30 January 2013

Uganda: Rwakihembo Walks to Jail Amid Chants and Cheers

Corporal Herbert Rwakihembo began his retreat from unrestricted life on Monday after the Army Court Martial handed him 30 years in jail for killing his girlfriend Irene Namuyaba, Zaina Nassolo Nnalongo and Loyce Kawendeke as well as for the attempted murder of Ali Bavawala, on December 10, 2012.

The division Court Martial decided his fate two classroom blocks away from the barracks at Luzira Church of Uganda primary school. There was complete silence as Herbert Rwakihembo sat under the close watch of the military police. Hours before his sentencing, he sat, held his head in his hands probably pondering how long he would stay in jail.

He knew he had survived the firing squad because court had downgraded his murder charge to manslaughter. However, there was no escaping punishment for killing his girlfriend Irene Namuyaba, Zaina Nassolo Nnalongo and Loyce Kawendeke as well as the attempted murder of Ali Bavawala, on December 10, 2012. Court had ruled that the shooting was done after provocation from the victims; he killed in the heat of passion.

According to the chairman of the division court martial Col Godfrey Kakama there was no malice aforethought. While prosecution asked for the maximum sentence to deter others from committing the same act, defence lawyer Martin Muhumuza asked for leniency, arguing that Rwakihembo was remorseful and he didn't waste court's time.

"He has a young family of three children who need school fees. He served the country diligently through the UPDF and that also he was provoked. So, we ask for the most lenient punishment of a caution," Muhumuza said.

His wife, 27-year-old, Jane Namale moved out of the courtroom to find some drinking water for Rwakihembo. She was the good wife, standing by him throughout the trial. Dressed in a brown and cream kitengi, Namale's presence caught the attention of the crowd in the compound. They were sympathetic to the woman who many said had been abandoned.

They collected money and gave it to her because she was about to lose a husband to prison life. They were also sympathetic because she had been strong enough to stand by her man, who had walked out on her and their two children in Mubende, and started a new life in Kampala with another woman, who he showered with gifts and money.

Then at 4:30pm, it was time. Residents rushed back to the courtroom to hear the verdict. Rwakihembo stood up, was handcuffed and marched into the room.

Kakama removed his cap, adjusted his glasses and asked for order in court. He wanted maximum silence before he could proceed.

"UPDF as an institution is a noble institution with an image and name to be protected. It does not condone offences like manslaughter by active servicemen in UPDF who are instead mandated to provide peace. In such a circumstance, this court does hereby sentence you to 30 years of imprisonment for manslaughter on count number one with effect from 28th January 2013.

Equally on count two, you are sentenced to 30 years. On count three of manslaughter, you are sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. Accordingly this court also sentences you to a term of five years imprisonment for attempted murder. This court orders that the convict shall serve these sentences to run concurrently and consecutively. Any aggrieved party has got a right to appeal in higher court. This case file is concluded and closed," Kakama said.

The court fell silent for a few minutes, with people shaking their heads and showing displeasure with the sentence. They watched as Rwakihembo was stripped of his rank. Handcuffs slammed on his wrists and five visibly crestfallen soldiers surrounding him were ready to deliver him to Luzira prison, a few metres away.

As he took his last walk of freedom, the residents chanted, they cheered, they clapped, they supported him all the way to the armoured personal carrier, which would deliver him to the door of Luzira Upper prison. Women, men, children expressed their dissatisfaction with the court's decision.

"They gave him a job to kill people now why are they convicting him for killing people? Even if it were me and I give my husband money and he misuses it like the deceased girlfriend did, I would have done what he did" Ruth Namutebi said. "How could those prostitutes in Kisenyi steal his money and then go ahead to abuse him? He should have been forgiven and taken back to Somalia."

"I know him; he is a very honest and kind man. Why imprison him? Anyone would have done what he did," Gard Sabiti, a farmer told, The Observer.

"They should have forgiven him because he was trying to defend himself. Sometimes even us women are not too holy and righteous. Imagine it was your brother sending money to a girlfriend yet his mother or wife or children are not getting that money. Yet the new woman is misusing it, they deserved what they got. They should release him and he continues to work for the country," Josephine Nakalema said before turning her attention to the panel, now walking out under tight security.

The crowd hurled insults at them, accusing them of bias against Rwakihembo. Watching on from the sidelines, Peter Lusimbo, a trader, said the court martial had no choice but to punish Rwakihembo.

"Whatever punishment he is given is okay because he has to pay for killing those people. If you set free everyone who kills, then Uganda will be in turmoil. All of us have women all of us get disappointed and disagree with women but we don't kill them," Lusimbo said.

What do I tell my children?

Meanwhile, holed up back in the room where court delivered the judgment, Namale cried. She stared at a life of single motherhood without a job. Women comforted her. The lawyer Muhumuza assured her that he would appeal and ask for his sentence to be reduced from 30 years.

"We believe this sentence is unfair, the maximum sentence for manslaughter is life imprisonment which is about 24 years in jail. So, how can they give him 30 years?" Muhumuza said.

Nothing could comfort Namale.

"What am I going to tell my children now that he is not coming back? I have been lying to them that their father went to work because they are too young to understand. They have given him a very big sentence I don't know what I am going to do. He has been helping us and I don't know how I am going to look after the children. Court should give him a lighter sentence. I have children, where am I going to get school fees and feed my children," Namale said of their six and four-year-old daughters.

She says she met Rwakihembo in Mubende and they fell in love in 2003. Namale, then 18 years old, worked with Rwakihembo to build their home in Mubende.

When he joined the army, he moved to Kampala for training in 2007.

"He told me when he came back from Somalia that he had another wife. Of course I was annoyed naturally as a woman," Namale says.

She said Rwakihembo continued to take care of them and he would call to find out how the family was doing. He would visit her at least five times in a year.

"He has been giving me help and he would come home to visit us. He asked for my forgiveness and I forgave him because I still love my husband, we have been together for nine years," Namale told The Observer.

She says she is willing to wait for him until he comes out of prison. By that time she will be 57 years old.

"I will wait for him because we have children. I love my husband. He loved his girls very much and they ask me 'mummy, where is daddy?' and I tell them that he is in Kampala working," Namale says.

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