Molly Katanga and the silent epidemic of gender violence, legal indifference in Uganda

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Molly Katanga and the silent epidemic of gender violence, legal indifference in Uganda
Molly Katanga is wheeled in court.

By. Jane Naigaga

A few months ago, the newspapers were awash with news of prisoners who were pardoned by the President. What was missed by so many though, was the fact that not a single woman was pardoned and all but two on the list of those pardoned were a bunch of defilers. But this should not come as a surprise. A few years ago, Sharma Kooky was pardoned for electrocuting his wife to death and today roams the streets of Kampala free as a bird.

The resultant effect of a patriarchal society is that the oppression of women becomes a part of the immoral fibre of every aspect of the social order and the justice system is not spared. Even when wife-murderers and defilers are caught by the loose net of justice, they will benefit from a pardon because at the end of the day, so what if a woman died by electrocution; so what if some girls were defiled?

It is in such a setting, that a frail Molly Katanga hopes to find justice, for herself and her girls and the two young men who got caught up in the crossfire of the patriarchy hellbent on punishing an errant woman who refused to die silently.

The patriarchy is misogynist and it is served by men and captive women who can see a woman beaten to within an inch of her life and still charge her with murder at the first instance without hearing her side of the story and while investigations are ongoing. In this social order, a new mother will be charged and remanded, with no evidence as to her crime. What is imperative, is that a man died and come hell or waters high, jail time must be served. You see, the man’s extended relatives and the public at large are outraged that he is dead. And this woman along with her daughters must have done it. And the entire justice system which has drunk from the fountain of the patriarchy must ensure that these women are duly punished. It does not matter that the deceased nearly bludgeoned the main suspect to death.

Her injuries; the open scalp, the broken hands, the failing organs, and amputated digits are not investigated or questioned. They play no role in the DPP’s understanding of the ingredients of murder. To our justice system, this woman’s beating and injuries were part of the normal wear and tear of a marriage. They are not worthy of investigation because they are beside the point in the same way that pardoning a bunch of defilers is beside the point.

Molly's injured scalp.

Uganda’s justice system is littered with horrifying examples of miscarriages of justice inspired by the highly misogynist ideals that define Uganda as a society. But Katanga’s case will go down in history as particularly shameful because even the DPP’s charge sheet try as it might; could not disguise the fact that she was savagely bludgeoned by the deceased. This case has exposed the DPP’s office as lacking in moral in moral courage and I shudder to think what happens in cases that do not get the sort of coverage that the Katanga case has attracted. The fervour with which the DPP has pursued Molly Katanga has crossed all professional lines and veered into alarming degrees of what looked like a personal vendetta. It is a sad day for justice when an office such as that of the DPP acts without reason and descends into a realm that leads to the arrest of a woman who was (in the DPP’s own words) grievously harmed. There are no inquiries into the grievous harm, how did she become grievously harmed, who grievously harmed her and would the grievous harm have any effect on the charges against her in law?

A while back when her office was questioned about its handling of this matter, the ODPP invoked the rule of sub judice. The office quickly broke its own rules against the sub judice rule and issued a statement apprising the public on its supposed success in a high court application challenging the jurisdiction of the magistrate’s court to hear the bail applications of the others who were charged with Molly. What the statement negated to say was that it was the DPP who insisted on the accused persons taking plea before the chief magistrate, the application was so obvious that it was conceded to by the defence team. Rather than correct the many mistakes that have been made in this case the DPP’s office instead mounted a public relations campaign for cheap social media likes.

This office proceeded to sink to even lower levels when it insisted upon removing Molly Katanga from IHK where she was for all intents and purposes under arrest as she was confined to her room under the guard of police officers and in a show of bewildering malice, charged her with murder and had her remanded to Luzira prison. Unable to walk, she was transported to Luzira Prison in an ambulance and continues to languish in prison. The DPP’s office has vehemently fought her bail application, employing deplorable practices unbecoming of this office. In the Ugandan judicial system, judges would like us to believe that when a 7-year-old girl is raped and infected with AIDS; the tragedy is not what happened to her, but that her rapist is unable to walk into court and that is enough to absolve him as we all witnessed in horror last week.

The abundant empathy that our judicial system has for men who rape women and young girls should be directed to the true victims. We would like to see women pardoned along with these rapists and wife killers. We would like the DPP as a guardian of justice to consider the socio-cultural nuances that are so prevalent in this case. We operate within a body of law made for men by men and amassed down through history on their behalf. It discriminates against women by ignoring the woman’s point of law and welfare. The DPP has acted with a gross disregard for the welfare of Molly Katanga. She has dehumanized her and rendered irrelevant the very real vice of domestic violence of which millions of Ugandan women are victims. Molly Katanga’s attack was extreme, it is a miracle that she survived it. It appears sadly that her survival is the most untenable result of the tragic events of the morning of 2nd November 2023. The DPP has let justice down by playing to the patriarchy and becoming the willing handmaiden of misogyny within the criminal justice system.

The writer is a feminist and Gender-Based-Violence activist

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