The Evolution of “Life Presidents” in Uganda

Sam — By Sam from Uganda

Samuel Nakwagala was 25 years old when Uganda attained her independence from Great Britain in 1962. A year earlier, he had joined the Uganda Post and Telecommunications Company as a Postmaster in Busembatia Town in eastern Uganda.

With a lucrative job and happy family, an independent Uganda meant limitless horizons for the Nakwagalas since they would now be directly in charge of their destiny. The 1962 elections were held and the Uganda People’s Congress Party won. Nakwagala’s highschool contemporary Milton Obote was appointed as the executive Prime Minister while Edward Mutesa was appointed as the ceremonial Head of State.

The Nakwagalas were now in full charge of their country. Uganda’s economy was booming with exports of copper, coffee, cotton and hydroelectricity. Uganda’s agricultural sector was feeding the East and Central African region and Uganda’s GDP growth rate was almost the same as that of India and South Korea. A constitution was drafted which stipulated that there would be presidential elections every five years. Ugandans were happy with the federal system of governance because it granted them more control of their affairs and brought services closer to them.

Four years after independence, Milton Obote fell out with Edward Mutesa. Soldiers loyal to Obote attacked Mutesa’s palace and forced him into exile. This marked the beginning of bloodshed in Uganda. A state of emergency was declared; Obote abrogated the 1962 constitution and declared himself president. He went ahead and abolished kingdoms and declared Uganda as a one party state. Corruption, nepotism and assassinations became the order of the day as Obote attempted to do all he could to consolidate his grip on power.

Obote was overthrown by Idi Amin Dada in 1971 and Ugandans welcomed the coup with open hearts. “We were strong believers in kingdoms that Obote had abolished and we had hopes in Amin restoring them. Obote had lost track and denied us the right to elect leaders of our choice but with Amin, we knew we were going to restore the rule of law in Uganda,” says Nakwagala.

Idi Amin started off with economic reforms of Africanizing the Ugandan economy. He expelled immigrants from Uganda in order to create jobs for Ugandans. “We were happy when Amin chased away the immigrants,” adds Nakwagala.

Idi Amin’s honeymoon did not last long. He abolished the constitution, declared himself life president and started ruling by decree. Any opposition to Amin meant death and many Ugandans fled to exile. The economy collapsed because the Ugandans who replaced the expelled immigrants did not have the skills to manage it. Ugandans who had fled to exile mobilized and waged war against Idi Amin with support from the Tanzanian Government and in 1979, Uganda was liberated from Amin’s life presidency.

Ugandans organized the December 1980 elections which were won by former President Milton Obote. One of the contestants, Yoweri Museveni, rejected the outcome and waged war against Obote in February 1981. This war had devastating effects on the economy: lives were lost and out of frustration, Milton Obote was overthrown by his own army in July 1985 and General Tito Okello became the President of Uganda.

Nakwagala’s home was ransacked, his property was destroyed and he was tortured with his children as a punishment for supporting the dethroned Government. General Tito Okello’s reign was short lived as he was overthrown by the guerrilla rebels of Yoweri Museveni in January 1986. Nakwagala chose not to take revenge when his tormentors were defeated by Yoweri Museveni. He instead started a reconciliation initiative in Nasuti Village to promote tolerance in communities in 1986. Community dialogues would be held in his compound, and he would preach peace and sensitize his village mates about the political mistakes of Uganda.

Hope for any peaceful transition of power is a dream that is far from near for Samuel Nakwagala and all Ugandans. General Yoweri Museveni has been President since 1986. He amended the constitution in 2005 to remove term limits and he went ahead to contest for his third term in 2006, fourth term in 2011 and fifth term in 2016. Museveni is now 73 years and ineligible to contest for his sixth term in 2021 due to a constitutional age limit of 75. However, he has tabled a bill seeking to remove the age limit and with his ruling party commanding 80% of the Parliament, that bill will be passed and he will be eligible for his sixth term. With the life presidency syndrome in Uganda, only peace and tolerance as preached by Samuel Nakwagala can enhance harmony after regime change.

