Morning musings – Sufi style

I drank some saffron infused black tea for the first time today – and – my heart started singing “Alif, Allah chambay di booti, tey meray murshid mann vich lai hoo…” (loosely, My master has planted the fragrant seed of love in my heart… but technically “Alif” is the letter “A” and Allah, is well, Allah, um it’s deep) over and over again – totally mellowed me out – And while on the boda boda, my eyes closed and I thought to myself, in having questioned my identity is my identity and in having been away from home I have found my home.

I also thought about my dad cooking with small portions of saffron from a little tin, a true delicacy and something that seemed to come right from that place, the home place of mountains and qawwalis on the Rivers Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej, the home place of mountains and qawwalis on the shores of the Pacific. That is some powerful tea!

Enjoy this: https://khurramabbas.wordpress.com/2010/06/07/alif-allah-chambey-di-booty-arif-lohar-n-meesha-shafi/

And with that, I can go to an Access to Justice event I’ve been looking forward to!

‘Justice for All’ is not just a blue skies tag line, especially when rubber hits the road – Part 1

Last week I was invited, by the wonderful ICT Officer at my work to get into an idea – “a media road trip” –  an idea that turned out to be a white van (that I swear was modeled after a matatu, just cleaner and with seats that still had bounce) in which I spent four days with 7 to 8 journalists.

They came from Masaka in Central, west of Kampala.

We went to Tororo in the East.

We went to Lira in the North.

We went to Hoima in the North West.

I arrived home at 9:30pm on Friday, ordered a pizza and tossed and turned in my bed as my back ached from the hours on a maram road.

Why would I do such a thing – and why was it one of my best experiences in this, Uganda Trip #2?

Because we were all looking for stories – about innovations and challenges, about how justice, law and order looks like on the ground, stories like these:

And http://allafrica.com/stories/201604080068.html – In response to this article, by Anthony, which I can’t seem to size properly:

Legal Aid Policy Article

And http://allafrica.com/stories/201604120790.html – I’m not sure why this story about a judicial officer “Husband Snatching” gets online coverage, while Anthony’s story about a girl trying to compel her dad to pay her school fees doesn’t – it was in the print edition last week…go figure:

School girl article

And my first story is simply about the journalists themselves.

Ritah – She is the PR person for the judiciary.  She is always ready with her camera, taking an interview of a Chief Magistrate or the scene of a community baraza (a word for when a community comes together for a meeting) spreading news about Justice Centres Uganda.  She is elegant (well to the extent I could tell as she wore different colours of a “Small Claims Court” T-shirt), bold yet helpful and real – she didn’t ride with us most of the time, so I didn’t get to know her as well as the others.

Anthony – This relatively quiet member of the vehicle had a quick turn over in terms of articles – as in reading the paper the next day was a really neat experience for me – Yes, we had just been there and seen that!  He bought some passion fruits of a local variety and let us have a sampling – tangy yet sweet!

Patrick – This journalist is super knowledgeable, especially in irony – His go to tag-line for what we saw in each town we passed or stopped in, or even something along the way, was “This is steady progress.”  He brought the laughs out for us in one way or another – and yet he says he’s tired of the same old stories after about a decade and is planning to become a farmer!  No way – so much lost talent.

Phillip – This friendly guy knows about every single town around the country – as in where to sleep, eat and party.  I did use his Uganda Public Broadcasting mike to ask a few people on the streets of Soroti what they thought of their town and why people should visit Uganda.  A common response was “there’s peace”.  That’s telling…yet on the news that very night, Kasese was facing ongoing violence and tensions…Some publications are reporting 54 dead, post-elections, causes and attribution are still being debated in this week’s media.  Anyways, when it comes to Phillip, it cannot be forgotten that he went to the local trading centre in the middle of nowhere with me, and made sure the Chapati vendor made me a Rolex…He helped me get my own eggs and a tomato from across the street – After rice and beans and rice and beans, it was fabulous!

Eddie – This soft spoken journalist has a wicked amount of experience.  He was curious about what a girl like me might want from a suitor – When I said “brains and muscle” it seemed novel to him.  He likes to narrate sometimes but otherwise sat in the front and kept to himself. He told me and Anthony a story about a girl whose step-mother purposefully burned her, Aisha Nabukeera – He was the one who went for the story when a fellow journalist said she was too busy.  It still makes him smile to think she ran for Miss Uganda in 2015.  Check out her story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4stV_fltF1c (by the way, she was given the title of “Miss Rising Woman”).

Annette – This West Nile woman is tough and rocks the radio airwaves – She raised herself after her parents passed away and now works at the Ugandan Radio Network. She’s not going to publish a story right away, instead she thirsts for great content – the compelling story of a common person.  And she’s proud of where she comes from…that goes without saying.  We both watched a group of ants try to get a dead fly into their ant tunnel opening at one point – She compared their confusion and lack of clear strategy to Ugandans, likely based on lived experiences – she even tried to assist by using a stick to poke that fly into the hole – They just brought it right back out. It definitely made me laugh.

Ignatius – When I first entered the vehicle – this one didn’t even introduce himself or look at me.  I thought maybe he’s too proud because of being a BBC guy.  But later on, I even took a funny photo in his batik sweatshirt and we decided to meet up in Kampala – Go figure!  He knows like 10 different languages and is also going to work on his recordings and not publish right away.  Him and Annette had an ongoing rivalry with jabs back and forth – however, by the end of the trip, they seemed to have reconciled pretty well, over pork and chips at a Hoima spot.

Sheila – Only partially with us, yet another cool journalist.  She brought with her a book called “Diaries of A Dead African” by a Kenyan author that I found so depressing and aggravating that I had to put it down, despite not having anything else to do but look out the window. Ummm…I still want to finish reading it!

Last but not least – some pictures – to complete the story:

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Selfie with Edgar!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Annette – hee hee 🙂 – poser much?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now Ritah’s turn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Patrick – the last to emerge from our van!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anthony, Ignatius and Annette talking to some Justice Centre Uganda staff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More images to come of what we actually saw in my second story, about Legal Aid – until then!

Update – Bright people, sparks flying

Hi there,

I’m up pretty late and am sure it will be difficult to get up in the morning but I will for sure, as I am going to meet Professor Jim Gash!  Pepperdine University and the Ugandan Judiciary have a long-term supportive relationship that seems very beneficial – I’m sure find out more about it…For now, check out this story about his work in Uganda: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35106294.

In other news, I was able to meet a lot of neat members of the bar and have (or observe) deep, deep discussions on the development of Uganda, the legal sector and how it can be improved and a variety of other things at the pre-AGM cocktail party for the Uganda Law Society (ULS). The new President of the ULS, elected the next day by voting members (today), promised more connection between the ULS and its members and stronger mentorship structures for new lawyers.  It sounds quite promising and I’m very hopeful.

I also may be going on a road trip to check out different legal aid initiatives this week…For now, to a new selfie in my social media feed…just can’t guarantee my eyes will be open!

CTA Workshop - Cdn Presenters

p.s. This is an overdue photo of me with the “Canadian Technical Assistance” crew that participated in a 3 day conference on child justice for a selection of the Ugandan legal sector at the Lake Victoria Serena from March 21-23.  The hotel has grounds that are super beautiful and food worth gorging on and on, but I nevertheless felt they missed out on a venture into the Kampala night life or a ride on a boda-boda or a matatu –  some were staying on for a safari, so maybe they got a chance!

April 4, 2016 – The above-mentioned selfie – This man is efficient!

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Kony 2016 – 4 years later

As much as it was criticized, the brain child of one, two or three Californians – a mock presidential campaign title and a documentary that went viral, did bring significant attention to the human rights abuses of a warlord in Northern Uganda, particularly those he perpetrated against children.  The story of Invisible Children is an interesting read itself (see the 1st link at the bottom) and still forms part of the narrative of the tragedy… that hasn’t ended.

Indeed, Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (the LRA), continues to terrorize after fleeing Uganda in 2006 to South Sudan, where he and three of his officers, subject of the first-ever arrest warrants issued by the infant International Criminal Court (ICC) have been de facto harboured by an Islamic government which has not signed the Rome Statute, likely because it governs with genocidal atrocity itself. From there he has hopped around, with self-preserving instinct, to the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

An article in Vanity Fair from December 2006, entitled “Childhood’s End” (see the 2nd link at the bottom) describes his criminal profile:

Kony grew up in a Gulu Province village called Odek. He appointed himself the Lord’s anointed prophet for the Acholi people of northern Uganda in 1987, and by the mid-90s was receiving arms and cash from Sudan. He probably suffers from multiple-personality disorder, and he takes his dreams for prophecies. He goes into trances in which he speaks into a tape recorder and plays back the resulting words as commands. He has helped himself to about 50 captives as “wives,” claiming Old Testament authority for this (King Solomon had 700 spouses), often insisting—partly for biblical reasons and partly for the more banal reason of AIDS dread—that they be virgins. He used to anoint his followers with a holy oil mashed from indigenous shea-butter nuts, and now uses “holy water,” which he tells his little disciples will make them invulnerable to bullets. He has claimed to be able to turn stones into hand grenades, and many of his devotees say that they have seen him do it. He warns any child tempted to run away that the baptismal fluids are visible to him forever and thus they can always be found again. (He can also identify many of his “children” by the pattern of lashes that they earned while under his tender care.) Signs of his disapproval include the cutting off of lips, noses, and breasts in the villages he raids and, to deter informers, a padlock driven through the upper and lower lips.

Since 2011, about 100 US military advisers and special forces have been permanently deployed to help the African Union fight the LRA. After their arrival, Kony fled into the CAR. In the process, the force around him has steadily dwindled.It is estimated that today he may be down to around 100 armed fighters and accompanied by about 100 women and children.  The highest estimate is around 300 armed fighters.

The LRA, since it left Uganda, has targeted elephants in DRC’s Garamba National Park, which covers an area about half the size of the Haida Gwaii islands. In 2015, the park’s rangers fought 28 gun battles and killed 5 poachers, suffering the same number of dead.   It is suspected that Kony is keeping fighters supplied with ammunition via trading with the Sudanese military.  A January article in the Telegraph (see the 3rd link at the bottom) notes that Sasha Lezhnev,  Associate Director of the Enough Project, has urged governments to do more to “intercept alleged ivory containers in East Africa, the port of Mombasa, and the routes to the Middle East, Dubai and Asia.” I note that this project was launched in early 2007 by Gayle Smith (appointed the administrative head of USAID this past December) and John Prendergast (another notable American activist on Africa human rights issues) via the Center for American Progress, based in Washington, D.C. Mr. Lezhnev also wants to see a renewed media focus on Kony, where his vicious terrorizing of communities continues.

And late last year into this spring, the LRA rebels dramatically escalated their attacks. They abducting more than 200 people from CAR, including 54 children, in the first two months of this year.  The “LRA Crisis Tracker”, a tool borne out of Invisible Children, states that the LRA carried out twice as many raids in January and February 2016 alone as during the whole of 2015.  Some attacks also took place in the north of the DRC, close to the border with the CAR. The assaults followed the typical pattern of LRA raids, with fighters abducting children and looting villages of food, clothing and mobile phones.

Mr. Lezhnev adds “They’ve been weakened by the defection of one of their most senior commanders in January, Okot Odek, but the LRA retains a strong capacity to abduct more fighters and attack civilians.”  There is very little information on what is happening with these 54 children, but one can only imagine.

Back in Uganda, the stories continue to unravel and the healing will take generations.  I’ve heard of parents killed and children made to eat a stew of relatives and teachers they had beat to death as part of their initiation, among other things. In particular, there’s been a lot of attention around the case of Dominic Ongwen, first indicted in 2005 and sent to the ICC a year ago after surrendering to the US forces in CAR. He is the only member of Kony’s murderous army in custody and faces 70 charges including murder, rape, torture, forced marriage and using child soldiers stemming from attacks on refugee camps in Uganda in 2003 and 2004.  In the context of most child soldiers who were involved with the LRA being given amnesty by the Ugandan government, there is a lively debate regarding his moral culpability viewed through an international lens, as he is both a child victim and an adult offender.

In the meantime, it really shocks and aggravates me to know that the world, all of us, have chosen not to stop this rag-tag group of mentally deranged men from abducting more childhoods into the depths of darkness.

See:

  1. http://www.buzzfeed.com/jtes/two-years-after-kony-2012-has-invisible-children-grown-up#.cmPpy7ZOX
  2. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2006/01/hitchens200601
  3. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/joseph-kony/12182422/Joseph-Konys-LRA-abducts-scores-of-child-soldiers-in-new-wave-of-attacks.html
  4. http://europe.newsweek.com/joseph-kony-lords-resistance-army-child-soldiers-433360?rm=eu
  5. http://time.com/4186861/lra-kony-ongwen/

 

Girls just want to have fah-uh-un!

Edith Tina & Freda - A regular day in the JLOS office

No no, we are women and spend most of our time trying to (amicably) share internet and discuss what someone actually was intending to get from us and how we are going to go about getting it done.  Actually, my fellow interns probably would say they spend a fair amount of time answering a variety of personal and professional questions about the law, big & small “p” politics, culture and way too many other miscellaneous things.  And I’m sure they’ve heard a lot of deep sighs and thoughts about being hungry, thirsty, itchy, hot or mad at my laptop – particularly Windows 10.  They often get chances to be amused at my straight and narrow approach and interrogation of messiness in a world of making do with what you get.

Again and again, Ugandans say – workplace politics – they can be the beginning and end of you. People can stab you in the back with words you said or actions you took quite innocently. Thus, many people turn to being small scale entrepreneurs – independent.  It kind of makes me wonder – Nice to strangers, but not so nice to colleagues, really how can people ever be comfortably productive together if this is the generally accepted reality or the word on the street…Are we also like this in Canada? Was I lucky at former workplaces?

Well,  I seem to know many of the nice Ugandans and ones that can work together…but I am also not privy to the sinister machinations of never quite having enough and hustling to make a living for oneself and one’s dependents.  There is the quiet competitiveness for positions that are inevitably not based on merit…And I suppose that context can also kill the will to play fair among an otherwise decent person.  As an economically able person and a foreigner, somehow I have the ability to ‘escape’ my lot, a lot more and to not kowtow to the way things are. This does not mean that I play fair though, actually quite the contrary, it is hard not to take the implicit and explicit advantages you are given…even if they are not technically fair. And worse, you kind of covet them…maybe you even feel you deserve them.

Anyways – somehow I have the power to extricate myself from some rules of the game or at least I am led to believe that…I am probably being incoherent and inarticulate in trying to say something where there is a lot of nuance and grayness.  I will insert in here a quote from Sen or Nussbaum or some other development thinker later…It is getting dark and I must leave the office.

 

Yes, I’ve been arting around…

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Thanks to Jon B for a fun day a few weeks back – this ones definitely his style – I’m just learning to keep up and adding some finishing touches.  Today, by the way, I’m heading off to the AfriArt Gallery – where there is a Michael Hoi exhibition opening… And also, I found out that after Dakar, Kampala has the next most fun, ecclectic and obviously artsy Biennale on the continent…But unfortunately I won’t be here when it happens this year.

