Editor’s note: This story contains material that some may find disturbing, including sexual violence and murder.
Around 9 p.m. on the last night of her life, Rose Nakimuli closed up her small hair salon in provincial Uganda. The 27-year-old walked home to freshen up, turned on her porch light for the evening and then retraced her steps down to a local bar for a late evening beer. As she made her way home later, walking along a dirt road adjacent to a two-lane highway, a friend leaned out of his small bar to say hello.
A neighbor found her body the next morning, slumped under banana trees in front of her home. Nakimuli was stripped and forced into an awkward position on her knees. A cassava stick had been shoved into her vagina. Nearby, a maroon sweater hung from a tree, which her husband used to identify her. The porch light was still on, suggesting she never made it home.
Nakimuli is one of 23 women to have been killed since May under mysterious and gruesome circumstances on the fringes of Kampala, the growing capital of rapidly urbanizing Uganda. The murders have sparked terror in local communities, raised questions about the country’s commitment to protecting women and heightened scrutiny of the police force — a powerful institution criticized for acting with impunity and as an arm of the ruling political party, the National Resistance Movement.
The victims have all been women ranging from 19 to 38 years old. Four have been identified as sex workers, several were informal traders and one was a high school student. Many of the victims lived alone without family in the area. At least three of the women remain unidentified.
Police have blamed many of the murders on practitioners of witchcraft who use human sacrifice to try to generate financial wealth. Others, they say, are a result of domestic violence, drug-addled and…