Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Living Fully

In moments of introspection I try to discern what motivates me to live life as I have lived it and continue to live it. The drive that has seen me skip from job to job, career to career, country to country is still with me. Sometimes I was motivated to search for better opportunities and other times I was motivated to move on for lack of opportunity. I never feared to leave everything I knew and take a chance on something totally unknown. I do not cling to the past and the present to the detriment of the future and often marvel at people who stick to their long-term plans, people with ‘staying power.’ I know people who have pursued the same career for 30 years and have no thought of leaving until they retire; mothers who have decided that raising their children is the only occupation they will pursue until their children are fully independent; wives who stick with their spouses through thick and thin even when the ‘thin’ part spreads out for a much longer period than the ‘thick!’ I admire them a lot but I also know that I could never be who they are. In fact I gave up trying to be those people long ago when I realized how depressed I am by a static, predictable life. I am bored by predictability to the point that even today I have little use for a journal although I buy a beautifully bound one every year, religiously; so that it can sit beautifully on my desk or be pulled out impressively from my purse – but it is mostly empty. As I get older I find that I forget the names of people and places but it is difficult to forget experiences and for those I do not need a diary.

Am not as surprised by the ability of others to stay the course of their chosen lives as I am by how life presents them with the opportunity to remain put. My course has been challenging and unpredictable and I live on the edge, excited that I really never know what I will be doing or where I will be living in a couple of years and guess what? It does not matter, nor does it bother me. Perhaps that is why working as an international civil servant seems to suit me perfectly these days because it is purposed for wandering spirits such as mine that do not mind living out of a suitcase or not knowing where their next journey might take them.

It was never a matter of staying the course. It remains for me, a matter of learning to steer whatever new course I find myself on, even when the destination is unclear. Many times young people come to me seeking advice about their careers and relationships and I want to chuckle at their questions: ‘Why did you choose to be a single mother? Why did you give birth at 19? Why did you leave Uganda?’ ‘Why did you return to Uganda?’ ‘Why, why, why?’ Do not be misled to believe that I planned any of this simply because I have given you an account of my first 50 years. In fact many times my impulsive nature has been a curse that has led me to places that I would rather not have gone. But having found myself in those places I simply did not give up. My impulse may have led me off course but I know that with time, reason will seep through the fog and guided by an indestructible will, I shall steer back in the general direction of where I want to go, when the tide turns in my favor. I simply do not give up. I know in the innermost place of my being that I can lift myself up and allow reason to guide me to a better place than where impulse misled me – if I try.

So you see my strength is not in charting the course, rather it is in steering my way on the course that life has thrust on me. I may not have chosen the circumstances in which I often find myself but I take the circumstances that chance has thrown at me and work with them to quieten the storm around me focused on moving along, forward. So do not ask ‘why’ I made a poor choice because if you want a useful answer then ask ‘how’ I steered my way out of the places where bad choices led me. Ask me how I got up after I fell. ‘How did I manage to complete my education as a single mother?’ ‘How did I manage to keep my head over water while living in poverty?’ ‘How am I managing widowhood and raising orphans on my own.’ And like the old woman I met on the beautiful island of Barbados I may have many mistakes in my past and surely there will be more in my future but they do not go to waste. I take chances, I reach higher, I try to fly and many times I fall but nonetheless I stack up on experiences and share them with others, for whatever is learned from any experience that is not shared is surely wasted.

At 50 I refuse to give up on life, hope and the pursuit of happiness because I see how self-pity can be as dangerous as self-righteousness. Those who believe they can achieve nothing are just as tedious as those who think they can achieve anything.

celebrating life

Saturday, August 15, 2015


I try to remind my children every now and then that this is not a dress rehearsal. This is real, this is it and this is all we have. And guess what? YOLO is not just smart slang, it is a true and an unavoidable fact that ‘You Only Live Once.’ Nothing puts our mortality into sharp focus like the loss of a loved one. We all know that we will die some day; but while we may accept our mortality we have also trained ourselves not to focus on morbid thoughts of our impending death so that we may be able to live this life fully. But there is a thin line between living life fully and living in denial of our eventual demise. So we go about our daily routines living as though we will never die. The illusion of immortality is even more apparent in the youthful years when we live so recklessly in the firm belief that we still have so many years ahead to ‘settle down’ and do the right thing. When we are young we think we are invincible and even the death of our young peers in the early years does not seem to jolt us back to reality. 
While living in the United States and counting every penny I often used web based financial calculators to find out how I might manage my debt and how I might lower my monthly payments and save some money. While exploring different calculators, I found out that car insurance companies charge a higher premium for younger drivers and as years went by my premium dropped because the company’s trust in my judgment and ability to make sound decisions increased as I got older. So actuaries have measured the risk and figured out exactly how likely we are to crash a car depending on our age bracket. They have looked at speeding tickets, accidents caused by reckless young drivers texting at the wheel and the numerous incidents of drink drive offences. They have put a monetary value to that risk and covered it by insuring a teenage driver at a much higher than a middle-aged father or mother. 
Yet as I get older I find that I am not necessarily wiser when it comes to fully comprehending my mortality. I put off writing a will for a while even when I saw how much confusion followed John’s death because he died intestate. I know I drive slower and negotiate the corners better than most kids, but then when am desolate and lonely I poison my body with food, alcohol and tobacco as though to poke death in the eye in the vain hope that am the lucky one that will escape the well-known consequences. 
At about the time my girls lost their father, they gave me a rubber wristband with the letters ‘YOLO’ and I went on to embarrass them by wearing it every day for about one year. I wore it on the same hand that I now wore the ring that I gave John on our wedding day 19 years ago. I had lost the one he gave me in 2001 and never realized that John kept his all these years. When the military arrived and took over his funeral ceremony on 31 August 2013, they decided that John would be buried in the uniform of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces. My stepson Edward whom I met that very sorrowful morning watched as they dressed him and prepared his body for interment. He noticed that John was still wearing the gold band we exchanged all those years ago and so he gently removed it from his finger presented it to me. 
At 50 I know that wearing that ring and the YOLO wristband reminded me that this is not a dress rehearsal, it is the real thing: My Life, the only one I have and the consequence of this one life is death. The only real choice I have is how I live this life until the day I die.

feeling thoughtful

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Breaking my daughters' hearts

