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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Ripped From the Headlines

By Shane Michael (JD '11)

When I arrived at the Commercial Court Monday, the first case of the day had already started. A distributor for Nile Breweries had evidently failed to pay for the beer it was selling. In the world of clerking for a court, this first case is the equivalent of a leadoff homerun. But as much as spending my time curing the injustices of beer distribution is a noble cause, there are more pressing issues that I will be addressing at the Criminal Court where I will be serving out most of my clerkship.

On Monday, the cover headlines for both of Uganda's major newspapers told the story of a woman whose husband forced her to breastfeed his dogs because she had cost him two cows as part of the wedding dowry. The police cleared the man on Tuesday, claiming the woman was insane.

Another story's headline in The New Vision read "Minister's wife acid attackers unknown." The pouring of acid on women is a relatively common crime in Uganda. Women who are thought to be unfaithful to their husbands often are victimized when acid is poured on their skin. The attacks often occur in public, sometimes by the people known to the woman. The extent to which these crimes are prosecuted is unclear. This woman emerged from a coma yesterday.

When I met with the judge for whom I will be working, Justice Lugayizi (Loo-gay-zee), he said that murder, defilement (statutory rape), and other less severe crimes are the kind we'll handle in the criminal court. The two from Monday's paper fall in to this last category.


Corruption is prevalent here. Uganda recently established an Anti-Corruption Court, which is being hailed by many as a step forward in the country's fight against public officials who embezzle government funds at the expense of public programs and citizens. The Independent, a magazine sold on the streets, voices the concerns of citizens in a "Letters to the Editor" section. This opportunity for Ugandans to freely criticize their government in press seems like a significant step in establishing more accountability for government officials, but there is evidence that the democracy following the conclusion of civil war in 1986 is being threatened.

In 2005, sitting President Gen. Yoweri Museveni rescinded presidential term limits he worked to piece together. That act coincided with his own term limit coming up. The National Resistance Movement, Museveni's controlling party, is currently discussing proposed amendments to the Constitution that are believed to aid his efforts to retain power after the next elections.

The 2011 presidential elections will be a critical event for this country. Whether a new candidate will win and the current government's reaction to that could be an indicator as to whether or not democracy can be sustained in East Africa.