Our Rwenzori; MY Experience Part 2

Phionah Katushabe

By Phionah Katushabe

Baptism – awkward!!!!!!!!

uga-2016-rwenzori_048 The writer and Otti at Margherita peak

We are still at Bujuku camp. Remember the place where I almost developed one of the symptoms of altitude sickness? Well, prior to that, some of the Boys decide to baptise me with a new name – that I have obviously not asked for. The short of the very long story is – we are at the table trying to keep warm by drinking tea and sharing light conversations. All of a sudden one of the Boys decides to shower me with words of encouragement for the far I have come and for conquering the day’s bog. Others join in. I brush them aside with; ‘come on guys, did you think I wasn’t serious about this hike? I have come this far and I am going all the way.” And then booooom! “That’s the spirit James. Jamo,”…

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What is legacy to a 25 year-old? 2016 in review

3ab7e7604e795b977a9fc6576c09d3eeVery few people – and those are Donald Trump fans – can confidently say that 2016 was an amazing year for them.

 

For the rest of us, it was a lemon cake with sprinkles of icing sugar to cover up the its bitterness. If it was not hunger here, it was a drought there. If there weren’t floods here, there was an earthquake there.

Even at a place oozing nothing short of divine presence – UCU, 2016 left hallmarks of agony when it sent also 75 percent of staff to Allan Galpin Health Centre courtesy of Staff Day food.

But despite the challenges, the hiccups, the lives lost and the targets unmet, we still made it to the end and now, yet again, we are celebrating the beginning of another year – 2017. Ebenezer!

Physically though, there’s nothing different about a new year save for the calendar shift.

Then sun still rises and sets as in the previous year, lunch time is still 1pm and every human being still has 24 hours a day to live.

What the new year offers however is another opportunity to do things right. The prospect to reminisce that time moves progressively and not retrospectively and that every year that passes moves you and me an inch closer to the one we will live last.

The above feeling excites and terrifies me simultaneously. I have to remind myself every day that I can’t afford to make unnecessary yet costly mistakes anymore. That I have work to do in preparing how I want to be remembered.

Legacy is important –  even to a 25-year-old because this world we live in now is an anything can happen environment and we all strive to leave something behind.

It doesn’t matter what I do as long as I changes something from the way it was before I touched it into something that is like me after I take their hands away.

That way when people see this child, book, tree, garden – anything, I am there.

Hence, the significance in celebrating a New Year is not in the fact that we have another 365 to just pass through and thump our chests once gain on December 31 that we made it.

It is in the realisation that we have a fresh page on which to write the stories of our lives.

Before you write anything on that page, stop and ask yourself; is this the story you want stained with blood of an innocent soul, a trip to shrine perhaps to appease the gods, a back-stab of workmate because you anticipate a promotion, a copied coursework?

I told a friend recently that I don’t set New Year’s resolutions but if you are the kind that does, on your list just before visiting Hawaii, getting that first-class degree, buying that dream car, moving into that dream house and learning French, please add doing all the good that you can.

As Ray Bradbury explains in Fahrenheit 451: “the difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching. The lawn cutter might as well not have been there at all but the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

So, before you ask what 2017 has in store for you, ask yourself what do you have in store for it?

alex.taremwa@yahoo.co.uk

 

Make someone’s Christmas merry this year

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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.

Exploring the Batwa identity, culture and livelihood in Uganda

BY ALEX TAREMWA

A Batwa legend might explain the lowly status of the people found in Uganda, eastern DRC, Rwanda and Burundi. A man, Kihanga, had three sons named Katutsi, Kahutu and Katwa. One day he called his three sons and gave each of them a gourd full of milk. On the next day, in the early morning, he asked them to give him back the gourds for him to place inside a shrine.

