ON THE MORNING OF 12 APRIL 2007, a coterie of environmental activists descended upon downtown Kampala to pay tribute to one of Uganda’s largest forest reserves, the 300-square-km area known as the Mabira Forest. Holding placards asserting their love of the land, they could be heard denouncing the name associated with a major Ugandan sugar producer, the Mehta Group’s Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL). All looked peaceful until, suddenly and overwhelmingly, things got out of control. The demonstration had been hijacked by angry protesters with a violent ambition—men and women who bayed, so to speak, for some blood.
This is what Devang Rawal, a 25-year-old sales agent who had spent nearly two years in Uganda, could not have anticipated as he rode his motorcycle down a crowded thoroughfare and into a mob eager for confrontation. They set his bike on fire, stoned him and beat him up—stopping only when they were sure he was dead.
In an atmosphere already poisoned by the imagination of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, of poverty versus riches, Rawal satisfied the mob’s hunger for quick revenge and a deeply felt desire for a fall guy. He was targeted because he did not look like the people who went after him. He looked like he might be Indian. And the Mehta Group, whose local subsidiary had been lobbying the government for a large chunk of Mabira—it proposed cutting down a third of the forest to plant sugarcane—is owned by Ugandans of Indian origin.