Sunday, 30 June 2013

Home Opinion and Editorial Comment Comment Murder, she wrote... and attached stamped copies of PIN and ID

By Joachim Buwembo

Posted  Saturday, June 29  2013 at  11:30

I have always wondered why Kenya has the biggest economy in the East African Community when it is really poor in natural resources compared with Uganda and Tanzania, and is not extremely far ahead in human skills development either.
But rewinding the conversations I have held over the years with people from the three countries, some pattern started to emerge in my mind.
There are certain words that are common with ordinary Kenyan folk that you can go years without hearing in Uganda and Tanzania, unless you work on court premises.
English words like “injunction,” “caveat” and “affidavit” are used by ordinary Kenyans while even educated Ugandans and Tanzanians may not readily define them.
It is possible that one of the factors slowing down progress in our countries is the failure to legalise relationships and transactions. But Kenyans appear to know their interests and are ready to defend them. They invoke the law at every opportunity.
Those who say America is a highly litigant society should try Kenya.
Kenyans will go to court to sort out a family dispute, they will call a lawyer where Ugandans call the priest and Tanzanians consult an elder. This resorting to the law can be a good thing for modernisation.
With globalisation closing in fast on us, it is high time we stopped assuming that everybody will treat us the way they want us to treat them.
It could be that due to lack of “free” food and “free” land in Kenya, people have to think twice as fast as their neighbours to stay alive.
In Uganda, if you fail to make in town, you return to the village where there is free food. I doubt if there is a village in Kenya where you can get free food, so you may as well remain in town and think hard.
Even in the village, you must be alert to anybody threatening your means of survival and quickly run to the law to secure your interests. So, if someone wants to transact on a piece of land in which you have an interest, you quickly lodge a caveat. If your brother wants to sell property and you disagree, you get an injunction.
The first real person I ever knew to use an affidavit was a Kenyan shamba boy working some 130 kilometres north of Nairobi.
He had wormed his way into the heart of his lady boss and quickly persuaded her to swear an affidavit attesting to the formality of their relationship, when her feelings for him were still quite warm. A few years later he had become a rich man.
I think Ugandans and Tanzanians need to get a bit more legal in this world where traditional values are disappearing.
We need to learn to sign contracts even with family members whom we employ in our small businesses so we can hold them to account. We should learn to take friends and relatives who take advantage of us to court. We should stop listening to uncles and aunties who plead for their thieving children and let the law take its course.
Once the culture of holding people to account takes root, we can start taking officials and leaders to court for failing to deliver services, or for outright theft of our resources.
Joachim Buwembo is a Knight International fellow for development journalism. E-mail:

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