Uganda Martyrs Day

As written by me on Executed Today: on this day in 1886, twenty-two Christians were martyred for their faith in what is now the country of Uganda. They were burned alive. Most of them were only in their teens or early twenties.

There was one survivor, a boy who was inexplicably pulled from the flames at the last moment. I couldn’t find any reason for this, other than that he was only thirteen years old, the youngest of the group. But the chief executioner’s own son, who was fourteen, wasn’t spared. The only break he got was being clubbed over the head before he was burned.

The king who arranged this, Mwanga II, was only sixteen himself at the time; the martyrs were mostly his own pages. He was later overthrown and exiled. Ironically, Mwanga converted to Christianity himself a few years before he died.

I never know what to think about such stories. I prefer the Jewish point of view. Judaism does NOT invite martyrdom and they explicitly allow you to deny your faith and break religious law if that’s what you have to do to save your own life. I can understand and even kind of admire the strength and solidarity displayed by these boys, but at the same time…what a senseless waste of human life.

Child sacrifice murders in Uganda

This is going a little far afield, but this article about a (technically) unsolved kidnap-murder of a child in a Ugandan village is too interesting to pass up. I feel a bit tentative commenting on it here, as I’m so unfamiliar with the culture etc. But at the bottom, this appears to be no different than any other case where the apparent murderer(s) got away.

(My quotes are from not only the article linked above, but from other articles I encountered whilst researching for this blog entry.)

Kayugi village is known for child disappearances. As an unwritten rule in the area, children under the age of seven are not left unsupervised and are not allowed to venture far away from the homestead at night.

Of course, in America, if you left your seven-year-old unsupervised or let it leave home at night alone, you’d probably find yourself in trouble with Child Protective Services. But things are different in other countries; children get more responsibility and therefore have more maturity at a younger age. (Which is how it ought to be in my opinion. Perhaps not to the point of letting seven-year-olds run wild, but the way American infantilizes their children and adolescents is ridiculous.)

In any case, the unwritten rule didn’t apply to Joseph Kasirye, the victim. He was twelve.

Although Uganda, an impoverished if stable Central African nation, is difficult for me to imagine from my cozy seat in the midwestern U.S., the statements by Joseph’s grandfather, who apparently raised him, sound just the same as what American parents say when they have lost their children.

“It has been three agonising years and I really don’t want to talk about these things,” Mulondo said in his native Luganda, as he slowly settles on what looks like a broken wooden box, now a makeshift seat of sorts. “Speaking of these things open painful wounds which take long to heal again,” he added.

There was an uncomfortable silence; the old man began to silently tear. “What more can the media do? The boy is dead; those who killed him are happily alive and free,” Mulondo grieved.

Supposedly, a neighbor, Umar Kateregga, committed the murder after being paid twelve million (or fifteen million, depending on who you listen to) Ugandan shillings by a local businessman, Godfrey Kato Kajubi, who wanted the child’s head and genitals for a ritual sacrifice.

Twelve million Ugandan shillings is the equivalent of about $4,340 American dollars, according to the Universal Currency Converter. I should note that Wikipedia says the average annual per capita income in Uganda is only either $514 “nominal” or $1,226 in “purchasing power parity.” (Christ, in America, that’s not even rent.) I’m not sure what those terms mean, but regardless, it’s clear that for a Ugandan villager, 4.3k is an enormous sum. One enticing enough, apparently, to cause the said villager to kill a neighbor friend’s grandchild and dismember the body.

Some of the articles I found about the case are written in some language that Google doesn’t translate. Those that were in English said Kateregga and his wife were indicted for Joseph’s murder but never faced trial. From what I can tell, the prosecution planned to try all three together, but the judge wouldn’t allow it and withdrew the charges against Kateregga and his wife until after Kajubi’s trial.

Kateregga’s guilt is obvious: they found Joseph’s bloodstained clothing at his house, he and his wife confessed, and he lead the police to where he’d hidden the child’s remains. However:

Masaka High Court judge Moses Mukiibi later acquitted Kajubi on the basis of “no case to answer” apparently the trial judge had not anything beyond reasonable doubt to convict Kajubi. The nation was outraged.