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Tragedy at Zomba Mountain

21175954_1498788570209917_871295268_n— By Harvey from Malawi

How much do you know about Malawi as a country? Probably very little. Experience everything about the country through Harvey’s eyes, a local who is traveling across the country, reporting for YaLa Africa Press. You just might like it!

It was during my third year of college that I experienced feeling so close to death. It was one of those sunny Saturday mornings in the middle of the rainy season that Wongani and I decided to go hiking to the top of Zomba mountain. Wongani was my closest, nerdiest, and the weirdest of friends back then. This being our second trip within a period of 12 months, we had agreed to hike up to the highest point on the mountain, if this was to be a challenge worth taking. We did this because we felt the previous hiking trip we took was less of a thrill due to poor preparations, and we were motivated to make this one an adventure of epic proportions.

Zomba mountain is 2000 metres at its highest point, and occupies an area of 130 square kilometres. For novice hikers, it’s not that much greater of a challenge, and we had heard of many people going up the mountain like child’s play. More importantly, we had done this before, but had turned back only after covering half the distance. The plan was that we choose a section of the mountain with the highest point, hike upwards and then back, following the same route. We had calculated that if we left at 5am, we ought to be back where we started by 5pm. As luck would have it, we were already on the road at 5am, carrying a backpack with four litres of water and some glucose. To make things even better, we had met a guy in the bushes at the base of the mountain who volunteered to walk with us a few kilometres up the mountain. It was ironic since he was a charcoal maker, people who are actually destroying natural habitats in Malawi. But here we were, us, the admirers of nature, and a man who makes a living by destroying nature.

Picture3
Myself and the charcoal maker.

He did leave us on a good track and we parted ways. From this point, Wongani and I marched upward, exchanging the role of carrying the back pack which by now (about 4 hours into the hike) was getting heavier every passing minute. Hell broke loose when our trail began disappearing, the surroundings getting trickier with vegetation, and the upward slope became steeper. Before long, it was no longer mountain hiking, and the whole thing began to look like one of those rock climbing documentaries you see on National Geographic Channel. We did not bring any ropes, as we had not anticipated slopes that steep. I am a very cautious person, so I was first to suggest we turn back, but adventurous Wongani would not have it. He kept pressing on, rock after rock, with me following him behind and cautioning, “Be careful bro, it’s a long way down.” Wongani would only say something like, “Calm down dude,” as he went upwards. Occasionally he’d miss a step, which would send my heart racing at supersonic speed.

He had gone up, 3 big rocks above me. All the while he would be calling for me to follow, excited that he can see a walkable flat mass of land on top. I tried to climb up but I could not. It was after I was tired of trying that the bitter reality became known. Wongani was a much taller person than I was, and he could reach places I could not. All the while Wongani kept climbing, I called out his name, but his responses by now were becoming very distant. I told him I could not climb up and asked him to come back down so that we may abort this seemingly life threatening mission. Alas! Wongani could not climb back down the same way I could not climb upwards. The slope had become so steep where he was, that coming back down would be like trying to climb down a wall built at an angle of ninety degrees. At about 1700 metres above sea level, I tried not to imagine what my friend would look like after falling from such height.  I yelled, “I am going back!” and he yelled back that he will find a new path down and that we will probably converge somewhere.

Picture2
Wongani trying out a cave.

I looked back down, and at that moment I knew it was going to be a long and painful way down. Because the rocks were steep, moving was very difficult – to the point that I was only circling the same place I was sitting. When the wind blew, coupled by the heavy backpack with the four litres of water in it, my body almost fell over the edge. I had to lose the bag… no I have to lose all of the water… no, maybe lose just some of the water… where are our mobile gadgets? Maybe I should call for help, and say something like I am stuck up in the mountains. Through this confusion, I had to sit down and clear my mind. I yelled, “Wongani!” But the man was long gone to find his own way down. I had to get going too, as the time on my phone was displaying 12:20 and I was long way up. I opened the bag and threw the bottles of water over. I watched them smash as they went down the mountain. Since I could not lose the backpack, I took some bandages Wongani had in his bag and tied the bag to the bandages forming a rope. I would then let the bag down onto a different rock using the bandage as a rope, then I’d follow and so on. I could not lose this bag, because it had sentimental value to Wongani, and knowing the man who from time to time named and still names his inanimate possessions, losing the bag was not an option.