My journey to bid a final farewell to John Bwomezi at the foot of a beautiful hill in Kamushoko village, Bubaare sub-county, Kashari county, Mbarara district, Uganda; started thousands of miles away near the ‘Horn of Africa.’ I numbed the pain of 29 August 2013, with half a bottle of whisky in my studio room in Mogadishu. The whisky was thoughtfully provided by the only friend in whom I had confided the news of my husband’s death. I saw no reason for telling people that never knew him that John had died. I did not want their attention or their pity. So I kept to myself watching the minute hand of my watch move slowly to the next day. I reflected on the meaning of life and how fleeting it was. It occurred to me again that I had never bothered to divorce John even though the thought had crossed my mind several times. He never asked for a divorce and I never needed one and after so many years we had become friends again perhaps because we had two precious daughters who loved us both. So now I had skipped the status of divorcee and dived directly into being a widow. I did not feel like a widow. How does it feel like to be a widow I wondered? As a child I had a stereotype profile of a widow – the one referred to in the Bible; needy, to be pitied, someone who was in some way incomplete. I shook my head now and smiled realizing again how stereotypes could be so wrong.
During my election campaigns in Mbarara District (Dec 2010– Feb 2011,) John had volunteered to pin up my campaign posters in our home constituency that is traditionally hostile to the opposition. He had retired from the army and even though he still voted for the ruling party he was still going to find votes for his ‘wayward’ opposition wife. And Lord help you if John found you pulling down one of my posters. I smiled as I remembered his stories of getting into serious quarrels and fist fights with government brutes trying to pull down my posters on his turf. 
Somewhere before dawn sleep overcame my senses and I was waken by the alarm that I had set the evening before. I was up in time to prepare for the dreaded journey to Karwera and on to Kamushoko. Some of my in-laws who did not see why they should wait for a widow who was never there as a wife had decided to bring the burial forward to 31 August, the very next day and so I had to find my way to Kamushoko from Mogadishu in 24 hours.
The pain of losing John had crept in slowly and upstaged my initial anger at the news of his passing. The whisky was supposed to fight that pain so that it would not take firm hold when there were so many decisions to be made. Well, this was the morning after and not only was the grief still tugging relentlessly at my heart, I now also had the worst possible headache and hangover. I had moved fast to protect my daughters from learning of their father’s death through an insensitive message on social media because I did not think they could handle it the way I had. I called my friend who was helping me with the girls as they adjusted to life in Nairobi. Joannah was still frail and recovering from brain surgery and its long-term side effects, so she needed someone we trusted and that she could relate to. I called her and told her the shocking news and then told her to find the girls’ passports, pack their bags and make sure they stayed as far away from the computer and their iPads as possible. I still do not know how she pulled it off but they actually went to sleep and woke up the next day without knowing their father had died.
I stepped out of my room in Mogadishu ready to leave then realized I had to let my office know that I may stay longer that anticipated so I approached the Chief of Staff and told her my husband had died but asked her not to let anyone know till I had left the compound and was well on my way to Nairobi. I just did not need to deal with any more drama than what was waiting at the end of my journey. At Wilson Airport, I rushed through immigration procedures and headed to Karen to pick Hannah from her school. Meantime my friend Phiona headed to ISK to pick Joannah and our story was that I had arranged a surprise weekend in Uganda so they were headed directly to the airport. Mombasa Road was a nightmare as always and we missed our flight and decided to go for a meal at Cafe Port while we waited for the late night flight to Entebbe. I had been speaking to my parents and my mother told me not to get on the plane without telling the girls the truth about this journey.
So there I sat with my babies at a CafĂ© and they were talking animatedly about their plans for their surprise break in Uganda while my heart bled. I went to the restroom to brace myself for what I had to do and while I was away Phiona asked the girls if they had wondered about the way I was dressed. When I returned Hannah asked, ‘Mom, why are you wearing black? Has someone died?’ All my strength left me in that moment and the full meaning of John’s death hit me like a ton of bricks. I could barely hold myself together and my first reaction was to lash out at poor Phiona but this only threw everyone into a panic. I was shaking and I was suddenly cold but I reached out and held my daughters’ hands and managed to say: “You need to be strong, Daddy has died!” They just stared at me not knowing what to say as I related the scanty pieces of information that I had pieced together from talking to many people about his final hours. Then Joannah sat up and said; “Wait, you mean my Daddy?” Poor baby had thought I was referring to my Daddy, her grandfather. It probably made more sense to her that the older of the men would be the one who had died. When they finally grasped what I was saying, they burst out crying and finally I too found my first tears of grief.
At 50 I know that there is a bond between a father and his daughters that is weaved in a space where even the mother is unaware. Sadly, I learnt of the strength of my daughters’ bond with their father in the depth of their grief.

 feeling heartbroken

Monday, August 10, 2015

Losing John

The most significant events in life are not always preceded by some premonition as many would have us believe. Sometimes we are going through the mundane routines of the most inconsequential days when a big event happens to change our lives forever. So it was such a day as this that I got the news of John’s passing.

 I was in my little studio room in Mogadishu, Somalia preparing for my seven days off for rest and recuperation in August 2013 and as usual I was scrolling through social media timelines and messages; wondering what I would do with the girls during this break. We got such precious little time together since I joined the international civil service and because I work at a hardship duty station that is also a non-family duty station; I only got to see them during much anticipated R&R days as well as during my annual leave. 

 A message came in via Facebook Messenger and I opened it without even taking the time to read the sender’s name. The message was a simple one-line sentence and it read: ’Mwana Anne Bwomezi is dead.’ My mind went into protective mode refusing to understand the terrible news that was being conveyed with such simplicity. So I said to myself. ‘There go the haters again! Who would write to me saying I was dead?’ I use my full names for official business: Anne Mugisha Bwomezi, but many people choose to skip the middle name (my father’s name) and refer to me by the last name only. I added the name Bwomezi on 11 June 1994 when I married John. So now I stood there for about a minute in a stupor, wondering why someone would send me a message saying I was dead. 
I pretended not to hear the hammering of my heart in my chest and my ears as I struggled to reject the meaning of what I had just read. I knew I had to scroll back up to the message and see who it was from. And there it was:
From: Colin Muhoozi,
Date: August 29 2013
Time: 7:35PM
Message: ‘Mwana Anne Bwomezi is dead. Get in touch’

Colin is my brother-in-law, John’s cousin. He was also like our oldest son when we lived together. He likes to prank and mess around with me for a laugh but some things he would never mess around with. I realized that the only error he had made was in abbreviation. He left out a coma after my first name and what he was trying to type was ‘Mwana Anne, Bwomezi is dead.’ Okay, now that I had sorted out the grammar issue and found meaning what was I supposed to do with a message like that? I did what perhaps many widows or bereaved person have done since the advent of the personal mobile phone: I called John. The phone rang several times and with each ring I willed him to pick up the phone and explain himself. This was not in our plans. I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago when the girls went to visit him in Uganda and we had plans for the girls but I had not discussed this particular move with him so I wanted an explanation.

