Those who said you would never see war were wrong

Today, the day when the world was glued to TVs watching a royal wedding in Britain, Uganda went up in flames. Uganda has been in the flames for three weeks now but today the protests/riots  spread across the capital Kampala. The news of the protests found me in office before finally the protest reaching the neighbourhood. I hadn’t dressed right to venture out to see all the mayhem but the bullet fire was well loud in my office and we had to duck under tables a couple of times for only stray bullets kill people here according to our government. The protests started Kiseka market after it was rumoured that Uganda’s opposition leader Dr.Kiiza Besigye had died. Like wildfire the rumour spread and many youth walked into Kampala streets.  Dr. Kiiza Besigye was in his home after he was discharged from hospital last night. Few people now have access to him as his aides were arrested and remanded yesterday in manner that left many in Uganda totally numb.

A friend told me she had watched the TV images of the violent arrest of Besigye and the police forcing him under a pickup like a criminal with her kids who are between 5 and 8. Half way through the report her kids burst into tears. She asked them why and they wondered why the police was trying to kill a man like Besigye. They asked her what exactly was going and she went into explanations. Another person told me he had watched the news last night in bar surrounded with some soldiers who couldn’t comprehend. “one told me he had taken many beers but he couldn’t get drunk because the horrific images can’t let him,” he told me.

Today as different parts of Kampala were engulfed with lots of military vehicles and fires lit in the main roads, I called someone close to Besigye’s case to figure out what Besigye’s health was like. Half way through the discussion his daughter who I believe is no more than 7 years entered his office. I stayed on the line as they greeted. He asked how the day had gone and young girl said, “Daddy, there was teargas and bombs near our school.” The father asked what she had done when she heard the loud noise. The girl said, “Our teacher told us to lie down and hold our bags close.” The last question was, were you scared? and the girl replied no daddy, I wasn’t.

Going by what the city was like for 5 hours as residents battled military and police, one can say that many are not that scared. One man told me, “If they can treat Besigye like that, then who am I to go home and sleep in peace? The country is going back to Idi Amin days.”

Call that too far-fetched or not but brutality with which Besigye was arrested, car smashed using pistol butt and pepper sprayed to blind him right before the cameras, many Ugandans believe the regime has crossed the line and they worry they will never see tolerance again.

In today’s protests the police used live bullets again leaving horrific pictures for the media. One of man was lying down with a bullet hole right through his eye. Reports say about four people died today, over 100 were injured and over 300 were arrested. Since the election campaigns and the North Africa protests, the government here has grown intolerant to criticism. President Museveni last night called on the clergy to apologize to him for accusing him and his cronies of corruption which many Ugandans decry. Today the government heaped the blame on Besigye after the riots over his health. No explanation on the continued used force no nothing.

Most youth who are suffering with current high cost of living amidst high unemployment levels have never seen war. But following today’s events MissAloikin on twitter said:  “My grandparents always used to say we the children of 86 regime will never see any wrong (they were)!”

While Ugandans in north, north-eastern and a few parts of western Uganda have seen the devastation of war for decades, many of us have been shielded from violence. With the kind of brutality portrayed by police and military in the last two weeks, many young people see that the future ahead will be all about struggle. The armed forces have so far killed about 8 people including a 2 year old girl. The time when Ugandans expect concrete answers to their problems and an assurance that their rights to demonstrate peacefully will be protected, President Museveni appears to be out of tune. He appears on our TVs pilling blame of opposition leader, defiant that he won’t cut fuel prices and many at times visibly angry. His ministers continue to claim opposition are using protests to remove a legitimate government which is a total lie.

In today’s riots we saw Museveni’s  son Lt Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the commander of Special Forces brought in Kampala to command and journalists were barred from taking his photos. The past times we have seen the first son has been in futile missions like the Operation Lightening Thunder that was supposed to take out Joseph Kony and end the LRA rebellion in DRC then he re-emerged immediately after the July 11 2010 Kampala bombing where investigations have not produced much other than have several Kenyan Human Rights defenders hoarded in our jails. For many the engagement of the first son in the riots when we should be hearing from the father was reminiscent of the first days of protests in Libya.

