By Musaazi Namiti
It is not very often that Ugandans sit up and listen when stories of rape and sexual harassment are bandied about (unless the victims are family members or friends). But recent rape accusations by two young women against two young men in Kampala appear to have put rape under a rare spotlight. And, with the added benefit of social media, which is effectively banishing secrets, we now know that sexual violence in Uganda is more serious than we care to admit.
Rape and sexual harassment, I think, have remained huge problems in Uganda because we don’t think they are huge problems. While rape victims find it traumatising to share their stories and often have to live with anguish when they pluck up the courage to go public, alleged rapists or rapists are not ostracised by our society and continue to be respected.
Two examples will help drive my point home. In the early 2000s, Bukedde, a tabloid which lavishly covers significant things sexual and sensational, published photos of a woman jumping out of an office window at BlackLines House in central Kampala in a desperate attempt to flee sexual violence.
Bukedde named the man who was trying to force the woman into sexual activity. The paper came out on May 3, which is World Press Freedom Day, and the man turned up at Hotel Africana, where journalists were meeting to mark the day, and freely mingled with them, brazening out what he had done.
The same man had been previously accused of rape and kidnap. According to media reports, he allegedly offered a married woman a lift at night and demanded sex, threatening to kill her if she spurned his sexual demands.
A senior police officer who testified in the case said he heard a woman screaming in the car and chased the car while also firing in the air to try to get the driver to stop.
When the driver stopped, he got out of the car clutching his trousers, the police officer said. His belt was unbuckled, and the zipper was down. The driver, the police officer said, looked confused—and when he was asked who had fallen out of the car, he simply said: “We are all Ugandans—let us go to my office and have the problem sorted out.”
Amazingly, the court found the man innocent. His defence lawyer, now a senior judge, said one of the prosecution witnesses had lied when he said that he had seen a woman falling out of the car. The presiding magistrate said that the exhibits found in his car were planted there to tarnish his reputation. The man went on to hold a senior position in one of the government offices.
A second example involved a star footballer, the first Ugandan to go professional, who played for SC Villa before he was signed by France’s Stade Rennais and Turkish club Bursaspor. One day, when the footballer returned to Uganda on holiday, he lured a secondary school teenager into sex, and the girl’s mother reported the case to the Central Police Station in Kampala, where he was detained for days.
He faced rape charges, although the Kampala press called his crime “defilement”. A SC Villa official pleaded with journalists to drop the footballer’s rape story, saying they were making it hard to get him freed. The case was dropped after the footballer agreed to compensation the teenager and her mother. (In keeping with African culture, which respects the dead, the names of the two men have been withheld.)
Prominent Ugandan men who rape and sexually harass women often get away with murder in part because law enforcers fear them and rape isn’t taken seriously, unless it is aggravated rape.
Married women who get raped don’t even bother to report rape because they know that no one is ever going to listen to them. Also, in Uganda and in many other countries, some men think that women’s consent to sex is vague, and some have applied what they shockingly call “reasonable force” to get what they want.