Uganda’s constitutional court last week nullified the Penal Code section that created an offence known as “idle and disorderly”. British colonial rulers created and implemented such rules in their colonies to keep natives who were not directly required to serve in their offices and homes from crowding their new towns. After colonising Uganda over 130 years ago, they imported their Indian Penal Code complete with Indian Police officers to enforce it into Uganda.
Sixty years after Independence, Uganda has finally removed that piece of racist discrimination from its laws. But this was the labour of a private citizen who petitioned the constitutional court, and, or more accurately but, our patriotic, nationalist and pan African government opposed the petition through the attorney general, but the justices of the constitutional court ruled on the side of the people.
The five justices unanimously agreed with citizen Francis Tumwesigye Ateenyi that indeed that the section of the Penal Code which provided that “any suspect or reputed thief with no visible means of subsistence shall be deemed a rogue and vagabond and commits an offence punishable with imprisonment”, indeed contravenes several sections of the constitution.
Of course, the learned brothers on both sides of the petition argued using a lot of “big English” before court arrived at what the rest of us consider obvious that you cannot criminalise a person’s having no visible source of income nor call one a reputed thief without adducing evidence of their having stolen anything.
Every day when you get onto the road in Kampala city you see the people who should celebrate the nullification of the notorious idle and disorderly offence. They include for starters, judges whose disorderliness you curse until you see the insignia on their cars and realise who they are. Besides daily breaking the specific laws of traffic as they drive on the wrong side, overtake in the wrong places and generally being nuisances with their blaring sirens which have been expressly prohibited by the transport authorities, these judges would under the idle and disorderly thing, be suspected without being able to prove their “means of subsistence” that are consistent with the lifestyle of having the means and power to take over so many square metres of road space from the public yet neither are they the president of the republic, nor are they ambulances.
Boda boda riders
Besides the judges, plus other big and small officials who claim road space and scatter other road users like rubbish, none of the one million or so boda boda riders in the country would survive the enforcement of the idle and disorderly thing. To begin with most of them are not operating within the law regarding the registration of their bikes as passenger vehicles nor the possession of valid driving licences and insurance policies. Until the public infrastructure is developed or organised to have different categories of road users in their spaces, particularly the larger means of public conveyance, it is difficult to stop drivers from being disorderly.
In short, the idle and disorderly law has not been enforceable, and where an authority cannot assert authority, they start looking impotent or irrelevant. So, the nullification of “idle and disorderly” has saved the law enforcement and judicial offices from looking impotent. The judges’ observation of the inconsistence with the constitution sounds nice and serious, but the truth is, that piece of legislation has been making the government look unserious. It was better to remove it than maintain it when you can do nothing with it.
So, we can all be idle and disorderly with nobody complaining that some are being arrested while others are doing the same but are not being arrested. It reminds one of an English prince who centuries ago married a French princess but could not stand the garlic on her breath. Until a wise person gave him advice that worked – start eating garlic. He did and they lived happily ever after.
Source: The East African