In many areas there were reports of abuses against journalists mainly by forces. TVs and Radios have been threatened over live broadcasts and today they obliged. At one point I tuned into three TV stations which were showing Nigeria (Nollywood) movies, others had BBC feed of the royal wedding when the city was on fire. Newspapers like Daily monitor did a great job of keeping live feeds till late in the evening. Besigye’s health is still not good but whatever happens, Ugandans are becoming more and more defiant in the face of brutality and his homecoming will probably see us go into another protest. The young who have seen no war are hoping and praying that there was a grain of truth in what their grandparents told them.

Besigye arrested again, US issues warning on protest crackdown, Uganda Civil Society wakes up

After spending Easter in a jail, Uganda’s opposition leader Dr.Kizza Besigye was granted bail with ridiculous conditions that he would not participate in walking to work for seven months. The abuse of judicial power was at display as the magistrate put a price tag on Besigye’s freedom. As it would turn out Besigye’s freedom was short-lived as the military and police blocked his car this morning, not even 48 hours had passed after he was granted bail. The military blocked Besigye’s car at the roundabout in the city near Uganda’s national referral hospital Mulago, smashed his window screens, pulled him out and loaded him into a van. This is the fourth time this month that Besigye has been violently arrested amidst protests of  high fuel prices that have tested President Museveni’s democracy rhetoric. Unlike in the past three instances, today Besigye was simply driving to the bank and the police told he was not allowed.

Shortly before his bail application hearing the U.S government had issued a warning to Ugandan government over the clamping down on people who are seeking to protest peacefully.

Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental human rights and a critical component of democracy. We renew our call for the Ugandan government to respect the opposition’s right to express its viewpoints and citizens’ rights to demonstrate peacefully and without fear of intimidation.

This warning came as the police paraded hired, jobless Ugandan youth before cameras claiming they were getting money from the opposition to take part in the walk to work campaign. The infamous head of police Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura personally brought these youth who were visibly confused uttering inconsistent statements about the Walk to Work campaign. Instead of moving to address the issue that the opposition has capitalized on to rally Ugandans, government has concentrated on using force and violence targeting opposition leaders.

In the North western part of the country, the army issued statements claiming that a group of people had gathered arrows and bows to attack a military camp in a bid to portray the Walk to Work campaign as a ploy by opposition to topple government. It has even been rumoured that the opposition leaders are likely to face treason charges.

The government has gone as far to accuse the religious leaders of being partisan after they called for sanity to prevail. The government in Uganda seems not ready to listen to anybody, its eager to crash anyone giving a divergent view.

Today the civil society organizations under the NGO Forum have come out, after three weeks of silence, to condemn government response to Walk to Work, called for concrete actions to address high fuel prices, food insecurity and allow freedom of expression.

The organizations called on government to put an end to the “ increasingly burdensome political bureaucracy and instead redirect those resources to fulfill the promise of improved service delivery as stated in the NRM Manifesto for 2011-2016 and articulated in the National Development Plan.”

Among others they say:

Government must release all political leaders arrested for participating in the ‘walk to walk’ protests as they have not violated any provision in our Constitution, but have been victims of a number of unconstitutional provisions in some of our laws.

Government must have its priorities right. Given the dire situation, government must stay its lavish expenditure on consumption such as the Ushs 3 Billion budget for the Swearing in Ceremony and halt payment of Ushs 1.8 trillion on the 8 Fighter Jets till such a time when it is affordable to spend on them, and instead direct those finances to respond to the immediate food and fuel crisis.

Government must increase its budget and leadership in the agriculture sector in order to increase agricultural output and productivity, through, inter alia, investing in modern agricultural production methods, rain water harvesting technologies and alternative methods such as irrigation to save the country from being overly dependent on the vagaries of natural weather. This will also go along way in creating employment.

The Government must review, update and implement a food security policy that will ensure that commercial export objectives are not promoted at the expense of domestic food security needs.

The government must transparently expedite oil production, meaningfully inform the public and ensure that value addition is carried out in Uganda to reduce on dependency on oil imports.

The Government must stop its present attitude in dismissing or suppressing dissenting views and recommit to creating a space for genuine dialogue amongst key stakeholders in political and civil society, as well as the private sector on historical and contemporary challenges facing the country; political, economic, social and others.

