Rosebell's Blog

"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



From Gambia to the dictator!

This song by Gambian artists made it online mid December 2012 . It’s worth listening to and admiring the work on African artists who produce for us music to face the current realities!

Happy first friday of 2013!

Ethiopia without Zenawi; Will it be freer?

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.

Continue reading “Ethiopia without Zenawi; Will it be freer?”

Two historic stories of Africa in 2011

As the year 2011 closed, December 7 marked a historic day in international justice. The first former head of state Luarent Gbagbo appeared before the International Criminal Criminal for crimes allegedly committed during the Dec 2010-April 2011 post election violence in his country Cote d’ivoire. Gbagbo had take over and retain power by force and trickery. Over 3000 people died in Cote d’Iviore.

He faces four charges of crimes against humanity, including murder and rape. Throughout the conflict I had kept in close touch with friends in the country and their distress was beyond what I could imagine. Everyday Africa was treated to the drama of two people claiming to have won an election. Many thought Ivory Coast could head in the direction of Kenya and Zimbabwe, where compromise had to be reached because Africa’s old men didn’t wish to leave.

Continue reading “Two historic stories of Africa in 2011”

Meeting one of the ‘most influential Arabs’.

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 in Amsterdam on Dec 16. Rosebell's photo

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.


Hunger; the ultimate failure by East African governments

The main focus has been on the humanitarian needs for the worst affected. The UN estimates that and extra $1.2billion is required to meet immediate needs and of this so far less than $300 million has been provided.

Yet the discussion cannot just be about meeting the needs of today. This crisis was predicted, governments and international community had enough time to respond and had they responded we would not be seing images of children with bare ribs arriving in Dadaab.   I have seen statements slamming international community for its slow response to the crisis but I have not seen many questions put these African governments expect for Kenya over opening a new camp for Somali refugees.

Read more of a blog i wrote for Channel16 published earlier this week.

No Political War

It’s been great two weeks.I made a one week stopover in Brussels to catch the Couleur Cafe, an annual music festival that brings out the best of music from the world outside Europe. My inspiration was to watch the Ivorian Reggae legend Tiken Jah Fakoly perform. He’s such an activist who has been unable to live in his home country. He spends most of his time in Mali. I wanted to hear him sing tracks off his 2010 album, African revolution. The album  emphasises the need for a more African education and understanding of the problems of the continent by those that live on the land.

The album couldn’t have come at a better time when in many countries in Africa youth are trying to push for political and economic changes.  There’s another  good one, Political War, which came out right before his country descended into violence late last year and the greater part of this year. Talks about wars and devastation in Liberia, Nigeria and other countries. Coming from Uganda where we are  holding our breath hoping President Museveni will retire after his three decades rule, this album makes so much sense, we want no political war!

Some other songs talks at increasingly irrelevance of some African leaders to their citizens. I captured the great stage in Brussels.

Tiken performing at Couleur Cafe Saturday June 25 2011

One man protest over walk to work killings in Uganda

It’s one of my last days in Washington DC before i head home. I took a walk with friends by the White House today. From a distance I could see the flag waving. It had black, yellow red. Few flags can be confused with the Ugandan flag, i took a few steps and i saw one man holding out a placard. As i walked closer to him, one image caught my eye. The image of Brenda Nalwendo, the photo that send chills down the spines of even those i knew to love President Museveni’s regime.  It was in April she was shot right in her belly as she tried to cross the streets as the police and military fired on protesters. She was pregnant and by the hand of God she survived and her baby was unharmed. I later visited her in hospital and haven’t heard from her much. But right here in DC i saw her picture and also the picture of parents of a 2 year old Juliana Nalwanga who was killed in Masaka. About 10 people died in the protests.

Bukenya at the White House holds out a placard with images of those who died in the protests in Uganda in April.

This week civil society organisations called for an independent inquiry into the April killings. I am not optimistic this will happen as we have seen many inquiries in Uganda tend to be a waste. Charles Bukenya was the man holding the placard with these images. He’ on hunger strike a colleague tells me. Its part of the vigil that former presidential candidate and opposition figure  Nortbert Mao has called for,according to Bukenya. Bukenya is a Uganda Young Democrats (USA) head. He says he will not end the strike until President Obama talks to him or about the human rights violations by the current regime. He says its time U.S stopped being blind to the ‘impunity’ that rules in Uganda.

Charles Bukenya head of Uganda Young Democrats in USA on a one man demonstration + hunger strike over April walk to work killings. Rosebell's photo

DRC second worst place to be a woman in the world; what’s in a label?

DRC, orthographic projection.
Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, the Trust Law which is part of the Thomas Reuters Foundation published a Danger Poll. The results were about the five top spots where it’s dangerous to be a woman in the world. Top was Afghanistan and second was Democratic Republic of Congo. The indicators were six; non-sexual violence, sexual violence, health threats, cultural or religious factors, lack of access to resources and trafficking.

When I first saw this on twitter via @VOACongoStory.  I replied: And these narratives stick!! #DRC #CongoRT @VOACongoStory poll by Trust Law .

DRC was put in that spotlight because of the war time rapes that are well documented in the Eastern DRC where different militias control different parts. The survey identified Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Pakistan, India and Somalia as the top most dangerous countries for women in 2011.

We journalists love to jump up to the terms coined to describe a place or a people-sometimes without questioning. Our challenge is always, how do you describe a place or people to another person who has never been there and make them feel as if they are there? Sometimes the terms coined might well fit the situation but as an African, I have seen these terms thrown around by those outside the continent who are so ready to speak for us in their endeavor to get more funding to ‘save’ Africans. What they never think of is these terms stick even when these situations are gone. Many have heard of the war in Congo and mass rapes from different UN resolutions and regional agreements. Our very own army – Uganda committed horrendous crimes in DRC between 1998-2003 and so did four other African armies. The challenge we are faced with in the Congo is not so much in coining terms to describe a whole country as worst place to be a woman but rather finding real interventions to end the lawlessness in DRC that allows impunity to do anything from murder to rape.

So I had a discussion with my former editor at Inter Press Service Africa Terna Gyuse on why the world is fixed on coining terms instead of embarking on real interventions. I am also aware that these narratives put on an entire country last way longer. Before we know it everyman from Congo will be looked at a rapist or even asked questions on immigration forms like, did you rape anyone during the war? How do you help a country without creating negative connotations to a whole group of people? This was Terna’s response:

Part of the problem is there are too many people paid to sit in offices and sell campaigns or places they’ve never lived. They’re always busy fighting on someone else’s behalf, they are making so much noise they have to add extra something or the other to everything just to be heard. We all do it I suppose. They are sitting there, well paid and with their fingers on the triggers of access to everything, always adopting people they like to feel are helpless.

But (sadly) we let them do it. Always lining up to be “climate witnesses” for this group or whatever the flavour is. We go to too many meetings not to say anything  but to ask for help. We Africans are so often ready to be whatever they say we are. On conflicts Oh everyone knows those rural African men are sex-mad patriarchal rapist fiends, hopped up on drugs and tradition and the power of the gun. When we get good access, we’re still busy explaining ourselves to outsiders whether its access to the media, to powerful people elsewhere or to wealthy people elsewhere.

Seeing this term coined, ‘worst place to be a woman’, I thought this can easily be passed onto Uganda, Zimbabwe, Chad, South Sudan or even Central African Republic. The term made me wonder, I thought of Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist who founded a hospital in the eastern Congolese city of Bukavu to provide free care to the victims of sexual violence. The man has worked tirelessly to provide for women who would have lost lives and provided support for their psychological recovery. Having seen firsthand the worst impact of rapes of women of his beloved country, I wondered if Dr. Mukwege would ever evoke the term ‘worst place to be a woman’ as description of  his country.

I can only hope that all the killing, looting and raping, which includes men as victims too, will be presented as part of a complex story of DRC that has got many facets. That the world shdn’t just be satisfied in having the largest UN Peacekeeping mission in Congo with little results to show. We should question whether the agreements on the exportation of the blood minerals do hold and whether the Kabila government is doing enough.  It should also be told that despite the rapes, Congo has got women and men that are making shifts in making their communities better for all and that the redemption of Congo cannot come about by just throwing around labels.

I featured on AlJazeera The Stream program this week

I discussed with Digital Producer Ahmed Shihab, host Derrick Ashong and Azita Ardakani of Love Social the political situation in Uganda, Hoot4change and Walk to Work campaigns and what they mean for the country.

Follow the link if you missed it on Monday 23 May.

Below is the discussion i had with The Stream before it went live.

The African solution that hasn’t worked for Ivory Coast will not work for Libya

President Museveni’s 3000+worded article on the situation in Libya, analyzing Gaddafi’s regime his successes and failures has been hitting headlines around the world. He joined the critics of the current bombardments against Gaddafi that were sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

To a Ugandan, the article was catchy right from the start.  My president who just bought an election at such an exorbitant price to stretch his time in power into a 3rd decade was at university when Col. Muammar Gaddafi took over Libya. I posed a bit and figured out that my mother was just a teenager when Gaddafi took over power.

The article started like a reading from the Old Testament about kings. The longevity of the regimes of both Museveni and Gaddafi hits you right at the start. Thereafter I found the President Museveni’s arguments most contradictory on the whole. But I guess it is not surprising when one spends more than two decades in power.

While he criticizes Gaddafi and others for meddling in internal conflicts of African countries pointing to Gaddafi’s backing of Idi Amin in particular, he praises Gaddafi for supplying his rebel movement with arms against what he calls “criminal regimes” in Uganda.  So he draws a line between Gaddafi’s support for Idi Amin and Gaddafi’s support for Museveni.

“At the time we were fighting the criminal dictatorships here in Uganda, we had a problem arising of a complication caused by our failure to capture enough guns at Kabamba on the 6th of February, 1981.  Gaddafi gave us a small consignment of 96 rifles, 100 anti-tank mines, etc., that was very useful.  He did not consult Washington or Moscow before he did this.”

To Museveni, Gaddafi going sole and supporting his rebellion is great achievement we should recognize. But I am seeing the same feelings in Benghazi towards the current intervention that Museveni sets out to criticize.

President Museveni might sound close to right to many when he says “External meddling and the acquiescence by Africans into that meddling have been responsible for the stagnation in Africa.  The wrong definition of priorities in many of the African countries is, in many cases, imposed by external groups.” But this is the same man who has played the meddling in Rwanda, DR Congo and Somalia.  In Uganda we say a kettle cannot accuse a pot of being black.

In this article he puts out areas where he strategically has an advantage. He mentions south Sudan where America sees him as critical to the stability having engaged with SPLM for decades. Then UN refusal to put a no-fly zone over Somalia which Uganda pushed hard for last year when it was at the UN Security Council. He goes ahead to ask , are no human beings in Somalia similar to the ones in Benghazi?

But he has been part and parcel of the failed interventions in Somalia for the last eight years. Anyone who has followed the war in Somalia knows the route of the weapons is not by air and therefore a no-fly zone would never upset the power of opposition groups like Al Shabaab.

President Museveni who criticizes foreign intervention stood by as Ethiopia went into Somalia with the support of George Bush. He later jumped into the boat to make Uganda the first country to deploy troops in Somalia even before the Ethiopians left. Four years down the road the AMISOM is there backing a weak, non- representative government in Somalia.

While many in Uganda and Africa will jump to agree with the president, I see him as part of the meddling he talking about. He’s therefore in no good position to judge. The article brings in the question of oil in Somalia not being in the hands of the western companies as being the reason behind the inaction on the Somali conflict.  The worry about western interests in the wars around the globe in genuine given the history but for Museveni to say “if the Libyan opposition groups are patriots, they should fight their war by themselves and conduct their affairs by themselves” can only show that there’s little his involvement and that of AU would have done to stop Gaddafi butchering his own people.

In Museveni’s article I read feelings of a man, a big man, who together with the toothless AU have been blocked from entering Libya. The west may be wrong in the way they conduct the intervention in Libya but President Museveni together with his group of mostly African dictators cannot be trusted to bring a solution fast enough.

When Gaddafi was declaring genocide on his own people saying he would “cleanse Libya house by house”, no one stood up to him. When we heard stories about Gaddafi ferrying young Africans into Libya to work as mercenaries which escalated racist attacks on African immigrants, no African president came out to call for investigations. So many Africans stuck in Libya including Ugandans have been at the mercy of aid groups and some few government rescue missions.

Let’s not forget for the last four months this group of men who rule the continent have failed to resolve the situation in Ivory Coast which we may as well say has slipped back into a civil war. So far more than 400 people have died in Ivory Coast and all they do is hop onto planes meet in Addis Ababa.

No wonder we have heard no calls on the AU from Libya’s opposition. But these African leaders were so anxious to enter Libya to bargain with Gaddafi who has bought his way around the continent over years.  Gaddafi has personally supported rebellions that brought some of these leaders to power and provided them money to buy subsequent elections to appear democratically elected.  I don’t understand the African solution neither do  leaders like Museveni explain that solution that they peddle around to make Africans believe we are all on the same page.

President Museveni briefly looked at the socio-economic conditions within Libya and says they have nice roads and there’s no unemployment.

“In Tunisia and Egypt, some youths immolated (burnt) themselves because they had failed to get jobs.  Are the Libyans without jobs also?  ”

He also says that governments have a right to deal with protesters emphasizing that those who don’t seek police permission to demonstrate. This is a rule he has put in Uganda so we basically have no right to stage a protest against him peacefully. It’s his police, headed by his military men, that is in charge of sanctioning such a peaceful protest.

In the Libyan situation President Museveni sort of asks, what more did these protesters want? He seems to imply that those whose material needs have been met shouldn’t pursue freedom from dictators. I am not surprised this coming from a leader who has decentralized corruption in his own country to satisfy the would-be challengers.

Of course he went on to point out Gaddafi’s weakness but mostly those which contravened with his own standing like the cultural leaders project. A man who has banned cultural leaders and church from engaging in politics –for whatever meaning of politics is- Museveni has been at loggerheads with Gaddafi over the cultural leaders issue. This is not to say Gaddafi was right.

He talks of South Sudan which many Arabs didn’t pay much attention and he’s right but when he calls on Gaddafi to accept opposition and talks I say you should have given that advise 20 years ago. But wait! he had just got money and weapons from Gaddafi so forget the advice.

Africans want an African solution but current leaders like President Museveni who stifle freedoms in their own borders will not deliver us the much needed African solution. And that’s what North Africa has realized and therefore moved to rid their countries of these leaders.  Like Desmond Tutu has said Libya wouldn’t be seeing these strikes if African leaders were answerable to their peers and the  populace. But which Gaddafi’s peers would have kept him in check?   Museveni, Biya or Mugabe?

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