One man protest over walk to work killings in Uganda

It’s one of my last days in Washington DC before i head home. I took a walk with friends by the White House today. From a distance I could see the flag waving. It had black, yellow red. Few flags can be confused with the Ugandan flag, i took a few steps and i saw one man holding out a placard. As i walked closer to him, one image caught my eye. The image of Brenda Nalwendo, the photo that send chills down the spines of even those i knew to love President Museveni’s regime.  It was in April she was shot right in her belly as she tried to cross the streets as the police and military fired on protesters. She was pregnant and by the hand of God she survived and her baby was unharmed. I later visited her in hospital and haven’t heard from her much. But right here in DC i saw her picture and also the picture of parents of a 2 year old Juliana Nalwanga who was killed in Masaka. About 10 people died in the protests.

Bukenya at the White House holds out a placard with images of those who died in the protests in Uganda in April.

This week civil society organisations called for an independent inquiry into the April killings. I am not optimistic this will happen as we have seen many inquiries in Uganda tend to be a waste. Charles Bukenya was the man holding the placard with these images. He’ on hunger strike a colleague tells me. Its part of the vigil that former presidential candidate and opposition figure  Nortbert Mao has called for,according to Bukenya. Bukenya is a Uganda Young Democrats (USA) head. He says he will not end the strike until President Obama talks to him or about the human rights violations by the current regime. He says its time U.S stopped being blind to the ‘impunity’ that rules in Uganda.

Charles Bukenya head of Uganda Young Democrats in USA on a one man demonstration + hunger strike over April walk to work killings. Rosebell's photo

DRC second worst place to be a woman in the world; what’s in a label?

DRC, orthographic projection.
Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, the Trust Law which is part of the Thomas Reuters Foundation published a Danger Poll. The results were about the five top spots where it’s dangerous to be a woman in the world. Top was Afghanistan and second was Democratic Republic of Congo. The indicators were six; non-sexual violence, sexual violence, health threats, cultural or religious factors, lack of access to resources and trafficking.

When I first saw this on twitter via @VOACongoStory.  I replied: And these narratives stick!! #DRC #CongoRT @VOACongoStory poll by Trust Law .

DRC was put in that spotlight because of the war time rapes that are well documented in the Eastern DRC where different militias control different parts. The survey identified Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Pakistan, India and Somalia as the top most dangerous countries for women in 2011.

We journalists love to jump up to the terms coined to describe a place or a people-sometimes without questioning. Our challenge is always, how do you describe a place or people to another person who has never been there and make them feel as if they are there? Sometimes the terms coined might well fit the situation but as an African, I have seen these terms thrown around by those outside the continent who are so ready to speak for us in their endeavor to get more funding to ‘save’ Africans. What they never think of is these terms stick even when these situations are gone. Many have heard of the war in Congo and mass rapes from different UN resolutions and regional agreements. Our very own army – Uganda committed horrendous crimes in DRC between 1998-2003 and so did four other African armies. The challenge we are faced with in the Congo is not so much in coining terms to describe a whole country as worst place to be a woman but rather finding real interventions to end the lawlessness in DRC that allows impunity to do anything from murder to rape.

So I had a discussion with my former editor at Inter Press Service Africa Terna Gyuse on why the world is fixed on coining terms instead of embarking on real interventions. I am also aware that these narratives put on an entire country last way longer. Before we know it everyman from Congo will be looked at a rapist or even asked questions on immigration forms like, did you rape anyone during the war? How do you help a country without creating negative connotations to a whole group of people? This was Terna’s response:

Part of the problem is there are too many people paid to sit in offices and sell campaigns or places they’ve never lived. They’re always busy fighting on someone else’s behalf, they are making so much noise they have to add extra something or the other to everything just to be heard. We all do it I suppose. They are sitting there, well paid and with their fingers on the triggers of access to everything, always adopting people they like to feel are helpless.

But (sadly) we let them do it. Always lining up to be “climate witnesses” for this group or whatever the flavour is. We go to too many meetings not to say anything  but to ask for help. We Africans are so often ready to be whatever they say we are. On conflicts Oh everyone knows those rural African men are sex-mad patriarchal rapist fiends, hopped up on drugs and tradition and the power of the gun. When we get good access, we’re still busy explaining ourselves to outsiders whether its access to the media, to powerful people elsewhere or to wealthy people elsewhere.

