You shared Luzinda’s nude photos? STOP FORWARDING VIOLENCE!

5 11 2014

Desire Luzinda’s nude photos are making a wave on the internet – thanks to Ugandans who have made it their business to not only share the photos widely but also to ‘play Luzinda’ in the photos. What is rather appalling is the fact that many parents (or people) have made their children mimic these poses.

Desire is a really good singer. However, I had never imagined writing a blog about her. Her life, (turbulent as it is) is her personal business. Yet, seeing people go gaga over nude photos makes it my business to say a few things:

What have we learned about Ugandans who have gone gaga over those nude photos?

  1. They are immoral people. We claim to be a country of high morality and yet our actions do not depict that so much. Seeing how much people are talking about Luzinda’s nude pictures in the past few days is proof that many Ugandans are always looking for an excuse to publicly share pornography.
  2. They are violent people. Nude pictures leak all the time. But, the Nigerian man who leaked those photos wanted to humiliate Luzinda. When you make it your personal business to share those pictures publicly, you strip her of the (little) dignity (left).
  3. They do not know the difference between what is cool and what is stupid. I have seen a bunch of men doing the so-called “luzfie” pose and shared photos on Facebook and Whatsapp – that is NOT cool, it is stupid.
  4. They are shallow minded people with lots of time to kill. Someone has printed t-shirts with stick figures mimicking a pose in the nude pictures. While this is a business idea, its not appropriate. Use something more culturally appropriate, something that does not offend a woman!

What is rather more disappointing is the Minister, Lokodo who wants Desire Luzinda (who by the way is the victim) arrested over violation of the Anti-Pornography Act. This Minister who probably knows nothing about Facebook said “you can imagine how she exposed pictures on Facebook, she should be locked up and isolated” – Daily Monitor. Lokodo is not any different from those hooligans who blame a victim instead of helping them to solve the problem at hand (which to me is thousands of Ugandans: (a) exposing children to pornography,  (b) stripping a woman of her dignity).

I was against the Anti-Pornography Bill before it was enacted because some of the clauses are aimed at censoring the media and freedom of expression. However, now that it is a law, perhaps it should be used to punish the people who are sharing these nude pictures – starting with the man who leaked them. Hopefully the parents or adults who got children to mimic the nude poses will get a life sentence.

Apparently the Nigerian man who leaked the nude photos holds a Ugandan passport. I am not surprised that many Ugandans ignored the fact that many Ugandans struggle to get a Ugandan passport and yet many foreigners hold Ugandan passports.

I can only relate this hooliganism to sadists who undress women claiming that they are wearing “mini-skirts”. Just like those sadists, you don’t care about dignity of women, you just want to strip them naked and laugh about it.

Perhaps you are wondering why Desire agreed to take those photos if she did not want them shared publicly? Well, even someone who has never taken a nude picture would know that you don’t want it on Facebook and the only person who has the moral right to share it is you – no one else.

When you forward/ share a picture of a naked woman (or man) on the internet, you are forwarding violence. Violence against women is not cool, it is a crime! Stop forwarding the violence.

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Uganda: HIV specific laws will make us losers NOT winners.

23 04 2014

I have lived with HIV for the last 29 years. My wife is HIV negative. We have 4 children. When I married her, she was aware of my HIV status, Major Rubaramira Rulanga a member of parliament gave his testimony at during a civil society lobby meeting with MPs.

Statistics show that only 35% of Uganda’s general population have tested and received their HIV results. Majority of the people who know their HIV status are women.

In November 2013, President Museveni publicly tested for HIV in a symbolic exercise to encourage Ugandans to know their HIV status.

Meanwhile the members of parliament have some sort of alternative to the president’s initiative. They want to make HIV testing mandatory and at the same time criminalize the transmission of HIV from one person to another.

These legislators are who serve on the Committee on Health believe that enacting the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill 2010 into law could help address the current HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda.

In the 80s and 90s many African countries did not want to talk about HIV because they feared that their tourism industry would be affected. President Museveni and Minister Ruhakana Rugunda were among the first Africans to say, look, we have a problem (of HIV) and we need to address it.

