Africa, Conflict, Uganda

Hunting Kony; View from former Uganda advisor on LRA ICC case

Dr . Payam Akhavan, is a former UN Prosecutor at The Hague, he advised the Ugandan Government on the LRA case before the ICC as part of a broader strategy of isolating and defeating Kony in 2003-2005. He is now a professor of international law at McGill University n Montreal. I have known Payam  for a few years. Here is what he told me about KONY2012

“The video is ten years too late.  Watching it, one imagines that nobody was ever involved in this struggle before they started filming.  Back in 2003, we devised a brilliant strategy with highly competent Ugandan officials on how to eliminate the LRA by depriving them of rear-bases in southern Sudan.  Within two years, the war in Uganda was over and Joseph Kony’s force of several thousand was reduced to a few hundred fugitives in the Congo.

The failure to capture him thus far has nothing to do with lack of funds. It is a complex intelligence operation against a cunning and ruthless adversary who knows how to survive in the jungle.  The millions in funds gathered so far are needed for rehabilitation of former child soldiers and their communities, not to pay overhead for NGOs in America.  The video may be useful for public education since the world is woefully ignorant about Africa.  But its content is at best uninformed and at worst deceptive.  Exploiting other people’s suffering for self-promotion is unethical.

Had the Ugandan communities directly affected been consulted, the video would have had a very different focus, and the millions of dollars in funds too would have reached those that need it most.”

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Uncategorized

Support Nodding Disease victims; the most urgent challenge to a northern Uganda child

12 year old Nancy Lamwaka one the thousands of victims of LRA war but now tormented by a new disease.

Over the last few days I have received thousands of emails in response to the video I put out in response to KONY2012. Most of the emails were from grateful people who had learnt something from my video.  I am unable to read all the responses and reply you all at this time but your efforts are very much appreciated.

Most responses indicated they want to support the Ugandan child and be sure that the help goes to the right cause.

The cause

More than 3000 children in northern Uganda are currently battling a mysterious disease that has come to be known as nodding disease. Please read more from Wikipedia about Nodding Disease. There are so far 170 reported deaths.

In brief,  nodding disease is a mentally and physically disabling disease that only affects children between the ages of 5 and 15. Victims get seizures on the smell of food or when they get cold. Read more from previous blog

The World Health Organisation and Centre for Disease Control (CDC) have been working on research to establish the cause and how the disease is transmitted with no success so far.

Why we need to act fast:

With the healthcare system in northern Uganda wrecked by war and in a country where the right to healthcare is not guaranteed, most children suffering from this disease have been going through unbearable suffering. Parents are forced to painfully tie their children to trees.

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Africa, Conflict, Uganda

More perspective on Kony2012

I know Glenna Gordon from her time in Uganda and she was one of the few American journalists who covered the later stages of the Kony war in northern Uganda. She was part of a group of journalists who travelled well with Ugandan and South Sudan officials between 2005-2009 as they went into the jungles to try and secure a peace deal with Kony. In fact she’s the one who took that photo of Invisible Children  founders holding guns among SPLA soldiers. She lived in Uganda for years and worked in West Africa too. She’s the kind of journalist and voice that I wish viewers of this video would hear more often. This was her take on the video when she spoke to the Washington Post.

 I can’t bring myself to watch the video. I found all of their previous efforts to be emotionally manipulative, and all the things I try as a journalist not to be. After the peace talks in 2008, they put out another video, and I saw the footage used in these videos blending archival footage with LRA and SPLA and videos of them goofing off. It was the most irresponsible act of image-making that I’d seen in a long time. They conflated the SPLA with the LRA. The SPLA is a government army, holding weapons given by the government, and yet they did not create any division between them and LRA. That’s terrible.

And for that Ms Gordon got a response from filmmaker defending Invisible Children with the worst of all narrative of three boys trying to save Africans instead of playing Angry Birds.

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Africa, Conflict, Uganda

Kony2012; My response to Invisible Children’s campaign.

For the last many hours i have followed a campaign by Invisible Children NGO called KONY2012 that has gone viral getting more than 20 million hits on Youtube. I am a story teller and i know the danger of a single story  . It is something many people can easily ignore especially if we are outsiders to the story.

