Address by Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, Hlengiwe Mkhize, at the launch of the training centre for women survivors of the Gulu War, Gulu district, Uganda
14 Jan 2010
Master of ceremonies
Paramount Chief of Acholi
Honourable Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Her Excellency Ms Hillary Onek
Honourable Minister of State, His Excellency Mr Okello Oryem
Honourable Minister of Education and Sports, Her Excellency Ms Geraldine Bitamazire
Honourable Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Her Excellency Ms Rebecca Kadaga
High Commissioner of South Africa, His Excellency Ambassador Thanduyise Henry Chiliza
Deputy Head of Ugandan Mission to Brussels, His Excellency Ambassador Mirjam Blaak
Principal of the training centre, Ms Betty Lalam
Managing Director of Eskom Uganda, Ms Mngeni Nokwanda
Members of Parliament
Ladies and gentlemen
I am very grateful to be afforded this privilege to speak to you on this occasion of the launch of the training centre, which will design programmes for women survivors of the Gulu War. Resources like this, that are intended to support war affected women and children, will contribute immensely to the healing of the deep scars and memories of war.
Your Excellencies, colleagues, brothers and sisters, I bring to you warm greetings from our President, His Excellency Mr Jacob Zuma, the ANC led government and people of South Africa. We are forever indebted to this sister country of Uganda for the support and solidarity extended selflessly to us during the dark days of apartheid and colonialism.
Our two countries enjoy strong relationships, and, together with the rest of the African continent, share a long history of colonial rule and the violation of our rich cultures, traditions, beliefs and customs. Our ties have been strengthened in the trenches during the bitter struggles we have waged for national liberation. Out of these struggles, gallant leaders have been produced with a clear vision of redefining Africa and lifting it to greater heights, by ending wars in our countries, putting our continent on a path of renewal and by articulating a unifying vision of reconstruction and development.
As Africans, we will always remember and pay special tribute to the leaders of our continent who changed the course of our history, such as Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, and many others. We believe that former President Nelson Mandela, in the words of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia:
“Is a man who paved the way for a new generation of leaders and the emergence of democratisation in Africa, where, through free and fair elections, authority is transferred peacefully from one civilian government to another, where issues and hope not fear for the future define the national debate, where equality of women is a right and women’s agencies are supported and utilised, where there is respect for individual and human rights, where there is a vibrant and open media, where leaders are accountable to the people”. (Sixth Nelson Mandela Lecture, 2008)
It is the noble efforts of all our renowned leaders of the continent that placed Africa firmly on the path of good governance, leading logically to the election of the first democratically elected woman President on the continent, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia. These renowned African leaders have set in motion the spirit of the African renaissance whose ultimate goal is the regeneration of the continent and the rediscovery of the soul of Africa that will help our beautiful continent to emerge from centuries of pillage, poverty and underdevelopment.
These leaders have consolidated the goals of the African continent, up to the adoption, by the African Union, of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which is the continent’s development programme. Since my arrival in Uganda, I have experienced the warmth of the people of this country, the splendour of the countryside, the rolling emerald hills and the awesome forests and felt the breeze of the crystal clear lakes. Your hospitality and friendly faces of Ugandans have really made me to feel at home.
My visit to Uganda is historic because we are only 147 days away from the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup. As Africa, it is the first opportunity of this nature with extensive marketing prospects for all our countries. We all have to take advantage of this opportunity to market the best of our products to the world.
In South Africa, the Royal Limousine Services have advertised luxury stretch limos for special tours. The company called One Ocean Club has said they’ll bring two of the world’s largest and most luxurious cruise ships to South Africa, which will be used as guest accommodation. Our airports, as of today, meet the first world airports’ standards.
2. Deadly conflicts in Africa
Looking at our history, from the early 60s, following the first wave of independence, many of our countries within the Continent, have experienced deadly conflicts and serious crimes against humanity. In an address to the Sixth Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture (2008), President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf uses Liberia as a case study of “Africa’s terrible tragedy” of endless wars and conflict. She says:
“For the past two decades, the world came to know Liberia as a land of political comedy, widespread corruption and unimaginable brutality. Liberia became that strange footage that flickered on television screens with terrible images of savagery. The Liberian people became refugees and fled to all corners of the globe for shelter. It was a period of darkness and insanity”.
The genocide in Rwanda left an indelible mark on the whole continent and the world. In 1994, this hideous act of genocide, sparked by the Hutu power ideology and ethnic differences, was characterised by the mass killing of between 500 000 and one million of Rwanda’s Tutsis and Hutu political moderates by the Hutu dominated government.
Hardly before the world recovered from the harrowing shock of the genocide in Rwanda, deadly conflict had reared its ugly head again in Darfur, Southern Sudan, when the Sudanese liberation army and the Justice and Equality Movement took up arms accusing the Khartoum government of oppressing black Africans in favour of the Arab people. In this human catastrophe, over 90 000 people lost their lives. Sadly, media reports in South Africa reveal that people are continuing to die. During the first week of January, this year, politically motivated attacks in Southern Sudan left 139 people dead.
We have also seen tragic wars in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Chad, Angola, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The specific context within which these atrocities unfolded is very crucial. Every conflict has proved its deadly potential to spark wars even in other countries within respective regions. As regional groupings, it becomes very important to remain conscious of the interconnectedness of the triggers of aggression and deadly conflicts. It is not an exaggeration to say, as the continent, we have had the highest number of child soldiers and vast fields of land mines.
Conflict in the Great Lakes region, thought to be the largest war in modern African history, which directly involved eight African nations, and in whose resolution Uganda played a significant role, offers a classic example of this nature of political conflict. In any situation of war, all of us are affected. Everyone, during the war, takes a position in one way or another, either as a bystander, supporter of any side, beneficiary or protagonist. Accordingly, even in times of healing, recovery and nation building, everybody should become involved in one way or another.
3. The Gulu War
As we reflect on this dark side of our history, we need to reflect specifically on the painful Gulu war which destroyed thousands of innocent lives in this beautiful country of Uganda, renowned for being “The Pearl of Africa”.
As we all know, the Gulu district has been at the “centre of civil war between various rebel groups including formerly, the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Lakwena, and later, the Lord Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony against the government of Uganda” (Helen Liebling-Kalifani et al, “Violence against Women in Northern Uganda”. In Journal of International Women’s Studies, volume nine, May 2008: 175).
In a 2001 report called “Women’s experiences of armed conflict in Uganda: Gulu district, 1986 to 1999”, the Isis Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE) said:
“The war in Northern Uganda began in August 1986 and is one of the longest armed conflicts in the history of Uganda. It has destroyed individuals, families and communities. The economy of the region has collapsed with agricultural production being disrupted while livestock and property was looted” (Isis-WICCE, 2001: 1).
Susan Kiguli, a poet from Uganda, spoke of war and its nature in “Mothers sing a lullaby”, a poem written after the 1994 Rwandan Genocide:
“Mothers sing a lullaby
As the dark descends on trees
Shutting out shadows
The sensuous voices swish and swirl
Around shrubs and overgrown grass
Hiding mountains of decapitated dead
And the glint of machetes
That slashed shrieking throats.
In these camps without happiness
Mothers maintain the melody of life
Capturing wistful wind
To sing strength into the souls of children
Who have never known
The taste of morning porridge
Or heard the chirrup of crickets in the evenings.
Mothers sing a lullaby
For the staring faces
Who cringe at the sound of footsteps
Whose playmates are grinning skeletons.
Mothers become a lullaby
Silencing the sirens of sorrow
Restoring compassion to the nation.”
Northern Uganda is known for its high non-governmental organisation (NGO) activity precisely because of the war that has made “playmates” for our children out of “grinning skeletons”. The entire population has been “subjected to the cruellest forms of mutilation, maiming and killing” (Isis-WICCE, 2001: 1).
