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A cry for justice

By Achola Rosario

A poor girl’s struggles to get justice against her rich, powerful abusers

Six months ago, a 23-year-old waitress was approached by a Pakistani man in the bar where she worked. Work as a bar waitress was the only job Zaina could get at the time, considering that she was desperate and jobless having come from the village. Her poor family had separated – her father moving back to Bushenyi and her mother remaining somewhere around Mbale town.

She had dropped out of school at age 16. When she eventually moved to Kampala, her job would pay her Shs 60,000 a month. The Pakistani man offered her Shs 150,000 – more than twice the current salary – to be his house maid. How hard could it get? She felt uneasy.

Something told her not to do it. But then she asked herself – where was she going to get a job that paid her Shs 150, 000 per month? Besides, all that was required of her was washing and cleaning the house for one man, and perhaps cooking his meals, right? It would later prove to be a deadly and almost a fatal decision, which has scarred her miserable life forever.

The night Zaina arrived in the Pakistani man’s house, three men allegedly raped her, then sodomised her, each one deliberately taking their turn to inflict the most gruesome cruelty they could think of – just for sport. The three men left, locking her in the house. But they later returned, and the number had increased to five. The torture was epic- but nobody heard her screams for help. Or if they did, they didn’t care- for nobody came to help her.

It was like this for two months, with either her direct employer mutilating her privates, keeping her tied up as he did, only to lock her in when going to sell second hand cars at YUASA Investments, a car bond in Nakawa – and later returning with several of his buddies who would continue where they stopped. She got to know he worked there when and his colleagues would take her to the doctor when her injuries would get too bad.

They would tell the doctors that she had pain in her head, foot or abdomen. The doctors would simply prescribe painkillers or antibiotics – taking the Pakistanis word for it. They would use the car that she later identified as the one a top police officer at Kiira Rd Police Station using two months later.

One day as fate would have it, one of the men left the key to the house on the kitchen sink as he headed out. As she writhed in pain on the kitchen floor, she saw the key. She waited for some time, then unlocked the door and ran as far as her weak frame could carry her.

To survive she went back to her job as a waitress. But she would not make even a shilling there. Because of the ordeal she went through, she had developed fistula – a condition whereby urine, faeces and blood leaked uncontrollably from her vagina and anus as the connecting tissue within had been ripped open, leaving just a gaping hole.

The stench from her only succeeded in putting off patrons. She was fired. She decided that enough was enough and filed at case at Kitintale police station. Two months after filing the case, a journalist landed on her story and got it out in the media. By then, the alleged rapists had been arrested and already released on bond.

The girl continued to report to police. Meanwhile, for some unknown reason, her file was being shuffled from Kitintale police station, Jinja Rd station and finally Kiira Rd police station. Eventually, she collapsed. On Oct.09, as Ugandans celebrated the Independence Anniversary, she was in the office of the CID at Kira Road police station. Ibin Ssenkumbi, the Kampala police spokesman, called the media to cover a story about a woman who had stolen a child.

When he finished the press conference, a journalist asked how far the case of the girl who had been raped gone. Ssenkumbi, who was evidently unsettled by the question, said he was not sure, but he would have to check.

That is when the reporter got wind that she was sitting in the office of the DPC Kiira Rd called Alex Edunyu, and that is where she found her. When asked about progress of the file, the OC Family Protection Unit at the police station, John Mugerwa said he was new and did not know. That is when the girl chipped in Luganda that she was scared and was being threatened. The reporter’s recorder picked everything and got the ball rolling. The journalist then went to Yuasa bond and asked the guard about the five men.

The guard acknowledged knowing the men but said they were not around as it was Independence Day. This contradicted the statement of the DPC who claimed that in the statement the girl made that the five suspects “were said to have fled the country.’’

Two days later on Friday, a cousin surfaced and was directed to Kiira Rd, which gave the male reporter relief as he was wondering how he would manage the girl’s treatment which involved her private parts. So they went home. But as the cousin returned from having a shower in the bathroom, she found Zaina had collapsed. They managed to get Zaina to Mulago Hospital, where a vulgar and insensitive nurse declined to treat her until the journalist threatened her.

With the extent of her injuries and the amount of time she spent without treatment, she was vulnerable to dying of toxic septicemia – what a woman is warned of if she wears a tampon too long. By Saturday, a friend told them that being a weekend they would only find student doctors (interns). They tried to send her home at 8pm with only a local painkiller injection and a prescription for Flagyl or Metronidazole – a drug used to treat simple bacterial infections.

She was told to return five days later. In fact some of the doctors were asking for money in order to get her a proper doctor for examination. It is only through the intervention of a gynecological friend of the journalist, that she was allowed to stay. They spent Shs 100,000 on drugs, until Monday when the civil society organizations got wind of her predicament. Zaina’s rape did not stop with the rape by yes five men.

Her suffering continued with the attempted cover up of her case – over Shs 30 million was reportedly shared amongst the police officers to hush up the case – it continued after the health workers who were supposed to take care of her refused her. It continued as sections of the society continue to brand her “a prostitute,” an accusation her former colleagues at the bar where she worked denied.

When her story came to light, the nation was shocked. The journalist who broke the story is also living a nightmare of a life of his own. He only agreed to speak to The Independent on condition of anonymity, saying the threats he has been receiving from people who claimed to be policemen or security informants and other people are beginning to rattle him. He has kept the recordings he made of the threatening phone calls he received on his phone.

“I just wanted to tell you that you are writing a story about someone who has no mother, no father, no wife, no son, so don’t you see you are in trouble? That guy can do anything to you! I asked him who are you and the guy switches off the phone,” says one of the voices. Another one would call would say, “You guys- the guy you have attacked is really dangerous!! Why don’t you back off from him – do you think you are unbreakable?” This is the proof he has that some security guys are protecting the Pakistanis, and blackmailing those trying to help the girl.

Women’s rights activists were enraged. Led by FIDA CEO Irene Ovonji-Odida and Uganda Women’s Network CEO Rita Aciro, women activists stormed the Yuasa car bond premises, placards in hand chanting for the closure of the car bond until the remaining suspects are handed over for prosecution. The noise the women have made has elicited not only an apology from the former chairperson of the Pakistani community in Uganda, Tariq Javed; they also promised to foot her medical bills.

They also – rather ridiculously – offered to give the victim a job. They however stopped short of providing police and the women activists with details of the suspects. While the victim’s name has been splashed all over the media, no one seems to be really sure of the names of the alleged perpetrators. Officers at Kiira Road including the man who was actually “investigating’’ the case, gave the name of the two arrested men as Mohamed Wogasi and Ahmed Shaban.

The few times the media has published their names, they have been identified as Ahmeed Shahbz and Wagaf Muhammed, the spellings changing with each publication. The Independent was only allowed to visually confirm that the duo were in Kiira Rd police cells after the intervention of the OC station, C\ASP Edgar Akankwatsa. The two men have finally been charged and sent on remand while the other suspects are still on the run.

But six months after the crime was committed, chances that the police investigators will provide the evidence needed by the court to convict the alleged rapists look slim. Zaina, who is now being kept under tight security to protect her from those threatening to kill her, will be lucky to get justice. Her alleged abusers could go Scot-free to continue with their heinous crimes on more innocent girls.

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