When Museveni, ‘fools & idiots’ are on same page you ought to question!

Were they just an ignorant lot or was there a deliberate plan to stifle the debate and probable passing of Marriage and Divorce Bill by Members of Parliament?
Why were they asked to carry out sham communities when consultations had already been done?
What about the promised 5 million shillings for the consultations?
Why did MPs persistently spread misinformation and lies about the Bill?
Why would almost all women members of parliament agree with the Bill?
Why did Museveni call them radical feminists when we all know that our female MPs are far away from the word feminist?

Continue reading “When Museveni, ‘fools & idiots’ are on same page you ought to question!”

Women and Solar

Last week i was travelling through Eastern Uganda, Tororo and Mbale in particular. In Tororo i found three women supported by MIFUMI who assemble solar lamps.

Rhoda Oketcho, Auma Odio and Magaret Opio took a six months course in Solar engineering in India in 2008. They are rural women without much education but with skills from India they are able to assemble lamps and make a decent living. I visited their small workshop and they said they earn atleast 60,000 shillings (USD 23 ) per month. In most of rural Uganda families use kerosene lamps for lighting, some homes cannot afford it and it pauses health risks.

Looking at these women’s work reminded me of the death of technical institutes in this country on the government’s watch. It is difficult to find places that impart skills for Ugandans who cannot afford a university education. Even for university graduates, many employers are struggling to find skilled ones.

Below are the three women at work.

Magaret Opio (55 yrs)
Magaret Opio (55 yrs)

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Keeping girls in school: Ugandan start-up recognized

Nargis Shirazi, a young public health specialist in Uganda was working with the UN millennium villages project when she met a 13-year-old Agasha* in Isingiro, a southwestern district. Shirazi who had come to participate in the role model day asked Agasha what she needed in order to realize her dreams.

Agasha had been great netball player and had been going to school until two years before. The 13-year-old girl told Nargis that for her getting sanitary pads would mean getting her dream back. She went on to narrate a story of how she had been a great player at school.  During one of the competitions, Agasha was in her menses but she went ahead to play. In the middle of the game she had to go off the court.

In rural Uganda, girls have to improvise, use old cloth or underwear during their period. It was during that game that the cloth she was using dropped right on the court. She was embarrassed as other students cheered and laughed at her. Agasha stopped playing netball and didn’t go back to school for next 2 years.

“When she recounted this story to me and said getting sanitary pads meant she can be confident again and get her dream back, that was an inspiring moment for me, says Shirazi.

Shirazi that day phoned Dr. William Lubega, a colleague to ask what they could do.

In August last year, Shirazi together with Dr William Lubega and Amos Zikusooka, a consultant brought Woman to Woman Foundation into force.  WWF enables girls in rural areas to stay in school by ensuring they have access to reusable sanitary pads and panties.

“Part of our model is to involve the community in these re-useable sanitary pads project so we can create employment for women in the community at the same time as they play a role in keeping their girls in school,” said Dr. Lubega.

Nargis Shirazi
Nargis Shirazi

Woman to Woman Foundation (WWF) was announced among the ten most inspiring start-up enterprises working for the well-being of women and girls by Women Deliver, a global advocacy organization to mark International Women’s day last week.

More than 13,500 votes were cast online to select these winners. Each finalist will receive a scholarship to the Women Deliver 2013 conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (May 28-30, 2013), where they will compete in the first-ever Women Deliver Social Enterprise Challenge.

WWF also relies on volunteers to do their work.  They run 3 projects, which  rely on partnerships that the young professionals who co-found it have cultivated.

The Promise:

The sanitary pads and panties are distributed under what they call The Promise, a program aimed at addressing sexual and reproductive health issues and rights. Currently WWF is working with 200 girls in Isingiro district at Nyakamuri School.

“We called it the promise project because we believe that the way we can bring about change is to empower girls. We cannot do it only by giving them pads, we also back that up with education in sexual and reproductive health rights,” Shirazi. The have so far partnered with AfriPads to offer free sanitary pads and underwear to girls.

Dr. William Lubega
Dr. William Lubega

Any project to keep girls in schools in Uganda is very important, looking at the current school drop out statistics.