4. The impact of war on women
Many studies have shown that during conflict situations, it is women who suffer the most from human rights violations, post-war trauma, health problems and horrendous excesses of armed conflict, such as sexual assault, extreme violence, forced prostitution and unwanted pregnancies. Researches base their conclusions on the fact that in Gulu, “sexual torture was predominantly reported by women and that sexual torture of women is a frequently utilised “weapon of war”. These forms of sexual violence against women are typical in war affected areas all over the world” (Helen Liebling-Kalifani et al, “Violence against women in Northern Uganda”, in journal of international women’s studies volume nine, May 2008: 178).
The report of the Isis-WICCE noted that during the war in Uganda, “Women and girls were abducted and raped and some forced into marriages”. Those who have experienced these situations will know that some of the major health problems faced by women affected by war include “reproductive health complications, sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS, broken and severed limbs and a host of other ailments” (Isis-WICCE, 2001: 2).
Affected women face a long walk to freedom because of the war and the concomitant collapse of the health infrastructure. In 2008, according to Helen Liebling-Kalifani and others, Northern Uganda had the highest HIV prevalence rate, of 10.5 percent (the national average being 6.4 percent). It had the lowest rate of contraceptive use and a high rate of abortions and unwanted pregnancies.
5. Launch and significance of the training centre
We view the launch of the women’s training centre as a very important step on the thorny road we have travelled together as Africans, “without happiness”, from a history written with “the glint of machetes”, and dark days without “morning porridge”. This centre, officially opening in a period when the peace process is gaining momentum, and with elections in the air, should therefore serve as one of the landmarks reminding us never to forget the decades of the devastating conflict from which we are slowly and painfully emerging.
As we know, this training centre, which used to work from a very small makeshift structure, provides counselling to former abductees as well as basic education and skills training, like tailoring and hair dressing. The skills acquired, information sharing, and networking, must enable women to stand on their own, better to fend for themselves and their families. In addition to the provision of practical skills like sewing, reading and writing skills will go a long way in providing essential skills to our sisters and mothers in this district.
Survivors have a historic mission to document their lived experiences. In its nature, writing about the ravages of war can be a very therapeutic process. Without basic literacy, such will remain a dream too far. We are indeed appreciative of the substantial contribution made by Eskom Uganda to improve the Gulu War Affected Women Training Centre. Your efforts will go a long way in building capacity among women and in creating employment opportunities and promoting self reliance. The company’s generosity is the best practice worth marketing to other companies wanting to do business with a conscience.
While paying tribute to High Commissioner Chiliza and his team for their facilitation, we urge them strongly to continue contributing to the empowerment and improvement of women and children in Northern Uganda and in the country as a whole. Our Mission’s intervention programme has assisted former abducted child mothers in Pader and Gulu districts, by donating sewing machines and other sewing equipment. In Pader, three groups have benefited from the donation, while in the Gulu district; the Gulu War Affected Women’s Training Centre has been the main recipient.
We thank other South African companies based in Uganda, including Stanbic, MTN, Game and Eskom, for responding positively to the call made by our mission and agreed to support several projects in the North, including initiatives in the fields of education and health. For all these efforts, we say with full confidence, our high commission has made us proud!
All of us must also congratulate the industrious people of Uganda, whose hands are responsible for the actual construction of this important training centre, including the very workers without whose toil this work would not have been completed. You have all done us proud by lending a hand to the women and children who have been tragically exposed to the protracted ravages of war.
To women of Uganda, we salute you for having broken the SILENCE, and for having informed the world that you have suffered differently. Your spirit could not be broken by those who broke your bones. You continued to breathe in the bloody hands of your torturers and murderers. You suffered severely in the name of POWER. You have a right to redress. Within this centre, you have a duty and a responsibility to protect your historical account of your experiences. Above everything, you have a duty to also keep alive the memory of your sisters and friends who have died. From now onwards, put their names all over the walls of this centre. Hopefully, their families and other defenders of human rights will use their experience of pain to defend the peace process.
