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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. http://stream.aljazeera.com/episode/4569

Below is the discussion i had with The Stream before it went live. http://www.youtube.com/user/AJstream?blend=13&ob=5#p/u/0/kZakyvIHA-s

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Uganda gets its first female speaker of parliament; is it worth a celebration?

Ms Rebbeca Alitwala Kadaga was today sworn in as the Speaker for the 9th parliament in Uganda. Most of the parliamentarians are familiar faces and the National Resistance Movement (NRM), President Museveni’s party, has enough members to pass any laws they want.

In a world that cherishes women’s rights and empowerment (or pretends to), this should be seen as a historic moment and many will see it as that. However I don’t see much to celebrate about Kadaga’s election. Kadaga is not a fresh face in this parliament, she has been there, served as Deputy Speaker. She has seen it all.

She holds a Masters in Women’s Law from the University of Zimbabwe but this specialization in women’s rights law has not seen the NRM filled parliament show concern to issues affecting women.

Uganda’s health system is ailing, maternal mortality is high yet we have seen the NRM government which Kagada has served exonerate ministers who swindle health care monies.  I was discussing Kadaga’s election with some people in the women movement and one lady told me, “I am not interested in pushing to have a female speaker just because she wears a dress.” Then she told me it’s almost impossible for her to see Kadaga above the NRM male dominated politics of intrigue. Many questioned what exactly Kadaga had done to advance the women’s rights in the country.

And these questions could be answered once the Marriage and Divorce Bill comes to her parliament in a few days. The bill among others recognizes marital rape and also provides that women are entitled to a share of property upon divorce.

Kadaga participated in the infamous amendment of Uganda’s constitution to allow the lifting of presidential term limits and thanks to that move we have a possible life presidency. She comes at a time when the chair of her party President Museveni is calling the media ‘enemies of the state’.  The very day she became speaker, somewhere on the outskirts of Kampala, the leader of opposition Dr. Kizza Besigye was under house arrest. Kadaga will most likely preside over the NRM parliament that will pass laws to deny Ugandans bail for 6 months for being suspected protesters.

Kadaga  is one of the MPs that took the Shs. 20 million shillings bribe from the government shortly before the February 2011 elections. When asked by some women she said she had used the money to construct some boreholes in her constituency but has refused to go on record and in the media to declare that. The campaign by civil society organizations is still on to try and get back that money.

The region she comes from -Busoga is one of the poorest regions in Uganda. It has suffered most because of the death of industries that once flourished in Jinja before the current government took over. Of course wealth distribution is not her role but she has held different ministerial positions in this government before and therefore she could answer some of the questions.

To me Kadaga will be just another speaker doing anything at the whims of President Museveni. I wait for her to shock me, to stand up to that small group of corrupt men that are draining this country’s resources.  I see her becoming another statistic of how African countries are doing well with women political empowerment. She will be the talk in those various governance and women’s conferences. Am sure she will have millions of invites at her table to tell the story of how she made it.

But I will wait for you Madam Speaker to prove me wrong! That you will not only be known as the first female Speaker but as a woman who put her country above her party. I say this knowing that the party you serve has become too intolerant to anyone that questions their mismanagement of this country.

Time is on your side. You have got five years to do that.

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WHICH TYPE OF UGANDAN ARE YOU?

April was a  month of turmoil in Uganda. We still don’t know if there’s more to come and what form these events will take. About ten people lost their lives and hundreds are still nursing bullet wounds sustained when the military and police descended on unarmed protests calling on government to do something about rising fuel and food prices. Yesterday we saw another statement from President Yoweri Museveni about opposition leader Dr.Kizza Besigye and the whole walk to work campaign. The president called thousands of Besigye supporters drug-users. He also called the media biased and “enemies of Uganda’s recovery”, a title many in the profession are  both happy and worried about.

Richard M Kavuma, a Ugandan journalist wrote this note on his facebook page categorising Ugandans. Reading it one will understand the social-economic factors that could lead to or stand in the way of change in Uganda.

There are four types of Ugandans: Category 1: There are those who have never had it better and who cannot imagine life without the present dispensation. For those, the government is a victim of oppression by the opposition and colonialists and their supporters in the media. In other words, these men, women and their children are having a sumptuous dinner do not want to be disturbed. Outside, askaris and Safety-First Guards or SFG are deployed to secure the peace of the party inside – while earning their family’s keep.

Category 2: This includes both those who just manage to get by in their professions and businesses and those who are hungry and starving. These taxpayers know that things can and should be better, but they are so scared of Category 1 that they are thankful for the air they breathe. These do not want to cross the path of those in category one who boast of their monopoly of legalised violence. They are not even sure that ‘change’ can actually bring about change. The main problem facing this category is lack of courage.

Category 3: There are those who are so detached from the state that they have not imagined that change is possible. For them the state matters to those who are in politics and they do not see a link between their survival and the nature of politics and the conduct of politicians. That is why it is much easier for KFM to host Besigye for free but not even his party’s money would get him on Kyamunungu FM without a fight. To Category 1, those in Category 3 must be protected from ‘evil’ ideas propagated by category 4.

Category 4: These believe heads of Category 1 are squandering the opportunity to build a future without violence (because the eventual, inevitable fruit of oppression is self-defence aggression). So they try to appeal to categories 1 & 2 to push for a change in the way Uganda is run. They want democratic freedoms underpinned by ability to hold the government accountable and, if it misbehaves, change it; they want no corruption and better use of public resources. Certainly 1&2 loathe and fear Category 4.

This note generated debate and you find more here

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Conflict, Uganda, Uncategorized

Museveni gets instruments of power; rival’s supporters get the cane, teargas and bullets

“I am not going to a theater of death but if it takes my life to bring equity to Ugandans, I’d regard that as a privilege,” that’s what one young Ugandan told his friends before he set off  yesterday morning to welcome home opposition leader Dr.Kizza Besigye who had been receiving treatment in Nairobi Kenya.

After being blocked by what many believe were Ugandan authorities to get into the country on May 11, Besigye decided his return would conincide with President Yoweri Museveni’s 5th swearing in ceremony at Kololo Independence grounds.

Museveni’s swearing in ceremony was not that well attended by even African leaders  save for DRC, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. As President Museveni’s ceremony was ending with dances, on the otherside of the town crowds had already gathered, not to catch a glimpse of their revolutionary president but to welcome a man that has taken the brutality of this regime to international limelight.

Besigye left Uganda for treatment in Kenya after his brutal arrest that left him almost blind. His support has suddenly increased as the government has deployed thousands of police and military in different parts of the country to quell the walk to work protests, a campaign by the opposition against the rising fuel and food prices.

In April, 9 people were killed and hundreds were left with gunshot wounds. So when Brian Bwesigye set out yesterday determined to walk to meet Besigye’s convoy from Entebbe, it was an act that could only come from a young Ugandan who is unable to make sense of his president’s speeches that seem to only point to the past.

The road Besigye and his supporters occupied for 8 hrs was the same to be used by President Museveni and his guests as they make their way to the lavish State House that the president put up in Entebbe.

Military and Police forces were seen beating up Besigye supporters to get them off the road. This must have been an embarrassing moment for the president and his regime sympathizers. A day that was meant to be for the president to boast of his 68 percent win in the February election became the day when thousands sacrificed, waited in the sun, faced with canes, teargas and bullets to catch a glimpse of Besigye.

President Museveni was forced to go through these crowds that waited for his arch rival on his day. The government’s account was that one motorcyclist was shot dead as he insisted on crossing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s convoy. Reports show that Jonathan’s convoy got stoned and one government spokesperson said this on TV but the Nigerian president’s office has denied the story. Fred Opolot from Uganda government Media Center told the story of the shooting of a rowdy boda boda man, he looked unremorseful even knowing that there could have been other ways to get this man out of the way but not killing him. I guess that hows cheap life has become here.

So far that’s the only death the news media have reported. But Bwesigye who was part of the Besigye supporters posted a note on his Facebook saying:

Then as we approached Kibuye, TEAR GAS started rocking! Then bullets! Then helicopter gunships flying over us! Then poisoned water! Then dead bodies! Three of them, I saw with my naked eyes! Tension. I hid in a residential apartment nearby and from the third floor in someone’s house, I was watching Besigye atop his car in the face of the shooting.

I honestly did not know that I would later see dead bodies of civilians after being shot by the, military, I used the theater of death expression as a hyperbole, I was wrong, it was real.

It’s not yet clear how many people lost their lives just because they went out to welcome an opposition leader an like all past deaths from live ammunition we don’t expect to see any investigation or arrest of those responsible for they probably were following ‘orders from above’.

The numbers wont be clear also because of the way the government has pushed the media into a tight corner. For the State TV which covers most of the country it is almost abominable to show Besigye and his supporters, we have seen the New Vision coverage dwindle and last night it was clear the whip had well reached the private TV stations.

On the night when many Ugandans were injured and thousands gathered to see an opposition leader, NTV Uganda showed about 30 minutes of Museveni’s swearing in. One wd mistaken their coverage as a paid advert by the regime. One by one the reports followed about Museveni’s achievements and the beatings, teargas and bullets at Entebbe raod took 3 minutes with no mention of the injured.

The pressure is on but WBS TV offered Ugandans best coverage of the different events. If media is ready to give in to government threats at the earliest God knows what sort of news we will be watching by the end of the next five years.

The security forces went farther to assault journalists, steal their cameras and destroy other equipment in what seems like a well orchestrated move to curtail press freedom. And all this didn’t appear much on our TVs.

If the Swearing in day is anything to go by, one can only see that the next five years will be a tough period for Ugandans. Especially looking at the president’s speech which didn’t offer concrete ideas on how his government will deal with increasing unemployment and corruption.

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Uganda women hold vigil for justice and peace over recent shootings

Today about 150 women marched in Kampala to protest police brutality that has characterised th Walk to Work  demonstrations which has taken five lives including a two year old girl in the last month.

Ugandan youth march along in Vigil for Justice and Peace in Kampala. May 9 2011.

The Walk to Work campaign to raise issues of high fuel and food prices currently facing most Ugandan households had been organised by Activists for Change, a group of Ugandans from different opposition parties. The campaign which started on April 11 was met with bullets which left many on hospital beds with serious bullet wounds and the top opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye was hospitalised in Nairobi.

Today women from different civil society organisations marched to add their voice to many Ugandans who have said brutality wont the country anywhere.

In attempting to fulfill its obligations in the last few weeks, the State has instead used excessive force resulting in the infringement of some of the fundamental rights enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution including the right to life, the freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, right to access prompt, fair and timely justice and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment….We also wish to express our profound disappointment with government’s indifference, exhibited by the lack of urgent action to curb the situation and apparent disregard of pressing priorities in allocation of government expenditure.

We as Women in Civil Society are hereby convening to register ourdeep concern and condemnation on the use of excessive force by the Police and other security agencies and subsequent escalating violence and to call upon the State to take critical measures to address the key issues/ concernsraised by the publicso as to avert a national crisis. In particular, we wish to register our deep concern of:

The use of excessive force and especially the use of live ammunition to quell demonstrations,indiscriminate physical assaults on civilians, spraying of vast amounts of tear gas in closed spaces including cars, schools, dispensaries and homes occasioning loss of life and property, severe injuries and pain among innocent children, by standers, those at work and urban dwellers.We are greatly concerned that rather than enjoy state protection, citizens are preoccupied with defending themselves against its wrath;

Thelma Awori,a womens rights activist during the walk.

The brutality of officers of the Uganda Police Force and other security operatives in handling the “Walk to Work”      campaign which amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for those that were arrested.

The intimidation of human rights defenders who have spoken out on various issues of concern including the declining space for engagement;

Censorship of the media and a curtailing of press freedom and freedom of expression, including intimidation and security threats to journalists and media houses carrying out their duty as a watchdog of the state and provider of information to the public

The increased erosion of the independence of the three arms of government  and lack of .The actions and decisions of some judicial officers which cast doubt in the minds of the public on whether justice is being done. We are equally concerned that contrary to the public appeal for the perpetrators of violence to be brought to justice, the Minister for Internal Affairs has instead defended the use of brutal force. Such responses from government risk promoting impunity.

The increased militarization of the State and use of armed forces to enforce law and order and quell peaceful protests which heightens risks of violent conflict and will affect the entire population of Uganda including men, women and children.

We are calling upon Government to take proactive measures to address broader social justice issues, and ensure that key concerns voiced by various sections of the public are addressed. We demand for strong policy measures to address issues food security, unemployment, health and education.

The march through Kampala was granted by police on condition that women wouldn’t utter political statements. And it happened!

The women handed over a statement calling for proper investigations into the incidents to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights defenders Margaret Sekagya.

Although the police gave the women’s march a location far away from the city center, there was enough coverage of their issues. One Ugandan told me:

“Such good images of white clad ladies with their pans could do wonders at getting the reluctant middle class off their backsides. White clad Mothers, on the other hand, emphasize peaceful nature of the campaign and also are re-assuring to those who are still hiding.”

The march was well placed on Mothers Day to point out specifically horrifying images we saw in the last weeks of a pregnant woman Ms.Nalwendo shot right in her stomach leaving her intestines hanging out in Kampala during the demos and another incident where a two year old Juliana Nalwanga was shot dead in Masaka. In all deaths we are yet to see any arrest of the perpetrators in the security forces.

Stella Mukasa, a lawyer and women's rights activist reads the statement as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Margaret Sekagya (c) and the Head of Uganda office- UN Human Rights listen.

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Is it ‘World anti Press Freedom’ day in Uganda?

Mr. President you know how you told us a few weeks ago that these are hard times of high inflation, which this month rose to 14 percent, and that we should to cut back on expenses especially for those of us who drink alcohol. Well I have taken your advice seriously and I launched my no-drink-till-the prices-drop protest. I have turned to drinking only milk just like you Mr.President. I thought the milk would be cheaper but that’s another day’s discussion. I have cut back on my expenditure significantly but at a high price.

Am sure you have now seen the video of that good cadre, that skinny-glass wearing one who showed how patriotic he was by smashing Besigye’s car. It was a good message for those who don’t take your advice. Again am getting derailed but the point is when the next day someone started to incite your people to protest such reasonable use of force to capture the most wanted opposition guy who wants to topple your government, there was nothing on TV. We watched KiNigeria movies and listened to Rihanna-I hope you know the gal’s tunes. Remember you later went to Kenya where Besigye had flown ahead of you to dispel any rumours he was to put in the media. You told them the truth, plain truth that Besigye had the hammer and wanted to finish the entire police force in order to stop them from keeping law and order.

After such heroic acts by one Gilbert Arinaitwe I didn’t know why some members of parliament were crying.  The Broadcasting Council has done a tremendous job of ensuring that TV stations and radios don’t give live wrong updates to your people. So I was surprised to see MPs crying in the house. I am assured those are not revolutionaries, revolutionaries can’t be devastated neither can they cry like that in public.

The TVs and Radios have so far been subdued. Remember how you assured us that these people causing chaos and those promoting the violence on TVs will be defeated like Kony, ADF and the “unruly Karimojong”? We have got the broadcast media down and it won’t come back easily, your men have made sure that it goes into hiding just like Kony went to the jungles of Congo where he does things your people can’t hear about.

I need to alert you however Mr. President that there are still unruly media people. Even after one of your soldiers, who was trying to keep law during the so called Walk to work (call it walk to jail since those who participate are well hunted and taken to the beach), told them that killing a journalist by accident in a riot is not a crime, they insist and go along with Besigye. Today they published false images of your operatives holding a hammer, the very hammer that Besigye brought from his car. But you know there are programs that one can use to superimpose photos on others and I guess you remember the photos of you dressed like 50Cent after you sang Another Rap.  They used that exact tactic. You need to find medicine for those people in print media who don’t take matters of national security seriously. And there’s need for you to open Another Rap fans facebook page since these young girls and boys have been misled to put up groups against you. That way we will get young Ugandans like me who are part of the Uganda Waragi Appreciation Society group on facebook to your group. If they don’t come you can simply pass the khaki envelopes, they worked for you in the elections remember! And if the envelopes won’t work, just shut down facebook. Remember how they all shivered when they saw the Uganda Communications Commission directive to the internet service providers  on April 14?

Now I remember that Runyankole saying that loosely translates “Even the one that tills a soft ground comes  a time when they have to stop”, put their hoe on their shoulder and go home to rest. Isn’t it Mr. President? But don’t confuse this to mean am suggesting Besigye is right. In your case you killed your animal (Uganda) and those of us who didn’t join you in the hunt have no right whatsoever to tell you what to do. I  just meant it’s time for me to put my request across. I need your permission to break off my no-drink protest to take some pints of Uganda Waragi. I have a walking permit; I only need a drinking permit for tonight. I know you don’t approve of alcohol consumers especially in these hard times. I do understand where you are coming from , the taxes on these drinks don’t go to farmers like my relatives. But I assume, a good Christian like you would remember the bible somewhere says a little alcohol to forget is not bad.

I heard today is World anti Press Freedom Day here in Uganda, I will take some to forget those false images in media that we have been subjected to for the last three weeks. I mean how can they claim that a 2 year old was killed by a bullet?  Then they show man lying in Kiseka market, then all that footage about pepper in the eyes of Besigye, I mean this falsehood, if you are not yet a revolutionary like me, you need a little bit of UgandaWa to forget. Uganda Waragi drinking is also patriotic in a way, remember it’s a war gin I am talking about.

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