The same knife he has been using to skin stolen goats in the dead of the night was used to chop off his left ear and hand. As Thembo Kahungu and Felix Basiime write, Munizera now lives with a furrowed conscience, but worse are his raw wounds.
It all happened in a flash. His two friendsâ€”or rather accomplices in crimeâ€”vanished like a spark of meteorite in the sky. Before he knew what was going on, he was surrounded by men with fingers itching to have a vicious feel of his kind.
Obed Munizera froze as the bloodshot eyes of the men hovering over him betrayed the glare of fellows anxious to get their hands on a cat whose proverbial nine lives they had just exhausted.
It was 11p.m, a moonlit evening of October 1. Not a good hour being found in the middle of the bush skinning goats whose owners were probably on the homestretch of snores. But Munizera was not going to be a martyr in any sense of the word. He was afraid of death and he knew only logical pleas would save him from his captors.
The 34-year-old father of two was just more than glad in accepting the first option of the only two the captors spelt out for him: to choose to be maimed or die on the spot.
â€¦and so they had chopped off his left ear, and an arm, too.
A blood-dripping night
Sitting on a starch of unbaked bricks in his brother’s compound, Munizera grits his teeth in a painful wince as he shifts his weight to one side of the body. He is ready to narrate his ordeal.
With a dreary voice, he starts: “I had visited my friend Byaruhanga in Kanamba who later introduced me to another manâ€”whose name I don’t knowâ€”with whom we went to get the goats from two different places. Our mission was swift.”
Kanamba is about 4 kilometres from Munizera’s home area of Kivengenye village, Karusandara Sub-county in Kasese District.
He says his captors did not beat him but threatened to mutilate him if he did not play to their cards. “I pleaded with them but they continued telling me I was to die,” he says with tears streaming down his face, casting a figment of his former self.
“One of the menâ€”I can still recognise him if we met todayâ€”used one of our knives to cut my left ear and hand as they threatened to kill me if I shouted,” Munizera says. “Walking back home that night was the longest and most painful journey of my life. I wish they had killed me instead.” He treats his wounds with herbs and capsules bought at nearby health centres because he is afraid his checkered past can deny him medication at the hospital.
But local leaders in the village are adamant Munizera got a deterrent to instill fear in his kind because they claim their village, once revered for animal rearing in Kasese, has turned into tomato field after thieves went on rampage. “We are no longer the best producers of goats in the district because of thieves,” Mr Innocent Niyirola, a local leader, said. “They were turning people’s herds into their own, they even sell their bloody meat to us.”
Tired of thieves
After the death of his parents 10 years ago, Munizera says he tried to manage two different plot of land he inherited but it proved too challenging. He then sold off the land so as to start a new life elsewhere, but things never worked out. He has been a casual labourer at construction sites around the Town Council, earning Shs80,000 per month.
Munizera’s relative, Mr Abel Seruhoryi, despite still living in denial that the victim could have been a thief all along, admits maiming has left a kind of proof. “Look, he still wakes up from a grass-thatched house and has failed to raise money for proper treatment. I don’t think he was such a thief,” Mr Seruhoryi says.
Munizera had never been caught stealing before, though the locals say they have heard rumours of his hand in many thefts before. A source in the same village said a scar on Munizera’s head is from a cut he suffered in a theft three years ago. Authorities say theft is always high during festive season as most of the redundant youths want to get money.
Local leaders blamed
A local council leader decried the laxity in the police force in dealing with petty thieves, blaming it for setting such unfortunate incidents. “We did not want even to go to police over Munizera’s fate because even the other thieves we send there are released and they return to torment us,” a local leader whose identity has been withheld for legal reasons said.
In other countries like Iran, amputating four fingers on the right hand is a common punishment meted on thieves and other criminals. Iran is governed by Sharia law.
Not surprisingly, though, is that human rights activists condemn the maiming of Munizera. “Those people should have taken the suspect to the relevant authorities. What they did is inhuman,” said Mr Sam Rukidi, the coordinator of the Integrated Women Development Program, a human rights NGO the Rwenzori region.