has not been even a whisper of their being prosecuted.
It can therefore be safely concluded that as far as a theft and bribe taking are concerned in our country, the real crime is doing it is small amounts.
Not that this is a new discovery – the Igbos of Nigeria whose writings many of us ageing fellows read in O-level said it ages ago, that if you choose to eat a frog, better pick a fat and juicy one.
That was the real crime of the poor reverend. He only went to steal a small item to feed his hungry family. The church owners who wallow in vulgar opulence after fleecing their flock are never prosecuted. Okay, one was recently charged for fleecing people but his victims were the small fish who were looking for “free education’ for their kids. So he is also relatively small fry.
The Rakai reverend, as the parishioners who were interviewed stated, was living in near starvation because his parish is small, realising miserable collections on Sunday which leaves his family perpetually hungry. Such a man cannot withstand repeated blows by a strong farmer with a sharp machete.
Had I been the police chief in Rakai, I would also charge the farmer the same way people are charged after meting out mob justice to petty thieves. But I am not.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. Email:[email protected]