You heard of America’s national addiction to litigation, and Kenyans’ impulse to sue whoever stands in their way. Well, Ugandans are also getting somewhere not-so-near but in that direction.
Last week, a jilted elderly guy in southwestern Uganda won a case against his girlfriend of several years for going back on her promise to marry him when they were both teachers. The court ordered her to pay him about $3,000 he estimated he spent on her tuition to undertake more studies.
But that is a rather boring case, compared to the suits a crusading litigant, Male Mabirizi, has been lodging in local magistrates’ courts, the Constitutional Court and the East African Court of Justice.
Mabirizi was a brilliant law student who, after graduation, reportedly refused to take the bar course to avoid getting under control of the bureaucracy that regulates advocates of the High Court — including renewing their practicing licences annually. He went into money-lending business and keeps suing whoever he feels like suing.
Sued the Kabaka
Mabirizi first came to public notice when he sued the Kabaka of Buganda, challenging the kingdom’s move to register people who occupy its land, which he saw as conditioning his access to the ancestral land where his ancestors’ bones repose. The audacity was akin to a Catholic suing the Pope.
After the public had taken note of him, he went for the big one: As soon as MPs of Uganda’s 10th Parliament voted in 2017 to remove the presidential age limit and grant themselves an extra two years in office beyond the five years they had been voted in for, he rushed to the Constitutional Court and the MPs’ self-award was quashed.
He continued suing left and suing right and then dragged a popular Kampala pastor to court, actually in a criminal matter, for marrying a second woman without first having the first marriage properly dissolved. It is believed by some that this was a test case Mabirizi hoped to win easily and then start taking on bigger fish whose relationships may not be squeaky clean in legal terms.
A big fine
No country can be fully prepared for such an assault on its crème de la crème, and it seems Mabirizi had not chosen his battles strategically. Some charges materialised against him, ending in a big fine and then a custodial sentence. He is now serving an 18-month sentence, and has done 12 months already.
The question is: where Mabirizi will aim his guns on emerging from prison in the middle of this year? Being weakened, beaten but not broken, he may choose to start with the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), as this is likely to be a popular cause of easy-to-win cases, given the blatant sins — mostly of omission but also a few of commission — it can be accused of. To be fair to individual managers in KCCA, the Authority’s sins are just part of a disoriented society it serves. But, technically, the Authority repeatedly fails to perform, so to celebrate his release, Mabirizi could decide to feast on KCCA without expending much effort.
It is joked in some circles that if you are broke, just bandage your foot and limp to KCCA claiming to have fallen in an open manhole, threaten to sue and they’ll offer to settle out of court. Not exactly an exaggeration, since some people fall in open manholes, like a woman who did a few years back, never to be seen again. The public steals the manhole covers and the Authority takes the blame.
Cases against KCCA
Some cases Mabirizi can bring against KCCA could be worth a billion dollars, for example, the conversion of lanes of driving surface into commercial parking. The roads are built using borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars and then half of sections are converted into commercial parking, the proceeds from which are not used for repaying the debts. And worse, the narrowing of the roads worsens the traffic jam, costing everyone and the government colossal sums. Yet KCCA was supposed to ensure the buildings in town have parking or else they should get occupation permits.
Talking of traffic, all junctions in Kampala are just a scene of thousands of crimes per day. If Mabirizi charges KCCA with abetting those crimes he could bag an easy win. Some of the signal lights are simply comical: They seem to be programmed to release one car at a go then turn red, while the ones they “synchronise” with take half a minute or so to change.
Mabirizi’s kin and friends might be preparing to celebrate his release, but KCCA is advised not to join the celebration too fast.
Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]