Last week, shortly after the International Peace Day I went to Moroto with Karamoja Cluster Project, My graduate school University for Peace is starting.
At an intra-community dialogue, held under a tree, between Tepeth elders on resolving the cross-border conflict between the Tepeth in Uganda (in alliance with the Pokot) and the Turkana in Kenya, i took these photos in Kalemungole village, Tapac subcounty.
Peace in Karamoja is fragile. After decades of armed violence through cattle rustling, Uganda government enforced disarmament. But Kenya instead decided to arm their warriors. This dialogue showed a change in the communities and their embrace for protection from armed forces instead of arming themselves.
One of the most important issues raised at a dialogue where the LCV was present was where is the 3% the communities is supposed to get from Marble mining? Karamoja also has gold and other issues arising are land rumored being grab. Most Karamojongs lost cattle and struggle but not much is known about gold mining and trade from Karamoja. Not that I intend to scare but there’s a mega road construction project by Chinese and rumours were rife that the Chinese are trying to get a stake in Gold. Am ignorant of the gold mining venture in this part of the country just like most Ugandans but i thought these issues regarding extractive industries need to be given attention and coverage to put such rumours to death.
As the news of a final confirmation of a life presidency in Zimbabwe trickles in, I am reading from a great Zimbabwean blogger and friend Delta.
Increasingly Ugandans are waking up to the realisation that we are on the path towards Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
Both regimes have a tainted history of massacres that were generally ignored because the narrative at the time was that of liberation- at all costs. But slowly our liberators Mugabe and Museveni worked hard to entrench themselves in power, make their rule unquestionable and blatantly disregard any semblance of rule of law.
They use history to claim their entitlements with no mention of future. Everything in these countries’s regimes is in past tense except when they are talking about the next election.
The hardships people face in these countries are either because of colonialists, bad past leaders or opposition and media -which are ‘western stooges.’ Nothing points to the saints in power in these two governments as far as they are concerned.
In Uganda, Museveni is using every unconstitutional means to remain in our face and tells himself he is still relevant. And slowly books are blocked from publication and no more than three people can meet without government permission.
All in all I love Deltas touch on role of youth in shaping our non-existing democracy. Her conclusion is so powerful and it should be told to these leaders.
“You liberated yourselves and not us – so don’t speak the language of liberation to those whose lives have been shattered by your political tyranny.”
Our bitterness does not come from the fact that we’ve been hurt.
Our bitterness comes from the fact that those who have hurt us remain perpetually unrepentant.
Our bitterness comes from the fact that those who have hurt us go unpunished, make no penance and show no contrition.
And so our wounds remain gaping, our sense of violation festers like a sore and the injustices we have suffered silently, become loud screams in our heads.
We have been powerless to retaliate because at first we were young (born frees) and later we were ignorant of the power of our vote (pushed to the margins by the older generation who insisted that they knew what was best for us).
Then in time, we were rendered powerless by our lack of capacity occasioned by the worst economic meltdown that had those whose skills we relied on scurrying out of the country like…
Last week I wrote about my feeling about the manner in which the debate on the Marriage and Divorce Bill was handled. I couldn’t’ write any better than Jacqueline Asiimwe, a lawyer who has been, for more than a decade, at the centre of the struggle for women’s rights in Uganda. Here is her personal note on the bill. We all can’t run or hide from realities and horrors in our homes. We all have similar stories like those of Jackie’s clients and her clients don’t come from outside our country. They are the silenced victims of our unfair laws and cultural practices. I am hearing that some MPs who have something left of their morals are returning the 5 million they were given for sham the consultations on a proposed law which Ugandan taxpayers had already spent over years. These stories are not just stories of poor, rural people, they are stories that we dont have to look far! They are our family’s stories, they are our stories. Hope Jackie’s note makes you realise how urgent this law reform is needed!
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.
Today Ugandans marked 50 years since colonial rule ended. On October 9th 1962, Uganda joined a list of African countries that were set to govern their own affairs after decades, in some cases centuries, of colonization.
I left Kampala a few hours to the Independence Day but even if I were home, I wouldn’t have joined the national event at Kololo to celebrate. I think we have a lot more to reflect on than an all out celebration.