Since then, Uganda has pioneered numerous interventions such as “if you are going to do it, go with a condom.” This is the ABC approach, which was made here in Uganda and it has been a backbone to the HIV fight since the 80s. Through these kinds of interventions, Uganda managed to reverse HIV/AIDS prevalence from a staggering 18.5% in the early 90s to 6.7% in 2002/03. Uganda became internationally recognized as one of the global leaders on HIV prevention and management.

However, a 2011 survey by the Ministry of Health shows that HIV prevalence has increased – from 6.4% in 2005 to 7.3% in 2011. This places Uganda in the same league as Angola and Mozambique, the only three African countries where HIV prevalence is increasing. HIV is one of the leading causes of death in Uganda.

Now I understand that the members of the Committee on Health are probably frustrated but after reading the content of the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Bill, I am certain that they are backsliding. Instead of looking for ways to manage the epidemic, the legislators are seeking to criminalize HIV and this bill has a bunch of contentious clauses.

Clause 41 of the bill criminalizes the “intentional transmission” of HIV to another person.

Human rights activists highly criticize Clause 41. They say that it would be difficult if not impossible to establish to court, who was infected first between two partners for the purpose of prosecution.

In Uganda we don’t have the technology to show/ prove that this particular person infected you. According to the Chairman of the Uganda AIDS Commission, technology will not show this because the virus is continuously changing. Members of parliament are aware of this but they still want to pass the bill in anticipation that technology is changing – maybe one day we will have the technology to prove.

A regulation requiring that a pregnant mother and her spouse be tested for HIV to reduce or prevent mother to child transmission is on the verge of failing, Men started dodging antenatal visits many years ago because of fear of being tested for HIV. We have seen overwhelming reports from Eastern Uganda where men hire boda boda drivers to escort their pregnant wives to health centers for fear of being tested. In fact, we have also heard stories where men steal their wives’ ARVs!

“If I know that knowing my HIV status can be used against me in a court of law, why would I test voluntarily?” Dora Kiconco the Director of UGANET said at a meeting with legislators. If this bill is passed into law, people will shun services such as voluntary (HIV) testing because as long as you don’t know your HIV status, you cannot be convicted under this law.

I can talk about the contentious clauses in the bill until the cows come home. If you asked me, the legislators missed the key aspects. They forgot that they legislate for the people and that to effectively manage the HIV epidemic, we need resources. Government of Uganda contributes only 19% to HIV/AIDS programs, the rest of the funds come from donors. This means that HIV is among the least of our government’s priorities.

Members of parliament must know that many their constituencies find themselves in an under privileged position. People need information. At some point, people thought that if you shared a plate, basin or fork with a person who is HIV positive, you could get infected. This was all wrong information. But the government of Uganda intervened very quickly and raised awareness to an extent that even a child understands how HIV is transmitted.

There is complacency among the people but also among the duty bearers. Treat people, educate people – this could help reduce new infections. It has worked very well in the past. Government has stopped doing some of the things it used to do. Over the years we have seen HIV awareness fade away in thin air especially among the young people.

What if HIV Prevention and Control Bill became HIV Prevention and Management Bill? This could help us prevent new infections and manage the patients by extending treatment and support.

“At one point we had reached the point where the whole world knew that we were taking the lead in fighting HIV. In countries where criminalization has not been done, the progress is very visible.” Noerine Kaleeba founder TASO Uganda

It is proven beyond doubt that if we use the right strategies, Uganda can come reclaim its reputation as one of the world leaders in HIV prevention and management.

In 2011 25,000 babies were born with HIV, last year this number reduced to 8,000 thanks to the PMTCT (prevention of mother to child transmission) intervention. Increased numbers of people going on treatment – about 60% of HIV patients are on treatment. We are making progress.

A recent BBC news story by Catherine Byaruhanga shows “Ugandans selling bogus HIV certificates”. This news story shows a young lady buying HIV negative results after confessing that she is HIV positive. She is buying these results so she can get a job. She is looking for means of survival. What would she rather do?

