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Uganda signs Maputo Protocol but what change will it bring women?

Last week Uganda government became the 28th AU Member to ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa commonly known as the Maputo Protocol.

This came at the time when Africa was deliberating about the state of women’s rights at the African Union summit on Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa and the AU Women’s Decade 2010-2020.

The Maputo Protocol enshrines civil and political rights; economic, social and cultural rights; the rights to development and peace and reproductive and sexual rights. It provides a legal framework for addressing gender inequality and the underlying aspects that perpetuate women’s subordination.

The protocol had earlier attracted controversy regarding abortion rights but besides that I am wondering how much will this ratification bring to Ugandan women.

The situation of most women in Uganda leaves a lot to be desired. According to the 2007 MDG Report published by UNDP Uganda Country Office, the average Ugandan woman spends 9 hours a day on care labor activities such as fetching water, firewood and caring for the sick.  Women in Uganda represent 80% of the agricultural labor force, they are responsible for about 80% of the food crop production and continue to contribute about 60% of the labor for cash crop production.

The health of a Ugandan woman is most at risk. The maternal mortality rates remain very high at 435 women out of 100,000 lose their lives while giving birth; while 76 out of 1000 new mothers lose their infants in their first weeks of life.

The Universal Primary Education (UPE) initiated by the Government of Uganda in 1997 has significantly narrowed the gender enrollment gap but girl child dropout rates are significantly higher than those of boys. Only 42% of girls in Uganda complete their primary education compared to 55% of boys due to financial constraints, family responsibilities, illness, early marriages and pregnancies.

Although Uganda implemented affirmative action policy to reduce gender imbalances in governance and politics hence bringing the women in parliament to 31 percent, there remains a problem. Most women in our parliament belong to the ruling party and within the party many are handpicked hence do not necessarily serve the cause of women. They serve the powers that bestowed leadership unto them. Many Ugandan women still lack of control over land which is a major cause of their poverty.

Domestic violence and sexual violence against women is reality. For those women in conflict torn Uganda the situation is alarming. Many sexual violence victims do not get justice or even medical care.

In most parts of Uganda violence against women is accepted as justified by “traditional values.”  Many women have been exposed to HIV because of this vulnerability. But through all this, women haven’t been spectators.  As many as 77 per cent of women in Uganda believe that their husbands beating them is acceptable behavior.  More than 78 per cent continue to experience domestic violence. According to the 2009 Police Crime Report there was a rise in reported cases of death resulting from domestic violence, from 137 in 2008 to 165 in 2009.

This year, Uganda passed the Domestic Violence Act.

Susan Oregede a programme officer for Prevention of Gender Based Violence at Oxfam in Uganda wrote that “many aspects of the new law that will strengthen the fight against domestic violence but the law alone may not make much impact in the fight against domestic violence.”

The law gave local councils a mandate to try cases of domestic violence; put fines for perpetrators and penalises injuring or endangering the health of partner. It’s illegal to deny a partner the economic or financial resources to which they are entitled.

However Oregede says

a change in attitudes, behaviours, customs and traditions that discriminate against women and perpetuate violence against women will provide a long lasting solution and ensure that all men and women enjoy their full rights.

So in the light of all this, I wondered what Ugandan women will get from the Maputo protocol. Is it just another body of text to show that governments are working on women’s issues?

When the Protocol was signed, I saw a statement from the Foreign Affairs ministry saying the signing was “a clear demonstration that the government of Uganda is still committed to the realization of women’s rights in Africa.” But what will change women’s lives will not be this protocol but clear steps taken to address obstacles that lie in the path for Ugandan women to be emancipated.

I asked Lina Zedriga,  a Women peace and security activist from Advocates for Public International Law Uganda (APILU) and she said:

While Protocol brings welcomed developments/ provisions like the abolishment of female genital mutilation and protection of which will put women’s issues a step forward, there are still some hurdles that must be overcome. The challenges of implementing this Protocol include the fact that article 14 is unconstitutional in many countries including Uganda.

Article 14 (2) (c ) is about abortion. It seeks to protect the reproductive rights of women by allowing for medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest and where the pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health or life of the mother or foetus.

Many had opposed this because it is believed that women will use this provision to abort under the pretext that due to depression or anxiety, they cannot afford to keep the unborn child growing inside them. It has also been argued that this provision is against the traditional African family values and is about radical feminists who are being promoted by western NGOs bent on eroding African culture and spreading colonialism. It remains to be seen how this will be handled.  In addition the law reform process is slow and it may take years to implement this Protocol. There is also opposition to the protocol by traditional, cultural land political leaders because many of them do not consider women’s issues as important.

