In Uganda, the Prisons Service decries and worries about fatal prison overcrowding … again

In the past two months, the heads of Uganda’s prison system have discovered and decried the intense prison overcrowding in their own prisons. In October, the headline read, “Prisons worry over increased number of female inmates”. Today’s headline reads, “Prisons boss decries abuse of prisoners’ rights”. The abuse is overcrowding. Will this performative articulation of attention make any difference? If history is any guide … no. As of September 2023, Uganda’s prisons were the third most congested in the world, after the Republic of Congo and Haiti. Uganda’s prisons are at 367.4% of capacity. In 2021, Uganda’s prison density was 319%. From 2000 to 2020, year after year, Uganda’s prison population has grown. In 2000, the prisons were already at over-capacity. In 2005, two-thirds of Uganda’s 18,000 prisoners were awaiting trial. Some had been caged for years, for no reason other than not being able to post bond. Of the 18,000, prisoners, 5,000 were in Luzira, built in the 1950’s, designed for a capacity of 500. That’s ten people for every one person’s space. For years. In 2010, the prison system reported over 30,000 prisoners, of whom a little over 1,000 were women. In March 2010, Luzira Upper was at 366% of approved capacity; Luzira Women’s at 357%. In 2013, members of civil society called on the State to “exempt women offenders with babies and expectant mothers from long custodial sentences”. At that time, 161 children of women prisoners were guests of the Ugandan State. In March 2012, Luzira Women’s Prison was at 357% capacity. In October 2016, Uganda’s notoriously overcrowded prisons recorded an occupancy rate of 293%, more than half of whom were pre-trial or remand prisoners.

It’s a bit late to be `discovering’ the problem. It has been there all along, in plain sight and fully documented. What’s going on? The State agencies have a simple answer: too many remand prisoners. What’s really going on? At the very least, the problem is no problem at all. Heads of prison staff routinely discover the overcrowding, lament the overcrowding, explain the overcrowding, and then do absolutely nothing.

According to the Commissioner General of the Uganda Prison Service, Can. Dr. Johnson Omuhunde Rwashote Byabashaija, in the last ten years, there has been a 125% increase in the number of incarcerated women, from 1591 in 2013 to 3585 today. The Commissioner’s response? “We have a policy that all women are entitled to beds. We might not be meeting it but that is our policy. Even when they are in prison, they are mothers of the nation. We can’t handle them the way we handle the other inmates. It is very terrible to see mothers congested, mothers need a lot of space to accommodate the children and themselves.” We might not be meeting the policy, but we definitely do have a policy, and so it’s fine.

This week Assistant Commissioner General of Prisons Samuel Akena explained, in a similar vein, “It is not fair for you to claim that I am responsible for poor food, poor housing, or poor clothing. Our responsibility is to ensure that the human rights of these people are observed. Congestion is caused by remand. The capacity I have is only for 20,000 prisoners, but we have 77,089 as of today.” We have a policy that says that our responsibility is to ensure human rights. We have a policy, which we might not be meeting, ok, we’re not meeting, but we have a policy … and so it’s fine.

It’s not fine. It’s not fine to discover, year in and year out, the violations and the violence that ensues therefrom. It’s not fine to continually discover the dangerous to fatal conditions to which so many are condemned, more often than not because they can’t post bail, and then claim the articulation of a policy bathes individuals and institutions of any guilt. A policy without implementation is no policy at all, in fact it’s worse than no policy. What will be discovered next year? This year, the occasion of the Assistant General’s remarks was the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 5 of that Declaration reads, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” We have a policy. We might not be meeting it.

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Karim Mantra / Unsplash)

Uganda’s pogrom: Arise and go now to the Nation of Slaughter. Do you not hear?

Terror floating near the rafters, terror
Against the walls in darkness hiding,
Terror through the silence sliding.
Did you not hear beneath the heap of wheels
A stirring of crushed limbs?