Over one million pupils who enrolled for Primary One under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) in 2006 did not reach Primary Seven indicating a 71% dropout rate.  In East Africa, Uganda has the lowest proportion of children staying in school up to P7, according to a 2010 report by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). In Kenya, the completion rate is 84%, Tanzania 81% and Rwanda 74%.

When it comes to girls dropping out of school the rate is higher than that of boys. And what may appear as simple needs like sanitary pads can keep a Ugandan girl out of schools on average three weeks out of three months term.

Although the education ministry says the net enrollment for girls at primary level increased from 82.3% in 2000 to 97.2%, keeping these girls in school is a challenge mostly because of cultural attitudes towards girl child education, poverty and teen pregnancies.

WWF founders are moving to use social media to engage and also expand their reach as more young Ugandans are joining social media channels. Also through social media they have got partners. For instance a top fashion designer in Uganda learnt about the foundation through Facebook and offered to hold the Kampala Fashion for Compassion show due in May. Part of the proceeds will be for community benefit and delivering more sanitary pads to schools.

“We don’t just supply pads, we engage mothers to make sure they are helping girls make the right choices as far as sexual and reproductive health is concerned.”

Nargis was born and raised in Mombasa, Kenya and she’s a Ugandan of Iranian origin. She has a degree in community psychology and masters degree in public health.  Dr. Lubega is an mHealth specialist contractor with a keen interest in the intersection of Public HealthCare, Information Technology and Economics

WWF also uses bracelets with three colors to keep the message alive. Yellow represents ABC (abstinence, Be faithful, Condom use), a model that Uganda used to bring down HIV/AIDS rate. WWF bracelet has lime green, which signifies staying in school and Orange for a brighter future.

The sanitary pads project is not limited to schools. In past WFF also worked with Xfoundation to bring sanitary pads to women in prisons, another neglected group.

“In Uganda when one is convicted it is like losing your humanity, there are no good sanitary conditions in prisons and for women this is dire.” Said Lubega, “so we go to the prisons to distribute re-useable pads”

Other projects being run by WWF are Creative Arts Targeting Community Health where they are using plays and participatory photography to share messages on sexual and reproductive health. The arts project is supported by International Health Sciences University.

Later this year in June, WWF will have a play called The Twist at the National Theatre, which Shirazi wrote to put some comedy on reproductive health issues.

The founders of WWF so far see resources as their big constraint. They started with money out of their pockets but as young professional, they cannot sustain funding the activities by themselves.

“We are young people with no money, we are just young people with great ideas to help communities,” says Shirazi, “We need to invest in young peoples’ ideas because they have the zeal and the power to change not only themselves but also communities. An idea with out backup cannot easily take off.”

In the next one year WWF founders hope to expand to 8 districts and as a start-up enterprises there’s still so much room for expansion to keep girls in school.

Ugandans fighting corruption with tears and laughter

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.

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One country tries to defy death, another flirts with death

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.

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#I6Days: No justice as Uganda female journalist commits suicide after gangrape

It is that time of the year when we dedicate 16 days to remind the world of the endless need to eliminate violence against women.
November 25 is the International Day for the elimination of violence against women. In Uganda various organisations have done a good job using different media to pass the message that ought to be the everyday message to the population.

Tweetups, SMS campaigns, radio talkshows are all on to get Ugandans to understand that violence against a woman is violence against humanity too! That you can judge a society by the way it treats its women.

A week before November 25th, I read a thread on Facebook group that I am part of. It was about a female journalist from Bukedde who had died during childbirth.

We didn’t discuss much. It was just condolence messages although I felt this was time for us to reflect how close issues we cover are to our own lives. In Uganda everyday 16 mothers die due to childbirth. This is due to complications that could be prevented. In many ways maternal health is a social justice issue.

Just as this news was sinking in, another disturbing post came up. A female journalist had committed suicide. Moreen Ndagire, whom I didn’t know personally, was a Sub-editor at a Red Pepper, a leading tabloid in Uganda. At the age of 24, she had achieved quite a lot that not many youth can do in this country with a high unemployment rate.

Moreen Ndagire at her graduation in last year. Photo from Observer.

Continue reading “#I6Days: No justice as Uganda female journalist commits suicide after gangrape”

#PowerofWe Uganda: What will it take to conserve the environment?

Ten days ago I took a trip to Kalangala, one of the Ssese islands on Lake Victoria. The last time I had visited the beautiful island was four years ago. The island is three hours ferry ride from Entebbe. On board we had three vehicles from the ministry of tourism and I was curious what function was going take place just a few days before our 50-year independence anniversary.

We later found out that the next day the minister of tourism was launching a ‘tourism master plan for Ssese Islands’, which am told, do not receive that many tourists these days. More than the logistical issues like access to these islands, what left me speechless was the destruction of the rain forests in Kalangala Island.

As you approach the islands you cannot miss the bare hills that were once covered with green dense forests.

Screen shot from BIDCO Uganda Ltd.

The destruction of these forests and biodiversity has been fully backed by government as top regime officials make money off Palm Oil production.

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When mountains moved

On June 25, two villages of Bunakasala and Bunamulembwa were buried when a part of the hill in Bududa district gave way in an afternoon downpour. Fifteen houses were buried and 8 people are now confirmed to have been killed by the landslide in the eastern district, which lies on the slopes of Mt.Elgon. The number could have been bigger had it not been a market day in the parish.

Almost two weeks later I visited the landslide scene with a colleague from the UgandaSpeaks project. We had gone to deliver relief items collected through organizing Ugandans on Twitter via #TweepsHelpBududa to help survivors of the landslides.
We took a van, which was generously availed by Aramex, full of clothes and blankets, basins and other things which Ugandans mostly in Kampala had brought together.

On Friday July 6, Javie Ssozi and I made it to Bududa. We made a call at the district headquarters to register our presence and items. Minutes after, we headed to Bududa on a bumpy non-tarmacked road.

Water from a river partly buried by the moved land. read more about perceptions abt the landslides from the area: http://www.academicjournals.org/ajar/pdf/pdf2011/4%20Jan/Kitutu%20et%20al.pdf

At the site, we met the team from Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and Red Cross. Excavators continued to plough deep into the hilltop in hope of recovering the 4 remaining bodies. It is believed it is a woman and her 3 children still buried deep in the soil. The faces at the site are some of those that cant easily leave your head. A husband watching waiting to see if this will be the day they find his dead children and wife, an elderly woman whose house narrowly escaped – by few inches- the path of the land moving landmass, a young woman who literally ran out of harms way but her young son couldn’t make it.

Survivors come to the Red Cross tent for counseling and treatment where need be and the rest of people sit visibly worried because they know this is not the first or the last they will face this. We made sure we handed over blankets especially to women survivors who have young children. We left the rest for Red Cross and a couple of volunteers to hand over.

Site of the landslide in Bududa

At the site I met with a gentleman from OPM who discussed the issues that many out here have been into since the landslide. He says they cannot forcibly evict or resettle people for there’s no such a law that gives them the powers. He however said many people have expressed willingness to leave the hills and be resettled.

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Uganda women protest topless against Police public groping of female politician

On Friday, Ugandans witnessed another episode of police brutality. It wasn’t just the brutality we are used to seeing.  In this video ran by NTVUganda  a police officer was, publicly before the cameras, groping an opposition politician Ingrid Turinawe.

Ingrid has been at the forefront of various pressure groups in Uganda for the last 5 years. She was one of the leaders of the Activists for Change (A4C), a pressure group that led the famous Walk to Work protests that took place in many parts of Uganda for the greater part of 2011 as the Arab spring was going on.

The group has been banned because in our country where we still use very colonial laws to the advantage of a dictatorial regime, the attorney general has powers to declare a group illegal even without evidence of  the need to ban them. This law threatens even a blogger or writers who mention A4C as government could claim that they are  promoting an illegal group  with intention to ‘incite violence’. Already two journalists have been summoned by the police over an interview had with the head of the group. Human rights groups have warned on the dangers of the government-increased crackdown on freedom of speech, expression and assembly in Uganda.

Once the group A4C was banned, some of its leaders rebranded it into For God and my Country (4GC), taking after the country motto. It was after the launch of the new group that Uganda police brutality came back to our living rooms.

This time a male police offer publically groping Ingrid as another pulls her leg out of the car. The police officer didn’t grope her once, he did it repeatedly and in the video we hear Ingrid asking why the police officer was doing that. One other police officer warns his colleague but does nothing to stop this.

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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.”