It is important that every person should take part in deciding the affairs of their family, community and nation. So the end of colonialism didn’t mean the end of the quest for Ugandans to have a say on how they want to be governed.
Uganda like many African countries was a nation formed by colonialists through breaking nations (others call them kingdoms) and forcing them under one boundary as they saw fit- for their administrative and colonial interests. So to convince these nations to come to recognize and really be part of the new nation Uganda was a tall order!
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.
This week I was in Kasese taking part in validation of a study soon to be released by Isis-WICCE on child marriages in Uganda. I met Sarah Biira, 19 year old who had her first child at 13 years. Kasese is a post conflict area but has largely been ignored in terms of development. It has been under conflict since 1940s and the education of a girl child is a challenge because of poverty, cultural beliefs and loss of livelihoods to war.
This week I was in Lira in northern Uganda at a medical camp for women with reproductive health complications most of them sustained during the 23 year LRA war. Organisers had no idea 400 women would turn just on the the first day.
I was taking interviews from these women most of whom it was the first time they were going to see a gynecologist since the various sexual violations happened. It is always a tough position to be in. Women as old as 60 years narrating how they were raped, how no one wants to hear their story, how the community calls them all sorts of names it is beyond what i can describe.
One of the very first interviews, I was speaking to Akello (not real name) a woman who was abducted together with her co-wife. They reached the bush and were forcibly ‘married’ to one man. They both endured years of sexual violations including gang rapes. They returned 6 years ago, they didn’t know they both had HIV. Akello tells me they passed it on to their husband they had left behind and he died 3 years ago. She hasn’t really dealt with her own trauma and she blames herself for ‘killing’ her husband.
Just like in all interviews, we always take time out when the woman needs sometime pull herself together. At the end she calls me back and says “You are my child, I shouldn’t be telling you this.” I had no words to add, I just sat down for some minutes. I felt she wanted to spare me from listening, listening to horrors that many others preferred untold. We had been through it all, her life in the bush, her life after and how she hardly owns anything. How she struggles to feed and educate her 2 grand children. Of the 8 children she had, only one survived. It’s tougher to listen to a woman your mother’s or grandmother’s age talk about how she was raped. You can’t easily cry because you don’t want to derail her further. You can’t help see your mother in the faces of all these women left with almost nothing of their dignity. Yet they tell you these stories that mothers can never tell their children because they think you can help in a way.
I met Ester Abeja, she insisted that I put her face out. She was afraid that covering her face was more like what the community and government have done-ignore their plight. Like most of the women that turned up for the screening, she had complications. She is suffering from what doctors called uterine prolapse (the descent of the uterus into the vagina or beyond). In her case her uterus is hanging out. She was abducted and violated by the LRA rebels for many years. Ester needs a surgery that would cost about 200 USD. She has had this condition for years and she is raising 5 children whom the husband abandoned. Before I spoke to her she was visibly traumatised and she told me many times she has thought of killing her husband who now has two other wives. We talked about it and she agrees that wouldn’t solve her problems, we have to concentrate on getting her the operation to remove her uterus.
Most of the women i spoke to had been abandoned by their families once they came back from the LRA. They face a high level of stigma. For those who had children with the rebels and came back with them it’s even much more difficult. Their children are called ‘Kony’s children.’
Ester had one child with one of the rebels, she’s now about 6 years. “Do they think I wanted to be raped by these rebels? Do they think i wanted to kill my own child?” Ester wonders. She tells me another chilling story of how rebels forced her to kill her one year old baby gal by smashing her skull on a tree. Another young son was captured with her and she has no idea if he’s still alive. She tells me she rarely sleeps and you can see it in her eyes.
I left Ester in Ogur. I am hopeful that Isis-WICCE, the organisation i worked with on this medical camp, can get money to get Ester and others the much needed surgery. There’s such lack of attention for survivors of sexual violence who are mostly women all over the LRA affected areas. And if she gets the surgery she will need support and most of these women need a lot of economic empowerment but few reach government programs.
One doctor from Lira told me, “When war ends, there’s a silent war that has to be fought.”
He said the challenge so far has been that “politicians think they will just put structures which they can use to say this is what i did during my time and ignore peoples needs.” And i don’t expect my government to get Ester the much needed help because even the health center we were at didn’t have any drugs to give to those with the simplest of the reproductive health problems.
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.
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.