Abolish death penalty; Uganda’s hands are bloody enough
By Nicholas Sengoba
Feb 3, 2009
Last week I met Edmay Mpagi who in 1982 was sentenced to death for murder. He spent 18 years waiting to be executed only to be “pardoned” in 2000 after it was discovered that the man he had “killed” – George William Wandyaka - was alive and kicking! Wandyaka died of natural causes in 2002 over two decades after he was supposed to have been murdered.
While on death row, Mpagi witnessed and survived the executions of 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, and 1999. Many of the victims who Mpagi shared a meal with went to the gallows insisting on their innocence.
Some or all may have been guilty but the fact that Mpagi’s case which went through the appeals process and was failed by learned judges, casts serious doubts on this.
Mpagi’s supposed accomplice, a cousin; Fred Masembe, passed on in jail in 1985 due to complications associated with fear and stress, related with the thought of imminent death that hangs ubiquitously around the condemned section of Luzira Prison.
Mpagi’s tragic experience brought to mind another infamous one in which the accused Ms Night Kulabako was lucky that the person whose death she had allegedly ordered, turned up in court to witness the proceedings, probably out of curiosity or providence! But she also served time on remand as the police went through the process of investigation and gathering “incriminating evidence.”
For those who were too young there is the fresh rape case of Uganda Vs Dr Warren Kizza Kifefe Besigye in which one of the witnesses, the then Director of CID turned up in, armed with a long tale of lies and fraudulent documents that were poorly pieced together. The defendant did not even bother to defend himself. The case collapsed under the weight of its own lies and contradictions.
The pathetic state of the police leaves it subject to manipulation by the rich and powerful. In Mpagi’s case, a grudge against his father and uncle saw the police put together a case of robbery, which later turned into one of murder.
Even when well-intentioned, the police are too poorly facilitated to surely carry out investigations that will produce evidence to incriminate an accused person beyond reasonable doubt. The Lord help us if such evidence convinces court and leads to a sentence of death.
Then in a county where almost half the population lives on less than a dollar a day, not many accused persons can afford to retain a lawyer of their own choice for the length of the trial.
The indigent lawyers or State briefs that are provided to the accused by the State are in some instances not committed and dedicated to the task of defending the accused. In Mpagi’s case, he first met his lawyer in court!
From then on, discussing evidence and strategy was an uphill task as the lawyer always insisted that as a learned person he “knew what he was doing” and did not necessarily rely on the input of the accused.
We also have to consider that the (irreversible when executed) right to life is left in the hands of judges who being human are subject to judgmental failures like the rest of us.
In 1988, Justice Moses Kalanda, who was found guilty of fraudulently using another’s academic certificates in his academic pursuits before becoming a judge, rightly or wrongly sentenced to death Lt. Stansilus Ssajjabi and Muhammed Kyeyune for treason.
Since the Supreme Court in the case of Suzan Kigula vs the Attorney General left it to Parliament to decide the fate of the constitutionality of the death penalty, this is my advice to the legislators.
It comes from English jurist William Blackstone. “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
For the sake of the salvation and safety of that one Fred Masembe, Edmay Mpagi and Night Kulabako, let us abolish the death penalty.
If the State as a murderer in its own right is thirsty for human blood, let it be satisfied with what it is getting from its failures.
Let those who are guilty of murder and genocide by stealing with impunity the money intended for the victims of HIV, malaria and tuberculosis go scot free.
Let those who pocket the money for proper infrastructure and end up building roads that lead to rampant fatal accidents enjoy themselves without reprimand.
Let those who fly their children abroad at the expense of the taxpayer to deliver babies while pregnant mothers die in labour in run-down facilities at home “have a blast” as young people say.
Let those who have made a killing as merchants of death in the wars of Uganda by failing to protect innocent people because they have to draw the salaries of ghost soldiers and get a cut by purchasing junk helicopters and junk tanks prosper despite the “envy” of the Bayuda as famous singer Chameleon would sing.
The State has enough blood on its hands. Upholding the death penalty only adds more.