Uganda: Sound bites will not end practice of torture in detention

Gory images from Uganda’s torture chambers have gripped the nation. Many are still struggling to fathom why cold-blooded torturers would descend on human beings and unleash such untold horror on them.

In response, President Museveni penned a tepid open missive advising police and other law enforcement agencies to cease the use of torture.

It has to be said, he accurately reminded the security agencies – not that they didn’t know already – of the three key reasons why they should stop the use of torture in interrogations.

Worryingly, he stopped short of ordering for an independent investigation and arrest of perpetrators to promote accountability for acts of torture. I also find it bizarre that the Commander in Chief would conjecture – referring to media reports – instead of accepting that torture is actually being used.

Whereas the President’s public call is welcome, it has to be stated that advice – even from the President – is subordinate to the command of the law.

The law on torture is clear – freedom from torture is a non-derogable right under the 1995 Constitution (Article 44). The Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act of 2012 further generously instructs on how the law should respond in such circumstances.

Parliament on the other hand, with all its powers – at least on paper – searched its arsenal and resolved to have the spineless human rights committee visit Nalufenya police station – a station notorious for torture – to inform their action.

Now, here is the problem; torture is not within the walls of Nalufenya or any other facility – not even in a safe house. Torture does not reside in buildings. It’s found in the savage acts of a person against another. Torture is a practice that resides in policy and or common practice.

There is no doubt that the Honourable Members of Parliament are on a wild-goose chase.

Anyone who has followed the history of torture in Uganda will know that the use of torture to extract information and confessions is nothing new.

In March 2004, Human Rights Watch published a report titled ‘State of Pain: Torture in Uganda.’ In 2009, the organisation further published yet another report titled ‘Open Secret: Illegal detention and torture by the joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force in Uganda.’ These two reports reveal disturbing in-depth accounts of torture by law enforcement agencies in Uganda including acts of stabbing, genital mutilation and water-feeding.

Despite of these research findings, apart from names of the security outfits, nothing much changed. There has been zero accountability for the crimes.

In 2011, Human Rights Watch interviewed over 100 individuals for a report titled ‘Violence instead of Vigilance: Torture and illegal detention in Uganda’s rapid response unit.’ In it, the rights watchdog narrates how illegal methods – including torture – are extensively used to conduct investigations and extract information. Forms of torture include beatings with metals, glass bottles and in some instances, pins were inserted under the detainees fingernails.

The Uganda Human Rights Commission, the African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims in Uganda and other organisations continue to release annual reports on torture. Security agencies repeatedly continue to rank highest on the list of perpetrators.

The harrowing tales in all these reports have often attracted public outrage, like we witness today. But that’s just about it. Sound bites.

For example, when the ad hoc security outfit code named Operation Wembley was implicated in torture scandals, its name was changed to Violent Crime Crack Unit (VCCU) and later to Rapid Response Unit (RRU). Its about names, PR …

In 2017, we are talking about Nalufenya. For what it is worth, its important to note that accounts indicate that most acts of torture do not happen at Nalufenya or other such facilities. Detainees are reportedly dragged out, tortured and returned for detention.

In a letter to the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) seen by yours truly, Counsel Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi vividly describes how suspects in Nalufenya and other various detention facilities have been subjected to torture in form of burns with use of hot flat irons, use of pliers to pull out teeth, pouring of red pepper into the nose, mouth and anus of detainees, suffocation using polythene bags among other brutal acts.

It’s obvious that we cannot keep doing the same things and expect different results. If we are to end torture, we have to do three things:

  1. Set independent and transparent investigations into the state of torture in the country,
  2. Facilitate unrestricted access to suspects for relatives, lawyers, rights defenders and doctors, and
  3. Prosecute perpetrators in courts of law.

Torture is not an administrative issue to be handled within disciplinary procedures of the security agencies. It is a crime and only criminal courts have jurisdiction to handle such cases.

Mere sound bites, inspection of buildings, talking to suspects in restricted spaces will only serve to embolden the perpetrators and send a message that acts of torture are condoned.

Social Media: Uganda’s chance at an Indigenous Civil Society

A simple definition of ‘Civil Society’ is enabled by truncating the term into two words Civil and Society. When we say something is Civil, we mean that it is non-Military or non-Government, we mean that it relates to ordinary citizens. A Society is a group of people linked by common interests and activities. When we say Civil Society, we should mean a “community of citizens linked by common interests and collective activity”.

The term Civil Society is popularly used to refer to Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), and Community Based Organisations (CBOs).The mushrooming of NGOs and CBOs as the prominent face of Civil Society was partly sparked by a need by Western Civilizations to promote Democracy and Development in Africa using the Organizational models that they (Western Civilizations) were familiar with. Consequently, most of these Civil Society Organizations in Uganda are not genetically engineered (a phrase coined by Armine Ishkanian to mean that the organizations sprouted because of foreign funding and not because of the community’s collective contribution.)

Although most NGOs and CBOs focus their projects and programs on public interest issues such as eradication of poverty, gender equality, access to education and health, they have failed to rally the collective interest and participation of Ugandan citizens. For instance, when attendants are invited to participate in projects by NGOs, they demand transport facilitation or a stipend without which many choose not to attend. An Indigenous Civil Society would not make such demands because individuals would willfully act collectively to achieve social good, sometimes even contributing hard-earned money.

Social Media, on the other hand, avails a platform for Ugandans to collectively handle their social or political problems without necessarily depending on external funding. Facebook, Twitter, and Whatsapp have been used to successfully achieve social causes and therefore Social Media presents a chance for Ugandans to have an Indigenous Civil Society aimed at the attainment of Development and Democracy.

