Tag Archives: Afrika

Sentenced to death for murder without victim

Luzira Upper Prison in Kampala, Uganda's biggest max security prison. Built to accomodate 600, on March 3, 2013, it houses 3114: 1376 convicts plus 388 on Death Row, and 1350 on remand. University level education in prison: Business Statistics, part of study Small Business Management (4 semesters). The men in white are on Death Row.

Luzira Upper Prison in Kampala, Uganda’s biggest max security prison. Built to accomodate 600, on March 3, 2013, it houses 3114: 1376 convicts plus 388 on Death Row, and 1350 on remand. University level education in prison: Business Statistics, part of study Small Business Management (4 semesters). The men in white are on Death Row.


On March 19, I received an email from a Ugandan PhD student at the Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, named Andrew Akampurira. Thirty-year-old Andrew received a masters degree in Sweden and Norway (Erasmus Mundus Masters in Applied Ethics) and had read my previous blog post about Susan Kigula and her attempts to get the death sentence in Uganda abolished. He is writing a thesis about capital punishment and asked if I had ever heard of a man named Eddy Mary Mpagi who was sentenced to death for murder but was wrongly convicted. Andrew explained that after 18 years on death row in Luzira prison, Mr. Mpagi was released after confirmation was received that the murder victim was alive and well.

I had not known about Mpagi but some brief research told me that in 1981, during Dictator Idi Amin’s rule, Mpagi and his cousin Fred Masembe were arrested for allegedly robbing and then murdering George William Wandyaka, a neighbor in Masaka city. On on 29th April 1982, the high court in Masaka convicted both men and sentenced them to death. They were taken to Luzira Upper Prison in Kampala to await their execution. A request for pardon in 1983 remained unanswered. In 1985, Fred Masembe died in prison. He had been suffering from asthma, stomach pains, depression, physical and mental anguish.

No executions have been carried out since 1999, but Edward remembers several that took place during his incarceration. “No one was ever given any notice that they would be executed,” he has written. “Each time we were taken by complete surprise. We lived in complete fear of any unusual activity from the wardens.” (Source: here)

Despite the conviction of these men, reported sightings of William Wandyaka were made on several occasions however no one in law enforcement paid attention, they ignored this information. Private investigators hired by a man named Father Agostoni, an Italian missionary, began an investigation and in 1989 they confirmed that the men had been wrongly accused. Local authorities now convinced of the men’s innocence, wrote to the attorney general seeking pardon for Mpagi and Masembe. However, despite this action, Eddie Mary Mpagi remained on death row for another 11 years. The attorney generals kept changing and the judge working on the case died.  Finally, in 2000, Mpagi was pardoned. Apparently Wandyaka’s parents held a grudge against Mpagi’s parents. They had staged the murder to hurt them. A doctor had received a bribe to testify that he had carried out a post-mortem on the alleged victim’s body. Wandyaka, the “murder victim” died of natural causes in 2002.

After Edward’s release from prison in 2000, he launched a project – now under the auspices of the Dream One World Foundation – to build schools and orphanages for children who have lost parents in the AIDS epidemic and children who have a parent
on death row. Edward also tries to publicize the terrible conditions 
on Uganda’s death row.

Andrew Akampurira, the man who sent me the email, recently conducted an interview with Mr. Mpagi and plans to have a meeting with Susan Kigula soon. He hopes that the death penalty is abolished in Uganda in the next 15 years at the latest.

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School Fees for Ugandan Police

Police 01_print WebPolice Jinja 03 Web

We – my intern Kim Verkade and I – take a taxi to downtown Kampala. Halfway, we are stopped by a police woman in a pristine white uniform. She tells the driver to show his license and seems somewhat annoyed when she finds out that there is nothing wrong with it. She then asks him (as the driver told us later): “So what is wrong with your car?” He knows he has to come up with something: “The left front tire is not so good.”

She is satisfied now and tells the driver to walk with her to the back of the car. In the rearview mirror, I see money change hands. After some negotiating, he has managed to talk it down to ten thousand Ugandan shillings: about three and a half US dollar. She instructs him: “don’t tell the muzungus (whites)!” Back in the car, the driver explains: “The police will stop you often, these days. It is the time to pay the school fees”.

According to the latest East Africa Bribery Index, the Uganda Police Force is the most bribery-prone institution in the five East African Community partner states (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda). Bribery was demanded or “suggested” from about 75% of the people seeking service from the police. On a positive note, though: the amounts involved were generally not impressive: considering the average payment made, the police only ranked 24th.

Generally, the East Africa Bribery Index shows that Uganda institutions have continued to decline in the fight against graft. Overall, the country is ranked second after Burundi. Among the region’s top 10 most bribery-prone institutions are four Ugandan institutions: Police, Judiciary, Uganda Revenue Authority and the Ministry of Public Service. The Uganda Prisons improved slightly, in absolute terms and in the Ugandan ranking: they moved from fifth to seventh.

p.s. The police officers in the photos have nothing to do with the story above and I don’t want to imply that they are corrupt.

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Obama’s popularity in Africa

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Mr. Obama in popular culture in Africa Uganda photos

The young rhino in Uganda’s Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was the first baby rhino to be born in Uganda in 28 years. His mother is from the USA and his father is from Kenya. The Ugandans who imported his parents have named him, in an endearing way: Mr. Obama.Since the end of WWII, Barack Obama is likely the U.S.’s biggest public relations asset in the Third World. I was in Indonesia when he was elected for the first time in 2008, and I experienced the Indonesians’ jubilation because they considered him to be one of them. In the early 2000s, when I was visiting Indonesia and a few African countries, I saw a considerable number of Osama Bin Laden t-shirts, but now I see “Obama” restaurants, “Obama” beauty salons and “Obama” Unisex (haircuts for men and women) in Uganda. And while attending a show of the Ndere Troupe in Kampala, the moderator explained that Obama was an acronym for the phrase “Original Black African Managing America.” According to my friend Jantien Zuurbier, living in Kampala, the number of fans of Obama may have decreased somewhat since the last US elections, however on my many travels since the mid-1980s, I have never seen such strong feelings of friendship for the United States as I do now under Obama.The owner of this Obama restaurant serving Obama samosas (snacks, originally from India), however, was slightly suspicious of the inquisitive muzungu (white man) with camera; he may have thought I was a copyright infringement lawyer.

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Guilty until proven innocent

Uganda, Masaka Main Prison.

Uganda, Masaka Main Prison.

Africa Uganda criminal justice prisons photos
“Justice delayed is justice denied”, the officer in charge of one of Uganda’s prisons said to me. In most of the nine Ugandan prisons I have visited so far, prisoners on remand far outnumber convicts. Just one example: in Masaka Main Prison, the numbers are 218 convicts and 584 on remand. Petty criminals are not supposed to spend more that 60 days before being taken to court. For capital offenses, the maximum period is six months. In practice, many suspects spend far more time behind bars. According to Angelo Izama, writing for The Ugandan Reader, 54 percent of all Ugandan prison inmates are on remand.  This amounts to mass detentions without trial. In one case one prisoner had spent 6 years in custody on remand. The inordinately long remand periods are a decisive factor in inclining prisoners to plead guilty.

Uganda has a high incarceration rate compared to the other countries in the region: it is presently at 96 people per 100,000 (to compare: prison rates in the US are the world’s highest, at 716 people per 100,000; the Netherlands are at 82. Source: Prison Studies). And Uganda’s prison population is growing fast while holding capacity has not increased to any extend. The present congestion rate of 238% is expected to get worse: for a space planned for a single inmate, more than two share. Izama: “The crowded unhygienic conditions mean that aside from being punished without due process- the punishment is harsh and often results into the death of prisoners from disease [mortality rates from illness tend to be higher in prisons than outside].”

Uganda’s Chief Justice Odoki says he has too few judges to hear cases. The backlog is compounded by the fact that police investigations take long to conclude, which delays prosecution. Others point at corruption as a cause for the delays and say files disappear, judges are absent or defence lawyers are allegedly sick. Also, the police may ask for transport to go to investigate and judges may want money to hear a case.

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Photographing in Ugandan prison


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Photographer, fly on the wall? Me, Jan Banning, while photographing in Uganda’s newest prison, in Nakasangola, built in 2007. Photo (c) Kim Verkade (my intern). And the resulting (unedited!) photo. Once again: fly on the wall?

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