In Summary
  • At age five she was already famous but now at 22, the beautiful actress will have to stay away from her glitzy life to cool her heels at a Dar es Salaam prison.
  • Lulu’s striking beauty has over the years been the metaphor for feminine perfection on social media and her acting skills earned her a place in the inner sanctum of the continent’s “celebrity villa.”

As she spends the first week of her two years in prison for the death of her boyfriend, it is perhaps safe to bet this is one script Tanzanian actress Elizabeth “Lulu” Michael, one of East Africa’s most recognisable faces on screen, would not have picked for a role-play.

Lulu’s striking beauty has over the years been the metaphor for feminine perfection on social media and her acting skills earned her a place in the inner sanctum of the continent’s “celebrity villa.”

No wonder Kenyan gospel musician Bahati (Kevin Kioko), now newly married, once publicly expressed his love for her — but was rebuffed —   and rapper Prezzo (Jackson Makini) was once romantically linked to the Tanzanian.

But it was the thousands of fans who proved their admiration in about 30 films and programmes she featured in.

With at least four awards to her name, she was also a brand ambassador for several products. 

Born in April 1995, Lulu’s achievements at such a young age mapped out a bright career for her.

For example, in August Africa Youth Awards named her among Africa’s 100 most influential young Africans alongside Liverpool FC striker Sadio Mane, Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, NTV presenter Larry Madowo among others.

But for the next two years, she will have to stay away from her glitzy life to cool her heels at Keko Prison, a maximum security facility in Dar es Salaam.

SENT TO JAIL

She was sent to jail on Monday after a judge found her guilty of unintentionally killing 28-year-old fellow actor and boyfriend Steven Kanumba in April 2012. Lulu was barely 17 years on the night the incident happened.

On that fateful night, there was an altercation at Kanumba’s house and after his death a post-mortem showed that he had sustained head injuries.

In court, Lulu said there was a scuffle but she denied causing Kanumba’s death.

“I admit that we had a quarrel on that night but I deny causing his death,” she said.

In the end, Judge Sam Rumanyika said the actress had mounted a poor defence.

“I was left with no choice but to convict the defendant,” he said in the judgment he read for over 50 minutes.

“The accused admitted that she was the last person to be with the deceased who was her boyfriend for four months,” said the judge. “That circumstantial evidence alone is not enough to make her guilty.”

The judge poked holes into Lulu’s defence that Kanumba was a drunkard and that it was possible for him to fall down and hurt himself.

“The accused was supposed to provide vivid details on what happened but she failed to do that. She said that the deceased chased her for some 27 metres, got hold of her and dragged her to the bedroom but failed to say whether during that chase the deceased ever fell in the process. What happened? We are left with only two people either the accused or the deceased,” the judge reasoned.

Lulu’s parents and lawyers consider the jail term too harsh while Kanumba’s side believes it is too lenient.

“I am not satisfied with the sentence because even if she killed without intention, a two-year sentence is like a year. Days and nights are counted separately. She did not kill a chicken; she killed a human being. Even if it wasn’t intended, still she killed,” Kanumba’s father told the Millard Ayo YouTube channel on Tuesday.

While explaining why he handed a two-year sentence, Judge Rumanyika raised questions about Lulu’s upbringing, an observation that will spark worldwide debate about raising people who become famous while young. Lulu’s rise to stardom started at the age of five.

“We could say that at the time the accused was 17 and therefore a child who was not aware of what she was doing. This case has different circumstances. The accused was a child but it is also confirmed that the deceased referred to her as his wife, a tag that she accepted,” said the judge.

He added: “She was a child who dared to do things against her parents’ wish. She was the kind of child who would leave her parents’ home to go out with friend in the late hours of the night. She goes to her lover, therefore this is not the same child who is meant to be protected by children’s law.”

The Tanzanian judge quipped that if a child of her age can behave like an adult, “there is a possibility that one day this court will be filled with adults involved in some childish thing asking for protection by children’s law”.

At the time of Monday’s ruling, Lulu and the late Kanumba’s mother were no longer on talking terms. The actress at one point felt she was being a bully.

FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Mr Kanumba had risen from humble beginnings to become the father figure of the nascent Tanzanian film industry which, despite a myriad of issues, had started earning global recognition.

After several stints with Nigerian actors such as Ramsey Noah in Devil’s Kingdom, there were reports that Kanumba the Great (as he called himself) was destined for movie assignments in Hollywood.

His death shocked many. The then president of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete put off a foreign tour to pay homage to Mr Kanumba while people flew all the way from Kisangani and Bunia in DR Congo to attend his funeral.

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