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"You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore."-Cesar Chavez

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Worrying war rhetoric ahead of Feb 18 Uganda vote

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Kale Kayihura addressing police officers via RedPepper Twitter

Uganda is set hold presidential and general elections on February 18. Eight candidates are vying for the seat but the campaign is more of a three-horse race between incumbent President Museveni, leading opposition figure and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate Kizza Besigye and former Prime minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. The last four elections conducted during President Yoweri Museveni’s 30 years in power have all been marred with irregularities and violent incidents.

Less than a month to the vote, an increasing climate of fear  hovers over the country. The Uganda Police has recruited about 11 million crime preventers whom critics say are more or less a standby government militia to be used in case things don’t go well for the regime. Besigye’s party FDC says it has 10 persons per village ready to guard their vote and he continues a message of defiance that is not fully explained. Amama Mbabazi at rallies has emphasized that his go-forward team is ready to defend the vote.

Human rights organisations have called for suspension of crime preventers to prevent election violence. And in response Inspector General of Police, Gen. Kale Kayihura is quoted in the media to have told critics to ‘go hang’ and warned that he will not ‘allow’ opposition to destabilize the country.

“We shall not hand over power to the opposition to destabilize the peace which we fought for.” Kayihura told crime preventers to get ready for war. “We are going to change you from having sticks to rifles. Get ready to defend this country in case of any attack.”

These words have since been denied by the police after a backlash. It is not the first time the police move to manipulate the situation instead of apologizing for such unfortunate events. By telling the world that all media present “misquoted” the IGP on this story, they are kind of telling Ugandans to look away as the partisan police chief continues to sound war drums. Newspapers have since then carried a police press release that denies these words.

Nonetheless, Ugandans have continued to voice their worries about what role an openly partisan police will play in the upcoming election.

“Elections are not war. They are supposed to be the free and fair expression of the will of the people in whom all power is vested by law, said Ugandan lawyer David Mpanga tweeted. “All talk of war, violence and refusing to honour the outcome of a free and fair election is not only unlawful it is primitive and backward.”

Others like Emmanuel Kitamirike via Twitter were quick to point out that crime preventers could be a ploy, a form of election rigging mechanism. There about 15 million Ugandan registered voters in the upcoming election.

Crime preventers translates into 73 % of eligible voters on the nominal roll. They will be no need for NRM to solicit votes”

 

Some wanted details from the police chief.

Sarah Bireete, a rights activist urged  Ugandans not to  give in to intimidation.

As the IGP changes crime preventers from sticks to riffles and sounds war drums, the people should not be intimidated.

Just as the police were peddling the well known excuses of being misquoted, , an audio -yet to draw ‘i have been misquoted’ response, by the Secretary General of the ruling party Justine Lumumba emerged warning people at a really that “State will kill your children.”

These words are adding fuel to an already tense atmosphere as we head into that last three weeks of the campaigns.

These threats come after a January 20 opinion poll by A new opinion poll by Research World International (RWI) put Museveni at 51 percent, Besigye at 32 percent and Mbabazi at 12 percent showing steady improvement for the opposition. In the same poll 56% of the 2685 did not think President Museveni can peacefully hand over power if defeated in an election.

The US has issued warning about the campaign violence and highlighted the disappearance of Amama Mbabazi’s head of security Christopher Aine. A few days ago the State Department issued a security alert for Uganda.

The US Department of State statement described Uganda’s electoral environment as “deteriorating” pointing to Uganda Police “using excessive force” and the continued disruption of opposition campaign rallies.

There have been violent incidents in areas like Ntungamo, Gulu, and Bukwo between police, opposition political parties and their supporters.

Earlier this month, a Human Rights Watch report highlighted the intimidation of the press to keep people uninformed. Journalists have been beaten, equipment broken by Police as they covered opposition politicians. President Museveni’s campaign team temporarily banned Nation TV (NTV) over the latter’s refusal to air drone images by NRM party.

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) revoked the license of Endigito FM and confiscated its broadcasting equipment on January 20, one day after the station aired an interview with opposition presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi.

UCC director Godfrey Mutabaazi initially told reporters that the station’s license was suspended because it owed 38 million Ugandan shillings ($11,000) in licensing fees. The station’s owner, Nulu Byamukama, said he had paid the outstanding fees in full following the suspension of the station’s license, according to reports and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Endigito FM, just like many privately owned radio stations broadcasting to rule communities face a lot of pressure from the regime not to host opposition candidates.

Meanwhile the first batch of the ballots are reported to have been delivered but the Electoral commission Chair Dr Badru Kiggundu couldn’t ascertain how many ballots had been delivered. The biometric voting system is here but we dont have trained personnel in place yet. Since this will be the first time the system is used in Uganda you would expect such training to have been conducted months ahead.

But amidst the rising election pressure, there are some initiatives by ugandans looking to maintain peace.

One of them is the Women’s Situation Room (WRS) aimed at “mitigating conflict, provide system for rapid and immediate response to reports of electoral violence and guard against violations of citizens particularly women’s human rights before, during and after elections.”

Initiated in Liberia in 2011 by a coalition of Liberian women and youths, the Women Situation Room (WRS) was in 2012 adopted by the African Union as a best practice for promoting peaceful elections in Africa.  Since its establishment the WSR has been duplicated in Senegal, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Malawi and most recently Nigeria.

Launched in Uganda last week, the WRS will have a Call Center to receive and record incidents reported from the field for intervention by the “team of African and Ugandan eminent women with experience in election monitoring and mediation.”

Yvette Chesson-Wureh, the coordinator from Angie Brooks International Centre in Liberia is already in Uganda working with Ugandan women to ensure any incidents are reported and brought to the attention of authorities.

“We have the ability to create and the ability to destroy. We can either cause violence or uphold peace,” said Wureh. “We are here to ensure any incidents are reported and authorities handle them properly to avoid a likelihood of violence.”

Also Ugandan women activists under Uganda Women’s Network are calling for peace and tolerance in the face rhetoric that has increased tensions.

“We call upon government to urge its institutions such as the police to ensure utmost impartiality by working strictly within the law,” said a statement from UWONET . The activists urged youth to Ugandans to desist from being lured into militias/vigilante groups by politicians but to concentrate in exercising their rights to participate in electoral process.”

 

As Uganda enters the last campaign stretch, the stakes are higher each day and if the rhetoric by those in charge of security don’t cease, this is a country walking on eggshells.

“No, Yes”, Ugandan artist piece evokes conversation on sex, consent and women’s voices

Earlier this month,a few days after returning to Kampala I walked into the Kampala Art Auction as Serena Hotel. At first, I was excited to see a piece that captured the obsession with ourselves- the ever increasing narcissism of our time – the Selfie. Minutes into the auction one piece captured the audience evoking laughter and comments about this piece by Violet Lynus Nantume,a Ugandan Artist.

The piece was bought at UShs 4 million. Violet explained her piece titled “No, Yes” a flaccid penis pointed at an ear is about sexual relations between men and women in Uganda and Africa today. She said she wants to contribute to the conversation where a woman’s no is ‘taken’ for a yes. Sex, consent and women’s voice today! Great piece, important conversation that must continue. Violet says she was inspired by writings of Dr Sylvia Tamale a Ugandan academic and human rights advocate.
LISTEN:

Ugandan women in politics fight on amidst militarism

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.

Speaker of Parliament Uganda Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga. Photo by Edward Echwalu. Check out his Photo blog http://echwaluphotography.wordpress.com/
Speaker of Parliament Uganda Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga. Photo by Edward Echwalu. Check out his Photo blog http://echwaluphotography.wordpress.com/

Continue reading “Ugandan women in politics fight on amidst militarism”

Pornography according to Lokodo (Part I)

I have just read the anti Pornography Bill that is currently before our parliament. This Bill was brought soon after the MPs stifled debate on the Marriage and Divorce Bill, which millions of Ugandans need urgently in place.

Lokodo’s anti-pornography bill however doesn’t just threaten women; it is attacking press freedom too. The media is portraying the Bill as a ‘mini-skirt’ law but if passed it has far reaching consequences on press freedom, freedom of expression, Internet freedom, right to privacy and culture.

According to the Bill

Pornography means any cultural practice, radio or television programme, writing, publication, advertisement, broadcast, upload on internet, display, entertainment, music, dance, picture, audio, video recording, show, exhibition or any combination of the preceeding that depicts (for now I concentrate on the clause) “Sexual parts of a person such as breasts, thighs, buttocks and genetalia.”

Continue reading “Pornography according to Lokodo (Part I)”

When Museveni, ‘fools & idiots’ are on same page you ought to question!

Were they just an ignorant lot or was there a deliberate plan to stifle the debate and probable passing of Marriage and Divorce Bill by Members of Parliament?
Why were they asked to carry out sham communities when consultations had already been done?
What about the promised 5 million shillings for the consultations?
Why did MPs persistently spread misinformation and lies about the Bill?
Why would almost all women members of parliament agree with the Bill?
Why did Museveni call them radical feminists when we all know that our female MPs are far away from the word feminist?

Continue reading “When Museveni, ‘fools & idiots’ are on same page you ought to question!”

Women and Solar

Last week i was travelling through Eastern Uganda, Tororo and Mbale in particular. In Tororo i found three women supported by MIFUMI who assemble solar lamps.

Rhoda Oketcho, Auma Odio and Magaret Opio took a six months course in Solar engineering in India in 2008. They are rural women without much education but with skills from India they are able to assemble lamps and make a decent living. I visited their small workshop and they said they earn atleast 60,000 shillings (USD 23 ) per month. In most of rural Uganda families use kerosene lamps for lighting, some homes cannot afford it and it pauses health risks.

Looking at these women’s work reminded me of the death of technical institutes in this country on the government’s watch. It is difficult to find places that impart skills for Ugandans who cannot afford a university education. Even for university graduates, many employers are struggling to find skilled ones.

Below are the three women at work.

Magaret Opio (55 yrs)
Magaret Opio (55 yrs)

Continue reading “Women and Solar”

Keeping girls in school: Ugandan start-up recognized

Nargis Shirazi, a young public health specialist in Uganda was working with the UN millennium villages project when she met a 13-year-old Agasha* in Isingiro, a southwestern district. Shirazi who had come to participate in the role model day asked Agasha what she needed in order to realize her dreams.

Agasha had been great netball player and had been going to school until two years before. The 13-year-old girl told Nargis that for her getting sanitary pads would mean getting her dream back. She went on to narrate a story of how she had been a great player at school.  During one of the competitions, Agasha was in her menses but she went ahead to play. In the middle of the game she had to go off the court.

In rural Uganda, girls have to improvise, use old cloth or underwear during their period. It was during that game that the cloth she was using dropped right on the court. She was embarrassed as other students cheered and laughed at her. Agasha stopped playing netball and didn’t go back to school for next 2 years.

“When she recounted this story to me and said getting sanitary pads meant she can be confident again and get her dream back, that was an inspiring moment for me, says Shirazi.

Shirazi that day phoned Dr. William Lubega, a colleague to ask what they could do.

In August last year, Shirazi together with Dr William Lubega and Amos Zikusooka, a consultant brought Woman to Woman Foundation into force.  WWF enables girls in rural areas to stay in school by ensuring they have access to reusable sanitary pads and panties.

“Part of our model is to involve the community in these re-useable sanitary pads project so we can create employment for women in the community at the same time as they play a role in keeping their girls in school,” said Dr. Lubega.

Nargis Shirazi
Nargis Shirazi

Woman to Woman Foundation (WWF) was announced among the ten most inspiring start-up enterprises working for the well-being of women and girls by Women Deliver, a global advocacy organization to mark International Women’s day last week.

More than 13,500 votes were cast online to select these winners. Each finalist will receive a scholarship to the Women Deliver 2013 conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (May 28-30, 2013), where they will compete in the first-ever Women Deliver Social Enterprise Challenge.

WWF also relies on volunteers to do their work.  They run 3 projects, which  rely on partnerships that the young professionals who co-found it have cultivated.

The Promise:

The sanitary pads and panties are distributed under what they call The Promise, a program aimed at addressing sexual and reproductive health issues and rights. Currently WWF is working with 200 girls in Isingiro district at Nyakamuri School.

“We called it the promise project because we believe that the way we can bring about change is to empower girls. We cannot do it only by giving them pads, we also back that up with education in sexual and reproductive health rights,” Shirazi. The have so far partnered with AfriPads to offer free sanitary pads and underwear to girls.

Dr. William Lubega
Dr. William Lubega

Any project to keep girls in schools in Uganda is very important, looking at the current school drop out statistics.

Over one million pupils who enrolled for Primary One under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 2006 did not reach Primary Seven indicating a 71% dropout rate.  In East Africa, Uganda has the lowest proportion of children staying in school up to P7, according to a 2010 report by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). In Kenya, the completion rate is 84%, Tanzania 81% and Rwanda 74%.

When it comes to girls dropping out of school the rate is higher than that of boys. And what may appear as simple needs like sanitary pads can keep a Ugandan girl out of schools on average three weeks out of three months term.

Although the education ministry says the net enrollment for girls at primary level increased from 82.3% in 2000 to 97.2%, keeping these girls in school is a challenge mostly because of cultural attitudes towards girl child education, poverty and teen pregnancies.

WWF founders are moving to use social media to engage and also expand their reach as more young Ugandans are joining social media channels. Also through social media they have got partners. For instance a top fashion designer in Uganda learnt about the foundation through Facebook and offered to hold the Kampala Fashion for Compassion show due in May. Part of the proceeds will be for community benefit and delivering more sanitary pads to schools.

“We don’t just supply pads, we engage mothers to make sure they are helping girls make the right choices as far as sexual and reproductive health is concerned.”

Nargis was born and raised in Mombasa, Kenya and she’s a Ugandan of Iranian origin. She has a degree in community psychology and masters degree in public health.  Dr. Lubega is an mHealth specialist contractor with a keen interest in the intersection of Public HealthCare, Information Technology and Economics

WWF also uses bracelets with three colors to keep the message alive. Yellow represents ABC (abstinence, Be faithful, Condom use), a model that Uganda used to bring down HIV/AIDS rate. WWF bracelet has lime green, which signifies staying in school and Orange for a brighter future.

The sanitary pads project is not limited to schools. In past WFF also worked with Xfoundation to bring sanitary pads to women in prisons, another neglected group.

“In Uganda when one is convicted it is like losing your humanity, there are no good sanitary conditions in prisons and for women this is dire.” Said Lubega, “so we go to the prisons to distribute re-useable pads”

Other projects being run by WWF are Creative Arts Targeting Community Health where they are using plays and participatory photography to share messages on sexual and reproductive health. The arts project is supported by International Health Sciences University.

Later this year in June, WWF will have a play called The Twist at the National Theatre, which Shirazi wrote to put some comedy on reproductive health issues.

The founders of WWF so far see resources as their big constraint. They started with money out of their pockets but as young professional, they cannot sustain funding the activities by themselves.

“We are young people with no money, we are just young people with great ideas to help communities,” says Shirazi, “We need to invest in young peoples’ ideas because they have the zeal and the power to change not only themselves but also communities. An idea with out backup cannot easily take off.”

In the next one year WWF founders hope to expand to 8 districts and as a start-up enterprises there’s still so much room for expansion to keep girls in school.

#I6Days: No justice as Uganda female journalist commits suicide after gangrape

It is that time of the year when we dedicate 16 days to remind the world of the endless need to eliminate violence against women.
November 25 is the International Day for the elimination of violence against women. In Uganda various organisations have done a good job using different media to pass the message that ought to be the everyday message to the population.

Tweetups, SMS campaigns, radio talkshows are all on to get Ugandans to understand that violence against a woman is violence against humanity too! That you can judge a society by the way it treats its women.

A week before November 25th, I read a thread on Facebook group that I am part of. It was about a female journalist from Bukedde who had died during childbirth.

We didn’t discuss much. It was just condolence messages although I felt this was time for us to reflect how close issues we cover are to our own lives. In Uganda everyday 16 mothers die due to childbirth. This is due to complications that could be prevented. In many ways maternal health is a social justice issue.

Just as this news was sinking in, another disturbing post came up. A female journalist had committed suicide. Moreen Ndagire, whom I didn’t know personally, was a Sub-editor at a Red Pepper, a leading tabloid in Uganda. At the age of 24, she had achieved quite a lot that not many youth can do in this country with a high unemployment rate.

Moreen Ndagire at her graduation in last year. Photo from Observer.

Continue reading “#I6Days: No justice as Uganda female journalist commits suicide after gangrape”

Uganda women protest topless against Police public groping of female politician

On Friday, Ugandans witnessed another episode of police brutality. It wasn’t just the brutality we are used to seeing.  In this video ran by NTVUganda  a police officer was, publicly before the cameras, groping an opposition politician Ingrid Turinawe.

Ingrid has been at the forefront of various pressure groups in Uganda for the last 5 years. She was one of the leaders of the Activists for Change (A4C), a pressure group that led the famous Walk to Work protests that took place in many parts of Uganda for the greater part of 2011 as the Arab spring was going on.

The group has been banned because in our country where we still use very colonial laws to the advantage of a dictatorial regime, the attorney general has powers to declare a group illegal even without evidence of  the need to ban them. This law threatens even a blogger or writers who mention A4C as government could claim that they are  promoting an illegal group  with intention to ‘incite violence’. Already two journalists have been summoned by the police over an interview had with the head of the group. Human rights groups have warned on the dangers of the government-increased crackdown on freedom of speech, expression and assembly in Uganda.

Once the group A4C was banned, some of its leaders rebranded it into For God and my Country (4GC), taking after the country motto. It was after the launch of the new group that Uganda police brutality came back to our living rooms.

This time a male police offer publically groping Ingrid as another pulls her leg out of the car. The police officer didn’t grope her once, he did it repeatedly and in the video we hear Ingrid asking why the police officer was doing that. One other police officer warns his colleague but does nothing to stop this.

Continue reading “Uganda women protest topless against Police public groping of female politician”

What would you do?

“What would you do if instead of me from the moment you were born, every day they told you that you are less than another person, that you deserve less, that you don’t know enough to talk, that you have half the brains of another human? What would you do if you had to watch what you say, wear, do every moment of your life out of fear that someone might call you a name and the whole world might see you as “bad” so you could never be comfortable in who you are? What would you do if you were banned from going to school or harassed brutally on the way to school every day?  You would not be as strong as me. You would give up. But I won’t give up. I will keep fighting no matter what the society hands me.” -Meetra Alikozay, a member of Young Women for Change, a rights based group in Kabul run by young Afghan women.

Through their work i have learnt about issues affecting women in Afghanistan. I hope to one day watch This is my City too.

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