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Tanzania’s Criminal Justice System Fails People With Intellectual Disability

Its treatment of Limi, a mother with proven intellectual disability who has been in jail for over a decade after being accused of killing her child, reflects a disturbing disregard for humanity and the right to a fair trial.

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In Criminal Session Case No. 130 of 2012, the High Court sitting at Tabora heard the appellant, Limi Limbu, who was arraigned for the offence of murder. 

The information laid before the trial court alleged that, on August 25, 2011, at Mwamabu village, Bariadi district, in the Shinyanga region, the appellant committed the act of murder against one Tabu, the daughter of Maimathi, who was aged one year and eight months at the time.

On August 26, 2011, authorities arrested Limi. The police purported to record a caution statement that day, but Limi did not sign anything. At trial, she testified that she did not know what her caution or extrajudicial statements contained. Limi’s limited intellectual capacity became apparent throughout her trial. She could not remember basic facts about her own life.

Limi was unsure how to spell her name; she did not know how old she was, nor could she remember her grandmother’s name or the village where she lived. She did not know the ages of her children. 

She did not know the last name of her husband, the name of the man who fathered her first child, or the name of the man who killed her daughter. The High Court convicted Limi of murder and sentenced her to death on August 28, 2015, four years after her initial arrest.

Sexual violence survivor

Limi, a young woman with a severe intellectual disability and a survivor of brutal and repeated sexual and domestic violence, grew up working on her parents’ farm in the Shinyanga region. 

READ MORE: LHRC Calls for Reforms in Tanzania’s Criminal Justice System

She received limited formal education and dropped out of school as a Standard Five student in her fifth year. To this day, she has limited functioning; Limi cannot name the days of the week or even estimate her age.

From the time she was born, Limi experienced violence. Her father beat her mother, who eventually fled her marriage with her children in tow. As a girl, men in Limi’s village would drag her out of her family home to rape her. 

She was unable to resist because of her intellectual disability. Multiple family members also beat her. Other villagers shunned Limi because of her disability. Her only friends were young children, with whom she continued to play as she got older.

Limi became pregnant by rape, and she was just fifteen when she gave birth to her first child, Thereza. At the time, Limi did not understand that sexual activity could lead to pregnancy. Furthermore, she did not know that she was pregnant until her mother explained it to her.

When Limi was approximately eighteen, she married an older man named Maimazi. Limi gave birth to two children, Kuchuma and Tabu, because of this marriage. Maimazi frequently beat Limi, and the memory of Maimazi’s violence has stayed with her.

Limi’s father eventually helped her flee Maimazi. Her two older children stayed with Maimazi. When she fled, Limi took her approximately one-year-old daughter, Tabu.

Limi eventually moved to a different village to live with her uncle Sayi, where she was approached by a man named Kijiji Nyamagu. Kijiji was known to be an alcoholic and was avoided by other villagers because of his bad reputation. 

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Kijiji told Limi he would marry her, but he said he would never accept Tabu because a different man fathered Tabu. Kijiji then killed Tabu. Kijiji had already run away by the time Limi brought the authorities to her daughter’s body.

Incarcerated without conviction

With the assistance of counsel, Limi appealed the High Court’s decision. In February 2018, after she had spent nearly three years on death row, the Court of Appeal nullified Limi’s conviction because the High Court failed to keep a written record of the “summing up” it gave to Limi’s assessors as required by Section 298(1) of the Criminal Procedure Act. 

She was moved from death row as a result. Still, she remained incarcerated without a conviction for another four and a half years while awaiting the scheduling of a second trial.

The High Court conducted a new trial on murder charges in September 2022. Counsel secured an affidavit by a clinical psychologist who evaluated Limi and concluded she had a severe intellectual disability and was the developmental age of a ten-year-old child or younger.

However, the court did not allow any evidence of Limi’s intellectual disability to be introduced, and Limi was convicted of murder and sentenced to death for the second time on September 23, 2022. 

With the assistance of counsel, Limi is again appealing the High Court’s decision, but no date has been set for the appeal. As of this writing, Limi has been incarcerated for more than eleven years, a significant portion of which has been in contemplation of the death penalty.

Limi’s story is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of those with intellectual disabilities, especially in the face of systemic violence and injustice. From a young age, Limi was subjected to unspeakable acts of cruelty, from being raped to enduring domestic abuse. Her life, marred by tragedy and exploitation, is a testament to the abject failure of those around her to protect and support her.

Disregard for humanity

The judicial system’s treatment of Limi reflects a disturbing disregard for her humanity and right to a fair trial. Despite clear evidence of her intellectual disability, the courts refused to consider this crucial aspect of her identity, denying her the opportunity to present a complete picture of her circumstances. 

READ MORE: Right Groups Demand Inquest Into Death of Muslim Cleric Who Died in Remand Prison Facing Terrorism Charges

This failure to acknowledge Limi’s disability not only undermines the principles of justice but also perpetuates the cycle of marginalisation and discrimination that she has endured her entire life.

Moreover, the fact that Limi has spent over a decade behind bars, much of it on death row, is a travesty of justice. Despite the nullification of her initial conviction due to procedural errors, she has been subjected to the agony of awaiting a retrial for years on end. 

This prolonged incarceration, coupled with the looming spectre of the death penalty, is a cruel punishment that serves no purpose other than to compound Limi’s suffering.

Limi’s case demands reevaluating our approach to justice and the treatment of vulnerable individuals within the legal system. It highlights the urgent need for reforms prioritising empathy, understanding, and rehabilitation over punitive measures. 

Justice for Limi does not entail simply punishing her for a crime but addressing the root causes of her circumstances and providing her with the support and assistance she desperately needs.

In the end, Limi’s story is not just about the failings of the legal system but a reflection of our collective failure as a society to protect the most vulnerable among us. It is a call to action to confront the systemic injustices and prejudices that perpetuate cycles of violence and oppression and to strive for a more compassionate and equitable world for all. 

Anna Henga is the Executive Director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC). She can be reached at or on X as @HengaAnna. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at

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One Response

  1. An interesting story but full of holes. The way it is told for example makes it difficult to ascertain how much of it is from case testimony and how much is not.
    The section referring to “Kijiji” is way too brief and inconclusive, almost like it was squeezed in as a “By-the-way-did-you-know?” appendix. That’s particularly questionable since according to this narration he would appear to be the key to the whole case. Did the court hear this testimony, and if so, what did it do about it?

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