So even with the Maputo protocol in place, many Ugandan women will have to continue waiting and I do hope that it won’t be too long.

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Uganda police brutality continues as 80 demonstrators are arrested accross the country

Pictures on NTV, showed it all. The Uganda police wielding sticks, guns and anything they could lay their hands on as they moved to break up a demonstration put up by a group of women in opposition in Mbale.

The group is opposed to the retaining of the current Electoral Commission head .The Uganda Supreme Court in 2006 pronounced that the Presidential elections were not free and fair. Five years later we have the same man occupying the position and President Yoweri Museveni (the beneficiary of the disorganised election) has said Eng.Badru Kigundu will be in charge of next year’s general election.

These demonstrators were not armed but the use of excessive force and the brutality involved in their arrest  once again brought the police to the spotlight.

There have been calls to check this brutality but these calls, it is evident, have fallen on deaf ears. The parliament in 2008 had a hearing where many testified in a probe into police brutality but not much was done. Not even Members of parliament have been spared or the leading opposition figures.

In today’s incident, more than 80 people were arrested and I will link the NTV report once it becomes available.

The Uganda police has warned that demonstrations will not be allowed in the country in the name of security after July 11 al Shabaab bombings in Kampala.  General elections are only months away and it seems al Shabaab did not only kill 76 people on that fateful day, they left behind an environment that the current government will exploit to curtail any form of opposition and freedom of expression.

The Constitutional Court pronounced sometime back that the right to assembly is inherent, you just have to inform the police not to seek permission but like in many cases, the regime in Kampala has its own set of laws and it continues to demand people to seek permission in order to demonstrate.

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Uganda continues to deport Rwandans

The sprawling Nakivale Refugee Settlement in south-western Uganda is home to over 50,000 asylum-seekers and refugees. At one time it represented a testament to Uganda’s reputation as one of the most refugee-friendly countries in Africa.

But recent events at Nakivale and Kyaka camps threaten to erode this reputation. On July 14 Ugandan police, working in tandem with Rwandan authorities, used false information to round up and forcibly deport approximately 2,000 Rwandese refugees.

The operation, which was decried by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and human rights organizations, left two refugees dead and another 26 injured, when they attempted to leap from the trucks hauling them across the border to Rwanda.

On Wednesday morning an unusually large Ugandan police contingent flanked by Rwandese officers surrounded the two camps and lured refugees to the assembly points with false promises of food and information on appeals processes. Warning shots were fired when the refugees refused to co-operate with the police trying to load them onto Rwanda-bound trucks.

The 2,000 refugees are currently being held in transit centres on the Rwandan side of the border. The 26 injured remain in Uganda at health clinics around Nakivale. Continued here

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Burundi arrests journalist over security commentary after Kampala bombings

he day after Kampala was bombed and 76 lives takes, our Minister of Internal Affiars Matia Kasaija came out and said they were caught off guard but with time reports showed Uganda has been warned well in advance before the July 11 bombings. Then after that there have been commentaries from Ugandan journalists and the public about how our security agencies were incapable (probably still are) of stopping Al Shabaab from wrecking havoc in our country.

Today a Burundian online journalist faces treason for questioning the ability of Burundi’s security forces to prevent an Al Shabaab attack. Burundi and Uganda are the only African countries to find themselves stuck in the Somalia war as peacekeepers, a role that most of Africa has stayed away for the last three years. Al Shaabab has already warned that Bujumbura is on their targets as they to force the two countries out of Somalia.

If Nkurunziza’s government can arrest a journalist for questioning their capability, where is the hope of Burundian citizens? Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world and it has not really stabilized after years of civil war. Nkurunziza was voted in a one-man show election recently and the situation remains fragile.

The Burundian government has a heavy task to shield a country that has seen bloodshed for years from yet another destabilizing factor – the Al Shabab. To stifle debate in the country will add nothing to secure that country. The journalist could face life imprisonment if found guilty. Uganda and Burundi find themselves under immense pressure after Al Shabaab succefully attacked Uganda a little over a week ago. Can the two countries convince other African countries to go to Somalia to make the mission look more continental in nature? This will be seen as it plays out at the African Union summit that is underway in Kampala.

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Uganda could be in Somalia ten years down the road.

Today I read the Guardian report on how the White House is revising its Afghanistan strategy to embrace the idea of negotiating with senior members of the Taliban through third parties.

After fighting for nearly ten years, the US is now seeing that sometimes you have to talk to the ‘terrorist.’ Negotiating with the Taliban has long been advocated by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and the British and Pakistani governments, but resisted by Washington.

