Letter to the women of Uganda

greet you all, our dear mothers and daughters!

Many of you participated in the historic women’s march on Saturday. You deserve to be saluted for your courage, determination and fortitude in the face of attempts by the Uganda Police Force to stop you from exercising your inalienable right to free expression.

The police was of course caught offside giving a rather ridiculous explanation, if at any rate it can be called one, for why the ‘one-million women’s march’ could not be cleared to take place. Let me say a little about this before I return to the key message of this letter.

The police insisted there was no need to protest against rampant kidnaps and murder of especially women in and around Kampala. Reason? Apparently because security chiefs and the president had addressed the nation and explained the security state of affairs in the country, the answers had been given. No need to protest.

The letter by the inspector general of police to the organisers of the march was as laughable and shallow as you can find.

First, it is scarcely the business of the IGP or any police officer to determine whether citizens have valid grounds to want to exercise their freedom of expression and the right to assemble.

Even if the president had addressed parliament over the security situation in the country, the women who were planning to march may well have wanted to, among other things, express their dissatisfaction with the president’s explanation. In fact, neither the president nor the heads of security and police provided persuasive explanations to assure the public of safety and security.

Second, and even more critical, the police has no powers to grant citizens the permission to protest. Freedom of expression is a key fundamental human right whose exercise cannot be subjected to the power and control of any authority.

I am aware of the existence of the nefarious Public Order Management Act a law that sadly was engineered by two individuals who at the time were so powerful but have since fallen out of favour with the monster system they actively built: former prime minister Amama Mbabazi and former IGP Kale Kayihura.

But POMA is a draconian law that citizens reserve the right to defy. It cannot trump the constitution and many international covenants to which Uganda is a signatory.

I now return to the crux of this letter. Women make nations. They nurture families and sustain homes. They broker peace and build bridges in broken societies. I can go on and on. The point, though, is clear – a country facing deep crises like Uganda urgently needs its women to step forward.

The Saturday march is much laudable. But it shouldn’t end there. This needs to constitute the forging of a broader national movement, spearheaded by women, to reclaim our country from abuse and emasculation, to free Uganda from the vestiges of patriarchal excesses and the arrogance of masculinity.

The kidnap and murder of especially young women in recent months is grave and chilling. We should all be outraged and demand that the authorities arrest the situation.

The rampant murders, however, are only symptomatic of a larger social decay and state dysfunction. When the state is criminalised and politics is perverted, and when the basic social values are negated, you end up with runaway criminality, disregard for decency and collapse of belief in the common good.

We have an utterly broken political system with a ruler totally out of ideas to prudently manage the country, a bloated cabinet and parliament that are doing precious little to serve the needs and desires of the country.

At the societal level, we have been invaded by religious bigotry and cultural discomfiture. We have spiritual entrepreneurs with a free hand to mislead, misinform and divert especially young Ugandans from confronting the real issues we face.

In all the problems staring at us, it is unfortunate that a few women have actively abetted abuse of public institutions and contributed to the deepening of the political crisis afflicting the country.

Consider, for example, the role of women parliamentarians and members of cabinet in sustaining the creeping authoritarianism of General Museveni.

It is a sad recollection that in 2005 a small coterie of women superintended the bribery leading to the removal of presidential term limits, the first step in handing Uganda a life-presidency. Ten years later, a woman kick-started the process leading to the removal of presidential age-limit, the last remaining hurdle in confirming a life-presidency.

On the other hand, the vast majority of Uganda’s women have, I am afraid to say, abdicated as the country is run down the drain. Yet with your numbers and the capacity to disarm otherwise seemingly powerful men, it is you, the women of this country who can get Uganda out of the current mess.

This letter is an impassioned call to action, to lead the front and speak out and denounce the excesses of the rulers, the myriad injustices against all Ugandans, the blatant corruption and abuse of public trust, the social decay and destruction engulfing us.


The author is an assistant professor of political science at North Carolina State University.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd