Upon viewing a picture of samples of berets and the various assortment of attire that were to constitute a serious criminal offence if worn by civilians, I smiled as I shared the picture with a few friends.
Like most people, the news regarding the beret policy was shocking. You realize you have seen it all when, regardless of how low your government stoops, you are no longer surprised and more inclined to believe any shocking. Therefore, the policy that specifically seems to target the berets did not surprise me. What was surprising is the seemingly off-script manner in which the policy was launched.
Therefore, this article is a charitable attempt to offer guidelines on how the wearing of red berets should have been banned effectively. Several years ago, when I was learning how to write feature columns, I was taught that there are always going to be “dry days” (days when there is really nothing very striking to write about).
An ace that I learnt from that lesson was that in such situations, find anything to write about but ensure three things: write interestingly and appeal to not only the readers’ reasoning but also emotions.
Similarly, if any government must come up with some really draconian laws/policies, what must not be forgotten is that the public appreciates rhetoric, logical justifications and also possesses the capacity to be emotional. The banning of the beret was veiled in a way that was deficient of the three qualities and that is partially why even the most gullible have so far perceived it as a joke.
First, the attempts to ban the red berets did not follow the “modern” and typical public policy and law formulation process that Ugandans have been recently accustomed to. The red beret banning process should, therefore, have gone as something like this.
It should have started by a simple inoculation procedure in form of a seemingly fabricated notice that would go viral on social media. Then, depending on the nature of backlash from the social media judges and the tireless attempts by mainstream media to verify the seemingly fake communication, some random and low-profile government official would reluctantly confirm that they have heard about the communication and are not sure of the exact source but that the policy seems fair.
The “fake” notice would then be acknowledged by a more prominent member of the ruling government (preferably, a female from the Eastern, Northern or West Nile regions for very strategic reasons). Someone from any region other than the West and Southwest would suffice.
The same person would table the bill in parliament for discussion and the final decision would summarily be reached by a majority, with or without quorum. In anticipation of a few rowdy individuals who would turn up on the streets to demonstrate, the major Kampala streets would be littered with Black Mambas and mean-looking military personnel - mostly dressed in civilian clothes - who would peacefully ‘convince’ the protesting citizens that banning red berets is indeed good for the whole country.
Away from procedural issues, the sanctions against the use of red berets needed at least one sound justification. Anyone with some basic debating techniques will know that if one has three reasons in support of an idea, the strongest point must be presented first.
Similarly, if the first justification for the banning of red berets relates to the difficulties of differentiating between civilians and a certain section of the military, a phenomenon ensues where utterances from comedians induce crying, while the verbal spewing from seemingly senior politicians evoke tearful laughter. Subsequently, one is discouraged from listening to the rest of the arguments.
For charitable purposes, let’s suppose that at a significant distance, it is difficult to differentiate between the emblems on both people power supporters’ berets and those of the military police.
What cannot be disputed, however, is that one does not need to be an expert in Uganda’s military dress code to know that with the exception of a few unruly officers, for any sane and law abiding military personnel to appear in public with any military attire, the officer must be dressed in a full combat from head to toe.
Considering that we have previously succeeded at distorting and removing core articles from the Constitution, the mere banning of red berets should have been more expertly executed with half the effort.
The writer is a social worker in Alberta, Canada.