In Uganda and many postcolonial African countries, women’s political leadership has come a long way. At Independence while the continent celebrated the great milestones from Ghana to Kenya, Uganda to Malawi, women were quietly bracing themselves for the second independence- the struggle for a woman’s space in political life of postcolonial Africa.
Most independence struggles always highlighted men at the forefront for long at the expense of women’s contributions. Women’s achievements were not as revered as those of the men who led militaristic struggles.
Many decades later, Africa now has two female heads of state and many other women occupy key decision-making positions. Even with these achievements, many analysts believe the women’s involvement in post-colonial state governance has been painfully slow.
This week, Isis-WICCE organized a high level meeting of women from African countries discussing women’s political leadership on the continent.
The women leaders included ministers, Members of Parliament and academicians from South Sudan, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Uganda.
Speaker after speaker these women leaders raised the glaring challenges faced by women in political leadership and high on the list was militarism and the sexualized nature of political spaces in their countries.
In past Uganda has had a female vice president and currently has the first ever-female speaker Ms Rebecca Kadaga presiding over parliament. Many may be quick to highlight this as a great success but the fact that it came 50 years after independence speaks volumes of the struggle of women to make it in the political arena.
The letter detailed a plot to frame senior government officials in subversive activities. The letter also spoke of plans to kill key figures allegedly opposed to what has come to be known as the ‘Muhoozi project’. The project of trying to groom Museveni’s son Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba for the presidency (We don’t know when- the father hasn’t shown signs of retiring in 2016).
If you have been following Ugandan news in the last few days you couldn’t have missed that photo of President Yoweri Museveni handing over $100,000 to a loose group of youth from Busoga. Twitter and Facebook are still having discussions on this #sackofmoney.
The president was apparently fulfilling a promise he made during the 2011 elections. The president proudly announced his donation sending the crowd of ordinary Ugandans in a village into celebration. Museveni in the past has handed over brown envelopes to sustain his patronage and stay in power.
This week Ugandans saw and participated in different dramas that can only give you a glimpse into a nation in a moral dilemma.
Businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba was arrested at Entebbe International Airport as he attempted to leave the country after a four nights of a cat-and-mouse chase and several police summonses. For a week our intelligence couldn’t ascertain whether Basajjabalaba was in the country as his lawyer and also my shameless Member of Parliament Michael Mawanda lied to courts!
Basajjabalaba is wanted over fraud in connection with alleged forgery of a consent document, which led to payment of Shs142 billion by the government. This arose from the reversing of the then Kampala City Council decision to sell Nakasero, Shauriyako, and St. Balikuddembe (Owino) markets, and the Constitution Square to Mr Basajjabalaba.
Shortly before Christmas, a young woman was killed in our republic. At only 24, she had already made a small mark on our democracy that many have struggled to make over 3 decades rule. Cerinah Nebanda was a parliamentarian. Her death was sudden, multi-organ failure. Rumours spread about who could have done this cruelty in a land where a fundamental change was delivered 27 years ago ensuring all Ugandans could finally sleep peacefully in their homes- something that was unheard of since our independence.
This death came as a shock in a year when we commemorated our 50 years of independence in a way that looked more like 27 years of independence. Many people scrambled for the microphone, some to with outrage, sorrow, fear and others to defend themselves. To wash themselves clean- even if it meant using words mixed with anger and threats. Some Ugandans left their thoughts online.
You couldn’t escape from the name Nebanda. In my small village in Kibona, Bushenyi, an older man came to my home to ask me about what could have killed this young woman – with a kind of worrisome voice I rarely get from him. In a country where every night a district is born, many local people are mostly pre-occupied with local politics. But name of Nebanda who hails from a village, more than 500kms from my own, found its way to my Christmas day. A government autopsy report told the citizens that the young woman’s death had to with narcotic drugs and everybody else trying to get a second expert opinion was apprehended.
In December 2010 I traveled to Cancun, Mexico to cover the UN climate change talks – the COP16. It was there that I met and had a brief chat with the late Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi. Zenawi had been selected by African heads of state to represent collective views of African states at the talks.
It wasn’t easy to access him, just like any other leader at such a big world summit but I got a moment after he appeared on a panel talking about economy and climate change. He was as sharp as a tack cutting through all figures of what price the continent’s people were paying as a result of global warming and other climatic effects and what it would take for us to adapt to the changing patterns.
After the session I had a brief interview with him before he was led to some stall he had to visit. On the way back I had one more question for him and I did make a successful attempt.
I was amazed by his interest in details. I had told him am Ugandan but he wanted to know where exactly in Uganda I was from. When I mentioned west, he still wanted to know which town I was from. Then I went on to say near Mbarara and on his insistance I finally said Bushenyi. I had yet to visit Ethiopia where I have great friends who are like family to me in many ways.
When I finally visited the country later that month, I was told about the suppression of the people. I was shocked to know that even a Facebook status complaining about food prices and what government was or wasn’t doing could put one in trouble. I found it a great country with great history whose peoples were yet to see freedom.
Ethiopia appears in the last deck of countries when it comes to civil liberties, press freedom and Meles presided over a government that did little listening to dissenting voices.
On Sunday 22nd, Uganda watched in horror as a city enforcement officer , who later turned out to be a police officer, brandished his AK47 shooting indiscriminately at a group of unarmed civilians who had gathered at a demolition site carried out by Kampala city authorities. NTV Uganda brought the news in and people I was with said you could have mistken the scene to be Mogadishu. In this video, at 5:30 you see the animal that Uganda’s security forces have become. A man using a stick, a gun and a pistol to violate citizens.
On Friday 16, I was honored to attend a public lecture in a small library in Amsterdam where Abdel Bari Atwan, named by Middle East Magazine as one of the 50 most ‘most influential Arabs’, was speaking on the eve of the one year commemoration of the Arab Spring.
Atwan is editor-in chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi. He discussed the Arab spring and the future of the Middle East and North Africa beyond the ‘revolution’.
Some of my favorite quotes from the meeting:
“We Arab people were suffered double humiliation. That brought about by imperialism and another by own very own corrupt government.”
I found this quote very meaningful for not only the Arab world but also of Africa. All year long many people have been watching closely to see if there will be a sort of African spring. And every time some friends asked me when is the African Spring, I replied, we won’t have a spring, ours will be the African Harmattan! None the less there has been inspiration from the north of the continent spreading south. In many ways our realities are close to those of the MENA countries and we can only wait and see what changes and how long will they take on the African continent. Just like Atwan said “whoever knew or predicted that the Arab people would depose four dictators in just one year?”
I have very passionate Yemeni friends and Atwan said he respected the struggle of Yemen, knowing how many guns are in the hands of so many people that the country has not moved to a civil war. He applauded the choice of non-violence of the people of Yemen even when they had access to arms. And he told us a famous saying about the difficulty of ruling Yemen with its tribes system that i loved.
“Riding a lion is smoother than ruling Yemen”
Then came Atwan’s passionate talk on the events in Libya and how he disagreed with the NATO military intervention. Even though he was glad that the killing of Muammar Gaddafi has been called a crime against humanity, he decried the west for allowing impunity of rebels turned government of NTC.
I was interested in the fact the the ICC had backed off the Libya case and of recent the prosecutor had indicated that Libya’s new rulers were capable of prosecuting Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. Personally i found this ridiculous, how could the killers of his father offer him a fair trial in a country has no justice system. Having spent the earlier week hearing people decry the ICC being an African court, here i was with a situation which clearly an outside court could have done better.
When I asked Atwan about this he went beyond the case of Saif to talk about his recent trip to Tripoli and how many African countries and the were silent about crimes being committed about African people, both Libyans and immigrants.
There are at least 7000 black people in Libya being tortured and living in the most inhumane conditions all these atrocities being presided over by the new regime.Yet we see no human rights papers about them. Nothing from western governments who supposed intervened on human rights grounds. I will not be surprised if we soon hear that Saif has been executed. The West is keeping a blind eye to crimes committed by rebels because of they always put their interests above anything else.
And that was from a Palestinian man who lived in as a refugee in Jordan, managed to study in Egypt and later run one of the most respected Arab media outlets from London since 1989.
Atwan said for the future of the entire region, one must not put their eyes off Egypt. He said is Egypt becomes more islamist, chances are that most of the other countries will follow suit.
Tonight at midnight, South Sudan will be covered with jubilations, from Juba to Warab, Torit to Yambio, Wau to Raga and all other corners of the new republic. Several dignitaries from around the world will be there to give their blessing to the divorce and for the new nation on Saturday.
And the dream of many like John Garang de Mabior the great South Sudanese fallen leader will come to pass. He once said:
“It is not my intention to change the Comprehensive Peace Agreement but I must say South Sudan needs its own independence. I see it coming even when am not the leader of SPLA/M.”
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrong an opinion and called it Standing by South Sudan and in there, he captured the countries challenges but most important the opportunities.
”…South Sudan has remarkable potential. With substantial oil reserves, huge amounts of arable land and the Nile flowing through its center, South Sudan could grow into a prosperous, self-sustaining nation capable of providing security, services and employment for its population.”
It’s this optimism that I carry a few hours from the independence declaration. I was chatting with a South Sudanese friend and he said to me to understand the feeling I would need to talk to people who lived in places like Kenya where colonial struggles claimed many and lived long to see the Union Jack come down.
South Sudan has been born at time when Africa has made substantial steps in development unlike the 60s. With a population that is not even half that of my country Uganda, South Sudan will need its neighbours who are already a step ahead in all sectors and am optimistic they will be a good asset. Women in Sudan are more than 60 percent of the population, yet 80 percent of them are illiterate. Empowerment of women of South Sudan will be key to the country improving the gloomy development indicators faster. I remember I met one woman on one of the trips to Sudan who said they didn’t want to be like women of Eritrea “who fought but in the end they were pushed out of the system and told their place was only in the kitchen once independence was declared.”
In April I was in Juba working with grassroots women leaders. Juba is a melting pot. It’s where East, Central Africa meets the north and horn of Africa. It’s one of the most diverse African capitals I have visited. My Boda Boda rider was a young man about 20 years old. He was born in Torit, he lived in Masindi in western Uganda then Kenya before finally coming back to Sudan. He speaks about ten languages. Language is important for integration and most Sudanese have spent many years living in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. These experiences can be harnessed to bring about changes in the new republic. South Sudan can take advantage of the booming sectors like education in Uganda where graduates spend years with no job.
It can get professionals from regional capitals who are not being put to use by their countries. These young people can be good for South Sudan as it starts from scratch. The new rich country where production is almost none existent will put pressure on its neighbours for some time because it is a great market for almost everything from food to industrial products to human resource. This can make South Sudan prosperous some years down the road.
But the all this optimism can only mean much if South Sudan can tame its ethnic divisions, corruption and the culture of hero worship. I know dangers of this culture because I am Ugandan. Twenty years after people fought to take power, we are still told if you didn’t fight for the five years in the bush, you are probably useless and you shouldn’t demand for good governance and a your share of the national cake. So Sudan must keep those heroes and heroines accountable. All Sudanese paid the price in this liberation and the country’s ruling party must start embracing alternative views.
I remember at one of the meetings a woman told me that in South Sudan if you don’t support SPLM you are equated to Bashir’s spy or the enemy. This stifling of people’s right to choose a party and oppose policies the way they see fit must be abandoned. And then the tribalism! You don’t want to see another Kenya of tribal politics and high inequality in the new country.
SPLM government must ensure they work for the good of all South Sudanese and shouldn’t hold the country at ransom and its oil revenues. The optimism rests on whether Salva Kiir and his government can deliver that country that many desired and fought for and died for. A country where they could be free and be free indeed. When the midnight bells rings today, it will be a celebration of many thankful souls. Thankful that after all the loss and despair they went through they have lived to see this historic day. A day I pray will have even greater meaning when people of South Sudan look back some years from now.