Uganda’s president is contemplating signing a law that would criminalize the deliberate transmission of HIV. The law would also require pregnant women to get tested for the virus and allow health officials to disclose the HIV status of certain individuals in order to protect potential sexual partners.

The bill was passed in the Ugandan Parliament in March and is awaiting the signature of President Yoweri Museveni to become law. However, the proposal has been met with considerable criticism, as many believe the initiative will exacerbate Ugandan HIV prevalence.

“Uganda has taken a giant leap backwards in the struggle against HIV,” Dr. Noreen Kaleeba, executive of the Aids Support Organization, decried in a statement last month.

Critics like Dr. Kaleeba believe the pending law will discourage citizens from being tested in order to skirt any possible criminal liability, and many fear the measure will disproportionately impact Ugandan women. In addition, the text appears to be an abusive invasion of privacy that will intensify the already paralyzing stigmatization suffered by those carrying the virus.

Only 33 percent of the Ugandan population has been tested for HIV. In addition, recent undercover reporting conducted by BBC journalists indicates that many Ugandans are going as far as to procure fake HIV negative tests results in order to mislead employers and avoid stigmatization.

However, most Ugandan politicians disagree with critic’s assessments of this new law, citing the recent increase in HIV infections — a disconcerting trend that suggests many citizens are transmitting the virus willfully. Today, 1.5 million Ugandans are infected.

“The law is not unfairly targeting anybody, but rather it is addressing somebody who has tested for HIV and knows his or her status and, out of malice, intentionally wants to infect others,” stated Chris Baryomunsi, a respected member of Ugandan Parliament.

Despite significant opposition to thwart the bill’s passage, the measure appears destined to pass, as the opposition has voiced recent discouragement over an inability to engage the global community. However, popular protest has yielded positive results in the past, as the President vetoed a radical anti-gay bill earlier this year after significant international pressure demanded Museveni squash the hateful and violent legislation.

President Museveni is expected to make a decision in the next couple of weeks.

– Sam Preston

Sources: All Africa, BBC News, The Globe and Mail
Photo: Cloud Front

menstruation in uganda
Menstruation is a major reason for young girls in Uganda to miss school. Reasons for their absence stems from the stigma associated with “that time of the month,” a lack of sanitary napkins and the limited facilities available to students. Attending school while on their period forces girls to put their health at risk and chance being the subject of humiliation.

In an interview with a Guardian reporter, 16-year-old Lydia from Kampala, Uganda expressed why going to school during her period is difficult. She explained that some of the toilets did not have doors, so that if someone walked in, they would see her. Her school also has only four toilets for 2,000 students.  The toilets’ inability to flush or have water complicates the issue further, making menstruation in Uganda a problem in multiple ways.

In a recent study by SNV, officials report that girls miss between 8 to 24 days of school per year while menstruating.

Some girls attempt to prevent their clothing from being ruined by trying to absorb the blood with old cloth or old t-shirts, but these methods are not particularly successful. In another interview, Auma Milly commented that disposable pads are very expensive and are often not available in the more rural regions. Consequently, she felt embarrassed when she went to school and would soil her clothes so often that she chose not to attend.

In an attempt to address the problem regarding women’s sanitary needs, organizations including Save the Children, WaterAid, the Institute of Reproductive Health and local NGO Caritas Lira have begun to raise awareness and assist the cause.  Representatives from WaterAid commented on the importance of deconstructing the taboo regarding women’s health. The founder of 50 Cents. Period. described the battle as giving girls the basic right to hygiene. SNV and Caritas Lira have gone to schools in order to teach girls how to make reusable, affordable pads. Additionally, female Ugandan government officials have begun advocating for reduced taxes on sanitary napkins and improved facilities so that menstruation does not interfere with education.

– Jordyn Horowitz


Sources: The Guardian, The Guardian 2, UWASNET, 50 Cents Period, UWASNET, , SNV
Photo: A Global Village


Imagine getting up every morning and walking miles just to get a drink of water. And what if that water, the only source of potable water in the area, was full of infectious bacteria? That is the struggle that Gertrude Namakon faced in Uganda, as do many others the world over. Every 20 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease, something developed countries with steady access to drinking fountains and faucets do not have to deal with.

However, organizations like Just a Drop are working to fix this. Founded in 1998 by Fiona Jeffery, Just a Drop has a simple goal of providing clean water to people who need it. The international aid charity focuses on funding individual projects around the world to help address water needs worldwide.

Improving access to water is important for a multitude of reasons, such as helping relieve poverty, female equality and education as well as saving the lives of children. Nearly 780 million people like Gertrude do not have access to clean water, and many must travel a significant distance every day to bring that unsafe water back to their homes for cooking, cleaning and sanitation purposes. In rural India, up to 22% of a woman’s day is retrieving water, taking time away from education and time away from making money through business or trade.

Just a Drop wants this to change. “Our main mission is to convey the message that just 1 pound or $2 can give one child clean water for nearly ten years; therefore if each of us gives a little then collectively we can make a huge difference,” says Fiona Jeffery. By raising funds from donations from individuals and businesses, they are able to fund projects to go to these rural areas. The projects are community based, building up both the structures like wells and fountains for the water, and also the maintenance and management structures to help out in the long term.

Just a Drop has helped 31 countries by funding over 130 projects worldwide. These projects in turn have helped nearly 1.5 million people, like Ugandan Gertrude Namakon. By building a well and water pump near her school, Gertrude doesn’t have to walk miles to reach drinkable water. “It will make a big difference to my life,” she says. “It will be wonderful to be able to get clean water from a well without being sick all the time.”

Jeffery says, “Life without water is an endless struggle but with it, so many things are possible.” If a child dies every 20 seconds due to unclean water, they do not get that chance. By both raising awareness about the issue, and funding the projects to fix it, Just a Drop is doing a lot to help out the too many people at risk due to unsafe, hard-to-reach sources of water all over the world.

To volunteer, or to donate, go to

– Matthew Erickson

Sources: Just a Drop: What We Do, Just a Drop: 6 Reasons to Support Just A Drop, Oxford, Water, Travel Research Online
Photo: Red Orbit

MEND seamstresses
After being abducted by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) at the age of 13, Grace survived two years in the Northern Ugandan bush before she was able to escape. Today, Grace, among 22 other formerly abducted women, are employed as seamstresses by an organization known as Mend.

Since 1987, Kony’s army has abducted over 30,000 children, forcing them to become soldiers in his army or wives to his soldiers.

Grace, among thousands of other women, suffered the physical, emotional, and mental pain of being held captive by these men. Although the seamstresses were fortunate to escape, many were ostracized by friends and family upon return due to involvement with the rebels. In order to address these issues and work through traumatization, all of the women employed by Mend received three months of counseling and tailoring training through Invisible Children.

The Invisible Children is an organization that began in 2006 as an initiative to end the LRA conflict in Uganda. In addition to establishing numerous campaigns that rehabilitate and educate formerly abducted people, Invisible Children formed Mend as a social enterprise in 2009 in order to give women employment opportunities and create awareness around circumstances in Uganda.

As their Mother’s Day promotion, Mend seamstresses created beautiful limited edition clutches for women to receive on Mother’s Day. The clutches are a thoughtful gift for a mother that supports a mother in need.

In addition to clutches, MEND seamstresses, like Grace, also sew purses, handbags, and laptop sleeves all specifically designed by the Mend design team. Mend products range anywhere from $35 to $300. “It is an immense responsibility,” designer Juan-David Quinnones shared, “to make something that will last, add value to people’s lives, and tell an amazing story.” As Quinnones refers to, each bag shares a message from the woman who created it through a tag that has her picture and story on it.

When asked “Where did you get that great bag,” customers have the opportunity to share not only where their bag is from, but also who made it and why. Exchanges like these, thanks to Mend’s dedication, has transformed consumerism into a form of activism.

“One of our bottom lines is the growth of our seamstresses in all aspects of their lives,” professed Mend director Chris Sarette. In addition to the employment opportunity, Mend provides their seamstresses with a full-time social worker, literacy classes, and financial meetings to help the women grow holistically, for themselves and their families.

The Invisible Children Shop

– Heather Klosterman

Sources: Mend
Photo: MPc Magazine 

Uganda is under massive scrutiny for passing one of the world’s toughest anti-gay laws. The move comes after a similar bill was passed in Nigeria, which gives a 14 year sentence for being convicted of acts of homosexuality. The bill has come under fire from many Western countries as well as a great many activist organizations.

The anti-gay bill in Uganda comes with some of the most weighty punishments in the world. According to NPR, the punishments can include life in prison for some of the perceived harsher offenses. Simply renting an apartment to an lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) person and not telling the authorities can result in five years in prison.  According to variety of sources a group of Evangelical Christians in the United States may be behind the background of the bill. As they see the anti-gay movement as lost in the United States, they are now trying to stem the tide in other countries.

There have been reports that Evangelical Christians have indeed been using money and influence in Uganda to promote anti-LGBT sentiment and get bills such as the one Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a more common part of African law. Museveni recently said, “ I…encourage the United States government to help us by working with our scientist to study whether indeed, there are people who are born homosexual.” This issue is still being debated.

Beyond the obvious human rights tie, there is a broader issue here: the age old intervening imperialist question. As soon as the bill was signed into law, Western powers and international organizations cut off funding as well as other economic sanctions upon Museveni’s signing of the bill. It is no secret that the majority of the countries in Africa do require foreign aid of some type; and African nations are not usually going to reject large injections of cash.

The stance of President Museveni and Uganda to the delay a $90 million dollar loan from the World Bank has been surprising. Ofwono Opondo, a government spokesman, said, “The West can keep their aid to Uganda over homos, we shall develop without it.” This is a surprising stance from one of the world’s poorest countries with a per capita income of only $170.

The anti-gay bill signed into law by Museveni is one of number of discouraging bills that are coming to fruition which are both extremely anti-development and anti-human rights. For one of the poorest countries in the world, making life even more difficult for some of its citizens is, in the words of Secretary of State John Kerry, “…just morally wrong…”

– Arthur Fuller

Sources: New York Times, NPR, CNN, New York Times, World Bank, The Independent, Business Day Live, BBC

United States history is rife with racial and sexual discrimination. This history has shown, however, that systematic alienation of particular social groups comes with costly economic consequences.

For example, the 381 days long 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott, spurred by the arrest of Rosa Parks, reportedly ameliorated 75 percent of the city bus line’s revenue. The damage translated to approximately a loss of $3,500 per day, calculating a total loss of over $1.3 million.

It is no coincidence that as segregation was outlawed, U.S. economic growth accelerated.

Discrimination based on race, gender or sexual orientation in the U.S. business practices are still rampant today. A report from the Center for American Progress revealed the significant costs involved in discriminatory practices—an estimated $64 billion of revenue per year.

On February 24, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed an anti-gay law. The legislation called for a 14-year prison sentence for each initial homosexual act committed and the possibility of life imprisonment for continued homosexual relations.

In response to this discriminatory law, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has frozen all of the Bank’s loans, totaling $90 million, to Uganda.

Kim has also harnessed the seismic forces of this bold move to address further forms of discrimination worldwide, such as sexism and racial discrimination. He stressed that discrimination in any form is not only destructive in a moral sense, but harbors the growth of economies around the world.

In a recent public statement, Kim used the negative economic impact of he marginalizing women from job opportunities as a key example. In countries with low economic participation from women, a World Bank study revealed income losses of 27 percent in the Middle East and North Africa. The same study showed that raising female employment and entrepreneurship to equal male levels could improve average income by 19 percent in South Asia and 14 percent in Latin America.

Marginalizing people based on gender, race or sexual orientation is destructive to economies. Legislation that aims to alienate potentially some of the most talented and efficient of a country’s or business’s workers is nothing short of self-mutilation on a macro scale. As Kim said, “Eliminating discrimination is not only the right thing to do; it’s also critical to ensure that we have sustained, balanced and inclusive economic growth in all societies — whether in developed or developing nations, the North or the South, America or Africa.”

– Malika Gumpangkum

Sources: The World Bank, HuffPost, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, Robert J. Walker
Photo: Economic Times

Ugandan orphans sing their stories and hope for a brighter future.

