Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Yesterday morning I arrived rather late at Kamwala Magistrates Court to hear the case against one of my more tiresome nephews. But I found the court empty and everybody gone. As I stood there baffled, I heard a voice behind me. ‘Kalaki, what are you doing here?’
‘Kafundisha!’ I exclaimed, turning round and giving him a hug. ‘What are you doing here?’
‘After retiring from my job as Professor of Development Studies I was completely destitute,’ he replied. ‘So I got a job here as the caretaker.’
‘I came for the case of my nephew,’ I said, ‘but there’s nobody here. What happened?’
‘Adjourned before it began,’ he laughed. ‘No transport for the prisoners from Mukobeko.’
‘But there’s nothing happening anywhere,’ I said, pointing at all the empty courts. ‘Are they all waiting for prisoners from Mukubeko?’
‘All adjourned for different reasons,’ he laughed. ‘Either the magistrate has gone to a funeral, or the defence lawyer has gone sick, or the accused has jumped bail, or the witnesses can’t be found, or the case file has been lost, or the prosecutor brought a nolle prosequi, or the court exhibits have been stolen, or…’
‘So when was a case last heard in these courts?’ I wondered.
‘Three weeks ago there was a case of treason, where a man was accused of honking his motor horn, thereby threatening to bring down the government.’
‘With his motor horn?’
‘Yes, the government is extremely fragile at the moment, and the vibrations from a loud motor horn could easily cause the entire government infrastructure to crack and crumble, and then collapse in a pile of dust.’
‘And was this treasonable hooter found guilty?’
‘No. The case was adjourned indefinitely after the courtroom was invaded by a hundred cadres of the Punching Fist. Now they are all in Mukobeko Prison, awaiting trial on charges of illegal assembly, demonstrating without a permit, removing the magistrate’s wig, contempt of court and, of course, treason.’
‘So will the case resume soon?’
‘No. There’s no transport at Mukobeko.’
‘So there’s nothing happening here,’ I laughed. ‘It must be more boring than Yunza!’
‘Don’t just look at the surface of things,’ he laughed. ‘Here on the ground you might see nothing. But downstairs there’s a lot going on! Come with me!’
He led me down the corridor, and through an innocuous little green door labelled Bargain Basement, and then down a flight of steps. There we found plenty of people milling around the many shops of a long shopping mall.
‘Here we see the new government policy of PPP, public private partnership. This enables people to participate in the legal process, and make their own investments for the right outcomes according to their personal needs.’
‘You mean that people can buy justice?’
‘Why not? Under Money Matters Democracy, money is what matters. If you need education, you can buy it. Health care, you can buy it. A job, you can buy it. A contract, you can buy it. Why should justice be any different?’
‘Without money,’ I said, ‘you can rot and die.’
‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘We must encourage entrepreneurship.’
We went into the first shop, called Clean File. ‘Here,’ said Kafundisha, ‘you can have your file cleaned, such as DNA evidence removed, finger prints exchanged, court records expunged, or previous convictions wiped out. For only five million you can buy a bottle of File Evaporation Fluid.’
Next we went into the Court Bookshop, with useful titles such as How to Get an Adjournment, Inventing an Alibi, Legal Immunity, Criminal Lawyers, Subverting the Constitution, Using the Law to Protect the Rich from the Poor, How to Jail Your Enemies, and so on.
As we went into the next shop, the salesman stood up and greeted us with ‘Any problems sir? Anybody you want to put in the cells? For fifty pin we’ll put him in. For fifty pin we’ll take him out!’
In the next shop we found prison uniforms for sale. ‘Got a friend in jail? Buy him this Assistant Commissioner’s uniform for only fifty million! When he walks out, all the warders will salute!’
‘Good gracious,’ I said to Kafundisha. ‘No wonder there’s not much business upstairs! Most things can be settled down here, out of court!’
‘Out of court settlements are so much better,’ he laughed.
‘But suppose the government want to use the law to fix the opposition, or to protect themselves from some vexatious petition or tribunal? How does the government protect itself from the power of the market?’
‘Come next door,’ he chuckled, ‘and all will become clear.’
The next shop, with the amusing title Rule of Law, had rows of judges sitting on the shelves. ‘Serious faces and empty heads,’ laughed Kafundisha. ‘They’re all robots, made in China.’
As he spoke, the salesman pressed a button on his remote control. ‘Guilty!’ shouted all the judges. Then he pressed another button. ‘Not Guilty!’ they shouted.
‘Of course you must realise,’ laughed Kafundisha, ‘that anything that happens down here is sub judice!’
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘We must respect the independence of the judiciary.’

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