Have you ever watched a TV commercial for international aid and wondered how people's donations work in developing countries? Before I travelled to northern Uganda as part of a team of volunteers with the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA), I did. But on that trip I met many Ugandans whose lives are being improved with the help of generous Canadians, and my outlook was forever changed.
This coming Saturday, the Ugandan Canadian community is organizing a public protest to highlight the shortcomings of a new government policy in Uganda. Henry Luyombya and Morris Komakech reflect with me why they believe Canada and Canadians should be alarmed and concerned about what is happening in their native land.
At a time when LGBT communities face frightening and growing prejudice from governments overseas, Canada's Bill C-279 serves as a stark moral contrast with the likes of Uganda, Russia, and numerous undemocratic regimes across the Middle East. It is often overlooked that the "T" in LGBT refers to the transgender community, members of which continue to face serious discrimination in some quarters. In supporting C-279 and calling on Parliament to enshrine greater protection for transgender Canadians, I am proud that we continue the legacy today.
Before we left Kampala, Uganda's capital, it was a daily occurrence for me as a young child to see dead bodies in the street and to fall asleep to the sounds of machine guns and screams. And when my father failed to come home, I always thought that his voice was one of those screams I heard in the night.
To those of us who immigrated to Canada in the 1990s, Namugenyi "Nam" Kiwanuka was our introduction to Canada. She was a smart and engaging celebrity MuchMusic VJ. As if being a new mother is not occupying much of her time, the Ugandan native has used whatever time she has left fulfilling the promise of her Canadian citizenship by bringing attention to worthy causes all around the world.
David Okidi is a journalist in Northern Uganda and was the station manager at Mega FM, a radio station in the northern Ugandan region of Gulu. He recently joined the board of directors of Farm Radio International. Farm Radio International (FRI) helps African radio broadcasters meet the needs of local small-scale farmers and their families in rural communities. I met him for lunch.
On an official visit to Canada last week, Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of Uganda's parliament, found herself in a bit of a tiff with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird. Speaker Kadaga protested Minister Baird's "arrogance" and "promoting homosexuality." She declared, "We are not a colony of Canada." But Canada will not be any better off if Uganda stops threatening its gays. Minister Baird called out Speaker Kadaga because today, in the community of nations, where we all theoretically equal, it is anathema to the concept of human dignity that a state should sanction the persecution of a group of its own citizens for no reason other than who they are. Standing up against that is not colonialism; it's decency.
The opening of the UN General Assembly is taking place before us. Unfortunately, with one particular group of world leaders, in an area where they desperately need a makeover, one will probably not be forthcoming. Paul Biya, the President of Cameroon will not have the courage to stand up before his fellow African heads of state and proclaim that state-sanctioned bigotry and persecution of gays throughout Africa must become a relic of the past. Nor will Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda. But this is a time to give a voice to the voiceless.
The issue of age recently exploded in the Ugandan media when a 19-year-old woman won a by-election in Usuk, Uganda. How could someone so young, so inexperienced, adequately represent her constituents? In Uganda, as in Canada, the youth are the ones bearing the brunt of the global economic crisis, and yet are facing constant criticism for being entitled for wanting a good education and decent jobs. They have a right to be represented and heard.
I was thinking about the old saying, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." I realized that probably it's a bad idea to teach people to fish. Probably it's better to ask them how they can solve the problem of feeding their families, then lend them the money to help them implement their own solutions. FINCA empowers the poor and allows them to develop small businesses as they see fit, through microfinancing.
In Nyamata, a small, dusty town in southern Rwanda, there lies a tidy, red brick church. Its walls are riddled with bullet holes. The interior holds bloody smears on the floor, torn clothing neatly piled on benches, and rows of bones. But Idi Amin's torture chambers are something different altogether.
Small acts of courage by gay rights activists in Uganda are taking place against a backdrop of virulent hatred and fear. The country's tabloids, most notably Rolling Stone (not affiliated with the music magazine) and Red Pepper, thrive on spreading messages of hysteria with regards to the 'gay epidemic'. Rolling Stone published a list of 100 'homos' and called for them to be hanged. David Kato, a prominent Ugandan gay rights activist, was one on the list and he was brutally beaten to death with a hammer shortly after.
Recently, physical contact was banned in Uganda. The re-emergence of Ebola, with two cases discovered in Kampala, has sparked fear in the country. And little wonder. It's a disease that could have been created by writers of a Hollywood horror movie -- a communicable disease that often causes fever, bleeding and death. But there is another disease stalking Uganda that doesn't fit the traditional images of outbreak and disease. And it's coming for the children.
When he's not touring the world or recording albums that continue to influence generations of younger musicians, Rush singer and bassist Geddy Lee supports a grape cause. A wine-loving philanthropist, Lee, 59, sits on the board of directors of the Grapes For Humanity Global Foundation, a charity organization founded in Canada, and expanded in 2007 with a U.S. arm that has collectively raised over $4 million through numerous wine-related fundraisers.
Nowhere are the contradictions of Uganda more readily apparent than in the nightclubs on any given evening. Uganda is a fairly conservative society; public displays of affection are frowned upon in public, and women often wear modest clothing. When the clubs open, the rules change. The hemlines become shorter and shirts a bit tighter.
As Harper dilates on the virtues of Calgary, and the United States slogs into one of its dullest and nastiest presidential campaigns between two of its least impressive candidates ever, the West may take some comfort from the relative tranquility around their major office-holders. As dismal as things can seem over here, we should be aware of how bad things can get, and in some countries, generally are.
In the Congo, a small town called Bunagana is falling to rebel troops. This led to 600 government soldiers and thousands of refugees fleeing into Uganda. What does this have to do with Canada? Everything. The DRC is the stage of a violent and bloody conflict that is being fueled by a rush for resource exploitation. The conflict may seem far away but Canada is right in the heart of it all.