In 2015 a Social Media campaign was started to save Rose Mary Nankabira and a total of UShs 134, 501,252 was collected from citizens who willfully contributed money for the treatment of the cancer patient. Unfortunately Rosemary passed on but fortunately, the balance after settling hospital bills was used to construct a waiting shed worth UShs 64,851,898 for patients at the Cancer Institute at Mulago Hospital (a public hospital). Through Social Media, Ugandans collectively contributed to the building of a Health sector infrastructure that today acts for many as an infirmary while they wait for days or months to get treatment.

Social Media was the major avenue for citizens to participate in the political processes of Uganda in the 2016 Presidential elections. Although the state ordered a Social Media shut down towards the voting days, it cannot be denied that there was vibrant civic engagement without the requirement for mobilization by NGOs for external funding.

Uganda is one of the first countries in Sub-Sahara Africa with full internet connectivity although the internet penetration as at June 2016 was only 42.5%. Civic engagement through social media requires internet connectivity and 42.5% is not too small a number to start with. In fact, it is impressive. There is a window of opportunity to tap into here because if 42.5% of the population can be reached through Social Media which has been tried and tested as having the potential to cause change, then we are on our way to social and political transformation through indigenous civic engagement.

My Day Job

I am used now. I have been at it for years and I’m still counting, the way I count the number of lashes as I rain a hurricane of them on my patients’ buttocks, on their legs, arms, ankles, at their back. I love it at their back because they can’t shield their backs. They don’t stress me. I hate it when some patients stress me. But at their backs, it’s easier.They just lay on their stomachs and I do my business; thrashing them till my fingers start to itch, blood spraying over my face, staining my overall in the process. Fear? What fear? Look, if you stay on this job for years, you sort of blend in.

Torture becomes your job description.

And you live with it, because above you, rather before you, there are orders from the proverbial ‘above’. I don’t care about orders because as long as I walk in that shithole, I am my own boss and I do whatever I want on my patients. I love the freedom it gives me. The freedom to beat everywhere I want.

My wife doesn’t know what I do. Well, she knows I work in the prisons, but that’s about it. The rest is my business. If I can put food on the table, then she should keep her mouth shushed. So, in the morning, at the break of dawn, I wake up and make love to her before leaving the house for work. You might wonder why I do so, but those moments of pleasure occupy the rest of my day, because here, right here, this is not pleasure. This is death. This is horror. This is darkness. And this is my office, in these corridors of death, in this alley of horror, in this blanket of darkness. Tears, blood, flesh, wails, and death. Batons, canes, wires, pangas, chains and thorny clubs. It’s a cocktail of materials.

My patients come from different parts of the country; from Kampala to Kasese. From Gulu to Mbarara. They hurl them in here, like sacks of millet. And I work on them. I beat them up. In fact, I hate to use the word ‘beat’ because beating is for primary schools; I take care of them. It’s the right word I was instructed to use. Taking care of them. Like I’m their personal doctor. Most of them leave with their skins at the back peeled off. Most of them leave with dislocated ankles. Most of them leave without limbs. Most of them leave with deformed faces looking like zombies in a horror movie. Some of them never leave at all. Most of them rot away in this shithole. Most of them can’t walk by themselves after I have worked on them; they stagger away and eventually fall; they never stand again. Some die from here. Most of them stare at me and beg for forgiveness, their bleeding bare hands stretched before me as though I’m a priest offering Eucharist. Jesus gets a mention or two.

I don’t forgive them, God will forgive them Himself. It’s become part of my life and I can’t run away from it. I love my job, because at least, it keeps me busy. My brother is jobless. And I want to recruit him into this business. It would be interesting to work with my brother; he’s much stronger, broad shouldered and palms the size of a saucepan. He’s a former convict, but he is a reformed man now. He will start work by next week when a new batch of patients arrives. I’m told many are coming. Even University students. It’s going to be bloody, I mean, literally. Anyways, I have to go back to work. I work at Nalufenya!

Disclaimer: This is a fictional narrative of a torturer who works at Nalufenya, a place that has broken the internet for its atrocities.

Photocredit: Amnesty International

Thoughts of an Alira Primary School Teacher

“Because we are, the nation is” is a famous motto for a teacher in Uganda. Somewhere in Alira Primary School in Akura Sub–county, Alebtong District, a certain teacher scratches his head on how to help Museveni fulfill his campaign promise of free sanitary pads.

It is at this school on Thursday November 12 th 2015, that the promise was made.

“I want all our daughters to attend school and remain there until they complete their studies. One of the reasons that force our daughters out of school is that when their periods start, they do not have sanitary pads. When they are in class, they soil their dresses. So they run away from school,” Museveni said.

Based on this promise, several women in the area and several other Ugandans, in particular, went to polling stations to cast their votes in favor of the visionary old man with a hat. This was on assumption that government within the next financial year 2016/17 would have pads budgeted for and supplied to schools. They waited in vain. In the budget process of 2017/18 financial year, the Education minister Janet Museveni whom most people in government fondly refer to as maama literally to mean mother, clearly stated that government did not have money to buy sanitary pads. This triggered off criticism from opposition politicians and some civil society organizations. One of the most active critics of government Dr. Stella Nyanzi, a researcher was sent to jail for her symbolic allusion of the inefficiencies in government and its failure to honor its pledge.

Museveni on arrival at a rally in Zombo-district

However, the government says that although the sanitary towels were not budget for, they remain on their priority list. An indication that those kids that drop out of school due to periods should wait a little longer “maybe” up to the next financial year since the government still wants to develop its infrastructure. Whether Ugandans are rushing to demand the government to deliver on the pads or not, is another issue. Maybe it’s not yet another campaign time. Probably, Ugandans should wait until a few years to the next elections of 2021.

During a session on Friday, May 19 last week, the Ministry of Education and Sports officials led by the State Minister for Higher Education, John Chrysostom Muyingo appeared at the Uganda Media Centre to fast track their achievements in the one year since the NRM government has been in power. I had an opportunity to ask a question to the officials on how far the government has gone in regard to providing sanitary pads to pupils for reducing the number of dropouts. Minister Muyingo buoyantly responded that the ministry had trained a total of 240 teachers on gender responsive teaching methodologies and mentored them on how to handle learners and sexual maturation in districts of Abim and Nakapiripit; and, engaged 81 district officials in Karamoja region including 59 males and 22 females, which is a good gesture.

He further noted that a total of over 900 Senior Women and Men teachers (530 Senior Women Teachers and 375 Senior Men Teachers from 60 schools had been trained including 75 district officers from 16 districts as well as 900 Head teachers on Gender Responsive Pedagogy, Menstrual Hygiene Management and Building Positive and Supportive Learning Environment; this would also be a good gesture. Hearing all these, I started feeling that maybe, the government was steadfast towards the provision of sanitary pads.

The most captivating revelation came from the assistant commissioner for primary education, Mr. Tonny Mukasa-Lusambu, who said that the ministry had instructed all government schools to use part of the money for the capitation grant to buy some sanitary pads for an emergency at schools. I thought to myself how realistic this could be.

With his statement, I recounted the conversation I had with my former teacher at Kyamuteera Primary School, a UPE school in Rushenyi district that began in 1952 as a church school but later became government aided in 1978. In 1997, the school was turned into a Universal Primary Education school. Despite the program’s successes at inception, it has been struggling to buy chalk over time with a claim that the capitation grant is small and often times comes late even when schools have closed. Pupils are even asked to carry food for teachers every morning to school.

Apart from packing food for their children (entaanda), parents have a burden of always looking for raw food either a cluster of bananas, sweet potatoes, beans, cassava depending on what the families have in addition to a piece of firewood. Every morning, pupils must present these food items. Usually, at this school, the pupil that brings more food receives some favors from teachers.

One of the reasons for the food collections that Mr. Wamala, the head teacher of the school speaks of is that the school struggles to feed teachers at school. The location is so remote such that there is no food joint anywhere nearby.

“We ask pupils to bring raw food and when it is here, our cook prepares it for teachers for lunch.

Sometimes when the cook has not reported due to delay in payment of her wage, the teacher on duty selects some of the old girls to cook,” he reveals.

Adding that sometimes due to low supply of food, teachers end up competing with pupils on the fruits such as guavas and mangoes in the school compound for lunch in order for them to be able to conduct lessons in the afternoon. As a result, the school has severely declined in the performance of pupils. The statistics at the school indicate that since 2001, it has never got the first grade. The number of pupils has dropped from over 1000 in the late 90s to now about 150 pupils.

The school’s major challenge is late remittance of capitation grant by the government. This is identical with several other primary schools in the district. While pupils do not pay directly fees at the school, the fee is indirectly disguised under food supplies to teachers at the school. At the end of the day, pupils end up losing resources in terms of value for money, time and quality education at the expense of government negligence of poor supervision.

In a survey done by Makerere University Students in 2013 on the status of Universal Primary Schools in Ntungamo district, it was found out that several pupils dropped out due to early marriages and menstrual related issues, and the stigmatization that comes with it. This was commonly so among schools in Ngoma sub-county in Rushenyi district. But how feasible is a scenario where a school operates without funds for the entire term?

First forward, Capitation Grants are computed based on school enrollment with each pupil getting shs 7,560 a year in addition to a block grant of sh100,000 per term. According to the Capitation Grants expenditure guidelines, 50% of the grant is supposed to be used on instructional materials; 30% on co-curricular activities (sports, clubs etc.); 15% on school management (school maintenance, payment for utilities such as water and electricity); and 5% on school administration.

When the Government abolished fees for primary education in 1997, it committed itself to paying shs7,000 per pupil each year. Technocrats had proposed shs10,000 for each pupil, but Government did not buy the idea due to inadequate funds. Now 20 years later Government has not yet fulfilled its commitment of shs7,560 per pupil. The closest they came to this figure was only once in 2012/2013 financial year when it paid shs7,046 per child. More striking is that indeed the ministry plans for sh7,000 and not the agreed sh7, 560.

This does not mean government increased capitation grant to the schools that year, but largely due to the fact that the number of pupils in a school in 2012/13 financial year was lower than in the previous and other years that followed due to school dropout. Statistics from the education ministry indicate that Government, since the inception of the program, has been paying capitation fees for each pupil in ranging between shs4, 500 and 6,500 per year.

The funds are released on a quarterly basis in any given financial year. But yet at the end of the financial year, each pupil is supposed to be allocated sh7,560. During the years, the Government sent shs4,500 to schools for each pupil; it meant that it paid shs1,500 for each pupil to keep at school per term.

But, this amount of money can hardly repair just one desk in a school. But part of the problem emanated from low Government funding for free primary education, allotted to the education ministry. Statistics show that government has been allocating between sh30b to sh45b as capitation grant for the UPE program each financial year. More statistics show that the education ministry didn’t receive the money it needed for UPE between the years 2002 to 2012.

For example, according to the education budget of 2006/2007, over sh46b was required for UPE, but only shs32bn was approved; and only shs30bn was released. The cumulative budget shortfall for UPE between 2002 and 2012 stands at over sh111b. This means the education ministry has to use the available little money to pay for all children which creates variability in the unit cost for each pupil because enrollment figures change every year.