Above all, the President must take stern action against corruption, which is increasingly becoming Uganda’s number one development challenge.

Organisations also called on the opposition parties behind walk to work campaign to work within constitutional means and inform police of their activities to prevent any possible loss of lives.

With fresh memory of Tahrir Square , government keeps Walk to Work away from Constitution Square

On Thursday April 21, the fourth time that Uganda’s opposition leader Kiiza Besigye-Kifefe was blocked from walking,  Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, the director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research gave an important analysis of the events at a Rotary International District Conference at Munyonyo.

Besigye has today spent his 55th birthday in jail. Together with Democratic Party leader Norbert Mao are being held at a prison outside Kampala for participating in the walk to work campaign that protests current high fuel prices. Five people including two year old Juliana Nulwanga have been shot dead in the protests in different parts of the country in the last two weeks while dozens are nursing bullet wounds.

In reaction to these events Mamdani said

“Both the opposition that has taken to walking and government that is determined to get them to stop walking are driven by the memory of a single event.  The memory of Tahrir Square feeds opposition hopes and fuels government fears. For many in the opposition, Egypt has come to signify the promised land around the proverbial corner.  For many in government, Egypt spells a fundamental challenge to power, one that must be resisted, whatever the cost.

It’s the memory of the Tahrir that has driven President Museveni’s regime to allege that that the protests are aimed at removing a legitimate government. President Museveni told journalists that those using protests were committing treason but we have not yet seen this charge slapped on the opposition.

I have wondered why the government wouldn’t let people walk peacefully and then try to work against the campaign by addressing the issues that these people were raising. From what I gathered, the paranoia has been high that Besigye and the walkers might camp at the Constitution Square right in the middle of central business district thereby attracting more participants and international attention.

That’s why the government moved to put a walking ban on politicians who were taking part in the campaign . Kampala had seen unprecedented heavy deployments of forces even before the planned protest. Government has deployed security forces  at almost every corner in every neighbourhood in the city like never before and the reason we had earlier  been given was that of the frequent terrorism threats the country receives from the Somali militants.

However Prof. Mamdani says :

Matters have reached a point where even the hint of protest evokes maximum reaction from government.  So much so that a government which only a few weeks ago came to power with an overwhelming majority today appears to lack not only flexibility but also an exit strategy.  For civilians, supporters and skeptics alike, the sight of military resources deployed to maintain civil order in the streets, has come to blur the line between civil police and military forces as those in power insist on treating even the simplest of civil protest as if it were an armed rebellion.

President Museveni has gone to the extent swearing to eat his opponents like samosas. This paranoia about Tahrir possibilities in the country has made the regime put restrictions on media like never before. The Uganda Communications Commission and Uganda broadcasting council have come out to warn the media against messages that might be seen to promote “ethnic prejudice, civil violence and public insecurity”. The terms are broad enough to catch anyone that the regime wants.

Journalists have been threatened with phone calls, SMS while others have been trailed by security agents in the last two weeks. The steps that Uganda had made in the last ten years in press freedom and freedom of expression are slowly being washed away as we live the fear of Tahrir.

Today I went to Mulago to pay a visit to Brenda Nalwendo, a 19 year old pregnant woman who was shot in this week’s protests. I was ther upon a request by a Ugandan living abroad who wanted to help after seeing the horrifying photos of her shooting. At ward I identified myself as a journalist and the ladies on duty looked at me suspicious, exchanged glances before telling me they had to first inquire from some people.  They had even suggested I leave the money with them but I insisted on seeing Brenda’s mother who had no problem taking me to her daughter. By God’s grace Brenda has survived and now she can sit and her unborn baby is ok.  It is gruesome images of her intestines that hang out of her belly on April 18 that clearly showed what kind of brutality Ugandans have faced.

And it is such pictures and such peoples stories that the government is eager not to see them be told. But with some young Ugandans now using internet to give first-hand accounts of events as they happen, the coverage of these demonstrations has been very effective on facebook and twitter. That’s why the government was keen on shutting these channels down. These channels are the most uncontrollable unlike TVs and Radios which may worry about closure and hence give in to government directives. It’s because of the great role being played by youth in Uganda on these networks that internet freedom is slowly being threatened even before we have achieved much access. As of July 2010, only ten percent of the population in Uganda used internet. The numbers have changed I believe with more telecoms offering free facebook access and more affordable phones on the market with internet access option. As long as the social media is not blocked, the story of those protesting in a country where protests have become almost illegal, will continue to be told.

With opposition leaders jailed, we don’t know yet what the brains behind this walk to work campaign have in plan. It’s important for any non-violent campaign to deny those in power a target. In walk to work campaign, the regime was given targets in form of top opposition leaders and it will remain to be seen whether the campaign can continue without them. Museveni remains firm in refusing to put fuel tax cuts like Kenya did because this would show that the protests worked.

Like Prof.Mamdai said:

Whatever its outcome, ‘Walk to work’ must make us rethink the practice of democracy in Uganda…No matter how small the numbers involved in the developments we know as ‘Walk to Work’, there is no denying its sheer intellectual brilliance. That brilliance lies in its simplicity, in its ability to confer on the simplest of human activities, walking, a major political significance: the capacity to say no.

South Sudan women seek 30 percent representation in a new state.

South Sudanese women constitute over 60 percent of the population in Africa’s newest state. This has not been an act of nature but the reminder of the devastating effects of the 50 years of independence struggles where thousands and thousands of South Sudanese men were killed on different front lines.

In the lead up to the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a donors conference was held in Oslo where South Sudanese women came out to put their priorities, concerns and challenges. The women highlighted the impact of war on their lives and erosion of their capabilites.  Among others they called for:

Recognizing the principle of 50% equal representation for women and men as enshrined in the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality and the IGAD Gender Policy, but cognizant of the context, situation and issues at stake, we recommend 30% as a minimum threshold for women’s representation at all levels and in all sectors. This includes:

Immediate inclusion of at least 30% representation by women in the Constitutionmaking and review processes.

A minimum representation of 30% for women in decision-making positions at all levels, including transitional institutions and all commissions established under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

Support urgent programmes for addressing negative customs and practices which continue to foster women’s marginalization and exclusion in all spheres of life.

• Support and enhance women’s effective political participation and leadership at all levels, including within political parties with a strong and urgent support to capacity building for women’s leadership.

Finally in the CPA it was put that women would have a minimum of 25 percent representation in all leadership positions. In the National Assembly (parliament), the women representatives have passed this threshold but in many different State Assemblies the representation of women remains low. Also issues like lack of education hinder women from participation.

South Sudan women leader lists down priorities of women in the new state. Many women in South Sudan cannot write or read.

Coming from a country where the last twenty years have revolved around “those who fought” i can identify with the uphill task that women of South Sudan face on the eve of Independence. In a week-long meeting that I attended in Juba organised by Isis-WICCE for women leaders from five states, most women said that while women had fought alongside men in the battles, few women were being recognized. In a land where war heros rule, it’s important to see women who sacrificed a lot be given due respect. The women talked of different women’s brigades that fought in the liberation wars who  are no where to be seen after the agreement and the referendum that have led to the creation of the new country.

Of course its not only women who fought that should be recognised, most women kept the families together, looked after children amidst famine brought by the northern government’s scorched earth policy that was intended to make South Sudanese surrender.Women faced it all and ensured families and fighters had the food, many were tortured physically and sexually by both fighters and Khartoum government troops. This suffering and contributions should not be in vain. All these issues should be adequately addressed in the new state and women’s participation is paramount. The participation of 65 percent of the population in shaping the destiny of the new republic is vital and it must be ensured from the start. You can’t claim to work for women without them and President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s government should make this a priority in order to build a stable South Sudan.

One woman member of the State Legislative Assembly told the meeting that she was scared for women of South Sudan becoming like Eritrea  “where women fought alongside their men and once the country was created they were pushed back to the kitchen.”

Hanna Lona Bona, Member of Western Equatorial State Legislative Assembly recounts the referendum stories with a symbol for separation.

The women issued a communique which they took to the ministry of Gender, Child Affairs and Social Welfare listing top priorities ahead of the independence day celebrations. The Communique is also to inform those interested inn the development of the new nation.  Top of the list is to ensure the new constitution puts the minimum percent of women affirmative action at 30 percent. They also want to see major policies on girl child education and they even looked at a Uganda-like system where girls were given some additional points to increase their entry into high institutions of learning after years of war. Many said that most scholarships had not benefited women but had been used by those high up in the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPL), the ruling party to take their children to good schools outside the country. One woman leader said: “To women, independence from the north is half independence, we must be able to remove other forms of oppression and marginalization from our own communities. ”

Below is the communique.

Women Communiqué to Government of Southern Sudan,

13th April 2011, Juba.

We, women from Central Equatorial, Western Equatorial, Eastern Equatorial, Upper Nile and Western Bahr el Ghazal states at a conference in Juba under the theme “Positioning Women’s Needs and Priorities in South Sudan” take this opportunity to congratulate all Southern Sudanese People for a successful exercise of a free, fair and peaceful referendum at this historic moment in the history of the Sudan.

AWARE that we gather here as a body of women and not divided by any party or tribal line, for the promotion of equality, peace, good governance and development for the people ofSouthern Sudan, 

APPRECIATING the affirmative action for promotion of women’s participation in politics and governance as enshrined in the Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan, Section 20 (1 to 4),

REALIZING however that this affirmative action has not been fully implemented,

RECALLING the promise of the President of the Government of Southern Sudan H.E. Salva Kiir Mayardit to increase the representation of women in politics and governance to 30% in conformity with the global minimum of a critical mass of women representation,

RECOGNIZING the worldwide interest and support which the Referendum has generated and the existence of the International Conventions and Security Council Resolutions, in particicular UNSCRs 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889 in reference to Women, Peace and Security,

DISTURBED that high maternal and infant mortality and HIV/AIDS continue to be a danger and a threat to the lives of the people ofSouthern Sudan,

DEEPLY CONCERNED that although women constitute more than 60 per cent of the population they remain largely an untapped resource thereby denying the nation their potential, talents and wisdom for its development. 

TROUBLED that despite the fact that there has been some improvement in the lives of the women in the last five years the bulk of their concerns, interests and needs are still relegated to the periphery in the development process of the nation. 

NOTING that the majority of the votes in the referendum came from the women,

MINDFUL that the Referendum  to the women meant not only freedom from the North but freedom from any form of oppression, exploitation, marginalization, discrimination and any other constraints affecting women, 

EMPHASIZING that secession to the women means unity, peace, security and development forSouth Sudan.


URGE the government and all the political parties to implement the minimum 25% Affirmative Action at all levels of leadership within their parties;

WE CALL upon the President and the Government of Southern Sudan to translate his promise into reality by providing for the 30% women representation at all levels in the interim constitution which is currently being reviewed;

WE DEMAND Peace and Security for all the people ofSouthern Sudan, in particular women and vulnerable groups;

WE CALL for creation of the special basket funding for women to uplift the economic status of women;

WE URGE the Government of Southern Sudan to effectively utilize the large untapped potential of women in all sectors;

In line with the above demands we have identified key areas of concern which must be given priority within the governance and development process ofSouthern Sudan.  The key areas are:

  1. Democracy and Good Governance
  2. Peace and Security
  3. Basic social services
  • Education
  • Health
  1. Economic Empowerment and Poverty Reduction
  2. Elimination of Gender-based violence
  3. Capacity building and institutional mechanisms for the achievement of Gender equality and Women’s Empowerment.

It is only when these concerns are fully integrated within the development plans ofSouth Sudanthat the potential of women would be fully tapped for the development of this Nation.  Remember development without women is not sustainable development. 

We women gathered here today, have resolved that these issues of concerns be transformed into a concrete vision of the women of the Republic of South Sudan

High fuel prices protests; a real test for Museveni regime

Uganda police has again arrested three opposition leaders as they tried to continue the Walk to Work campaign. The campaign was started by a group called Activists for Change protesting the high fuel prices. They called for protests for a month every Monday and Thursday for Ugandans to walk to work. On April 11, Kiiza Besigye, Norbert Mao and other opposition parliamentarians were blocked from walking to their offices, arrested and later charged with inciting violence and disobeying lawful orders.

Today, UPC’s Olara Otunnu and several other Ugandans from different political parties joined the protest.

For the first time, Uganda’s opposition moved beyond the politics of attacking Museveni and chose an issue that concerns most Ugandans whether you are in Museveni’s party or not. The high fuel prices have driven food prices up and many of Uganda’s urban poor can hardly afford a meal.

The police on ‘orders from above’ blocked the walks before they began and in their brutality was once again on display as they arrested the politicians. In Gulu, three people died from bullet wound when the government ordered the military to come in to stop Mao from walking in the streets of Gulu. The brutality with which the government reacted to Ugandans expressing themselves brought back the sound of the gun to Gulu, a place that for  20 something years was the epicenter of the brutality of both by rebels and government soldiers in the war on LRA.

In Kampala, the receivers of  police brutality included primary school children. Our police has no problem putting teargas canisters into schools . As long as Besigye is  nearby, the rest of you are collateral.

Asked about the police brutality and possible future charges, Museveni said he is a potential Nobel Peace Prize candidate for the way his party has dealt with security issues. This I assume was an attempt by the president at being cynical amidst protests that his ministers labelled “an attempt to topple government.”  They are referring to attempts on regime change because of what has gone on in North Africa.

Last week Museveni’s regime used the cover of security to order TV stations not broadcast live coverage of events and one TV station was reportedly switched off for 15 minutes. His regime also went an extra mile to order Internet Service Providers to block social media networks like twitter and facebook where people were reporting the events. It looks like only the government run Uganda Telecom effectively complied with the directive. These current protests clearly are not aimed at regime change but raising issues that affect Ugandans despite Museveni’s worry –looking at Libya and Egypt.

Museveni called the press to him home village miles away from Kampala –another unnecessary expenditure for newsrooms- where he never offered any solution to issues that the protestors are riding on. Museveni was quick to divide Ugandans into farmers and urban dwellers and then threw Besigye to the equation.

 “When food prices go up, yes people in towns suffer but farmers are very happy. Farmers are wondering what Besigye is talking about. That prices have gone up is good for them.”

These protests bring back the opposition in the limelight after a lost election that was largely due to massive voter buying and lack of organized opposition. Just when the ruling party thought they had him dealt a blow, Besigye comes back strong relating to issues of ordinary citizens that makes it difficult to point an accusing finger that this is a stint of ‘power hungry man.’

President Museveni who is preparing a huge banquet for African dictators to attend his swearing in ceremony on May 12, didn’t see any problem with food prices. His reaction shows he is still stuck in 1986. Most of us in urban centers are sons and daughters of farmers he claim are benefiting from the current situation.

Most Ugandans I know who live in cities strive amidst unemployment and high prices to send money back to villages where the farmers live. If you want to know this visit a local mobile money transfer agent. People are sending as little as 5000 Shillings back to their relatives who depend on them for healthcare, school fees e.t.c. The dependence rate is so high in Uganda that Museveni cannot deceive us that the problems of those living in the urban centers do not related to those of a farmer in Bushenyi. I am a daughter of farmers who are interested in my wellbeing but even the money they earn from a farm is not enough for them to send a part to their daughter in Kampala and also cater for their needs. What affects those living in urban areas especially the unemployed youth, affects the farmer too.

Museveni said:  

In the long run, the solution to all this fluctuation is irrigation which we shall embark on in the 3rd or 4th year of the new government. We will first deal with electricity and want to increase the supply to 3,800 megawatts by 2016. Then work on the roads before launching irrigation.”

Of course he assumes in the next four years Ugandans will have forgotten these words just as he assumes we forgot that in his 2001 manifesto he promised ten times that he would not run again for presidency.

With unemployment levels going up and Museveni’s government more interested in amassing wealth, the discontent will continue. One journalist friend who is covered last week’s protests told me some youth were yelling to opposition members “don’t even ask us to walk, give us guns”. This kind of desperation must be turned into something positive and we hope the opposition will continue to cultivate the spirit of non-violent protests which is very lucking much in our history. It’s only through well organized non-violent actions that Ugandans will learn to stand up to their rulers. Another Museveni with his 27 men fighting to ‘liberate’ Uganda will not work for us as we have already tested.

I doubt Museveni can imprison all three opposition leaders although there are early indications that he may prefer more treason charges for Besigye in particular. Whatever Museveni chooses to do with the leaders of Walk to Work campaign, so much has changed since he bought the election and the challenges facing urban dwellers will be a thorn in the side of the president for the next five years as long the opposition can continue to wisely choose issues that affect ordinary Ugandans and rally the masses.

