By: Donah Mbabazi*
According to a story published on Monday in Uganda’s Daily Monitor, residents of Kitezi, a Wakiso suburb, woke up to the shock of their lives after a woman set her matrimonial home aflame, killing two of her children.
Patience Katambara reportedly locked herself in the house together with her three children and set it on fire after learning that her husband, Happy Tumwesigye, had been seeing another woman.
She had allegedly learnt of the extra marital affair and decided to commit suicide. However, she and one of the children, survived narrowly.
Over the years, women have mostly been on the receiving end of this dreadful act but as it turns out, based on the rise in cases from within the country and beyond; women are now clashing with the law, for the same crime.
It’s hard for someone to wrap their brain around the fact that anyone can kill because of a relationship or marriage gone bad; however, there have been a good number of murder cases based on jealousy and, of course, poor judgment on the injured party’s behalf.
A few years back, a 45-year-old woman, Joyce Mukamurigo, a resident of Gatsibo District, murdered her husband over alleged infidelity.
Her husband had reportedly sold a family goat and used the money to buy clothes for the other woman and she felt she had had enough.
“I hit him with a hoe in the head and he died instantly, he had been sleeping with another woman who is our neighbour and this kept haunting me,” she said at the time of the crime.
How big is the problem in Rwanda?
According to the Police spokesperson Celestin Twahirwa, the magnitude of these cases is not significant though they actually take place in different parts of the country.
But the number is small compared to other murder cases.He cited a recent case that was handled this week in the Eastern Province where a woman killed her husband and secretly buried him in a pit latrine, and this came to light after four years.
“In most cases, women kill their husbands at night when they are sleeping, or in a fight where women use objects and hit their spouses leading to serious injuries and they succumb to death,” Twahirwa says.
There are three main causes that push women into murdering their husbands; conflicts resulting from polygamy, concubines or adultery, conflicts resulting from property management and unequal access to resources, conflicts resulting from domestic violence from either of the spouses, (in most cases men), Twahirwa explains.
“These are common causes but other causes can be drunkenness, in some instances; however, we cannot consider these cases as a menace in our homeland security,” he notes.
Pamela Mudakikwa, the Communications Officer at The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, says the ministry is doing its best to deal with such cases of domestic violence.
She says the ministry’s focus is on prevention measures through education and mobilisation which is done in collaboration with local leaders and community structures such as the National Women Council.
This is done through forums such as Umugoroba w’ababyeyi (evening parents’ forum).
“We are also establishing Inshuti z’umuryango, one man and one woman per village who will be friends of a family, keeping an eye on the family,” she says.
“We also have tools like Noza I mibanire mu miryango, among others, which will help in promotion of harmony in families.
Every approach should focus on family as an entity; we consider it a foundation or pillar of the whole society,” Mudakikwa adds.
What the law says
Phiona Rushanganwa, a Kigali-based lawyer, explains that there is no such crime as a crime of passion legally, but rather, passion can be used as defence or a mitigating excuse or provocation
Taking into account Patience Katambara’s case, this is what would legally transpire; “In the assumption that Ms Patience survived and this is a Rwandan case scenario, she will be prosecuted and tried for “arson which resulted in death of persons”, this is provided for by article 403 of the Rwandan penal code (N° 01/2012/OL of 02/05/2012 and is punished by life imprisonment,” Rushanganwa explains.
She further explains that in that case, she can argue that she acted on emotions when she was burning the house and hence there was an element of frustration.
The judge may or may not accept and if it is accepted, the judge shall state how such provocation affected the accused.”
The penal code, in its article 73, provides that penalties shall be reduced for offences committed under provocation.
In case the judge agrees that there was provocation, the offender may get a lenient sentence. For example with Katambara’s story, if her defence was provocation, the sentence would be reduced from life imprisonment to imprisonment between two and five years.
“However, note that a crime of passion, as it is considered provocation, should be immediate” that is due to the resentment; the person was provoked to do whatever it is that they did without forethought,” Rushanganwa adds.
Why resort to murder?
Many people have a hidden dark side, characterised by fear and rage. However, the difference sets in on how we react when that side is discovered. For some people, poking that side may mean sparking off outrage.
Counselor Joyce Kirabo says that women are too emotional and, as such, sometimes they tend to act irrationally or irresponsibly.
She says, “In life there are many things that are likely to anger us, especially in marriage, so many things are bound to annoy us but it doesn’t mean that we should react irrationally because our actions not only affect the family, but the society at large.
I will, in a very cautious way, condemn the action of the man but again put blame on the woman; a person should exercise self-control and use diplomatic approaches to deal with trying times, handling the situation with anger only worsens the situation.”
Discussing the issue with the man is the wisest and most logical way, and by giving him a chance to explain, it helps one understand the root cause.
Nothing can justify why he cheated but we should understand that we are all human and we err.
“Everyone can react differently to her man’s infidelity but murder shouldn’t be the solution, women have come for counseling when they are faced with such and they find ways to love their men again so that at the end of the day, they don’t make regrettable mistakes,” the counselor says.
In his book ‘Inside the Criminal Mind’, Stanton Samenow, a clinical psychologist, explains that a “crime of passion” is a misconception.
Of course, crimes occur that are not premeditated or planned in advance and, yes, it would be understandable to become enraged upon discovering that one’s spouse had been unfaithful.
However, most people do not react to frustration, betrayal, disappointment, and powerful threats to their self-image by committing murder, he says.
The author explains that the person who commits a “crime of passion” has at least, in his thinking, resorted to extreme measures in response to other disturbing, threatening situations.
“We may become frustrated and angry when we think we have been mistreated or betrayed. But we react to disappointment, frustration, and betrayal in a manner commensurate with our character,” Dr Samenow wrote.
added that thousands of people experience serious problems in relationships that tax their patience but they do not react by annihilating the source of their difficulties.
Killing the person whom they perceive as the source of their problem is not in character and so they address their predicaments in other ways.
The control of emotions is strongly influenced by our personality; however, a person who suffered abuse in childhood and suppressed their emotions can sometimes have difficulty keeping them in when faced with conflict.
Are we all susceptible to crimes of passion?
Diane Ishimwe, a married woman, says that it’s really hard for a person to assert that they would never commit such a crime, saying that emotions are the hardest thing to control, especially with regard to relationships.
“I would like to think I would never let myself get to the extent of murdering the father of my children over infidelity or what have you, but one can never be so sure.
A person only gets to know what they would do only when they are faced with that particular situation,” she says.
Ishimwe asserts that she doesn’t condone people who commit such crimes, but she wouldn’t bring herself to judge them, arguing that anyone is capable of anything.
Eric Hitayezu is of the view that if a relationship gets to such an extent, it ceases to be love and turns into desperation.
“How can you kill someone you claim to love?” Hitayezu wonders. Such scenarios mostly happen when lovers go separate ways, he points out.
“I really don’t get why people become so cold hearted after a break up and so bitter after a divorce, these harboured feelings are the ones that end up making them blunder,” Hitayezu says.
Killing a person just because they are with someone else is a big no for me and I wouldn’t understand the person who did it no matter the circumstances, he adds.
Norah Mutesi wonders how one can love a person so much and kill them.
She says, “An action that desperate cannot be called love because you can never hurt a person you truly love.
If your husband is caught cheating, leave him if you can’t take it anymore instead of hurting them.
“I know rage can make us do certain crazy things we tend to regret later but murder shouldn’t be one of them. No man has the liberty of taking another man’s life, much less over such trivial matters.”
* Donah Mbabazi is a journalist with Rwanda’s leading English daily The New Times