Today was supposed to be a good day. I woke up with a lot of gusto because I was going to congregate with other women at the launch of the Women’s Manifesto, 2016-2021. I felt honored to be alive at this time in the history of my country, knowing that I have done my bit to contribute to the building blocks of democracy, or some shade of it any way.
As I drove to the Uganda museum where we were going to congregate, I bought the newspapers and a picture on the front page of the New Vision caught my eye. It was a picture of Hon Irene Muloni, our Energy Minister, leading an anti-Amama demonstration in Mbale. Mbale town is one of several that have held protests against Hon Amama’s bid to aspire to be a Presidential flag bearer for his party, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) in next year’s general elections.
I felt sad seeing a woman minister being part of such a crowd. She is a leader, an MP, she is a minister of one of the most key ministries in this country and what does she do? Lead her people in promoting intolerance of those with differing views from that of her party leader. What is she teaching her people? What is she teaching the next generation of women who will lead after her? What message is she passing to other women who one day want to run as presidential flag bearer of the ruling party and/or the country? Is this how she wants to be remembered so close to the end of her term in office?
Meanwhile at the launch of the Women’s Manifesto, I was proud to be led by Mrs Rhoda Kalema, an icon in the women’s movement, who has contributed to women’s empowerment in Uganda. Mrs Kalema is now 80 years old and she graced our occasion as the Chief Walker. She walked with us as far as she could, but stayed with us throughout the whole launch. I am often in awe of women like her, women on whose shoulders our generation of women rights activists stands. We have a rich heritage as a movement.
And then there were pictures going round on social media of another woman – Ms Rachel Mbabazi, who is an OG of mine. We both studied at Gayaza High School. Her picture was doing the rounds because she was unfortunately arrested this morning as she escorted her father, Hon Amama Mbabazi, who was on his way to Mbale to address his first consultative meeting. As I write this, Rachel is still in custody and there is an online campaign for her release.
Three different women, three seemingly different realities. Or are they? Not really. The three women all live in the same political context in Uganda. It is a context of a clear crisis, and how we position ourselves as women, how we respond (or not) speaks volumes about whether we are on the side of inclusion or exclusion, on the side of oppression or liberation, on the side of progress or regress. We cannot go on with business as usual. We can no longer pretend not to see that our country is on fire. We can no longer assume that just because we are on the “right” side, or that we have no side, that what goes on around us doesn’t affect us.
We must understand that injustice against one of us is injustice against all of us. We are not all free until all of us are free. We cannot sit idly by and hope that somehow our country will get better.
Our country needs us. Will we rise to the challenge?