I woke up, wired, my head buzzing with questions. Would the police go ahead with the plan? Will the District send a big truck like they promised? Will we find the sachets of alcohol or have retailers hidden them too well? How will the shopkeepers react? If we do find sachets, will the District come through on their promise to give us somewhere to put them? In Gulu, no matter how much you try, a ‘plan’ is never really more than a series of vague uncoordinated questions. Fred, a key ally is already waiting at the police station at 7am, coolly sipping a mug of millet porridge. We are soon joined by Anthony, Boniface and Cristo, all revving to go.
After an hour and a half of milling around we spot the District Police Commander, “there’s an emergency, the operation will be delayed until its dealt with.” We watch as officers are loaded into an open-topped vehicle and speed off. The Police Commander, standing near us, demands updates on his cell phone “Is he dead? Where are the suspects?” A mob were lynching two suspected motorcycle thieves. By the time the police arrived (an hour late), they had been burnt to death. Officers returned and joined our circle, cheerfully one-upping one another on the most horrific lynchings they had seen, the details of which I shall spare you. I politely declined viewing a cell phone snap of this mornings victims. More time passed. 10:00am came and went. With plenty of phone calls from our team, we managed to get the District truck sent with a driver to wait on standby, and made sure the police vehicles had fuel.
Then suddenly, my mouth still full of chapatti, we were all go. Officers piled into police vans, last second confusion and changes of targets. My convey hit up the wholesale street in the center of town. While I’m used to seeing police operations on my teenage favorite “The Bill’ or more recently the infinitely superior “The Wire,” this operation resembled toddlers playing tag in the dark. The District Police Commander soon became completed redundant as operation commander when he got into what turned out to be an hour long dispute with a shopkeeper:Most of the police considered themselves above lifting boxes and loading them into the truck. They had no plan for how the loading should take place. We lifted boxes ourselves, and hired some young guys on the spot:
While most of the shop keepers responded calmly, one retailer was furious. He had 30 boxes of sachets confiscated, worth millions of Ugandan shillings. He leapt on the truck and tried to throw his boxes back. The drama attracted a crowd:
By 2:30pm, the mission was complete. Between the two sites targeted, 307 boxes of sachets were impounded. That’s around 44,000 sachets. Despite our hassling, a storeroom had still not been identified. I had to check several major hotels to find the District Chairperson at one of two meetings he was supposedly attending, accompany him back to the District Headquarters, find the storekeeper, accompany the storekeeper to find an appropriate store, and ring the truck to come. An hour of lifting heavy smelly boxes in the sun later:Boom. First operation, done.
It was reported in the national papers…even if they got the numbers wrong: