Unfocused democracy never did anybody any good

In the wake of the groundswell of riots and lootings that shook London and other major English cities, I got to thinking. Maybe the self-appointed foreign experts that we so often disparage have something we don’t: compassion. It is heartless of us that we should watch anti-social hordes freely rain terror on hapless citizens without any of us volunteering to assist a friendly country in need.
Pan Butamire
Pan Butamire

In the wake of the groundswell of riots and lootings that shook London and other major English cities, I got to thinking. Maybe the self-appointed foreign experts that we so often disparage have something we don’t: compassion. It is heartless of us that we should watch anti-social hordes freely rain terror on hapless citizens without any of us volunteering to assist a friendly country in need.

Unlike pitiless us, our Western experts would now be unleashing volumes of alarm pages on how our effort at anything we try out for remedy is going to generate another genocide. Granted, instead of giving us solutions before the harm is done, they usually come in after the act to shoot down the policies we adopt to address any problem. But is it their fault if they don’t understand our situation?

It is maybe the fault of our ancestors who did not teach theirs our language and history, the way theirs did ours. The fact alone of their ancestors having inflicted some pain on ours during those lessons must be driving them to point out the cliff that we are running towards, without wasting time on waiting to see the results of our efforts. Surely, that concern must be reciprocated.

So, even if belatedly like these experts, I’ve elected myself an expert on the UK. Unlike them, though, I’ve studied the root cause of those riots and lootings and know that they were not a spontaneous uprising “triggered” off by the shooting dead by police of a young man of colour or by bad upbringing.

I know also that those involved included 30-40 year-olds and not necessarily teenagers only. I know that even if they’d been youth gangs in warzones, police shouldn’t have stood watch at first as gangs lent themselves to unbridled pillage. That is the effect of runaway democracy and it’s not good. Police should have responded swiftly and decisively.

But this is not the time to reminisce over what I know or what should’ve been done. This is time to offer a practical strategy for solutions.

First, there must be mending of hearts and minds of victim and perpetrator, and all those adversely affected.

As it is, in rushing to imprison those seen carrying loot, there has been a cry of unfairness. As an example, acrimony is rising over one youth caught by police carrying two or three mineral-water bottles who was nonetheless handed the heavy prison sentence of a year.

Compare that with the one given just one day for looting two expensive jackets and the disparity of punishment is glaring. That is evidence that if communities were put together instead, they’d resolve their issues more smoothly and could easily reconcile the aggrieved with the offended.

I’m suggesting Gacaca. Any expression that signifies a popular court system, like Riretu (for ‘Riot Resolution Turf’) in this case, can be picked. The important thing is that the system chosen deals justice to all parties and can give the bonus of a reconciled society, as well as resolved past grievances.

 Get a few trusted people and, in your Queen’s English, call them ‘Council of Trusted Gentry’, with the connotation of integrity but without that of ruling class. Let them preside over a court of all community members, including those implicated in the riots and those who were witness. The community can be determined as a shopping area or residential estate in those cities.

Meanwhile, let only the ring leaders be confined in preventive detention, sprinkled with potential trouble-shooters. This way, architects and planners of the riots will not be able to mobilise for an encore. Rather, they will have time to reflect on their misdeeds and the harm they have caused to themselves and their people.

It is crucial to give enough time for regrets. Then these hardcore offenders can see reason and contemplate seeking pardon. Once they’ve apologised, hand them TIG (‘Travaux d’Intérêt Général). That means allowing them to do compulsory service in the community’s general interest, out of prison.  Give that process an attractive name, like CWOP (for ‘Compassionate Work for Our People’), and you’ll see positive results.

For lasting effect, create a national unity and reconciliation commission whose task will be to create an atmosphere of harmonious co-existence. There are many ways the commission can explore, but I’d suggest starting with Umuganda (Oomoogahndah) of Rwanda, since it has been subjected to the test of time.

Apart from bringing people together every month (or less/more often) to address their community’s needs, Umuganda gives people a platform where they can identify their problems/differences together and work with their government to search for solutions. The interesting thing is that the British citizenry can unreservedly interact with members of their government.

At such venues, an ordinary citizen cannot shun throwing such a barb of a question as: “Mr Prime Minister, why don’t you sign performance contracts with leaders in your government? The people of this land want to rate their performance against their pledges. Sir, even the queen will be happy to join in.”

In one month, the UK will be a bee-hive of positive activity!

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