This week I joined Uganda writers, editors, authors, bloggers, publishers, curators, literary activists, scholars and colleagues in the creative sector have called on the Government of Uganda, to drop charges against Stella Nyanzi, for the good of our literary culture and the country.
We are concerned that the imprisonment of Dr Stella Nyanzi, may open a floodgate for the criminalisation of creativity in Uganda.
Here is why our voices matter; attack on free speech and free thought is an attack on society and our ability to advance. You can also add your voice here
Uganda is set hold presidential and general elections on February 18. Eight candidates are vying for the seat but the campaign is more of a three-horse race between incumbent President Museveni, leading opposition figure and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate Kizza Besigye and former Prime minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. The last four elections conducted during President Yoweri Museveni’s 30 years in power have all been marred with irregularities and violent incidents.
Less than a month to the vote, an increasing climate of fear hovers over the country. The Uganda Police has recruited about 11 million crime preventers whom critics say are more or less a standby government militia to be used in case things don’t go well for the regime. Besigye’s party FDC says it has 10 persons per village ready to guard their vote and he continues a message of defiance that is not fully explained. Amama Mbabazi at rallies has emphasized that his go-forward team is ready to defend the vote.
In Uganda and many postcolonial African countries, women’s political leadership has come a long way. At Independence while the continent celebrated the great milestones from Ghana to Kenya, Uganda to Malawi, women were quietly bracing themselves for the second independence- the struggle for a woman’s space in political life of postcolonial Africa.
Most independence struggles always highlighted men at the forefront for long at the expense of women’s contributions. Women’s achievements were not as revered as those of the men who led militaristic struggles.
Many decades later, Africa now has two female heads of state and many other women occupy key decision-making positions. Even with these achievements, many analysts believe the women’s involvement in post-colonial state governance has been painfully slow.
This week, Isis-WICCE organized a high level meeting of women from African countries discussing women’s political leadership on the continent.
The women leaders included ministers, Members of Parliament and academicians from South Sudan, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Uganda.
Speaker after speaker these women leaders raised the glaring challenges faced by women in political leadership and high on the list was militarism and the sexualized nature of political spaces in their countries.
In past Uganda has had a female vice president and currently has the first ever-female speaker Ms Rebecca Kadaga presiding over parliament. Many may be quick to highlight this as a great success but the fact that it came 50 years after independence speaks volumes of the struggle of women to make it in the political arena.
The letter detailed a plot to frame senior government officials in subversive activities. The letter also spoke of plans to kill key figures allegedly opposed to what has come to be known as the ‘Muhoozi project’. The project of trying to groom Museveni’s son Brig Muhoozi Kainerugaba for the presidency (We don’t know when- the father hasn’t shown signs of retiring in 2016).
If you have been following Ugandan news in the last few days you couldn’t have missed that photo of President Yoweri Museveni handing over $100,000 to a loose group of youth from Busoga. Twitter and Facebook are still having discussions on this #sackofmoney.
The president was apparently fulfilling a promise he made during the 2011 elections. The president proudly announced his donation sending the crowd of ordinary Ugandans in a village into celebration. Museveni in the past has handed over brown envelopes to sustain his patronage and stay in power.
This week Ugandans saw and participated in different dramas that can only give you a glimpse into a nation in a moral dilemma.
Businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba was arrested at Entebbe International Airport as he attempted to leave the country after a four nights of a cat-and-mouse chase and several police summonses. For a week our intelligence couldn’t ascertain whether Basajjabalaba was in the country as his lawyer and also my shameless Member of Parliament Michael Mawanda lied to courts!
Basajjabalaba is wanted over fraud in connection with alleged forgery of a consent document, which led to payment of Shs142 billion by the government. This arose from the reversing of the then Kampala City Council decision to sell Nakasero, Shauriyako, and St. Balikuddembe (Owino) markets, and the Constitution Square to Mr Basajjabalaba.
Shortly before Christmas, a young woman was killed in our republic. At only 24, she had already made a small mark on our democracy that many have struggled to make over 3 decades rule. Cerinah Nebanda was a parliamentarian. Her death was sudden, multi-organ failure. Rumours spread about who could have done this cruelty in a land where a fundamental change was delivered 27 years ago ensuring all Ugandans could finally sleep peacefully in their homes- something that was unheard of since our independence.
This death came as a shock in a year when we commemorated our 50 years of independence in a way that looked more like 27 years of independence. Many people scrambled for the microphone, some to with outrage, sorrow, fear and others to defend themselves. To wash themselves clean- even if it meant using words mixed with anger and threats. Some Ugandans left their thoughts online.
You couldn’t escape from the name Nebanda. In my small village in Kibona, Bushenyi, an older man came to my home to ask me about what could have killed this young woman – with a kind of worrisome voice I rarely get from him. In a country where every night a district is born, many local people are mostly pre-occupied with local politics. But name of Nebanda who hails from a village, more than 500kms from my own, found its way to my Christmas day. A government autopsy report told the citizens that the young woman’s death had to with narcotic drugs and everybody else trying to get a second expert opinion was apprehended.
In December 2010 I traveled to Cancun, Mexico to cover the UN climate change talks – the COP16. It was there that I met and had a brief chat with the late Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi. Zenawi had been selected by African heads of state to represent collective views of African states at the talks.
It wasn’t easy to access him, just like any other leader at such a big world summit but I got a moment after he appeared on a panel talking about economy and climate change. He was as sharp as a tack cutting through all figures of what price the continent’s people were paying as a result of global warming and other climatic effects and what it would take for us to adapt to the changing patterns.
After the session I had a brief interview with him before he was led to some stall he had to visit. On the way back I had one more question for him and I did make a successful attempt.
I was amazed by his interest in details. I had told him am Ugandan but he wanted to know where exactly in Uganda I was from. When I mentioned west, he still wanted to know which town I was from. Then I went on to say near Mbarara and on his insistance I finally said Bushenyi. I had yet to visit Ethiopia where I have great friends who are like family to me in many ways.
When I finally visited the country later that month, I was told about the suppression of the people. I was shocked to know that even a Facebook status complaining about food prices and what government was or wasn’t doing could put one in trouble. I found it a great country with great history whose peoples were yet to see freedom.
Ethiopia appears in the last deck of countries when it comes to civil liberties, press freedom and Meles presided over a government that did little listening to dissenting voices.
On Sunday 22nd, Uganda watched in horror as a city enforcement officer , who later turned out to be a police officer, brandished his AK47 shooting indiscriminately at a group of unarmed civilians who had gathered at a demolition site carried out by Kampala city authorities. NTV Uganda brought the news in and people I was with said you could have mistken the scene to be Mogadishu. In this video, at 5:30 you see the animal that Uganda’s security forces have become. A man using a stick, a gun and a pistol to violate citizens.