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Whose baby?

By Joan Akello

Woman is accused of stealing and selling Ugandan babies in Juba

Sarah Namubiru, a laboratory administrator at MBN Clinical Laboratories in Kampala is in the eye of a maternity storm but she, surprisingly, is quite calm. She is stuck between two women; HamidahMusitwaWalika and Mary Namukwaya Musumika, who are battling in court over the maternity of a baby. Musumika accusesMusitwaof stealing her baby. But in a strange turn of events,a DNA maternity test done at Namubiru’s laboratory showed Musitwa to be the mother of the baby girl.

However, Musumika has rejected the results and the police investigating the case and the magistrate’s court are not convinced and are casting doubt on the DNA results.

The Lugazi Magistrate’s Court has ordered for fresh tests to be carried out. Not at MBN Clinical Laboratories this time but at the Government Analytical Laboratories (GAL).  The magistrate also ordered that HamidahMusitwa remains in jail.

In November 2013, the police took samples from the two women for testing GAL. It is not clear what happened to the first samples, but in December, DNA experts from GAL took a second set of sample from the women at Lugazi Central Police Station. It is not clear why results of these samples are also not out yet.

Ordinarily, that would leave Namubiru and her clinic in a tight spot. But Namubiru is convinced the DNA results are accurate and the accuser, Musumika, will eventually realise the baby is not hers.

“I am a mother and I know the pain of losing a child,” Namubiru told The Independent, “As a woman, Musumika is frustrated, and a desperate mother will move everywhere thinking every baby is hers, it is only natural for the public to pity her.

“This is not her baby even though she may claim it looks like her or her husband. DNA results do not lie, they are the most accurate and you can never go wrong,” Namubiru adds.

But Namubiru and her husband, Robert Wandera, disagree. They have named the girl Dafini (Daphne) Nekesa.

“I saw my baby, Dafini. She is mine, those results were tampered with because she looks like her father and she is light-skinned like me,” Musumika told The Independent, “The child is mine.”

Her husband agrees.

“That baby girl is mine,” he says, and the police investigations seem to back them.

Unbelievable story

The women in the dispute; Musitwa and Musumika are from neighbouring villages in Buikwe district. Musumika, 25, is from Nakazadde village in Lugazi town council, while Musitwa is from Kitega which is a few minutes’ walk away.

Medical records indicate that on May 30, 2013 at 2am, Musumika delivered a baby girl at Namengo Maternity Home health unit in Buikwe district.

But her ordeal started three months later in August 2013 when the baby was stolen.

On the fateful morning, Musumika was outside her house doing her laundry when a woman she knew casually approached her.

“The woman who stole my baby pretended that she was looking for a house to rent in my neighbourhood,” Musumika recalls, “She had been here more than once to visit a woman in the neighbourhood.  The baby was crying inside the house so she asked if she could help  me carry it. I gave her the baby, and then she said was going to the same woman’s place as I finish with the washing.”

When Musumika, at around 9 am, went over to the neighbour she thought the stranger was visiting, the woman denied knowing her. Instead, she said, the stranger had as usual asked if there was a house she could rent and left when she was told there wasn’t any.

“I moved around thinking that I could catch her and alerted my neighbours but my baby was already taken.”

She telephoned her husband, two hours later but he could not hear of it. He immediately accused her of negligence.

“I want to see my daughter by the time I arrive home,” he threatened.

But when Wandera, a builder returned home at 7pm, his daughter was not home and the unidentified woman who took her  has not been caught.

The Juba connection

After weeks of searching, Musumika says she got news from a man from Lugazi who had gone to Juba, the capital of neighbouring South Sudan, and claimed he had seen a woman from Kitega with two babies there.

That woman was Faridah, who is HamidahMusitwa’s sister. She lived at Aru junction, just before Juba town. It is not clear how it happened but on September 30, 2013, the sisters were arrested.

“I used to work in the market in Juba and I would leave ShifirahKaweesi (baby’s name) with Faridah, “ Musitwa recalls, “On September 30, the chairman of Baganda in Juba came and asked my sister why she had two children. We were arrested and brought to Uganda.”

That is when Musitwa got to know that she was being accused of stealing Musumika’s baby.

The baby was six months old at the time and it is not clear why Musumika, whose baby should have been about four months old then, insisted this was her baby.

Musitwa, her sister, and their two babies; Faridah’s was just two weeks at the time, were first detained at Juba Police Station for four days, then to Kira Police Station, before being transferred to Lugazi Central Police Station, and finally to Luzira Maximum Security Prison in Kampala.

Musitwa says she sympathises with Musumika because she understands the pain of a mother whose baby is stolen. However she says she suspects it is her family that is trying to target her by spreading rumours that she and her sister steal babies and sell them in Juba.

Musitwa, who is out of jail on police bond and is back home, says her ordeal begun in 2010, when she lost her father.

“My family wanted to chase my mother and her six children from this land. But because mother refused to leave, they have been threatening us.

“The LC even told my mother that we have to leave or else we will be burnt, relatives came here with stones, you can see that some windows are broken. That is why we the four big girls have decided to leave home. That is why I left for Juba with Faridah.”

Her accuser, Musumika appears to back Musitwa’s claims. She says people from Musitwa’s village have been feeding her information regarding the case. Some have also threatened her.

Unbelievable story

But Musitwa appears to have got into trouble because, according to Ayebare; the Lugazi police boss, her story did not add up. For example, she does not have a record in any hospital where she delivered.

“I delivered Shifirah Kaweesi on Good Friday (March 29th 2013) at home with the support of my two sisters –Faridah and my follower,” Musitwaexaplains, “I did not go to a health facility because it was a public holiday.”

But Musitwa does not have any documents or photographs of the baby. She says she handed these documents to the police in Juba.

She also claims she hid her pregnancy from her mother and never sought medical attention or antenatal care during her pregnancy.

“I feared mother because this was the second time I was pregnant in senior four. She had already threatened and warned me after the birth of my first born in 2011 when I was also in senior four.”

She says both the girls’ father is one Ahmed IddKaweesi whom police and The Independent have contacted to no avail. The police say all this makes her story unbelievable.

Things got complicated when, according to the chief investigator of the case, Henry Ayebare, who heads Buikwe District Criminal Investigations Department, Musitwa was examined and the doctor’s report showed that she had not been pregnant in the past one year. She, therefore, could not have delivered any baby in 2013.

It is not clear what tests were done and Dr. Joshua Kiberu, the medical superintendent of Kawolo Hospital in Buikwe District where the examination was done, declined to give details of the examination citing client confidentiality.

But the police boss says he and his team opted for a DNA test because the medical report was not conclusive.

In November 2013, the Lugazi police took the baby and the two women to MBN clinical Laboratories, Nakasero, in Kampala for a maternity test. That is where they met Namubiru.

Results rejected

Maternity DNA testing determines whether a woman could be the biological mother of a child. Like a DNA paternity test, it compares a child’s DNA pattern with that of the alleged mother to determine how likely it is that the child has inherited the DNA from the alleged mother.

A few high profile cases, including the one involving the late comedian Paddy Bitama, have shone the spotlight on the role of DNA tests in resolving paternity and maternity disputes.

In this case, the results showed that the suspected baby thief, Hamidah, was actually the mother of the baby. But her accuser, Musumika, rejected the results.

According to Namubiru, every individual has their own DNA profile which does not change unless someone tampers with the results.

For this case, she says, the clinic was diligent and thorough.

“Due to public interest, we cross checked the information,” she says, “We proved that the person police arrested is the mother.”

“I’m sure she will get the same results from government. There are two DNA testing machines (genetical analysers) in the country, in MBN and Government Analytical Laboratory. “These machines are expensive and accredited internationally that is why they are not common,” Namubiru said.

She adds that though results can be tampered with, it is difficult to do it at MBN because “it is not a one-man’s show.”

MBN has been in the DNA testing business for about three years, having piloted in 2010 and launched operations on March 9, 2012.

Dr. Fred Bwanga who technically oversaw the DNA testing exercise says he has a PhD holder in medical science, a fellowship in clinical microbiology, and masters in microbiology. He says he is a Medical Microbiology Technical Advisor with experience in setting up laboratories such as the Mycology Laboratory at Makerere University, a side laboratory at the Medical ward, Mbarara University Teaching hospital and MBN clinical laboratories.

In 2005 to 2006 Bwanga trained and worked at Clinical Microbiology Laboratory, National Mycology Reference Laboratory, Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory and Immunology laboratory University Hospitals of Cleveland, USA. Previously he held position of medical Officer and Superintendent of Abim Hospital in Kotido, Uganda.

Dr Bwanga declined to comment on the case but Namubiru said “Several checks and balances are in place to ensure only the accurate results are released.”

“The DNA testing machine is not like the one for malaria where you can get varying results,”Namubiru said, “This is a matter of life or death so we cannot joke around with such results.”

“Secondly, DNA is a risky business which we depend on so we cannot afford to be careless or negligent,” Namubiru says.

Namubiru says it is not unusual for DNA tests results to be rejected.

“This is the first reject that has leaked to the press,” she says, “Most people apologise for rejecting the results because they come to realise the truth after calming down.”

Namubiru says people reject results because of the perception that everybody is corrupt and are always bribed.

“People think that no Ugandan is faithful so they come here with a biased mind.  Naturally they reject the results because they do not favour them,” she says.

She adds that some people who are desperate, like Musumika, also reject results.

Other reasons cited include fear, unwillingness to accept the truth, and guilt.

Namubiru said Musumika might be suffering from the guilt of arresting and imprisoning a mother for two months over her own child, something that is also very frustrating.

The loss of her child and delay in releasing the DNA results have also strained Musumika and threatened her marriage.

“Mary (Musumika) has become a withdrawn woman, always lost in thought yet her next door neighbor also has a baby almost the age of her lost baby,” says Ali Lwanga, a security officer who is her neighbour.

“My life has changed since my baby was stolen. My husband is always demanding for the baby and even quit working because he feels it’s useless to work. My mother even took away my first born, Trevor Kamya saying he will also be stolen. I have been left to suffer alone since August 2013.”

Meanwhile, although the case is scheduled to be heard on Feb.14, it is unlikely that the DNA results will be out. The government laboratory has since October 1, 2013, suspended DNA testing due to lack of reagents to use.  “I will hold prayers and a party the day I get my baby Dafini back,” she says hopefully.

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