Now, I totally agree that people who carelessly or even intentionally transmit HIV should be prosecuted. We just have to figure out the right way to do it. Legal experts say thatSection 171 of the Penal Code Act criminalizes intentional transmission of disease (including HIV) and that if there is need, the penal code act can be amended to specifically include HIV.

My opinion is, we should NOT focus on controlling HIV but rather how to manage it. HIV is a challenge but, lets NOT criminalize and stigmatize people when we don’t have a proper framework to manage the process.

Even though the HIV Prevention and Control Bill is relevant, its enforcement remains very questionable. This law will have many loopholes – like many other laws in Uganda. Some people will trickle through the net and the problem will remain.

Did you know that we have the “enguli act” in Uganda? The act criminalizes local brew. What happens today is instead of convicting these people (drunkards); police ends up drinking the exhibit at some point.

Through some of the meetings I have attended between the members of parliament and human rights activists, I have learned that even though some of the MPs use their emotion to defend some of these contentious issues, they are also human, willing to learn and make people friendly legislations.

Only an HIV positive person would know how hard it is to go for a test, to disclose their status and to go for the services.” Lillian Mworeko, Director ICWEA

According to public health experts, the entry point of HIV care is through testing. Lets encourage people to continue test without giving them the impression that knowing their HIV status could be used against them. Lets make sure that HIV services and programs are available, accessible and of acceptable quality for all.

If we are going to criminalize HIV, are we going to improve on the conditions in the retention centers? We are definitely going to have to expand those jails. This is money we could invest in treatment, raising awareness of the epidemic and providing support to the health workers.





Are we “Getting to Zero”?: The HIV/AIDS blame game in Uganda

30 11 2013

I was 7 years old when I lost my aunt. Prior to her death there was a rumor going around in the family that she was HIV positive. Most of these rumors were stigmatizing because everyone looked at an HIV victim as if they were dying tomorrow.  In the mid 90s the term HIV/AIDS was not popular. People preferred to use the local word “siliimu” which means slim. The term siliimu was used because of the way HIV turned victims into walking skeletons – literally.

But I guess the stigmatization was not as humiliating as the pain the patients went through in their final days of life. Many would be bed ridden for days/ months. Some (un)lucky ones would even stay ill on their death beds for years.

Before my aunt died she was ill for very many weeks. At the time all HIV patients received counseling services and a very specific kind of yellow corn flour from TASO. Apparently the yellow corn flour was rich in nutrients to help victims live longer.  Patients also got some medications such as Septrine and painkillers. At the time the ARVs were not accessible/ available.

In the beginning people welcomed TASO and the HIV patients were willing to go for services because TASO promised all patients confidentiality. This did not last long, people started spreading rumors “did you know, I found this person at TASO, they must be HIV positive”.

Like many other patients my aunt lived in denial. She never agreed to an HIV test even though my mom persuaded her to test saying that this is the only way she would get medication.

There was little knowledge and information about HIV, people knew that HIV had no cure and they knew that a patient would develop diarrhea, grow slim and eventually die. Not much was known about how its spreads, how to take care of patients extra. So mere suspecting that one is HIV positive meant that they would be stigmatized for the rest of their life.

The Baganda have an interesting culture where some one would public declare the cause of death at your funeral. When an HIV patient died normally small talks would go around during the funeral – “he/she died of siliimu”.

When I was 10 years old I lost my most favorite teacher ever. Her death was rather unusual, she was ill for only 2 or 3 days. She died of a headache but rumor had it that she had AIDS.

Eventually there were dozens of death recorded and all were attributed to HIV. Some of these deaths were very painful to my family and I because the people were very close to us.

Fast forward:

Today, HIV/AIDS continues to spread and kill thousands in Uganda. The stigma has significantly reduced. I think the stigma has reduced because access to ARVs has improved in the country, which means that people living with HIV/AIDS can live longer.

On November 3rd the Prime Minister of Uganda Amama Mbabazi cited increased access to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs as one of the causes for disheartening complacency that has seen a spike in new HIV infections countrywide.

When the Prime Minister makes such remarks I wonder whether the government’s commitment to “Get to Zero” (zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related death) still stands. Mbabazi might have a point but his statement is rather demeaning to the many HIV/AIDS patients and stakeholders who are making sure that patients get access to the much needed ARVs.

One the major weaknesses in the fight against HIV/AIDS is government failure to integrate sexual and reproductive health education into the national syllabi right from primary to advanced levels of education. There is a lot of secrecy when it comes to sex. Many young boys and girls who are sexually active resort to local tabloids. Newspapers, television and Internet for those who have access to educate themselves about sex and reproductive health.

But what does this mean for many rural youth who drop out of school, don’t have access to this information? Well, of course this means that they are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. For me this feels like we are taking 1-step forward and 2 steps backward in the fight against HIV.

Uganda was once a champion on the African continent in the fight against HIV. Today, statistics show that many African countries are dealing with the epidemic much better than us. What happened? Perhaps our leaders got so excited because their initial efforts registered a lot of success and since they became complacent?

Is this a time to play the blame game? Perhaps NOT! That’s why I am not going to talk about the woes in the maternal health sector and government’s failure to prioritize health in the national budget.

Tomorrow is the International World AIDS Day. For me this day brings back a lot of painful memories but most importantly it reminds me that “Getting to Zero” is a shared responsibility. It is going to require (renewed) commitment, less blaming and more doing. And I hope that our government will actually champion this struggle and make it a priority.





Democracy & Freedom of Expression in Uganda – A BIG JOKE!

7 08 2013

Uganda has a unique culture where people convene for anything and when people convene they talk about anything and everything – food, beer, money, corruption and politics. This happens everyday in bars, markets, mosques, churches, and weddings and along the streets.

Together with friends, we have managed to pull-off some of the most fruitful tweetups in the country. We basically convene a group of 15 to 20 tweeps at a coffee shop to discuss topical issues and inform our Twitter conversations.

Yesterday the parliament of Uganda passed the controversial Public Order Management Bill amidst serious criticism from human rights activists, opposition members of parliament and the civil society.

“The objective of the Bill is to provide for the regulation of public meetings, the duties and responsibilities of the Police, the organisers and participants in relation to public meetings; to prescribe measures for safeguarding public order without compromising the principles of democracy, freedom of association and freedom of speech.”

The Bill defines a “public meeting” as a gathering, assembly, concourse, procession or demonstration of three or more in or on any public road.

A few months ago anti-riot police was used to forcefully end two meetings – one convened by gay rights activists and another by the Black Monday Movement. Both meeting were held in closed places. This Bill posses a greater threat that police will actually continue to break into “private” spaces human rights activists use to convene meetings.

This Bill is actually NOT only the end of the road to public protest and freedom to assemble in Uganda; it also further controls people and constrains (access to) public debates. Exercising this Bill gives the government a law that will stop Ugandans from petitioning or pressuring the government.

But what does this mean for my friends and I who have always believed that tweetups are a peaceful way for young people to participate in this “democratic” process? Obviously the Bill shattered our hopes and further violates our freedom of speech and participation.

State of Freedom of Speech/ Expression in Uganda

Strong regulations and monitoring are already in place to ensure that “political” discussions are not brought to public spaces – such as public meetings, media (especially TV and Radio) extra. Especially meetings aimed at demanding government accountable or reveling the ruling party’s dirty linen to the public. In the recent past media clamped down left media houses closed for days and months.

Apparently the government is also seeking to monitor social networking spaces. Not that this was not expected. However, this is a shame because the government has so far not done a good job in investing in Internet infrastructure.

A few months ago President Museveni warned religious leaders and told (yes told not asked) them to stop talking about politics in churches or mosques.

Museveni has also branded media houses that give airtime to opposition leaders “enemies of the state”. As a result, media houses such as the Nation Media Group’s Daily Monitor have suffered the wrath of the NRM regime and trust me; they have not been the same since. “According to the semiindependent Daily Monitor newspaper….” Al Jazeera quoted in a recent article.

Last year political and human rights activists suffered serious injuries, imprisonment without trial and others charged with treason when antiriot police brutally cracked down “Walk To Work” campaign. Since then Uganda Police and Military Police have become an influential arm of the government in terms of brutalizing instead of protecting Ugandans involved in peaceful protests.