Then I turn and read Ugandan news, our government is sounding war drums for Somalia a fight they have no clue how to go about. After Kampala bombings that killed 76 people, Uganda is in the immediate post 2001 US situation. And I wonder ten years down the road, if we will still be in Somalia or these African leaders seating in my country this week to meet yet again over a cups of tea will have found an answer for Somalia.  With the talks of sending top army generals to Somalia that Uganda could it be that Uganda will still be stuck in Somalia’s ugly war ten years down the road? The opinion about Ugandan troops staying or leaving Somalia is hard to grasp. I have seen some pieces from Ugandans here

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Chaka Chaka calls on African leaders to “walk the talk” on maternal health

She’s been on the Africa music for two decades. Yvonne Chaka Chaka, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador will be in Uganda next week to rally African leaders at AU summit on Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development  to honor their pledge to fight disease in Africa.

Chaka Chaka who was the first black child to appear on South African television has been involved in the advocacy for the mothers on the continent for some time.  She said she would attend the Kampala AU summit “to remind African leaders to walk the talk and stop deaths of thousands of African women and Children”

The outspoken activist said many times African governments have been mismanaged funds meant for prevention of many diseases that contribute to high maternal and child mortality rate on the continent. While there has been progress with countries like Eritrea, Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe seeing a drop in malaria cases and deaths by 50 percent or more between 2000 and 2006, malaria contributes to the big disease burden on the continent.

Being in South Africa a conversation with anyone even Chaka Chaka could not  pass without a mention of the World Cup. As the World Cup was closing the media was  awash with alerts of xenophobia threats. But the Princess of Africa believes that World Cup did much in bringing the unity among South Africans and the rest of the continent.

Having arrived in Johannesburg two days after that riling defeat to Uruguay, one could still capture the unity and solidarity the host nation showered Ghana. With Ghanaian flags still being hoisted in large numbers, you can hardly believe this is the same country where two years ago African immigrants were set ablaze.
Chaka Chaka believes the exposure the World Cup brought to South Africa is something the society can hold onto and not go back to the events of May 2008.

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July 11 bomb attacks ; a new era of terror in Uganda

It was supposed to be a perfect night, at least that’s what I called it for that moment. Spain winning in the extra time with enough Spanish people to bring down the place in celebration. The venue was Soweto, South Africa where I was watching the World Cup final with friends from the Man Up campaign.

It was a cold but exciting night in Soweto but back home people were being blown to pieces by terror bombs. I learnt of the news yesterday morning shortly before I headed off to the airport.

A friend was first to alert me and I thought it must be some bad joke and how I wish it was. I went beyond the headline to sort of confirm the news by searching for names of people and familiar places that the bombs ripped apart that Sunday night.

There I saw Kyadondo Rugby club. It began sinking in that this was reality. Before I headed off to South Africa, I had spent several hours with friends at that bar and a good friend worked there. It’s a place that I have been visiting since 2002. My eyes moved up and the down the computer wondering whether my friends had survived and if they did what about my friends’ friends and families that I usually find there. I couldn’t do much for my phone had long died out so I prayed and hoped.

I imagined the horrifying scene during the attacks and shortly after at Uganda’s national referral hospital Mulago. I had been talking about Mulago with a friend from Spain who had visited Uganda in May. I had told him about one of the days that I went up to the labour ward, about the women that i saw on the floor unattended to, their screams that makes a young woman want to think twice about this journey, the shortage of doctors and medicines a story way too familiar. When I read the news of the blasts, I wondered what was going on in the emergency room at Mulago which itself is in dire need emergency care.

I arrived in Kampala 20 hours after the horrific attacks, I drove past the place, there were guards and nothing seemed to say much. Switching on my phone I was anxious and the first message was from a close friend telling me of a family member who perished at Kyadondo. I got messages about friends of friends that passed away that night and about a journalist who died yesterday and I am still getting them messages.

Today I woke up thinking of the newspapers headlines, the ones I didn’t want to see but wouldn’t avoid for their pictures portray the dead unsparingly. The first newspaper stand I see a lists of the dead and I could only go half way.

I strolled down by one of the sites of the attacks and it was quiet with cars of victims still parked. The sight of Kampala’s famous Marabou storks in large numbers pecking human flesh on the ground was heart wrenching.

Al Shabaab has already claimed responsibility to their first attack outside Somalia and they issued more threats to Bujumbura where the rest of the Africa Union Peacekeeping force is from.