The government, therefore, should leave these hide and seek games and provide pads and or sustainable mechanisms for the safety of the girl-child so they can concentrate on their academics while in school. Ugandans must not be subjected to bones and leftovers. Our children need better education. Beyond the classroom, beyond pads and, beyond just promises, can we drop the jokes?

How can a school struggle to buy chalk be told to buy pads for pupils?  Is the capitation grant enough to buy pads? Maybe a teacher from Alira Primary School can tell based on their experience.

Nalufenya: My Quarrel is with Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights

To some, ‘Nalufenya’ is a word that doesn’t glide off the tongue easily, maybe it’s the four syllables? No, maybe it’s the fact that it’s an awry town in Jinja synonymous with Uganda’s very own Abu Ghraib Jail. Nalufenya Police Station sends shivers down spines, especially for those who’ve allegedly suffered at the hands of the diabolical operatives that run the prison or those who’ve heard and read the stories of those tortured within the prison walls. 

Torture, of course, is an abuse of human rights, contravenes the Constitution of Uganda, a number of aiding laws 1 and international human rights instruments that Uganda is a party or signatory to. The alleged harrowing experiences in Nalufenya and other places of detention show that a sizeable number of security operatives in Uganda function in total disregard of the law or are above reprimand.

Our saving grace, the Parliament of Uganda has a fully-fledged human rights committee mandated to hold the executive accountable and also keep it in check with regard to Human rights amongst other roles. The committee recently visited the facility upon instruction of the Speaker of Parliament, Hon Rebecca Kadaga and voila found nothing suspicious at the facility. One inmate even had a mosquito net, a detail that was not left out in the story that followed the heroic visit.

Perhaps, it’s not what I wanted to hear, that they found nothing suspicious, maybe I had hoped they would find some prisoners with gaping wounds and bleeding nails from scratching the walls in horror or pitchfork wielding guards at the gates of Nalufenya. Why would I honestly think they’d be that careless? I blame myself! The visit also happened without the watchful eye of the media, Parliament journalists often escort Members of the house on such fact-finding trips save for this time round. Why would I want the media to interfere with such a sensitive investigation? It beats me!

One of the suspects accused of murdering police Spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesi show wounds he sustained after being tortured at Nalufenya Police Station.
PhotoCredit: Daily Monitor

In the past I have noted with concern, the indifference the committee extends towards multiple cases of human rights abuse in Uganda. From the onset, the committee has not out rightly condemned the actions of perpetrators of torture and other offenses publicly to send a strong message of disapproval. While the committee investigates abuses already reported by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, it has not out of its own volition, investigated emerging human rights concerns of public interest outside the reports. Hell, this time, the committee had to wait for instructions from the Speaker to do a job which is clearly within its jurisdiction.

The modus operandi of this committee, in my opinion, is flawed and have even documented why I think the committee ought to be chaired by the Opposition like the other accountability committees in Parliament. The chairperson of the committee, Hon Jova Kamateeka, who also belongs to the ruling National Resistance Movement Party has a penchant for quickly dismissing the government and its agents’ roles implicated in many of these human rights complaints. This causes me to doubt the objectivity exerted on a number of the committee’s decisions in regard to rights abuses especially when the perpetrators are government agents.

While it would be unethical for the committee to act on a hunch, many of these rights abuses have been documented over time. There is actual evidence that people have been tortured in Nalufenya not once or twice and it’s discourteous to Ugandans that the reports coming in are that the place was found squeaky clean by esteemed members charged with promoting and protecting our rights. The first time I got wind of the activities inside the prison, was a while back when a close friend was detained for the possession of a shirt displaying the face of Dr. Kizza Besigye While not detained at the facility, he met people at the Kireka SIU who shared experiences of the place, and they were ghastly stories. And even I am not privy to the resources or information that the Committee has at its disposal. I’m guessing it’s just the lack of political will in this case on the part of the committee and a number of other human rights actors.

Kaweesi murder Suspects sue Attorney General over Nalufenya police torture.
Photo Credit: KFM

Abuses of rights and freedoms are rife in this country and reports of torture keep surging on a daily basis. The Human Rights Committee can’t afford to keep ignoring them or wishing them away because this only makes it worse. In order to safeguard against future biases, the leadership will definitely have to change to that of the opposition. That notwithstanding, measures to clean out the rogue elements within security organizations should be undertaken like President Yoweri Museveni instructed.

We need sustainable solutions for menstruation hygiene beyond donating pads

There is an old saying, usually attributed to Confucius, an ancient Chinese philosopher that goes “give a man fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.

In that simple statement, lays an important life lesson and that is; give someone an answer, and he or she will only have a temporary solution. Teach that person the principles that led you to that answer, and that person will be able to create own solutions in the future.

That saying, is the best analogy I can use to describe the missing link in the access to sanitary pads war (or rather campaigns). On one hand, is the civil society and activists that have embarked on  fundraising drives to donate sanitary towels in schools and on the other hand, is the government which at first, claimed there are no funds for sanitary towels in this ending financial year and it is the same government which is now directing schools to use a portion of its funds to buy emergency sanitary towels.

Why are we talking about sanitary towels anyway?

Every woman or a girl has a fundamental human right to have the ability to manage basic biological functions like menstruation yet in Uganda, many women and girls cannot access sanitary towels due to affordability.

For girls, the failure to afford sanitary towels means missing up to eight (8) days of school- every month or dropping out due to lack of sanitary towels according to a 2014 Study of Menstrual Management in Uganda. In rural Uganda, drop out rates for girls in school are as high as 40%, in great part due to the lack of access to affordable and effective sanitary products as well as the unfavorable school environment which does not accommodate menstrual hygiene.