Wisdom came over me, I had to follow the gorge that ran from up the mountains going down. Gorges on mountains have running rivers and are mostly covered with vegetation. I figured that moving this way, the chances of me falling over the edge would be minimal. Vegetation would act as support and keep my speed in check, and when I slip I would get caught in the bushes before long. More importantly, the gorge will be my GPS so I do not get lost. It was working, but I was worried about my friend…what if he fell? Wongani was a bit clumsy at times. I had to call him but all the mobile phones were with me after we had previously agreed to do so to void losing or breaking them during the climb upwards. I had to put such thoughts away and focus on covering the distance down. I had worn shorts on this day and by now my legs were full of cuts and bruises…the wounds stinging with the dumpy heat under vegetative cover. I had walked for over four and half hours going down, calling out for anyone who could hear, but no one was up here. The place was quite scary, with nothing but the sounds of nature in the background.

After getting lost more times than I could count, and almost going insane in the process, I was at the base of the mountain. Wongani was nowhere in sight, and I told myself I should walk straight to the hostels and wait for him there. It is a 1 hour walk from Chancellor College hostels to the base of the mountain. Heading home, I contemplated on what I would tell people if Wongani disappeared. What would I tell his parents? I would look like the evil one for leaving a friend behind. Halfway to the hostels I met a group of men whom we had passed at that same place 11 hours earlier, moulding bricks. I was so relieved when I heard them say a guy I went up the mountains was asking them if I had passed by before him. Wongani was about 25 minutes ahead of me all the while getting worried sick of what had happened to me.

The rest of the journey home was an embarrassing and a humbling experience. Crossing through the city, people looked at me with interest. I assumed I looked like some nightmarish creature with bits of bushes in my head, dirty clothes, and red eyes – I was a severely exhausted human being at most. I found Wongani waiting at my door looking worse than I felt. We both went to have our separate hot baths… this was one of the most painful hot baths I have ever had. Later, we convened at my room, ate the food we were supposed to eat when we reached the mountain top, and told each other about our separate horrors we had to encounter coming down the mountain. We laughed and contemplated how close we had come to seeing the worst.

We are looking forward to going back soon. Any partakers?

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The trek up the mountain.

The Resilient Women of Togo

farida (1) — By Farida from Togo

In a country of 6 million people, the over half who live in poverty are the backbones of the society: the most abused, the most neglected, the most discriminated against, yet, the hardest workers. 


These women bear the cost of bad governance at all levels. From the difficult conditions in which they deliver their babies on the floor in public hospitals that lack the bare minimum including beds, to working long hours at farms or in the markets just to make enough money so they can school their children that the government has abandoned, to supporting their jobless husbands who officially are the bread winners but are still awaiting a call for an office job at one of the zillion companies they have applied to, these strong, resilient and powerful ladies are the women of Togo. 


In August 2012, they made history and received the long-sought attention on the abuse they have been going through with a 5 decades old regime that only operates through brutality. After protesting every week for 2 consecutive years without having an iota of attention from international medias and institutions to look into the severe human rights abuses that they and their families had been facing, these ladies decided to take action. “A sex strike! Who does that?” – a question I heard a political commentator in the United States ask when the news blew out. Togolese women called for a sex strike on the 25th of August 2012 and it was the very first time in the history of my country that an article reporting an event happening in Togo was published on over 400 news sites in over 80 countries from Australia to Japan, from the United States to Ecuador. Yes! It took a while but I did count every single one of them on Google News.


For the first time, the world paid attention to us. The world listened and questioned the motive behind such an uncommon political action. For the first time, major international medias brought Togo from the “Who Cares Planet” and acknowledged the suffering of its people. As a young 22 years old activist who has been involved in the struggle for democracy in my country from a very tender age, for me that was a victory. None of the hundreds of letters we sent to foreign countries and international institutions ever worked. None of the hundreds of protests we organized in every corner of the world as Togolese in the diaspora ever worked. None of the massive killings and incarcerations our people have been going through were shocking enough for the world to share our pain. It took the self-dignity of our mothers, our sisters and our aunties who had to organize naked protests and call for a sex strike for the world to pause for a second and say, “Oh, this is serious!” And that is the reality we are living in. 