Then someone answered the phone and it was not his voice. So I told them impatiently, ‘Please put John on the line, I want to speak to John. This is Anne.’ The voice on the other end broke and said ‘Bambe Annah.’ I switched off the call.

He had turned 53 on July 18th. He liked to remind me that he shared the same birth date with Nelson Mandela. I knew he had been ailing but the girls had visited him at the farm in Karwera, Mbarara only a fortnight ago and they came back home reciting all the crazy stories he had told them about his youth. I was not there to interrupt him when they visited the last time so he told them all those unfiltered stories that I would never have let him complete if I was seated there vetting as I was wont to do. They had come back with this hero-like image of their father. Now he had gone and died and left me with the responsibility of telling them they were orphans. 
Oh John! There you go again messing up our plans. Typical – and leaving me the responsibility of dealing with the fall out. I could not deal with grief just then but I felt a certain familiar emotion and allowed it to consume me so that I could keep grief at bay. I was angry. 
Colin interrupted my anger with another text message at 9:01PM ‘John’s wish was to be buried at Kamushoko next to his grandfather.’ Well I knew that already. He had told me before and showed me the place he wanted to be buried. I just wanted to be left alone with my anger?
At 50 I know that we are in denial of so many things in our lives that even when hard facts slap us in the face with such force and veracity we still find a hiding place in our mind to keep truth at bay and cling to that which keeps us sane, safe and ‘normal.’

feeling emotional

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Fall Out

My letter of assurance to the Ugandan Head of State that I was going to serve the UN and would therefore have to give up over a decade of activism got its 15 minutes of fame on the Internet. My friends, ‘frenemies,’ enemies and total strangers crawled out of the woodworks to pronounce their verdict on my decision to give up activism for full time employment. I do not know whether I was more surprised by the ignorance of my friends or the condemnation of my adversaries. Overall, the verdict was confusing. 
Winnie Byanyima was traveling at the time I penned the letter to President Museveni and when she got in touch and asked to see what I had written, her wise political verdict was that it was only a matter of time before the letter was published in the press. She regretted that I had included personal matters in the letter relating to my child’s illness and that I had not confined my remarks to the rules of the UN relating to non-partisanship. I totally agreed with her and wished I had held back on the sentiments but I reminded her of the context. I was sitting at the bedside of a very sick child and had just been told that my daughter would need brain surgery to treat her condition. My thoughts were focused on getting her the treatment she needed and the insurance I needed to pay for that treatment so it slipped into the letter.
Meantime in Kampala, Kizza Besigye who had a serious national agenda found himself defending my new employment on radio talk shows that could have been devoted to more important national matters. He was surprised that even those who knew me well and knew how opposition members are manipulated to serve the goals of the rulers did not understand the dynamics at play. The late Sam Njuba, national chairman of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) was devastated by the news, which was simplified to the easily understood phenomenon: ‘Anne has been bought!’ My erstwhile FDC colleagues who will remain unnamed rose to the chorus: ‘We knew it!’
I burnt a lot of telephone talk time explaining to those who mattered exactly what had happened before deciding that this was a matter that could only be understood with time. No matter what I said there was truth in the fact that the letter that was published on the Internet was mine. I wrote it because I needed clearance to get a job. It was addressed to President Museveni and it stated that I was giving up 12 years of activism to start a career with an international organization. These facts were irrefutable. The context would only be meaningful when the public had exhausted its fury and was ready to hear the story from both sides. In the meantime the only thing that was seriously hurt was my ego and that had a way of repairing itself – with time. So I sat back, popped the corn and watched the movie.
Most surprising was the attitude of my friends and family. A few were embarrassed by my ‘desertion’ of the opposition but many more comforted me for having the courage to abandon ‘Besigye’ and accept the President’s offer! I encountered a friend of the family who declared that he had personally thanked the President for getting me a job in the United Nations! I reflected again on the power of the media and the ‘grapevine.’ Through their careless reporting they had managed to convince so many people that the Uganda government and specifically, the President had got me employment with an international organization. I quickly tired of giving lengthy explanations and let time do its work.
Meantime on the other side of the political spectrum jubilation and condemnation came fast and furious. Anne had finally seen the ‘light’ and dropped the opposition; Anne was not deserving of the president’s magnanimity considering her opposition activism against the government and the UPDF. How could the president ‘reward’ her for her outspoken criticism when there were so many cadres looking for jobs? A relative who was visiting a pro-government family that did not know she was related to me sat quietly through a conversation in which the president was castigated for giving me a job at the United Nations. She later told me that she sat there hoping that no one ever discovered that she was related to me because of the venom in the room. They felt betrayed that instead of ‘giving’ the job to one of their own, the president had chosen to ‘give’ me the job. My personal favorite was in a Chimp Report of that season which called the UPDF in Somalia to arms in an article that ‘quoted’ a UPDF soldier that purportedly stated: 
‘It is times like these I wish I were deployed in Somalia, I would cleanse the spirit of our forces by doing the worst. How I wish someone does the honors on my behalf.’

At 50 I know that ignorance is the one thing that unites the supporters of the rulers with those of the ruled.

— feeling surprised.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Returning to Florida

Having accepted that I was destined to return to the USA I started to put my documents in order and went to the US Embassy to find out what immigration documentation I might need.  My daughters were still Green Card holders and had not naturalized to full citizenship so having broken their stay in the USA I wanted to know if they could simply show up in the US with their Green Cards and Ugandan passports.  As it turned out the visa officer asked me to bring the children in for questioning because I guess she wanted to be sure they were not being trafficked.  And she wanted their father to come along and sign his agreement to their relocation since they were both minors.  The immigration officer had that closed, guarded look that I had encountered years ago at the USCIS offices in Miami and she was unmoved by my pleas that we needed to get out fast because my daughter was now getting an average of ten seizures a day.

John signed papers in Mbarara this time and I appeared before a judge in Kampala to get legal custody of the two girls with their father’s consent.  Jackson Rwakafuuzi had managed to get me to the Judge’s chambers for a hurried appearance and within two days I was before the US immigration officer again with the girls.  She asked them if I had originally intended to take them back to the States.  They dutifully told her that I brought them to Uganda to learn their culture but had always known they were returning home to Florida.  But she still was not done with me, even though I was already a naturalized citizen.  She had checked the records from the time I told her I first went to the US and could not find a visa issued in my name.  This woman was ready to revoke my citizenship if she could - even in my desperate situation with a sickly child!  I explained that the reason she did not find the visa was because I originally applied for a H1B visa while living in South Africa and it was issued at their office in Johannesburg.  She went back to check the record from that Embassy and found it.  Only then did she start processing the papers to allow the children and I back into the United States.  I was amused by the irony of it all.  I did not want to go back to the USA if it were not for Joannah, because I knew the hard life awaiting there and here was the gatekeeper trying her best to keep me out!

