Pads, hoes, malwa and Museveni’s hollow campaign promises

Leopard

Uganda’s long-term president Yoweri Museveni ‘beat’ seven other contestants to stretch his presidency to an astonishing 35 years.

BY ALEX TAREMWA

While campaigning at at Alira Primary School in Alebtong District, northern Uganda, long-term Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni promised to give school going girls free sanitary pads the following financial year if he was voted to power.

This promise later made an interesting twist when his wife Janet Museveni who also is Minister of Education, Sports, Science and Technology told Parliament’s education committee in a budget proposal meeting that there is no money to allocate to the purchasing of sanitary pads her husband promised.

Her comments attacked a backlash from Ugandans – notably prominent Scholar at the Makerere Institute of Social Research – Dr Stella Nyanzi who called the First Lady insensitive and unworthy of the title ‘Maama’ as she does not act as a mother of the nation.

“She is not only wife to dictator Yoweri Museveni who lied poor Ugandans during his presidential campaigns about giving sanitary pads to their daughters, she is also the dry-eyed beneficiary of nepotism as the Minister of Education. What is the usefulness of powerful women who sleep under dictators to poor women in the masses?” Nyanzi wrote on her Facebook on March 5, 2017.

Nyanzi was arrested, charged and convicted for allegedly calling the Museveni a #pairofbuttocks in one of her Facebook posts.

Nyanzi even started a campaign dubbed #Pads4GirlsUg to raise funds to sanitary pads for school going girls. The campaign was widely embraced and has since covered over 20 schools.

The sanitary pads are not the only campaign promise from Museveni that the National Resistance candidate has since turned back on. Below a a few.

The 18 million hoes

This is probably the most unprecedented that most people have called illogical – 18 million hand hoes to six million subsistence farmers.

Museveni promised that hoes will be delivered in the 2016/2017 budget at a cost of Shs135 billion ($39.5m), which was 28 per cent of the Agriculture ministry’s budget for that fiscal year.

Never mind that the NRM manifesto talks about transformation from peasant to modern agriculture by availing machinery for bush clearing, ploughing, harrowing, planting and harvesting.

This promise was particularly ridiculed and ‘peed-on’ from great heights of Civil Society, Private Sector and the media as critics argued that for a country eyeing Middle Income Status by 2020, a focused president should be talking agriculture mechanisation for better economic output rather fuelling petty subsistence  otherwise known as hand to mouth.

“Who talks about hoes when we should be talking of agricultural mechanisation?” Kassiano Wadri, a former legislator for Terego County in West Nile told a local daily.

But Museveni is not one to bow down to pressure, rather than increase its budget, the Agriculture Ministry took a budget cut with government allocating it a meagre 2 per cent of the total budget in 2016/2017.

Despite the prolonged drought that hit the country destroying crops, increasing hunger levels and killing about 100 people, the government is not poised to increase the ministry’s budget to the recommended 10 per cent as the Maputo Declaration.

Shs 2million to Malwa groups

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Somewhere in Uganda, clients enjoy a pot of Malwa, a local brew (Credit: Daily Monitor)

If you thought 18 million hoes in the digital age was a crazy idea, then you have not had of the ‘revolutionary’ Shs 2 million the president pledged to give every village that has an organised group that produces millet beer locally known as malwa.

Museveni made the promise in December 2015 while he was campaigning in Karamoja region, north-eastern Uganda.

The president said the pledge was to help women in each of the 82,920 villages across the 112 districts in the country boost their incomes.

The problem however is that Museveni needs to squeeze  at least Shs1.6 trillion, equivalent to the total amount allocated to Defence and Security ministries in the 2015/16 Budget to meet the pledge in all the villages countrywide.

Aside the above promises, Museveni needs Shs13 trillion to fulfil host of personal pledges he made while seeking what he has come to call ‘Kisanja Hakuna Muchezo’ (the term of hard work) that will him see him hit 35 years at Uganda’s top chair.

One does not need to look far to validate the claim that manifestos are just declarations of good intentions, all they need to do is look at Yoweri Museveni.

 

The Trump Therapy: Inside the confusion, ingratitude and the danger of Western Liberals

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Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni. Photo: Forbes.com

BY YOWERI KAGUTA MUSEVENI

President of the Republic of Uganda

 

I have been either closely following or actively involved in World and African political events for the last 56 years.  In those 56 years, I have noticed many happenings, behaviours, etc.

One of the groups that I have observed with interest are the Western “Liberals”,“Leftists”, etc.  In particular, I have noticed the confusion, ingratitude and, therefore, danger of these groups.

Liberals are supposed to be people who are not conservative and hardliners in economic, political and social issues.  Leftists are supposed to be progressive as far as the same issues are concerned. In order to keep this piece brief, I will not go into the history and details of Western Liberalism and Leftism.  That should be for another day.

Suffice it to say that the freedom fighters from Africa, who have been fighting colonialism, neo-colonialism, slave trade and marginalization for the last 500 years, would have counted the Westerns Liberals and Leftists among our automatic allies because these should be people that should be fighting for freedom and justice for all peoples, including the formerly Colonized Peoples.

 

Instead, we notice confusion, ingratitude and, therefore, danger from these liberals and leftists.  Let us start with the confusion.

During the US campaign, I noticed President Trump using the words: “convergence rather than divergence”, while handling international affairs.  That is exactly what the Western Liberals and Leftists should have been looking for.  Instead, we would spend endless hours arguing with the Western Liberals on matters on which we cannot have convergence bearing in mind that our societies were still pre-capitalist and traditional while theirs have been industrial for centuries now.