Seeing this term coined, ‘worst place to be a woman’, I thought this can easily be passed onto Uganda, Zimbabwe, Chad, South Sudan or even Central African Republic. The term made me wonder, I thought of Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist who founded a hospital in the eastern Congolese city of Bukavu to provide free care to the victims of sexual violence. The man has worked tirelessly to provide for women who would have lost lives and provided support for their psychological recovery. Having seen firsthand the worst impact of rapes of women of his beloved country, I wondered if Dr. Mukwege would ever evoke the term ‘worst place to be a woman’ as description of  his country.

I can only hope that all the killing, looting and raping, which includes men as victims too, will be presented as part of a complex story of DRC that has got many facets. That the world shdn’t just be satisfied in having the largest UN Peacekeeping mission in Congo with little results to show. We should question whether the agreements on the exportation of the blood minerals do hold and whether the Kabila government is doing enough.  It should also be told that despite the rapes, Congo has got women and men that are making shifts in making their communities better for all and that the redemption of Congo cannot come about by just throwing around labels.

Internet a 21st Century Human Rights issue?

This week the UN declared internet access a basic human right. To many in African countries which are still grappling with challenges ranging from health, infrastructure, unemployment etc this declaration may be difficult to see relate to. I am taking part in the Internet Freedom Fellows program funded by the Department of State and managed by the U.S. Mission in Geneva. The fellowship follows up on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pledge to find innovative ways to promote the use of the Internet in support of human rights. While in Geneva earlier this week, I took part in an event where Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council, reiterated Clinton’s statement that the Internet is “the public space of the 21st Century.”

For many the internet is like being a square or a Baraza. However many in Africa are yet to see the internet as a basic right. Ben Scott, Clinton’s Policy Advisor on innovation whom I had a chat with called the internet is “the first truly  21st Century human rights issue.”

We were looking at internet freedom and before I had asked how this basic right would be realized for many in Africa. Scott said that just like mobile banking (MPesa, Mobile money) is doing tremendously well in Africa, the internet access will continue to be majorly tied to mobile telephone penetration in Africa. He indicated that Africa’s mobile phone penetration has surpassed Europe’s yet it’s still at 40 percent. This makes the internet and mobile phone market pose both an economic and political opportunity.

In most discussions it was clear that we have two types of freedoms related to the internet; freedom to access internet and freedom on the internet. All world leading economies have thrived on information systems and making them accessible to all citizens therefore increasing their participation in the economy. A connected society is going to be more prosperous and stable.

Many governments in Africa are moving to invest heavily in the laying down of internet infrastructure.As more people on the continent are connected to the internet, they will also seek a different kind of governance because of the access to information. This is what Scott called, a dictator’s dilemma.

‘Everyone recognizes that future of economy is largely based on information infrastructure. So governments want populations connected but at the same time they want to control speech on these networks and it’s a dilemma,” Scott said. “Internet tends to shift power from centralized institutions to many leaders representing different communities. Governments who want to censor are fighting a battle against the nature of the technology,” Scott said.

So the dilemma that despotic leader, whom we have in plenty on the continent, face is political speech versus economic prosperity.  Scott said: “You can’t have one and leave the other and that’s the exact dictator’s dilemma.”

This was well manifested in the recent protests in Uganda when the government instructed the internet service providers to shut down facebook and twitter. First the telecom industry is one of the leaders in tax revenues in Uganda and provides a lot of jobs for the Ugandan youth in a country where the number of unemployed graduates has become worrying. In the face of such a directive companies had a lot at stake, most telecoms provide internet and they feared a backlash. This directed was leaked to the press by people in the telecoms who were concerned that they would be the first victims of the backlash. So in the end the government didn’t achieve its mission. President Museveni cannot choose to get the taxes from the telecoms which help him run the country and at the same time easily pass directives to control information.

Clay Shirky, Adjunct Professor at New York University graduate program Interactive Telecommunications said no other invention has ever threatened the Westphalia state like the internet has done. The states in the past were able to effectively control radio, newspapers and TV but the internet is a challenge.

“This is a cultural and political choice. Protecting freedom of speech is a governance challenge. Westphalia where government controls everything survived the 20th Century media innovations, we are going to see if they can survive the internet,” Shirky said.

Only ten percent of Ugandans access the internet yet about 10 million of the 33 million Ugandans have mobile phones. The use of internet is partly hampered by illiteracy levels as well as cost but Uganda has a youthful population which is will take new information systems even with just post primary education.

There are real infrastructure problems hindering access to internet in Africa but we are seeing more investment. According to ComputerWorld, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have linked forces together on a $400 million investment in terrestrial fiber optic cables. The new network is expected to run close to 16,000 kilometers from southern Sudan to Tanzania’s border with Zambia. The terrestrial network called the East Africa Backhaul System  will connect to the submarine fiber-optic cables on the East Africa coast.

However some governments have already moved to suppress freedom on the internet.  According to recent report from Freedom House, Ethiopia’s internet is one of the top less free in the world.Internet access has been denied and controlled through monopolizing the communications industry to curtail freedom of expression. In Ethiopia the few people that access the internet that is government controlled cannot freely express themselves.

This kind of control is what my friend Ssozi told me about when we shared about internet as a basic right declaration.  He said as long as access to information is not a right, internet being a basic human right declaration will not benefit most of the people living under undemocratic governments.

Even with infrastructure in place many worry that some governments in Africa may decide to go the China way which has put up what’s now famously called the ‘Great firewall of China’.  It’s a deceptive path for African governments who may be considering the China way of having economic prosperity and also stifling freedoms of expression and speech.

China spends a lot of money on building firewalls to prevent free speech but Scott believes this cannot easily be replicated. He says even with its economic might, it will be very costly for China in the long-run to block people from accessing information. The costs of bypassing the firewalls are way cheaper than putting one, some said.

In Africa, government still have a hold onto public broadcasting which many people rely on in the absence of cheap accessible internet. So for internet access as a basic right to be realized or even for it to make a difference in the way citizens in Africa can hold their governments accountable, development budgets and strategies for both by governments and international development organizations must take this into consideration.

There has to also be efforts to ensure protection in the face of growing desire by governments to curtail freedom on the internet in the wake of North Africa uprisings. We have seen internet play a key role in protests in Swaziland, Gabon and Uganda to some extent.

At a recent meeting of bloggers organized by Google Africa and Global Voices there was a general concern that many African government are employing tactics of threatening the internet user s directly instead of cutting off internet or attacking their sites which could bring about immediate condemnation.  In Uganda journalist Timothy Kalyegira is the first person to be arrested and charged for an online article written in Uganda Record.

Scott said that in the internet age there has to be a  “move from government to government diplomacy to a people to people diplomacy.”  When a question on recent Wikileaks case,  Scott argued that there’s need to balance state security and internet freedom. Yet it’s in the same name of security that authoritarian government crackdown on their citizens.

Shirky says the debate on whether there can be internet freedom is still very much open. “No country recognizes universal right to speak. The negotiation around this kind of freedom is going dominate the next 10 yrs.”

Questions on Mayombo death in a UN report on attacks on freedom of expression

For the last few days I have been in Geneva as Internet Freedom Fellow with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva and Institute for Media and Global Governance with many other digital activists, bloggers and journalists from Burma, China, Tunisia, Egypt, South Korea and Indonesia. One of the tours took me to the United Nations office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. I got to discuss parts of the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue released two weeks ago. Uganda had a few cases in there but one caught my attention. And since we just celebrated Heroes Day with more medals out (similar way we create districts), I thought the case of the Late Noble Mayombo was timely.

In report I found a case that hadn’t seen much in the media in Uganda. Joram Bintamanya, a journalist , Gerald Kankya and Prosper Businge who are members of Twerwaneho Listeners Club, a non-governmental carrying out human rights advocacy through radio programs in Toro area were arrested for talking about Mayombo’s death. This information, according to the report, was gathered last year.

On April 1 2010 Prosper Businge was summoned to Fort Portal police interrogated about a talk show he hosted on Better FM where Kankya and Bintamanya had requested government to release the report of investigations into the 2007 death of former permanent secretary of Defence Ministry Brig.Noble Mayombo. There was a team appointed by President Museveni regarding the death but not much has been heard from the team or a report.

The two human rights advocates like many in Uganda have had to report to police on weekly basis for interrogation on a case that would probably never stand in courts of law. Bintamanya was charged with sedition after a day in jail and according to the report the two men have faced threats and police has told them to abandon their human rights advocacy. The two men are being stopped from talking about the death of Mayombo, a subject that many people stay away from because his death has many theories around it.

They work outside Kampala so there’s a likelihood that their arrest and intimidation will not make it to many national media outlets yet these are the people making mind shifts in rural Uganda where we have limited civic awareness and limited knowledge of rights and state protection. Just like all the cases reported last year the government of Uganda has never responded to the queries into abuse of right of expression.

Having seen reports of more heroes’ medals it is only reasonable that we ask where the report on Mayombo’s death is. To my knowledge he was many peoples hero and many looked up to him. Why shouldn’t people talk about this subject in public when it is very much alive in private discussions?