We are living in a world in which women have no voice unless sex is involved and this applies to politics even more. The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo that had 7 million people killed (the deadliest war since World War II) only gained attention in recent years when cases of massive rapes were reported. In Congo, rape is used as a weapon of war not because the warlords and rapists are in dire need of sex but because they want attention from the world and they know that violating women is the best and fastest way to get noticed and make a statement. 


The events in Togo left a trail that followed me wherever I went to raise awareness on torture and abuses in my country. People ask me if that’s not the country whose women called for a sex strike. We used to be invisible and would still have been if the women of Togo at some point in their life didn’t feel so powerless that they had to put their cultural values aside and step out naked in front of cameras and discuss the most tabooed topic within their society: sex. At first, I was proud of them. I still am and am grateful for their courage and their sense of selflessness as I know they took such steps for us, the youths, their kids who they so wish to save from the misery and the abuses they have faced their whole life. But after the buzz, I reflected on the whole thing and my heart started aching. It devastates me to live in society that only gives value to what’s between women’s legs. And I hope that someday, the daughter I might have or never have will not need to go that far for her voice to be heard.

The Strength of Womanhood

Picture1 — By Ejiro from Nigeria

It was the second week in December 1953, warming up for the Christmas celebrations. Daniel and Dorris welcomed their baby girl called Caroline. Daniel was a very handsome man, held a chieftaincy title in his community, and had four wives. Dorris was the second of his wives and he loved her dearly. Unlike other female children at that time, Caroline was fortunate to acquire an education. Daniel was educated and believed education was the legacy any parent could give to their child, regardless of being male or female. As such, all Daniel’s children attended school and attained different levels of education. He was well to do, and provided all thirty-seven of his children with all the pleasures of life.

Caroline was one of Daniel’s favourite children. She was very petite in size but very beautiful. She was soft spoken, brilliant, and loved to study, hence capturing the heart of her father. Caroline completed her A-Levels in a teaching profession and had plans of furthering to the University. She met Clement, a young medical surgeon who had just returned from abroad. He too was tall, handsome, eloquent, and most importantly, very intelligent, which was what captivated Caroline. They fell in love and Clement proposed marriage. He promised Caroline that she would complete her education from his house, as his wife. Blinded by love, with so much trust, she accepted and they got married. She was much envied by her family and friends. She had it all, married to a rich, handsome, highly educated man. Also to add, Clement was the only man  who owned a Jaguar car which was the latest at the time. This was every woman’s dream!

Then reality struck and this bed was not one of roses as Caroline imagined. Her seemingly perfect life gradually began to turn ugly. Her dream of furthering her education was aborted with childbearing and other wifely responsibilities. In addition, she also had to deal with Clement’s frequent anger tantrums, verbal and emotional abuses, and hatred for her family. He never let them visit. She lost everything: her dreams of education, her friends, her loving family, and herself in its entirety. All efforts to maintain peace in this home proved abortive. The last straw that broke the camel’s back was having to share her husband with two other women. Clement married two other wives and life became even worse. She was eventually thrown out of the house heavily pregnant. Clement refused to take her back and that was the end of this unpleasant journey which started radiantly. Caroline who used to be full of smiles, calm, and very charming had evolved into a very sad, gloomy, and unhappy woman with no hope for the future. She was only thirty-one years old at the time.

She swore to never give Clement the last laugh. She gave birth to a set of twin girls and had three girls in total for Clement.

Leaving the children with her mother, when they turned one-year old, Caroline moved to the Northern part of the country with her elder sister. She was determined to rebuild her life and create a better future for her girls. She took back her children and began raising them herself. Enduring so many hardships, from losing her only son to the lack of basic needs like befitting clothes and so on. She opened a small grocery store where she sold fruits, food stuff, and other items. This phase of Caroline’s life she hated so much, because she had to struggle at the farmers’ market to buy her products for the grocery store. This was not the life she envisaged for herself.

Nevertheless, she kept looking forward with so much optimism and support from her family, who never abandoned her at this trying time. Eventually, some ray of light!!! Caroline secured a job with the State’s Civil Service using her A-levels degree, which meant better income and a befitting quality of life for her and her children. She worked there for several years. In pursuit of her dream, at age fifty Caroline enrolled in a university to pursue a degree in Accountancy along with her girls, who were now grown. She graduated the same year as her second daughter, and proceeded to attain a professional certification as a chartered accountant. At fifty-seven, not only was Caroline a chartered accountant, but all her girls were graduates too.

Today, all three of her girls are Masters degree holders and established women in different walks of life. Her oldest daughter is married with two girls also. Caroline like so many women in Africa, weathered the storm with determination, hard work, and indeed God’s grace. She changed the gloomy story of her life to one of motivation for her girls, other women in Africa, and the world at large.

I am indeed very proud to be one of the daughters of this great and courageous woman, my role model and inspiration. She continues to inspire me in the work I do today.

I respect the labour of womanhood and the strength that lies therein. Promoting and protecting the rights of women is my life-long vision and commitment. I believe every woman deserves to live their dreams!

This blog post is also featured on Woman.ng, a website “for the Nigerian woman, by Nigerian women.”

The Last Day of an Abusive Relationship

–By Tsafack Olive from Cameroon

It was a Friday evening, the day had been very quiet. I was visiting my friend Nina earlier during the day. I told her about my worries regarding academics, and also the fact that I had to travel in one week’s time, but how I was afraid my state of health would not enable me to. After about three hours, I left and went for a walk before coming back. Never could I imagine the turning point my life would take later that evening. I had been in that relationship for three years, and the feeling of despair was taking over. 

I had really tried to keep things going, but for more than 4 weeks now, I was thinking there was no need to continue. My boyfriend Steve was a medical doctor, about seven years older than me. After his shift that day, he met me over at Nina’s place. We spent a nice time chatting and laughing with my other friends for more than an hour. Later on, I had to see him off and Nina came along. On our way, I reminded him of the fact that I would be travelling in a week, and he replied aggressively, “I have told you, I don’t want you to travel for that seminar.” When I asked why, he replied, “Because I’ve said so, you don’t need to know why and if you insist on travelling, be aware, that will be the end of our relationship.” I was surprised and asked myself why?

Meanwhile we continued talking and I explained how important it was for me to attend the seminar for my projects. He kept on insisting, vividly, without any good reason, when finally I replied, “In that case, I’m ready to see this relationship end because I am determined to go.” And all of a sudden, it happened, that evening in front of Nina and others passing by, I was slapped and brutalised by the individual I called my boyfriend. It happened so rapidly, in a matter of seconds, that I couldn’t dodge the attack. When I finally got his hands off me, I rushed home immediately. After walking for about 3 minutes, on the ground appeared a shadow, it was Steve chasing me. “Oh my God,” I thought. I started running so fast, and as I was running this thought came to my mind: “Run for your life, because if he catches you, you are dead.” My speed increased incredibly, and after a little while I jumped on a bike, and without giving my destination to the driver, I told him, “Please go with me, or I’m dead,” and the biker did as I said.

Upon reaching home where I was safe, I realized what had just happened to me, what has happened to 1 in 3 women in their lifetime, violence against women. What was really bothering me was that this was the second time. I had the possibility to leaving the first time but I didn’t. I had hundreds of signs; Steve was constantly belittling and looking down on me. This was the result. My dress was torn and my face swollen. Not only was there physical damage and public disgrace, but I was mad at myself because this could have been avoided. But when all my anger was cooled, I said thank God because the most important thing was that I was still alive. I have heard, read, and seen thousands of stories like this, but most of those women were either severely wounded, hospitalized, or even killed.

This incident shaped my whole life unexpectedly. Today, I have used this story to inspire other women to free themselves from violence before it is too late. I am stronger than ever and since then, I dedicate my time to empowering other girls and women who suffer from gender-based violence of all sorts. It’s possible to get out of there, to recover from the physical and the psychological abuses, regain self-confidence, move on with your life, and become a happy and peaceful individual. But to have peace and happiness, you have to forgive, forgive because grudges will never let you go on. 

