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December 27 2012

Africa's Tainted Global Media Coverage

The #Kony2012 campaign led by the Invisible Children NGO certainly contained a few over-simplifications about Africa. This prompted a counter-campaign #WhatILoveAboutAfrica aimed at rectifying these 'stray shots'.

poster for Kony 2012.

The Kony 2012 campaign poster. Public domain

Inaccurate media approximations about Africa is not a rare phenomenon - even if the comedy of errors has steadily declined over the last few years. The misrepresentation of the continent in the media is not a trivial subject, as Professor Charles Moumouni explains [fr]:

La mauvaise représentation de l’Afrique dans les médias occidentaux n’est ni un
phénomène nouveau, ni un phénomène exceptionnel. Elle fait l’objet de préoccupations depuis les années 1970, notamment dans le cadre des discussions sur le Nouvel ordre mondial de l’information et de la communication (NOMIC). Mais l’image que propagent les médias occidentaux de l'Afrique est d’autant plus préoccupante qu’elle influe négativement sur les efforts de développement de l'Afrique

Poor representation of Africa in Western media is neither a new nor an exceptional phenomenon. It was already a subject of concern during the 1970s, notably in the context of discussions about New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO). But the image of Africa currently being propagated by Western media is all the more concerning as it adversely effects African development efforts.

African media itself, however, is certainly not immune from criticism of this sort. Several initiatives have emerged, in recent years, to help improve the accuracy of African media. The African Media Initiative and Media Monitoring Africa are just two examples.

Here is a summary of the gems, errors and other inaccuracies in global media coverage of Africa and in the African media itself:

Global media coverage of Africa

Canada - RDC:  ”Stephen Harper enters Africa's heart of darkness”

This was the title given to a CBC news article concerning the Canadian prime minister's visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during a summit of the International Organization of the Francophonie. Although the title refers to Joseph Conrad's book, Heart of Darkness, it also evokes an outdated, condescending vision of black Africa as a savage, dangerous land. The article adds:

It's the most wretched country on the face of the earth.

 

The article makes it seem as though prime minister Harper ought to be given a medal for his courage in visiting the DRC.

Israel - “Sub-Saharan Africans are not rapists”

Slate Afrique explains the context of this original (to say the least) headline [fr]:

Les noirs ne sont pas des violeurs. Tel est le message que veulent faire passer des demandeurs d'asile Africains subsahariens en Israël. Ces derniers sont pointés du doigt par l'opinion publique israélienne à la suite d'un cas de viol très médiatisé, ayant impliqué quatre demandeurs d'asile érythréens en Israël. Pour contrer une stigmatisation des noirs, un centre d'aide aux travailleurs étrangers a aidé des Africains à rédiger des «lettres ouvertes au peuple israélien», rapporte le quotidien israélien Haaretz le 20 mai.

Blacks are not rapists. This is the message that asylum-seeks from sub-Saharan Africa want to make heard in Israel. Israeli public opinion had been pointing the finger at sub-Saharan asylum-seekers after a highly publicized rape trial implicated four Eritreans. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported on 20 May that to counter the stigmatization of black people, a support center for foreign workers has been assisting Africans in preparing “open letters to the Israeli people”.

France - Confusion between Guadeloupe and Madagascar for I-télé 

The clashes in Guadeloupe between the Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon [note: leading body for trade unions and social movements] and security forces coincided with the most intense political crisis in Madagascar. The two events were so close to each other in time, in fact, that I-télé (a cable-TV news channel in France) compiled the following little montage in which the commentary confuses the events in Guadeloupe with those in Madagascar  [fr]:

USA - DRC: “Orphaned, raped and ignored”

This is the title of an article by journalist Nicholas Kristof about a 9 year-old child that was the victim of gang rape in the DRC. As Laura Seay explains in a translation on Slate Afrique, this article raises several ethical issues [fr]:

Après de violentes polémiques, Kristof posta une réponse sur son blog dans laquelle il promettait de ne pas le refaire, tout en réfutant les critiques affirmant qu’il mettait l’enfant en danger en l’identifiant. Il reconnut cependant qu’imprimer son nom violait la politique du Times, même s’il avait reçu l’autorisation d’une femme qui jouait le rôle de tutrice de l’enfant. Difficile d’imaginer un rédacteur en chef, quel qu’il soit, laisser une telle «bavure» se produire dans un article concernant une victime occidentale de pédophilie.

After several forceful debates, Kristof posted a reply on his blog in which he promised not to do it again - all the while refuting criticism that he had endangered the child by identifying. He recognized, however, that the publication of the child's name violated the policy of The Times, even if he received permission from a woman playing the role of the child's guardian. It is difficult to imagine an editor in-chief that would have allowed for such a ‘blunder' to occur in an article concerning a Western child-abuse victim.

African media 

South Africa - Rape-victim indirectly identified in an October 2012 report  

Musa Rikhotso reports that:

A story sourced from Sapa entitled, “Sentence Slashed over rape of Stepdaughter” (The Star, 10/10/2012, p.7). The article names a Limpopo man, whose sentence was reduced from life imprisonment to 1- years for raping his 15-year-old stepdaughter; in so doing, failing to protect the identity of the rape victim.

 

Senegal - “Senegalese repatriated from the Ivory Coast”

During the height of the crisis in the Ivory Coast, the Walfadjiri-l'Aurore ran the headline “Senegalese repatriated from the Ivory Coast take it out on [President] Wade“:

wade sénégal côte d'ivoire

Page 2 of a Senegalese daily containing an article about the crisis in the Ivory Coast- public domain

 

Le Post explains that this was an error [fr] because:

justement ces hommes et femmes reprochent au gouvernement de n'avoir pas été “rapatriés” mais bel et bien d'avoir du rentrer par leurs propres moyens.

these men and women criticized the government precisely because they had not been “repatriated” but had been simply required to return by their own means.

December 18 2012

The Elusive Quest for Peace with the M23 in the DRC

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

M23 rebels on a truck in the streets of Goma

M23 rebels on a truck in the streets of Goma (November 29, 2012) VOA via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)


The current conflict in the Kivu Region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) threatens to linger on despite an international effort to broker a truce between the M23 rebellion and the Congolese government. The 2012 version of this conflict is difficult to grasp, particularly because the M23 is a shifting armed movement, both geographically and politically. Its leadership is interchangeable among commanders, and the movement is supported by foreign influences with an eye on the geological riches of the region.

The evolution of the M23 Rebellion

Who exactly are the M23 rebels? This is the question the Rift Valley Institute’s Usamala Project tries to unpack in its recent report “From CNDP to M23: The evolution of an armed movement in Eastern Congo” (PDF). While the armed branch of the rebellion is easy to define, its political leadership is more elusive. The report explains further:

The M23 political leadership was made up mostly of former CNDP [National Congress for the Defence of the People] loyalists, with Jean-Marie Runiga Lugerero, the CNDP’s representative in Kinshasa, as political coordinator. However, there were also some new names, allegedly appointed after pressure by Rwanda (…) Between May and August 2012 the M23 also began to beef up its political wing. It named several new local chiefs, set up a tax collection network, and established a formal liaison office for humanitarians working in the area––structures reminiscent to those of the CNDP era. They also established two websites (www.soleildugraben.com and congodrcnews.com), a Facebook fan page and several Twitter accounts run by them or people close to them. On 20 October, in a move to further boost their legitimacy, they renamed their armed wing the Armée Révolutionaire du Congo (ARC, Congolese Revolutionary Army).

Indeed, while rudimentary at first, the public relations strategy of the M23 rebels has grown increasingly sophisticated in order to garner the public support. On Jeune Afrique, Trésor Kibungula illustrates the evolution of M23 on Facebook [fr], from a timid start back in July, to a media platform sufficiently controversial that Facebook eventually had to shut it down.

An interview with the M23’s Bertrand Bisimwa on the Congo Siaisa blog helps to explain the genesis of the movement and its alleged overarching goals:

The M23 is made up of armed groups that signed the March 23 agreement. We started by asking for the implementation of that deal. The government fought us, saying we didn’t have the right to demand that [..] Today, in addition to the March 23 agreement we want good governance in the country and a legitimate government. You have to realize that not all ex-CNDP joined the M23. In fact, most didn’t. It was these others, those who didn’t join, who helped rig the elections in [Jospeh] Kabila’s favor in Masisi.

General Sultani Makenga, the military leader of the M23 also gave an interview recently where he speaks about the fluid leadership of the M23 movement [fr], giving updates on the status of former CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda and arrested general Bosco Ntaganda within the movement.

Aside from its shifting leadership, Melanie Gouby in Newsweek Magazine explains that the movement does not seem to have a defined political ideology and seems mostly driven to protect the economic and political interests of neighboring nations.