My financial situation was as always in those days desperate.  I had maxed-out one credit card from my bank and now had just enough credit on my American Express to buy three tickets to New York.  I had to raise funds from siblings and friends for the onward tickets to Florida where once again we would be my brother Andrew’s guests until I got back on my feet.  When I went back to pick my daughter’s passports with visas I was informed of a $250 processing fee and almost passed out when they said it had to be paid in cash.  I called my brother Joseph and he brought money to the Embassy.  Joannah was in a frightening state and I wondered how we would travel the 20 hours including layovers; in the state she was in. 

I was close to breaking down when two days before we left in April 2012; I received news from a hiring manager at the United Nations. He told me I had successfully interviewed for a position with the UN Political Office for Somalia based in Nairobi but my offer letter was being held back because during their background check someone working for the Uganda government, (which I had served;) had said there would be a problem with employing me because I was an outspoken government critic and could not work with Uganda’s military in Somalia.  He said the only way of proceeding was to get clearance from the Ugandan government that I could work alongside the UPDF. 

I talked to Hon. Nabila Naggayi who lived in my neighborhood in Buziga and who knew the ordeal I was going through with my daughter.  I called old friends, former bosses and finally one told me that the Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi had agreed to write a letter clearing me for employment but I never heard from the Prime Minister’s office at all. I spent my first week in New York waiting to hear from the PM’s office and finally shared my ordeal with Winnie Byanyima who was working with UNDP at the UN Headquarters.  She advised me to get in touch with Uganda’s Permanent Mission in New York for assistance.  I had come full circle from the diplomat who had married while serving at that same Mission in New York, to a national seeking help from Uganda House 18 years later. 

This irony too was not lost on me because the peers I had served with were now Ambassadors around the world and I was just lucky that Adonia Ayebare, an old friend, was now Deputy Representative at the New York Mission.  Adonia wasted no time in assisting me including calling State House in Kampala to find out if the government had any objection to my employment with the UN.  He explained to the President that I was not looking for a job.  I already had the job on merit and all I needed was clearance that I could work alongside the UPDF without being a security threat to anyone.  Adonia got back to me and let me know that the President had requested one thing only:  That I write to him committing that I was going to Somalia as an international civil servant and not to ‘disorganize’ his good work in Somalia. 

I received this message while sitting at Joannah’s bedside at the Walt Disney Hospital for Children in Orlando and within the hour I had responded with a letter that would later be infamously leaked and published on the Internet.  The Daily Monitor completed the saga by publishing a story with a headline that put the facts completely out of context: Ex FDC Official sought Museveni nod for UN job!

At 50 I know that those in power have it in their means to destroy an individual's reputation, career and even their life.  But thankfully, I also know people who use the same power to help others when they desperately need help.

— feeling frustrated.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Paying the Price

Everyone has a price the saying goes.  What is the price of your soul?  Only you really knows the answer to that question. What is the price of giving up devotion to your chosen cause?  For some it is in dollars or shillings and cents.  I found mine in a different place but not that far from hard cash as I would rather have you believe.

 While I spent time on the street struggling for a change that I did not really expect soon; battling forces that I never really understood along with people I never really knew; my family was hurting and I was hurting.  Between 2010 when I left the USA and 2012 when I returned to Florida, I had been so taken up with my cause and ideals that I neglected that which was priceless.  My young girls had first claim to my time for a decade as I struggled to make ends meet and raise them alone in America and then they suddenly found themselves playing second fiddle to my cause.  

As peaceful activism turned into violent clashes with the police, more and more activists ended up in jail and it became obvious that we were not prepared for a long-drawn out struggle.  There were injured people in hospitals, jailed people who needed legal representation, journalists and researchers who wanted information and activists looking for leadership.  Then of course there was food to be put on the table, kids to take to school, a home to run all of which required an income.  I remembered that I was an enrolled advocate with a certificate to practice law and approached my old friend Ladislus Rwakafuzi.  We attended law school together and he had a legal practice that specialized in representing victims of human rights violations.  He gave me an office right away and helped me get a license to practice law at his firm.  I was amused when I got there that I had no inkling what lawyers do.  I was no better than a first year law student and needed to be guided in every aspect of the work.  Ladislus offered me a space to practice, bought me a gown and the paraphernalia that go with the lawyers trade but I could not even help someone obtain letters of administration for an estate without consulting a junior lawyer.  

My main reason for being at the firm was to coordinate legal representation for the hundreds of activists who had been arrested during the walk to work campaign.  So I focused on finding ‘real lawyers’ who could represent activists pro-bono or for expenses only; among them Ladislus himself and his brother Jackson.  So between June 2011 and April 2012 I worked out of their offices on Luwum Street managing crisis after crisis, visiting human rights organizations to find funding for legal representation and advocacy for jailed activists, while also trying to make a bit of money as a regular lawyer.  I spruced up my curriculum vitae for consulting jobs and got lucky with organizations like FIDA (U) and Foundation for Human Rights Initiative both of which were headed by former classmates at law school.  Without them I may never have been able to pay my household bills.  The girls were attending an international school and their father took care of tuition and school related expenses while I struggled to put food on the table.  Knowing that I was in financial distress but would never admit it, John started sending us food from the farm in the village so a person would show up unannounced from Karwera saying the girl’s father had sent them food.  I pretended not to notice but at the back of my mind I knew something had to give.

The first wake up call came from the school.  Joannah who has been a ‘gifted’ student surprising her teachers and peers at her grasp of math showed up with a ‘D’ in math on her report card.  I was in complete denial of her condition by this time yet I knew that she still had seizures from time to time. While I went out to face the police and their tear gas, her seizures worsened because one of their triggers is anxiety.  I was impatient with her and anyone who reminded me of her condition.  We were seeing the right doctors and she was on medication and that I believed was the extent of my responsibility.  Joannah is an introverted responsible soul and puts everyone before herself so she did not complain much.  Around the time that I got really involved in the walk to work campaign in mid 2011 her condition worsened and I could no longer ignore it.  I realized she needed more treatment than I could get in Uganda.   The doctor at her clinic was talking about another MRI scan for her brain and possibly surgery.  He referred me to a hospital in Nairobi admitting that the facilities available at Mulago, the national referral hospital; may not be enough to diagnose the extent of her condition.  I sat up and listened, realizing that I would have to return to the US for Joannah’s sake.  I had no money to take Joannah to a hospital in Kenya.  But in the USA where I was a citizen she could get access to the health facilities for children from poor households.

