Identity Blues!

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By Davis Wesley Tusingwire

For little Jennie, going to one of the best schools in town, where your mother is a teacher and thus guaranteeing special treatment and extra access where students/pupils are concerned, was not such a big deal. She disliked how that particular environment worked against her true identity. See, she wasn’t looked at or treated as Jennie. Instead she was expected to be more than she could be at the time. She probably had the potential to be more, but constantly comparing her to elder sister Judith wasn’t exactly helping. Teachers punished her because she did not write as well as her sister, did not dress as smartly as her sister and for a teacher’s daughter, did not perform as excellently. No body cared about who she really was.

She is not the only one. We have heard stories about mistaken identity, mixed personalities, misjudgement, among others. An identity crisis is common among teenagers across the world, as they discoover themselves and their abilities. Books have been writen and movies have acted about this issue.

And yet it doesn’t end there. Beloved and now fallen, former NTV News anchor Rosemary Nankabirwa endured the bitter words from critiques when someone leaked a picture of her, sick and frailing . To the public, she and all the other public figures are regarded as super human and therefore not expected to be as human as everyone else. It is funny to think, people were surprised she could look that way, as though she was born on Mars. They are human, like you and me and therefore, bound to suffer illnesses, eat the same kind of food, gain or lose weight or even die. Just like everybody else. But alas! A very dangerous stereotype is attached to their identity and we see them misjudged if they dressed differently from what we expect of them, or visited places we think are way below their standards. We almost think they are immortal.

During Easter prayers, a Burundian National dorning a Rick Ross look alike beard was arrested at Rubaga cathedral in Uganda where he had gone for service and detained on suspicion of being a terrorist, all because of his beard. Most terrorist attacks across the world have been linked to the Muslim fraternity, who as a cultural practice grow a beard; for whatever reasons, and this young man could have innocently grown one too, unaware that it would get him into trouble.

Ladies have been called sluts/whores because they dared expose more flesh than the ordinary woman.

Men have been branded homosexuals because they are more soft spoken than their brothers, or because they have a pierced ear or because they prefer brighter colors in their wardrobe among others.

Not so long ago there was a debate on social networks especially Facebook and the mainstream media in Uganda as to who is the fairest? This discussion centred on our current Miss Uganda-Miss Leah Kalanguka who upon being crowned, was criticized and demonised for being ugly because of one poorly taken photograph of her that appeared on the scene. The criticism arose from the angle and comparison with the the recently crowned Miss Rwanda who was deemed and declared a true beauty due to her appearance on the outside.

We have witnessed some people being harrased because they are related to a given person or are over worshiped because of the same.

And through all this, nobody seems to notice what they have to endure, if they manage to make their true self shine through. Many go unrecognised most of the time.

Families are distabilized by identity battles. Children want to be their own person but their parents/guardians want them to be something else. Siblings compete with each other, and of course the brightest usually steals the show and the other(s) are almost forgotten. In schools teachers favor some for given attributes and forget the others. And those forgotten are teased/bullied so badly, sometimes they never recover from it. In workplaces we see superiors harrass their subordinates of out of insecurity. They fear their identity in the company will be overshadowed by those they lead, and so they feel threatened.

Identity is a broad and sensitive issue. It is encouraged though, to always give each individual an opportunity to identify themselves and decide what/who they want to be remembered as. It can be hard to accept others for who they truely are, but since we all need to be accepted or want to impose on others what they should be, it’s only fair that we let them be. It is easier to live with a happier person, regardless of their identity crisis.

What is identity? What identifies us?

The author of this piece is a member of FESYLF (Uganda). The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES

You can follow him on twitter on this his handle @w_tusingwire

To The Young of Our Day

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Picture via Ancestral Essence’s Facebook Page

by Wobusobozi Amooti Kangere & Chris Nkwatsibwe

Saw the story below this picture on the Facebook group ancestral essence, and got moved to share a few words from our journey in this time. These I send to the young of our day.

The story behind the picture is a first person account of a captured slave. It recounts his experience of first contact with ‘the new world.’ and his thoughts and sentiments of the dehumanizing ordeal his captors put him through.

The story itself is likely fiction. But sometimes we need fiction to rearrange the facts so that we can see TRUTH in its context.

Many of we who remained here on the continent are often disconnected from the experience of those who were taken. We must never forget though that we are of one blood; we are of one root.

Today the same snake that came to steal our men, women and earth 500 years ago, stealthily makes its way to finish the job it started. The fires in our shrines have gone cold from neglect. The mountains where our journeymen made pilgrimage to carry our children prayers to the gods are abandoned.

Our homes, which once never needed doors, are as sterile as prison garrisons and boarding houses for travelling strangers. We have forgotten how to have conversation with each other. We have forgotten how to remember the names and works of those who came before us. And so we carry their names like lifeless limbs we can’t wait to replace with alien sounds like Laquinta.

When their voices reach out to us from beyond to help us correct the error of our ways, we call them demons and bind them; yet the real demon is this strange culture that plants inhuman instincts in our young. And then we wonder why everything in Afrika is a mess.

Remember who you are Afrika. You are the children of the SUN. You are the body in which its living essence dwells. That is the secret behind your skin. Your blood is the Holy Grail. Humanity begins with you. Your ancestors were once called gods because of their power. But what they had was wisdom and knowledge of the stars, the wind, the earth, and of how life came to be.

Fool yourself not, you are not mortal. You are the immortal essence of the sun; clothed in flesh for a time. A time defined by a purpose measured in your talents and mental fields of prowess.

As for you slavers of our kind; in the different shades of skin in which you come…Enjoy the comfort of the living tombs you have turned our land into. A time shall come, in this lifetime or the next, when the tables will turn. The fires that burn in our shrines shall warm our spirits again. Those taken and those lost will return. The children will find their way back home.

This is not prophesy: It is only statement of the inevitable. The ancestral power wakes from its long sleep. And when the Afrikan wakes, you who laugh at our passing fate will remember that your Jesus and Muhammad learnt at the feet of our ancestors. And that Krishna and Budha were spawned from this soil.

Remember who you are children of the sun. Memory is the beginning of knowing, and knowing is the spring of life.

They will do everything to make you forget. They will keep your eyes in TVs, and teach you that their history of war is greater than your history of peace. And you will believe them for that is all you will know.

They will tell you that the conflicts engineered by their agents and puppets are tribal clashes. And that your ancestors- those beings who made your parents and spent their lives building the heritage you have squandered- hate you and wish to destroy you, just as you hate and wish to destroy the lives of the descendants you toil for every day in a job you hate.

You will celebrate the conquest of your backward past filled with spears, superstition and treacherous spirits. And seek haven in their cities where justice is for sell and truth is whatever you want it to be.

Your men will sleep with men and call it nature. And when the temperature of debauchery is just right, the tourists will make way for settlers, and then for colonies. And what started as kidnapping of our folk 500 years ago, and the partitioning of our lands into mega ranches controlled from cities in Europe; will be completed in your annihilation.

And when there is completely no trace left of you, and your beloved cities have turned into the ghetto concentration camps they already are degenerating into; may be then, someone will remember that prophets of old warned of such times.

But we are fools- we who speak of such things. We are foul evil creatures- we who speak of ancestral voices. We are lunatics, we who read the signs of the times and share what we see. And so our words shall remain lofty and befuddled to you.

For those whose minds still yearn for better times, the future is bright when the past is resolved. You don’t have to look far. The future and the past are all in the present. You, young African, are the meeting point between your ancestry and your progeny. So choose your path wisely. You are the hope of this nation.

You do not have to live in huts to be in touch with your past. We are the parents of civilization. We built the first cities. The ancestors ask only that we remember them kindly, as we ourselves would wish to be remembered by those we leave behind.

Build families. Make communities. This is the message that reverberates daily from beyond.

We should like to think that even the Jesus and Muhammad of whom our slavers and exploiters preach would not be offended by this simple counsel.

Blessings and Peace

Chris Nkwatsibwe is a Human Rights activist from Uganda

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES

It is Infantile for the Tanzanian Government to Think Global and Act Local

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By Chris Nkwatsibwe

Biyi Bandele, a London-based African blogger had the following to say about Tanzania’s new education policy:

“Until every single mathematical theorem and every single theory in astrophysics and cosmology, and in medicine, and in chemistry, and in every single sphere of knowledge is written or available in translation in Kiswahili and Igbo and every other African language, I personally will always reject and abhor that easy [and easily comforting, xenophobic language] that dresses itself in the ultimately empty, and cheap, and hokey, and cheaply sentimental rhetoric of noble nationalism. I’ve been to Tanzania, and I’ve been to Zanzibar. And I’ve been to many countries in East Africa. What Tanzania needs now, what East Africa needs now, and what Africa needs now isn’t another instance of brainless, reflexive, macho posturing [which this is]. What we need, what we really need, is to have tens of thousands—millions—of our best minds, schooled not only in Swahili, Hausa, Xhosa, and Yoruba, and every major African language but also in English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and in Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Farsi, Chinese and Japanese, and in every single language on this little planet called earth, where knowledge—not just cheap, populist, propaganda—is disseminated.” -

I can’t agree more.

In my other opinion, to believe that in a globalized world where competition for relevance, human resource and investments is not only based on your ability to produce the best quality of product, but also the country’s ability to relate with other nations, that you will certainly breakthrough by domesticating and localizing the human resource is an absurdity of the highest order.

For Tanzania to change the medium of instruction in public schools from English to Kiswahili in a hope to elevate the level ‘passing’ or rather reduce the level of failing in the education system represents willingness by the government of Tanzania to settle for less. A close examination at the countries whose development, the government Tanzania aspires to reflects a need to review the new government paradigm. It is infantile for the Tanzanian government to think that the country will develop to a competitive level by closing itself away from the rest of the world.

Firstly, education is basically meant for developing human resource whose role in generating returns on human capital cannot be limited to carrying out production within the boundaries of Tanzania. The  new policy however would lead to production of a resource that may only find relevance in the east African community, and with the present spiraling levels of youth unemployment in the region, it still remains to be determined whether Tanzania would increase on the competitive advantage of her Nationals by ‘domesticating’ her education system.

Secondly, for any economy to develop there should be in increase in both the domestic and foreign savings of the country. This can be accumulated by Nationals working with in and or outside the boundaries of the country. More so, there should be an increase in a country’s exports inform of services and products. The new Tanzanian government policy fails on both fronts; her nationals’ competitiveness on foreign market would be limited due to the communication dilemma at the international level, this would definitely affect the country’s returns on her human capital whose opportunities would only mutate around the East African community.

The Tanzanian government should rather concentrate on building credible education system infrastructure that creates opportunities for talent identification and development to enhance innovation and creativity rather that incur the cost of amending the ‘instruction mode’. A more technical and vocational system will increase productivity and value addition.

Chris Nkwatsibwe is a Human Rights activist from Uganda

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES

A Brief Review of ‘The State of Africa’ – Martin Meredith

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A BRIEF REVIEW OF ‘THE STATE OF AFRICA’ – Martin Meredith by Chris Nkwatsibwe

Africa stands at cross roads in the quest for good governance and social economic development. the increased deterioration of the standards of living in majority of the countries coupled with devastating social economic status of the people affirm that while Africa may have succeeded in acquiring political independence from her former colonial masters, it has not translated this independence to tangible benefits to its inhabitants.

The ‘state of Africa’ – a book by Martin Meredith, explores the multitude of problems that Africa has faced in the past half-century, focusing on key figures and events that have defined its independence and post- independence era. The book notes that despite the fact that in many cases African independence was a bloody and a lengthy process, the withdrawal of colonial powers from Africa was met with jubilation and hope. African leaders stepped into their new positions with much enthusiasm and visions of development and nation-building. Africa looked set to flourish since this era also coincided with a global economic boom. It is further noted however that this was not the case, the question therefore is what went wrong and why did hopes and ambitions fade? This is the question that Meredith tries to answer in this book.

The book poses the vampire like politicians as being the answer to these rather intriguing questions. It leaves little doubt as to the fact that the primary cause of Africa’s pain is its corrupt, tyrannical, incompetent, thieving, “vampire-like” leaders. The book charts the history of African states in the half-century since the colonial powers either left or were kicked out of their former colonies. It documents, country by country, decade by decade, a depressing litany of wars, revolutions, dictatorships, famines, genocide, coups and economic collapse to justify the assertion.

This narrative begins on Feb. 9, 1951, a pivotal date in the history of what was then Britain’s Gold Coast and now Ghana. On that day the political prisoner Kwame Nkrumah was elected to political office as Britain began fulfilling its promises for the country’s self-determination. Four days later, Nkrumah was designated the new prime minister. And the cycle is described from the shadow of colonialism to the bloom of self-government, onward to tyranny that ensued thereafter.
For example, In the Central African Republic, Jean-Bedel Bokassa acquired an impressive portfolio of French property from fortunes he made in private diamond and ivory deals, and also housed a host of wives and mistresses, including “the German, the Swede, the Cameroonian, the Chinese, the Gabonese, the Tunisienne, and the Ivorienne”.

While Uganda’s Idi Amin, so insecure in his new-found power, authorized mass killing sprees of suspected opposition, whose bodies were dumped in rivers to be eaten by crocodiles. In a similar fashion, Francisco Macías Nguema of Equatorial Guinea gave his security forces unlimited powers to arrest, torture, rape and murder.

Mr. Meredith points out that not a single African head of state in three decades had allowed himself to be voted out of office, instead, these dictators strutted the stage, tolerating neither opposition nor dissent, rigging elections, emasculating the courts, cowing the press, stifling the universities, demanding abject servility and making themselves exceedingly rich.
It is highly imperative to note however that even though the ‘State of Africa’ presents “governments and vampire-like politicians” as being the major and primary cause of Africa’s problems, , it does not ignore the other factors that have contributed to the poor outcome of most of these African countries, insightfully, the artificial borders imposed by colonial powers, indebtedness, civil war and conflict, Western protectionism, the frequency of droughts, the high levels of diseases such as malaria and river blindness and the dreadful scourge of Aids plus rapid population growth are some of the other factors Meredith highlights.

It is however argued that these factors could have been overcome, or at least alleviated, had it not been for the greed and incompetence of the independence-era leaders, whose regimes deteriorated relatively quickly into systems of dysfunctional, corrupt and authoritarian rule.

Interestingly, Even though Meredith does attribute many of Africa’s problems to poor leadership, he also points out the fact that most of these leaders enjoyed considerable Western support. Mobutu, for example, adopted a pro-Western, anti-Soviet stance that gained him considerable support from the West, particularly in Washington. When George Bush became president in 1989, he stated that Zaire was among America’s oldest friends, and its president – President Mobutu – one of their most valued friends. In the Central African Republic, the French provided Bokassa’s regime with both financial and military support in order to suppress prospects of Anglophone influence. This in my opinion can be translated as a contribution the west could have made to Africa’s present day challenges.

The book also captures the key events such as the Ethiopian famine and the Rwandan genocide, and exhaustively discusses the key leaders such as Charles Taylor, one of the continent’s most prominent warlords, and Zimbabwe’s infamous Robert Mugabe.
While exploring the Tanzanian example which was referred to as a “beacon of hope” amidst rapidly fading hopes for the rest of Africa, Meredith also indicates that although most post-independence leaders opted for “African socialism” as a basis of economic and political governance, their strategies and ideologies tended to be a haphazard mixture of vague and incoherent ideas, and thus often involved implementing grandiose development projects, the majority of which failed due to the lack of necessary infrastructural and institutional frameworks.

On a rather lighter note, In the last chapters of the book Meredith offers a little hope: the political and economic successes of Botswana, South Africa’s Mandela years, noble characters -the poet-president Léopold Senghor in Senegal and worthwhile leadership of Vice President John Garang and the emergence of a “new generation” of African leaders committed to democracy, economic development and civil rights are also comprehensively discussed.

Lastly, this book is epic. Meredith works with the colossal spatial and temporal span of this subject with ease, weaving chapters together in a loose chronological order to present the narrative as a patchwork quilt of Africa, rather than as a rigid country-by-country timeline. The early chapters see the rise of African independence and post-independence leaders and the later chapters indicate an account of their actions while in their tenure in their respective offices.

Just like Meredith writes, “African governments and the vampire like politicians who run them are regarded by the populations they rule as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival.” It is saddening to note that Africans have taken a more passive that active role in resolving the democratic deficiencies encountered by their countries. There’s an increasing state of apathy amongst Africans which has delayed and frustrated the efforts towards dismantling of these deficiencies and consolidating the gains already made.

CHRIS NKWATSIBWE – Uganda
Human Rights activist

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES

Why Uganda Should Strike a Balance Between Security and Liberty

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Uganda’s history has been characterized by gross violation of human rights. In the recent past, the increased narrowing of political space seen in the offing of unconstitutional legislations like the public order and management Act spirited towards limiting the freedoms of association and movement of key opposition figures and anti-government actors affirm that while this country signed and ratified many international treaties to uphold fundamental human rights, she has consistently chosen to abuse them with impunity.
It is highly imperative to note that since World War Two, a broad consensus grew around the importance of an international legal framework to protect human rights, within which states should operate. This ‘human rights framework’ protects a set of rights so fundamental that every person shares them (one of which is the right to assembly and demonstration) – and every state and non-state actor has an obligation to respect, protect and promote them. The obligation to respect these rights remains regardless of political persuasion of the government of the day, or the operating context – whether it a time of tranquility or international or civil war.
This concept of a set of human rights was first encapsulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and was then translated into legal obligations through a series of international treaties for example the Geneva Conventions (1949), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR – 1966); thematic – Convention against Torture (CAT – 1984) with its Optional protocol, and also regional – European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR – 1950); American Convention on Human Rights (1969); African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1981).
The development of this normative framework was also supported by the creation of legal structures at national, regional and international level to provide the possibility of redress for citizens whose rights, protected under these treaties, had been violated. They would also need to meet the test of providing clear processes for appeal, and redress of grievances where rights are found to have been violated.
There’s no doubt that Uganda ratified and signed most of if not all of these chatters and declarations as earlier pointed out. It is therefore not only appalling but also disgusting how the same state violets human rights it is supposed to protect and uphold by law.
The continued reprehensible treatment of activists and opposition kingpins by the Ugandan police all justified by a guarantee of security is simply dictatorial and undirected since the best way to preserve security is through respect of human rights. The closure of some media houses and continued intimidation and ill treatment of journalists can never be justified by any kind of argument either.

Whereas I believe that the preservation of national security is the first responsibility of any government it would be disgraceful to believe that the government of Uganda would achieve this through denying her citizens the inherent human rights and dignity. Therefore even when the stakes are raised, governments should never put a priority on the preservation of security and public order through curtailing rights that they would otherwise respect.
Arguing that police acts to protect the right to life of the populace, the most basic human right of all is an absurdity too since it is only when bullets and teargas canisters are unleashed that we lose lives.
Even when there is a long historical tradition of human rights and liberties coming under strain during periods when national security is threatened by democracies that are otherwise strongly committed to human rights and the rule of law especially in wartime or when facing other widespread security threats, the situation is different in Uganda.
In Colombia, President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) made substantial progress in putting down an insurgency led by the FARC militia group and was however criticized by human rights groups for a series of alleged violations, including the government’s tolerance of right-wing paramilitaries. In Sri Lanka, President Rajapaksa put down the insurgency of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, despite the global criticism he received for violations of human rights and the laws of armed conflict.
President Kagame in Rwanda has justified limits on human rights including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly as necessary to promote the healing of Rwandan society after the genocide of 1994. Despite the criticism the decisions taken by these leaders were necessary at a time.
Uganda’s situation however no close to what these leaders were faced with is. These demonstrations, assemblies and movements are not armed dangerous and pose no reasonable threat to security to guarantee denial of fundamental human rights.
To many of us however, human rights are important in themselves; we believe that it is a fundamental principle of political morality that all people should be treated with respect for their inherent dignity, even when this leads to a slight increase in the security risk that our country faces. Also respecting human rights is good for national security, for instance because it is less likely to lead to the radicalization of minority groups and pressure groups a case in Uganda today.
Lastly to those in power now and those that will come later need to struggle to strike a balance between security and liberty since their importance is equally the same. Just like Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

CHRIS NKWATSIBWE
Human Rights activist

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of FES