Involving all players in the quest for peace

The two nations with most economic and political stakes in the conflict are Rwanda and Uganda. According to the United Nations, Rwanda has been tied to the conflict in Kivu for a long time, despite denials from President Paul Kagame’s administration. Yet, there is little uncertainty about the Rwandan support as the Usamala project report explains:

Rwandan support for M23 has now been well documented, in particular by the UN Group of Experts. Their conclusions have been confirmed by Human Rights Watch, by MONUSCO, and by at least three embassies in Kigali through internal investigations [..]

With regards to Rwanda’s role in the crisis, the U.S. policy to minimize sanctions against Kagame’s administration is perplexing to many observers.

The Ugandan government is also suspected of providing logistics support to the latest M23 offensive. In the following video, Ugandan lawmakers ask the president to explain the relation to the Congo M23 rebels:

With so many players involved in the crisis, what’s in store for the region is still very unclear. Is the Goma withdrawal definitive for the M23? Some M23 fighters seem to firmly believe they will soon be back in the city. Observers do not seem to expect much from peace talks.

Gérard Prunier, a French academic and author, argues that Congo and Rwanda are “just playing a waiting game until the situation on the ground gets sorted out.” He believes there could be an escalation of the crisis:

If tomorrow you could have the secession of Katanga (ed’s note: a Congo region rich in minerals) back on the books, I wouldn’t be surprised

Meanwhile, the local population bears the main burden of this never ending war. The World Food Programme reports that at least 80,000 people are displaced in the region:

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

December 14 2012

A Timeline of 50 Years of Conflict in the D.R. of Congo

The current conflict between the M23 rebels and the Congolese army cannot be completely understood without recollecting the history of the genesis of conflicts in this region of great lakes. Here is a detailed chronology of the last 50 years of confrontations in this region.

On Congo Forum, Jacques Mbokani wrote [fr]:

Depuis son accession à l’indépendance la R.D.C. a toujours été en proie à des conflits de tous ordres. … L’exposé consiste essentiellement à identifier les causes des conflits en RDC. … Les causes des conflits en R.D.C. peuvent être regroupées en deux catégories majeures. … les causes externes … et d’autre part, les causes internes.

Since the DRC became independent , it has been prey to all kinds of conflicts. … … The presentation is mainly focused on identifying the causes of the conflicts in the DRC. …The causes of the conflicts in the DRC can be grouped into two main categories. …external causes … and, on the other hand, internal causes.

The Congo was declared independent on June 30, 1963, and renamed Congo-Leopoldville. Power was shared between the head of state Joseph Kasa-Vubu and the Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. On November 25, 1965, supported by governments of Belgium and the United States, General Joseph Desire Mobutu deposed President Kasa-Vubu, removing him from power and naming himself president of the Democratic Republic of Congo. He would remain in power for 30 years. The country was renamed Zaire between 1971 and 1997.

This video covers the history of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba [fr]:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOYQjegItnM

Another video tells of the coming to power of Mobutu, King of Zaïre, Conquest of Power [fr]:

Important economic issues at stake

Jacques Mbokani continued [fr]:

Dans le film intitulé : « Blood Diamond » (le diamant du sang) un vieil homme soupirait en ces termes : « j’espère qu’ils ne vont pas trouver du pétrole… alors nous serons réellement en danger… ». Les propos de ce vieil homme, révèlent en réalité la question des ressources naturelles comme sources des conflits.

In the film entitled “Blood Diamond”, an old man sighs in these terms: “I hope that they’re not going to find oil… then we really will be in danger…”. The words of the old man reveal the real question about natural resources as sources of conflict.

On the website Maps of the DRC [fr], we learn that :

Qualifié de scandale géologique, le sous-sol de la RD du Congo regorge de plusieurs minerais et d'énormes réserves énergétiques. Les ressources minières les plus connues sont celles des groupes de l'Etain, du Nobium et du Cuivre, auxquels on peut ajouter le manganèse, l'or et le diamant. Concernant les richesses énergétiques, on peut citer le pétrole off-shore de l'Atlantique et d'importants gisements du nord-est, lesquels aiguisent déjà, beaucoup d'appétits de tous les milieux mafieux aussi bien congolais qu'internationaux, au mépris des populations locales. De même, l'uranium dans le sud-est pays, ainsi que le gaz méthane du lac Kivu, font partie des ressources énergétiques dont le pays ne semble pas maitriser la gestion présente ou future. Ce manque d'autorité et de contrôle de ses propres richesses, se traduit par un trafic sans précédent à l'EST du pays, opéré par des bandes armées avec, malheureusement souvent, la complicité des congolais eux-mêmes au détriment de leur propre pays.

Often called a “geological scandal”, the subsoil of DRC is bursting with various minerals and enormous reserves of energy. The most well-know mining resources are those of clusters of tin, nobium and copper, to which we can also add manganese, gold and diamonds. As for energy wealth, we can point to the oil off-shore in the Atlantic, and to major deposits in the north east, which have already stimulated many appetites within the Mafia-like underworld, as much Congolese as international, to the disgust of local people. Also, uranium from the south east of the country, as well as methane gas from Lake Kivu, make up part of the energy resources that the country cannot seem to manage properly right now or in the future. This lack of authority and control of its own wealth, betrayed by unprecedented trafficking operations in the east of the country, controlled by armed gangs with, unhappily often, the complicity of the Congolese themselves to the detriment of their own country.

The causes of the internal conflicts within the DRC date from the dictatorship of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, who remained in power until 1997:

La raison du plus fort était la meilleure, … médiocrité de la classe politique, … l’effondrement et le manque d’indépendance de l’appareil judiciaire …inexistence des services publics tant administratifs que sociaux. … Le recrutement des militaires que ce soit par le processus normal ou dans le cadre du brassage ou mixage, ce recrutement se fait sans tenir compte de la citoyenneté, de l’âge, de la moralité ou du passé judiciaire

The strongest reason was the best, … mediocrity of the political class, … the collapse and the lack of independence of the judiciary …non-existence of public services, both administrative and social. … The recruitment of soldiers, be it by the standard process or within the framework of brewing or mixing, this recruitment is done without taking account of the citizens, of the times, of morality or of the judicial past

The following video shows the hold that Mobutu had over the DRC during this period: Mobutu, King of Zaïre 2, Master of the Game [fr]:

Website Konexinfo [fr] traced how several countries found themselves implicated in this conflict:

La situation actuelle en RDC, dans la région du Kivu, découle de plusieurs conflits qui ont eu lieu depuis une vingtaine d’années dans la région des grands lacs africains. Ces multiples conflits sont liés les uns aux autres. De nouveaux seigneurs de la guerre prennent la relève de ceux qui accèdent au pouvoir.

The current situation in the DRC, in the Kivu region follows from several conflicts which took place over twenty or so years in the African great lakes region. These many conflicts are all linked to one another. New warlords take over from those who have acceded to power.

Seven countries at war on Congolese soil

Meeting between Kabila, Bush, Kagame and Annan at NYC in 2002 by Eric Draper - public domain

Meeting between Kabila, Bush, Kagame and Annan at NYC in 2002 by Eric Draper - public domain

The Ugandan Yoweri Museveni recruited and organised an army of 6,000 men at the frontiers of Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda and overthrew the elected president of his country, Milton Obote in 1986.

In Rwanda between 1990 and 1993 the FPR with Paul Kagamé at its head fought against the regime of the sole party of the president, Juvénal Habyarimana.

In 1994, the genocide in Rwanda, which has a common border with the DRC, forced around 2 million people to migrate to Eastern DRC.

From Zaire to the Democratic Republic of the Congo [fr] and to the current chaos, website la documentation francaise gave a detailed chronology [fr] of events in the DRC:

In 1996, in South Kivu, the Banyamulenge rebellion started, involving Congolese Tutsi of Rwandan origin (who had migrated to the region from 1959 to flee the violence in Rwanda), with the military support of Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi. With others opposing the president of Zaire, Marshall Mobutu, they regrouped as the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire, ADFL, led by Laurent Desire Kabila.

After 30 years of power, President Mobutu left in exile before the rebels’ victory. Laurent Desire Kabila named himself president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the new name for Zaire. The rebels took control of capital Kinshasa on May 17, 1997.

Dismantling the camps of Rwandan refugees infiltrated by former Rwandan armed forces and extremist Hutu militia - the Interahamwe - responsible for the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda.

Kabila then broke his alliances with Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

In 1998, a new Tutsi rebellion, among the Banyamulenge broke out in Kivu against Kabila’s government troops, supported by his ex-allies Rwanda and Uganda. A new political-military coalition was formed - the Congolese Assembly for Democracy (RCD) - led by Ernest Wamba dia Wamba.

Seven countries at war on Congolese soil, with Congolese rebels supported by Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi….capturing Kisangani, capital of the Eastern province and the country’s third city. They would be stopped in their advance towards Kinshasa by the intervention of troops from Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

This resulted in the partitioning of the country, with North and South Kivu falling under the control of the RDC and the West remaining under the control of Kabila and his allies Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Also in 1998, another rebellion, this one led by Jean-Pierre Bemba, in the province of Equator, the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), took control of the region. With the support of Uganda, they took the city of Kindu and the mining regions of Kasai and Katanga.

On May 17, 1999, Wamba’s RCD split into two movements: RCD-Goma, led by Emile Ilunga Kalambo and supported by Rwanda, and RCD-Kisangani, which remained under Wamba’s control, and was supported by Uganda. Uganda were also still supporting Bemba’s MLC.

Kabila’s government no longer controlled the western half of the country.

The Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement (Zambia), signed in July 1999, changed nothing with respect to the massacres. The Rwandan army occupied one part of the Eastern province, North and South Kivu as well as North Katanga. The Ugandan army controlled the north parts of Equator and Eastern provinces. Despite the agreements, fighting and massacres continued. Both countries disputed control of the city of Kisangani, global hub of the diamond market, leading to the death of two hundred citizens.

In 2001, following the assassination of President Laurent Desire Kabila, his son Joseph Kabila was named head of state, on January 17.

 

Countries directly or indirectly involved in Congolese Conflicts

Countries directly or indirectly involved in Congolese Conflicts by Jaro7788 - Public Domain

 

Since then, United Nations resolutions and peace agreements between aggressors and attempts at democracy have periodically punctuated the repeated massacres and rapes as a weapon of war. The cyclical conflicts have allowed foreign powers and companies to access the precious minerals [fr] so vital to mobile phones worldwide.

Jacques Mbokani concluded [fr]:

En résumé, la cause centrale réside dans la faillite de l’Etat congolais qu’il faut reconstruire. C’est parce que l’Etat n’existe plus que les Etats voisins pillent, violent et font ce qu’ils font. C’est parce que l’Etat n’existe plus qu’il y a la prolifération des seigneurs de guerre et la prolifération des armes légères.

In summary, the central cause resides in the failure of the Congolese state which must be rebuilt. It is because the state no longer exists that neighbouring states steal, rape and do whatever they want. It’s because the state no longer exists that there has been a proliferation of warlords and of heavy weapons.

December 06 2012

Mapping the Conflicts in DRC in 2012

crisis group map of fights in DRC between April-Nov 2012

The Crisis Group has created an interactive map of the conflicts in the Kivu region, DRC in 2012 [fr].

December 04 2012

Have M23 Rebels Really Left Goma, DRC?

Recurrent violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent decades has eroded the political, social and economic foundations of society. The Eastern region is even more weakened by the periodic fighting between armed rebels and the Congolese army that has flaired up again in 2012.

The conflict in the Kivus region this year is a continuation of a war between M23 rebels, essentially composed of mutineer Tutsi soldiers against the majority-Hutu Congolese army. Backed by the Rwandan government, the M23 rebels seized control of the city of Goma in the Kivu region, near the Rwandan border.

Despite reports that the rebellion have agreed to pull out of Goma, it seems that there is still a great deal of uncertainty over when they will effectively do so, and whether they might return. Melanie Gouby of the Associated Press reports on the extremely fluid timeline for the withdrawal:

The delay raises the possibility that the M23 rebels don't intend to leave the city they seized last week, giving credence to a U.N. expert report that says neighboring Rwanda is using the rebels as a proxy to annex territory in mineral-rich eastern Congo. An M23 spokesman said Friday morning that for “logistical reasons” the rebels needed 48 more hours to complete their withdrawal, promising that the fighters would leave Goma by Sunday.

M23 rebels on a truck in the streets of Goma, after they captured it in November 2012

M23 rebels on a truck in the streets of Goma, after they captured it (November 29, 2012) Voice of America via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

A follow-up report states that the rebels have begun to pull out and that the retreat is near completion:

Ugandan Brig. Jeffrey Muheesi, who is part of a mission sent by regional leaders to oversee the rebel retreat, said the rebels' pullout from Goma was complete. ”They have pulled out of Sake and Goma, and now Congolese government policemen are controlling the central bank, the governor's office and the border post,” he said from the outskirts of Goma.

Eyewitnesses say that while in Goma, M23 rebels looted the city, entering homes and shops and stealing cars, cell phones and cash. Radio Okapi reports [fr]:

Les rebelles du M23 ont pillé plusieurs habitations et bâtiments de Goma le jeudi 29 novembre dans la journée. Ce butin aurait été acheminé vers Kibumba, futur quartier général du M23, à près de 30 Km de Goma. Ce sont notamment les quartiers Katindo, Katoyi et Keshero qui ont été pillés par ces hommes en uniforme. La plupart des édifices publics, par contre, ont été épargnés puisque gardés par les forces de la Mission des Nations unies en RDC (Monusco) à Goma.

The M23 rebels broke into several homes and buildings in Goma on Thursday, November 29. Their loot was transported to Kibumba, their next HQ, 30km from Goma. The looting was carried out by men in uniform mostly in the borough of Katindo, Katoyi and Keshero. The administrative offices were left alone mostly because the UN MONUSCO forces were protecting them.

A sustainable solution to the conflict is evidently wanting. For now, the International Crisis Group recommends the following measures including these initiatives:

  • the reactivation of an effective and permanent joint verification mechanism for the DRC and Rwandan border, as envisaged by the ICGLR, which should be provided with the necessary technical and human resources;
  • the addition of the individuals and entities that supported the M23 and other armed groups to the UN sanctions list and the consideration of an embargo on weapons sales to Rwanda
  • the launch of local peace initiatives in Walikale, Masisi, Shabunda and Kalehe areas where ethnic tension is high by MONUSCO and the government

Given the Rwandan support of M23 and despite the UN recommendation that M23 pulls out of Goma, it is unclear whether M23 will ever fully withdraw from the city.

Meanwhile, the M23 were evicted from Facebook last week. Before then Gabriella Mulligan on Humanipo wondered how long a rebel group would be allowed to recruit and tease the Congolese government on the social network, and Trésor Kibungula on Jeune Afrique illustrated their social media evolution [fr].

November 19 2012

TERRA 722: Life, Land, and Justice in Uganda

John Muyiisa is 49 years old and has been farming for 34 years and lives in Kasenyi village. His small farm is just yards from the lakefront and had been surrounded by dense forest. Over time he had cultivated a coffee and fruit plantation of 40 acres on common land. With this he has been able to raise a family of 9 children. The company arrived and told him that the land was now theirs and he would have to vacate. Within days, bulldozers turned up and flattened the ancient forest and with it his coffee plantation. They offered him one million shillings and one acre of land, later changed to no money but three acres... but he refused. He wanted to take them to court and approached the local police who referred him to the resident district commission who said they would look into the case. Since then, no one has been to visit the site as they are too busy in meetings and other priorities. He now has just two acres of land left to make a living, just below the vast slope of the soon to be palm plantation and all it's chemical run off. He continues to fight for the right to his land but with little money and against a government approved multi million-dollar corporation, there is little hope.

November 12 2012

November 06 2012

Ugandan Prime Minister Interacts on Twitter Using #AskthePM

#AskthePM is a hashtag created for online users to interact with the Prime Minister of Uganda, Amama Mbabazi. The fourth #AskthePM took place on 27 October, 2012.

In email correspondence with one of the coordinators of the initiative, Ruth Aine (@Ruthaine) said the idea came from Allan Kasujja when he was with Capital Radio (he is now with BBC Newsday):

The idea was to have a reasonable number of journalists and people from Twitter who would come to interact with the Prime Minister, engage him and direct questions to him raised off Twitter, not by just them who are present.

Ruth says that because of short notice, there were four bloggers, a participant from the Ministry of Health and an IT technocrat. The other coordinator for #AskthePM is Angelo Izama (@Opiaiya).

A quick survey of #AskthePM tweets shows that Ugandan netizens are divided over the structure and the significance of the initiative.

Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. Image by Helene C. Stikkel for the US Department of Defense. (Public Domain)

Prime Minister's Answers:
The Prime Minister talked about corruption, education, capacity building, etc:

@Opiaiya: The greatest challenge we have now is overcoming attitudes of dependency “introduced by the British” says @AmamaMbabazi #AskthePM

@xklam8n: @JoyDoreenBiira PM said govt will improve ways of detecting corruption & create a significant deterrent against public fund theft..#AskThePM

@graceseb: #AskthePM #Mynotes Govt of Uganda is working towards a #Noagelimit to acquire education and learning for #UgandaNext50 years

@observerug: RT @Opiaiya: “If each time a bureaucrat steals a PM must resign no prime minister wd last 2 days”says @AmamaMbabazi #AskthePM

@graceseb: #AskthePM #Mynotes Lets Build capacity in Investigating Government organs because the challenge with our cases is lack of enough evidence

Is #AskthePM a Waste of Time?

@enamara: @tmsruge Not to even one tweet of all people who asked him to clarify… so for me.. I don't see any point at all in #AskthePM @Ruthaine

@tmsruge thought the session was “another soap box”:

@tmsruge: What’s the point of #AskThePM exactly? Just another soap box to make empty promises or to report tangible improvements?

@gatimo1: Until so-called leaders like @AmamaMbabazi get some Remorse and Humility this #AskThePm is a waste of precious Weekend tym

Others thought that it was simply a waste of time:

@ssojo81: Amama Mbabazi is now fooling us that he did not know about the corruption in his office. Thank God I did not waste my weekend on #AskThePM

@jmakumbi: @enamara Doubt there will be another #AskThePM while the OPM [Office of the Prime Minister] scandal [theft of £10m aid money from Ireland and Britain] is still fresh. Just my humble opinion. NRM [National Resistance Movement] guys tend to duck questions

@SongaStone: #AskThePM and then what?

Some netizens turned to humour to show their disapproval of #AskThePm:

@Since_1986: Asking the PM about corruption is like asking if the pope is a muslim… #AskThePm

@Smawyri: #AskThePM The PM won't answer any of my questions. Can I atleast get my data used to tweet at @AmamaMbabazi back?

@KingArtha: Since u won't answer any of the people's questions how about drinks on you tonight at Kampala Club ? #AskThePM

#AskthePM is Awesome:

@rubatimo: That awesome moment when your tweet to the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister gets a reply. @AmamaMbabazi you are the best. #AskthePM.

@BoazShani: @Opiaiya I think the PM did great today by answering most tweeps and #AskThePM well only get better with time @AmamaMbabazi @laskasujja

@xklam8n: @enamara Tangible results from #AskThePM? We get clarifications on govt programs for the youth, education, health sectors etc e.g. (contd)..

#AskthePM Needs Improvement:

@pmagelah: @tmsruge @Ruthaine I believe #AskThePM can be managed better & improved, PM can involve his ministers to answer some of the querries

@nasikyeesther: I think the next tweetup @AmamaMbabazi shd 4cus on few topics other than general issues from sport, to health, education @Ruthaine #AskthePM

@kevrx: Is there a final report or something on the highlights of #AskThePm or Do we just have to follow the tag? Cc @Opiaiya

@henryndawula: #AskthePM where the answers?

Finally, one Twitter user wonders about the future of #AskthePM in view of attempts by the Ugandan police to monitor social networks in Uganda:

@pmagelah: What is the future of #AskThePM when police moves to censure social networks as it has proposed increased ‘monitoring”

Another one, @texasinafrica, hopes that #AskthePM will lead to real accountability in Uganda:

@texasinafrica: I LOVE watching Ugandans pose tough questions in #askthePM. But only valuable if it leads to real accountability.

October 22 2012

Uganda: Getting Ready for the Second Coming of #Kony2012

“I didn’t pay much mind to the #Kony2012 kerfuffle when it first surfaced back in March. I couldn’t be bothered to watch the film and was a bit blasé about the re-emergence (as it seemed to me) of the Lord’s Resistance Army as a topic of wide international interest. But now Invisible Children has released another film that promises the unleashing of a new wave of activism (they’re promising to take over the US capital in mid-November) and awareness-raising”.

OLUFEMI Terry in #KONY2005 on the Africa is a Country blog. OLUFEMI unpacks the nuances that must be taken into account when approaching the stories of child soldiers in Uganda.

October 16 2012

Uganda: The Golden Jubilee Gift That Never Was

As Uganda was celebrating 50 years of independence on 9 October 2012, everyone was hoping that qualification for the African Cup Of Nations would be the best gift Ugandans would get. It never happened.

Although the Federation of Uganda Football Association sold tickets at 40,000 Ugandan shillings ($16) ordinary, 75,000 Shs ($30) Gold and 120,000 Shs ($48) Platinum, Ugandans turned up in large numbers for the match.

Official poster for Uganda versus Zambia game. Image courtesy of Uganda Cranes Facebook page.

On Saturday 13 October, Uganda Cranes took on Zambia's Chipolopolo. After 90 minutes, Uganda was leading 1-0. The game had to go to penalties because Uganda lost to Zambia 1-0 in the first leg. The penalties ended with Zambia beating Uganda 8-9. This made the loud Mandela National stadium and entire Kampala City go silent. One could hardly hear a single Vuvuzela or whistle blow.

This means Uganda now has to wait for the Africa Cup 2015 qualifiers to try out its luck. Ugandans as always took to Twitter to express their feelings and here are some of the reactions.

Patrick Mugumya noted that some journalists are happy for this loss:

@mugumya: And as expected some journos are very happy that the national team didn't qualify. Pathetic lot #UgandaCranes

He asked people to leave out president Museveni as some blame him for the loss:

@mugumya: Good morning #Kampala I hope today we shall have a rational discussion on #UgandaCranes keeping out Sevo, he didn't play wont ever play

Tumwebaze Josephe blames fans who brought a live chicken to the pitch:

@jobaze: Finally I have something to blame for the failure of Uganda Cranes to qualify. This chicken wasn't happy with us!pic.twitter.com/VujcSdbo

It is said that Ugandans like partying so much, as Assumpta Nalubega shows that some Ugandan are now focused on Sean Paul's concert:

@mnalubega: Now that #ugandacranes is done n we r over the loss, waiting for tickets for #SEAN PAUL!! I learnt from the best:-) @SemuGoma

Proggie Uganda thinks Uganda has to construct a new stadium as it can not qualify from Namboole:

@proggiug: We need to relocate. We've never qualified from there. RT @oleebranch: Mandela Stadium. The Home Of The #UgandaCranes http://instagr.am/p/Qy1oQXImjg/

Uganda's national soccer team, the Uganda Cranes, last qualified for the African Cup of Nations in 1978 when it reached the finals but finished second. The team came closer to a historic comeback last year.

October 10 2012

Uganda Marks 50 Years of Independence

Uganda@50 Logo. Image source: Uganda@50 Facebook page.

Uganda@50 Logo. Image source: Uganda@50 Facebook page.

On Tuesday 9 October, 1962, Uganda got its independence as the Union Jack flag of England was lowered, the Ugandan flag raised whilst jubilant Ugandans sang the Uganda National Anthem.

On Tuesday 9 October, 2012, Uganda marked the Golden Jubilee of this historic event. Many occasions have taken place around the country to mark this special day, which started with the Kampala Carnival on Sunday 7 October. Many people converged at Kololo Airstrip today to mark the 50 years of independence.

Uganda has had eight presidents since independence, namely, King Sir Edward Muteesa II, Apollo Milton Obote, Idi Amin Dada, Yusuf kironde Lule, Godfrey Lukongwa Binayiisa, Paulo Muwanga, Tito Okello Lutwa, and the current President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.

The country still faces challenges of health, education, press freedom among others.

Generally however, many Ugandans seem to be happy about 50 years of independence, and look forward to the next 50 years, as they say Yoga Yoga Uganda (the title of the official Uganda@50 song, which means congratulations in Luganda).

Some Ugandans, however, think the the celebration is a waste of resources in a country where some people sleep hungry.

Ugandans online have been discussing the Jubilee on Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter

During the main event, there was a spectacular show by Uganda's fighter jets. Norman Anguzu tweets a pic of the jets in air:

@normzo#UgandaAt50 Awesome picture from ‘The Mzungu Diaries' #Ugandapic.twitter.com/IJ25bPUw

Lucy Smize tweets about the colors of the Ugandan flag and their meanings:

@Lucy_smize: Black, Yellow, Red: People, Sunshine, Brotherhood. #UgandaAt50

Patricia Kahill wishes Ugandans nice independence day, but comments on the load shedding of power by Umeme, the company providing hydro electric power:

@pkahill: Happy independence day in Dark #fumemeug@50 #ILoveUgBecause more

Rosebell Kagumire says that despite Uganda celebrating 50 years, the country does show any sign of maturity:

@rosebellk: You r celebrating 50 years of independence + no sign of maturity whatsoever! You cant stand dissent, how will you grow?#Ugandaat50

Angelo Izama believes Uganda is still one of the most beautiful countries in the world:

@opiaiya:  Still possibly one of the most beautiful countries in the world #Uganda@50

Vanessa proposes a tost to Uganda's Jubilee:

@v_sees_you: A toast to Uganda! 50 years Independent! ☺/ May God continue to bless our nation!

Timothy Kalyegira tweets about Google Uganda's Jubilee homepage:

@timkalyegira: Even Google is into Uganda@50 hype, with a Uganda theme on its homepage. (But I bet the Internet link is off at Google's Kampala office!)

Google Uganda Homepage

Google Uganda Homepage

Maxentia comments about the colors she wore today:

@maxen1987: btw, i wore my national flag colours; black yellow red to honour the day #Uganda@50. it feels good

Happy Betty believes she is blessed to witness Uganda at 50 years:

Happy Betty: Blesed 2b hea as Uganda meks 50 sure i shall stil b around at 100 bt 2my generation thus far our fathers hv come its our turn 2take Uganda thr da nxt 50 yrs we determine what we shall have then-God sure is with us!

Facebook

Edwinsmith Kigozi says:

It feels really good to see Ugandans coming together to celebrate 50 years as Ugandans not looking at the different political parties but just as Ugandans. Let's go Uganda. For God and my country.

Akampa Ivan feels that the fighter jets show was not the best Uganda could have:

Someone should have given me a good stone to shoot for you one of these Jets that have been polluting Kampala with noise and smoke. I wonder whether our Government lacks a proper procurement unit to procure jets that are of advanced technology of current other than old crap or Uganda lacks qualified personnel with jet flying skills. So much disappointed. A proper ride would actually move faster than these jets. Anyway its Uganda at 50, and am proud to be Ugandan. Happy Golden Jubilee Uganda!!!! Lets celebrate.

Shy V Okecho notes that as Uganda is growing old, everything else is growing old too, a reference to un-repaired roads, schools and hospitals:

Naye Uganda@50 ga ekuuze eguudo zikuuze,amaddwaliro gakuuze amadagala tegalimu, ba M.P's bafuuna eguuzi ya 200,000 okuyeesa budget. Naye UGANDA ensi yenge!!

But Uganda@50 as it grows, the roads have also grown, Hospitals grown with no medicine  M.P's get bribes of 200,000 to pass the budget. But Uganda my country.

Evelyn Mirembe Nkuyahaga says:

WoW this is just awesome! Uganda@50! I Love my Country and my President! Ululululu… Thank you Jesus for Uganda!

September 25 2012

Africa: Mountain Gorilla Conservation Data

Over 5,000 days of Mountain Gorilla conservation data in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo:

Fifteen years ago, ranger-based monitoring (or RBM for short) was initiated as a tool in the conservation of mountain gorillas. Whether patrolling the park for law enforcement or tracking mountain gorillas for health assessments or to facilitate visits by tourists or researchers, data is being collected and recorded on data sheets. Every day. That’s over 5,000 days of valuable data collected.

September 22 2012

Uganda: Teenage Girl Becomes Africa's Youngest MP

Proscovia Alengot Oromait has become Africa's youngest Member of Paliament (MP) at the age of 19, after she won the Usuk county election with 11,059 votes. The outspoken youngster replaces her father who died earlier this year.

Alengot is a member of National Resistance Movement, headed by President Yoweri Museveni. Other people who stood for the post included, Charles Ojok Oleny with 5,329 votes, Charles Okure from FDC with 2,725 votes and Cecilia Anyakoit of UPC with 554 votes.

Honourable Alengot Oromait. Photo used with permission of monitor.co.ug.

Honourable Alengot Oromait. Photo used with permission of monitor.co.ug.

Many people have come out to congratulate her, whilst some are saying she will not survive her term in parliament because of her age and limited experience. Some people believe this is the beginning of change in Africa and its time to get rid of the overly old leaders and allow young people to take the continent forward.

Hon. Alengot's area faces challenges of clean water, electricity and poor roads among others. For now the people of Usuk have their hopes pinned on the 19 year-old MP. Hopefully, she will be in position to represent her area and develop it.

Google map of Alengo's constituency:

View Larger Map

Some citizen media comments are sampled below:

Solar Sister‏ believes its the young women that are the pillar of change now:

Young women powering change! 19 year old Proscovia Alengot Oromait elected to Uganda Parliament. http://fb.me/28DoJ2IUr 

Joy Doreen Biira requests someone to teach Ms Alomait the basics she needs to learn as an MP:

@JoyDoreenBiira: Alengot Oromait, 19 years old is now a MP in Uganda…. Very Good. But can someone “home-school” her on the basics she needs to know else…

Commenting on New Vision website, Agambagye Frank thinks its good that she was elected and believes this is how democracy should be:

thats why democracy is good pple voted her

lakodo urges Hon Aromait not to leave her boyfriend, now that she has got more money and has a lot of opportunities to get a rich boyfriend:

Hon Prossy , plse dont forget ur little 19 yr old boy friend who used to buy for u chapatis, he kind of also helped u in a way, and remember to take haert not to be scared of some MPs like Moses Ali who snores like the whole roof of parliament is coming down.

Commenting on a story on the Monitor website, nkuutu urges advises the MP to concentrate on her studies, as the MP seat can be lost at anytime and she may have to look for a job:

I just have one piece of advice for the hon MP: Don't worry, be happy. This might be the only time in your life to shine! Come next elections ….who knows. Don't forget your day job …I mean your studies. No one will give you a job with a CV with “ex-MP but no qualification”. Anyone can be an MP, but not everyone is educated.
Congrats!!

ProWoman thinks people are treating Ms Alengot like a baby. She goes on to tell them to let her think for herself because she is an adult:

 Proscovia does not need too much advice. You guys are treating her like a baby. At 19 she's an adult. Schooling began at home. Why is every man trying to be a parent to her? Leave this young woman alone to think critically for herself. It seems that there are too many cooks around. Proscovia actually has the figure of Michelle Obama. Tall, athletic, beautiful and confident. Michelle the first Black US first lady did not need too much advice on how to be a first Black first lady in the White House. Congratulations to Proscovia!

Proscovia Alengot was sworn in on Thursday 20, September, 2012. She is the youngest and first female teenage Member of Parliament in Africa.

August 21 2012

Africa: Time for a Circumcision-Driven HIV Policy in Africa?

After overcoming much skepticism, the idea that circumcision is an effective measure in reducing HIV transmission is now globally accepted by the health professionals community and the general public. In fact, the World Health Organization is now advocating circumsision programme as part of the HIV prevention package in areas greatly affected by the virus.

However, the jury is still out on how the measure will be adopted by the target population given their cultural specificity. Experts and bloggers weigh in on the practicality and the effectiveness of a circumcision-driven public health policy.

A proven approach 

Even though the approach has been suggested for a decade, the validation that medical male circumcision substantially reduces the risk of contracting HIV is fairly recent. Three randomized clinical trials were conducted in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. In 2007, The WHO and the UNAIDS provided the following comment on the results of the study:

 There is now strong evidence from three randomized controlled trials undertaken (..) that male circumcision reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men by approximately 60%. This evidence supports the findings of numerous observational studies that have also suggested that the geographical correlation long described between lower HIV prevalence and high rates of male circumcision in some countries in Africa, and more recently elsewhere, is, at least in part, a causal association.

Some newly developed technological devices may even facilitate the deployment of this policy. Donald G McNeil Jr of The New York Times recently reported that:

a bloodless circumcision device for adults, will be tested in at least nine African countries in the next year [..] a two-nurse team slides a grooved ring inside the foreskin and guides a rubber band to compress the foreskin in the groove. After a week, the dead foreskin falls off like the stump of a baby’s umbilical cord

Still, not all the scientific community is convinced that this policy is the right direction to take in the fight against HIV. For instance many argue that such a policy would be offset by increased HIV risk behaviour, such as reduced condom use or increased numbers of sex partners. In a journal article, Kalichman et al. write:

Circumcision likely reduces the risk of acquiring a non-HIV STI and may be partially responsible for the decreased HIV risk observed in circumcision RCTs [1]. Nevertheless, the failure of models to account for increased STI risk due to risk compensation likely inflates estimates of averted HIV infections. Estimates of HIV risks resulting from increased exposure to STIs that coincide with reductions in condom use have been included in previous models of the cost-effectiveness of HIV prevention interventions [11] and should be included in MC models.

Cultural challenges 

Despite those recommendations, the approach still encounters many challenges to getting implemented in many countries. Ugandan global health graduate Edgar Asiimwe shares his findings regarding the willingness of young men to undergo safe male circumcision in Uganda, in this video uploaded to YouTube by user DukeGlobalHealth on 10 July, 2012. In the video, Asiimwe explains that the Ugandan government still favors prevention programs based on abstinence which makes implementing medical circumcision difficult to implement:

In South Africa, traditional circumcision is still carried out, however, the circumcision often only partially removes the foreskin from the penis. Maughan-Brown et al. explain the results of their study in Cape Town:

Partially circumcised men had a 7% point greater risk of being HIV positive than fully circumcised men (P < 0.05) and equal risk compared with uncircumcised men. Most (91%) men were circumcised between the ages of 17 and 22 years (mean 19.2 years), and HIV risk increased with age of circumcision (P < 0.10).

Efforts should be made to encourage earlier circumcisions and to work with traditional surgeons to reduce the number of partial circumcisions.

In some of areas of Madagascar, circumcision is also a tradition. The traditional method of circumcision may carry some health concerns and differs vastly from medical circumcision. Arinaina explains [fr]:

 La circoncision se fait au crépuscule d’où le feu et les bougies. Tous les hommes, le grand-père, le papa, les oncles sont là pour préparer tout ce qui est nécessaire au rituel et assister l’enfant en le tenant bien fort. Un dernier homme est aussi présent; le guérisseur traditionnel ou le « rain-jaza » qui va couper avec sa lame le prépuce. [..]  la circoncision à Madagascar, c’est surtout pour que le garçon devienne un «vrai homme».

Circumcision is carried out at dawn hence the need for candles and fire. All the family men, the grandfather, the father, the uncles are present to prepare all that is necessary for the ritual and help hold the child still. Another man is also present, the traditional healer who will cut off the child's foreskin.
Painting of a circumcision in Madagascar by Arianiana (used with permission)

Painting of a circumcision in Madagascar by Arianiana (used with permission)

HIV prevalence is relatively low in Madagascar compared to the other southern African states and it is possible that the cultural acceptance of circumcision plays a part in keeping HIV at low levels. This was not the case early on in Kenya though. June Odoyo, a member of the Nyanza Province Male Circumcision Task Force,  explains:

Despite initial resistance from cultural leaders in the region, male circumcision has been widely accepted in Nyanza, with more than 110,000 men undergoing the procedure since 2008 [..] Rural areas experience high cases of cultural resistance to the programme, while the acceptability in urban areas is comparatively high.

Increase in demand for circumcision may have been sparked by young men's desire to have unprotected sex. A study in Malawi explains that dislike for condoms was a factor in undergoing circumcision. For instance, Peter states:

so I see that most of my friends have a tendency of having sex with different kinds of women, so I do
take part in explaining to them to say; I think maybe the best thing is maybe if you can consider
this circumcision. Maybe you can be half way protected. Because there are other people who
don't like to use condoms but they want to have sex with a woman plain [no condom on].

While health policy advocates always emphasize that circumcision is by no means meant to replace the use of condoms, one has to wonder how many men would forego the use of condoms because they have undergone circumcision.

More convincing needed?

Beside the issue of potential reduction in condom use, other doubts were raised by bloggers regarding the inclusion of male circumcision in HIV prevention policy. Jason Bosch, a South African scientist in Cape Town, argues:

If you tell someone it will reduce their risk then they’re more likely to take the risk. After my post I heard from a colleague of mine who has read the paper that at least one of the trials was flawed because those undergoing circumcision where educated on safe sex practices while the others were not.

James Sweet, a blogger from the United States that has lived in Ethiopia, adds:

Given the sociopolitical pressures to justify circumcision, I suspect this data might be exaggerated, but there does seem to be something to it. This, of course, is weighed against the direct risk of complications from the procedure, which are rare but not unheard of.

 

August 16 2012

Uganda: Anonymous Backs Gay Pride, Hacks Government Websites

The international hactivist group known as Anonymous has hacked the website of the Prime Minister of Uganda and the database of the Uganda Justice Law and Order Society in support of Ugandan Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights activists.

Anonymous is a loosely associated hacktivist group, which started in 2003.

The group took control of the website of the Prime Minister posting photos of Uganda's first Gay Pride events, an official recognition of Gay Pride Week and a formal apology to gay people from the Prime Minister. It also revealed encrypted admininstration passwords for Uganda's Justice Law and Order Society.

Anonymous claims that its operation in Uganda will target Ugandan government sites and communications until the government of Uganda treats all people including LGBT equally.

The first Gay Pride in Uganda was organized on August 4th in Entebbe. It was a series of events held at Entebbe, including a party, a beach parade and a film festival.

Anonymous emblem. The image has been released into the public domain by its author, Anonymous.

On 14 October, 2009, David Bahati, Member of Parliament, introduced an anti-homosexuality bill (known also as “Kill the Gays bill”) which criminalised same-sex relations and stipulated that a  person considered as homosexual would receive the death penalty, or life imprisonment. After being met with resistance and criticism, Bahati re-tabled the bill in February this year with some changes.

A message posted on 14 August, 2012, by the group says:

Today's hack and deface of the Ugandan Prime Minister's site was the latest in a long list of actions against the government and infrastructure of Uganda for crimes against LGBT people.

We currently have full control of the President of Uganda's website.

We will not stand by while LGBT Ugandans are victimized, abused and murdered by a ruthless and corrupt government. #TheEliteSociety and #Anonymous will continue to target Ugandan government sites and communications until the government of Uganda treats all people including LGBT equally and with respect, dignity and immediately ends the arrest and harassment of LGBT.

Melanie Nathan, an international LGBTI activist, fears that the action by Anonymous might harm Uganda's LGBTI activists:

While I support all protests against the anti-gay Ugandan Government, I fear this may cause a backlash to the LGBTI community of activists who so bravely showed their faces at Pride.

In fear that they have failed to consider the particular sensitive issues involved to the Ugandan LGBT gay community.

A Ugandan gay rights activist, Val Kalende, said the following to Melanie:

My concern is the manner in which Anonymous claim to speak on behalf of Uganda LGBT activists with no consultation whatsoever. Has SMUG [Sexual Minorities Uganda] or any other organization asked them hack government websites? Do they understand how their actions could be perceived by Ugandans? I question the motive of Anonymous.They need to be advised. Those well-meaning interventions can cause severe backlash for activists on the ground. Hacking government websites to “help” victims of state-sponsored homophobia? Who does that? I think this extremist violent intervention MUST STOP. I would advise you speak to activists on the ground for their views on this.

Nathan also points out that the photo used by the group on the hacked website is harmful:

The photo used by Anonymous which is now all over the internet is harmful and should not have been used in that fashion. I have tweeted anonymous asking for a remedy. G-d knows how it can be changed at this time.

It seems Anonymous may have used those photos without authority and so in their attempt to help the Ugandan gay community, may in fact be causing more harm to the actual brave activists who put themselves on the line.

One Twitter account of the group defends their action saying:

@DramaSett3r: @danlittauer @PinkNinj4 @gaystarnews Id like to add that our entire operation #OpFuckAfrica #OpFuckUganda is soley based on defending LGBT

There are reports that Anonymous has also targeted the websites of RedPepper (Ugandan tabloid), the Uganda Stock Exchange and Uganda Prison Service. In August 2006, Red Pepper published names of alleged Ugandan homosexual men.

@PinkNinj4: @RedPepperUG > http://www.prisons.go.ug looks broken & your stock exchange was hacked :O prisons.go.ug http://pastebin.com/EMRnviLx #OpFuckUganda

@PinkNinj4: ohai @RedPepperUG remember when u printed names & addresses of ‘queers' in 2009? I didn't forget :) Your site is now f*** x #OpFuckUganda

You can follow other operations in Africa by Anonymous here.

August 15 2012

Video: What Egypt, Congo, Uganda and Colombia have in Common

The search for justice in the wake of conflict is what Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Colombia have in common. The Case for Justice is a series of videos debating on the relevance of  what is known as transitional justice, a set of systems that is put into place to allow for accountability in the wake of massive human rights violations.

Graffiti of people on a balanced scale in Madrid by Olga Berrios

Justicia by Olga Berrios used according to Creative Commons Attribution License.

 


From the International Center for Transitional Justice site:

The complexity of this debate is best illustrated by the different myths that abound within it. Some contend transitional justice is “soft justice,” an alternative to pursuing criminal justice in the wake of mass atrocities or repression; others equate it solely with criminal trials, fully focused on perpetrators. Some view it as a key obstacle to reaching successful peace agreements; others regard it as a kind of a magic wand, a quick cure for the scars of war and abuse.

The Case for Justice video lands on these different views of transitional justice through the recent history from Egypt, Uganda, Colombia and the DRC:


The following video explains the reasons behind transitional justice and how it can help to give a community a voice and provide those who suffered human rights violations not only public recognition as victims, but also give them the chance to recognize in themselves the right to pursue justice and to be treated as equal citizens with equal rights.

However, transitional justice is no magic wand: it is not capable of solving all the problems. Even with a truth commission, even with trials against dictators who committed heinous crimes against humanity, even with systems in place to redress victims: sometimes it takes decades or generations before justice can be served, and not all will get to see it. But the fact that it isn't magical or immediate should not detract from the fact that it has helped people who are seeing justice and restitution for the damage suffered through war, natural disasters or conflict.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in what has been called the Third World War due to the great number of victims, a process is being established to recognize the massive human right violations and systematized rapes by a mixed tribunal with Congolese and international judges as a way to give the victims a voice and hopefully change the trend where impunity has made certain segments of society believe that rape is a normal part of society.

More in-depth video interviews and explanations on Transitional Justice can be found on the ICTJ website for The Case for Justice.

 

August 13 2012

Uganda: Against Odds, Gay Pride Events Take Place in Entebbe

The LGBT community has been harassed for years in Uganda. This is why the first Gay Pride organized on August 4th in Entebbe was praised worldwide.

LGBT Pride was a series of events held at Entebbe, including a party, a beach parade and a film festival. Jamaican LGBT activist Maurice Tomlinson was honored as the grand marshal of the event. In spite of widespread homophobia on the part Ugandan politicians and the public, the event was reportedly well attended. Ugandan police raided the event and detained LGBT activists who were later released.

On 14 October, 2009, David Bahati , Member of Parliament, introduced an anti-homosexuality bill (known also as “Kill the Gays bill”) criminalising same-sex relations in which a person considered as homosexual would receive the death penalty, or life imprisonment. As a result of the outrage of the international community, with some Western countries such as Sweden considering to cut financial assistance, the bill met some delays. In February this year, however, Bahati re-tabled the bill with some changes.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented a coalition of Ugandan rights groups with the State Department's 2011 Human Rights Defender Award in Uganda. She called the activists an inspiration for others struggling to secure equal rights around the world.

Out and proud in Uganda. Photo courtesy of @nicosuavehh.

Commenting on Dan Littauer's report on the Pride events in Entebbe on Gay Star News, Andyy wrote:

Every step we take is altering the entire future for many more than those alive today. Wisdom of our LGBTQ issues is already victorious over those yet bound and surround by the seemingly ever present forefather drowning mad flood ignorance. Life and death is the seriousness of our every step. Www.100stones.wordpress.com

Commenting on GayStarNews post, Darren Simpson also said:

I'm so proud of the people who never gave up on what they believe in, being gay is not a chose its a way of life and the more the gay community in Uganda stand tall a fight then one day people will stand up and listen. As a gay person am so proud of you all who became one and supported each other and risked your life to imprisonment. You have done this once you can do it again.

Responding to an article by Alexis Okeowo on newyorker.com, melnathan wrote:

The importance of this Pride event cannot be understated. The fact that these brave activists could pull this off in this milieu of persecution is a great victory for the community. Visibility like this notes the ongoing legacy of late activist David Kato, it defies the export of American Evangelical hate, and it helps ensure defeat of the Bahati Bill. It shows leadership for all of Africa, and above all it shows that the LGBT people of Uganda simply refuse to give up their right to exist and to live their natural born sexual orientation. see more photos to and article at The Advocate http://www.advocate.com/arts-entertainment/commentary/2012/08/08/see-photos-ugandans-both-proud-and-brave

Rolling Stone "100 Pictures of Uganda's Top Homos Leak: Hang Them"

An example of media hatred towards homosexuals in Uganda: Rolling Stone's 100 Pictures of Uganda's Top Homos Leak. Photo via Gay Uganda.

Commenting on the same story, kasia_r said:

Dear Alexis, I am just an ordinary East Europe citizen, but I would like to get some information about how I can help, even if a little (unfortunately, I cannot afford a lot) financially. please, let me know what I can do. I would also be more than happy for you to give me contacts to your brave Ugandian colleagues. I am not a journalist of any sorts, I am just very much impressed and I would feel honored to ask them some questiones and to talk to them, if possible. I don't know, if you can send me a PM, but, anyway, here is my email: rogalewicz@gmail.com, please, contact me if you can.

Twitter users around the world showed their admiration and support for the bravery and courage displayed by Ugandan gay activists:

@GoodMenProject: Admire the people who marched for gay pride in Uganda. Homosexuality is a capital offense. Their bravery is beautiful. http://ht.ly/cTAHG

@Bardissimo: A #Pride march can not be any braver and prouder than this one. Gay Pride in #Uganda! http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=516051181754277&set=a.510412848984777.131622.122256581133741&type=3&theater

@AskMrMickey: How amazing are the folks who marched in that Uganda Gay Pride parade? How can we support em? Fundraiser? Any ideas?

@JoeSetchell: I have the upmost respect for these guys risking imprisonment or even death. #HatsOff #GayPride #Uganda. http://pic.twitter.com/W6TlkPkK

@NewYorker: “Can you imagine that the worst place in the world to be gay is having Gay Pride?” @alexis_ok at a parade in Uganda: http://nyr.kr/Nxp0Fs

@PatrickStrud: I have the most profound respect and admiration for every single woman and man taking part in Uganda's first gay pride: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/08/gay-and-proud-in-uganda.html#slide_ss_0=1

@JoeMyGod: Gay And Proud In Uganda: It boggles the mind, but a small gay pride event was held in Uganda this weekend. Alex… http://bit.ly/OIGFfh

@ZackieAchmat: Brilliant!”Uganda Gay Pride march Indescribably brave and moving. http://pic.twitter.com/ZALQWEkq” Thanks @JRhodesPianist @dalli_weyers @gavinsilber

On 26 January, 2012, Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was found murdered, just weeks after winning a court case against a local newspaper that had called for Ugandans to “hang” homosexuals. Kato was an advocacy officer for gay rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda.

June 27 2012

Uganda: Breaking the Culture of Silence

Medical care is supposed to be free in Uganda. However, there has been a consistent shortage of medicine and health workers in the national health centres. A video produced by Results for Development, an international non-profit organisation whose mission is to unlock solutions to tough development challenges, was released online recently to encourage Ugandans to break their silence and take control of their health rights.

Introducing the video, Oscar Abello writes:

Uganda has made great strides in the past few years building up the “hardware” of its public distribution system for medicines – central warehouses and staffed distribution points – but the “software” isn’t quite right. Many health centers run out of medicines in the 2-3 months between deliveries, meanwhile central warehouses are chock-full of supplies.

Medicine supply chain problems aren’t news to Uganda’s poor, many of them in remote rural villages, but few channels exist to bring that information to the public officials who are in position to do something about it.

In the video, Dennis Kibira, the medicines advisor at HEPS Uganda, a health consumer organization that helps increase access to essential medicine in Uganda says:

I want to see a country where people do not have to die because they have failed to receive the care that they deserve.

In 2006, three ministers lost their posts after it was reported that they were involved in embezzlement of funds from the health sector. Their cases are still pending in court.

Patients on the floor of Mulago Hospital, the National Referral Hospital. Photo Courtesy of williamkituuka.blogspot.com

Rosette Mutambi, the founder and executive director of HEPS Uganda says in the video that health care is supposed to be free in Uganda, but it is not the case at the moment. She adds that the health centres are operating over-capacity and that health workers are over-worked.

Uganda also has experiences power outages or load-shedding, which affects health centres that have no standby generators since some medicine needs refrigeration.

According to Moses Kamabare, the general manager of National Medical Stores, the organisation responsible for the storage and delivery of medicine to health centres, they makes one delivery every two months to all districts. But a health worker on the ground says that the heath centers actually receive medicine once every three months.

Medical Stores iin Uganda are always full, but there are no drugs in the health centers. Some people have to walk more than 10km to these health centers only to find that medicine is not there. This experience is heartbreaking for many people and discourages them from coming back to the centres and seeking medical care.

A lot needs to be done to improve health care in Uganda: faster, more frequent service delivery, an increase in funding, more health centers, higher salaries for health workers, and procurement of equipment for centres.

There is also a challenge of shortage of doctors, some of whom allegedly steal medicine for their private clinics.

But the big question still stands, will this video encourage Ugandans to finally break the silence?

June 01 2012

Uganda: Is Uganda Becoming a Monarchy?

Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has been in power since 1986. Before the last elections in 2011, some people thought he was not coming back for the third term, but he surprisingly showed up and worn the election.

He then said he would retire at 75. When his third term comes to an end in 2016 he will be just 72, meaning he will still be capable of standing for the fourth term.

A few weeks ago, citizens started speculating about who will succeed the president if he does not come back in 2016 for a forth term.

Yoweri Museveni with Ugandan MPs at Parliament. Photo courtesy of ugpulse.com.

Some of the names listed in the speculation included his wife Janet Kataha Museveni, his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Amama Mbabazi, the current Prime Minister and Museveni's close friend, and Rebecca Kadaga, the current speaker of Parliament.

Rumors started moving round in Uganda that the president was supporting his wife Janet for succession. Ugandans quickly took to social media platforms to discuss the rumors.

Twitter:
@Since__1986 thought Janet Museveni has been a virtual president all along:

@Since__1986: Janet Museveni for President? What are Ugandans Smoking? Chic has been virtual president for 26yrs!!! Oh God!.

@kristinrawls asked:

@kristinrawls: @mjwilkerson What are your thoughts on Museveni endorsing his wife for presidency? Is it legitimate support? Will he just stay in office?

@mjwilkerson answered:

@mjwilerson: @kristinrawls No worries-Janet could contend but truth is Musevenino longer has political capital to dictate who's next, just influence it

@shopetie_101 thought Janet succeeding the president is a sign of greed:

@shopetie_101Uganda president,Yoweri Museveni wants wife,Janet Museveni to succeed him..black pple n greed!

Facebook:

Sseguya Gerald wrote:

Uganda’s Museveni grooms wife, Janet, to succeed him ., They never learn, do they? The wise learn from the mistakes of

Emeruwa Nkere suggested that African leaders should undergo compulsory psychiatric examination:

Ugandan President wants wife to succeed him at the end of his tenure- The SUN 31 May, 2012. It is reported that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda wouldn't go beyond the official age limit of 75 years in office. Oh! what an African gentleman one would say. But this gentleman President wants his wife JanetMuseveni to succeed him and opposition is coming from nowhere. I want to agree with somebody sometime who suggested that African rulers- in fact African politicians including or especially Nigerians, aspiring to rule should undergo compulsory pyschiatric examinations to ascertain their mental balance since MOST of them behave like mental patients. Don't you agree? I do

Benon M Gowa compared Janet Museveni to other female politicians in other parts of the world:

Eehm, Mama Janet Kataaha Museveni(nee Kainembabazi),the country's First Lady since May 1986 has fast drawn out quite an impressive C.V, elevating her status from a mere itinerary mother figure to an elected M.P representing Ruhaama County then State Minister for Karamoja Affairs(16th February, 2009) currently to Cabinet Minister for Karamoja Affairs(27th May, 2011) AND no serious thinker should doubt the pending reality, that with the restoration of Presidential Term Limits, it will all then be within the bounds of possibility that she could be fronted by ruling NRM as the Party's flag bearer to run for Presidency jest like with Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina's current president who was annointed by her husband's Party(Frente Para La Vietoria) to replace him after his tenure expired in 2007 though the Democrats(in the US)outrightly rejected Hilary Rodmahn Clinton…

Medo Joseph wondered whether Africa will ever develop with this kind of “African madness”:

Medo Joseph President Yoweri Museveni is stepping down,First Lady Janet Kataaha Museveni has emerged as the preferred successor to the president!AFRICAN MADNESS!When will Africa Develope?

May 02 2012

Africa: Calls for Transparency Over Marked Increase in Land Deals

The UK Guardian newspaper's Global Development blog reports that an international coalition of researchers and NGOs has released the world's largest public database of international land deals. This marks an important milestone in highlighting a developmental issue that has received little attention in the international news cycle.

The report states that almost 5% of Africa's agricultural land has been bought or leased by investors since 2000, and emphasizes the fact that this is not a new issue, yet points out that the number of such land deals has increased tremendously in the past five years.

Many observers are increasingly worried that these land deals usually take place in the world's poorest countries and that they impact its most vulnerable population, the farmers. The benefits seldom go to the general population, partially because of a lack of transparency in the proceedings of the transactions.

An additional report by Global Witness, entitled Dealing with Disclosure, emphasizes the dire need for transparency in the making of land deals.

World's poorest nations targeted 

The Global Witness report lists that 754 land deals have been identified, involving the majority of African countries for about 56.2 million hectares.

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

Target countries of land deals from the Land Matrix Project

The nations targeted are usually some of the poorest in the world. The countries with the most deals in place are Mozambique (92 deals), Ethiopia (83), Tanzania (58) and Madagascar (39). Some of those deals have made headlines because they were conducted to ensure control over food imports, when the targeted regions faced major food crises.

The NGO GRAIN has already explained in detail the gist of their concerns in an extensive report released in 2008:

Today’s food and financial crises have, in tandem, triggered a new global land grab. On the one hand, “food insecure” governments that rely on imports to feed their people are snatching up vast areas of farmland abroad for their own offshore food production. On the other hand, food corporations and private investors, hungry for profits in the midst of the deepening financial crisis, see investment in foreign farmland as an important new source of revenue. As a result, fertile agricultural land is becoming increasingly privatised and concentrated. If left unchecked, this global land grab could spell the end of small-scale farming, and rural livelihoods, in numerous places around the world.

In Malawi, land deals have grown increasingly prevalent to the detriment of the local farmers. A report from Bangula explains the challenges faced by Malawian farmers, Dorothy Dyton and her family:

Like most smallholder farmers in Malawi, they did not have a title deed for the land Dyton was born on, and in 2009 she and about 2,000 other subsistence farmers from the area were informed by their local chief that the land had been sold and they could no longer cultivate there. […] Since that time, said Dyton, “life has been very hard on us.” With a game reserve on one side of the community and the Shire river and Mozambique border on the other, there is no other available land for them to farm and the family now ekes out a living selling firewood they gather from the nearby forest.

Land construction in Madagascar. Photo by Foko Madagascar, used with the author's authorization

Land construction in Madagascar. Photo by Foko Madagascar, used with the author's authorization

Farmers in Madagascar share similar concerns because they do not own the rights to the land they farm and an effective land reform is yet to be implemented. The Malagasy association Terres Malgaches has been at the forefront of land protection for the local population. They report that [fr]:

 Les familles malgaches ne possèdent pas de document foncier pour sécuriser leurs terres contre les accaparements de toutes sortes. En effet, depuis la colonisation, l’obtention de titres fonciers auprès de l’un des 33 services des domaines d’un pays de 589 000 km2 nécessite 24 étapes, 6 ans en moyenne et jusqu’à 500 dollars US. (..) .  Face aux convoitises et accaparements dont les terres malgaches font l’objet actuellement, seule la possession d’un titre ou d’un certificat foncier, seuls documents juridiques reconnus, permet d’entreprendre des actions en justice en cas de conflit.

Malagasy families do not usually own an estate property document that enable them to secure their lands against land grab. In fact, since colonial times, one has needed about 24 steps, 6 years and up to 500 US dollars to get such documents. There are merely around 33 agencies in the country that deliver such documents for a country that is 589,000 kilometres square […] In the face of the increasing land grabs that Malagasy land is currently at risk of, this certificate is the only document that can trigger legal action in case of conflict.

The association also reports on the practices of a mining company Sheritt, in Ambatovy, which have created a buzz in the local blogosphere because of environmental concerns for the local population and business malpractices (via MiningWatch Canada):

Sherritt International’s Ambatovy project in eastern Madagascar – costing $5.5 billion to build and scheduled to begin full production this month – will comprise a number of open pit mines (..) it will close in 29 years. There are already many concerns about the mine from the thousands of local people near the facilities. They say that their fields are destroyed ; the water is dirty ; the fish in the river are dead and there have been landslides near their village. During testing of the new plant, there have been at least four separate leaks of sulphur dioxide from the hydro-metallurgical facility which villagers say have killed at least two adults and two babies and sickened at least 50 more people. In January, laid-off construction workers from Ambatovy began a wildcat strike, arguing that the jobs they were promised when construction ended have not materialized. The people in nearby cities like Moramanga say that their daughters are increasingly engaged in prostitution.

Video of a worker's testimony in Ambatovy.

Solutions for the local population? 

The plight of Madagascar's farmers' plight may be slowly changing though. Land reform discussions are in progress, according to this report:

 According to a paper presented at the 2011 International Conference on Global Land Grabbing, about 50 agribusiness projects were announced between 2005 and 2010, about 30 of which are still active, covering a total land area of about 150,000 ha. Projects include plantations to produce sugar cane, cassava and jatropha-based biofuel.
To prevent the negative impacts of land grabbing, (The NGO) EFA has set up social models for investors, with funding from the UN Development Programme (UNDP). The goal is to help investors negotiate with the people in the area where they want to implement projects, as a way to prevent future problems.

Joachim Von Braun, formerly  of the International Food Policy Insitute (IFPRI), wrote the following regarding land deals:

 It is in the long-run interest of investors, host governments, and the local people involved to ensure that these arrangements are properly negotiated, practices are sustainable, and benefits are shared. Because of the transnational nature of such arrangements, no single institutional mechanism will ensure this outcome. Rather, a combination of international law, government policies, and the involvement of civil society, the media, and local communities is needed to minimize the threats and realize the benefits.

The need for transparency in land deals is further emphasized by  Megan MacInnes, Senior Land Campaigner at Global Witness:

Far too many people are being kept in the dark about massive land deals that could destroy their homes and livelihoods. That this needs to change is well understood, but how to change it is not. For the first time, this report (Dealing with Disclosure)  sets out in detail what tools governments, companies and citizens can harness to remove the shroud of secrecy that surrounds land acquisition. It takes lessons from efforts to improve transparency in other sectors and looks at what is likely to work for land. Companies should have to prove they are doing no harm, rather than communities with little information or power having to prove that a land deal is negatively affecting them.

 

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