Ugandans consider a Mufuruki T-shirt or make one to show unity

All of you in Uganda I need you to do just one favour for me. There’s this new T-shirt in town that I love and I hope you can wear it to show cause for a unified Uganda. I would love to be physically involved but am on the road to Costa Rica, the only country in the world whose leader has contracted swine flu (no laughs the man needs prayers). But back to the T-shirt that you must buy it reads 31 MILLION BAFURUKI in front and then the back goes, JUST ONE OF THEM. Please go buy it to show our government and those backing the current ethnic tensions before it’s too late to save the day.

At the Mandela national staduim, Namboole when the Cranes beat Nigeria last year.
At the Mandela national staduim, Namboole when the Cranes beat Nigeria last year.

We want them to know that the entire country is full of us Bafuruki and I hear  there will be 96 MILLION of us in 2050. (unless we adopt drastic measure)

Since I can’t get that Bafuruki brand for now I have settled for this sweater, TRUE UGANDAN but don’t forget am a Mufuruki too.

However don’t stop on the T-shirt do whatever you can in anyway you can to live above tribalism and yes ethnic stereotyping because,

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Uganda’s miltary injustice system

In the last two years, courts in Uganda have delivered two major judgments that have brought to the light the illegal prosecutions carried out under the military justice system in the country. On 9th July 2008 the Supreme Court of Uganda ruled that the trial of civilians by the General Court Martial (GCM)is unconstitutional and GCM is an inferior court to the high Court and other courts of record.

This was a long awaited ruling that came out in light of a case where twenty five men suspected

Brig. Bernard Rwehururu new chairman of the General Court Martial and Lt. Gen. Ivan Koreta
Brig. Bernard Rwehururu new chairman of the General Court Martial and Lt. Gen. Ivan Koreta. A New Vision photo

to members of Peoples Redemption Army (PRA) – wispy rebel group allegedly operating in DRC- were arrested in March 2003 by the army and charged before the GCM on 16 April 2003 with the offense of treason and later remanded on 15 May 2003 to Makindye military prison.

For more than two years, the military kept these men under detention and refused to honour High court orders for the suspects to be given access to lawyers and their relatives and to be granted bail.

Their treason trial together with FDC leader Dr. Kiiza Besigye is one of the cases that have tainted President Museveni’s regime when the regime sent the infamous black Mambas, a paramilitary group, to storm the High Court and re-arrested the suspects after being granted bail later in November 2005.

By detaining and trying PRA suspects with charges ranging from treason to terrorism, the military attracted some “unwanted attention” from the public.

The PRA case generated public disapproval; it was the first time that Ugandans and specifically the legal fraternity took a hard look at the workings of the military justice system especially the General Court Martial.

At the time of the Supreme Court ruling last year, most of the men who had been incarcerated for more than three years had chosen the easier way out, to confess that they were indeed rebels and get amnesty instead of putting up with the prolonged trial that seemed to have no end.

But this ruling meant that no other civilian would ever be subjected to the whims of the miltary court if the court order is respected–the military has in the past ignored court rulings.  Although the military never really reacted to the ruling with Lt. Gen. Ivan Koreta as the GCM chairman, I believe it is time for Ugandans to demand that the military pledges to respect such court decisions.

Nevertheless the Supreme Court ruling was a big step but it wasn’t and shouldn’t be the last effort to check illegalities within the military justice system.

Ugandan soldiers. Some have suffered under an unjust miltary justice system
Ugandan soldiers. Some have suffered under an unjust miltary justice system

Early this year, in February, the Constitutional Court gave another stinging ruling for the Ugandan military justice system this time related to the prosecution of cases against soldiers. It ruled that the march 2002 execution of two UPDF soldiers in Kotido district by the Field Court Martial was illegal because they were denied right to appeal.

Pt. Abdallah Mohammed and Corp. James Omedio were executed after a trial for the murder of an Irish Catholic priest, the Rev. Fr. Declan O’Toole and two other civilians.

They were convicted, sentenced to death and immediately executed by firing squad. The Uganda Law Society and Jackson Karugaba filed a petition to the Constitutional Court and in his ruling Justice Amos Twinomujuni said: “I would hold that the accused persons in the Kotido trial were entitled, as a right, to appeal through the military court systems up to the Supreme Court.”

Then he said that even if the Supreme Court had repealed their appeal, the accused soldiers had a right to hear if the president could grant a prerogative of mercy.

While I was still in Kampala I spoke to lawyers that are familiar with the military system and have represented some people there.They said most soldiers are detained for long without trial, and there is unfair trials while some soldiers are framed. Because most cases if not all are tried in Camera, the public never gets to know how things go in that court. Most of them are not well off to get lawyers, they serve sentences in jails and are dismissed from the army with no one ever coming to their rescue. They say a few things have improved since Gen. Elly Tumwine was replaced but the system leaves a lot to be desired. There’re still many complaints that there is a lot of influence-peddling from army top ranks.