It was a hard decision to make.  I started panicking each time the phone rang.  It would be another activist asking for help, a teacher calling me to pick Jojo because she had another seizure, an emergency Activists 4 Change meeting to attend, a bill I needed to pay.  When I went to visit Ingrid Turinawe in Luzira prison after she had been arrested for walking, I surprised her and myself when I burst out crying.  Something just snapped and I knew that I was defeated by my circumstances and once again I was about to leave my country and the cause I loved.  I could not explain that to her.  I just sat there crying and sniffling to her utter surprise.  I recall she told the jail warders “I don’t understand, Anne is an activist, why would she cry because am in jail?”  She had no way of knowing all the things that burdened my mind and I was not about to tell an activist in jail that I had more problems than her!  The time to move on to the next thing had arrived.  

I had a price after all.

At 50 I know that when they say that everyone has a price, they do not always mean it in hard cash terms but money or the lack of it can take our focus from the things that are important to us.

— feeling broken.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Kizza Besigye's Brutal Arrest

I woke up bright and early on Thursday 28 April 2011 but did not reach for my walking shoes because I was driving to Kasangati on Gayaza Road to deliver a message to Kizza Besigye from Olara Otunnu relating to organization of popular dissent during the walk-to-work protests. The day before, Kizza Besigye had walked from prison to Nakasongola court handcuffed to his co-accused and was granted bail on condition that he keeps the peace for seven months failing which they will be bound to pay Shs50 million to the state. Crowds came out to welcome Dr. Besigye from prison and the journey that had taken Olara Otunnu and I two hours on Monday lasted five hours as Kizza Besigye’s convoy tried to make its way to Kampala. The military set up roadblocks to check vehicles entering the city causing further delays. Tabu Butagira reported for the Monitor:
UPDATE 3:10 PM: Dr. Besigye has been granted bail.
UPDATE 5:20 PM: Crowds of frenzied supporters pour onto Kampala-Gulu highway to welcome Dr. Besigye from prison.
UPDATE 6:07 PM: Military police, riot police and regular troops have deployed in large numbers at the Northern Bypass.
UPDATE 6: 35 PM: Security personnel dressed in police uniforms have set up a roadblock at Matugga, between Bombo and Wobulenzi town, checking each and every car driving towards Kampala.
UPDATE 6:54 PM: Dr. Kizza Besigye’s convoy stretching back more than two football fields in length is passing through Kawempe-Kagoma-Kawanda.
UPDATE 7:40 PM: Dr. Besigye’s convoy has arrived in Kawempe without incident. It is almost five hours since he was set free on conditional bail.
UPDATE 8:09 PM: Dr. Besigye first escaped from the crowds in Kawempe, and then in Bwaise in an attempt to get home. Dr. Besigye is looking very exhausted but the crowds will simply not let him be.
UPDATE 8:45 PM: A very tired Dr. Besigye finally stepped out of his car and briefly addressed a huge crowd that had gathered outside his home in Kasangati…Composed and sounding unshaken by the six days of imprisonment, the FDC leader stood before the people who had deserted Kasangati town to come and receive him. This is what he told them: “ Tomorrow is a working day and we shall walk to work.”
So the reason I was driving out of my gate at Bugolobi at 5:30am in the morning was to try and catch Besigye to deliver a message before he was sent back to jail. I knew if KB said he was walking in spite of the conditions of his bail, he would be heading out early. I found him in his living room with his aides getting ready to leave, he struggled to put on his shoes with his right hand still in a cast from the injury where he was shot on Day two of the protest. One look at his face told me that perhaps this was not the right time for the conversation I had in mind but I had woken up early and arrived in time so I sat with him at the breakfast table and tried to get his attention. He cut me short before I started my second sentence calling for his aides to get up and move. Besigye is a listener. He allows everyone to talk before he gives an opinion but that morning his face looked like thunder, none of his studied patience, none of his usual jokes and chitchat today. The man was on a mission and seemed to know what was waiting once he stepped outside his gate. I knew it was wise to shut up and I did just that. I watched as he pulled together his walking gear and headed for the door and then I followed.
The plan was to drive past the riot-police - who had become a permanent fixture at his farm- drive on the short stretch to Kasangati town; and keep moving till we approached Kampala City. I jumped into my car with his late cousin Peggy and drove behind KB’s vehicle in a convoy of four to five cars. We negotiated our way past the police but they now followed him everywhere and we joked about him being the most protected man in Uganda after the president. When we reached Kalerwe he stopped to talk to the street vendors and the convoy was surrounded by police and civilian crowds excited by his presence. He got back in the car and stood through the open sunroof waving to the crowds. A man stopped the convoy to give KB a 5000/= note which he accepted, all smiles now that he was in his element with supporters. My eyes were on the policemen and I was not at ease in the crowd, Peggy said I was a coward.
As we approached the roundabout in Kawempe with roads leading to Mulago Hospital and Makerere University our crowd was swelling and we were now joined by chanting students from the University. The police was ready and they fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd. The tension was building but we remained in our cars as policemen approached and directed us to take the route via Mulago Hospital leading into Kitante Road. We held our ground saying we wanted to drive through Wandegeya but the police would not let us. We stayed there long enough for a number of us to cross the road and visit the restrooms at the petrol station. When we returned to the convoy, KB had agreed to drive via the Mulago route so I jumped back behind the wheel and we snaked our way up the road. The crowd that had dispersed returned. I watched from my car as police constables beat men with thick batons. They would fall to the ground and then get up and rejoin the crowd walking alongside the convoy.
At Mulago roundabout the road was blocked by riot police under the command of Grace Turyagumanawe. He stopped KB’s vehicle and directed him to follow Kitante Road. KB refused. I remember a conversation with us saying we wanted to visit a bank in Wandegeya. The morning traffic was building up with commuters heading to work. The size of the crowd around the vehicle, chanting loudly seemed to grow by the minute. I looked around and wondered where all these people had come from. I seem to remember Harold Kaija seated in my car and thinking I had seen him in KBs car earlier, then I noticed Peggy who had called me a coward minutes ago melting in the crowd and disappearing. I had not even noticed her leaving the car. The air was thick with tear gas and we kept our windows closed. KB was arguing with the police while civilians kept walking up to him to hand him bank notes of 1,000/=, 5,000/=, 10,000/=.
Grace Turyagumanawe became exasperated with KB and walked over to my car. He spoke to me in Runyankore, pleading with me to tell KB to follow police orders or there would be trouble because there was no way we were going through Wandegeya town. I told him if the man wanted to go to his bank in Wandegeya he had every right to use the road leading to his bank. Grace shook his head and went back to talking on his cell phone. My experienced eye had learnt to pick out plain-clothes security personnel and there were three that the guys in my car were now pointing out. I discreetly took their pictures with my Blackberry. One of them was wearing a beige colored hoodie.
In front of us more plain-clothes security men had surrounded KB’s car. He had sat back down in the back seat and closed the windows and sunroof, refusing to move and so they attacked him. The crowds were chased away again with bullets and tear gas and the security personnel went about trying to get KB out of the car. When he would not budge the man with the hoodie moved like lightning from the right side of my car and in an instant I saw him using a sledgehammer to break the window on the left hand side of vehicle directly next to where KB was seated. Meantime the man I later learnt was Gilbert Arinaitwe pulled out his pistol and me fearing the worst now started screaming, sure he was going to pull the trigger and kill KB right there as I watched. Instead he turned it round and used the butt to break the backseat window on the right hand side of the car. Then I understood what they were doing when their colleagues pulled out canisters of tear gas and pepper spray and started spraying into the car. All the five doors of the Land cruiser flew open the occupants of the car scurried out like rats fleeing a burning house; directly into the waiting brutality of the security operatives. I watched as they brought down their batons with furious force, as though they were killing snakes. They kicked them with their shoes and pounded them with batons. Jethro was bleeding from the head, Fred, the driver was being kicked on the ground, I thought he could never get up. Kizza Besigye was dragged out of the car last and he seemed to disappear in a fog of tear gas. Francis Mwijukye was being kicked around while he tried to wipe his eyes.
My mind was numb with fear and everything was hazy. I did not even see where they had taken them. I was sitting there screaming when a security man entered KB’s vehicle and moved it away. I was now the one in the middle of a roundabout blocking traffic and my mind was frozen. The guys in the car kept telling me not to panic, to just drive away, the police was approaching when I finally remembered where I was. I started the vehicle and drove towards Kitante Road trying to look for the car that had Kizza Besigye but saw nothing. I was in shock and someone was directing me to drive to the nearest police station to start the search for KB. I complied.
At 50 I have “…learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear" - Nelson Mandela
 feeling scared

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Nakasongola Prison

25th April 2011 was a Monday and should have been a day to walk-to-work but since it was Easter Monday, a public holiday; that would not make sense. Instead I hitched a ride with UPC president, Olara Otunnu to Nakasongola prison to visit IPC leaders Kizza Besigye and Nobert Mao who were on remand for offences related to their participation in the protests. Ken Lukyamuzi leader of the Conservative Party had been to visit his colleagues at Nakasongola the day before so we anticipated no problem with accessing the jailed leaders.
Nakasongola is just over 110 kilometers from Kampala and the drive took us approximately two hours. On the road we discussed the on-going crisis and I listened to Olara’s ideas about building a structure that was more inclusive and drew in the participation of NGOs, eminent persons, religious organizations and other member of civil society. He had definitely given it some thought and it was refreshing to talk to someone who was thinking in a structured manner when everyone else was on an emotional high. He had even figured out a leadership structure for this loose alliance which would be all-inclusive and remove focus and attention from a single opposition leader. Olara Otunnu was Uganda's Permanent Representative to the UN, served as Foreign Minister in Okello Lutwa’s short-lived regime, he once presided over the International Peace Academy and was Under Secretary-General at the United Nations before returning home to join politics and the struggle for change. In that context everything he was saying and his structured approach made sense but I knew that he was talking of something that would happen in the distant future because in the present context there was not the slightest possibility that the government would give us the space to formalize our dissent. In fact the government was determined to frustrate every effort.
The attempt to block every possible channel of communication and association amongst activists had recently extended to the media and journalists had become targets of police repression and brutality. On 19 April 2011 the Tuesday after Day three of the protests, Edward Echwalu, a photojournalist with the Weekly Observer was a guest blogger on the blog of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and he wrote:
‘Freedom of the press in Uganda hit a new low late last week when the government, in response to a decision by opposition figures to demonstrate against the escalating price of food and fuel by walking to work, banned live coverage of the protests and issued a directive to Internet providers to block two popular social websites for 24 hours.
The ban on live coverage came after television stations showed horrific images of the police force's high-handedness in arresting opposition politicians on the first day of the demonstrations. Footage of the police firing teargas canisters into homes, schools and hospitals, was also shown.
Security forces prevented journalists reporting from the scene from approaching some opposition figures who had been arrested, and several reporters were roughed up. At least eight reporters were injured during the demonstrations: Ali Mabule and Dismus Buregyeya of the daily New Vision, Francis Mukasa of WBS TV, Ronald Muyinda of Radio One, Michael Kakumirizi and Stuart Iga of The Red Pepper, Yunusu Ntale of CBS Radio FM, and Isa Aliga of Nation TV.
As the police battled peaceful demonstrators, and the army intervened in what was one of the most brutal crackdowns on peaceful protests the country has seen, the state-run Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) blocked Facebook and Twitter for several hours. The UCC first denied knowledge of Facebook and Twitter being blocked. However, a letter confirming UCC's directive was later leaked to the public. "We have received a request from the security agencies that there is a need to minimize the use of media that may escalate violence to the public in respect of the ongoing situation due to the demonstration relating to 'walk to work,' mainly by opposition in the country," read an April 14 letter signed by Quinto Ojok acting executive director of the UCC.
"As a stakeholder that has communication infrastructures that host media such as Facebook and Tweeter, the commission wishes to request for your indulgence in this matter," the letter went on. "You are therefore instructed to block the use of Facebook and Tweeter for 24 hours as of now that is; 14th April, 2011 at 3.30 p.m. to eliminate the connection and sharing of information that incites the public." Facebook and Twitter were instrumental in relaying news of this year's February general elections. Millions accessed updates regarding violence, vote counts, winners/losers throughout the country, and reporters continue to use these social websites.’
So, Olara’s grand plan against this backdrop of increased clamp down on opposition activities did not sound like a plan for the present. As if to confirm my thoughts when we arrived at Nakasongola Prison, the officers at the quarter guard, who had been reinforced by the police and the military in recognition of their eminent residents; refused to let us in. We had travelled two hours to see the inmates so when they told us to turn around and leave we refused and staged a small protest, demanding to talk to the Officer in Charge of the prison. After hours of arguing or quietly defying the orders to leave the highest-ranking prison official on duty came outside to talk to us. We were told to go back to Kampala and get a letter from their Commissioner General in order to be granted access to the imprisoned leaders because we had visited on a public holiday. It was easy to tell that the official was getting ‘orders from above’ because for every question we asked him he would pause, step away to make a call on the phone and then return to explain himself. He appeared to be under a lot of pressure and unable to make any decision without referring to a higher authority who was obviously not at the prison. After three hours we turned round and started the two-hour journey back to Kampala without seeing the inmates.
When Olara dropped me off at home in Bugolobi I promised him that I would talk to KB upon his release about the proposal on organizing structured dissent. That is exactly what took me to KB’s house early in the morning on 28 April 2011, Day 5 of the protests; giving me a front seat view of the most violent arrest of Kizza Besigye by Ugandan security led by the infamous Gilbert Arinaitwe.
At 50 I know that in a struggle for freedom it takes all sorts to move the scales of justice in the right direction, however there is a time that calls for diplomats and a time for street activists and walk-to-work was not a time for round table discussions.

feeling pissed off

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Walk to Work - Day 4

On Day four of the walk-to-work protests, 21 April 2011, I did not walk because I woke up to a series of crises that kept me glued to the Internet seeking help for activists and innocent citizens who had become ‘collateral damage’ during the protests. In between walking days, I teamed up with Ingrid Turinawe, Maj. John Kazoora and other activists to visit activists who were in jail and hospital - to take them food, find them lawyers or buy them drugs and supplies to treat the injuries they incurred during the street battles that followed each attempt to arrest Kizza Besigye and other opposition leaders in Kampala. I looked at the emails that I sent out back then to refresh my mind of what an activist did on the days when they did not walk-to-work.
My first email on the morning of Day four was to a Human Rights Organization seeking help for a missing activist:
‘Dear Maria,
Activist Robert Mayanja who usually walks with me to work was taken from his home at around 3am by about 30 armed men. They told his wife that he would be at Jinja Road Police Station and would later be charged with treason. Abdu Katuntu a lawyer with FDC is trying to trace him and so far he has been unsuccessful. Can you help us in anyway? Robert is an opposition activist. He is unemployed.
Anne Mugisha’
The day before I had been to Mulago Hospital to visit Brenda, a pregnant woman who had been shot in the scuffle to arrest Kizza Besigye on Day two of walk-to-work. The newspapers published a very disturbing picture of the woman being lifted onto a police pick-up truck with half her intestines hanging out of a hole in her belly. I posted a message to the Africa Democracy Forum internet group where I had become a member during my days as a Reagan-Fascell Fellow.
‘Keep an eye on Uganda.
Look out for democracy activists in Uganda who are peacefully protesting escalated food and fuel prices in the face of police brutality. I met Brenda (see attached photo if you dare;) on Sunday at the national referral hospital in Mulago. She was an innocent bystander who got caught up in the violence that police meted out on peaceful protestors. The police shot her in the stomach. When she fell they hauled her onto a police truck (no ambulances for the poor in Uganda) and rushed her to Mulago. Her stomach was cut open to insert her intestines back where they were supposed to be. She was in terrible pain when we visited her in Ward 6A Mulago. She had been moved to a private ward by the Police following the negative publicity (resulting from the ghastly picture which was published in the papers.) Yet when we got there the nurse attending to her asked us for help. They were using regular gauze dressing on her stomach wound and it hurt terribly to remove it for cleaning. The nurse asked if we could get Vaseline gauze for Brenda and then said she was also out of antibiotics and plaster to hold the gauze! That is Mulago private ward for you - no basic supplies for dressing wounds! We purchased what she needed in Wandegeya and took it to her. Brenda was in so much pain, I felt terrible for crying in front of her. The baby in her womb survived the bullet, but figure this: the baby is growing and will be stretching her abdomen where she is wounded. It will be turning and kicking against that wound. Only a woman can (barely) imagine her nightmare.
Remember Uganda!
Anne Mugisha’
At Kasangati on Gayaza Road it was Dr. Kizza Besigye’s fourth attempt to participate in the walk-to-work campaign but this time he had left his home driving. His vehicle ‘ran out of fuel’ at Kubiiri near Mulago. He opened the door and resorted to walking for the rest of the journey. When supporters surrounded him and started walking with him towards town, police swung into action and a mini scuffle ensued as supporters tried to stop the police from arresting KB. Police fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd, loaded him into a police van and took him to Wandegeya police before heading to Nabweru court where he, Aaron Kaija, Jethro Nuwagaba and Francis Mwijukye were charged with holding unlawful assembly. This time he was denied bail and remanded to Nakasongola prison until April 27 2011. Democratic Party president Nobert Mao and six other party members, who had been remanded in Luzira Prison on Day three of the protests, were also transferred to Nakasongola Prison following threats by DP youth to storm Luzira Prison to demonstrate against the incarceration of their party leaders. I wrote an email to a rights group in London about the incident:
‘Activists for Change (A4C) is a pressure group formed post election to protest the high inflation rate which has made the cost of living very high. More people are walking because they cannot afford taxi fares; more families have only one meal a day because increase in fuel prices has led to increase in food prices. A4C called on middle class Ugandans to show solidarity with the common man by walking to work and asked political leaders to join the effort.
Kizza Besigye and other opposition political leaders answered the call. KB has been arrested three times as he attempted to walk-to-work. The first time he was charged with inciting violence and obstructing traffic. The second time he was arrested for causing riots. This time he has been charged with unlawful assembly and remanded to a jail half way across the country in Nakasongola. His bail hearing has been set for on Wed. 27th April after the Easter break.
The country is very tense. All violence is coming from the police as they try to stop opposition politicians from walking to work because they believe we may cause a ‘Tahrir Square’ or ‘Tunisia’ effect. So far at least half a dozen people have been killed in the battles sparked by police brutality against unarmed/peaceful walkers. Arresting KB has only raised the tension and we can expect more violence
Anne Mugisha’
Later that afternoon on Day four of the protest in Masaka Town, Julian Nalwanga, a two-and-a-half year old baby girl, was killed by a stray bullet as the Police battled boda boda cyclists and mechanics during the walk-to-work protests. I wrote to the Kenyan President about this:
Subject: Uganda - Human Rights
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 2011 16:18:03 -0400
'Mr. President,
As you think about attending the swearing-in ceremony of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda next month, I ask you to consider the short life of Juliana and base the decision of your attendance on this as well as other factors:
Baby Juliana Nalwanga became the fifth victim to lose her life to reckless brutal police brutality during what should have been a peaceful walk-to-work protest over the rising cost of living in Uganda. She was killed by a policeman's stray bullet on April 21st, 2011. The grisly picture of the bleeding body of a baby fondly known as 'Gift' has been cruelly etched on our minds and conscience forever. It was difficult to look directly at Gift's little body, her head and chest shattered by a trigger happy policeman who probably returned to his own children at the end of his work day; leaving behind the lifeless, broken body of a two-year old baby.
Juliana must not become a statistic. She must remain front and center of Uganda's struggle for the right to assemble and to protest peacefully. What started as a peaceful protest to underline the suffering of ordinary Ugandans faced with sky rocketing food and fuel prices, due to double-digit inflation; has turned into a bitter struggle to defend our basic freedoms and rights. The struggle is now about moving freely to find work and to earn a living, a struggle to express ourselves freely, to associate freely and to protest peacefully. These freedoms are guaranteed by our Constitution but they are denied us in the most inhumane way by a brutal, law breaking police force.
The unnecessary suffering and loss of life that has followed our determination to assert our rights and freedoms is unprecedented. The brutality has only made our resolve to assert those rights and freedoms stronger. We shall walk and walk until our government understands that their duty is to safeguard and not to violate our rights and freedoms; until the government does its job and responds meaningfully to our demands.
In future when we look back to this sad chapter in our country's life, the picture that will forever be imprinted on our minds is that of the little, broken and bleeding body of two year old Juliana Nalwanga - (Gift.) We will remember the friends who supported our struggle and we will also remember those who looked on with indifference.
God rest her little soul in eternal peace.
Anne Mugisha'
At 50 I know that in the tumultuous events surrounding protests of this scale it was easy to lose sight of individual victims of police brutality but for those who are scarred and those with a grave to remind them the dark days of April 2011 will never be forgotten.