This article has pictures of Kabuji, Kateregga and the judge. This one, a summary of the judge’s ruling, talks about why Kateregga was acquitted.

And perhaps Kateregga should have been acquitted. Perhaps the case really wasn’t as strong as it appeared, a la Casey Anthony. And it appears the judge let the other two go because they only supposedly committed the murder at Kabuji’s behest, and since he had been found not guilty, then it would be kind of paradoxical to lock up the other two. But Kateregga, anyway, was plainly guilty of killing Joseph for SOME reason, even if he hadn’t really been paid by Kabuji to do it.

It’s a mess.

The State appealed this decision, saying the trial judge had failed to sufficiently evaluate the evidence on record. Led by Justice Amos Twinomujuni, three Court of Appeal judges later ordered a retrial of Kajubi who by this time was a free man and his whereabouts unknown. Police summons, visits to his numerous homes yielded nothing. Kajubi had allegedly disappeared.

And his whereabouts are still unknown.

In the past three years, about 60 people have been killed in suspected ritual murders and only one person was convicted of murder. In 2007, the Police reported three cases of ritual sacrifice, 25 in 2008, 29 in 2009 and three cases have so far been reported this year. The three victims of 2010 were all children, while 15 of the 29 deaths recorded in 2009 were of children.

I have read that, according to some anthropologists, human sacrifices tend to be conducted by people/civilizations in desperate circumstances, those who are constantly living on edge. This may apply to Uganda. However, I’m not sure of this theory: the Aztecs did quite well for themselves, and they did loads of human sacrifices. (Admittedly, not of their own people. Does that make a difference? Shrug.)

I found this website for something called the Gideon Foundation, which is dedicated to stopping child sacrifice in Uganda. The website was made by a sixteen-year-old girl named Samara Madhvani, who apparently attends the International School of Uganda and has won a lot of awards for activism-type things, but I don’t think she actually founded the organization. The site makes for fascinating, if horrific, reading.

At first I thought “wouldn’t a more appropriate name be the Isaac Foundation” but then discovered that it was named not after the Biblical Gideon, but after a four-year-old child named Gideon who was a sacrifice victim. I think the org was founded by Gideon’s parents. Anyway, from the website:

The Police define human sacrifice as the removal of organs or body parts of human beings for purposes of witchcraft, harmful rituals or practices. Available statistics indicate that in 2006 there was one murder reported. This rose to three in 2007, 25 in 2008, 29 in 2009, and seven so far in 2010.

In the year 2009, which had the biggest number of ritual murders, some 123 persons reportedly went missing without trace. Ninety (90) of these were juveniles.

During the same year, 125 suspects were arrested for interrogation, 54 of these were taken to court and charged with several criminal offences, including murder, abduction, and attempt to sell children, kidnap and causing harm/death through practising witchcraft, according to the Police’s annual report of 2009.

The numbers have, however, significantly gone down in 2010. Police point at increased vigilance on their part, as well as awareness of civilians.

One post I found, written by a Ugandan, blames Janet Museveni, the country’s First Lady since 1986, for supposedly introducing human sacrifice to country. I kind of doubt that.

The whole thing is utterly incomprehensible to me. The Gideon Foundation site says “elitists such as medical doctors, well-to-do tycoons, politicians, journalists…are involved with the practices of occultism and ritual murders in order to get economic prosperity, blessings and luck from the underworld.” In other words, people who really ought to know better. But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that these murders are ordered by the elites of the country. They would be the only ones who could afford to pay for them.

One of the articles on the site talks about a guy who sacrificed his own oldest son as well as other family members, acts which were supposed to bring him wealth, but (big surprise) did not. Perhaps the Western equivalent would be somebody bumping off various relatives for their insurance money.

But for me, this sacrifice thing…I just don’t get it. It sounds like something out of a bad horror movie to me.

If I have any readers from that part of the world, or who have studied it, I’d love to hear what they have to say about all this.