            Hayyim Nachman Bialik, “In the City of Slaughter

On March 21, Uganda’s Parliament passed, by an overwhelmingly majority, an anti-LGBTQ+ which “make homosexual acts punishable by death”. President Museveni sent it back to the legislature, asking for reconsideration. This bill was already a `reconsideration’ of an earlier bill, which had been struck down by the Constitutional Court on procedural grounds. That was 2014. The 2014 bill was a reconsideration of a bill first proposed in 2009. It’s now 2023, and for the past nine years, legislators have been pushing various versions of this bill. Today, May 29, it was announced that the President had signed the bill into law. To be clear, “making homosexual acts punishable by death” is to make love punishable by death. Equally, it is to declare not only a war on those deemed vulnerable but a reign of terror on the LGBTQ+ communities and on the population at large. The death penalty is reserved for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality,” a term loosely defined … intentionally. This is what a pogrom looks like because this is a pogrom.

Activists – including Sylvia Tamale, Frank Mugisha, Jacqueline Nabagasera Kasha and others – have petitioned the Constitutional Court to halt the law’s implementation. The United States revoked the visa of the Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among. Otherwise there’s been what’s referred to as an `outcry’ and `outrage’ against the legislation, but not much substantive action. Again, this law has been coming, in plain sight, since 2009. The only question has been the exact form it might take. No one and no country can claim surprise. So, where is the international community?

Chișinău is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Moldova. Moldova was once Bessarabia, a part of the Russian Empire. At that time, Chișinău was called Kishinev. While Bessarabia was part of the Russian Empire, its culture and economies were more open than much of the empire, and so it became a place to which Jews migrated. By 1897, 46% of those living in Kishinev were Jewish. Meanwhile, the Russian Empire was organizing pogroms across its expanse. In April 1903, the infamous Kishinev Pogrom occurred. In 1905, another pogrom.

In 1904, Hayyim Nachman Bialik wrote a poem, translated as “In the City of Slaughter,” in which he imagines the events and meaning of the 1904 Kishinev Pogrom. The poem begins, “Arise and go now to the city of slaughter”. The poem is instructive, in many ways, one of which is how to respond to pogrom taking place today in Uganda. Bialik understood the horrors and atrocities of the pogrom and understand as well that the reader must understand their own responsibility. Arise and go now to the city of slaughter. Did you not hear beneath the heap of wheels a stirring of crushed limbs? Outrage and outcry will not do, especially when this pogrom, like all pogroms, did not come out of the blue but rather took shape in public over years. Arise and go now to the nation of slaughter. Did you not hear … ? Do you not hear … terror floating near the rafters, terror against the walls in darkness hiding, terror through the silence sliding?

(By Dan Moshenberg)

(Image Credit: Guillermo Kuitca, “Untitled” / Jewish Museum)

Stella Nyanzi: “Teach the nation poetry” #FreeStellaNyanzi

Stella Nyanzi

On Thursday, February 20, Ugandan queer and women’s rights feminist activist and founder of the Pads4girlscampaign Stella Nyanzi walked out of Luzira Maximum Security Prison for Women, after having served fifteen months of an eighteen-month sentence. Stella Nyanzi had a question: “Why was I in court for all these months? Why is the current regime of Uganda oppressing Ugandans who are expressing their constitutional rights? I am the voice for the opposition of Uganda. Museveni must go. Yoweri Museveni you are on notice. I give you notice, Museveni. You can do whatever you want. We are ready for you, Museveni. We are tired. Stop oppressing Ugandans. It’s important for us the opposition to find bases of unity that are going to help us in our solidarity against the current regime. Why was I in prison because I wrote a poem? Because I expressed my deep disinterests and disgust of the NRM [National Resistance Movement] regime? Is it because I told the current illegal president of Uganda that I really want him to go? Museveni is sending so many opposition activists to prisons – for what?” 

In 2017, when Stella Nyanzi spent 33 days in prison for a Facebook post, we asked “Where is the global outrage at Uganda’s abuse of Stella Nyanzi?” We continue to ask. Stella Nyanzi was able to walk out of prison because a judge ruled that her earlier trial was improper and improperly conducted, because thousands of supporters inside Uganda and some outside rallied, and because Stella Nyanzi refused to submit. While inside, she organized, protested, wrote poems, shared insights, worked towards freedom. As she did upon leaving Luzira, every day Stella Nyanzi posed the questions, and the crisis, of freedom, equality, justice, for all and in particular for women. 

Now that Stella Nyanzi is out of prison, and who knows how long that will last, now, as before, is the time for organizing. People should write to their newspapers and call in to their radio stations and make sure the word gets out and around. Those who teach should teach … teach the story and lessons and name of Stella Nyanzi. Those who read should read … read the words Stella Nyanzi has written, listen to her speeches, and share them. And those who hear and listen and read and share must (learn to) write poetry. 

While in Luzira women’s prison, Stella Nyanzi wrote poems which have been collected in a volume, entitled No Roses from My Mouth: Poems from Prison, available here. Here’s one:


Teach the nation poetry. 
Deployments of anti-riot police 
Cannot shoot tear-gas at rhymes 
Nor disperse the rhythm of our poems. 

Teach the nation poetry. 
Forgotten masses will pack our pain in stanzas 
That will pierce the core of the tyranny.
Raw poems hit harder than your platitudes. 

Teach the nation poetry. 
Handcuffs cannot contain the potency of poems. 
Arrest warrants cannot disappear memorised verse 
Poetry can never be detained in gaol. 

Teach the nation poetry. 
Investigating detectives and crime solvers 
Cannot decipher metaphors, similes or symbols 
Their charge sheets will never make sense. 

Teach the nation poetry. 
To write, recite and interpret it.
Poems of the oppressed will oppress the oppressor. 
Poems will transport us to freedom.

Poems of the oppressed will oppress the oppressor; poems will transport us to freedom. Teach the nation poetry … to write, recite and interpret. #FreeStellaNyanzi



(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Reuters) (Image Credit: Brittle Paper)

Stella Nyanzi: “I will speak to dictators even if it means speaking in the language of vaginas”

Today the Magistrate Court by Gladys Kamasanyu found Dr Stella Nyanzi guilty of cyber harassment but innocent of offensive communication. It’s been a twisted trial and the judgment was postponed to tomorrow after 2 hours of waiting for her to come to court. What gave me life is defiantly speaking Stella Nyanzi. Here are snippets which might have been edited out of your news.

“I could talk about my children because very many mothers would say, ‘Oh I have children who are minors, please don’t send me to jail’. Your honour, I will not say that. My children celebrate my virtuous action. My children are protesters I have trained them to freely express themselves. My children are taken care of by Ugandans who believe in ideals that espouse. 

“I will sacrifice motherhood to whatever altar I have to sacrifice motherhood to…I was born for this moment. I will speak to dictators even if it means speaking in the language of vaginas.

“I am disappointed that you don’t find me guilty of offending the president. I plan to offend Yoweri Museveni Kaguta because he has offended us. Find me guilty of offending the dictator. I planned to offend Yoweri Museveni Kaguta because he has offended us for 30 plus years. Find me guilty of cyber harassment, find me guilty of anything else, but please find me guilty of offensive communication against Yoweri Museveni Kaguta. Find me guilty of offending Yoweri Museveni Kaguta because that’s what series of mothers in Uganda should be doing. We are tired of the dictatorship.

“I paid for my freedom of expression. I don’t repent for anything. I celebrate that one woman was bold enough to deploy a dead woman’s vagina. Send me to Luzira if my crime is to have told a dirty delinquent dictator that he is a dictator and that Ugandans are tired. And I wish his mother’s vagina had squeezed him out.

“You say I am giving young people poison instead of food, giving them stones instead of bread, but the youth want to use their voices and speak whatever they have to speak. How do we teach young people in Uganda to remain silent, your honour?

“The internet must be protected. The public media has been silenced. How many of us can afford OTT. I use a weapon that I paid for and I will not allow the dictatorship to tell me what words to say to the dictatorship. If it is a dirty vagina that gets the attention of the dictatorship, emana ewunyawunya ejjakukola (the dirty vagina will work). I don’t beg for forgiveness. I don’t beg for lenience. I will survive.”


(Photo Credit:  Mail & Guardian / Reuters / James Akena )

Why does England hate Ugandan lesbian asylum seeker Lazia Nabbanja? #SetHerFree

Why does England hate Ugandan lesbian asylum seeker Lazia Nabbanja? For that matter, why has England hated Ugandan lesbian asylum seekers Brenda Namigadde, Jackie Nanyonjo, Betty Tibikawa, Anne Nasozzi and so many others? Why has England invested so much time, energy, resources into torturing these women who have already been tortured by their families, neighbors and the State? Why does England continue to subject lesbian asylum seekers to the degradations and humiliations of the society of the queer spectacle? What threat do these Black lesbian women pose to the security of England and Wales? Today, Lazia Nabbanja, just another Ugandan lesbian asylum seeker, sits in Yarl’s Wood awaiting deportation. Why?

Lazia Nabbanja’s story is all too familiar. In 2009, Lazia Nabbanja’s family forced her to marry a man. Seven years later he discovered her with her girlfriend. He beat her and left her unconscious. She fled, first to her grandparents’ house and then to the United Kingdom, where she applied for asylum. In England, Home Affairs decided that Lazia Nabbanja is not sufficiently lesbian to warrant asylum and sent her to Yarl’s Wood. Lazia Nabbanja’s story is all too familiar.

Despite Lazia Nabbanja’s story, including photos, being spread across Ugandan media, Home Affairs claims that she would not be in danger if she returned “home.” Again, Lazia Nabbanja’s story is all too familiar. This is the story of Brenda Namigadde, Jackie Nanyonjo, Betty Tibikawa, Anne Nasozzi, and now Lazia Nabbanja.

An online petition is circulating: URGENT: STOP THE REMOVAL OF LAZIA NABBANJA (A LESBIAN WOMAN) TO UGANDA. Please consider signing it. Consider, as well, the urgency of this question: Why does England hate Lazia Nabbanja?


(Photo Credit: The Independent / The Petition Site)

Stop sending mothers and children to prison!

Today in Uganda, a leading headline reads, “24 children in prison with their mothers”. The article opens, “About 24 children are locked up in the seven prisons of Lira, Oyam, Kole, Alebtong, Otuke, Apac and Dokolo districts with their only crime being born to mothers suspected of breaking the law. Currently, there are 228 female inmates in the seven prisons.” The article concludes, “The prison population in Uganda is said to be growing at a 10 per cent rate annually. Currently, there are 284 children living with their mothers in 21 female prisons.” While Uganda’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded, with a recorded occupancy rate of 293% as of October 2016, more than half of whom are pre-trial or remand prisoners, the situation of mothers and children in prison is a global phenomenon. The global gulag has produced a global prison crèche and nursery. Children are the future.

While the issue of mothers behind bars has garnered increased attention, as witness this year’s Mother’s Day National Mama’s Bail Out Day campaign, the ever increasing global population of mothers with children in prison has not. In Uganda, the population of mothers incarcerated with children has grown steadily for the last ten years. According to the Turkish government, 560 children are in Turkish prisons along with their mothers. The children age just born to six years old. In 2014, 334 children were living with their mothers in Turkish prisons. Incarcerating innocent children is a major growth industry. In Kenya, hundreds of children under four live with their mothers in prison; in Bolivia over 1000 children do. In Cambodia, two years ago, the Prime Minister wanted to find a “solution” to children in prison with their mothers. Thus far, none has been found. Quite the opposite.

