The family of the Late child rights activist Kenneth Akena Watmon, who was killed by Kampala Businessman Matthew Kanyamunyu in 2016 has agreed to forgive him through mato oput, an Acholi reconciliation ceremony.
This follows a successful two-day protracted dispute resolution negotiated by elders from the two families at the Acholi Chiefdom in Gulu City. The discreet family centred-reconciliation was witnessed by Rwot David Onen Acana II, the Acholi Paramount Chief backed by Acholi religious leaders.
Kanyamunyu was arrested in 2016 on suspicion that he drew a gun at Akena after he reportedly knocked his car in Lugogo, Kampala. Akena had reportedly gone to apologize to Kanyamunyu after the accident but Kanyamunyu instead lowered the window of his car and shot him at close range.
Akena died a few hours later at Norvic Hospital on Bombo Road where he was Rushed by Kanyamunyu for emergency treatment. Kanyamunyu been facing trial for the last four years, together with his girlfriend Cynthia Munwangari and elder brother Joseph Kanyamunyu. They all pleaded not guilty to the offence.
In a twist of events, Kanyamunyu confessed to committing the crime before the religious and cultural chiefs on Saturday. He confessed during a rigorous interrogation by a select council of elders who administer Matto-Oput. His remorseful confession earned him a penalty of 10 cows and three goats to facilitate the traditional justice process.
A close relative of late Akena’s family who preferred anonymity disclosed that after Kanyamunyu confessed and paid the requisite reparation, the clan chiefs agreed to forgive him – a process to be confirmed and sealed by Mato-Oput.
“The negotiations ended very successfully and we are now consulting on an appropriate date yet to be agreed upon this week for the families to publicly and officially reconcile their differences,” the family source said.
Mato oput is a reconciliation and cleansing ritual in which an offender and the aggrieved agree to reconcile and send the bitterness for the sake of peace. The event is preceded by the slaughtering of a sheep, which is provided by the offender and a goat which is provided by the victim’s relatives.
The two animals are cut into halves and exchanged by the two clans. The two antagonists then kneel down opposite each other with their arms folded at their backs and they bend without touching the ground to drink a bitter solution made from Oput tree in a calabash.
The drinking of the bitter herb, mixed with a lamb’s blood, means that the two conflicting parties accept “the bitterness of the past and promise never to taste such bitterness again.”
They conduct the mato oput ceremony because they believe that after the ceremony the “hearts of the offender and the offended will be free from holding any grudge between them bringing true healing in a way that formal justice system cannot.
The process, according to literature, doesn’t aim at establishing whether an individual is guilty or not, but to restore marred social harmony in the affected community.
News of the negotiation has evoked mixed reactions from across the divide. Members of the public are particularly suspicious about the events unfolding.
Aruu MP Samuel Odonga Otto, who led protests to demand justice for Akena criticized the deceased’s family for accepting to be manipulated.
“They involved me in the beginning but along the way they sidelined me. I don’t even want to comment any more on the matter, let them handle it,” Odonga said.
Tonny Kitara, a Gulu-based lawyer observed that Kanyamunyu must have sensed danger in the case and advised to change strategy.
“If I were his lawyer, I would do the same thing to find closure to the case and restore sanity,” Kitara said while another Gulu-based lawyer, Walter Okidi Ladwar, opined that the exercise has been vastly misinterpreted by people who do not know anything about the laws of the country and how the court works.
“Traditional justice system is parallel to the formal court, the two are not the same although what happened at the Acholi Chiefdom has been done in the absence of a guiding transitional justice law, yet to enacted,” Ladwar said.
Henry Komakech Kilama, an activist asserts that the gesture taken by Kanyamunyu and his legal team is commendable but remained sceptical. “His confession was long overdue and he may not come out of it clean although it may fetch him a plea bargain in court.
Ambrose Olaa, the Prime Minister of Acholi Cultural Institution noted that there shouldn’t be any cause for alarm since the initiative is not new and was undertaken with the full participation of the two families.
He said the traditional justice system does not interfere with the criminal prosecution process already ongoing in court.