It’s really emotional to read through this. To read the farewell speech of outgoing Zambian President Rupiah Banda who has conceded defeat in this week’s election to opposition leader Michael Sata. There’s not much you can add to it. With all his weakeness and policy flaws, Banda has given Zambians what many old men on the continent have denied us- a respectful power transition and political maturity.
I say this is the speech that many Ugandans would love to see some day-hopefully soon. I have seen great quotes from Banda that resonate to many Ugandans and others on the continent. Zambia is another show for Africa that we live above the politics of division, election violence and clinging to power against all odds.
“Zambia must not go backwards, we must all face the future and go forward as one nation. Not to do so would dishonour our history.
“My generation… the generation of the independence struggle– must now give way to new ideas; ideas for the 21st century.”
“Did we become grey and lacking in ideas? Did we lose momentum? Our duty now is to go away and reflect on any mistakes we may have made and learn from them. If we do not, we do not deserve to contest power again.”
“But my greatest thanks must go to the Zambian people. We may be a small country on the middle of Africa but we are a great nation. Serving you has been a pleasure and an honour. I wish i could have done more, i wish i had more time to give.”
“I have no ill feeling in my heart, there is no malice in my words. I wish him well in his years as president. I pray his policies will bear fruit.” — Rupiah Banda.
For the last week i was on a break in Addis Ababa visiting friends but i kept an eye on news in Uganda. Two things struck me most.
It has become the regular news about pregnant women dying in labour due to our crumbling health care system. No matter how many cases you hear from relatives to friends to work colleagues, it still aches. First you see statistics that tell you 16 pregnant women die daily and when you go beyond the stats you read the horror that families go through. In July, my boda boda (motorcycle) rider lost his wife in childbirth, then came a friend of a friend. So last week we lost another woman. Cecilia Nambozo, a teacher at Busamaga Primary School in Mbale, eastern Uganda. She was left to die because she couldn’t raise UGX 300,000 (USD120). That amount is probably what Cecilia was being paid in 3 months. In a country where health workers are not paid well and the working environment that can easily drive one insane, the negligence has increased as compassion has slowly slipped away. So i don’t see the death of Cecilia as just neglect at the hospital but the whole social injustice system that makes it impossible for even a teacher to access proper health care. In May the Centre for Health Human Rights and Development (CEHURD), a Ugandan NGO, and the families of two mothers who died in government hospitals in 2009 went to the Constitutional Court alleging the women’s deaths were caused as a direct result of Uganda’s failing healthcare system. We are waiting to see the outcome of this case as it will have implications and how to hold government accountable in health service delivery. Although even a positive court pronouncement won’t make a huge difference, i think it would be a good start. Maternal mortality is not just a health issue, it’s a social justice issue.
After Cecilia’s case I received an email from a friend i went to high school with which made me more worried about Uganda. Worried because i feel like with increased economic hardships people are becoming more frustrated and putting their anger on imagined enemies. My friend’s message was in response to an article i wrote on tribalism in the wake of 2009 Buganda riots. I had written on reports of attacks on people because of their ethnicity. I didn’t expect this to end with the riots but these reports make wonder what Uganda might go through given the current projections of political instability in future according to many reports. After seeing over 1000 people killed in Kenya in ethnic clashes in the post election violence, we can’t simply ignore the role of tribe in politics and how one group becomes a target. This is what my friend wrote to me about.
Imagine today I flagged down a taxi on Kampala road, the driver stopped, took a closer look at me and as I prepared to board he angrily shouted at his conductor to shut the door because tetwala banyankole (he doesn’t take Banyankole in his public passenger vehicle)… I simply couldn’t believe it and was overwhelmed by emotion that my eyes started tearing! I don’t want to imagine what would happen to people like us if all hell broke loose..
