When she tried to turn down the wedding proposal, thinking they were so much in a rush, he parked his car. Moving out, he stood at the edge of the Northern Bypass bridge swearing: “If you stop the wedding I’m going to kill myself.” Crying, he kept pushing her towards the moving cars. It was a terrible evening, but not a clear signal to Diana Kahunde of the emotional abuse that would follow soon.
Kahunde loves a good laugh. She laughs the first time you meet and will laugh as you are seeing her off. In fact, the only time we did not see her laughing was when she acted Annette Nandutu in the famous TV drama Hostel.
Judging her by her jolly persona and fame can be deceptive. You would imagine she has it all. Yet beneath her dimples, celebrity status and seemingly complete life are emotional struggles she is only learning to live with.
Like most young women, Kahunde had always dreamt of marriage. Hoping to find a husband with a character like her late father’s, but fate had a different package for her.
“For six years I had been in relationship with someone who loved his privacy. He was supportive and our relationship was moving on smoothly until our photos leaked in one tabloid,” she says. “For the first two times he was patient, the third time he quit.”
“‘I am not conformable with this’” Kahunde remembers his last words as he made his way through the door in 2013.
Thinking God had answered her prayers
Two years later, Kahunde thought it was time to move on and probably find someone else to settle with. Someone God-fearing and one who would support her acting career.
Approached by one of the clients at the restaurant she was running with a friend, Kahunde was hesitant. But after a lot of persuasion from her friend, she decided to give it a try.
He showered her with gifts, took her for dinners, promised to support her career. He was loving, caring towards her family, especially her mother. Above all he was ready to settle for marriage. Kahunde believed “this is the right man for me.”
“For the first one month, I didn’t talk to anyone about my new catch, but when I told my mother about him. She was excited that God had answered her prayers.”
At a prayer conference in America, her mother had had a prophecy that “good things are going to happen to your daughters”. Hence, she was convinced that this was the right man for Diana.
Kahunde was over the moon. What with the care and his interest in knowing where she always was and what she was up to.
“I just thought he really cared, driving from Entebbe to Mukono to know how I was doing. And we were so open that we accessed each other’s phone,” Kahunde recalls.
Soon, Kahunde felt the need to introduce her man to the rest of the family. On December 16, 2016 at St Luke’s Church of Uganda Ntinda, they wedded. A dream had come true, or so she thought.
Unmasking his true identity
With the coveted ring on her finger, friends and family showered blessings on them. Sadly, this was the last time Kahunde would ever smile or party with her peers. Ready to be the ideal wife, the actor in Bed of Thorns—a film that partly tells her story—gave up on her acting dreams, distanced herself from friends and family, as demanded by her husband.
“The good times ended in our honeymoon. Soon, he turned out to be manipulative, stopping me from associating with any of my friends, finding fault with each one of them and getting paranoid of my career.”
Choosing marriage over career, the former Minibuzz presenter committed herself to her marital demands.
Meanwhile, two months after the wedding, Kahunde’s in-laws teamed up with her husband to question why she was not conceiving. She began to believe it was her fault yet, she says, her husband was never home.
“One day, while in the bedroom, as though possessed by some spirit, he strangled me, saying his family expected me to have conceived within two months. Why was it taking too long?” she narrates, showing the scars around her neck. Gradually, it got worse. He even stopped her from receiving phone calls from her family members.
“By 9pm, I had to switch off my phone. I thought it was fine but he kept questioning each phone call I received. Are you cheating on me? One time, he stopped me from talking to my brother,” she recalls.
Their relationship changed from companionship to mere obligation. Make-up, nail polish or wigs were prohibited.
“That was not me, but I had to submit,” she says. Sometimes he stormed the kitchen and compared her cooking skills to his mother’s and sisters.
“Each time he hurt me, , he was always quick to apologise.” But no matter how terrible this trauma was, Kahunde tried to maintain her dignity by quietly enduring his harassment.
Flashback of odds
From that scuffle at the Northern Bypass, Kahunde got into the driver’s seat, her then fiancée besides her, and next stop was her mother’s home in Mukono.