These are issues to do with family, forms of democracy, homo-sexuals, central planning versus economic liberalisation, etc. One had to control irritation to politely get through these meetings.

Yet matters of convergence were there and uncontested: fighting extremism and terrorism (narrow-mindedness and indiscriminate use of violence); modern education in natural sciences and social sciences; the emancipation of women; trade; democracy; etc.

This is what, in brief, I regard as the confusion of the Western Liberals and Leftists.  I do not want to say much on this because I want to get to the next two points and space is limited.

Nevertheless, by the Western Liberals trying to impose all their views and values on everybody in the World, they generate not convergence but divergence and even conflict. Owing to the confusion of these actors, it leads them to two other mistakes: ingratitude and, therefore, a danger to peace in the World.

As colonized Peoples, the Africans were greatly assisted by two earth-shaking events in the last century: the October Communist Revolution of 1917 in the Soviet Union (Russia) and the Victory of the Communists in China in 1949.

 

You should remember that by 1900, the whole of Africa had been colonized except for Ethiopia which Musolini would soon add on the list (in 1935).  Colonized by whom?  By the Western Countries (Britain, France, Portugal, Germany and Spain).  

 

The Communists, on the other hand, in both Russia and China, were totally opposed to Western Imperialism and were for de-colonization.  They opposed Imperialism by word and action (support for the Liberation Movements).

The greed and flawed logic of the Western Imperialists soon led to two World Wars (the 1st and the second ─ 1914–18 and 1939 – 45).  How? In 1453, the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople (Istanbul) and, therefore, blocked the overland trade route opened by Marco-Polo in the years 1272 – 1275.  The trade was mainly in silk and spices – very much in demand in Europe at that time. Now, the Ottoman Turks cut off this route.

The Europeans had, therefore, to look for sea routes either around the massive African Continent or through the unknown Western Oceans ─ the Atlantic and the Pacific.  Frantic efforts by Western rulers to go by sea around Africa and over the Western Oceans, were soon rewarded.

Vasco de Gama

Vasco de Gama. During his voyage to India, Vasco de Gama landed at Malindi, on the coast of what became Kenya. Here, early in 1498, he managed to obtain a pilot to guide his fleet across the sea to his goal – the trading port of Calicut. Original artwork

In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba, discovering for the Europeans a new continent occupied by the American Indians.  This new continent was North and South America.  In 1498, Vasco Da Gama went around the Cape of Good Hope and spent the Christmas day at Natal.

These two events should have been very beneficial to humanity if it was not for two weaknesses: the greed of the Europeans and the bankruptcy of the African Chiefs as well as the under-development of the indigenous Peoples of the Americans.

The bankrupt African Chiefs would not organize us to resist slave trade and colonialism.  In fact, many of them actually assisted both. Especially for Africa, both slave trade and colonialism would not have been possible, if it was not for the collaboration and bankruptcy of the African Chiefs.

Owing to the social under-development of the Indigenous Americans (the American Indians), they were exterminated by “the Christians” from Europe, using war and disease.

It is an amazing miracle of God when I go to the UN and see the very American – Indian face of Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia. So, some American – Indians survived in sufficient numbers to generate a President from among themselves!!  How great God is even in the face of evil!!  I have never had a chance to talk to him.

What language do these Indians speak?   Do they still speak their indigenous languages?

Therefore, in the four centuries between Columbus landing in Cuba and 1900, three most terrible things had happened to the non-European children of God: the indigenous People of the Americas had been exterminated and their land had been taken over by “the Christian” Europeans; millions of Africans had been up-rooted, taken into slavery in the Americas or perished in the process; and the whole of Africa (except for Ethiopia) and much of Asia had been colonized by European Countries (Britain, France, Spain, Holland, Portugal, etc.).

The Europeans had polluted the efforts of the explorers that were looking for the sea routes to the East.  Unlike Marco Polo who opened a trade route to the East for the flow of silk and spices, the Europeans now unleashed conquest, slave trade and even extermination on the People of the three continents: Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Nevertheless, the Colonized Peoples, initially betrayed by their bankrupt chiefs, were beginning to organize themselves.  The ANC of South Africa was, indeed, founded in 1912.  I attended their Centenary celebrations in Bloemfontein in 2012.

In the USA, by around 1905, people like Du Bois, later on joined by George Padmore, started agitating for Pan-Africanist ideas.  It is this re-invigorated resistance by the African and other colonized peoples that formed the first pillar of our ability to regain our freedom. Indeed, Mahtma Ghandi was also in South Africa as a young lawyer when this awakening was taking place.

It is at this stage that the 2nd pillar of our freedom took shape: the sparking of the inter-imperialist war of 1914-1918.  What were these imperialists fighting for?

They were fighting over us ─ we the Colonized Peoples ─ the property of the imperialists. The Germanic tribes inhabiting the forests of Northern Europe, had defied the Roman Empire and contributed to its decline and collapse in 450 AD.

By 1870, these tribes were still governed under 39 Kingdoms, Principalities etc.  On account of the growing Junker pressure in one of the Kingdoms, Prussia, a war took place between Prussia and France in 1870.

France was defeated by Bismarck and the German Kingdoms were united.  A United Germany now cried foul on account of being “cheated” by the other European countries in the enterprise of having “Colonial possessions” – i.e. us.

Germany demanded a “fairer” redivision of the World Colonies. That is how Bismark organized the Congress of Berlin in 1884 – 85 to solve this “problem” ─ the problem of being “cheated” as far as we the “possessions” were concerned.  That is how Germany now joined the League of the Imperialists by being awarded: Tanganyika, Rwanda, Burundi, Cameroon, Namibia, Togo, etc.

It seems, however, that Germany was not happy with the redivision. That is how, eventually, the 1st World War broke out in 1914. The results of the 1st World War did not please Germany and Germany, now under Hitler, started the 2ndWorld War.

The good thing was that the Imperialist Countries had been so weakened by their criminal wars, that the anti-colonial movement grew in strength.

The Imperialists tried to re-establish control, but they were defeated in Indonesia, Indo-China, Kenya etc.  This, therefore, was the second pillar that enabled our emancipation.

The third pillar was the emergence of Communists in the Soviet Union in 1917 and in China in 1949.  These groups were anti-capitalist but also anti-colonialist.

To the advantage of the Colonized Peoples, a big anti-imperialist camp had emerged by 1950.  They opposed imperialism morally and also gave material support to the liberation Movements.

Genuine freedom fighters in Africa can, therefore, never forget this history changing solidarity.  When “Christian” countries from the West were enslaving us, these atheist communists supported our freedom and they never interfere in our affairs even today.

These communists, especially the Soviet Union, did not only support our freedom, they also defended, at a great cost to themselves, the freedom of the imperialist countries themselves.

Although the imperialist countries had intervened in the Soviet Union so as to defeat the new communist power, which efforts had failed between 1918 and 1920, by 1938, the pragmatic Stalin was calling on the West to form an Alliance with him to oppose German aggression.

The Western leaders, on account of their narrow interests and myopia, refused. Soon Hitler attacked Poland and overrun it; he had gobbled up Czechoslovakia in March 1939.  He overran the whole of Western Europe except for Britain and Sweden.

Spain, Portugal and Italy were Hitler’s allies.  Fortunately for the West and for us all, Hitler made the mistake of attacking the Soviet Union on the 22nd of June, 1941. It is the Soviet Union that defeated Hitler after alot of sacrifices with over 60 million people dead etc.

Hitler, had to deploy 195 Army divisions against the Soviet Union compared to only 75 divisions in the West against the Western allies ─ the USA, Britain, France’s De-Gaulle, Canada, Australia, New-Zealand, South Africa, not forgetting the hundreds of thousands of African soldiers fighting for the Colonial Masters.

The Western countries only opened the second front with the landings in Sicily in July 1943.This was after the defeat of the Germans by the Russians at Moscow (1941 – December), Stalingrad (1942-43) and Kursk (July, 1943).

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The Battle of Stalingrad was one of the most important battles of the Second World War.

It is this Soviet Union, that did not only support the freedom of us, the Colonized Peoples of the World, but saved the whole of humanity by defeating Hitler, that is ever the target of the ungrateful, confused and, therefore, dangerous groups in the West.
These groups were against the Soviet Union after the October Revolution in 1917, throughout the inter-war period (1918 – 1939), during the Cold War and even after the Cold War.  It is unfair, it is wrong and it is dangerous for World Peace.True, the Soviets made their own mistakes.  Why did they occupy Western Europe after the defeat of Hitler?  Would the mighty Red Army not have earned more admiration from the Peoples of the World if they had withdrawn from Eastern Europe in 1946 and left those People’s to shape their own destinies?

They would not have, then, involved themselves in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and there would have been no Berlin Wall.  Why did Brezhnev invade Afghanistan in 1979?  I was part of the massive anti-Soviet demonstration in Dar-es-salaam in 1968 following their invasion of Czechoslovakia.

However, to me, who is not biased, those mistakes neither compare with the mistakes of the West, past and present, nor do they deem the great historic contributions of both the USSR and China to the cause of humanity in general and the African Peoples in particular.

The Soviet Union broke up to the wild acclamation of the groups in the West.  They welcomed the break up but did not bother about the how.  You, therefore, had residual and consequent issues to the break-up.

If the old internal borders of the USSR were now to become the new international borders of Sovereign Countries that were successors to the old Russian Czarist Empire and the USSR, was it not necessary to discuss that phenomenon frankly and fairly?  How about the mixed populations ─ Russian and Non-Russian?  How were they to live thereafter?

No, all that was none of the business of the Western governing circles.  What was crucial was that the “enemy” was down. Moreover, all the positive contributions Russia made to global peace or can make now are of no consequence to these Western circles.

Russia must submit to the dictates of the West.  This is where the danger of these groups comes in.  Russia is a very powerful country even after the break-up of the USSR.  It is (17,021,900 km²) seventeen million square kilometers in land area ─ that is like almost combining the USA and China.

The Communists developed Russian technology and it can develop more.  To think that you can trample on Russia like they have been trampling on other unfortunate Peoples, is to be very reckless and dangerous to World peace.

Yet there are so many issues on which all of us (Africa, the West, Russia, China, India, Brazil, etc.) agree: universal education; improved health; industrialization; freedom of Peoples; the emancipation of women; anti-terrorism; etc.  Why not take advantage of these convergences?

We who were colonized and brutalized by the Western Countries forgot and forgave those mistakes.  Why can’t these countries of the West have a just and balanced attitude to the countries of the East that are growing in capability and getting millions of Peoples out of poverty?

This is where Mr. Trump comes in.  He says: “Why do we not examine the possibility of working with Russia against common threats, such as terrorism?”  The liberals then shout that Mr. Trump must be having a secret agenda with Mr. Putin etc.  This is why we could think of looking into the possibility of talking about the Trump Therapy for strategic myopia and recklessness in the West.

Janani Luwum: a lion in human skin

On February 16, 1977, a man like no other armed not with a gun or a dagger but the Bible and the cross was assassinated at the then Ugandan ruthless president Idi Amin Dada.

According to historical accounts, the Most Rev Janani Jakaliya Luwum, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Uganda, Rwanda Burundi, and Boga Zaire had become a sharp critic of the gross atrocities including murders orchestrated by Idi Amin.

On the day of his demise, it is said that Luwum met with President Idi Amin who accused him of smuggling arms and other “subversive acts” before being driven away with two government ministers, Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Charles Oboth Ofumbi in a Land Rover. On the morning of February 17, 1977, Radio Uganda announced that the archbishop had died in a car accident as he attempted to escape and in his flight was involved in a car accident that resulted in his death.

This theory would be later refuted after his body was found riddled with bullets only planted in a fake car crash allegedly on the orders of the president.

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Rt. Rev. Janan Luwum(L) with the Inspector General of Police, Oryema standing by the car which was presented to the Bishop on February 25, 1969. Credit: The New Vision/Files

A planned funeral service for the following Sunday was forbidden by the government, and the Archbishop’s body was not released. Nevertheless, according to records The Standard has seen, about 4,500 people gathered at St Paul’s Cathedral on Namirembe Hill, and a funeral service was held albeit his body missing.

It is at this exact venue (St Paul’s Cathedral) that activities to mark the 40th anniversary of the commemoration of slain martyr will be launched on February 5, 2017. According to a Church of Uganda statement, the activities will be a precursor for the main event that will be held at Mucwini, Kitgum District, the burial ground for deceased, 22km north of Kitgum in northern Uganda.

The purpose of the Kampala event is to create public awareness about the martyrdom of Archbishop Janani Luwum as we plan for the main event but also to enable and allow those who cannot make it to Mucwini to celebrate it in Kampala,” the statement, largely attributed to the Archbishop Stanley Ntagali partly reads.

The activities, which will include a walk from five different centres in and around Kampala, will be followed by a service at St Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe where the body of Janani Luwum was meant to have been buried.

The guest of honour for the Kampala celebrations is the Rt. Hon Ruhakana Rugunda, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda, while the main celebrations in Kitgum are expected to be graced by the President of the Republic of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.

Road to martyrdom

Archbishop Janani Luwum was the first sitting archbishop in the entire Anglican Communion to be martyred in office since Archbishops of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer and William Laud who were martyred in AD 1556 and AD 1645, respectively.
Luwum’s death inspired the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury Cathedral to establish a chapel to commemorate “Modern Martyrs.”

Canterbury Cathedral was hence the first ecclesiastical authority in the whole of the Anglican Communion to proclaim Archbishop Janani Luwum a 20th Century African Martyr.

According to Rev Jasper Tumuhimbise of All Saints Cathedral, Kampala, one of the starting points for this year’s walk to Namirembe, martyrdom gained a bad name for its association with violence and linkage to cruelty, manipulation and death.

But when we consider Christian martyrs like Luwum, we see something else. Instead of violence, there is peace and a seeking of reconciliation.

Instead of cruelty there is dignity and mercy. Instead of manipulation there is integrity. This is the ultimate martyrdom,” he said.  During similar 2015 celebrations, President Museveni declared February 16 an annual public holiday arguing that people should celebrate his life in the same manner as other Uganda Martyrs.

Life and ministry

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Rt. Rev. Janan Luwum installed Bishop on June 16, 1974. Credit: The New Vision/Files

Janani Luwum was born in 1922 in the Acholi district that time and spent his youth as a goat herder. Although he didn’t have a formal early education, he was given a belated opportunity to begin at school and quickly showed his resourcefulness and ability to learn.

His conversion to Christianity happened in 1948 while he was a teacher but would later quit teaching for evangelism. In 1949, he joined Bishop Usher Wilson Theological College, Buwalasi, to study theology. After a period as a lay preacher, he was ordained priest in 1956 of the then Upper Nile Diocese in St Phillips Church, Gulu and thereafter served as parish priest and chaplain in a number of parishes and church schools in Northern Uganda.

As Uganda gained independence from Britain, Luwum was noted as a rising indigenous leader in the church. He became bishop of the newly formed Diocese of Northern Uganda in 1969. Following his consecration, Janani was appointed to the Anglican Consultative Council and served on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches.

In May 1974, Bishop Janani Luwum succeeded his mentor Archbishop Erica Sabiti, who had been the first Bishop of Kampala Diocese between 1972-1973. Thus, Bishop Janani Luwum became the second African Archbishop of the Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Boga-Zaire and the second Bishop of Kampala Diocese.

After his assassination, his body was taken to the Churchyard at Wii Gweng, Mucwini, on February 19, 1977 where he was later buried. He is survived by his widow, Mary Luwum, seven children, four sisters, two brothers and several grandchildren.

Yahya Jammeh and how not to be a refugee

Source: nbcnews.com

Former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh boards a private jet before departing Banjul into exile

BY ALEX TAREMWA

Last week, Rev Simon Feta, my philosophical friend, invited me to a four-day excursion in the West Nile region.

The trip was meant to give Uganda Christian University students of Bachelor of Governance and International Relations a real life field experience of how bad governance breeds conflict and how international players come together to handle its off-shoots.

After visiting the Rhino Camp Refugee Camp in Arua and Bidi-Bidi Refugee Camp in Yumbe District, it became increasingly obvious that the only way not to be a refugee is not to be African.

In fact, former Sudanese and later South Sudanese Senator, Rev Canon Clement Janda, put it more bluntly when he told the students that “as long as you are Africans, we are all potential refugees.”

As I was still grinding his statement, former president of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, proved him right. He went from being president to being a refugee in Equatorial Guinea in a space of just four hours.

If this is your first encounter with the name, let me take a few lines to explain just how powerful Jammeh was. He took over power when he was just 29 years old and ruled the country with an iron fist for another 22 years.

After losing and accepting defeat in a recent election, he made a U-turn, refuted the election results and threatened not to leave power forcing his opponent, a victorious Adam Barrow to take oath in neighbouring Senegal.

Although Jammeh finally bowed to pressure and relinquished power, he left Gambia into exile after emptying state coffers of a whopping $11million (Shs38 billion).

The similarity between Jacob, a 29-year-old refugee from South Sudan and Jammeh, is not that they are both refugees but that they are both victims of poor governance systems in their respective countries.

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Alex Taremwa engaging three-time refugee and former Senator of Sudan and South Sudan Rev Canon Clement Janda. Photo by Ronald Awany

The total number of refugees at the end of 2016 reached 75.3 million that is to say one out of every 85 people on Earth, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Whether in South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi or Syria, only war can account for the massive influx of people from their homes to refugee camps.

Not that conflict represents the absence of a more peaceful and long-lasting solution but rather a mechanism through which governments and those against them across the world strive to maintain and conquer power respectively.

And I have it on good authority that most leaders maintain a tight grip on power not because they enjoy their stay but because they are afraid of prosecution from their opponents when they leave.

In that case, if we shifted political rhetoric from prosecuting corrupt, murderous, long-serving dictators, to forgiving their wrongs and offering them a safe passage to retirement, it would in a way motivate them to peacefully step down and avoid bloodbaths.

The bottom line therefore is that peaceful coexistence and good governance go hand-in-hand. The absence of one automatically translates into the absence of the other, and in that regard, a refugee status cannot be ruled out for anyone.

Alex is the Managing Editor of The Transparent Magazine

Make someone’s Christmas merry this year

a-little-smile-a-word-of-cheer-a-bit-of-love-from-someone-near-a-little-gift-from-one-held-dear-best-wishes-for-the-coming-year-these-make-a-merry-christmas

Quote: John Greenleaf Whitter

I went by Allan Galpin Health Centre at Uganda Christian University the other day. A brief conversation with my doc revealed that the good doctor – with whom I share a confidentiality  clause – was unhappy.

He  is part of the ‘essential personnel’ who  will  not be breaking off for Christmas this year, unlike the rest of the staff.

And  it is not just Christmas – staff in the security, health and catering departments at the Mukono-based university do not break off for Easter holidays either.

Although this is a policy issue that human resources explained, it is evident that most of the affected staff find it understandably unfair.

Christmas is celebrated worldwide in symbolism of  the birth of  Jesus Christ, the Son of God. His life is God’s manifestation  of  selflessness, love, and care. On this day families get together, pray, play, drink and make merry.

How, therefore, do we ensure that this day  carries the same significance to other  people    as it  does    for us – even those  to whom it had no meaning before?

And this is not  just about the departments I have mentioned. There are a lot of people who live dangerously every day, year   after year.

Folks have no families to go back to, no good meal to furnish their enzymes, no warm bed to lie in, and no parent to take them shopping.

Despite urban areas being largely deserted in the festive season, beggars and malnourished street children still dot the roadsides.

One of the street children in  my home town Mbarara stopped me last Christmas as I  walked down the street with a crate of soda. He told me  he was hungry and considering how deserted towns   were  during   the   festive season, it wasn’t a good day at ‘work’ for him.

The last  time he had celebrated Christmas was  six years earlier, after which both his parents had  passed away. Wycliffe, now 12 years, knew no home but Mbaguta Street where he had lived ever since.

He narrated that his relatives, some of whom he saw hopping around town ignored him when they saw him, when approached, they publicly denied knowing him or having  seen him before.

Wycliffe had been left out so many  times already and I was not going to be the next person to do the same to him. I convinced him to come home and together with my family, we shared a meal.

He continued to  live  with us until he was reconciled with his relatives.

It took humility, love  and compassion to help a total  stranger realise that there was  more to life than the  way he lived. And I pray that this Christmas, you can go out of your way to make someone else’s day memorable.

Asked what the most important commandment  was: Jesus singled out love. He preached love for God above all, and for others just as oneself.

Jesus Christ would surely appreciate if this day were devoted not only to our respective families but also to those that do not have the chance or reason  to celebrate.

alex.taremwa@yahoo.co.uk

My sole, slow journey to salvation

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Alex Taremwa

Until the Sunday of October 2, 2016, I had  last stepped foot in church – by choice – on Boxing Day of 2007. Often  I went to church either by compulsion or obligation.

My absence from church for close to a decade should in no way be confused with my agnostic approach to religion. I am convinced that my relationship with Christ is a personal  matter.

However, over the years I have been judged, unfairly or not, as a pagan, an unworthy creature  who shunned Church fellowship and should be condemned to hell fire.

Although I acknowledge being a sinner, I used to believe  that by  doing all the good I could, I was still  worthy in the eyes of God.

In fact, I always  told my “judges” that they will be shocked on Judgement Day when they  see me walking through the VIP entrance (if such a thing exists) into Heaven.

I heard the voice of Jesus

So on Sunday of October 2, 2016, I freely made my way to Nkoyoyo Hall. That morning the choir outdid itself. Their voices were soaring far beyond the clouds, and as they sang the hymn “I  heard the voice of Jesus,” I was deeply touched. It was my first time to hear the hymn  but  it made a lot of sense.

Rewind  to the evening before and  how  I  got to Nkoyoyo. I felt like  I had  heard the voice of Jesus. I vividly  remember how I hurriedly  left  The Standard  offices that Saturday at 6.45 pm, to catch the Liverpool game screening.

Riding  on the boda boda, I heard  the voice of God. It  was not as  loud as portrayed     in the Bible where people fell off their feet.   Rather it   was in my heart – a request of sorts – for me to make  it to church the following morning.

In disbelief I purposed to sleep late that night so I could wake up past   church time, but surprisingly, I was up by 6:30 am the following morning. What excuse did I have now?

In Nkoyoyo Hall I sat in the front row and closely followed Rev Samson Maliisa’s sermon drawn from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 2.

“There  is no such a thing as super Christianity,” Maliisa   said,  adding that, “We all need divine help on a daily basis. We are all potential  candidates of God’s wrath and our judgment shall depend on what we have done – not know or believe!”

I could not agree more. I felt a strong  magnet pull  me  to  the front when the altar call  was made. As I rose from my chair I said to myself, “Well, it’s about time!”

The  special moment I always heard people describe was now mine to savour, as everyone stretched their hands out to pray for me, and every part of me felt free. That is undoubtedly the happiest day of my 25 years’ existence.

alex.taremwa@yahoo.co.uk 

Uganda’s sick health sector problem bigger than mere chemistry passes

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Patients at Apac hospital awaiting medical treatment. Credit: World Policy Journal

BY ALEX TAREMWA

In December 2014, my nephew Sheldon was admitted at Holy Innocents’ Hospital, one of the best children hospitals in Mbarara. He was anemic, dehydrated, and he had malaria that forced him to stare death in the eye.

When I arrived, I was ushered into the ward by a nurse who I later learnt was a Uganda Christian University (UCU) Nursing Science student doing her internship. As an alumnus, I left that day feeling safe; I knew my title of uncle would last a lot longer.

When I returned in the morning, I found the nurse babysitting and feeding the baby. Her conduct, discipline, competence and knowledge portrayed nothing short of professionalism.

It is possible that this young lady did not do or pass chemistry at A-level and even armed with her four-year hard-earned degree, the Uganda Nursing and Midwives Council (UNMC) will not register her for practice.

In principle that is the right thing to do, but does it solve Uganda’s health sector problem?

The Ugandan health sector has experienced challenges related to recruitment and retention of qualified staff, mainly due to low remuneration as well as insufficient career opportunities.

According to the Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit (BMAU) in the Ministry of Health report, in 2010 there was a very low doctor to patient ratio of 1:24,725 and a nurse to patient ratio of 1:11,000, way below the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation  of 1:439 as the health worker to population ratio.

Worse still, maternal and infant mortality are still going through the roof, traditional midwives are still delivering babies with their rudimentary tools, clinics and pharmacies across the country are manned by nurses with three months’ training or even less – some reusing syringes for injections and getting away with it.

For Uganda to meet the minimum health standards, the number of health workers must triple.

Attention, therefore, needs to shift from cheap politicking to the core of the problem, which is poor composition of health professionals. According to the 2011 Human Resources for Health Audit Report, with respect to the national level staffing, the proportion of the filled approved positions was found to be only 58 per cent.

Out of the 55,063 approved positions, only 31,797 are filled, leaving 23,321 vacant positions. The situation is worse at the level of health centre IIs. Out of 4,905 posts in 1,321 health centre IIs in the country, only 2,197 (45 per cent) are filled.

I admit that there could be life threatening consequences arising from a health worker’s lack of chemistry knowledge or background, but I submit there are greater consequences from having none at all. Enough of the games, if UNMC lacks the guts to do the right thing; that is waive chemistry only for the degree holding nurses without it so far, for the sake of Ugandans, someone else should.

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Alex Taremwa is the  Managing Editor of The Transparent Magazine

The Michelle Obama DNC speech that Democrats so much loved

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Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States of America speaking at the 2016 DNC (Getty Images)

Thank you all, thank you so much. It is hard to believe that it has been eight years since I first came to this convention to talk with you about why I thought my husband should be president. Remember how I told you about his character and his conviction? His decency and grace? The traits we have seen every day as he has served our country in the White House.

I also told you about our daughters, how they are the heart of our hearts, the center of our world, and during our time in the White House we have had the joy of watching them grow from bubbly little girls into poised young women.

A journey that started soon after we arrived in Washington when they set off for their first day at their new school. I will never forget that winter morning as I watched our girls, just 7 and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those men with guns. And that’s all their little faces pressed up against the window, and the only thing I could think was, What have we done? At that moment, I realized that our time in the White House would form the foundation of who they would become. And how well we manage this experience could truly make or break them.

That is what Barack and I think about every day as he tried to guide and protect our girls from the challenges of this unusual life in the spotlight. How we urged them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. Our motto is, when they go low, we go high.

With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We as parents are the most important role model.

Let me tell you, Barack and I take that same approach to our jobs as president and first lady because we know that our words and actions matter, not just to our girls but the children across this country. Kids who say, “I saw you on TV,” “I wrote the report on you for school.” Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope, and he wondered, Is my hair like yours?

Make no mistake about it, this November, when we get to the polls, that is what we are deciding. Not Democrat or Republican, not left or right. In this election, and every election, it is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives. I am you tonight because in this election, there is only one person who I trust with that responsibility, only one person who I believe is truly qualified to be president of the United States, and that is our friend Hillary Clinton.

Watch Michelle Obama’s full speech here

I trust Hillary to lead this country because I have seen her lifelong devotion to our nation’s children. Not just her own daughter, who she has raised to perfection, but every child who needs a champion: kids who take the long way to school to avoid the gangs. Kids who wonder how they will ever afford college. Kids whose parents don’t speak a word of English, but dream of a better life; who look to us to dream of what they can be.

Hillary has spent decades doing the relentless work to actually make a difference in their lives. Advocating for kids with disabilities as a young lawyer, fighting for children’s health care as first lady, and for quality child care in the senate.

And when she did not win the nomination eight years ago, she did not get angry or disillusioned. Hillary did not pack up and go home because … Hillary knows that this is so much bigger than her own disappointment. She proudly stepped up to serve our country once again as secretary of state, traveling the globe to keep our kids safe. There were moments when Hillary could have decided that this work was too hard, that the price of public service was too high, that she was tired of being [torn] apart for how she looked, or how she talked, or even how she laughed.

But here’s the thing: What I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure.

She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life. And when I think about the kind of president that I want for my girls and all our children, that is what I want. I want someone with the proven strength to persevere.

Somebody who knows this job and takes it seriously. Somebody who understands that the issues of our nation are not black or white. It cannot be boiled down to 140 characters. Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have thin skin or a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady and measured and well-informed.

I want a president with a record of public service. Someone whose life’s work shows our children that we don’t chase fame and fortune for ourselves; we fight to give everyone a chance to succeed. And we give back even when we are struggling ourselves because we know that there there is someone worse off. There but for the grace of God, go I. I want a president who will teach our children that everyone in this country matters.

A president that truly believes in the [precedent] that our founders put forth all those years ago — that we are all created equal, each a beloved part of the great American story. When crisis hits, we don’t turn against each other, we listen to each other. We lean on each other. We are always stronger together. I am here tonight because I know that that is the kind of president Hillary Clinton will be and that is why in this election, I’m with her.

You see, Hillary understands that the presidency is about one thing and one thing only. It is about leaving something better for our kids. That is how we have always moved this country forward — by all of us coming together on behalf of our children. Volunteering to coach the team, teach the Sunday school class, because they know it takes a village.

Heroes of every color and creed who wear the uniform and risk their lives to pass on those blessings of liberty; police officers and protesters in Dallas who all that really want to keep our children safe; people who lined up in Orlando to donate blood because it could have been their son, or their daughter in the club.

Leaders like Tim Kaine, who show our kids what decency and devotion look like. Leaders like Hillary Clinton, who have the guts and the grace to keep coming back and putting those cracks in the highest and hardest glass ceiling until they finally break through, lifting all of us along with her.

That is the story of this country. The story that has brought me to the stage tonight. The story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, who kept on striving, and hoping, and doing what needed to be done. So that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.

And I watch my daughters — two beautiful intelligent black young women — play with the dog on the White House lawn

And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all of our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country is not great. That somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on Earth.

And as my daughters set out on the world, I want a leader who is worthy of that truth, a leader worthy of my girls’ promise and all of our kids’ promise. A leader who will be guided every day by the love and hope and impossibly big dreams that we all have for our children.

In this election, we cannot sit back and hope that everything works out for the best, we cannot afford to be tired or frustrated or cynical. Hear me: Between now and November, we need to do what we did eight years ago and four years ago. We need to knock on every door, we need to get out every vote, we need to pour every last ounce of passion into electing Hillary Clinton as president of the United States of America. Let’s get to work.

Thank you all and God bless.

Full speech: President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union Address

Source: The White House

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US President Barack Obama speaks during the State of the Union Address during a Joint Session of Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 12, 2016. Barack Obama will give his final State of the Union address Tuesday, perhaps the last big opportunity of his presidency to sway a national audience and frame the 2016 election race. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans:

Tonight marks the eighth year I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it shorter.  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.

I also understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we’ll achieve this year are low.  Still, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse. We just might surprise the cynics again.

But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I’ll keep pushing for progress on the work that still needs doing.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  Equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage.  All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done.

But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to talk just about the next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, ten years, and beyond.

I want to focus on our future.

We live in a time of extraordinary change – change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet and our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

America has been through big changes before – wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more and more people.  And because we did – because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril – we emerged stronger and better than before.

What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation – our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery and innovation, our diversity and commitment to the rule of law – these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come.

In fact, it’s that spirit that made the progress of these past seven years possible.  It’s how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  It’s how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector; how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops and veterans, and how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.

But such progress is not inevitable.  It is the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?

So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that we as a country have to answer – regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress.

First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?

Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us – especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?

Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?

And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact: the United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history.  More than 14 million new jobs; the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s; an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  Manufacturing has created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.

Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  What is true – and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious – is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit and haven’t let up.  Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start on their careers, and tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments we’ve had these past few years, there are some areas where Americans broadly agree.

We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, and boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all, offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one, and we should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.

And we have to make college affordable for every American.  Because no hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’vealready reduced student loan payments to ten percent of a borrower’s income.  Now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.

Of course, a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy.  We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  After all, it’s not much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package, for 30 years, are sitting in this chamber.  For everyone else, especially folks in their forties and fifties, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, they may have to retool and retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build.

That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever; we shouldn’t weaken them, we should strengthen them.  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That’s what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when we lose a job, or go back to school, or start that new business, we’ll still have coverage.  Nearly eighteen million have gained coverage so far.  Health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  But there should be other ways both parties can improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job – we shouldn’t just make sure he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everyone.

I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a hand up, and I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers without kids.

But there are other areas where it’s been more difficult to find agreement over the last seven years – namely what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  And here, the American people have a choice to make.

I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed, and there’s red tape that needs to be cut.  But after years of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at the expense of everyone else; or by allowing attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  In this new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  And this year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers ends up being good for their shareholders, their customers, and their communities, so that we can spread those best practices across America.

In fact, many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  This brings me to the second big question we have to answer as a country:  how do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget.  We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.

That spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  We’re Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  We’re Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  We’re every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley racing to shape a better world.  And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.

We’ve protected an open internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.

But we can do so much more.  Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources they’ve had in over a decade.  Tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us, on so many issues over the past forty years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.

Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.

Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.

But even if the planet wasn’t at stake; even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record – until 2015 turned out even hotter – why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?

Seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results.  In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal – in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy – something environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.  Meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly sixty percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.

Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.

Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future – especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.  That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.

None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve – that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.

Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question we have to answer is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period.  It’s not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead – they call us.

As someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time. But that’s not because of diminished American strength or some looming superpower.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states.  The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds blow from a Chinese economy in transition.  Even as their economy contracts, Russia is pouring resources to prop up Ukraine and Syria – states they see slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

It’s up to us to help remake that system.  And that means we have to set priorities.

Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies.

But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  That’s the story ISIL wants to tell; that’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  We just need to call them what they are – killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.

That’s exactly what we are doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons.  We are training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.

If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, you should finally authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without Congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment – or mine – to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden.  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.

Our foreign policy must be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there. For even without ISIL, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world – in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in parts of Central America, Africa and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks; others will fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis.  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq – and we should have learned it by now.

Fortunately, there’s a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.

That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  As we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.

That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  Our military, our doctors, and our development workers set up the platform that allowed other countries to join us in stamping out that epidemic.

That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products Made in America, and supports more good jobs.  With TPP, China doesn’t set the rules in that region, we do.  You want to show our strength in this century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.

Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, setting us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, and positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  You want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere?  Recognize that the Cold War is over.  Lift the embargo.

American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world – except when we kill terrorists; or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as part of our national security, not charity.  When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change – that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our children.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend upon.  When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick, that prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we are on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and we have the capacity to accomplish the same thing with malaria – something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.

That’s strength.  That’s leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That is why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo:  it’s expensive, it’s unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.

That’s why we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion.  This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.  His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  And it betrays who we are as a country.

“We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together.  That brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing I want to say tonight.

The future we want – opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids – all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.

It will only happen if we fix our politics.

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention.  Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.

Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency – that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task – or any President’s – alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber who would like to see more cooperation, a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the demands of getting elected.  I know; you’ve told me.  And if we want a better politics, it’s not enough to just change a Congressman or a Senator or even a President; we have to change the system to reflect our better selves.

We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families and hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections – and if our existing approach to campaign finance can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution.  We’ve got to make voting easier, not harder, and modernize it for the way we live now.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do.

But I can’t do these things on my own.  Changes in our political process – in not just who gets elected but how they get elected – that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It will depend on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people.

What I’m asking for is hard.  It’s easier to be cynical; to accept that change isn’t possible, and politics is hopeless, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want, or the security we want, but most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world.

So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.  To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism that I see in the American people every single day.

It won’t be easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen – inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word – voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.

They’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention, nor do they seek it, but they are busy doing the work this country needs doing.

I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you.  I know you’re there.  You’re the reason why I have such incredible confidence in our future.  Because I see your quiet, sturdy citizenship all the time.

I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages to keep him on board.

I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early because he knows she might someday cure a disease.

I see it in the American who served his time, and dreams of starting over – and the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters, and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.

I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him ‘til he can run a marathon, and the community that lines up to cheer him on.

It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.

I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count, because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

That’s the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  Because of you.  I believe in you.  That’s why I stand here confident that the State of our Union is strong.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Poem: He has made me glad

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Daphine Vicky Ekinamushabire, a part-time poet.

Today I would have loved:
To smell the the flowers
To dance under the stars
To smile as bright as the sun.

However, I said all the words I should have said
Smiled wildly because I slightly hurt
But I was reminded that I have only today to call my own
That all tomorrow’s cares are for The Lord.

So as the sun sets,
I will smell the flowers and sniff all the scents that the wind blows to me
I will dance under the dark night to the sweet melodies of the of the birds as they bid farewell to day light
I will watch the moon and stars in their glory as they beautifully adorn the dark skies
I will reflect the joy on every little child’s face
I will live because He has made me glad.

BY DAPHINE VICKY EKINAMUSHABIRE