08 Jul

“Disbelief still lingers in my mind over the relief the Bataka court has ushered in my life” says Musinguzi James of Ruteete Village Kibaale district

Musinguzi James is one of many who have reaped the fruits of Mwananchi Bataka courts, a community based informal justice system in Ruteete Sub county Kibaale district. He was for long a doubting Thomas over the sway of the Bataka courts until he reached the edge of disappointment from the Kagadi Grade one Magistrates’ court including many private arbitrators in a case he had battled for more than a year.

“I had heard about Bataka courts before, but had never bothered to attend any of their sessions, let alone attempting to accept the stories about their excellent work. I had never believed at all that the Bataka courts can handle and conclude cases satisfactorily even better than the formal courts” adds Musinguzi with a face of total disbelief as he shakes his head.

As an on old adage goes ‘a prophet is never respected at home’ so was the perception of Musinguzi James on Bataka courts. He ran up and down, from private arbitrators, police to magistrates’ court in a bid to save his image and search for justice but little did he know that the medicine for his problems was in his compound.

“I had lost hope, I had lost respect among my relatives, peers and I was becoming a laughing  stock on every function and markets. I was being named all sorts of nicknames and was carrying a burden of shame wherever I passed. I was seen as somebody who had betrayed my late brother and was causing misery to the orphans,” Musinguzi narrates his ordeal as tears well in his eyes.

Trouble started when Musinguzi sold a piece of land belonging to orphans that were left by his late brother under his care. He sold the land to marry his wife. This opened a can of worms that ended up haunting Musinguzi for close to over a year.

“I had sold the land to one Kibeesi who had given me 350,000= so that it could enable facilitate me to marry. However, after some time one of my brothers called Twebazi Ambrose took me and Kibeesi, the buyer, to Police and later to URDT land Rights office. When we would seem to agree to settle the matter amicably, things would instead back track. At that point the buyer accepted to return the land to orphans on condition that I bought fifty iron sheets  for the buyer as fine alongside the refund of 350,000=,” says Musinguzi.

Things did not work out even when Musinguzi agreed to compensate the buyer. He changed his mind several times and refused to accept the money and iron sheets, leaving Musinguzi bewildered.

“I was indeed disappointed. When my brother saw that we were not getting any headway, he decided to take the case to magistrates’ Court grade one Kagadi where I wasted a lot of money on transport back and forth.  Adjournments became adjournments; every step was money lost; pressure was mounting on me every day that passed,” explained Musinguzi

The pain and indeed the anguish of injustice were nagging Musinguzi all the time. “One day as I was narrating the pain I was enduring, one of the Bataka court panel of elders advised me to bring the case to Bataka court and see if they can help. That is what I did. I was surprised a case that had taken nearly a year was resolved by Bataka court in one day without any expenses and all the parties left contented with the ruling,” Musinguzi said smiling.

While at the Bataka court, it was decided that the land would be returned to the orphans and Msinguzi would refund Kibeesi’s money which was accepted. “We have continued to be friends and are now in the process of withdrawing the case from magistrates’ court,” Musinguzi says.

Stephen Nfashingabo, the Kibaale District Vice Chairperson says the use of Bataka courts needs to be widely supported in the district.

“I want to urge my people to use Bataka courts to resolve their disputes so as to access justice and fight poverty” he adds.

Nfashingabo says that many people have ended up committing suicide or even murder because they cannot get justice in the formal courts.

“ People have been spending a lot of money and time on simple issues to access justice in police and courts which ends up yielding nothing only to hear later that someone has killed himself or murdered someone over a disagreement. We should use the Mwananchi Bataka courts to resolve our disputes, because they have proved effective,” he advises

Calling for the expansion of these courts to cover the whole district he said: “ I thank World Voices Uganda and their partners and ask them to expand the programme to other areas in the district. I want also to thank the members of panel of elders for mobilizing the communitymembers in providing justice  Charles Jumba, the project focal officer at World Voices said over eighty civil cases in nature have been handled and resolved by the Bataka courts. He says out of these, five cases have been referred back from police and later Magistrates’ court while fifteen were referred back to the local council courts.

Jumba adds that World Voices Uganda is piloting the Bataka courts model as a complimentary to the formal justice system in the country in order to enhance access to justice for the poor and vulnerable.

“We decided to facilitate the Bataka courts with a view of finding out a justice model that works for the poor people.  We have realized tremendous achievements with varied testimonies of cases that failed in the formal arrangement but have been concluded by the Bataka courts over the last one year” he explains.

Jumba adds that the Bataka courts are immune from corruption cancer and delayed justice that remain the most challenging problem within the formal justice system.