The worshipers in Kent’s Hextable Church last Sunday were dazzled by the performance of the Watoto Children’s Choir. The Choir comprises of Ugandan children who have all lost their parents through war or disease and have been taken in by the Watoto Child Care Ministries.

The program was started in 1994 by Gary Skinner and his family, who had moved to Uganda 14 years earlier to build a church in Kampala, the country’s capitol. After meeting a 79-year-old widow who had lost her husband, lost six of her children to AIDS and who was now watching her last daughter die of the same disease, Skinner was compelled to start a program that would not only harbor orphans, but educate and support them as future leaders.

The Watoto model for raising these children includes physical care, medical intervention including HIV/AIDS treatment and trauma counseling, both a formal and technical education and spiritual guidance: “We exist to raise the next generation of African leaders, by pursuing excellence in academic and practical skills, integrity in conduct and moral values, so that each one becomes a responsible Christian and a productive citizen.”

The choir is comprised of 18 children and young adults who sing, dance and tell the audience about themselves and their experiences traveling with the choir. The group has been all over the world, performing in Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Australasia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States, South America, Hong Kong, China and Japan. With four CDs out and a growing fan base, the group spreads awareness and generates funding for their fellows back in Uganda.

Jerry McQuay, a U.S. pastor who sponsored a performance from the group wrote, “The choir itself will steal your heart with their music, dance and stories, and when you hear the holistic approach that Gary and Marilyn Skinner are using, you’ll see how you can be a part of truly changing a nation.”

Lydia Caswell

Sources: Watoto, This is Local London
Photo: Watoto

Uganda’s parliament has just passed a bill to toughen the punishment for homosexual acts. Some of these punishments include life imprisonment.

The anti-homosexuality bill promises to make it a crime to not report gay people. U.S. President Barack Obama called the bill, which was drafted in 2009, as being “odious.” The bill itself has received global backlash, and could result in countries suspending aid to the country that is likely to have numerous detrimental effects on local economies.

Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi opposed the vote, and stated that not enough MPs were present for quorum. It is unclear whether President Yoweri Museveni will sign the bill into law — however, the outcome remains bleak.

Originally, the drafters of the bill proposed the death penalty for certain offenses such as those including HIV-positive citizens and minors. The MP behind the bill, David Bahati, released a statement saying, “This is victory for Uganda. I am glad the parliament has voted against evil.”

The introduction of this bill has now led to Uganda being called the worst place to be gay. “I am officially illegal,” Ugandan gay activist, Frank Mugisha, said after the vote. While socially conservative as a country, many view the passage of this bill — coupled with others — to be draconian.

Thursday, an Anti-Pornography Bill was passed, which bans miniskirts and sexually suggestive material such as some music videos — now, gay activists find their lives in danger. In 2011, a gay activist was killed, although the police denied he was targeted because of his sexuality.

Uganda’s current anti-gay legislation has been rarely enforced. These criminalized sexual acts were classified as being “against the order of nature.” Bahati claimed that tough new legislations were needed because gay people from the west threatened to destroy Ugandan families and were “recruiting” Ugandan children into gay lifestyles.

The challenge regarding these laws in Uganda had been enforcement. Authorities are required to gather evidence of a person participating in what was considered a homosexual act. This is hard to prove but a reason this is concerning is that once this more recent bill is passed, it might give authorities extra motivation in addressing these “homosexual crimes.”

In contrast, the Ugandan gay community has disputed this, instead saying that Ugandan political and religious leaders have come under the influence of American evangelicals. They have since singled out Scott Lively, a Massachusetts evangelical, who they sued in March 2012.

In 2012, gay people in Uganda had their first gay pride parade. They have also joined in numerous street marches in support of universal human rights. What seemed to be progress in the gay sector has been totally reversed by these new impositions.

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Hivos, Human Rights Watch and Sexual Minorities Uganda have said that the bill’s passage is a significant step backward for Uganda’s commitments to respect human rights.

