Iran: when a society is humiliated

“People can tolerate hardship, people can tolerate dictatorship but when they reach a point that they feel humiliated that’s when they can force change.”

This week I attended a lecture by a great Iranian whose name I will not mention for security reasons. The discussion was about Iran and the green movement. If you don’t know already, in June President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (call him ‘ahmad in a jacket’ if you want to get his name right quickly like me) won what Ugandans would call another Kisanja (term) during the disputed presidential elections. Before the elections people had been generally free to canvass for votes and many Iranians believed even if he didn’t go, their vote for reform would be recognised. Ahmadinejad claimed a two-thirds majority and the protests against the election followed where many people were arrested some killed. Currently over 500 Iranians from all walks of life are still locked up in jails for taking part in the protest but this has not crashed the movement for change.

map of iran
Map of Iran from PBS.ORG



















So from this lecture I got you what I thought was important quotes and highlights of the Iranian green movement.

First, it has been non-violent. It has no structured leadership for this would make it easy for the dictatorship to target the leaders and therefore somehow significantly crash the movement.

It has been embraced by Iranians from all walks of life. “It is not a student uprising neither is it about workers.”

Only 20 percent of the population are in favour of the current Islamic establishment but you can’t mistaken this movement to be about religion.

It has taken advantage of the new media age to use outlets like twitter, facebook and others to make their voices heard by the rest of the world.

The professor indicated that he was glad this movement is not happening overnight.

“The movement is now less visible than it was in the first two weeks after the elections. I am happy the reform is going on gradually, we don’t need it to be immediate because that will be violent thus taking us 30 years back.”

“It’s a protest that is affecting the core of government. The election was not the only issue. For the last 30 years nobody questioned the legitimacy of government but we see it now.”

On leadership: We know what we don’t want but we don’t know what we want. All factions are together but if you asked what kind of political system they want, there will be a difference, that’s why it’s good the movement is gradual. It gives a chance to get in touch with ordinary people and build awareness.

To foreigners: “the biggest help you can give us is do nothing. The US has been giving money for democracy promotion but Iran has money, that’s not what we want.”

His remarks on the impact of a non-violent all encampassing movement are very true becuase for places like uganda where a rebel leader (current president Museveni) took over power by force promising a fundamental change, they have largely returned to the same old corruption and political manupilation of the citizenry.

I was moved to write about this lectured because of the opening quote. Many Ugandans long for reform but there’s the inability for people to come together to demand for this. Thiss left thinking may be we haven’t yet felt the humiliation. And if that’s so when we will feel it?

Happy mango sellers

Dear mangoes and tomato roadside sellers, it’s been a few months since I left you and went outside countries like my people would say. I always think about my home but this week I was really tempted to write after reading about a film through the Guardian site. I love mangoes so much but I promise you weren’t really on mind when I decided to read this news article; I was just interested in news about just small part of the land. It was supposed to be about racial issues. I read keenly about this new documentary that was really shot during terrible times in one of your villages, is it called Zimbabwe? Yes Zim, as you romantically baptised it. I wanted an update on what the village chief, Robert Mugabe was up to these days. All the stories about land grabs from white people I have read and re-read and honestly I still don’t know how it came to this and how the village and the chief will find a real end but I was quite taken up along the way. This documentary maker was struggling to get ways of comparing life in the rest of the villages to Mugabe’s. If I remember well he tried to explain what happy people in the rest of land are really about. And he summed it up: “But in Zimbabwe, it (life) had stopped. It was not like in the rest of Africa, where you could have people selling mangoes and tomatoes on the roadside; it was like a country that had shut down.”

Pictures of roadside stalls in the city and on all major highways headed to the countryside came to mind. I was really amused at this person’s ability to compound happiness into mangoes and tomato selling. I tried to search for other things he could have pointed out not because the mango selling business is bad measurement but because I could name a million other things that we are better at and make us happy people. In the end this tired referencing about Africa tired me and wished he had just made his film and just kept quiet and let the pictures speak.

Kampala is set for African union meeting: will Bashir test the ICC waters?

Since The International Criminal Court issued indictments against Sudanese president Omar al- Bashir he has been reluctant to visit over 30 countries in Africa are signitories to the Rome statute.