A few months ago General Aronda Nyakairima was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs. Prior to this appointment, General Aronda was Chief of Defense Forces.

President Museveni has not once or twice praised the Inspector General of Police, General Kale Kayihura as one of the most loyal NRM cadres. I think there is a conflict of interest here. Whose interests does the IGP serve; the people or the President?

Therefore it’s rather ironic that this Bill mentions “safeguarding public order without compromising the principles of democracy, freedom of association and freedom of speech.”

According to Clause 7 of this Bill, “an organizer shall give notice in writing signed by the organizer or his or her agent to the Inspector General of Police of the intention to hold a public meeting at least seven days but not more than fifteen before the proposed date of the public meeting.”

Clause 9 of the Bill states that “subject to the direction of the Inspector General of Police, an authorized officer or any other police officer of or above the rank of Inspector, may stop or prevent the holding of a public meeting”.

When you give one or two men the power to (forcefully) determine the fate of a group, you are exercising dictatorship NOT democracy.

Many Ugandans think that this Bill is part of President Museveni’s plan to oppress opposition leaders in preparation for the upcoming 2016 general elections (and beyond).

Personally, my quest to find the REAL definition of the word “Democracy” beyond the (manipulable) ballot continues.





BEFORE you cover the night: Watch “A life without Kony”

21 04 2012

A few days ago together with a group of bloggers and storytellers we drove over 300 kilometers to Lira District in Northern Uganda to document stories of war victims.

As concerned citizens of Uganda we are aware that even though the war in Northern Uganda ended over six years ago, some of the effects of Kony’s brutality will never go away. Evelyn Akullo and her mother Mildred Omara survived narrowly when the rebels set their house (grass thatched hut) ablaze about 6 years ago. Even after numerous medical surgeries the duo sustains big scars from the severe burns.

As we excavate more stories of the victims of the war we learn that Kony remains the least on the agenda’s of the victims.

Evelyn Akullo, war victim + student

Evelyn is now back in school and her biggest worry is whether she will ever achieve her dream. Her dream is to become an engineer. She believes that her determination can get her there but she worries about the school fees. Her mother’s right hand and part of the neck remains paralyzed which makes it hard to bank on her for school fees.

Bosco Okema is a former child soldier – he regrets the things he was forced to do while in captivity. He escaped from captivity and he is one of the many returnees who got a chance to go back to school and later get a job. He is now the Administrator at Action for Community Development – Uganda. This non-profit organisation supports sustainable agriculture through giving seeds (ground nuts, soya beans extra) to war victims in different parts of Northern Uganda.

Morris Okello is a peasant farmer, his wife was 50 years old when the rebel abducted her. She was later voluntarily released from captivity and she returned home. Morris’ family is one of the 50 beneficiaries from Action for Community Development’s program.

Morris’ farm is his sole source of livelihood and this has helped him to support his family and send some of his children back to school. “What he did was actually very very bad, I have heard where they would even roast people in pots in some other adjacent villages there. capturing small children….. those were very very bad thing” Morris laments. He says that he doesn’t see capturing Kony as a priority because Kony is not in Northern Uganda at the moment. He recommends more sustainable ways of supporting the people of Northern Uganda.

to be continued….





The big shift in the flow of knowledge – From Developing Countries to the “Developed Countries”

11 04 2012

Pupils in Kitgum, Northern Uganda

Uganda before me

So Great Britain colonized Uganda for 66 years (from 1896 to 1962). In 1962 Uganda got her independence and since then Uganda has been led by Ugandan presidents. Somewhere in between 1962 and 1986 there were quite a number of civil wars and military coups in Uganda.

In 1987 I was born, was a few months after the end of the war which saw the incumbent president of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni over throw Idi Amin.  My mother told me a lot of stories about the 1986 coup and how my family had to move places running away from war.

The real story

But that is not the real story. The real story is that even though developing countries have over the years looked up to the so called “developed countries” as the sources of knowledge, pace and trend makers, in reality there has been a huge backward-shift in knowledge and information sharing patterns. Today we are witnessing more knowledge gaps in the developed countries. We are seeing outstanding personalities originally from the developing countries rising on to the international scene.

Rewind

Unfortunately on many of my international trips people still ask me about Idi Amin – one of my recent encounters was in South Africa in 2010 when a stranger from Zimbabwe read off my conference tag that I was from Uganda. He posed a bit before he asked me – so, you are from Uganda? The land of Idi Amin.

Usually I want to tell people that I never even knew him (Idi Amin) – even though I learnt a lot about him in School. I was born a year after the fall of his regime and even though he was the president of Uganda at some point, his legacy doesn’t represent the Uganda/ Ugandans of today. But then again how much can you teach a person whose knowledge about your country is only until 1986?

Earlier I watched this “A Dam Relief begins in May 2012 – Uganda’s Truth will follow” video and at some point a bunch of Americans are asked what they know about Uganda or even whether they have considered coming to Uganda on holiday – the lady in the video says “Uganda has never actually appeared to me as a place for holiday”!

The Uganda I live in

This is when I want to scream that Uganda is actually the Pearl of Africa, home to the Source of the Nile, the famous snow capped Mountain Rwenzori, Lake Bunyonyi the second deepest lake in Africa, home of various and unique cultures. That Uganda flourishes with wild life..holds the most potential in uncovered wild life.. That Uganda is a peaceful country and full of life.

More Knowledge gaps

It is quite interesting and rather DEPRESSING every time I learn that people in the so called developed countries know so little about Uganda and other developing countries at large. I watched the above video just a few minutes ago and all I see is a huge imbalance in knowledge.

On my international travels people ask me “where did you learn to speak English? Its quite interesting to hear that you can speak so well!” So I explain how English is my official language extra. Apart from speaking English so well, I also know a lot about North America, parts of Europe, Asia and of course lots about Africa – the cultures, economic activities or geography of these regions. This is because my (Uganda’s) education system makes it mandatory for me to learn about the world at different levels through my education.

When I reflect on all this ignorance I appreciate that my education system opens boarders and teaches me about the parts of the world which as a child or student I never even imagined I would visit in my life. As I speak, I have been blessed to see different countries across Africa, parts of North America, Asia and spent a couple of hours in Middle East.

However, I am very much concerned and disappointed when I learn that the rest of the world learns almost nothing about my country, culture extra.

The new era of human interaction

Thank God for the social media and interactive social networks! People can now share information and learn about cultures in very interactive ways. But then again, this opportunity is a take or leave for many of the young teenagers who should learn about as much about the world they live in.

Question remains: Is this shift in the knowledge sharing patterns going to be effective if the countries in the west do not make it mandatory for the children to learn about the east the same way my education system does?

 





Uganda Government’s Official Statement on KONY2012

16 03 2012

12 days: that’s how long it took the whole of Government of Uganda to release an official statement on the controversial Kony2012 video. Again what this reminds me is that Social Media is for citizens – if you have been following the story, you have probably noticed that Uganda on the web criticized the video the moment it as launched.

Today the government of Uganda released an official statement on the #Kony2012 campaign. The statement was delivered by the Minister of Information – Ms. Mary Karooro Okurut.

The Information Minister described the Kony 2012 video as follows – “But the impression created in this documentary that Uganda is a war zone and that the conflict is still raging has got serious connotations on this country because it will scare away Uganda’s friends, tourists and potential investors. It does not bring out the fact that Northern Uganda is now under reconstruction and that  government and other organisations are doing a lot to see that it comes up and catches up with the rest of Uganda. All is this left out”


At the same time a women’s movement group today described the video as demeaning to the efforts of the Ugandan Civil society and thousands of both local organisations which have played a key role in championing peace restoration efforts in North and North Eastern Uganda. “If there wasn’t civil society in this country, people in North and North Eastern Uganda would be no more. But we held the whole mantle as the civil society, we went door to door; that is our approach of advocacy. But theirs which is your know, those pla-cards campaigns; that’s what it means in the west.” says Ruth Acheng, Director – Isis, WICCE.