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Is it FAIR to present the dead before a public court?

Isa Senkumba

Is it FAIR to present the dead before a public court?

RIP: Gen. Elly Tumwine

Right from the onset, there are two things we shall all agree to. The first being that death is a universal, natural, persistent, inescapable, unavoidable, and undeniable fact of life. When death comes looking for his bride you can’t hide.

Secondly, when death occurs, there is usually an impact on the family, friends of the deceased and on the wider society where the deceased spent their time. Our divergence in thought and belief is only reflected when it comes to how we should treat and speak about the dead.

There are a few other facts we must state clearly from the start before we dissect this matter. First of all we are all entitled to freedom of speech and expression. Meaning that it is not a crime to speak or express your mind. And just like all other freedoms they have limits and exceptions to avoid being abused.

They say that the right to swing your fist ends where your neighbor’s noise begins from. Secondly we are all humans and each one of us have their fair share of good and bad deeds. The angels I know live in heaven and not on earth.

Now going straight to the point, we have developed a culture of celebrations and merry making when someone dies, especially the influential political figures, the latest being General Elly Tumwine. We are no longer shy to pour scorn, ridicule, and witch-hunt as well as throw parties of jubilation when someone passes on. While it is a somber and doleful mood on the side of the deceased’s family, it is a fiesta and more of carnival celebrations from the rest of the community where the deceased lived. Thanks to the emergency of social media.

In Latin they say, “De mortuis nil nisi bonum” the English version being- Of the dead nothing but the good. I have seen and heard people speaking wonderful things about a deceased person even when he was horrible to them. If for instance death alone is viewed as a punishment, do we have to punish someone twice by again speaking negatively about them when they die? Secondly our negative talk has no impact on the unconscious body lying in the casket but heavily hurts the family of the deceased who are now made to pay for the crimes they didn’t commit.

Is it fair to target the wrong people? And lastly why wait for someone to die and then start thinking of holding them accountable for all the wrongs they did when they are even defenseless? Isn’t that cowardice?

I have got time to keenly and largely read about criminology and the impact of crime on society. I have found out that people sentenced to death for committing a crime are given one last opportunity to speak their minds. These last statements are sometimes given in the company of friends and family or in front of living victims of the crimes. Sometimes the statements are defiant but most often they express sorrow, repentance, love and quite often they demonstrate the prisoner’s humanity.

On the 19th of May 2005, Richard Cartwright was executed and he made the following statement before his death: “I just want to thank all my friends and family who gave me support these past eight years. I want to apologize to the victim’s family for the pain I caused them. And to everyone at the Polunsky Unit, just keep your heads up and stay strong”.

Another one by the names of Williams Chappell executed in November 2002 said: “My request is that you get yourselves in church and pray for forgiveness because you are murdering me. I did not kill anyone in my life.” Experience has taught us that it is even possible to wrongly accuse people for things they didn’t do and it becomes even more possible when the accused is already dead.

An American poet, Greenleaf Whittier wrote: “Death softens all resentments and the consciousness of frailty and weakness modifies the severity of judgment”. We ought to speak well of the dead, for they cannot speak for themselves. We even avoid the dirty four-letter word – dead – in speaking of them. We use polite euphemisms like ‘passed away’, ‘left us’, ‘gone to one’s heavenly abode’ and so on. Sometimes speaking well about the dead is some form of insurance that when we die we shall also be treated that way and allowed to Rest in Peace.

We have a generation that has been taught and nurtured to express their feelings whether it is necessary or not, after all they have the means and the platforms to do so. But to be more honest we also need to shift our eyes from the negative talk and the behaviors of the aggrieved citizens and try to look for the reasons why people behave the way they behave.

Francis Imbuga in one of his works (Betrayal In the City) wrote that when the madness of an entire nation disturbs a solitary mind it is not enough to say that the man is mad. There are a number of flaws in leadership that must be fixed if we are to see an end to these public celebrations in times of sorrow.

Key political players still have a chance to mend their relationship with the population and avoid the witch-hunt that charges at their families when they pass on. I still feel that it is unfair to burn down the entire granary simply because it is infested with rodents. We have got to minimize casualties and the onus to do so primarily rests on the shoulders of those in power.



Isa Senkumba is a social critic

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