In July the Ugandan media was full of contradictory statements from government figures after

Sudanese President Omar al Bashir. from cosmicdynamic
Sudanese President Omar al Bashir. from cosmicdynamic

Uganda invited Bashir to the 19th edition of the International Global Smart Partnership dialogue in Kampala. The minister for international affairs said Uganda would do it’s duty to arrest the Sudanese leader if he honoured the invitation and that Ugandan police was ready to effect the warrant.

After this President Museveni rushed to refute this statement and went ahead to apologise to the Bashir government. In the end Bashir stayed away from Kampala and the government thought it was off the hook.

It’s not be long, now Bashir has another chance to test the ICC waters if he goes ahead to attend AU meeting due in Kampala next week. This time President Museveni has come out to say Uganda will not arrest Bashir ahead of the meeting. But much as the African leaders are awaiting a report from a committee they instituted to investigate the crimes committed in Darfur, Museveni faces a doubled faceted issue of being good to a neighbour who has supported an armed rebellion (LRA) that has claimed thousands of Ugandan, south Sudanese and Congolese lives or risk the diplomatic row. Though the indictments have nothing to do with Bashir’s support for the LRA, many Ugandans would not want to see the man who is alleged to have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes against black tribes in Darfur to be on the red carpet in their country.

Whether Museveni can convince him in private to stay away from the Kampala meeting is yet to be seen. But in case he does Uganda will not be the first country to deny Bashir a visit. South Africa invited him for President Zuma’s inauguration but included a stern warning about the country’s obligations to ICC and he never turned up. If Museveni manages to keep away Bashir this time round, it will increase the chances that  the 28 other African countries will limit Bashir’s movement. Bashir faces the same fate in more than 90 other countries worldwide that are signatories to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Rome Statute.

Rwanda genocide: should Uganda take money for arrest of Nizeyimana?

Uganda’s foreign affairs junior minister Isaac Musumba says the country would welcome a payment of worth $5 million offered by the US for their capture of Idelphonse Nizeyimana, who is alleged to have had a big role in the Rwandan Genocide.

According to the African Rights organisation Nizeyimana is a key member of the FDLR militia. He was arrested in Uganda this week. Uganda may have a right to claim the money but what are moral implications of linking money to justice?

wanted poster
wanted poster

Do we need money offers in order to arrest of a man who took part in one the most horrendous crimes? I have always wondered why money should be involved, isn’t this capitalisation of justice? When did it begin and why? What purpose does it serve?  Does this reflect the inhumanity in us that somehow we must have a material gain before we can ensure justice is served? If the likes of Nizeyimana are protected by people who don’t value that money, they will hardly get to face justice.

The same money has been put on others like Felicien Kambuga, a big businessman who partly funded RTLM, a radio that helped in plans and incitement of people to go kill their neighbours. He is still on the run reportedly in east Africa. Another thing if the money made it to the country probably it will remain in someone’s account for there are no guidelines how such money should be spent. But should we make money or should we be driven by the desire to ensure such crimes are not repeated not just in our borders but in the world? I think we shouldn’t try to capitalise justice especially in crimes against humanity for the sake of the victims, dead and alive. It’s only human to bring the perpetrators of genocide to book.

Burundi in the news; reflections on Uganda’s health care system

Ask any ‘East African’ about Burundi, they will either point to the recent wave of killing of Albinos or the long armed conflict.

I hardly see any positive stories out of the country. There’s  limited interregional and international coverage of the country but this week a BBC story: got some positive story on how the health system is improving.

The story is that three years ago children under five years of age and new mothers in Burundi were granted free access to medical care. I immediately reflected on what this would mean if it was in Uganda. Of course it has brought visible changes knowing maternal mortality is high in most sub-Saharan countries. If  Uganda had this in place, the disease burden would be substantially reduced because children under five and new mothers constitute a big part of the people who can’t easily access health yet the mortality rates in these groups are high.

Uganda has lagged behind in presenting a good intervention like transparent health insurance policies where citizens can pay as low as a dollar a month to cater for their health. Burundi’s intervention indeed has made a big difference but it still lags behind Rwanda’s increase in health care coverage for ordinary people. African countries need to do much to deal with the disease burden. Why should Ugandans travel all the way to India for a heart surgery or move to South Africa, to be treated by Ugandan educated doctors? We must keep doctors in the country, they should have a decent pay.