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Susan Kigula- Once Condemned, Now a Beacon of Hope for Many.

Susan Kigula

What do you imagine to be the greatest loss in life? Ever thought about this?

Each time I ask this question, I get answers like; a terrible health condition, illiteracy, lack of money or death like most are made to believe.

But none of those truly answers it.

Norman cousins couldn’t have answered it better when he said; “Death is not the greatest loss in life, the greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”

Ugandan Susan Kigula has since proved this assertion to be true.

Even with a death sentence hanging over her head, Susan Kigula felt a certain desire burn intensely within her, she couldn’t express it in words at first, but all she prayed for in silence was a chance; another chance to live for who she really is, to birth a dream which will not only secure her future but also save those of others.

Her story is one of travail, tireless struggle and triumph.

On July 9, 2000, Susan was convicted of the murder of her husband, it appeared like her world came crashing before her eyes. A young woman, who had a whole life ahead of her, dreams unaccomplished; promises waiting to be fulfilled. What fate lies ahead? One cannot readily tell.


In September 2002, Susan was sentenced to death by hanging; the standard method of execution in Uganda, which was mandatory at the time. This meant that there was only one way. Death!

During this period, all the young woman had, was several bouts of depression, confusion and a little hope, which was way better than no hope at all and just enough to raise a petition against the sentence.

“Hanging a person is not a deterrent since everyone deserves a second chance to live. That is why I petitioned against the death penalty,” she says.

This move made Susan the leading figure in the landmark case “Susan Kigula and 416 Others vs Attorney General” (all on death row) in an attempt to have capital punishment declared unconstitutional and abolished in Uganda.

Will that be the light of redemption for Susan and others? Only time will tell.

On the 21st of January 2009, the Supreme Court of Uganda reached a decision, Susan and the others lost: the court saw no basis to outlaw the death penalty. In addition, it ruled that no sufficient evidence was brought to show that being hanged caused more pain and suffering to the person being executed than any other manner of execution. What could be more disappointing and troubling for anyone?

Credit: new vision
Credit: new vision

Although Susan’s petition was refused, but with it sprung several court rulings which would eventually become precedents in the criminal laws of Uganda.

First, the court ruled that the death sentence should no longer be mandatory because it would only tie the hands of the court and prevent it from taking into consideration the specific circumstances of each case.

It also ruled that the State cannot torture condemned prisoners by keeping them on death row for years; therefore, where a death penalty cannot be executed within three years, it must be commuted to life imprisonment.

Since these court rulings in 2009, a number of prisoners have been released and approximately 180 death sentences have been converted to life sentences.

In November 2011, in a remarkable High Court session, Susan Kigula’s sentence was reduced to 20 years imprisonment. A fresh new start!

Now with what appears to be a brand new life, Susan can face each day and appreciate the brightness of the sun, knowing that she has totally escaped the hangman’s noose.

To tell the most interesting part of the story…

Few years ago, Susan began studying law in a distance education programme and on August 19, she was among the three inmates, two males and one female, who graduated with a diploma in Law of the University of London.


Unable to contain her joy, she tells New Vision Magazine; “I can’t believe I am receiving such a prestigious accolade. People out there think prisoners do not have the brains to study law, but I have made it. I am now an alumni of the University of London,”
Surely, she has proved very many people wrong.

When asked what future she sees, Susan shared her passion for the less privileged, she says she decided to study law to acquire knowledge with which she can advocate for the rights of the less privileged having realised that the poor face ‘miscarriage of justice’ in the judicial system. She has big dreams of setting up a law firm upon discharge.

“Many innocent people end up behind bars because they lack legal representation. I am determined to leave prison a learned woman so that I fight for the rights of the underprivileged,” she says.

Susan Kigula remembers that prior to her conviction; she had a limited education, but she took a decision that has now changed her life for the best, first, she enrolled for O’level and scored aggregate 29 and then proceeded to A’level and scored 18 points.

“…My imprisonment has been a blessing in disguise because that’s where I studied and sat for my A level examinations and now I am studying for Diploma in Common Law with the University of London. I would like to extend my endless thanks to APP without which I wouldn’t have accessed the University of London Law Programme…” Culled from the Guardian on flickr.


Armed with an interesting knowledge of the law and a better understanding of life, Susan lives a transformed being, which has brought joy to her lecturers and even the commissioner general of prisons, Johnson Byabashaija, who took is time to explain to New Vision Magazine his goal for the Ugandan Prisons. “I want to transform prisons from punitive centre to correctional facilities”

Susan has also been providing legal advice to fellow prisoners and hopes to get a degree in law from the same university.

“It’s hard to beat a person who NEVER gives up” Babe Ruth.

NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP! Susan Kigula didn’t.

Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor
Lovelyn Okafor is a Journalist/Writer, Poet, Lawyer and God-Lover. She enjoys a good read and sees everyday as an opportunity to live and enjoy her calling whilst working towards perfecting it. She believes that someday soon, Africa will reach her full potential as the light-bearer of the world. You can find her on Twitter: @lovelyn_o

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