With them dropping out of school, the natural end result is them getting married off as teenagers which is a leading cause of teenage pregnancies in Uganda today. The 2016 Uganda Demographic Health Survey states that 25% of school going girls between the ages of 12-19 years have already begun childbearing or are pregnant.

In simple terms, this means that for many young girls in rural Uganda- mostly, life and education stops when they get their first period. We therefore need to understand that issues responsible for girls dropping out of school, start way before that you think, most being experiencing their first menstrual cycle.

The problem with the current access to sanitary towels advocacy/campaigns

Sustainability is the problem. Much as the campaigns are all for a good cause, these are just temporary solutions which won’t address the ever growing population (of girls) and their needs in the country- in the long run.

About 16 million girls in Uganda are below the age of 18 according to the 2014 National Housing and Population Report. Almost half of those are in school. Donating sanitary towels to all girls in schools therefore across the country is unrealistic.

Even if you decide to donate, it is not a one off. There has to be follow up action to distribute more reusable sanitary towels when time to change the ones that had been donated earlier on comes.

For the government that is directing schools to use a portion of their funds to buy emergency sanitary towels has a lot of shortcomings. Many Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Schools are running on very low budgets due to late or no allocation of said funds attributed to corruption and schools will most likely not take the directive serious.

Therefore, on both ends there are two things; One is that by just donating sanitary towels, we are giving young girls “fish” and not teaching them “how to fish” and secondly, we are just addressing symptoms and not giving lasting solutions to the problem.

The long term solution(s)

The long term solution is to teach them age appropriate sexuality education coupled with life skills right from primary one to enable them to easily respond to body and sexuality needs that both boys and girls experience while growing up early enough so that they are not caught unawares.

The skills in this education for girls which has to be passed on by trained personnel/teachers in schools, has to focus on hands-on management of menstrual hygiene beyond the known modes of sanitary towels.

In India, Saathi Pads is teaching women and girls menstrual hygiene management through learning how to use locally-sourced banana fiber to create biodegradable sanitary napkins, which degrade faster if buried and don’t have to be burned.

Closer to Uganda are the Mwezi Pads in Kenya that are made on sewing machines by Kenyan women’s collectives using fabrics that are locally available and affordable.  They have a homemade appearance, but contain a plastic lining to protect against leakage. The pads consist of a circular base, with a Velcro attachment that fastens to the underwear.

In a 2013 study by University of Oxford named Sanitary Pads Accessibility and Sustainability Study, it was found that Mwezi Pads were acceptable in the primary environment and performed better than customary means. This is important because the Mwezi Pads can be made by anyone with a sewing machine, so NGOs and government workers could give instructions—with clear direction about the selection of materials and communities could make their own pads. All providers of cloth pads must be mindful that they should also provide soap.

Back to Uganda, instead of making students study Canadian Prairies, St. Lawrence Seaway, wood work, Metal Work etc, why can’t they use that time for productive life skill lessons for example being engaged in practical lessons on how to address issues to deal with menstrual hygiene- both boys and girls?

Local NGOs already working in menstrual hygiene management for example AFRIpads and Maka Pads, can be engaged and work with government through the line ministries (Ministry of Health, Office of the Prime Minister and Ministry of Education and Sports) to conduct regional trainings for key teachers in schools on sustainable menstrual hygiene management so that this module is introduced in schools as life skills education.

If this can be introduced in the health and education budgets, it can save us from the never ending story of “there are no funds”. Kenya was the first country in the world to allocate menstrual hygiene management funds in its budget (about $3 million US Dollars per year since 2011) and it is greatly improving health and education of girls. Uganda can pick leaf.

Gender and Equity Non-Compliance and what it could mean for Uganda

Prin­ci­ples of gen­der and eq­uity are pri­mary to achiev­ing so­cial jus­tice in terms of rights, ac­cess to re­sources or rep­re­sen­ta­tion in de­ci­sion mak­ing for many mar­gin­alised demograph­ics world over. The same prin­ci­ples are fun­da­men­tal to achiev­ing sus­tain­able eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and the gov­ern­ment has not minced its words on its zeal to rrealizemid­dle in­come sta­tus by 2020. As an end goal, Uganda as­pires to have eq­ui­table and in­clu­sive growth with all Ugan­dans con­tribut­ing de­spite gen­der, phys­i­cal abil­ity, and so­cio-eco­nomic well­be­ing.

Sev­eral re­forms have been ap­proved in this re­gard but one stands out; the cer­tifi­cate of Gen­der and Eq­uity for Min­istries De­part­ments and agen­cies (MDAs) is­sued by the Ministry of Fi­nance Plan­ning and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment (MoF­PED) upon the ad­vice of the Equal Op­por­tu­ni­ties Com­mis­sion (EOC). Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quires that any MDA seek­ing ap­pro­pri­a­tion of the Na­tional Bud­get meets the min­i­mum re­quire­ments of gen­der and eq­uity bud­get­ing and has scored at least 50% in the as­sess­ment by the EOC. In other words, de­lib­er­ate ef­forts ought to be made to en­sure gen­der and eq­uity com­pli­ance as pro­vided for un­der the le­gal frame­work of the Pub­lic Fi­nance Man­age­ment Act, 2015 (PFMA).