Since the year began it’s been tough with the economy on the rocks, inflation rising and discontent brewing. And while many would fault government, to some government is simply a certain ethnicity and therefore they will blame everything happening to that ethnic group. one thing is for sure, power in this country is increasingly in the hands a few people who belong to one ethnic group but blaming the politics of ethnicity and the guilt by association will not give us a secure future. My friend’s email left me pondering how we can go away from this course. We have enough lessons from our own history and that of neighbouring countries on what ethnic politics can do a society.
Apart from generating media hype, I doubt many policy makers in the West are genuinely interested in the DRC. I happened to be listening to an interview with Gerald Prunier recently and his conclusion was not that different: our perspective of the DRC conflict are clouded by racism. No one wants to address the politics. Instead, the image of total chaos is encouraged. The tragic consequence is that many more continue to die and suffer.
I support efforts by Panzi hospital, but like all interventions that are emergency we can’t help wonder, is the humanitarian focus enough to solve the conflict? I guess, one may say, the two are not mutually exclusive. Besides, who am I to be asking such a question? Except, I was in those same places not so long ago.
It’s taken me some days to come to write about my time at Panzi but this passionate email I received from a friend who is both Rwandan and Congolese gave the needed push. It followed a chat on my recent trip to Bukavu and Panzi in particular where I spent a week with a team of Psychologists and a Psychiatrist assessing war trauma among health workers.
What my friend raised above in the email were the same questions and feelings I found with the health workers I found at Panzi. Many wondered what difference they were bringing. They treat the sick and try to revive devastated lives of women who are sexually violated. Women violated in ways that you won’t easily get an explanation of why this goes on.
My friend’s concern of providing humanitarian aid and not solving the root cause of conflicts in Eastern DRC had many health workers feel helpless. They constantly asked questions of how can we ever address war trauma when we receive same cases everyday . Many had a hard time seeing how they can reduce trauma if the wars are still going.
Panzi receives at least 10 raped women a day. These women come from the Kivu provinces, Katanga other neighbouring provinces. Most times they arrive after many days or months after the violation.
One of the initial ways to manage trauma, i am told, is avoidance but in DRC, it’s difficult for a health worker to avoid the horrors of rape. They shoulder the burden of having to listen. If you have experienced war trauma or dealt with communities out of war, one of the most challenging but necessary things is having to listen to the terrible stories. Some people say it’s easier to just forget but they really never forget. For health workers they have to listen in order to heal others but who listens to them? these accumulated images of killing and raping have a very big impact on the health and life of healthworkers..
One surgeon told of how sometimes she doesn’t know where to begin. She said many women come with pieces of wood that have been pushed in their vagina and beyond and she’s supposed to figure out where to start with the surgery. Such is the work of health worker in DRC. Dr. Dennis Mukwege the founder of Panzi told me the rape in Congo is not just a sexual matter.
“They are using all sorts of things to destroy the society. This is beyond a sexual matter, it’s a way to destroy us.”
Dr. Mukwege also told me it’s a situation that one can easily give up on due to the magnitude yet they have stayed and played their part. The political leaders and international community haven’t really played their part much.
“I have spent ten years repairing fistula everyday and sometimes you lose hope. I stay because it’s important for Africa that we have our destiny in our own hands. We are good enough to make it.”
Listening the different health workers and social workers I felt these are the people Naomi Shihab Nye talks about.
“How do they maintain any shred of dignity and balance? You know those are the courageous people to me. All the simple people of the earth who don’t lose their sanity in the face of constant dis-ease in the world they live in.”
As one person on twitter said when I put up the last post, Panzi workers are some of the world’s most hardworking health workers. Many have lived through war and everyday their work revolves around tending to war affected. The presence of the UN in Congo has not helped so much is getting the DRC government to take charge. Some of the rapes have gone in close proximity to the UN. What has the UN done to strengthen the military capacity of the Congo to govern itself? The more stories I heard from Congolese about the UN the more I realized that someone else won’t save the Congo. They will continue to address humanitarian issues because they are the easiest to tackle.
For the health workers that try on daily basis to piece together shattered lives in Eastern Congo , the worry is not just about if the women can recover but when will they see an end to the violence.