Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Jailed 'Mzungu' tourist in Uganda and other cases

Who will protect Uganda's children if courts let them down?

The sentencing of 53 year-old Emin Baro whose true nationality is yet to be established has caused outrage among children’s rights activists. Yesterday  Rosemary Bareebe, a Grade One magistrate at Nakawa High Court, sentenced Baro to 2 years imprisonment or pay a fine of Shs 6million (approximately US$3,000) after he pleaded guilty of molesting 50 innocent Ugandan girls aged below 10 and on charges of computer misuse. Baro has just paid the fine and is to be released tomorrow morning according to reports. Yet Baro's case is commercial sexual exploitation and abuse of Uganda’s minors. These children are mainly from poor background and it was uncouth for him to take advantage of them. If it was in another state say California, he would have got at least a minimum of 20 years jail sentence. Clearly the magistrate's sentence is not deterrent at all, being a woman, she should have understood the girls' pain, said one friend. 

Baro is said to have entered Uganda as a Turkish national on a tourism mission. But that was 6 years ago. Later he began teaching in Kampala, Masaka and Jinja where he took photographs of nude Ugandan girls. He would lure the girls with Shs 2000 (US$1). Baro holds two passports of Macedonia and New Zealand but he is said to be originally a Turkish national. Although some children's rights groups say Baro should have been charged with defilement, Uganda police spokesman Asuman Mugenyi argued that they had thought of charging him of aggravated defilement but removed the charge citing lack of enough evidence. At worst they say he should have been sentenced for at 2 years for each of the 50 kids he molested.

Baro (laughing) being led by a policeman
This case is just a pointer to the ills and gaps in our judicial system and the immigration department. Here we have a magistrate or judge having the discretion to pass any sentence whether feeble or not regardless of the effect on criminal minds like Baro and their victims. Today, entry into Uganda is so easy that any Tom, Dick and Harry can just come here and play their game then leave. This is motivated by the blind search for foreign investments into Uganda, a venture that is making Ugandans pay a dear price. As such, flourishing schools like Shimoni Demonstration have been destroyed and prime public enterprise land have been given away freely in the name of investor incentives yet some investors have turned out to be "hot air". Nothing has been done to the perpetrators.

One mind boggling question is whether this dear magistrate Bareebe did take time to think of the future the 50 girls who fell victim to Baro. The magistrate seemed to have been carried away by the offender’s plea. “You have pleaded guilty and for this reason I will be lenient. The activity you involved in is condemned in our society and it is not acceptable,’’ she said in her ruling. Indeed Bareebe was lenient! What message did she send to the 50 girls? Did she reflect on the repercussions her ruling would have on the lives of these girls?

I think Ugandans hate Uganda or totally lack something to be proud about being Ugandan. I am wondering if one of the girls molested by this man, Baro, was Ms Bareebe’s would she have handed the same 2 years jail sentence? I doubt. Yet Baro admitted to have taken the nude photographs of the girls with the aim of posting them on his computer. It's really stooping too low. Who will protect Uganda's children if courts let them down?

In this country there is now a tendency to treat Bazungu offenders leniently. Last month an Amazing Raceco-producer Jeff Rice doused himself and mistress with cocaine. The young Mzungu woman who survived was later cautioned in court and fined Shs 1million (about US$500) and freed.Yet trafficking or doing cocaine is serious offence here.
A friend told me he was involved in traffic mishap in Kampala two weeks ago but police mistreated him after he raised a red flag that the police boss at the station showed favouritism in handling Bazungu traffic offenders. “I don’t know why these bazungu are taken to be special. I watched a clip on TV when Baro was arrested and not treated to handcuffs as they usually do to Ugandans and I asked myself why. Last month I was at the Jinja Road police station to register a traffic case when all of sudden the OC (officer-in-charge) Traffic came in with a group of zunguz who had just had an accident and we were all chased out of the room because their 'matter was too urgent.' And when I commented, I had fierce eyes all over me by the white uniformed personnel in the room. My traffic case was put on hold till the following day because I was I queried the processed and accused me of being rude,” he said.

By Mubatsi Asinja Habati

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