The death of George Ninsiima Agaba in a horrific motor accident on Saturday was a terrible tragedy for two reasons.
First the loss of life, especially of a young person, is always heart breaking for the family, friends and the community. A life cut so soon deprives the deceased of the opportunity to enjoy his allotted three score and ten before flying away.
Second, Agaba’s accidental death has unleashed a torrent of celebration by many Ugandans who consider it divine retribution against a man whom they consider a poster boy for entrenched impunity.
Celebrating a persons’ death reveals a darkness of spirit that is very un-African, one that decants our old tradition of making instant peace with the dead. It goes against the universal self-restraint that is imposed by obuntu (humaneness), engaging brakes that check raw emotions and desire for revenge when the perceived enemy has been rendered harmless by death or incapacitation.
Obviously this delight at the death of a person is not unique to Uganda or Africa. For example, many Americans celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011. Though killing Osama was arguably justifiable, celebrating his death reflected descent into the very darkness that he had inhabited.
This dark celebration was also directed at Dr. Violet Kajubiri, a passenger in the doomed vehicle who sustained serious injuries. Many people openly prayed for her death because she is President Museveni’s sister. To the haters, this good and gentle Christian woman is guilty of sharing DNA with the president. Nothing else.
It is even more tragic when people who profess to be Christians celebrate the death or injury of any person. Judging from the baptismal names of those who expressed glee on social media, the majority subscribe to one or other sect of the Christian faith.
Yet the Bible is unequivocal about the expected behaviour of a Christian in the face of an adversary’s misfortune. Proverbs 24:17 says: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart be glad, or the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn his wrath away from him.”
So celebrating Agaba’s death and Violet’s injury goes against basic universal human morality, African tradition and mandatory Christian conduct.
However, even as we condemn such behavior, we must seek to understand why otherwise normal people would react that way. What has driven citizens to such despair and antisocial behavior?
The answer is the impunity enjoyed by many people with access to power in Uganda, who abuse citizens with the confidence that they are above the law. The constant beatings, teargasing and shootings of citizens by police, partisan militia and other armed agents have created a volcanic animus that bubbles just beneath the surface of what appears to be a normal society.
Recall that on January 22, 2012, George Agaba, at the time the Director of Planning for the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), led an exercise aimed at clearing illegal structures in Port Bell, Luzira, a lakeside suburb.
An NTV video report of the event, still available on the Internet, is a must see in order to make sense of the indefensible celebration of Agaba’s death. Agaba and Santos Makmot, his bodyguard, get their spot in the country’s tragically violent history. Please watch the following video before reading the rest of my comments.
At least one man was shot dead and two others were seriously wounded. After a brief detention, Agaba was set free by the court and resumed his job at KCCA. Makmot was kept in prison. Public anger and resentment deepened.
Years pass, with escalating violence by the state against the citizens, and a presidential election stolen in broad daylight. These trigger further seismic waves underneath the volcano. Ethnic hatred is manifest to those with eyes to see, ears to hear and an active sixth sense to read the tea leaves. The rulers ignore the signs as they engage in self-congratulation. They intensify use of deadly force.
Then tragedy strikes on the beautiful Mbarara-Isingiro highway. George Agaba is dead. President Museveni’s sister is injured.
A desperate and extremely angry group of citizens react in a manner that goes against basic human values, African tradition and Christian conduct. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is alive and well in cyberspace.
The antidote to this dark spirit must not be limited to homilies about the correct moral response to the death of a person. It needs an urgent national dialogue that aims at resolving the crisis of governance; expunging impunity from the land; paving the way for a change of direction and seeking restoration of peace through truth and reconciliation.
The latter is necessary because there is a national crisis where, as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.”
The rulers and their subjects are engaged in a dance macabre, one that is destined for an explosive resolution of mutually assured destruction.
The danger is that even genuine Christians could easily get sucked into the black hole of anger, hatred and thirst for revenge.
In Romans 14, Paul calls upon Christians to bless those who persecute them; to mourn with those who mourn; never to repay evil for evil and to seek to live at peace with everyone. We are to feed the enemy and give him a drink. It may not be easy, but being a Christian was never meant to be easy.
We continue to pray for Dr. Kajubiri’s full restoration to good health and function. And we pray that the Lord will comfort Agaba’s family.