Security remains top concern in South Sudan

On a recent trip to Juba I attended a conference of South Sudan Women leaders from six states hosted by Isis-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange. At the meeting women were discussing the way forward in the new country and they centered on how to help women get their rightful place in different sectors and governance of the new nation. I met Hannah Bona Nimaya, a representative in the Western Equatoria State Legislative Assembly where she chairs a committee on public service. Western Equatoria State borders DRC and Central African Republic.  Nimaya has been working with different women’s groups to ensure women participate in governance. She has also worked with a network of traditional birth attendants to give them more skills to handle deliveries in place where health centers are mostly just buildings with no medical staff or drugs.

Nimaya told me about what the different issues facing South Sudanese ahead of independence and what she expects from a new state.

You recently voted in the referendum where you decided to move away and have a new country of your own, what does this mean to you as Sudanese woman?

As a woman, a mother and a member of parliament in southern Sudan who was born and grew up during war, this is a historic point that we have longed for. During the referendum we had to move to access villages that have no roads. Due to my work in training women in maternal health I was voted to represent my people in the state parliament. So during the referendum I had to work hard to put the message of cessation across. We moved door to door to mobilize people and ensure that everybody has registered for voting and it happened and I appreciate them.

Hannah Lona Bona Nimaya, a representative in the Western Equatoria State Legislative Assembly . Rosebell Kagumire photo.

It’s less than two months to the Independence Day celebration on July 09, what do you think should be priorities of the government in the new country?

One of the priorities for women in southern Sudan is security. There’s still fighting in some parts and for us in Western Equatoria State we still have a problem of the Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Most of the people fear of moving because they think they will be killed.

We lack proper health facilities. Women are still suffering, women, the mortality rate and mobility rates are still high. We have many counties that do not have adequate health facilities, all centers were completely destroyed during the war and have never been renovated and the services there are completely poor. Some of the hospitals are empty so it’s one of the priorities that people have to be given good health services.

The education system has to be improved especially now that we are becoming a new country. The education system in Southern Sudan has to be upgraded and the standards have to be improved, so that education services are given to our children equally.

The other issue is women’s representation in governance. The number of women holding positions in decision making is not reasonable at all. We are more than 60 percent of the population but we don’t feature much is administration of this country and its resources. The 25% which was put in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is yet to be implemented at national and state levels. In many states the 25% is far from being achieved. I am not happy when the men say we were given that percentage. Who gave it to us?  It should be seen as our right because we are part and parcel of the story of the liberation of South Sudan. Our contribution to the liberation for the last 50 years was way greater than 25%  so we can’t just be given 25%. Women have to be appointed in key ministries that deliver services in key areas and government needs to ensure that a lot of resources are put in the service delivery ministries. Women should be heading such ministries because women have a heart to ensure that the services go to the people.

In Southern Sudan there is a high rate of illiteracy especially among women. And even when the women are well educated they are still marginalized. We want women supported to go back to school so women’s capacity is increased whether in business, politics or education. As a country we will have to devise means to tackle gender based violence. Women still face f rape and forced marriages. For poor families, a girl child is seen as only good for bringing wealth to family by being married. We need our government to address these issues.

What’s your dream of the new country?

I want to see the level of service delivery improved. Regardless of our positions I just want to see us as one people, dealing with tribalism, nepotism and corruption because if we don’t do this from the start our country will not progress.

I think that the opportunity we have is that we will own our country and we can decide for ourselves to discuss and address our own issues unlike before when we used to wait for resources and someone to help. Another opportunity is that people are ready to receive their new country and become participants we must take good advantage of this mood.

What do you want to see organizations involved in development do in your community?

We need to see health interventions especially reproductive health. This is often ignored yet people coming out of war like us have major complications to address. During war women were raped many never had any medical services before therefore I want to see reproductive health given as much attention as other areas. I have worked with Traditional birth attendants (TBAs) to train them with a grant by Isis-WICCE. We have no hospitals yet we have to address maternal health issues immediately.

Although the TBAs have no much education, they have been offering these services and if given help and offer good services especially since there very few midwives around. They have really helped our women because now women can receive counseling, they are tested for HIV to reduce mother to child transmission all because we used TBAs who they trust. So far we have trained 45 birth attendants and given then new skills and also increased referrals even thought the health centers we are referring them are not that equipped.

I also need to see our people trained in different peace building mechanisms. Of course we have local systems which have worked for centuries but we need to know in cases where they have failed we can borrow a leaf from neighbouring countries that have also suffered war in the past. People still have trauma, there have been clashes with different tribes so we must address these issues to make sure our country is stable. My rough estimate would be that 80% of the women I know in my area face some level of trauma. Many lost their husbands, they are not able to support their children in school, and they have land issues which affect their livelihoods. Any development must address people’s immediate needs.