Since last week, I have wondered whether Mathew Kanyamunyu’s plea for the Acholi traditional justice mechanism of mato oput to seek forgivenesses and restore broken relationship with Kenneth Akena’s family would not set a precedent for impunity. A forgiveness Akena asked for, for scratching his car that he was never granted as he begged for his life.
This reflections were inspired by the recent visit of Kanyamunyu’s family seeking the intervention of Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) and the Acholi Cultural Institution to broker a reconciliation agreement between them and Akena’s family to find closure to the case. Bishop of Gulu Dr John Baptist Odama backed by Rwot David Onen Acana II, the Paramount Chief of Acholi helped bring Akena’s family to negotiations.
One wonders if Bishop Odama and Rwot David Onen Acana II were asked by another perpetrator of gun-violence with a similar story; won’t Kanyamunyu’s plea condone impunity? Mato Oput is an Acholi traditional justice cultural ritual that seeks to restore broken relationship between two clans in the event of a murder incident accidentally or planned.
Mato oput entails mediation, truth telling, forgiveness and eventually reparation.
Both perpetrator and the victim’s clan members partake of bitter roots of the Oput tree spiked with blood from a lamb to deter them from committing the same crime.
Kanyamunyu, 39, the executive director of Quantum Express Logistics, was alleged to have shot Akena, 33, on November 13, 2016, in the stomach over a car scratch and he died a day after at Norvik Hospital on Bombo Road. He was charged with murder alongside his brother Joseph Kanyamunyu, 40, and Cynthia Munwangari, 26. The accused were charged with murder contrary to Section 188 and 189 of the Penal Code Act. According to the Act, any person convicted of murder faces a death penalty.
Kanyamunyu denied being responsible after swearing on oath in court and argued he only acted as a good Samaritan. However, John Paul Nyeko, a relative of the deceased, said his cousin made a dying declaration in which he pinned Kanyamunyu for shooting him at the Forest Mall parking yard.
It is already four years since Akena died. In February 2020, Justice Stephen Mubiru adjourned the trial to the next convenient criminal session in April. At the time of halting the trial, prosecution had presented 13 witnesses and was only left with one to close its case, and Kanyamunyu could begin his defense. Kanyamunyu’s plea for a traditional justice process amid an ongoing retributive justice process, puts to test Uganda’s criminal justice process and that of mato oput. Two questions come to mind:
Will this mato oput process impact the criminal justice process before court? Second, could this be the beginning of Kanyamunyu’s defence to save himself from a potential life sentence. One of the greatest arguments against mato oput has been its ability to perpetuate impunity.
The etymological meaning of impunity is “lack of punishment,” but in international courts, it has increasingly negative connotations, looked upon as ‘the general lack of investigation, persecution, arrest prosecution and sentencing of those who are liable for violating protected rights’ (Silva 2008:867; World Vision International,2002). The sceptical reaction of most aggrieved and victims towards restorative justice encounter seem to stem from their fear of impunity that Kanyamunyu’s mato oput plea seem to offer a precedent.
Mr David Martin Aliker is a Gulu-based blogger, poet, author and opinion Leader.