Well into the third year of im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Act, the EOC pre­sented the as­sess­ment re­sults for Min­is­te­r­ial Pol­icy State­ments sub­mit­ted by 139 MDAs for the fi­nan­cial year 2017/18 to the Speaker as well as the Bud­get com­mit­tee of Par­lia­ment. The over­all performance re­ported stands at 50% rep­re­sent­ing a 3% de­cline from that of the fi­nan­cial year end­ing. Also 36 agen­cies per­formed be­low the 50% thresh­old. 90% of the worst perform­ing MDAs in­cluded mis­sions and con­sulates abroad[1], three in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing[2], the Cof­fee De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity, Uganda Aids Com­mis­sion as well as Lira Re­fer­ral Hos­pi­tal. While the PFMA pro­vides for the ex­is­tence of the cer­tifi­cate, it does not ex­plic­itly pro­vide for penal­ties or sanc­tions for noncompliance. Sec­tion 78 just pro­vides for the Min­is­ter re­spon­si­ble to pro­vide a state­ment ex­plain­ing why, how­ever, the bud­get com­mit­tee re­solved not to sup­ply for such MDAs.

Global Uganda Women Seek Divorces. Photo Credit:

The NDP II up­holds hu­man cap­i­tal de­vel­op­ment, as one of two fun­da­men­tal en­ablers for so­cio-eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion of Uganda. Ed­u­ca­tion and health care are complementing fac­tors to the other con­trib­u­tors. The three in­sti­tu­tions of higher learning re­ported as non-com­pli­ant pose a threat to Ugan­da’s de­vel­op­ment agenda especially when the coun­try is two years shy of the in­tended 2020 mid­dle in­come date. Uni­ver­si­ties pro­duce a siz­able num­ber of Ugan­da’s em­ploy­ment pool (the cur­rent high rates of un­em­ploy­ment notwith­stand­ing.) In ad­di­tion, one of the coun­try’s flag­ship affirma­tive ac­tion poli­cies is the 1.5 ex­tra points for girls at this level is im­ple­mented by uni­ver­si­ties. It is un­for­tu­nate that the same are falling short of the ba­sic gen­der and equity re­quire­ments as pre­scribed by law. Lira hos­pi­tal pro­vides for the healthy well being of per­sons es­pe­cially those in the West Nile sub-re­gion. A healthy and ed­u­cated workforce is para­mount to pro­vide mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tion to GDP and even­tual growth.

I need not men­tion the role of the Uganda AIDs Com­mis­sion in com­bat­ing the HIV/ AIDS scourge. The com­mis­sion whose man­date is to over­see, plan and co­or­di­nate AIDS protection and con­trol ac­tiv­i­ties through­out Uganda is also cul­prit. Ugan­da’s im­pres­sive streak in the fight against HIV/ AIDS has dwin­dled over the years. The in­di­ca­tors[3]; HIV preva­lence be­tween the ages of 15 to 49 years stands at 7.3%[4] (an in­crease from 6.4% in 2005), with that of women be­ing 8.3% com­pared to 6.1% for men. In ad­di­tion, the increase in preva­lence amongst ado­les­cents (15-19 years) is 0.3-1.7%  for boys and 2.6-3.0% for girls; the es­ti­mated num­ber of peo­ple el­i­gi­ble for an­ti­retro­vi­ral treat­ment (ART) is 1.4 mil­lion; Among the youth aged 15 – 24 years of age, only 39.5% of the males and 38.1% of the fe­male had com­pre­hen­sive knowl­edge of HIV/ AIDS, of the dis­ease bur­den re­quire that the com­mis­sion plans/ bud­gets bet­ter us­ing gen­der ag­gre­gated data to encom­pass the pe­cu­liar­i­ties of each gen­der.

Em­bassies, mis­sions and con­sulates abroad that are or are sup­posed to be the first line of con­tact of the nu­cleus that is Uganda in the glob­al­ized world. I can­not over em­pha­size the need of main­tain­ing a diplo­matic pres­ence over­seas be­cause in ad­di­tion to pro­vid­ing in­sight into what is go­ing on in the host coun­try they must ex­plain Ugan­dan poli­cies, iden­tify po­ten­tial threats to and op­por­tu­ni­ties for the country’s in­ter­ests, and also provide po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic analy­sis of lo­cal con­di­tions to in­form de­ci­sion-mak­ing. The in­crease in glob­al­iza­tion and con­se­quent lev­els of mi­gra­tion or ex­ter­nal­i­sa­tion of labour has also given rise to the prob­lem of hu­man traf­fick­ing and in­ci­dents of abuse of for­eign work­ers. Em­bassies are sup­posed to pro­vide, these cit­i­zens with Con­sular services as well as a valu­able layer of pro­tec­tion.

For the case of the Cof­fee De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity, I will leave that to the Of­fice Au­di­tor Gen­eral, be­cause the of­fice is best suited to de­ci­pher the myr­iad of prob­lems it is fac­ing over and above gen­der and eq­uity com­pli­ance.

If Par­lia­ment fol­lows through with its de­ci­sion not to sup­ply, one can only imag­ine the in­nu­mer­able chal­lenges to fol­low. The bud­get com­mit­tee has deemed this the due sanction or penalty for non-com­pli­ant MDAs, there­fore it’s im­per­a­tive that ef­forts are made to com­ply. But this brings for­ward an im­por­tant query: how does the law treat non­com­pli­ance? Is there room for such MDAs to weasel their way out of the sanc­tion due to the ab­sence of a clear le­gal pro­vi­sion?

Non­com­pli­ance also points to a more dis­turb­ing is­sue, if, with a sea of le­gal and pol­icy frame­works some gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions still triv­i­al­ize the need for eq­uity and gen­der equal­ity in the dis­tri­b­u­tion of re­sources, one can only imag­ine how this trans­lates at imple­men­ta­tion level. This un­der­mines in­clu­sive de­vel­op­ment which is at the core of achiev­ing our de­vel­op­ment agenda.

[1] Tan­za­nia, Ethiopia, DR Congo, Den­mark, So­ma­lia, Egypt, Saudi Ara­bia, China, Su­dan, Rwanda, Ger­many, Wash­ing­ton, Ankara, Rus­sia, Juba, Japan, Geneva, Nige­ria, Italy, Bel­gium, Iran, Bu­jum­bura, Canada, Can­berra, Libya, Eng­land, France and New York

[2] Mak­erere Uni­ver­sity, Mbarara Uni­ver­sity and Ka­bale Uni­ver­sity

[3] UAIS 2011

Could Internal dealing within key Government Institutions be the likely rise of Human Trafficking in Uganda?

Trafficking women for sexual slavery has become the second world ‘lucrative crimes’ after drug trafficking and arms deals with the highest number of women reported to come from Uganda.

Uganda is a source and destination country for commercial sexual exploitation. Young girls and women are lured into sex trafficking within East Africa, Europe and Asian countries. Uganda still falls short of its International obligation to protect her citizens against sexual offences and human trafficking, despite the state effort to combat this vice on the legislative front.

The major contributing factor to the influx of the youth and women into the overseas countries is due to the limited jobs in the country and the poor quality of the available jobs. Unless government scales up provision of quality jobs and institutes checks and balances on the recruitment companies, most Ugandans will use any means within their reach to find “lucrative jobs” which will still turn out to be a problem.

Despite the existence of the Ministry of Internal Affairs responsible for issuing of the travel documents and the ministry of Foreign Affairs in those mentioned countries, the police and the Ministry don’t have exact figures of Ugandans that have been trafficked out of the country and are being held in servitude in foreign countries.

Report of the outstanding committee of parliament on equal opportunities on a working visit to Dubai, India and China 9th/-23rd December 2012 indicates that a recruitment company is paid 2000USD, but the individuals they recruit are paid peanuts of about 200USD.The committee identified that many Ugandan women are stranded and are being used as sex slaves. Many of them living with HIV/AIDs and in poor living conditions among others. The committees consequently made many recommendations to the government, but 6 years down the road, the Ugandan government has only been able to repatriate about 20 Ugandan women.

A list of recommendations and findings were made and among them are; government should streamline the employment procedures between recruitment agencies and Ugandans abroad for employment opportunities, government should set up rehabilitation centers for the victims of trafficking, government carries out an investigation into the allegations that there are people funding state houses for economic gain in promotion of human trafficking, prostitution and sexual slavery. However, Ugandans are worried that none of these seem to have been implemented by the government and if any, let there be evidence produced.

While the government and other development partners in Uganda are doing great work to enhance the livelihoods of women and youth, there is great concerned about the unanswered questions surrounding the debacle facing youth and women who go for overseas employment. Whereas the government has taken significant steps to avert this labour challenge, there is worry that there could be non-state and non-state actors who are still trafficking people to overseas countries.

There is also a great concern among Ugandans about the current labour and employment challenges facing women and youth overseas, there is also a concern about the labour situation domestically. Much as Ugandans do acknowledge that there are laws and policies that regulate and govern issues of employment and labour, human rights and justice among others, there is a concern that none of them seems to tackle specifically issues of foreign labour exploitation which issue has become an epidemic to those who go out of the country.

What is questionable is that how possible is it that a country that has Interpol, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of the Internal Affairs (immigration Department) which are the institutions meant to work closely with the Ministry of Gender, labour and Social Development to ascertain the authenticity of the jobs and travel documents of the people leaving the country cannot establish the reality. Ugandans are also wondering how the recruitment companies are able to get passport for their clients without the clients presenting themselves to the immigration authorities. There is also a question on how the Interpol gives certificates of no criminal records to these people recruited without conducting proper investigation and due diligence into the matter. There is a belief that there could be internal dealing within the key institutions involved and if these kind of occurrences’ continue,Uganda is not a safe place from terrorists attacks since this style of doing things not only jeopardized the security of the country, but also put the life of many Ugandans at stake.

Government should address reprisals against human rights defenders

The environment in which Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in Uganda operate is increasingly becoming hostile. This is evident in the twist in attacks with escalating office-break-ins, kidnaps, harassment of civil society organizations and now targeted reprisals to HRDs.
This situation becomes worse when the perpetrators involved are state agents such as the police and elements within judicial system whereby trumped up charges are preferred against HRDs.

The threat to the security of HRDs does not stop at individual level, their organisations, events, close associates, families and communities are targeted too. A characteristic example is the charges against the four human rights defenders working with Twerwaneho Listeners Club (TLC), a rights organization that advocates and sensitizes citizens on their human rights in Fort Portal, Kabarole district.

The four HRDs, Prosper Businge, Fred Kyaligonza, Jackson Magezi, and Suleiman Trader are facing trumped up charges which is an indirect violation of rights of defenders and also serves to entrench the culture of impunity and rights violations.

On April 27, 2017, Businge and Kyaligonza both HRDs working with TLC, appeared before the Grade one Magistrate’s Court of Fort Portal. The four HRDs were charged with the use of poison, explosives or electrical devices contrary to section 7 (1), 28&22 of the Fish Act Cap 197.

The woes of the four HRDs date to 28thJuly, 2016 when they filed a civil law suit challenging Ferdsult Engineering services Ltd, an Engineering, Procurement and Construction company for its acquisition of 20 crater lakes, evictions of residents and illegal grabbing of land.

Earlier, on April 25, 2017, Magezi and Suleiman were arrested and brought before the same court and were also released on bail.

The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda (NCHRD-U) working with Twerwaneho Listeners Club ensured the necessary legal support was afforded to the two to ensure bail was granted on the same day. NCHRD-U is a consortium of organizations advocating for the protection of human rights defenders in the country.
People affected

The actions of Ferdsult have consequently affected the livelihoods of people across six sub-counties who were depending on the lakes for food and water. Some craters include Lakes and sub-counties affected include Lake Saaka in Kichwamba, Lake Mwamba in Busoro, Lake Nyabikere in Rutete and Lake Kifuruka in Kasenda among others. Ferdsult challenged the suit through filing for an interim order to restrain communities from engaging in fishing activities in the 20 crater lakes. TLC vigorously pursued the matter up to the High Court sitting in Fort Portal.

Ferdsult was later granted an order permitting them to undertake fishing activities in the craters. However, following an appeal by TLC on 7thDecember, 2016 an injunction was issued restraining both the engineering company and the communities from engaging in any activities on the lakes.

In total violation of the court order, Ferdsult Engineering Services Ltd continued to undertake activities on the said crater lakes, to the detriment of the communities and interests of justice.

The writer of the Blog Mr Edward Serucaca.

Nevertheless, legal action is being taken to seek redress.
Against this background, we believe that the charges levied against the four human rights defenders are targeted at intimidating and harassing them to forestall their involvement in advocacy activities against the contested actions of Ferdsult Engineering Services Ltd.
We are further concerned by the manner in which the said charges were preferred against the accused and the process in which the arrest warrants were issued for their detention.
The arrests happened amidst gunshots and with unnecessary force while there wasn’t any apparent resistance from the HRDs.

Human rights defenders have the right to use any lawful means to peacefully defend rights whenever they have reason to believe that guaranteed rights are being violated or threatened. This includes undertaking activities to raise community awareness about the respective violation to empower people to stand up for their rights.

It is unfortunate that as a result of their activism, the four HRDs are now a subject of a flawed judicial process flouted with irregularities.
The charge sheet continues to be variously amended without at some stage the sanctioning of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The NCHRD-U with the TLC takes exception to these occurrences and therefore urges the State agencies to;
• Conduct meaningful, impartial and transparent investigations in the claims that Ferdsult Engineering Services Ltd is violating rights, and take appropriate action.
• Ensure that HRDs are protected from reprisals arising out of their peaceful advocacy on human rights violations occasioned by multi-national entities.
• Unconditionally drop all charges against the four human rights defenders.
This statement was jointly authored by National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda (NCHRD-U) and Tweraneho Listening Club (TLC).

Mr Edward Serucaca is the Advocacy and Networking officer at NCHRD-U

This article was first Published on The Daily Monitor

Photo Credit: Human Rights Defenders Uganda

The elephant

To tame an elephant, catch it young or make sure that it is born in captivity, she will never know her power. You will use her in the circus to entertain humans, You will ride on her the safari to see other animals, You will use this elephant as crane for construction projects, and you can use her in religious festivals like the Asians do.

This elephant will never know the power her African cousin wields.

She will not know that her African cousin is the real king of the jungle. She will not know that her African cousin’s one kick is enough to knock out  that preying lion that is trying to eat her calf, She will never know how the Matriarch of the savannah gracefully leads the herd.

This story of the elephant reminds me of the free expression story of Uganda.

The suppression is steady but sure. From the banning of the ebimeeza (citizen forums) and the birth of disclaimers on radio stations that the ‘views aired on this radio station are not necessary those of this radio station.’ I chuckle every time that statement comes through my radio after a heated political debate. Those that make up the largest percent of the Uganda’s population probably scantily remember or not at all the ebimeeza.

This same generation that was brought up by a bunch of cautious individuals.

I was watching a Jesus movie with my father recently when he told me that the Kiboko they gave Jesus reminded him of his own by the Obote 11 army at Makekenke barracks in 1980.

“Can I write your story dad?”

“No, please don’t.”

“But it is an amazing story.”

“No.” He sternly said.

The topic closed and our eyes were glued back to the movie we were watching but I couldn’t understand why he didn’t want me to write the story.

So, we were brought up by a generation that didn’t sleep. The trauma of constant coups and conflict lives with them. They will do anything to have that good night sleep. A thing that millennials cannot comprehend.

When the Ebimeeza were banned, life moved on like normal.  But After the walk to work protests, and the Buganda riots, the 9th parliament passed the Public Management Order Act passed with ease in 2013. For public interest was the reason, this law gives power to the Inspector General of Police to use his discretion to allow a public gathering. What if the IGP is in a bad mood? What if he is pmsing?

That meant that Ugandans could no-longer access the city square without permission. You know this is the only green area in the Kampala central business district. The city has no parks where lovers hold hands to muse over their new love on a bench in the evening as they gaze at the stunning Kampala sunsets.  When the Kampala afternoon sun is fierce and you want to catch a breath on a park bench, this green area is no place for you. We quickly got used to the fact that the square doesn’t belong to us but rather to the Kalolis and the blue guys.

Who needs the green grass and the sunset over Mapeera house when this is the digital age? We can make as much noise as we want nn our phones, after all, the digital age had dawned on us. We convinced ourselves that we would tweet, Facebook, WhatsApp all we wanted only to realize that can only happen on other days apart from days like the election day.

Ugandans are dull, Ugandans are terrible at active citizenship, why are Ugandans docile? are some of the harsh indictments that I hear from people of other nationalities and Ugandans alike. Before you judge us, understand us. We are on a leash. Our locks cut like Samson, our fangs removed, our will stripped like the Asian elephant.