“President Museveni should avoid the trap of scapegoating a vulnerable minority in the interests of short-term political gain,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The new text also extends the punishment to sexual relations between women. The bill also criminalizes the “promotion” of homosexuality, an attack of the right of freedom of expression. All LGBT groups could be shut down.

The repercussions of this bill would drive efforts to address HIV by pushing members of the LGBT community underground. It also could encourage, what has been called, “vigilante violence.” LGBT individuals would be reluctant to report crimes against them because they themselves could face arrest and life in prison.

Chloe Nevitt
Feature Writer

Sources: BBC, The Guardian, Human Rights Watch

Google’s Project Link to Connect in Uganda
Google is joining the quest to bring parts of the developing world that are not yet online up to speed, and the parts that are, to a much faster speed. 
Google’s Project Link initiative will build fiber-optic networks to assist in connecting the last few billion people around the world to the internet.

Three million residents in and around Kampala, the capital of Uganda, will be the first to experience Project Link.

The country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has publically shown disinterest toward developing technology. However, in the case of Uganda, the initiative is predicted to enhance the services of pre-existing providers, rather than create new ones.

According to Google, the city currently has what is described as “pre-broadband” speed, and “unreliable connections.”

Kai Wulff, Google’s Access Field Director, took to the company’s blog to explain how Project Link will strengthen the supply chain between undersea cables that deliver data to Africa and internet service providers.

Testimonials from Kampala residents, featured in a Project Link promotional video, cite the initiative as the way to encourage development, trade possibilities, and improve education. They describe it as being more than just a tool with which to grow business, but also as a vision of prosperity for Uganda.

Project Link is being compared to Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg’s initiative – another attempt to bring the developing world online.

Both Facebook and Google run the risk of appearing exploitative of new markets and ultimately pursuing profits under the guise of philanthropy. A possibility that does not seem far-fetched, considering only 16% of Africa’s population currently has Internet access.

However, the general consensus at the recent Transform Africa Summit, suggests that corporate motivations are not the primary concern for those invested in Africa’s development.

Government officials discussed the importance of public and private sectors working together – something that is evident in Rwanda, where the summit was held.

A successful example of this, is Korea Telecom’s heavy investment in Rwanda. The collaboration between corporation and country has even enabled a 4G broadband rollout to 95% of the population.

It seems Google is following suit. Project Link is not the only endeavor the multinational corporation has undertaken in Africa lately. Its navigation system has been slowly extended to multiple developing countries on the continent.

As of December, owners of Android phones in Somalia, Burundi, and Djibouti could access the voice-guided Google navigation system on their phones.

– Zoë Dean

Sources: Wired, Google blog
Photo: Occupy Corporatism

Uganda has been struggling for decades with issues of poverty and Kampala, its capital city, is no exception. The migration of residents from rural to urban areas has led to growing pockets of poverty in the capital since insufficient housing sends many to live on the streets. The poor of Kampala live in slums and nearly all citizens are unemployed. Most attain money by begging in the streets. With a population of 1,189,142 people in the city, access to clean and safe water is limited to 65 percent. The remaining 35 percent risk contamination and disease by getting water from highly contaminated sources.

Most of Uganda’s poor are the thousands of subsistence farmers who live in remote rural areas of the country. Lack of access to markets and technology has led several to abandon their villages and migrate to the city. Cities suck as Kampala present hope for those smallholder farmers who were unable to sustain their families. Kampala has been the destination for thousands and because of this, the city has been unable to provide for the masses of new residents. Inadequate sanitation in Kampala has increased incidences of waterborne diseases such as worm infestations and malaria. These issues drastically affect the economy of the residents throughout Kampala and increase the rate of poverty.

Research has shown that through implementation of a nationwide program that can help stabilize the situation of the poor, Uganda may be able to lower its poverty rates in the years to come. Uganda’s poverty level in 1992 was 56 percent and the goal to reduce it by half to 28 percent has already been achieved, since its current poverty level is 24.5 percent. Although the pace of poverty elimination in Kampala is slow, several programs such as the National Urban Policy (NUP) and the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) are being implemented to address the needs of thousands of rural and urban residents who are unable to produce a living.

Maybelline Martez

Sources: Monitor, Observer