— feeling sad.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Walk to Work - Day 3

Day three of Walk to Work, 18 April 2011, I walked with a group of women including a senior politician and Member of Parliament Hon. Cecilia Ogwal. My group also included opposition activists Sarah Eperu and Margaret Wokuri. We met at the mall next to Lugogo Show grounds on Jinja Road and proceeded to the spot where we knew the usual suspects would be waiting to stop us from proceeding. I had been lucky the last two walking days and I just knew that my luck was about to run out. So that morning while dropping my daughters at school I told them if I did not pick them up by 6:00pm thenI would most likely have been arrested and they were to walk to my friend Olive Kobusingye’s house, which was close by and stay with her until I returned.
We approached the line of women police constables who by now had their act together and they told us to stop and accompany them to the police station. When we resisted they grabbed me by the arms and half lifted, half dragged me across the highway to the police station with Sarah, Margaret and Cecilia Ogwal in tow.
Other Inter Party Cooperation leaders had mobilized their activists to walk that day and police even more determined to demonstrate to the public that walking by opposition leaders and activists would not be tolerated. Even before we had started walking we heard that the President of the Democratic Party, Nobert Mao, and his colleagues Kenneth Paul Kakande, John Mary Sebuwufu, Kamya Kasozi, Moses Biriwa, Kintu David and Tadewo Kalule had been intercepted and arrested. They were charged with assault and inciting violence at City Hall Court where they declined the option of bail and were remanded to Luzira Prison until 2 May. The President of the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC;) Olara Otunnu approached Jinja Road Police Station walking from Nakawa with another group of activists as did Hon. Ibrahim Semujju Nganda, Hon. Jack Wamai and Hon. Nathan Nandala Mafabi. As soon as they reached the spot across the road from the Police Station they were all apprehended and brought into the Police Station.
I had never seen a merrier group of detainees as opposition leaders and activists arrived to hoots of laughter and backslapping. Within no time a group of lawyers including the Lord Mayor who seemed to have escaped arrest that day, Hon. Medard Segona, Hon. Abdu Katuntu and others I cannot recall, had arrived to negotiate our release. Our visitors included senior politicians like Amanya Mushega and Beti Kamya. One could be forgiven for thinking there was a top-level political meeting at the police station. None of us were taken to the squalid cells and curiously, away from the glare of TV cameras the police were really polite, offering their seats to us while they stood around trying to figure what to do with us. When we were not laughing and arguing about whether or not to make statements, we were on the phone talking to journalists or relatives to alert them of what was happening inside the police station.
I knew that my elderly parents would be shocked if they received the news of my arrest over the radio and so I called my father. He sounded very upset and told me a Runyankore proverb about a small animal that disrespectfully digs a hole in the King’s front yard. The animal gets crashed. I knew his blood pressure would be rising very fast so I mobilized some church elders in Mbarara to go and explain to him that we were not engaged in any illegal activity and were wrongfully arrested. They must have done a good job because when I called back after a few hours he had watched the news on TV and seen me in the company of eminent politicians and now he sounded proud of what we were doing.
Back at the station we failed to agree on whether to write statements about our arrest or refuse in defiance but I went along with the compliant group and narrated a long story of my illegal arrest and then signed it. I really wanted this arrest on the public record so that future law students, policemen and women could one day read it and shake their heads in wonder and amazement. As evening approached I wondered if we were about to spend a night in jail but then a bus arrived to ferry our large group to Nakawa courts where we were locked up in the holding cells to wait for a Magistrate to read us the charges proffered against us. Chris Opoka suddenly burst into a rendition of the famous protest song that became a key anthem of the US civil rights movement: ‘We Shall Overcome,’ and the court holding cell came alive with song and cheer.
Shortly thereafter we were whisked into the courtroom and the magistrate read to us the charges: Incitement to violence, disobeying police orders and holding unlawful society. The charge sheet included: Olara Otunnu, Cecilia Ogwal, Jack Womayi Wamanga, Nathan Nandala Mafabi, Ibrahim Semujju Nganda ,Anne Mugisha, Sospater Akwenyu, Sarah Eperu, Richard Nvanungi, Ezra Kyalo, Chris Opoka, Robert Mayanja, George Ogwang, Margaret Otim, Eric Sakwa, Gerald Akwedi, Margaret Wokuri and Archibald Agaba. We had supposedly incited some youth to burn tyres in the middle of the road between Kireka trading Centre and Hot Loaf Bakery on Jinja Road; threw stones at police officers, threatened to injure other persons because of their race, origin or political affiliations and disobeyed lawful orders given by police. All this was rather surprising considering that all I had been holding was a bottle of drinking water to sip while I walked peacefully! We denied the charges and were granted bail with a trial date set for 12 May 2011.
The New Vision reported that police had arrested over 100 people in Kampala on that day.
At 6:00pm my daughters told the school gatekeeper that their mother had probably been arrested and they were allowed to walk the short distance to Olive’s home. I found them there late in the evening after we were granted bailed and was completely surprised by my eleven year old daughter’s welcome. Hannah came running to me and asked: ‘Were you arrested?’ ‘Yes,’ said I. Her response? ‘Oh good, because I was starting to think you were a woosie (coward) because all your friends are getting arrested but you keep getting away!’ I shook my head and wondered what kind of kids I was raising and how twisted their minds would be by the time all this was over. I thanked Olive for babysitting and I went home with the kids to prepare for Day 4 of Walk to Work.
At 50 I know that the unexpected result of repression of ordinary citizens is that after enduring the degradation and abuse of their rights they get to a point of immunity where anything the state does to dehumanize them only fortifies their resistance.

— feeling strong.