When the police tip off the target before arriving and the Mayor blocks municipal officers from doing their job, how do you get a law enforced?
I haven’t documented all our failed experiments trying to get Gulu’s sachet alcohol ban enforced. For many months, it was just too depressing. One time our team identified 3 big targets, all suppliers of many smaller shops. We then waited around while police took four hours to get organised, then at the last minute, the head of the operation started saying we didn’t have enough ‘evidence’ to go. We finally convinced him. When we reached the first two targets, we found them locked. In the middle of the day. The police didn’t seem surprised. Another time, we managed to reach open shops that hadn’t been tipped off in advance, but police and municipal officers were so disorganised and leaderless that searches weren’t done properly and very little was found.
Definitely time for a new experiment. We scrapped harassing police to lead operations, and we’ve decided to forget about the Mayor. The District Chairperson, the highest political office in Gulu, ranked above the Mayor, appointed his deputy ‘Simon’ in charge of alcohol law enforcement. In the shots below, you’ll see Simon and his hand-picked team, accompanied by police, raiding shop after shop. So far there have been three operations in different sub-counties. I accompanied them on two missions, camera at the ready. The strategy upon reaching each trading center was simple: split up, search each shop, and load the illegal sachets and plastic bottles of gin into the back of the pick-up. Any shop keeper found with a large quantity was arrested by police. I stood in the bright sunshine watching Simon and his team move about confidently and purposefully, and felt months of built up frustration subside. From Unyama and Awach sub-counties, 22 large boxes of sachets and plastic bottles were impounded, and 5 shop owners arrested and fined. In Paicho sub-county 15 boxes and 2 arrests.
Simon’s team captured ‘Royal Navy’ branded sachets:
Below: This shop keeper was busted with 5 boxes of ‘Chief’ brand plastic bottles.
Also impounded: boxes of ‘Uganda Waragi’, produced by Uganda Breweries. Thats the fanciest brand.
These successful missions with Simon show the power in local democracy. In Uganda, Police are only really accountable to central government, and therefore are usually never held accountable at all. Accordingly, they don’t care about their work and look for any opportunity to take a bribe. Local government employees with their job-for-life contracts and pensions waiting tend to play it safe, avoid confrontation and do the minimum required. Local elected leaders, on the other hand, have at least some sense of accountability and want results they can tell their people about. I think Simon and his team were proud of these operations. I also believe action and actually getting stuff done is more fun than sitting in NGO workshops and pointless meetings. Whether or not we stick with this exact method, we’ve definitely made a breakthrough. Phew.
Heres Simon, giving an impromptu talk to locals and shop keepers on why this law is important: