Bobi Wine – 2021 beckons

The countdown to 2021 in Uganda is on. That is when we will hold our next elections. Amendments to Laws have been made and campaigns are already in full gear. NRM the rolling party has already announced it’s candidate.
Bobi Wine aka Robert Kyagulanyi has also said he intends to run.
On Thursday last week, the well known musician turned politician appeared on a local TV’s prime time Politics Talk Show. Bobi Wine, was interviewed on NTV by Patrick Kamara. I did not watch the interview. I haven’t had the courage to sit and watch TV in a long time. Because I suffer from mild anxiety, and this country + the world these days will send one into a such a state. Seriously though : Gone are the days when watching TV news was the highlight of my evening.I woke up to the banter the next morning. WhatsApp statuses had things like : Glad I watched OnTheSpot last evening. Then the clips followed.

Bobi Wine was asked about fiscal policy to curb inflation. He replied with scrapping of the OTT tax. When asked if this would help grow the GDP , he answered : with quoting a Guardian Report that talks about 2 million people being kicked off the internet because of the OTT tax and because Uganda has a huge un employed youth, they are self employed by use of the internet.

Rookie answers that have the online /social media elite shredding him online – how can you say you are running for president when you cannot answer a question about the economy.
And so there have been warring sides about whether he should be taken serious or not.

These recent events have brought me to a couple of issues.

 

Populism

Bobi Wine  doesn’t belong to a party. But he is building a movement which has become very popular amongst young people – People Power. He has become so popular after winning a seat in Parliament and he wants to run for President in 2021. For by elections, FDC (leading Opposition Party) isn’t that popular is some areas anymore – but the people identify with People Power. So they vote anyone endorsed by Bobi Wine. This is what happened in Arua, with Kassiano Wadri winning the by election while in prison with Bobi Wine.

But every time I think about Populism, I remember my last two visits to Tunisia. I see the empty streets, run down infrastructure and young people trodden down. The young leaders that were part of the Arab Spring are mostly still in Prison. The very young people then who are now speaking on behalf of youth say the uprising didn’t achieve much but rather brought more issues with it. I think about that and wonder if we know what a revolution means. James Omen sums up this sentiment for me, pretty well.

Building Alliances

So far Bobi Wine has managed to do one thing – identify as part of the opposition. But has failed to join hands with other older folks in the struggle.. Uganda‘s opposition is so fragmented that it makes me wonder if it’s just not a group of careerists. I know a few people that were depressed for awhile after the 2016 fail of TDA , the would be alliance of the opposition. I would like to see more wholesome alliances built towards 2021. It would be great to see all of the opposition work together. But first they need to first agree. I wonder if Bobi Wine thinks about this.

The truth is that we all want new leadership. We want to be excited about the State of the Nation address, New Year’s address and listen to speeches starting with something else other than, “when we were in the bush”. But we also need to be very smart about how we go from here.

My friend and mentor Brian Kagoro always reminds us of a Martin Luther King Jr saying :  “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.” We cannot be selfish about the liberation of this country, it has got to be a collective effort. What Bobi Wine showed us on that TV show was that he wasn’t surrounding himself with the right people. It is okay that he understands the struggle and strife of the omuntu wa wansi (everyday person) but we also need to hear of the all inclusive fiscal policy tools to get the economy back on track. Yes, Museveni must go but,  when there’s a need to plan for the after.

Some have even gone ahead to say that it doesn’t matter. Others have said this is just the beginning , so we should cut him some slack.

Does it really not matter that a presidential candidate who has a few months to start campaigning,  isn’t sure of where he wants to take the country economically – going forward?  Not even a rough idea?

For God and my country.

Women’s Bodies are Not for Tourism

 

Uganda’s leaders are at it again. Tourism minister, Hon Godfrey Kawanda beginning this week decided that he would be launching a beauty pageant to celebrate “curvy women”.  The competition will be called: ” Miss Curvy  Uganda”.It is unbelievable that in 2019, a Ugandan minister believes that parading curvaceous women’s will boost Uganda’s tourism. Uganda is a very beautiful country and currently, tourism is Uganda’s top foreign exchange earner with the country earning $1.4 billion in 2018, according to government statistics.

Most tourists visit national parks for diverse wildlife species such as gorillas, birds and other animals. The source of Nile River is also a prime attraction, including crater lakes and mountains.

Young women in Uganda  have joined hands to rally against the pageant.   Some of the leaders of they young women’s movement are voicing concerns saying this is not proper at all, especially that women have not been involved in the decision-making. Ssanyu Penelope points out that women have not consented to be part of the pageant. So the women movement has arranged a couple of meetings with the ministry to get down to the bottom of the issue.

“We are condemning the objectification of women’s bodies. People are claiming that the women involved consented, however there are sources that they actually didn’t – so we are meeting them to understand what really happened before we claim to understand this as their source of income.” Said Ssanyu Penelope

Ssanyu adds:

“We are saying the minister’s statement is a violation of Art 33(6). We are saying it’s shameful to want to parade women as objects for tourism whether they understand what they are doing or not. Of all the ways to boost tourism, how can women’s bodies be the main focus?”

Objectification of women’s bodies can be traced back to as far back as the slave trade era,  where we have read about Sarah Baartman.  I have seen quite a number of people refer to that incident in history when talking about the current issue in Uganda.

Musa Mugoya a policy analyst took to his Facebook page and argued:

“When I read about the Miss Curvy Project,  I thought it was a joke.  This project reminds me of my Research Ethics Course Unit taught by Dr Jimmy Spire Ssentongo at Makerere University specifically the story of Sarah Baartman one of the two South African Khoi Khoi women who were exhibited because of the king size of their bums in Europe in the 19th century. What is happening is that, this is being done now by our own.”

There are also some schools of thought that are saying that elite women in Uganda are over reacting to the issue. Obviously, because this is an ongoing debate, there are still many conversations being held.

One of the persons who think this said  that the elite women that are fighting this may not really representing the  women involved. How do we say that we are speaking for all the women?

The debate is far from over and the minister does look like he is about to budge. For those of us not directly involved and do not have a full understand of the debacle must think beyond the present and think about the future and what this will mean in the coming years.

And as Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan woman activist says :

“It’s the same struggle different voices. The very women can speak for themselves and even if they would consent to their bodies being paraded there’s still room to tackle basis of exploitation they will encounter and the nature of their exploitation. It’s not Olympics really.”

I sit here hoping that this madness will end; that the minister will find it in himself to listen to all the counsel around him; that we, the society; will be firm in our resolve to not let the government speak on behalf of our women; that we shall make decisions right for ourselves and for our children in future. Women’s bodies cannot be paraded for tourism.

Reproductive health rights in Uganda; Conventional versus modern approaches

September 26, 2018 was observed as World Contraception Day and the motto of this year was to create awareness about several methods of contraception available around the world.

The mission for the year was to improve awareness of all contraceptive methods available and enable young people to make informed choices on their sexual and reproductive health. For Uganda, the significance of this drive cannot be understated considering the high burden of teenage pregnancies, exposure to HIV/AIDs and other such risks that come with adolescents and teenagers being exposed to unsafe sex.

According to the Uganda Demographic Health Survey (UDHS) 2016 report, 25 % of adolescents aged 15-19 in Uganda have began giving birth. That is 1 out of every 4 girls. The Uganda Population Based HIV Impact Assessment (2016-2017) on the other hand, states that as of 2016, the estimated HIV prevalence among adults (aged 15 to 49) stood at 6.5%. Women are disproportionately affected, with 7.6% of adult women living with HIV compared to 4.7% of men.

There have been international and national efforts both by the Government and civil society actors, to address this issue. The ministry of Health recently launched a drive dubbed “Live your Dream” aimed at fighting teenage pregnancy and enabling Ugandans to live life to the fullest. Organisations such as Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU) are championing this cause, much to their credit, using young voices and champions. Part of this work has been around policy advocacy within government and Parliament for among others youth friendly policies that provide and guarantee.

 

On 26th September a group of remarkable young and passionate youth champions under their umbrella African Youth and Adolescents Network (AFriYAN), held an interactive engagement with the Parliamentary committee on Health. It was an insightful interaction that provided both clarity and controversy, around modalities of addressing the pressing reproductive health rights affecting young people.

What made this interaction really fascinating was the contrast of ideas on reproductive health rights for young people. On one hand the AfriYAN champions made for a plea the provision of reproductive health services including contraceptives for young people (teenagers). This was coming in part from their lived experience as young people, and what they see around them. On the other hand the MPs on the health committee and more specifically the female MPs were opposed to the idea of providing contraceptives to under age(below 18) girls. It was a debate between choosing convention or adopting the modern options made available by technology and science in dealing with reproductive health concerns. Times have changed and the environment in which children are raised and live predisposes them to all manner risks. Girls as young as 14 are dropping out of school to raise fatherless children and yet the modern contraceptives if properly utilized can contribute in reducing this risk. And yet, this is not an option that many policy makers are comfortable with.

“Morality” whatever it means, has been used as the standard argument by MPs for regulating and addressing the reproductive health needs of young people. It underpinned the motion to ban comprehensive sexuality education in 2016 by Parliament. “Why don’t you leave the age for contraception to those old enough to legally have sex?” asked on MP. “Why don’t we work on changing the mindset instead of advocating for contraception?” another female MP asked.

However, young people are exposed to sex at such a tender age and the safe spaces for them to openly discuss these with parents, teachers and leaders is shrinking. Sharon a youth champion remarked thus, “Parents are not listening. The environment is toxic for discussing these issues especially anything to do with sex is taboo. We’ve been taught webs of silence when it comes to issues like sexual and reproductive health. So what then should we do?”

The youth champion made a compelling case that we must think about solutions that resonate with the current context and environment young people are raised and not to hide our heads in the sand and stick to traditional approaches, which for all intents and purposes have not yielded fruit.

However, what became apparent in the conversation was the divergence in approach on sexual reproductive health rights. The Female MPs took on a motherly tone to the conversation, sharing their experience of being raised and how they raise their children. They emphasized the utility of traditional and cultural values towards sex as way of raising teenagers and adolescents, encouraging abstinence as a preferred course of action.

Even though they disagreed on the approach, they converged on the need for action, by everyone concerned to stem the HIV/AIDs scourge, and the teenage pregnancies bedeviling young people today, where 1 in four girls in engaged in unprotected sex by the age of 18.

In much of the developed world, access to family planning options for young people is convention. In our context, the idea teenage sex is seen as taboo, with the age of consent being 18 and so family planning options are not even given due considerations, especially by the Government.. Much of the injunction, as expressed by the MPs on the health committee, is underpinned by concerns on health risks of exposing young girls to contraceptives, and the moral culture and taboo about sex, which prohibits open and candid discussion about sex.

For those championing the cause for contraceptives, there is need for more research and evidence, if traditional biases and prejudices on sex are to be addressed but also the controversy surrounding contraceptives for adolescents.
At the heart of this debate, however, the salient question is on who should wield the power over women’s bodies and how they deal with them.

Listening to these young people advocating for the reproductive health needs of their fellow young people, and the injunctions from older men and women who wield the power to enact polices, I realize this is going to be a long battle. In the end I hope we pragmatism supersedes our personal biases.

The varied facets of marriage in Uganda

 

Getting married in Uganda is becoming a trick. It has of late become very expensive. Couples these days are going all out and all in, to have very lavish weddings. $5000 decor and $1000 suits for the groom plus off course a $3000 wedding gown and that’s just for the first attire. The bridal entourage has about 6 bridesmaids and they all will have a second attire. This is just for the Wedding Day. There is also the customary ceremony which usually happens weeks or days before the religious wedding, that too has proven to be very expensive. The cost is determined by so many things : Parents wanting to show their power and money – We can take care of your daughter. Our daughter comes from a very wealthy – well to do background etc The two days and the ceremonies say less about two people in love and looking forward to starting a life together but rather about how much is being spent on those occasions.

The BBC earlier this year had a report on the cost of a Ugandan dream wedding.

The story , when I first looked at it made me say things like no way, you are kidding – this is too extravagant. But we have since had two weddings in the family and I tell you, this is becoming our reality.

This is why, (and I speak for myself) and many young Ugandans when I say, marriage is becoming one of those things we think about and it’s a burden. And to crown it all up is the constant reminder by society that unless you are married – you really haven’t made it in life.

The pressure to get married is why a Jemimah decided to marry herself.

Very unorthodox, but absolutely making sense especially with the fact that she is looking for funds for her second semester at Oxford for her Masters.
And sometimes, we need unorthodox things to help us get by in this world.
Siima, Editor of Flairforher Magazine yesterday (in lieu of Jemimah‘s wedding) decided that she would take that route but give it a twist. That started to be the biggest every wedding organised on Twitter.

It was great to see lots of Corporate Companies cone through with contributions of what they would give. Within hours she had a husband to be, venue, Food, drinks, Djs to play music, transport to the wedding (by way of @Safeboda) etc.

Tweeps (People on Twitter) we’re volunteering their time and expertise to make this ‘wedding’ work. #TheKaBernzWedding was created and as I write, it’s still going on.

Hilarious Twitter thread but most definitely worth it. Another unorthodox trend even though it’s not going to happen in reality, making us see that millennials or Twitter Elite as we call them are generally tired of being called out for not being married yet. And yet there are some who have had the $15000+ wedding and others whose dream is to have that and more. But there’s also the group that really doesn’t care. And that is the one I belong to. If I can have a 50pax wedding, I would be good. As long as there is good food and cake. The rest, I really wouldn’t care for.
But there needs to be a world where we coexist peacefully regardless of what kind of a wedding we want. But also, be allowed to not be married until we are ready. Or until never.

So, dear Parents and peers – embrace us, we are here to stay and yes marriage in all forms is not an achievement.

Happy Independence Day, Uganda

I had a conversation with my Dad earlier today morning. He was ironing his red T-shirt when he remarked – this used to be a day when we all wore red because of UPC. (Uganda People’s Congress, a political party known to exist from the 1960’s.)

ME: But Kabaka Mutesa was given charge on Independence Day.

HIM: Yes, But Milton Obote was the Prime Minister. (Yes indeed there was the Uganda People’s Congress /Kabaka Yekka Coalition)

Aah okay. Typical Light Bulb moment.

Off course if you have been in Uganda or following Uganda news, Red is now synonymous with People Power. Last week, Ugandan media reported that the Police had raided/searched Edith Byanyima’s home and recovered 24 red napkins. Edith is a sister to Winnie Byanyima, Head of Oxfam International but also wife to Dr Col Kizza Besigye. The tweets that followed – were obviously hilarious.

So you can imagine what went through my mind when I saw him iron and wear a red T-shirt to go to work.

He also went on to talk about what kind-of celebrations happened on Independence Day.

“There was always food. There were drums of omubisi (Local brew made out of fermented bananas) for locals to consume and make merry. Today, you don’t hear of anything.”
You could feel the nostalgia as he spoke of the ” Good Old Days”.

He was proudly associated. Today’s as Uganda marks 56 years of Independence, I have had to think through what that means other than the fact that it’s a 4 day week.

Our statistics show that the population of Uganda doubles every 20 years.

In 1960 the population was around 6.8million,

In 1980, the population  was around 12.4 million,

In2000, the population was about 24 million and all factors constant,   in 2020, we will hit the 48million mark.  Poo

I am thinking it was easier to buy local brew and food for the populace to enjoy on Independence  Day because the numbers were small and manageable.

Not everyone would go for the feasts but those that did,  would be able to get something to eat.  I don’t see anyone being able to feed millions of Ugandans in this economy today. It would cost us quite a lot,  including  what the people in charge would take are their cut.

And that for me poses the question on what the plan for Uganda is. Are we looking forward  to the time when we can all gather together for a meal,  get everyone fed and satisfied?  Does the future have any of these luxuries in store for us?

I can only hope.  Dim and grim as the future may seem,  there is reason to hope.  That you and I are still able to stand bold and proud as Ugandans. And because of that, that one  day we or our children will be glad and happy to hold sumptuous feasts in remembrance  of Independence  Day!

Oh Uganda,  May God Uphold Thee.