Kampala, once of the safest cities on the continent in just one night was turned into a Bagdad of sorts where now people talk of avoiding any public places sticking to a schedule of home- work-home. Many are talking of avoiding churches.

Many innocent Ugandans have lost their lives, families and dreams and we won’t feel safe for a long long time. The bomb death toll is now about 74. Many Ugandans continue to be in fear with small things that we once overlooked being magnified in the terror lense. A misplaced flask calls for a terror squad, a bullet mistakenly burnt in garbage and the explosion in Kisenyi sends people ducking and a man today had thrown a phone in a trash can and he was arrested. A phone having been found in one of the bags which had a bomb that failed to detonate. I do hope through all this Ugandans do not turn to mistreatment of the Somali community in Uganda for they were the first victims of such murderous groups that forced them out of their country. We don’t want to see the Islamaphobia kind of wave that engulfed USA after 911.

Ugandans are generally welcoming of foreigners and I hope this wont rob us of that gift.

But do Ugandans even understand why we were targeted?

Uganda has been on high terror alert since we took the troops to Somalia under AMISOM in 2007. It’s only Uganda and Burundi in Mogadishu guarding a few places under the control of the Transitional Federal Government that is neither transiting nor federal. The Somali Islamist groups have gained force since last year’s withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and the AU forces have increasingly found themselves under attack with one blast last September right in the AU compound in Mogadishu that killed many including a deputy force Commander for Burundi.

Uganda has so far lost over 25 soldiers. For most of the last three years, these deaths have always seemed far away and reflected upon in Ugandan. After all it was a war situation and such stuff happens. We as the media have covered send offs of several contingents into Somalia but we never seen stories from families of those soldiers who died and few questions have remained unasked. But this terror right in our backyard brings us to question what on earth are we doing in Somalia and when will it be the right time for Uganda to pull out of Somalia?

President Museveni who visited the bombed sites said

“we will not run away.” That innocent people watching the World Cup should not be targeted. If they want to fight they should go find soldiers.”

Of course everybody knows that, what Ugandans want is certainly not justice for such mass killings by a suicide bomber make that almost out of reach. What Ugandans want is to be safe and stop our country from being a terrorist playground? And can we stay in Somalia at the same time keep us safe?

I agree with the President that Uganda will not run away. When you have a country that has limited safety systems and porous borders you cannot run away from a group which not only acts in clandestine ways but also has little to lose and everything to destroy. Terror has swept through some of the world’s most sophisticated safety systems. In a country where there’s not even national IDs and a passport is a luxury, in Uganda, even if we all got recruited into our infamous anti-terror squad it would take us loads of time and money to substantially reduce chances of another July 11 occurrence.

Few Ugandans know about Al Shabaab and many heard of it for the first time yesterday. To many in the military, withdrawing troops after such attacks may look defeatist but what if it is the way to save us from more bombs? Uganda had little if anything to do with the chaos that Somalia has been plunged into for the last two decades why should we pay for failed UN and American interventions?

At first we were the peacekeepers but what do we call ourselves today when we protect a government that is governing not even a district in a whole country?

I asked Captain Chris Magezi, the Ugandan contingent spokesperson based in Mogadishu and he said:

The blasts in kampala targeting innocent revellers were very unfortunate, acts of cowardly and barbaric extremist forces. But bad as the situation is, we must face this monster head on: we cannot afford to turn our backs in flight because this would mean victory for these evil. Their latest heinous act in kampala justifies why the mission in Somalia (AMISOM) should be strengthened further, perhaps even with greater agency. Otherwise there is no guarantee that those who do not contribute troops for Somalia will be immune to future terrorist attacks.”

But for now Kampala is taking the heat and those whos stayed away from Somalia aren’t and I couldn’t ask any further for this was an email exchange.

In the past the president has said we are in Somalia to fight for the freedom of our African brothers and also in a way for our own but we have not quite thought about one question what if that brother doesn’t want you fighting for him? Do you lose everything you’ve got or even yourself to bring him back to order? For now we are mourning for those youthful lives shattered, brought to a stop in the nastiest way possible and for those with injured relatives we worry about recovery but what we ultimately know is that Uganda has been made far less safe.

This government is credited for stopping the 70s and 80s kind of terrorism that Ugandans experienced. My father lived through the years of Idi Amin in the city. For many in the south, the last 20 years have been peaceful but is this government capable of saving us from 21st century terror that doesn’t need to find you in your home? The terrorism that doesn’t choose who’s for the government and who’s against it. The terrorism that is more complex than Idi Amin.

The president must now begin to weigh in the option of our troop exit and the sooner it happens the safer we shall all feel. For God and my country.

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