Around the world, where do children live? Increasingly, in prison. In 2008, the International Centre for Prison Studies reported that the following countries kept mothers and children together … in prison: England and Wales; Australia; Brazil; Canada; Denmark; Finland; Germany; Greece; Italy; Netherlands; New Zealand; Russia; Sweden; Switzerland; and the United States. Spain kept mothers and children together in “family” cells. No information was available for France, Japan, or, curiously Turkey. Of the 20 nation-states surveyed, only Norway said, NO.

In 2014, the Law Library of Congress’s Laws on Children Residing with Parents in Prison expanded the survey to 97 countries. Here’s their list of those who keep mothers and children together in prison: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Burma/Myanmar, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, England and Wales, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Libya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe. From A to Z, babies behind bars are everywhere.

None of this is surprising. Skyrocketing rates of incarceration for women, and especially younger women, means incarcerating more and more infants and children.

But it’s not inevitable: “Norway does not allow children to stay with their parents in prison. Instead, a new mother is housed outside of the penitentiary in a mødrehjem (home for mothers) until her child is old enough to be separated from her, generally around nine months of age. Mothers with young children and short sentences may serve their entire sentence at the home for mothers …. In general, the Norwegian prison policy reserves prison sentences for the most heinous crimes and attempts to avoid sentencing criminals to prison. Courts have also chosen to transform certain sentences from prison sentences to community service, generally in cases where mothers are convicted of drug offenses but have since been drug free and are caring for a small child. At the start of 2012, 255 women were incarcerated in Norway, of whom 187 were serving out the sentence in an alternative institution.”

Norway is taking this approach beyond its border, funding, for example, an `open prison’ for women and children in Lithuania. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step.

The State alibi for caging innocent children is the good of the child. What does that say about the world outside the prison, if the best place for an infant or young child is behind bars? What is justice, if sending a child to prison is fine and dandy, no matter how minor or negligible the mother’s so-called offense? Want to keep children out of prisons and jails? Imagine a world in which close to 75% of women convicted of criminal offense do not end up in prison. Imagine Norway.

(Photo Credit: Daily Monitor / Bill Oketch)

Where is the global outrage at Uganda’s abuse of Stella Nyanzi? #FreeStellaNyanzi

On Friday, April 7, Ugandan queer and women’s rights feminist activist and founder of the Pads4girls campaign Stella Nyanzi was arrested for a Facebook post in which she referred to Uganda’s President Yoweri Muzeveni as a “pair of buttocks.” For that, Stella Nyanzi was charged with cyber harassment and infringing on the President’s freedom of speech and expression. Formally charged on April 10, Stella Nyanzi was promptly transported to Luzira Maximum Security Prison, where she awaits her trial, April 25. Stella Nyanzi’s Facebook post was part of an ongoing campaign to get the President and his Minister of Education, Janet Museveni, also the First Lady, to live up to their election campaign promises to create real budget lines for sanitary napkins for school girls. To no one’s surprise, once the election season was over, the promises disappeared into a welter of budgetary fog. The surprise was Stella Nyanzi, who decided that this was unacceptable and took up the gauntlet. Since being dumped in prison, the government has tried to force Stella Nyanzi to undergo psychiatric examinations, which she has resisted. There was no mad woman in the attic in Amherst, and there is no mad woman in that prison cell in Luzira, but there is a woman in Luzira who is righteously furious. As Ugandans have noted, Stella Nyanzi’s treatment is an abuse of everybody’s freedom and should be worrying everyone … and not only in Uganda, but does it? Where is the global outrage at Uganda’s abuse Stella Nyanzi? Somewhere just below the global outrage at the lack of concern for school going girls.

Since Stella Nyanzi’s arrest, and for weeks before, the Ugandan press has been awash with news reports, analyses, commentaries and general commentary. Beyond Uganda, however, the formal press has been fairly quiet. Usual suspects, such as Amnesty, have mobilized, and supporters have organized an on-line #FreeStellaNyanzi campaign. But the news media itself has treated the whole affair as one-off. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, the BBC, the Mail & Guardian have each, respectively, run one original article on the situation, relying on Reuters and AP for anything else. Al Jazeera has run three, mostly made up of other sources but also their own. Just today, The East African finally caught up with Stella Nyanzi.

While there is a personal drama taking place among Stella Nyanzi and Uganda’s First Family, the imprisonment and subsequent attempt at a psychiatric analysis should worry everyone. In Uganda, supporters, and even detractors, understand that the arrest and imprisonment of Stella Nyanzi threatens to criminalize speech, expression and thought. They understand that as a violation of the 1995 Constitution. The attempt to force a psychiatric examination on Stella Nyanzi was `justified’ by the Mental Treatment Act, “inherited from … colonial masters at a time where persons with mental disabilities were looked at by the law as of no value, with no place in the community. They were seen as ‘objects’ whose only place was a mental asylum where they would be subjected to perpetual suffering. Persons with mental disabilities were, at all times, considered dangerous to themselves and the community.” The application of the Mental Treatment Act against Stella Nyanzi is worrisome because it is an abuse of Stella Nyanzi’s rights and person, and, equally, because it is an attempt to return Uganda to colonial days. By applying the Mental Treatment Act to control and suppress Stella Nyanzi, the State hopes to make Uganda great again. From Uganda to the United States, the line is short and direct.

The general global news media quiet concerning Stella Nyanzi is itself disquieting. The politics of enforced silence takes many forms in many places. We should hear more from the news media concerning Stella Nyanzi, as well as the conditions of girls going to school, of women in prison, of free speech and expression, and of the right for women to be mad. What happens to Stella Nyanzi happens to all of us. For some, “Stella Nyanzi is a hero to hundreds and thousands of little girls and women who know where she is coming from, in terms of defending women’s rights to sanitary towels.” While Stella Nyanzi is both hero and champion, her circumstances are altogether ordinary, and not just in Uganda. Don’t wait until April 25 to see what happens, because it’s already happening. #FreeStellaNyanzi

(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian / Reuters / James Akena)

In Uganda, women say NO! to bride price violence against women


Women celebrate court ruling

Women celebrate court ruling

Yesterday, Uganda’s Supreme Court ruled that refunding a bride price when customary marriages end is unconstitutional and should be banned: “Refund of the bride price connotes that a woman is on loan and can be returned and money recovered. This compromises the dignity of a woman.” The judges unanimously agreed that referring to bridal gifts as bride price reduces its significance to market value. On the other hand, the judges decided that bride price itself is not (yet) unconstitutional. This victory for women’s rights, power and dignity emerges from the persistent organizing work of MIFUMI, a Uganda based women’s organization that, since its establishment in 1994, has focused on domestic violence and bride price, which, they argue, is a form of structural domestic violence.

In 2004 MIFUMI organized the first international conference on bride price, which produced the International Kampala Declaration on Bride Price. The Ugandan government responded by saying bride price belongs to customary laws and courts.

Undeterred, in 2007, MIFUMI petitioned Uganda’s Constitutional Court, seeking to have “bride prices” declared unconstitutional: “The payment of bride price by men for their wives as demanded by custom from several tribes in Uganda leads men to treat their women as mere possessions from whom maximum obedience is extracted, thus perpetuating conditions of inequality between men and women”. In 2010, the Constitutional Court overwhelming rejected MIFUMI’s petition. MIFUMI appealed to the Supreme Court.

In 2011, leading Ugandan feminist jurist Sylvia Tamale noted, “Strategic action litigation in the area of gender and sexuality is … in its infancy … Its process is brutal and controversial. Most women’s rights NGOs that engage this strategy take their cases to mainstream lawyers due to limited capacity and the fact that most female lawyers shy away from overly aggressive lawyering. This means that lawyers who argue such cases in court lack the requisite empathy with feminist issues and methods … This, for example, happened in the recent Ugandan case of Mifumi (U) Ltd. & 12 Others v. Attorney General & Another (Const. Petition No. 12 of 2010) where the women’s rights NGO, Mifumi unsuccessfully challenged the traditional practice of bridewealth, associating it with domestic violence. Instead of directly challenging the deeply entrenched practice per se, perhaps it may have been more strategic to focus on and argue against its oppressive aspect that requires a wife to `reimburse’ bride price in full in order to gain divorce from her abusive husband.”

A mere four years later, and here’s MIFUMI again, one step closer to full abolition. Leah Nabunnya, a spokeswoman for MIFUMI declared, “The court’s pronouncement is a win for us.” Solomy Awiidi, a legal officer with MIFUMI, agreed, “There are fathers and brothers of brides facing civil suit because they failed to return the bride price, while thousand if not millions of women across the country who have been abused because of failure to refund the bride price. This ruling will liberate many of them.” MIFUMI Director for Communications Evelyn Schiller added, “Women are no longer going to be chained in abusive marriages. They have been given a choice. This court declaration means that women can escape from a marriage if it is abusive without fear that I have to refund the price that was paid for me 20 years ago or that my father and brothers will pay the repercussions for this if I leave this marriage.”

Atika Turner, Executive Director of MIFUMI, concluded: “A woman is turned into an object that is not taken into account during those discussions, she does not have a say in how much is paid. The man feels he is entitled to his wife’s obedience, reproductive capacity and labor. So anytime she resists his demands, he feels he is entitled to mistreat her and this forces many women to endure violence.”

Yesterday’s court decision in Uganda demonstrates the real potential for women’s material liberation everywhere. Women are organizing in the streets, households, courts, conference halls, legislatures, and beyond. Undeterred by impediments, they study the situation, analyze the defeats, and hone their tools and weapons. Thanks to MIFUMI and their sisters everywhere, the struggle continues!


(Photo Credit: United in Beauty)

In Uganda, women smallholder farmers say NO! to palm oil plantation violence

Mangdelena Nakamya, once a proud farmer, now lives on church land

Mariam Nakteeko, Rose Nantume, and Magdalenea Nakamya grew up on Bugala Island, in Kalangala District, on Lake Victoria, Uganda. They farmed, tended to their families, prepared for the future, and supported their community of farmers and fisherfolk. They lived on land that had been family land for generations. That was until two giants – Wilmar International and Bidco Africa – decided to turn the island’s diverse environment into a monoculture palm oil plantation.

Kenya-based Bidco Africa boasts, “We exist to serve daily consumer needs to enhance Happy Healthy Living by Branding, Transforming and Distributing the goodness of Mother Nature.” Singaporean-based Wilmar promises, “Wilmar remains a firm advocate of sustainable growth and is committed to its role as a responsible corporate citizen.” What could go wrong?

Everything. Ask the women.

From its 2005 launch, the project has reeked of corruption, refusal to consult, and the ordinary violence that accompanies mass dislocation. In 2009, local residents and environmental activists documented widespread illegal forest clearing and use of fertilizers. Beatrice Anywar, then-shadow environment minister, explained, ”We are replacing natural forests with palm trees and this is bad for our country. But this goes on because the investors have the backing of the president. They don’t listen. We should begin listening to scientists because we are already witnessing floods and severe droughts.” The president himself agreed, “I invited the investors to start this project here, though some people wanted to block it because they wanted to protect butterflies instead of development. But butterflies can go and live elsewhere.”

Butterflies can go and live somewhere else. So can people, apparently.

In July 2011, 64-year-old farmer Magdalena Nakamya owned and farmed seven acres. One morning, four years ago almost to the day, Magdalena Nakamya awoke to find “yellow machines” turning up her land and razing her crops: “No one came to talk to me before they destroyed my crops. I heard that some people were given money, but I didn’t receive anything.” In February 2015, she joined a hundred other local displaced farmers in a lawsuit for restitution and compensation. The farmers talk of land and money, but when you look into their eyes, the struggle is the restoration of their dignity.

Rose Nantume’s family farmed 40 acres. She was saving to build a new home, and had already laid the foundation when the bulldozers came and took everything away. Now her family of ten live in a two-room shack: “Bidco took our land but paid nothing at all. The situation we’re in is so bad. Our house is in a bad condition and our children cannot study because there’s no money. We thought the money from our gardens would help us but ever since the land was taken, our situation is very difficult.”

Mariam Nakteeko explains what happens when the men are forced to leave: “Our husbands had to leave us to find work elsewhere. After we lost our land, we have nothing, not even enough food.”

Kalangala farmers are working with the National Association of Professional Environementalists, NAPE, and Friends of the Earth – Uganda, to reclaim their land, lives and dignity.

Meanwhile, Wilmar claims everything is fine, no one was coerced into taking money, and no one was evicted. How could they have been when Wilmar has had a clear No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation Policy since 2013? Surely, they say, these women are delusional, except they don’t even say that. Why would they? It’s just smallholder women farmers on some island in the middle of Lake Victoria, and hey, they got a ferry out of the deal.


(Photo Credit: Alon Mwesigwa / The Guardian) (Video Credit: YouTube / Nape Uganda)

Amid the Stench of Human Feces, Ugandan Prisoners Earn Diplomas and Assist Peers

Susan Kigula and Pascal Nakuru graduate

With 42,000 prisoners and an official capacity of 16,000, Ugandan prisons are the most congested in East Africa and the 9th most overcrowded in the world, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies. These prisons are not only severely over-capacitated, but also have poor infrastructure and sanitation. Inmates are often denied a mattress or bedding, running water, electricity, adequate meals, and health care. As of last week, 40 prisons in Uganda still use the “bucket system,” which requires inmates to relieve themselves in a bucket during the night. The combination of stagnant urine and fecal matter in an overcrowded cell causes unhygienic conditions and a breeding ground for disease.

Many blame the country’s inefficient criminal justice system that fails to process cases in a timely manner, causing a severe backlog of cases. According to Human Rights Watch, “It’s clear that overcrowding and pretrial detention are interlinked.” In Uganda, 55% of inmates are on remand, meaning they are arrested and detained without having a trial. Many have never been convicted of an offense or sentenced to serve prison time. Some wait years or even decades in custody for their cases to be heard in court.

Uganda’s former Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki stated, “There is no doubt that [the case backlog] violates the right to a fair and timely trial, especially for the poor and marginalized, who spend their hard-earned resources [on legal support] only to be told that their cases cannot be heard.” More than 90% of prisoners have no legal representation and must defend themselves, despite the fact that the Ugandan constitution guarantees every citizen the right to a state attorney.

Yet, Susan Kigula and two other inmates at Luzira Maximum security prison in Kampala are now qualified to help their fellow prisoners navigate the Ugandan legal system. The three inmates were the first ever in the country to earn a Diploma in Common Law from the University of London while incarcerated, studying through a correspondence course supported by the African Prisons Project. Kigula intends to use her degree to provide legal counseling and assistance to her peers.

A survey of Ugandans found that only 0.3% were aware that they had the right to a fair and speedy trial. While Kigula and her fellow graduates now possess the knowledge to raise awareness about basic human rights in prison, more needs to be done. Today, there are 23,000 people held in pre-trial detention in Uganda’s prisons. They cannot demand a timely trial or a state attorney if they do not know that they deserve one.


(Photo Credit: KonnectAfrica)