Every day, hundreds of women are raped, battered and butchered by their partners in this nation. Most cases go unreported and undocumented but even those that reach the authorities rarely receive the kind utmost attention they deserve because it is a man’s world and to borrow from popular slang, most men believe that ‘bitches be crazy’. This story has been in the making for ten years and has now reached a critical boiling point. Dora Atwongere, mother of four was two weeks ago rescued by security guards and police from her husband’s murderous grip. When I met her at Hotel Africana last week, she was still nursing the badly stitched wounds in her hands and her missing thumb. Her eyes bore that hollow gaze of one who has stared death in the eyes and know that their luck is running out. Below is her heartbreaking story.
Boy meets girl
I met my husband Mubiru Najib back in 2005 while finishing my degree course at Makerere University. We dated for a few months and married the same year. At that time, Mubiru was an up and coming real estate broker who made a decent living. Like most men his age, he was renting a house and I moved in with him. This to me was uncomfortable because I come from a background that shuns living in rented homes. So when our relatives asked me what I wanted for my dowry as per Islamic custom I asked for a home.
They bought me a three bedroomed bungalow in Najjanankumbi; it was here where we lived and had the best years of our married life. Shortly, I conceived and had twins. By this time, Mubiru had become fairly successful and was dealing in big sums of money. The more money he made, the less he valued me and started abusing me verbally and soon he was hitting me.
The first time
The first time he hit me I ran back to my parents in Nyamitanga Mbarara and told them what had happened. My father called him and told him that he would gladly take me back if he had had enough of me instead of him beating me up. He apologized and promised that it would never happen again so I came back to my home. He started disappearing from home for months on time. He would disappear and come back when things went wrong with the women he was living with. Whenever he came, I took him back and we would start from where we had left off. So I had my third child after one of those reunions. I also discovered that he was selling my home to business tycoon Meddie Ssebagala. I went to Ssebagala and explained to him that the house he had bought was not my husband’s but mine and the kids’. Meddie, said that he was willing to reconsider if Mubiru could return the Shs.80M he had already advanced him. Of course my husband didn’t have this money because he was living the high life. I would hear rumors that he had bought this girlfriend a car and was renting luxurious apartments for this and that mistress. He had also bought a plot in Buziga where he was putting up another home. I called in some lawyers and we agreed that I would co-own this home with him in compensation of my Najjanankumbi home he had sold.
Baby one more time
After this, he disappeared from us again and I decided to move into the unfinished home with my children. When he came back, I conceived our fourth child. Things this time were so bad that I had to take care of all my hospital bills because he wasn’t bothered. Lucky, my family rallied around me and I got back on my feet and started working in time to provide for my growing family. I was doing well and my children were happy because there was no tension in the home. I put the three elder children in boarding school because it became too much pressure taking care of four children, work and school (was finishing my MBA).
This time, the separation seemed final until last year during Ramadan when a sheikh preached about forgiveness. I took the sermon to heart and sent my estranged husband a message that I had forgiven him and asked him to forgive me too wherever I had wronged him. He responded by coming back home and living with us as if nothing had ever happened. He was still irritable and would insult me at every turn but I decided to ignore him.
One day during the holidays, he went to town and came back without his car (later, I found out that it had been confiscated by a money lender) and asked to borrow mine. To avoid a quarrel, I gave it to him. As the holidays came to a close and the new term began, I started reminding him about the kids’ school fees. He kept assuring me that he would give it to me until on a Saturday when he told me to drive him to a friend’s home who had promised to give him the money. I drove him there waited outside the gate, 30 minutes later he texted me that he had failed to get the money and told me to go on home.
The Sunday we were supposed to take the kids back to school, he woke up and drove off early in the morning. I reminded him that I needed the car for taking kids back to school and he assured me that he would be back by then.
At midday, I sent him a reminder and he said he was coming. At one I called him but he didn’t pick. All messages went unanswered and by 4:00PM I gave up hope. I was so broke that I couldn’t afford any sort of public transport. I called a few friends and got a car and took the kids to school. When I confronted him about this he unleashed barrage of abuse on me and threatened to hit me.
I decided I had had enough. The following day I took the car and parked it at my friend’s home. When I got back home, he asked me for the car keys and I told him that we didn’t have a car because I had given it to a money lender in exchange for the kids’ school fees. This time he beat me up badly and threatened to kill me. I ran back home leaving my one and half year old baby behind with our housemaid. I kept in touch with the maid who told me that from the day I left, he hadn’t returned home and had not left her any money for food or even the baby’s milk. I rushed back home.
Four weeks ago, he came home and told me that he wanted the property agreement for the house. I told him that I couldn’t risk giving it to him because it was the only thing our children had. He was so incensed that he beat me up and threatened to kill me once again if I didn’t sign the release forms. I was so scared for my life I left the home with my baby and started living at my sister’s place. He started stalking me at my shop on Jemba Plaza where he would insult me in front of my workmates and customers calling me a slutty thief who was trying to steal his property from him.