This is the video i recorded late in the night. It’s longer than i would have wanted but i just wanted to put my views out there on a conflict I have covered as a journalist and a people I have worked among as a communications officer at Isis-WICCE. I don’t in any way think I represent views of Uganda like some comments i have seen. This is me talking about the danger of portraying people with one single story and using old footage to cause hysteria when it could have been possible to get to DRC and other affected countries get a fresh perspective and also include other actors.

 

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Africa, Uganda

Uganda Nodding disease patients; Is it a crime to seek better healthcare?

Yesterday March 5, I was part of a group of women from various organisations who visited Mulago hospital acute pediatric ward to pass on a few items to children suffering from what we have come to call Nodding Disease. I learnt about the condition in 2006. It was a friend from the US who was here to work with a team investigating the condition that had told me about it. She wondered why it had not made it to the media. I really wanted to go up north and do a report or two about this mysterious disease but I never made it because at the time I worked at NTV as a reporter and it was a busy year with Kony peace talks that took precedence. Well I failed to get back to the story in subsequent years.

In brief nodding disease is a mentally and physically disabling disease that only affects young children mostly between the ages of 5 and 15. It is currently in Uganda South Sudan and Tanzania. Victims get siezures on the smell of food or getting cold and the cause is unknown and so is the cure.

About six years down the road, on Monday I was standing together with women from Uganda Women Network, FIDA, Isis-WICCE and the activist Jackie Mwesige who has been pushing the women movement to do something about this.  The women had come with blanks and some items for both the child and their caretakers to hand them over. The hospital administration had been informed in time.

I arrived at about 1:15pm and I was quite surprised to see police deployed at the unit. At first I thought we were in a wrong ward, may be a ward where a wanted person was being kept. We were only here to show our support to 25 nodding disease victims who were transported to Mulago on March 02 after local leaders realized they were not getting much hearing from the central government in Kampala.

Police guarding the ward at Mulago.

All the children are from Kitgum and they part of 3000 children currently suffering from this unknown disease. The nodding disease was given prominence in Ugandan leading papers late last year and since then there has been major coverage even in international media. It took us two hours to negotiate our entry into the ward. Kitgum woman Member of Parliament Beatrice Anywar who has been at the top of calling for well-wishers to support families was present.

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Uganda, Women

Support the campaign to end child marriages in Uganda

Late last year i was part of a team from Isis-WICCE that was looking at the situation of child marriages in Kasese district and its impact on development. Below is a video i worked on and will be used in campaigns. Please spread the work.

More on the situation please read this article i wrote in the Daily Monitor.

 

 

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Uganda, Women

When a woman bleeds a nation bleeds; tackling maternal deaths in the Rwenzori ranges

Mitandi is one of the areas that in our government policy we always call hard to reach areas. It took us wrong turns before we got our way around to the Mitandi health center in Mitandi sub-county Kabarole off Fort Portal – Kasese road.

I was with the US Mission in Uganda on a visit to US government-supported projects on maternal health and family planning. This trip was organized for Lois Quam, the Executive Director of President Obama’s Global Health Initiative (GHI). The visit to Mitandi was one to find out how the projects are fairing and the progress of Uganda government efforts to reduce maternal deaths by 50 percent in four western Uganda districts by end of 2012.

Uganda has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world at 435 per 100,000 live births. Mitandi is one of the difficult places to reach in Uganda where health services and indicators are always way below the national average. We found our way up the mountains to where the health centre sits atop a hill next to secondary school in the Rwenzori ranges.

A view of the Rwenzori ranges from Mitandi health center

Mitandi is a not-for-profit health center III run by the Seventh Adventist Church. The Health Center serves an area of about 40,000 people and it is the major health facility in the whole sub county. The nearest bigger health center is Kibiito health center IV about 20 km away.

Before 2010, Mitandi delivered less than five mothers per month; two years down the road the center delivers more than 20. This magic increase in number of women delivering at a health center that is even still understaffed is connected to a voucher system which has been getting funds from the US government.

Through Maries Stopes, implementers of this voucher project went through the villages carrying what they called ‘poverty grading’, looking out for the poorest of the poorest. A voucher would be sold to pregnant mother at 3000 shillings (less than 2 USD) and this entitled her to four antenatal checkups, free delivery and transportation in case of complications to a large health facility.
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