A sect of the Batwa in a food gathering process in the  Bwindi forests. Photo: Batwa experience

A sect of the Batwa in a food gathering process in the Bwindi forests. Photo: Batwa experience

Katutsi brought back his gourd and it was still full of milk; Kahutu’s receptacle was only half full while Katwa’s container was completely empty. He had drunk all the milk in the night. Their father then blessed each of his three sons based on how responsible they had been with the gourds of milk. Katutsi was blessed with all his father’s cows which would help him and his children to prosper for generations. Kahutu was blessed with a hoe and seeds which would help him to grow food in his lifetime and for generations to come after him. Katwa was given the forest and all that was in it; he was to survive by hunting and gathering.

Many generations passed and their descendants multiplied. The descendants of Katutsi and Kahutu became so many that they could no longer be satisfied with what they had and ended up encroaching on Katwa’s forest. In the end, they chased Katwa’s descendants from the forest and made them live as beggars and landless people. The fate of Katwa’s descendants in the legend mirrors their situation in real life.

In 1991, the Batwa in Uganda were evicted from the forests they had lived on since time immemorial.  As a result, most were left landless and impoverished and, to survive, resorted to begging and life as labourers on other people’s land.

As in the legend, originally the Batwa were forest dwelling hunter-gatherers, living and practising their cultural and economic way of life in the high mountainous forest areas around Lake Kivu in Rwanda and Lake Edward in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa; today, the Batwa way of life, their cultural, spiritual, and social traditions, are at risk.

After food gathering, an elderly woman returns home to prepare food. Photo: Batwa Experience

The Batwa History

The Batwa are widely accepted as the first inhabitants of the region, later joined by farmers and pastoralists. The Batwa are still to be found living in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with an estimated total population of 86,000 to 112,000.

As their traditional forested territories were destroyed by agriculturalists and pastoralists or gazetted as nature conservation areas, the Batwa were forced to abandon their traditional lifestyle based on hunting and gathering. The Batwa, sometimes derisively to as Pygmies, became squatters living on the edges of society; some were able to develop new means of survival as potters, dancers and entertainers.

The dominant ethnic groups in the region, the Bakiga and Bafumbira, perceive them as uncivilised because of their former hunter-gatherer lifestyle which has led to their discrimination and marginalisation from the mainstream economy. Notwithstanding the numerous problems faced by the Batwa, they continue to value their forest based social system, culture, and traditional practices as an important part of their identity.

This existence on the margins continues to this day. For instance, their customary rights to land have not been recognised and they have received little or no compensation for their losses. The Ugandan constitution provides for the protection of the rights of minorities, yet the situation that the Batwa are living in clearly indicates that their rights are being systematically violated. For example they not only lack access to the health services offered to other Ugandans by the government but also lack access to clean water, shelter, and food.

Not surprisingly, the Batwa have a high HIV prevalence but access to antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for the Batwa is very hard. Not only do they have to walk for five kilometres (a long distance if you are terminally ill) and more to access them, but even when they reach the health centres, they are often segregated against by everyone, including the health care providers.

Accurate figures are difficult to determine and estimates vary, but the 2015 housing and population census showed that approximately 6,700 Batwa lived within the state of Uganda. They are mainly found in the south-west region in the districts of Kisoro, Kanungu, Kabale, Mbarara, Ntungamo and Lwengo (Katovu township).

An elderly Mutwa climbing a tree to harvest honey. Photo: Batwa Experience.

Not only is the discrimination institutional, it also extends to the social and quotidian. The Batwa are seen as backward and childish, incapable of speaking or representing themselves (the only minority group not represented in parliament). They are presumed to be thieves and are considered dirty, ignorant and immoral. Often they are not allowed to draw water from a communal well, and intermarriage with other ethnic groups is frowned upon.

Faced with all these prejudices, the formation of a Batwa advocacy group was long overdue. So In 2000,the Batwa formed United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU), an organisation which has mainly fought the dispossession of the Batwa from their ancestral land.

After the park creation in 1991, 82 percent of Batwa were left entirely landless, living either as squatters on private, government or church land. In 2004, 44 percent of Batwa had no land on which to build a hut. Data collected in 2007 by UOBDU show that the landless in Kisoro represent 50.4 percent, in Kabale 61.4 percent, in Kanungu 20.9 percent, while all of the households in Mbarara, Katovu and Ntungamo are landless.

The organisation has argued in the courts that the land for the national parks was unlawfully seized from the indigenous people, but the case is yet to be resolved.

Through UOBDU, the Batwa are fighting to secure land rights, the right to education and literacy, sustainable livelihoods, improved healthcare, and institutional development, says Elias Habyar’imana, the Chairperson of the Kisoro based NGO. To supplement all these efforts, their plight received international attention in 2014, when the Oscar-nominated documentary Virunga came out, exposing the existential threat they face.

The Batwa case before the Constitutional Court

On February 8, 2013, the Batwa of Uganda submitted a petition to the Constitutional Court of Uganda seeking recognition of their status as indigenous peoples under international law and redress for the historic marginalisation, dispossession and the human rights violations perpetrated against them. As I write this, the petition to the Constitutional Court of Uganda involving the Attorney General, the National Forest Authority and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is yet to be heard in court.

The central issue for the Batwa is their land. To date, the revenues and employment opportunities arising from governmental exploitation of protected areas have not benefited the Batwa. Revenues generated from activities now taking place on the Batwa’s ancestral lands should go into a public purse. However, the Batwa have not seen any of these revenues.

Hunting was the primary source of food for the Batwa. Photo: Batwa Experience

While the courts drag their feet, the Batwa communities continue to suffer violence and discrimination from neighbouring ethnic groups. On Sunday June 7, 2014, Batwa communities in Ryabitukuru, Kisoro District, had their homes burned.

Out of the 14 households in the community, 13 were targeted, leaving many families destitute and homeless. The Batwa households are scattered over a large area of land, yet it took the violent mob only two hours to move from house to house.

Fearing for their lives, the Batwa fled to the Rubuguri Police Post for security. Because the post was small, the Batwa were shifted from there to an NGO building. It is from there that well wishers, including NGOs like UOBDU and Red Cross, have provided them with food, water, utensils, blankets and other amenities.

The Batwa Culture, Language and Livelihood

The Batwa are seen as shy, loyal to the traditional practices which define them as a forest people. Their Practices include hunting and gathering forest resources, eating uncooked food, worshipping gods in the forest, sleeping in caves, guiding forest researchers and tourists, dressing in leaves and animal skins, making fire using dry sticks. Caves, hot springs, rivers, hills, plants and animals are of special significance in their worldview.

The forests are a source of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and before they were gazetted as national parks, the Batwa depended on forest resources for food, medicine, basketry, firewood, marketable items, house construction, tools, rituals, hunting and recreation.

During our interactions, the Batwa spoke fondly about their culture. Jovanisi Nyinakayanje, 42, who was born and raised in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, spoke about knowing nothing else except these conditions: “I was born in the forest of Bwindi and spent about ten years there. My father used to go hunting and leave us with our mother who would go with us to collect fire wood (udukwi) and food (ibyokurya). Outside our home, we had a small hut for worshipping (uguterekerera) which was mainly done by our father who would sacrifice to the gods before and after hunting.”

After food gathering, an elderly woman returns home to prepare food. Photo: Batwa Experience

“When they chased us from the forest, we started living here in Rushaga. We would go back to the forest to look for meat, honey, wild yams, firewood, weaving materials and medicinal plants. But later, we were told to stop going back to the forest. Many of our people died. We tried hard to survive in the challenging village conditions by begging for food from Bakiga,” she spoke in her mother tongue as George Wilson Mpakasihe translated.

Reminiscing about growing up, Steven Serutoke, a guide on the Garama Batwa trail in Mgahinga, said, “When I was a little child, I used to see my parents going to the forest. They used to tell us nice stories about the forest. They told us how they used to eat honey and meat from the forest. They also told us that they used to shift to many places including Rwanda, Burundi and Congo especially when they had conflicts and when food became scarce.”

Housing and Burial arrangements

Traditionally, the Batwa had three main types of houses: caves, omuririmbo and ichuro. The caves and omuririmbo were the main houses where Batwa lived. Ichuro was used for resting and storing food including meat, honey, beans and sorghum, all of which in makeshift grass thatched round huts that can accommodate about five people at a time.

The Batwa also had a special way of burying the dead. When a Mutwa died, he or she would be buried in a hut after digging a small hole and wrapping the corpse in grass. The burial ceremony involved cleansing the corpse with herbs such as omuhanga (Maesa lanceolata), enkyerere (Rubus sp.), and omufumba (Rhumex sp).

The Batwa elders would lead the burial ceremony and encourage all the family members to drink herbal extracts as a way of preventing death from claiming more people from that family. After burial, they would migrate to a far off place and never return.

One of the Batwa huts set on fire in Kisoro. The Batwa are among the most marginalised and discrminated against minority groups in Africa. Photo: UOBDU

Marriage customs

According to Batwa customs, a Mutwa can not marry a non-Mutwa and getting pregnant before marriage was forbidden. Marriage was arranged by the parents. The parents of a Mutwa boy would admire qualities in a certain Mutwa girl and decide that she was the right partner for their son. They would then visit the girl’s family carrying gifts which included pots of honey from stingless bees, beer brewed with honey and roast meat.

During the visit, they would negotiate the dowry to be paid to the girl’s family and the date for the ‘give-away’ ceremony. On the day of ‘giving away’ the girl, the groom would bring many gifts for the bride and her family. Such gifts included beads, new and well-oiled animal skins, roast meat, elephant tusks, honey from stingless bees, beer brewed with honey and sometimes hunting dogs.

The groom would take the bride to his home and then live together while receiving advice from the groom’s parents. After some time, the young family would later migrate to a distant place to establish their new and independent home. When the woman became pregnant, she would be fed on meat, honey and vegetables and would drink many kinds of herbs for boosting her health and that of the unborn baby.

At the time of giving birth, she would be helped by other women who would use pieces of bamboo to cut the umbilical cord. The baby would be wrapped in clean animal skins and brought near a fire place for warmth.

This way of living is under threat or has already vanished. The Uganda Wildlife Authority continues to make millions from tourism annually on their land. For three decades, the Batwa have been struggling to have their rights recognised. The legal case is unlikely to succeed, so the Batwa remain stuck in a legal limbo with unpromising prospects.

This article was originally published in This is Africa (TIA), a leading forum for African opinion, arts and music available through the website thisisafrica.me, mobile phone apps and online radio channels.

How Western media and donor aid have connived to dim the flame of Africa’s development candle

Evidence of ineffective foreign assistance is widespread in Africa. The debate on how aid can be effective and contribute to Africa’s development is ongoing, without any clear way forward. This suggests that there is more to the African problem and that aid is not likely to turn things around, writes  Alex Taremwa.

Can Africa take care of itself? Photo: Department of foreign affairs and trade, Australia

Can Africa take care of itself?  Photo: Department of foreign affairs and trade, Australia

On the day of the African Child (16 June), This is Africa, using the giant search engine Google, conducted a survey to capture the portrayal of African children on the Internet. The result, as always, was that of malnourished, hungry, poverty-stricken and disease-laden children.

This portrayal of Africa directly correlates with how Western media has covered Africa over the years. Often the picture presented is of despair and hopelessness; one that mostly appeals to pity, sympathy and charity.

The response from the developed nations has been a massive transfer of financial and other forms of aid to African governments. In 2013, Africa received about US$135 billion in loans, foreign and development aid, according to the BBC.

Over the past 60 years, Africa has been the recipient of over $1 trillionin development-related aid, mostly from Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway and Denmark, the most generous nations as of 2014, and of course, the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Although this could have boosted the per capita GDP growth of several nations, the livelihoods of most populations in sub-Saharan African haven’t changed much. The million-dollar question then is: What has all this money done?

What has aid done for Africa so far?

Dambisa Moyo, a World Bank economist, former consultant at Goldman Sachs and author of, among other books, Dead Aidargues that money from rich countries has trapped many African countries in a cycle of corruption, slower economic growth and poverty. “The insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment. It’s increased the risk of civil conflict and unrest (the fact that over 60% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is under the age of 24 with few economic prospects is a cause for worry). Aid is an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster.”

In her book, Moyo highlights the destructive nature of aid in Africa's development. Photo: oneVillage Initiative/ Flickr

The African continent is indeed debt-laden, suffering from massive unemployment figures, poor housing and infrastructure systems, rotten health and education structures, power-hungry dictators, war and conflict, disease, famine and poverty, among other problems. Is aid to blame for this mess? Renowned Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda agrees – to some extent.

“The wrong framing is a product of thinking that Africa is a place of despair. In the process, Africa has been stripped of self-initiative,” Andrew Mwenda.

Mwenda admits that although despair, civil war, hunger and famine are part of the African reality, they are not the only reality. In fact, they are the smallest reality.

“The wrong framing is a product of thinking that Africa is a place of despair. What should we do with it? We should give food to the hungry. We should deliver medicines to those who are ill. We should send peacekeeping troops to serve those who are facing a civil war. And in the process, Africa has been stripped of self-initiative.” “The wrong framing is a product of thinking that Africa is a place of despair. In the process, Africa has been stripped of self-initiative.” Andrew Mwenda 

 

Is all aid destructive?

For decades, Africa has failed to engage the rest of the world in tangible partnerships that promote trade and create markets for its exports. Africa, previously the biggest exporter of coffee and cotton, among other produce, has been overtaken by the Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia.

Under the Cotonou Agreement, formerly known as the Lomé Convention, African countries were given an opportunity by Europe to export goods, duty-free, to the European Union market. Uganda, in particular, had a quota to export 50 000 metric tons of sugar to the European Union market. Not even a kilogram has been exported.

Uganda, like most African countries, now largely imports and consumes more than it produces. Although this trend should have changed, aid, according to Andrew Mwenda, is the wrong instrument to help Africa turn the corner. African countries would benefit if they concentrated on building and strengthening internal institutional policies, through empowering their citizenry and encouraging local investment.

Governments in Africa have been given the opportunity by the international community to avoid building productive arrangements with their own citizens. They accept advice from the IMF and the World Bank on what their citizens need. “In the process, we, the African people, have been sidelined from the policy-making, policy-orientation and policy-implementation process in our own countries,” Mwenda explains.

 

Does Africa need saving?

Akon certainly doesn’t agree. The Senegalese-American musician, songwriter and producer, who recently set his sights on philanthropy, recently told Al Jazeera that the Western world cannot under any circumstances claim to be saving Africa after several years of conning Africa.

Although Akon has participated in celebrity campaigns aimed at mobilising funds for Africa, he argues that Africans must play a central role in promoting and re-branding their continent.

Akon further notes that although Africa would benefit from partnerships with the developed world, it does not need saving by the international cartel of good intentions. He argues that in fact it has always been Africa that was saving those nations.

“Africa to a greater extent has been the anchor to the rest of the world. Every natural resource that is keeping every country running is a resource that has been pulled out of Africa. Everyone benefits but Africa. So Africa doesn’t need to be saved. Africa is the one doing the saving,” the musician said.

A, M-pesa agent in Mwanza, Tanzania. M-pesa, born in Nairobi has become the largest mobile phone based money transfer service in Africa. Photo: Emil Sjoblom/ Flickr

The way out for Africa 

Crispy Kaheru, coordinator of the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) told This is Africa that the only way out is for the donor countries to take a backseat and let Africans engineer solutions to their problems.

“I am one of those who contend that local challenges can aptly be fixed by local solutions. And local solutions should emerge organically from within the context of the challenge/problem. The context can be historical, political, cultural, social, economic or otherwise,” he said. 

Rather than throwing billions of dollars at African problems, economists believe it would be beneficial for donors to assist in creating opportunities for innovative African entrepreneurs and the youth, thereby creating employment and, eventually, wealth.

The best illustration of this is M-Pesa, arguably the largest mobile phone-based money transfer service in Africa, which was born in Nairobi, Kenya. It was designed through a student software development project and launched by Vodafone with funding from Department for International Development (DFID) based in the United Kingdom.

Currently, M-Pesa has spread throughout Africa to as far afield as Afghanistan, South Africa, India, Romania and Albania, allowing users to conveniently deposit, withdraw and transfer money and pay for goods and services. If donors could restrict themselves to financing entrepreneurial and innovative projects designed by Africans to provide local solutions to their problems, it would be more beneficial.

With the world’s youngest population – a largely untapped human resource – and a growing, vibrant informal sector, Africa has the potential to take the big leap. Rather than sink billions of dollars into charity, donors can instead look to invest in developing a skilled force among Africans, thereby empowering them to create wealth and employment which will eventually spur sustainable development.

 

This article was originally published in This is Africa (TIA), a leading forum for African opinion, arts and music available through the website thisisafrica.me, mobile phone apps and online radio channels.

Youth unemployment in Uganda and the deadly relationship with illegal migration, human trafficking and modern slavery.

Uganda has been plagued by high numbers of cases of human trafficking of young people to the middle east. Due to a lack of stringent laws and minimum government intervention, it continues to be a large problem. Alex Taremwa explores the high youth unemployment rate in Uganda and how it feeds this dangerous form of modern slavery.

Domestic-Workers1-protesting-Photo-Answers-Africa-cover

Domestic Workers protesting Photo:Answers Africa.

Since 2005, approximately 25,000 Ugandan men and women have supported US-led operations in Iraq. While many have returned, thousands of Ugandans are still in Iraq and have been scattered all over Middle East countries, choosing to scratch out a livelihood in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In July 2015, Saudi Arabia and Uganda  entered into a  5-year bilateral agreement that would see the recruitment of one million Ugandan domestic workers to the Gulf Kingdom. 

The agreement set the minimum wage for Ugandan workers at 700 Riyals ($200) a month, lower than the minimum set for Filipino, Indian, and Bangladeshi domestic workers. While the agreement has received little attention in the press, reports indicated an unjustifiable optimism in Ugandan officials’ expectations of recruitment procedures and employment conditions in Saudi Arabia. Statistics put the number of Ugandan housemaids in Saudi at 500 housemaids since the deal took effect six months ago.

However, there have been several reports about the violation of the rights of Ugandan domestic workers in Saudi Arabia. As a result, after a recommendation from parliament, Uganda’s minister of gender, labour and social development, Wilson Muruli Mukasa, banned the recruitment and deployment of Ugandans as domestic workers in any foreign country with effect from January 22, 2016. 

Uganda becomes the fourth country after Indonesia, Ethiopia and the Philippines to ban their nationals from travelling to Saudi to work as domestic workers over concerns of abuse.

While the Ugandan Government had put in place legal and institutional mechanisms upon which more robust measures for detecting, monitoring, controlling and preventing illicit labour export, there still exist over 60 licensed and illegal agencies dealing in this trade.

In an exclusive interview with This is Africa, Ashaba Richard, 26, a returnee from Iraq where he was part of a joint US-Uganda mission for two years, narrated an awful ordeal of how some of his Ugandan co-ethnics had died in unclear circumstances in Iraq “fighting a war they weren’t a part of.” 

“Such information is kept away from the media for ‘security reasons’ but some of our people are stuck there earning pennies and doing mundane jobs,” he says.

In yet another ordeal, Betty Nakanwagi (real identity protected) resigned two weeks after she started work as a housemaid in Saudi Arabia due to unbearable work conditions. She narrated:

“I would wake up as early as 4am and work throughout the day and night till 2am and my body ached a lot. My colleagues and I were subjected to endless work without rest, not even breaking off to sip water moreover feeding on only one meal of dry rice without any sauce a day,” she narrated in vernacular as tears rolled down her cheeks. 

In another interview published in The Observer, a local tri-weekly, another Ugandan Sarah Naigaga explains how she escaped captivity in yet another Kuwait home. 

Sarah Naigaga (L) and the coordinator of the national anti-human trafficking task force, Moses Binoga at the ministry of Internal Affairs. Photo: The Obsever

“Since we don’t have an embassy or consulate in Kuwait,  I managed to escape and went to a Kenyan embassy and reported my case…and I was rescued. There is an 18-year-old who was taken to Kuwait by a one Matovu agency but she is currently missing and suspected to have been sacrificed by the family she was sold to. At times these Arabs kill Ugandans who go to work as maids and remove their organs and sell them to rich Arabs,” Naigaga narrated. 

Naigaga adds that it is more difficult to escape because their passports were confiscated by their agencies.

The local authorities have advised job seekers to use licensed job agencies. Experts, however, argue that this will not address the root cause of migration. 

The rise in illegal immigration across Africa

In Uganda, the Iraq mission opened doors to a massive influx of human resources to Arabia, Europe and the U.S in pursuit of a better life. Although some of this labour force is exported through legally binding means, the number of illegal immigrants from Africa to several parts of the world cannot be underestimated.

Away from Uganda, a recent report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), estimated that at least 137,000 people had successfully crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe during the first six months of 2015. 

Between March and August 2011, more than 40,000 sub-Saharan Africans arrived on Lampedusa and, to a smaller degree, on Sicily and Malta. Many had been forcibly expelled by the Gaddafi regime and a large number of them applied for asylum in Italy. With the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in August 2011, the flow of migrants again almost stopped entirely  But began again in 2013 with the reorganisation of human smugglers.

Youth unemployment – the Ugandan twist

The Ugandan story is, however, somewhat unique. Unlike most countries like Mali, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya et al where citizens flee the oppression and repression of their governments or prevalent political situations, Uganda has barely had a significant political uprising since 1986. Why are Ugandans fleeing their country in large numbers?

According to the National Housing and Population census 2014, Uganda’s has a total population of 34.6 million people – 78% are below the age of 30, while 52% below the age of 15. It has the youngest population in the world and the second most dependant population after Niger.

The International Labour Organisation defines youth unemployment as a share of labour force age 15-24 without work but available for and seeking employment. 

In Uganda, a total of 400,000 youth are released into the job market annually after graduating at university into a labour market that has only 90,000 jobs, leaving many unemployed 

The national unemployment rate is reportedly at 3.2% and 22.3% for the youth. The figures are even worse in the urban areas as the unemployment rate in the city is at 12%, seven times more than in the rural areas where it is at 1.7%. 

Kampala, the capital city, accounts for 32.2% of Uganda’s youth unemployment, which translates to 36 per cent for university degree holders according to World Bank statistics. 

It is from these frustrations that the youth opt to try other countries to put food not only on their tables but also for their families. Therefore the journey to Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait is not always voluntary but a product of the prevailing circumstances. 

Youth Unemployment in Uganda Photo: Chimpreports.com

What has the government done?

In light of report by African Development Bank (ADB) that put Uganda’s youth unemployment at 83 per cent, the government introduced youth oriented schemes to help alleviate poverty  most of these schemes have been preyed on by corruption and most have either failed or achieved little success. 

These programmes include  the National Agricultural Advisory Services introduced by President Museveni in 2014, a partnership with local banks in 2011 to avail  funds worth Shs25 billion to youth for small scale enterprises. The youth programme was later reintroduced as the Youth Fund as the Youth Livelihood Program with a financial boost of Shs265 billion (about US$ 100 million) to cover a five-year period, after the failure of the previous one.

Despite these interventions, several agencies, licensed or otherwise, are flourishing in the business of exporting youth labour to Arab countries. However, even with horrific tales coming out of Dubai and Kuwait involving prostitution, human trafficking and gang rape and slavery, the government has been reluctant not only to empower its missions abroad to extract it’s suffering citizens but also bargain for better wages, working conditions  and fair treatment. 

In the Migrants’ Right report, a Ugandan columnist David called on officials “to first understand who domestic workers are and the nature of work they do.” 

He warns of the common violations committed against domestic workers such as “restricted mobility, lack privacy, non-payment of their meager wages, verbal, physical, sexual and psychological abuse and work long hours” emphasising their rights to “timely payment, freedom of association and collective bargaining, right to leave, privacy, treatment with dignity, respect, maternity leave and work contract.” 

Human Trafficking:

The 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report by the US Department of State found Ugandan officials complicit in cases of human trafficking. According to report, during 2012, a total of 45 reports of transnational incidents of trafficking in persons (TIP) were registered while 29 similar reports were registered between January and April 2013. 

Over 90 persons were registered as victims of transnational TIP incidents in 2012, while over 38 persons were registered as victims of TIP during the January-April 2013 period. 

Most of the victims are taken out of Uganda or brought to Uganda through fraud, deception or debt bondage in search of employment. The most common route taken is through Nairobi where the covert human trafficking rackets transport the victims in buses, process their visas and passports in Nairobi, and  board them on planes. 

The identities of people claiming to export labour are always hidden; they operate under fake names and fake identification documents without any known physical address or location. So for the victims, most of the communication with these unscrupulous individuals occurs online or via phone. This makes it hard to trace them. 

The anti-human trafficking coordinator in Uganda, Moses Binoga, revealed that government is signing protocols with foreign governments, mostly where Ugandans end up as slaves, so as to ease the task of tracking down the victims.

Bingo beseeches youth seeking employment abroad to use licensed companies as it is easier for the authorities to trace victims and bring them back home in collaboration with the licensed recruiting agencies and to always get enough information about the nature of jobs, where they are going to work and the type of agents involved. 

“Get information from police, ministry of labour, ministry of internal affairs, ministry of foreign affairs, all of which have got desks that handle cases of immigration and labour export,” he concluded. 

Human trafficking. Photo:informafrica.com

What can be done?

The story of youth unemployment, however unique in Uganda’s context, is not limited to Uganda. Most Sub-Saharan countries suffer from this endemic problem which, coupled with the prevailing political instabilities, has not only fuelled the influx of able bodied youth out of their countries but also kept the trafficking and illegal immigration business steadily on wheels. 

The solutions will arise from governments’ desire to create environments suitable for the youth to cultivate their entrepreneurial skills, profitable trading opportunities to accumulate wealth or invest heavily in the creation of well-paying and sustainable jobs to accommodate the growing educated mass.

This article was originally published in This is Africa (TIA), a leading forum for African opinion, arts and music available through the website thisisafrica.me, mobile phone apps and online radio channels.

UCU alumna changes souls through music

The Standard UCU

10685379_876445212419606_8298043114900743390_n BY ALEX TAREMWA 

Faith Hope Ghandi’s started her journey of integrating faith into music way back in her Primary One. When asked when this was, the artist is shy to reveal the following story behind her age:

While registering for her Primary Seven exams at Good Shepherd Primary School in Kampala, she wasn’t sure how old she was. Her mother, an educationist, was far away at the time. So Ghandi approached her aunt who told her that she was born in 1989.

When Ghandi returned from school after the Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE), she asked her mother how old she was, only to learn that she was actually three years younger than she had been led to believe.

“Mummy told me that I was born in 1992 but since 1989 was already on my file, I couldn’t change it and that is one thing that has haunted me for…

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