On the 20th of September 2017, the naked body of Sarah Nelima, a 22 year old food vendor was found in a banana plantation near Nkumba University by a boy who had gone to pick fruits, in an incident that was not the first of such episodes in the East African country.
Between May and September 2017 alone, twenty-three women were horrendously murdered in Wakiso district – a region of Uganda housing the Entebbe International Airport. The women who ranged from students to employed mothers and even sex workers were often found raped and mutilated with sticks wedged in their vaginas.
Nelima was the 23rd victim and an employee of Friends Restaurant and Takeaway near Mango Sports Bar in Katabi Town Council. A day before Nelima’s decomposing body was discovered, residents had also found the body of Harriet Nantongo who had been reported missing on September 14th 2017.
Nantongo worked at a local garbage dump, separating polythene bags she would later wash at a nearby stream from the heap of rubbish and this seemly trivial activity yielded her 11,000UGX (about $3) daily. On the morning of September 13th, she had walked with her husband who worked as a carpenter to their mutual bus stop, then bid him goodbye as she set off on her own way.
But when at 11:00pm she had not returned, her husband, Noah Musiba realized something was wrong. Originally believing that his wife of ten years who habitually returned at 7:30pm had spent the night at her sister’s residence in a distinct area of town, Musiba did not begin his search till the next day.
I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t! I felt so down, so weak. I was devastated.
He would upon meeting her absence at her sister’s house head for her place of work where he was told she had left for home at about 5:00pm the previous day for the three hour walk that led her back to their residence.
Alongside her sister, Musiba would comb police posts, mortuaries and hospitals harboring hope of finding her before proceeding to file a missing person’s report. It was five days after that report that residents discovered the body of his 38 year old wife and mother of their daughter, Harriet Nantongo in Katabi town council.
At first, Ugandan authorities had labelled the killings as “witchcraft” and motivated by ritual incentives, this narrative consequently changed to embody an account that ranged from unemployment to drug use, criminal gangs and domestic violence. The masses had however considered their elucidations unsatisfactory and quizzed about why the killings hadn’t ceased even with the bulk of arrests that had gone on since it’s inception.
Sandra Nassali, a representative of the local organisation ACFODE in addressing the general apathy told Al Jazeera, “Perhaps because the victims are all low-income women, and women are never a priority in this country,” a viewpoint that is retained by a substantial number of the people.
But this standpoint is not so far off from the truth. When the first victim – who according to a Ugandan government report remains unclaimed till date – was found in Nansana municipality on 3rd May 2017, the incident had gone almost undetected. It took a spasmodic string of related events for an investigation though fishy in it’s right to be catalyzed.
Activist groups have traced the atrocious killing of women in what they describe to be a femicide to as far back as 2015 when the body of Desire Mirembe, a first year student of Makerere University was found lying in a plantation in Kibubu village, Lugazi. She’d been raped and had her throat slit by Mathew Kirabo, a fourth year medical student and her boyfriend who was charged with her rape and murder.
“I couldn’t believe it,” her brother Jonathan told Campus Bee UG, “I couldn’t! I felt so down, so weak. I was devastated.” Comprehension was not possible. “Desire cannot be dead. I saw her last weekend! She was right with me at home! I saw her.”
These groups believe that patriarchy, misogyny and a persistent view of women as objects have bolstered the killings on both sides. Their argument is rooted in the concept that the killings are perpetuated by men who live in a society that has consistently trivialized the existence of the woman and pinpoints the lethargic response by security operatives as fed by their belief that murder when it happens to women is less important as when it happens to men.
On 30th of June 2018, activist groups in the country spearheaded by Stella Nyazi organized a women’s march to protest the killings, demand safer spaces for Ugandan women and that the perpetrators be brought to book. The peaceful protest which was joined by the U.S and French ambassadors respectively featured hundreds of women and men likewise who took to the streets wielding placards to protest the deaths of 42 women who had been killed in distinct attacks across the country since May 2017.
As with every horrific instance that demands answers, it is easy to bind the existence of these women to the episodes that have brought them to light, there is an expected need to view them solely in the beam of these series of unfortunate events.
Nevertheless if one deflects their attention away from the cause and response, we thereafter realize that the women of Wakiso are not just numbers, they were people, they had names. There was Faith Komugisha who was gang raped and whose naked body was found in a garden behind her house in Kitinda Village on June 19 2017. Her bra and knickers had been removed and put aside, her breasts were exposed, a long stick was inserted into her privates and caked blood lay between her legs.
31 year old Komugisha was a scrap dealer who had left an abusive marriage with her fisherman husband in 2016 becoming the sole breadwinner for her four children. She had on the night of her murder left home to watch TV at a neighbors house but never returned.
There was Norah Wanyana, 18 a Senior 5 student at Airforce Secondary School in Entebbe who left home to buy food after returning from school at 7pm. Her body was found in a banana plantation near Nkumba. A stick had been inserted in her vagina. She had been raped before being murdered.
In a tribute published on the Daily Monitor, her friend, Shamirsydney Zawedde wrote, “I imagine you fighting those hungry lions my little one….. Oooooh noooo. It wasn’t meant to end like this. Rest In Peace. But you haven’t left your mum the same. I will always remember you and your sweet heart.”
There was Rose Nakimuli, a 27 year old hairdresser who was found on 24th July 2017. Neighbors claimed that Nakimuli had set off for a home from a bar she frequented between 1:00am and 2:00am heavily drunk. Her body was found behind Keba Inn near Jantos Bar, strangulated and with two sticks wedged in her vagina.
Speaking to policemen about the incident, Nakimuli’s husband of almost two years, Anatori Ndyabajeera said, “I was with my wife on Sunday at 5pm, after which I left for my home in Kawafu zone. Later, I called her phone at 7pm to check on her and we chatted for some good minutes. However, this morning I tried to call her but she wasn’t answering her phone.”
His statement prompts us to a realization that we might often miss that Nakimuli was alive, that like every other Wakiso woman, Nakimuli was a breathing thing, was human.
Speak Culture is a First Culture series tackling violence and oppression across genders and societies perpetrated either by individuals or governments. To contribute, send your within 1000 word piece as an attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “SPEAK CULTURE.” To read others, click here.