Who will speak for Entebbe’s voiceless women?

Thursday October 12 2017

Uganda police officers carry the body of the murdered woman from the scene of crime in Entebbe. PHOTO | DAILY MONITOR

Uganda police officers carry the body of the murdered woman from the scene of crime in Entebbe. PHOTO | DAILY MONITOR  

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It is 4pm and the women food vendors at the Entebbe Central Market are trying to sell the last of their stock so that they can head home before sunset.

For Leticia Nakyeyune, who sells chicken, this means taking home less than Ush10,000 ($2.70). A few months ago, she used to make up to six times more.
Then someone started killing women living around Entebbe and Nansana and things changed.

Since May, 23 women in Wakiso district have been killed. Police say a majority of the women were strangled, sexually abused. Their bodies were found with objects inserted in their private parts. One other woman has been killed in similar fashion in the eastern district of Iganga, bringing the total deaths to 24.

“We now leave our homes after sunrise and return before sunset. This is still not enough. The other day someone escaped a kidnapping at 10am,” says Jessica Alina.

Ms Alina is referring to a 23-year-old woman, who police say escaped being abducted by two men driving a vehicle without a registration number plate just a week ago.

The two men are reported to have had a woman in their car. Police are yet to establish if the woman was a victim or accomplice in the intriguing spate of murders.

Dorcus Kiconco, who says she, too, escaped abduction, told The EastAfrican she has stopped working. Ms Kiconco worked at a bar along Entebbe Road.

She was called to the roadside to serve the men who had driven by. While serving them, she realised she felt faint and signalled a colleague.

Ms Kiconco believes the men administered a sleeping agent to knock her out. After this incident, she made the hard choice of staying at home, and now depends on her partner’s takings for survival.

"President's perfunctory stopover"

Ms Alina hopes President Yoweri Museveni will come to their rescue, since even the security officers posted around Entebbe have resorted to harassing any working man as most women feel under siege.

Locals say the police in Entebbe and surrounding areas are incapable of protecting the citizens and merely run extortion rings.

Haruna Ssemujju, who operates a chapati stall along Entebbe road, says he was once arrested when police found him walking to his workplace early one morning. They asked to see his national identity card and then ransacked his wallet for money, after which he was released.

“What is to stop such police officers from taking money from the murderers of our women?” Mr Ssemujju asks.

He suggests that the President should do more than his perfunctory stopover at the spot where one victim was discovered.

Alice Alaso the acting president, Forum for Democratic Change agrees, arguing that President Museveni can do more to resolve these murders, by deploying commandos like last week. Operatives, believed to be from the Special Forces stormed parliament to eject MPs opposed to the removal of the presidential age limit clause from the Constitution.

Ms Alaso says that while these murders should be a national issue the women’s rights movement could galvanise itself and demand answers and action.

“The Speaker, women leaders in parliament and civil society have addressed press conferences but this is not enough to get this government to prioritise its citizen’s lives,” she says.

Sarah Mukasa the deputy director at the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa says the Association Uganda of Women Lawyers (Fida-U) has also addressed the killings through a press conference. And, the Center for Domestic Violence Prevention (Cedovip) had planned a peaceful demonstration in support of women living in the localities where the murders took place.

“Police refused to grant Cedovip permission for the demo,” Ms Mukasa says.

Security forces are accused of being so focused on preserving President’s Museveni’s National Resistance Movement’s hold on power, thus having little time to see women organisations protesting, as the demos could stoke the tensions being played out over the Constitution.

Witchcraft angle

Ms Mukasa says it is difficult for women to do more in the shrinking engagement space available to the civil society.

The murders in Wakiso raise important issues that impact on women’s rights with regards to movement, the right to the integrity of one’s body, freedom from sexual violence, right to work and pay now being constricted by the faceless murderers.

We spoke to five organisations involved with gender-based violence, the right to work, political representation of women and their umbrella organisation Uganda Women’s Network.

But there isn’t much evidence of civil society’s engagement that would have applied the pressure necessary for government to consider the gruesome murder and sexual abuse of scores of women an issue of national importance.

Doreen Amule, the Amolatar district woman Member of Parliament confirms this.

“As women leaders we haven’t had time to get government to do more about these incidents, but we have been talking about it informally,” says Ms Amule.

They first sought to understand if there was more to these murders than the government’s claim that it was largely witchcraft.

A statement by the Ministry of Internal Affairs alleged that all but four of the murders were a result of witchcraft. Three were allegedly killed over domestic violence, while one had been due to a dispute over land.

Following the killings and the government failure to bring the suspects arrested to trial, these claims fall flat.

Uganda has 116 women lawmakers, but still the murders have not galvanised any significant outrage from the legislators.

Ms Alaso blames this on tokenism that has corrupted the Constitution’s intention to ensure that women in parliament articulate issues of their gender and support proportionate transformation of women at the grassroots.

“Important role”

“What the Constitution envisaged were woman leaders who could be champions for the grassroots woman but we lost this a long time ago,” says Alaso.

The women in government should be working for the transformation of grassroots women like those The EastAfrican interviewed along Entebbe road.

These include Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who is also the Kamuli woman MP, Ruth Nankabirwa the National Resistance Movement Chief Whip and Kiboga woman representative, Robinah Nabbanja the Kibaale woman representative and Doreen Amule the Amolatar district woman MP.

But, it would seem these women were too busy with the age limit debate to care about murders of their own.

Ms Kadaga ensured the motion was tabled; Ms Nabbanja and Ms Nankabirwa mobilised support for the removal of the age limit from the Constitution, and Ms Amule seconded the motion.

“They think their being in politics is a gift from a benevolent President,” Ms Alaso says.

And civil society which is supposed to remind people like Ms Kadaga of the 51 per cent Ugandan female population she is supposed to represent has also absconded its duty.

“Our duty bearers need to understand that the murder of these women is a crisis for all of us,” Ms Alaso adds.