That evening Kahunde’s lover spilled his family’s witchy secrets to his future mother-in law. He showed off the cuts his father put on his body. Kahunde says her mother was horrified and vexed, but being Born-Again, they decided to pray over it.
“At this point I knew I didn’t want to get married, but the fact that we were through with the introduction, I was worried how society would perceive it if I just ended the relationship.”
Meanwhile, before their introduction, Kahunde was asked to spend two weeks with her father-in-law, something she found odd.
“He asked me to spend two weeks at my father-in-law’s place, but I was told not to tell anyone, not even my mother about my whereabouts.” But out of curiosity she told her mother.
Actually, her father-in-law was plotting to abduct her for two years, as she learnt from her divorced mother-in-law. With a number of unanswered questions, her mother in-law’s words still echo in her ears.
Kahunde tried to forget the horror she had narrowly survived, and stuck to her pursuit of marriage.
However, when she moved into their marital home, strictly out of bounds to visitors, she started seeing weird things, among which were the different charms.
“I knew my husband’s family was practising witchcraft but I did not expect to find any at his home. We used to pray and go to church together,” she says.
But to her surprise she started discovering charms in different parts of the house including her husband’s laptop bag. She could not believe her eyes that her long missing handkerchief was in one corner of the house and with charms. Ironically, when she confronted her husband about it, he accused her of bringing the charms.
“Many nights I saw him struggle with nightmares, shouting, resisting being fed on human flesh and vomiting. It was horrible, but the next morning he acted as if nothing had happened.”
The protective husband got ironically promiscuous but when she confronted him about it, he beat her to pulp. Bruised, she was locked up, her phone and car keys confiscated.
“You will only leave this house when you are dead,” her husband told her repeatedly.
Much as her mother wanted their marriage to stand the test of time, Kahunde could not stand the beatings. She let go.
Kahunde failed to process her divorce papers. She hired different lawyers to no avail. The church also made it hard for her. She then reverted to using art to share her story and reduce the trauma she had suffered for the past two and half years.
“There was nothing that would have suggested I would have fallen victim of abuse, nothing. Yet it was the most terrifying time in my life. Off the film scene, many thought I was in a bed of roses, married to a man any woman would dream of, but that was false.”
Edward Cooper Kyamanywa, a lawyer with Kyamanywa and Co. Advocates, says when you petition for a divorce there are number of issues you need to point out before it is granted.
“These include brutality which can be physical or psychological to an extent of someone wishing they were dead. Also, adultery, change of religion, impotence and barrenness. However, the petition must be supported by a summary of evidence and witnesses. Court gives room for mediation but if the mediation fails, the case then proceeds. Hearing from both parties court will go ahead to grant a Decree Nisi .”
Kyamanywa adds, “After six months the petitioner then applies for the grant of a Decree Absolute. This will dissolve the marriage.”
Trying to get over the trauma, Kahunde decided to write a script about what she went through. One time Eleanor Nabwiso, her co-star in Hostel, got curious when she saw her without her wedding ring. Wanting to get pain off her chest, she told her ordeal, briefly.
It is from this that Nabwiso produced Bed of Thorns, a movie themed on domestic violence. Hoping it would help as a healing therapy, Kahunde took part in the movie.
“It took me more than a year to acknowledge that the abusive relationship had caused me trauma,” she says. “I didn’t want to deal or think of the issues I had gone through. My way of coping was to turn to food and drinking heavily. It’s today that I’m sharing my entire story,” she reveals with her jolly baby face.
“The church has authority to wed but it has no authority to divorce.” The Rev Can Dr Rebecca Nyengeya says when couples want to divorce; the church is not responsible for that. When the bride enters the church, her father hands her over to me and in turn I hand her over to the husband. I play God’s role. After the wedding my only role is help your marriage work out.... The church only comes in if a divorced couple wants to re-wed.”
Rev Can Dr Rebecca Nyegenye, All Saints Cathedral Nakasero