It’s reported that the army has executed 26 people over the past three years. There are currently many UPDF soldiers in the condemned sections of Luzira Upper Prison and Jinja Main Prison

A report by Foundation for Human Rights Initiative says “the greatest problem currently facing these inmates is a failure to receive an appeal against their convictions and sentences, a clear breach of their constitutional rights. They appear to have been left in legal limbo, with neither the military nor the civilian courts taking responsibility”

The report said there are over 30 military personnel in the condemned section of Luzira Upper Prison who have not yet received an appeal, despite claims that their appeals have been noted in the GCM. All of these soldiers were convicted by these lower military courts and sentenced to death.

In their 2005 report on Uganda, the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) highlighted what they believed to be a ‘scapegoat policy’, where low ranking soldiers are imprisoned and executed to show observers that the army deals swiftly and effectively with personnel who commit crimes. It is this effort on the side of the government to show that they have security issues under control and that their military is incomparable to past regimes that has made many blind to the injustices against UPDF soldiers.

I was working on this story and I thought I had got a headway when someone tried to get me in touch with a soldiers that served a sentence for years after failed attempts to appeal and he was now dismissed from the army but he withdraw from giving the interview at last minute fearing for his security.

Miltary justice system is hardly reported on in Uganda nad the media seems to follow only high profile officer cases, the likes the Henry Tumukunde, and the famous ghost soldier cases. With new leadership at the GCM, I think these stories need to come out not just reporting about the change of the chair.

Some lawyers were calling for changes in the military justice system. One called for a UK kind of system where prosecution of military officers is controlled not by the military, but by an independent body, the Service Prosecuting Authority which insulates the military justice system from abuse from within.

Below is how Uganda military justice works.

Unit Disciplinary Committee

Field Court Martial

Division Court Martial

General Court Martial and Court Martial Appeal Court.

The latter two sit as appellate courts, with the Court Martial Appeal Court acting as the highest appellate court in the army judicial system.

Do horrifying images of dead bodies in Ugandan media serve any purpose?

This month, Makerere University Department of Mass Communication celebrated their 20th anniversary. One of the events was a media symposium which I attended and found interesting. The theme of the symposium was professionalizing the media in Uganda. I didn’t write anything about it but after spending a week in my village I feel obliged to write something.

At this event the main speakers included Barbra Kaija, the deputy Editor in-Chief of The New Vision. One issue raised by some of those who attended remained unanswered. There was a concern as to why the media in Uganda was consistently insensitive in publication of images of the dead. The person specifically pointed out Bukedde, a Luganda sister paper to the New Vision.

I must say I have always wondered why great editors would forego the tenets of journalism to publish abhorrent images of the dead, be it those involved in an accident or those in homicides.

I appreciate that the media has a duty to inform or even bring horrible acts to the attention of both the public and policy makers but I also expect the media to respect the dead and their relatives. I write this because as a journalist I believe in being sensitive but also as a Ugandan who has come to know some people who have lost relatives and the horrible images are published. It might be years after the local daily published these images but they remain vivid in the relatives’ minds.

Back at the symposium, Kaija unsuccessfully tried to defend the Bukedde policy of publishing dead bodies, saying that the paper was meant for a Baganda audience and that in the Buganda culture it was okay to view dead bodies. This reason was shredded by the Baganda and those well versed with culture at the event.  Kaija opted for the easy way out by telling the gathering she was only responsible for The New Vision and that she was not the right person to seek answers from.

After that the discussion stopped but this week I found the same discussion in my village in Bushenyi. Just like any other village across the country, in my village over 20 people share the day’s paper. I arrived late in the evening carrying Daily Monitor and New Vision, papers that most people rarely read because of the cost and access issues.

I found some three old men whom I have known since I was little to be keen on current affairs and for years their main source has been Orumuri, a Runyankole sister paper to the New Vision. The men wanted to peruse through the English dailies I brought. Then the discussion started on what was in the Orumuri of the day. The first page was full of some dead person and these men were not amused by the continued publication of such pictures in their favourite paper. They know me to be a journalist so they asked why their paper had changed to this and I told them I shared their concern but had no idea why this was being done. Just like Bukedde, Orumuri has been transformed and it now carries pictures of children hacked to death in disturbing close ups that you don’t want to give the picture a second look. When I reached home my aunt raised the same concern about the pictures in Orumuri.

While appreciate that the media should continue to cover these murders in the country, I think news managers must be more responsible and sensitive to readers especially relatives of those in the pictures they choose to use. The media should stop being another pain to those who have lost their relatives in such gruesome ways. I don’t understand what exceptional role these pictures play in bringing the story to the attention of the readers. The headlines are screamers themselves. The government has been keen on the media only if it is critical of their policies. It seems there’s not much being done to see that the press doesn’t treat the public like the dustbin, whether it is internally or by bodies responsible. What makes people’s concerns even more worth considering is the fact that our government has shares in the Vision Group. I know the editors at these papers know better than presenting these horrible pictures in the way they do but I can’t comprehend why they continue doing so.

My Karamoja disarmament dilema story in The Independent

Of recent Matany Hospital has seen a reduction in the number of patients seeking treatment for bullet wounds and the Medical Superintendent believes it signifies a reduction in the number of violent encounters either inter-tribe or between the Karimojong and UPDF.

Between 2006 and 2007, the hospital treated about 200 people with war wounds and these were probably just a few of those who survived in the fighting.

A Karimojong man injured during a raids lies on a hospital bed in Moroto.
A Karimojong man injured during a raids lies on a hospital bed in Moroto. violent clashes have reduced in recent months. Rosebell Kagumire photo.

“Most of them would actually come when wounds are already rotting, about a week after they were shot,” said a doctor at the hospital, “The hospital currently admits about 12 gunshot wounded people per month but the past data shows that before the forced disarmament started, for every two days two wounded people would be admitted.”

The read the story go to:

Karamoja: My work on maternal death and HIV

Lucia talking to me in Moroto, Northeastern Uganda. Rosebell Kagumire/2009
Lucia talking to me in Moroto, Northeastern Uganda. Rosebell Kagumire/2009

Lucia Lochoro is a 25-year-old mother of three. The second wife to her husband, Lochoro never went to school. Like many of her village mates in Loputuk parish, just 8 km from Moroto town, she sells firewood and water to earn a living for her family that lives in a hut, locally known as Manyatta, which she constructed herself. But Lochoro is different from many Karimojong women. She has delivered all her children in hospital in Moroto town. “We have a birth attendant in the village and she told me to come to hospital where I had to pay only 500 shillings for a book,” she said in Karimojong.

For the rest Read

Why did President Museveni halt the search for rebels?

Papers in Uganda today are reporting that President Museveni has given a directive that the army stops the ongoing arrests of suspected rebel collaborators in northern Uganda. Since  late last year, the army has carried out a series of arrests but it wasn’t until late last month that they arraigned 10 suspects in Kampala including a Gulu based journalist Patrick Otim.

Elders in Odek Village, Gulu gather remains of people killed in the LRA war for reburrial. Rosebell Kagumire/2009
Elders in Odek Village, Gulu gather remains of people killed in the LRA war for reburrial. Rosebell Kagumire/2009

But up to now the army doesn’t say who was heading this group. They have pointed at a document supposedly found on Gulu LCV chairman Mao’s flash disk. But if the army thinks Mao is guilty as they have put it in the media, you expect that he would have been the first to be arrested. And Museveni’s directive sends mixed signals. The army spokesperson Maj. Felix Kulayigye said the reason for halting the arrest was “the nucleus of the emerging rebellion was crushed and those concerned have received the information.”

Some questions need to be answered. Can people who have spent the last 20 years in camps be the ones seeking to elongate their suffering? Is this another move by government to alienate people of northern Uganda? And if the rebel group was real why are govt officials trying to release the arrested suspects? If they are indeed rebels why don’t they go through a trial or be given a chance for amnesty rather than just releasing them? Why would a president halt genuine moves to protect the country even if the so called nucleus of the movement has been crushed? Isn’t this what many thought when Lakwena was crushed only for Joseph Kony to emerge?

As long as government doesn’t give a reason for these arrests beyond the ‘nucleus crushed’ many Ugandans will continue to believe that the rebel group threat was imaginary.

Next week on July 11, it will be the world population day. As usual we will get updates on different population issues and what interventions are needed to curb the growth. Uganda’s population is estimated to be about 32 million with a growth rate of 3.4 percent.

Children in Gulu, Northern Uganda
Children in Gulu, Northern Uganda Rosebell Kagumir/2008

“Investing in women is a smart choice” is this year’s theme. I believe in the saying that when you educate a woman, you educate a nation. This is not to say when you educate men you’re not targeting a country but it simply shows the wide impact of women education. All the maternal deaths due to myths and ignorance about medical interventions would be partly prevented. You would increase their participation in debates on major issues affecting the country. Then women have an instrumental role they play in bringing up children and in most of our societies many times they actually raise children almost single-handedly so their education directly benefits their children.

Today the BBC has a story from a report by the French Institute for Demographic Studies which warns of a population time bomb for developing nations as the ratio of elderly people rises.

Most elderly people live in poverty. One way Uganda could avoid this is to invest more funds in providing contraceptives and more education of women and men on having smaller families. Fertility rate in Uganda is around 6.7. Which means on average Ugandans give birth to 6  to 7 children. If children were well planned for and well spaced many Ugandans would not be so poor in their old age. There’s a lot of unemployment which means that many children are not necessarily the solution. Many Ugandan youth still depend on their parents even up to the age of 30 as they hit the streets with no jobs. Once they get the jobs, they start having their own family and children and in the absence of social insurance and pensions, parents aren’t left with much to see them through their life.

So as the world marks the Population day, you will likely hear the President and some politicians say there’s no problem with giving birth to many children and they are right. But they don’t take the argument to the end. They must tell people to plan for the children and take into account the economic circumstances and the future. I am not saying poor people have no right to have children but rather that we think more about the implications of have many children and also we should know the days of a man having their land and cows and neighbours to take care of their families are almost long gone. Anyway we must ask what audacity do these politicians have to advocate for more numbers to the population when they have failed to plan for those already in the country.  Somehow they are also caught in the attitudes rather than giving logical solutions.