South Sudan women experiences from the referendum

This week I am in Sudan with Isis-WICCE documenting women’s experiences in the referendum and looking at their needs and challenges ahead of the July 9 independence day. Forty women’s leaders from different states are meeting in Juba to take part in this meeting on the need to strengthen local Sudanese women to demand for their rights and fully participate in nation building.

Here are some of the quotes from the women. I leave as anonymous.

“We need to document our contributions, reflections and the whole (referendum) process otherwise we shall be forgotten.”

“We fought for this country; men might tell us our place belongs to the kitchen just like it happened to women of Eritrea. We must fight for our place right from the start.” —member of Central Equatoria State Legislative Assembly.

Madelena Ladu Gumat from Central Equatorio

“I come from Eastern Equatoria where the first bullet of liberation was fired in Torit near the border with Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda fifty years ago. The struggle started in my home and people in my state ensured that we vote 100 percent for separation because we have been suffering for the last 50 years. Women were mobilized and most them voted. But we have to start to figure out where our place will be once a new country comes.”

Martha Angwar from the Upper Nile State


“Women constitute 65 percent of the population in Sudan. If women were not to turn up, South Sudan wouldn’t have achieved independence so in a new setting we have the numbers and the experience. We will not be left behind.”

Former Uganda Minister for Ethics Miria Matembe talking to South Sudan women leaders on positioning women in post conflict Sudan.

Delivering with barely anything; a story of Ugandan mother

On Wednesday March 30, I visited Buyinja Health Center IV in the newly created district of Namayingo which lies on the shores of Lake Victoria in eastern Uganda (somehow we rarely say south east). I was there to interview  Jessica Were, a woman nominated for the upcoming Women of Courage Awards hosted by Isis-WICCE and the US Embassy in Kampala. Were is a mother mentor working to bring mothers to get more involved in Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMCT) of HIV. She also works to defend the rights of women living with HIV and orphans who are always denied land.

In a new district, Buyinja is supposed to be elevated to a hospital but for now it has a few blocks with a male and female wards and a maternity wing. Jenifer Friday arrived on a boda boda (‘motorcycle taxi’). When I saw her I thought she had come for checkup but she didn’t go to the separate block where Were educates these women.  Fifteen minutes later I enter the maternity ward to catch a few shots to show Were’s working environment. I find Jenifer with a child who is barely two years crying out loud. Jenifer was also shouting as her labour pains increased.

Jessica Were tries to calm down Jenifer and also holds her one and half year old minutes before the second baby was delivered at Buyinja.

Jenifer arrived at this health center with nothing but her child on way to deliver another child. She had no clothes, no relative accompanying her. In fact her husband sent her to mother’s place at eight months.  Nurses looked around for any cloth; they work with barely anything. Sometimes they have to give their own clothes to cover babies and mothers like Jenifer. The nurse in charge tells me that there are many like Jenifer who arrive at the center with nothing. Health centers  rarely has gloves, razors and cloth, most stuff essential during delivery. I wondered how health workers keep their balance in such conditions.

Jenifer is 19 years old and she was having her second child. She delivered her first child at a traditional birth attendant’s place and after hearing Were’s message she made it here.  Were had to call relatives and they appeared after about an hour with a few clothes. Were had to tell that Jennifer needed sanitary towels or cotton and underwear.

Jenifer’s first child is from another man so she is basically lucky that her current husband would marry her and take care of both. In that position Jenifer couldn’t bargain to wait for the old child to grow before having this man’s child. She does home cores and the husband cleans boda boda for a living. I asked her what she would want to do in her life if given an opportunity; she was quiet for a while. Later she told me she wants to be a tailor.

Jenifer with minutes old baby Scovia.

Jenifer was about 17 when she got her first child and at the time she was in primary seven. Talking to her minutes after she delivered a baby girl called Scovia, I reflected on what difference education could have brought to Jenifer’s life. At 18 I was headed to university. For girls like Jenifer, their education is interrupted by so many things including poverty and general attitudes towards educating a girl child. By the time she’s 18 and in primary school, the chances of pregnancy and dropping out of school are high.