Check it all out:

http://afriartgallery.org/

http://www.afroart.us/michael-soi.html

http://theculturetrip.com/africa/uganda/articles/uganda-s-top-10-contemporary-artists-and-where-to-find-them/

http://kampalabiennale.org/

The mountain people & questionable anthropology

I went to dinner this week with an amazing friend who I hadn’t seen since I was last here, who runs a primary school with about 200 students in Gulu, day-in, day-out.  I guess I didn’t know a lot about the school, run under the auspices of the Family Care Foundation / Family Care Uganda  until we had a chat this time around, although I have wanted to go visit it (no, I still haven’t been to Gulu, site of much foreign stationing in the 1990s & early 2000s).  You can check it out: http://www.familycare.org/network/family-care-uganda/.

In any case, some of the students are from the Ik tribe and she mentioned something that I thought was intriguing and worth exploring.  She said that ever since a particular sociologist had written about the Ik, they had a bad wrap and that in Northern Uganda they were basically considered the lowest of the low, but she had spent time with their elders and now time with their children and found them very warm and bright – Completely not what others would have them portrayed as.

Indeed, in 1972, a British-American anthropologist, Colin Turnbull, published an ethnography about the Ik – The Mountain People. The book examined Ik culture and practices based on information he had gathered in 1965-1966.  The ethnography contrasted with his earlier work on the Mbuti pygmies in the Congo, with whom he had spent previous years, as his love of their appreciation of natural abundance and sense of community morphed into his detestation of the Ik, who were suffering from an acute drought and famine when he arrived to assess them.

I definitely want to read the book now…from what is available online, the Ik had to migrate up to the Morungole Mountains in the 1960s, after the areas they lived in were turned into a wildlife reserve by the Ugandan government. From what Turnbull described, they lived very individualistically and did harsh things to each other, like defecating on each others’ doorsteps and deserting children to fend for themselves once they were able to walk. Turnbull actually advised the Ugandan government, on the basis of his research findings, to disband the Ik through a military operation.  Later on, in the face of criticism, he kind of took that advice back.

Apparently, when Ik elders found out about the contents of the book, they were disturbed and the community became hesitant to allow any further, similar incursions by white researchers.  Some others have written about them subsequently, notably linguist Bernd Heine who, in 1985, noted observations at such variance to Turnbull’s that he said “at times I was under the impression that I was dealing with an entirely different people.”

Currently, the Ik are a small tribe of about 11,000 people that continue to struggle for survival and whose language is endangered. It appears that you can go visit them as a tourist. Here’s an article I found from the New Vision paper, written a few years ago: http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1330292/ik-tribe-beehives-bride-price

I find it interesting how we look at people and at peoples and how we feel emboldened to judge and to build narratives in which our own normative perspective gets masked (and yet is completely present). Yesterday, while sipping on wine, a friend casually said that she has found not a single Ugandan man attractive during her stay in this country, comparing their characteristics to the built and self-confident men in Western Africa as well as hardy and sophisticated European men.

For whatever reason, I kind of felt deflated by the commentary… The insinuation that reached me was that Ugandans were not even worth keeping company and, of course, I’ve been keeping a lot of Ugandan company. Despite my own annoyance at frequently being accosted by Ugandan men, not so artfully, on the basis of being a Mzungu woman, a foreign female, I felt some (misplaced perhaps) ownership.  I didn’t want to see things that way…Indeed, I want to value the intricacies of behaviour and beauty among the over 40 ethnic groups that inhabit this country, which run deeper than height, muscle mass and my less than 2 years’ worth of observations. For me, being amid ‘others’ is more about discovering and engaging with complexity than it is about ascertaining their visceral appeal or drawing grand moral conclusions.  It is an iterative process that doesn’t end and, even if it is daunting and disturbing to my ego, I have to be humble and open enough to see things differently and be fundamentally changed. Otherwise, I’m just staying at home.