It’s not every day that life lets you see the good criminal you could become if you make one or more bad life decisions. My opportunity presented itself a few days ago and I was frankly disappointed.
I always knew that if I turned to crime, it would be in the private sector, not in government. Playing around with bloated per diem claims in checkered shirts and ill-fitting suits isn’t for me – yet it’s almost the image I’ve seen of my criminal alter ego.
It all started with a random phone call. The man on the other end of the line told me that I had sold him some land on the outskirts of Kampala a few years ago. His name and voice were not recorded, but the place rang a bell; Many years ago we placed small land bets in different directions to see where capital would grow. This place had lost – badly – and was relegated to the background.
Yet we had not sold. But the caller said a man claiming to be me did it. Mr. Caller was now trying to sell the land but ‘me’ had disappeared, so he had found ‘me’ out of my hiding place. He shared copies of said transaction – all forgeries – and I politely advised him to contact the authorities to assist him in his pursuit.
A few days later, however, another person called to say that the same property had also been sold by someone who not only shared my block and plot number, but also my name! I decided to get involved; I would contact me and buy my land for myself.
It only took a few hours and lots of phone calls to set up. But eventually, my alter ego walked into a lawyer’s office to receive a deposit for the property. He looked much older than me and much smaller, like he could use a good meal, but he wore his crimes on his sleeves. It wasn’t the “sewing machine pants” that betrayed him, but the pointed shoes so appreciated by real estate brokers, and the crumpled handkerchief in his hands with which he constantly wiped his brow.
When he finally spoke, I noticed that he was missing three or four teeth on the first row of his mouth, probably from a previous affair gone wrong. ‘Mr Kalinaki’ said he didn’t contribute the title due to the rushed nature of the transaction, but a version he shared with one of his victims had previously turned out to be fake .
He also presented a national identity card with “our name” and with his photo, but clearly false details. He claimed, on paper, to be several years younger than me, even though he looked like he was enjoying his young adult years when I was born.
These crimes are becoming more frequent as land prices rise and crime becomes more gentrified. But they shouldn’t be. I remember briefly viewing a World Bank-funded project in the mid-2000s to digitize and computerize the land registry. The idea was that one could, by scanning a code, prove the ownership of a piece of land and see all the transactions that had taken place concerning it. Some of the top Lands Office officials did everything in their power to frustrate the scheme so that they could continue to issue bogus, often multiple, titles to the same land. The project has made some progress in recent years, but Lands remains a dark and dangerous alley through Crime Land.
People have been coerced into all sorts of schemes to protect their land from these crooks, from fencing it or putting up warning signs, to – my favorite – building little shrines and holding prayers every now and then. random nights. So if you ever see your columnist covered in barkcloth, ash and feathers, don’t worry; he will probably just come back from the opening of the borders.
Land fraud undermines investments, increases ownership costs and wastes too much time in legal and physical wrangling. The technology and funds are available to build an infallible cadastre; all we need is some leadership or a well-targeted class action lawsuit against public servants who continue to perpetuate and profit from this criminality.
The police, on standby from the start, eventually take the other Mr. Kalinaki away in handcuffs. He is currently assisting them in investigations. If there are others considering impersonating me, please, please, please; don’t do it with pointy shoes.
Mr. Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter.