By Vicky Wandawa
He could not listen to the rest of the phone call. All his energy had slipped away. On a busy dusty feeder road in Mukono district, he sat down, shocked. He watched in a daze as people walked past. His phone started ringing again, but he could not answer it. Thirty-sevenyear old Hudson Ssemwanga had just received news that the head of his seven-year-old son, Allan Ssembatya, had been severed in Kayunga district.
The day was October 21, 2009. As strangers passed by, a neighbour, whom Ssemwanga only knew as Joshua, approached. “He asked what the problem was, but I was tongue-tied. He noticed my phone was ringing and he picked it up. The caller reiterated: “Tell Ssemwanga that his son’s head has been cut off,” recalls Ssemwanga.
Joshua helped him up and found a car to take them to Kayunga. Half way through, Ssemwanga’s phone rang again. “This time the caller said Ssembatya was still alive and was admitted to Kayunga Hospital.” The duo got to the hospital at 1:00am. When he saw his son, Ssemwanga thought he would not survive. He looked lifeless. He had a drip on and the doctors said he needed more blood. Unfortunately, there were only two bottles of blood group O left, yet he needed four.
“The doctors said they would use it, but send for more from Jinja Hospital the following morning. Ssembatya had thick bandages on his head, right hand and neck. He wore a bloodstained, light-blue pair of school shorts.” At dawn, Ssemwanga, who had dosed off next to his mother, Margaret Nnalongo, awoke and noticed a patch of blood on the floor. More blood dripped from Ssembatya’s bed. “I wondered where the blood was coming from, since all the wounds were bandaged.
I rushed to the doctor, who was also baffled. When he unbuttoned Ssembatya’s shorts, we realised that one of his testicles had been cut off and the other one crushed!” Ssemwanga narrates. As the doctor dressed Ssembatya’s testicles, Ssemwanga was sure that his son was dead. “But I thank God I did not give up hope, although he wasn’t talking, and I could not see him breath.”
For a month, Ssemwanga bought his son prescribed medicines from pharmacies in Kayunga town since they were not available at the hospital. After about 40 days in hospital, Ssembatya started recovering. On day 42, Ssemwanga says his son opened his eyes and shouted: “Awali and Paul, leave me alone, I will report you to my grandmother.” “That is when we got the story about the people who cut him. He coherently narrated the story of his attack.”
Ssembatya often dreamt about his attackers
Ssembatya lived with his grandmother, Nnalongo and his three other siblings in Kayunga, while Ssemwanga lived in Mukono. Ssembatya was in P2 at Busaale Primary School in Kayunga. One morning, while on his way to school, Ssembatya, who was in the company of his 13-year-old sister, Oliver Gwokyalya, spotted a ripe jack fruit on a tree along the bushy footpath.
They hid it in the shrubs and decided that Ssembatya would take it home as he returned from school at lunch time. At the spot where Gwokyalya hid the jack fruit, Ssembatya allegedly met their neighbours, Awali Kivumbi and Paul Ntambirweki at lunch time. “Paul signalled me to go to him. I was not scared because I knew him.
He was our grandmother’s neighbour. As I walked towards him, I saw Awali at a distance, hidden behind a log, shirtless.” Ssembatya says he got scared and started to run, but Awali allegedly grabbed and cut his right hand with a panga, at which point he slipped and fell down. “I threatened to report them to my grandmother, but they pierced my neck,” he said.
That is when Ssembatya lost consciousness. It got to evening and Ssembatya was nowhere to be seen. Ssemwanga says the family thought his son had passed by his aunt’s home on the same village. Luckily, that sister of Ssemwanga’s visited their mother, Nnalongo, that evening. When she was asked about her nephew, she said she had not seen him. They launched a search in the neighbourhood.
That is when Gwokyalya returned home from school and she told them they had agreed that Ssembatya carries the jack fruit home. They hurriedly went to the jack fruit tree, but Ssembatya was nowhere to be seen. It was coming to 9:00pm. They returned home and called a village meeting. It was resolved that the group returns to the bushy path for a thorough search. “They took different directions.
In the direction my mother took, she stumbled upon Ssembatya.” There were deep wounds on the back of his head, right hand and neck. He looked dead. “They saw a bucket with blood. Nnalongo broke down, but gathered energy to carry her grandson back home, as the others followed Because they were many people involved, some were misinformed that sembatya’s head had been cut and that is how I first got that miscommunication,” Ssemwanga recollects.
When they realised that Ssembatya was still alive, they rushed him to Kayunga Hospital. “When Ssembatya told us who his attackers were, I was distraught because they were our neighbours and friends. “Actually, when I was leaving the village for Mukono, I left my house and all my household items with them. So I could not understand why they would want to kill my son! Following the revelations, the villagers knocked down their (suspects’) house,” Ssemwanga says bitterly.
Changing hos pita ls A day after Ssembatya regained consciousness, on December 22, 2009, the doctors referred him to Mulago Hospital. When Ssemwanga approached the ambulance driver, he asked for sh100,000 to fuel the car. “I did not know what to do because I did not have the money. However, a friend, Juma Walyendo, offered to drive us to Mulago Hospital in his car,” says Ssemwanga.
On arrival, Ssembatya was given a bed among other sick children but did not receive any attention for three hours. “My son’s case was an emergency because his breathing rapid,” says Ssemwanga. Consequently, Ssemwanga carried his son and asked Nnalongo to pick their belongings and leave the hospital.
However, they were denied exit because they did not have a discharge letter. “I forced my way out, but a guard grabbed the bag which contained Ssembatya’s clothes. We headed to Nsambya Hospital,” narrates Ssemwanga. At the reception, he was quickly shown to a room and was immediately attended to by a doctor. “My son improved. We were there for close to a year, living on handouts from friends.
“The Police arrested Ssembatya’s suspected attackers and asked me to follow up the case. “One of the doctors offered me a car and Ssembatya and I were driven to Kayunga Police Station to record statements and identify Ssembatya’s attackers,” explains Ssemwanga.
“When Ssembatya was asked to identify his attackers, he declined, saying he feared they would attack him if he pointed them out. It’s only after the Police promised to shoot whoever attacked him that he pointed out the two men, Paul and Awali as his attackers,” says Ssemwanga.
A case was recorded under number 1119/2009 and the Police asked Ssemwanga to take his son back to the hospital. He was told the suspects would be prosecuted five months later in Mukono. Selling property to pay the Bills Towards the end of their stay at the hospital, Ssemwanga was handed a bill of about sh2m. “I sold my salon at sh1.3m to raise the money. I also sold my land,” says Ssemwanga.
Ssembatya’s trauma has inspired him to think of pursuing medicine as a profession
What took place in Mukono court?
When Saturday Vision visited Mukono court, records showed that the court case number was 976/2009, Uganda vs Kivumbi Awali and Ntambwireki Paul. It was a criminal case of attempted murder. The duo was acquitted on June 20, 2012, after prosecution failed to provide enough evidence to pin them. A court official who did not want to be named said when a case is completed, the right of appeal is explained and the mandatory period to file it. In case one party is not satisfied, he/she should appeal within 14 days.
However, if that period expires the family can petition the Director of Public Prosecutions. “I had sold all I had. My friends got me a dilapidated house to settle in after hospital. For three years, I could not even afford school fees for my children,” Ssemwanga says. Then Non-governmental Organisations tracked down Ssemwanga and his son. Kyampisi Child Ministries (KCM) was one of them. They purchased the medicine that Ssembatya needed to heal the deep cut on his head. “It cost sh250,000 a bottle, which my son took every month.
By then, his private parts had healed,” says Ssemwanga. But even with the medicine, Ssembatya kept suffering from migraines and nose bleeds. A scan revealed that he still had a wound inside his head. This year, Ssembatya was flown to Australia for surgery and the wound has now healed.
“He healed only three months ago,” Ssemwanga says with a look of satisfaction. However, like any parent, Ssemwanga is deeply bothered by the fact that his son may never father children. “The only testicle he has left was crushed,” says Ssemwanga. Today, Ssemwanga is back to roofing houses, a skill he was earning from before setting up the salon he sold off. Nonetheless, he is saving money to replace the salon.
KCM built them a house in Kyampisi village. Ssembatya, who should be in Primary Five today, was enrolled in Primary Two. “I told the teachers never to hit him on the head, because of the injury he sustained. Ssemwanga says he is trying to rid his heart of any hate towards the suspects. “I want Ssembatya to love God because He saved him from death.” Ssemwanga says he spent about sh12m on Ssembatya’s treatment, while NGOs spent over sh250m.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga receiving a petition against child sacrifice from children in 2009
Ssembatya has put ordeal behind him
Ssembatya, now 12 years, looks just like any other boy his age. He walks into the sitting room and appears somewhat timid, perhaps because I am a stranger. He recounts the story of the attack, just like his father. Asked how he finds his new school, he says he loved everything about it, save for the children who play violent games. “I don’t play with the pupils because they like violent games, so, I stay in the class and read my books,” says Ssembatya.
His face lights up when I ask what profession he wants to pursue in the future. “I want to be a doctor. I felt a lot of pain and no children should go through such pain. I remember the pain up to now,” says Ssembatya. He adds: “I even used to dream about my attackers coming to cut me.” Ssembatya says he is happy he no longer lives at his grandmother’s home because he would easily bump into the suspects.
He adds that he saw the culprits the week before. “One was digging and another was building a house. But I forgave them.” Dr.. Joel Kiryabwire, the neurologist who worked on Ssembatya’s head injuries, said he had a wound on the left side of his head. “The wound extended into the skull and shattered some of the bones. As a result, Ssembatya sustained brain damage. Fortunately, children usually have an amazing ability to recover, even from the worst damages,” Kiryabwire told Saturday Vision.
According to a 2013 report on child sacrifice and mutilation in Uganda, by Humane Africa, a charity organisation, in partnership with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), every week, a Ugandan child is mutilated or sacrificed and body parts removed. The organs can be sold for between sh500,000 and sh1m, depending on the age of the victim and the period taken to hunt down the victim.
The research, which took place between June and September last year, is based on 140 first hand testimonies from 25 communities in Kiryandongo, Masindi, Wakiso, Jinja, Mayuge, Mukono, Masaka, Kalungu and Buikwe districts. The data was also collected using UNICEF’s U-report, in which young people used a free SMS-based system to speak out on what is happening in their communities.
Most of the children targeted were aged between three and 18 years. However, there are also a number of cases where mothers in their later stages of pregnancy, were attacked and the foetus removed and mutilated.
The tongue, genitalia and blood seem to be the most sought after items. According to the report, the body parts are taken by people who believe they can assist people overcome illness, gain wealth and obtain blessings, among others. The deputy Police spokesperson, Ibin Ssenkumbi, however, says that there were fewer cases of child sacrifice in 2012 compared to the previous years.