Two months later, he called me and said he was sorry, that he wanted me back. He added, “I thought you were cheating on me,” and I answered, “I have forgiven you for my own wellbeing, and for the sake of peace, it’s better we stay away from each other.” Honestly, I had never been as happy with him as I am today without him. In such cases, we always have signs, but we refuse to see them, out of interests or feelings most of the time. Relationships are essential in life, but happiness and inner peace are priceless.

Woman; Human

Chinemerem — By Chinemerem from Nigeria

He asked me, “Are you angry?” I said “No. I’m not.” And he said “Good. It’s right that you’re not the kind to get mad so easily. You know, women shouldn’t.” 
And it was this, more than anything else, that got me seething with rage. 
You see,

I can be angry.
I can be careless.
I can be very short-tempered.
I can be aggressive.
•••••
I can be sexually reckless.
I do have feelings – all kinds.
I can be lazy.
•••••
I can be talkative.
I can be disrespectful.
I can be unsubmissive.
I’m capable of hatred.
•••••
I am not perfect.

These are not the best traits, but it’ll be foolhardy to pretend that they don’t exist in me.
It is a disservice to womanhood that the society has conditioned it to be something of perfection, and nothing less.

This desire to be likeable; to please people; to not show anger, even if you’re angry; this need to always smile, even when you’re hurt. All these, stifle our humanity as women. 
I refuse to be perceived as a ‘special’ creature. I refuse to accommodate hurt, just so I can be likeable. I am not sacred. I am human. Just human.

I am a woman; and I’m capable of imperfection!

The Day I Cheated Death

sylvie — By Sylvie from Cameroon

Dawn was almost breaking, so you could still hear the birds chirping, the cocks crowing, and my siblings snoring. 
It was 5:30am, so I quietly slipped my way from our room to the kitchen, tiptoeing and being as quiet as I could to prepare the things I needed for the day’s restaurant sales. 


I was 21, had graduated from the university and because of a lack of jobs in the country I opened a restaurant. I employed two people to help me and I couldn’t be prouder of myself. 


When I finished packing, I rushed for a quick shower, got ready, and by 6am I left the house. Carrying the bags on my head, I walked through the dusty tiny path that linked our house to the main road. As I walked past the trees, I looked at the mud built houses occupied by the other jobless youths, and wondered how they paid their rent; I wondered if moving from the villages to the cities was a good idea for them, and I wished them well.


Finally, I arrived at the restaurant, it was an earth floored, brown painted two-room building bordered by two drugstores, a domestic gas seller to the right, a tiny passage to a motel where prostitutes lived, and a huge snack bar to the left. Business was active at the “Sodom and Gomorrah,” or as my mom called it, 24/7. The prostitutes were getting ready to retire as they had worked all night.


I opened the restaurant doors and walked through the first room, which was used for serving and eating, to the second room which was the kitchen. I used “salt-dust-pots” to cook the food, as it was cheaper, but it was some sort of a hassle to get it started. After about 30 minutes of pounding the dust into the locally made cooking utensil it was ready for use. I lit the fire, took a seat and started preparing the other ingredients for cooking; onion chopping, asparagus washing, spices blending and as I did, I heard a scratchy squeaky sound from the neighbor’s domestic gas shop, and I thought maybe he had forgotten to turn his radio off. I continued chopping, washing, cleaning, but the sound got louder and in a split of a second I saw a rushing flash of fire below my feet, and soon the entire kitchen was consumed in fire. Red curly puffs of fire covered my entire body. I got numb for a second and the next second I rushed out of the kitchen through the serving room to the street screaming “Fire!! Help!! Fire!! Fire!!” The prostitutes who had retired were the first to come to my aid as they too joined in screaming “Fire!! Fire!! Help!!” And in the next few minutes the entire place was filled up with people all trying to help, others rushing for sand to pour on the uncontrollable fire. The sounds of the gas bottles exploding could be heard from the neighbor’s shop, others were calling the fire fighters, and others were trying to save as much property as they could. 


I was standing there covered in tears, hands on my head, no shoes on my feet as they had been burnt: I watched how the flames spread to the neighboring buildings, and in twenty minutes, millions of dollars worth of property were all burnt to ashes. Journalists, cameras, people all surrounded me asking what had happened and how I survived, and to this day I don’t have an answer to that question.