A week later, he stalked me to Buganda Road along the Chief Magistrate’s Court, this time in the company of his uncle. After the greetings, his uncle told me that I was being unfair withholding the property tittle from my husband. I explained to him that I partly owned the property because he had sold my own home in Najjanankumbi to possibly fund it, and that I couldn’t afford to risk the only property our children had. Mubiru lost his temper and started calling me a slut and many other choice names at which his uncle melted away. He grabbed my arm and started twisting it painfully. I noticed some policemen and then the Chief Magistrate’s Court signpost. I lied to him that my lawyer’s office was right there and asked him to release me so I go and sign the papers. As soon as he released me, I ran into an office corridor where I called my sister and uncle to come rescue me. After lingering for a while he left but after threatening that my life would be in danger if I didn’t give him what he wanted. I was shaken and stayed away from work for days afraid to leave the save haven of my sister’s home. A week later I went back to work.
Two weeks ago on a Thursday evening, he called me saying that he had Shs. 4 Million and wanted to give me half of it so I could offset the children’s school fees. He sounded so normal that I didn’t think twice about agreeing to meet him. He suggested I meet him around Cairo Bank on Kampala Road but sent me a text saying he had failed to find parking space and was at Radio One building on Dustur Street. I reached Radio One and he came out of the car a Raum to open for me the door from outside. He seemed to be in high spirits and we sat chatting for a while. Then he noticed suitcases across the street and told me that he wanted to buy a suitcase so he requested me to go and find out the prices. I obliged and came back with prices for two types of suitcases which he considered a bit and then said he would come and buy them another time. (Was he shopping for a suit case in which to carry my body later on? I keep asking myself in hindsight).
We drove back to Cairo Bank where his uncle left us. He turned back and drove towards Jinja Road using Nasser Road. When we got to Cham Towers, he parked and said he was waiting for someone to bring him the money. After several minutes he started the car and drove off. I asked where he was going and he told me that the person was now at Golf Course. It was getting late and I had left my handbag and keys back in the shop and I told him so. He told me not to worry about them that we would be back shortly. ‘You won’t need them.’ He added after a while. We drove to Kololo and he started circling the airstrip. His mood changed and he started yelling at me telling me that that day I would get what I deserve for trying to steal his property from him.
He parked in one of the isolated lanes, got a bottle of Coca Cola and tried to hit me in the face. I ducked and the bottle shattered on my head. As he was beginning to strangle me he noticed a group of joggers coming towards us and he stopped. He drove round and round the field while becoming increasingly hysterical. I pleaded and begged him to spare me promising to give him everything. But he was in a manic rage and all my pleas and promises went unheard. We drove to an unfinished apartment building on Mwoyo close where he parked the car and started undressing all the while telling that this was my time to pay for all he has suffered at my hands. ‘Because you are educated you think you are more knowledgeable than all of us? Tonight I will teach you a lesson.’ He spat menacingly in my face.
He took off all his clothes, folded them carefully putting them in the backseat. He then started hitting me indiscriminately while I fought back as desperately as I could. He grabbed my neck and started strangling me hissing ‘what I will do to you will be worse than what I did to Shifa.’ (Shifa was an ex-girlfriend whose face was disfigured so badly that she disappeared from society.)
As we fought, I noticed a security guard in a white uniform coming towards the car. This gave me a burst of energy to scream and fight more and then I lost all hope when I saw him walking back. I don’t remember how long it took but when I came to, the car was surrounded by six security guards and a policeman who ordered him to open the car. He tried to drive off but the policeman told him that he would shoot if he tried to start the car. He opened the car and I heaved myself out.
We were both put under arrest and a police pickup came to take us to Kiira Road police station. In my statement I told the officer on duty that he was trying to kill me. After recording mine, the officer took him to another office where they stayed for a while. When they came out, they said they were releasing us on police bond and we were charged for affray. Affray is a criminal offense generally defined as the fighting of two or more persons in a public place that disturbs others. The charge angered me so much because as far as I am concerned we were not in a public place and we were not fighting; he was trying to kill me. Nevertheless I called my family and my mother had to give in her passport till she could find the money for my bond. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw him drive off the car which should have been impounded as exhibit in an attempted murder case. The following day, I called my lawyer and told him what had happened and asked him to transfer the case file from Kiira Road to any other place. The case was transferred to Kabalagala and new charges of domestic violence were brought against Mubiru.
Up to this day, he still sends me threatening messages that he will kill me and I will lose both my life and property anyway. I struggle with a recurring nightmare of him strangling me just like he did that night. I am traumatized and have developed paranoia for public places. I can’t go to work because I am scared that this time he might come and shoot me. I am depending on my family and well-wishers’ generosity but with four children this can’t be a long-term plan.
I am appealing to individuals, authorities and organizations to come to my rescue and settle this issue once and for all. He has tried to make good on his threats before and I feel that I won’t be so lucky next time.