Resources like this centre become a form of symbolic reparations. Through documented case studies, future generations will have a truthful understanding of real people’s experiences of war, its impact on the quality of life and all the emotions that victims and survivors went through. All over the world, programmes of such centres help to keep the memory of the war alive and ensure that never again should people be exposed to gross human rights violations, in this context, the war.
6. Peace building
Uganda, Africa and the world, know by now that providing skills, and women economic empowerment initiatives cannot be the only programmes. The challenge is to ensure the success of the peace process and the total end to the war so that reconstruction and sustainable development can be entrenched. This is the condition for the healing process to begin in earnest and for ensuring nation building and a sense of security. The rule of law is fundamental in entrenching sustainable peace. Different societies have adopted different approaches in peace building.
For instance, in our country, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed to establish the truth about the nature and the extent of gross human rights violations that had taken place in South Africa during the apartheid years, to develop reparations and rehabilitation policies and to grant amnesty to perpetrators. The Ugandan peace agreement, of February 2008, which provides “guidelines for setting up truth telling, prosecution, reparation, and transitional justice bodies”, is a worthy path to explore (Dyan Mazurana and Teddy Atim).
The recommendations of Helen Liebling-Kalifani and others go a long in addressing health problems resulting from the war. They have recommended that:
“Funding is urgently required for the provision of sustainable, gender sensitive physical and psychological health services in the region.” (In journal of international women’s studies volume nine, May 2008: 175)
We fully support recommendations which have been made by Helen Liebling-Kalifani and others (Ibid, pp. 188-189):
* There should be training and sensitisation programmes for government, local leaders, policy makers and healthcare workers in Uganda, on the gendered effects of war and the services and policy changes that are required
* There should be a multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary post-conflict recovery policy to address the psychological, social and physical health problems of women in the war affected areas of northern Uganda
* There should be a holistic gender sensitive public health intervention approach to address the physical and mental health needs of women war survivors
* Policy changes should include income generating activities and micro-finance schemes to empower women politically and economically and to enable them to access health services
* A culture of human rights and the rule of law should be given a top priority
* Moral regeneration, restoration of cultural values, especially with regard to respect of life and women, are some of the crucial interventions which should form the core of restoration, revival and development in society
* Social cohesion and nation building are central to all the efforts aimed at rebuilding the country
* Voter education, particularly for women, should be provided to promote democracy. We urge women of Uganda to vote for peace ensuring that the political leadership is judged on no other terms except on its ability to keep the peace process on track
* Gender mainstreaming is imperative:
More needs to be done to promote women’s empowerment and equality. As we endeavour to strengthen the rule of law, as part of the peace process, the issue of gender mainstreaming becomes even more imperative.
Some countries in Africa, have taken affirmative steps consciously to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. In South Africa, at its last national conference in 2007, our ruling party, the African National Congress, decided on a 50 percent representation of women in all spheres of government. It is encouraging to note that Uganda’s political parties profess to the promotion of gender equality and equity. The National Resistance Movement is currently the party with the highest number of female Members of Parliament, making it the most gender sensitive party in the Ugandan Parliament.
In everything we do to restore peace and justice in our countries and on the African continent, we must not forget to address the position of women in society. The restoration of hope and dignity of women is in actual fact a precondition for the reconstruction and development of any nation. Any attack on women is an attack on the whole nation and impacts on the hope for the future.
With this in mind, as has been the tendency elsewhere in the world, policy makers dare not undermine the extent of the damage resulting from the failure seriously to address the question of women. All of us have a duty to encourage and to assist the women of this country to continue organising self-empowerment activities and projects so as to support their families and communities, particularly because women have assumed responsibility for their families since the beginning of the war.
They have become “a lullaby or silencing the sirens of sorrow or restoring compassion to the nation”, in the words of Susan Kiguli. It is our duty always to restore dignity of women, making sure they are assisted better to take responsibility for their lives and those of their families and children. We would love to see, as is the case in other countries, including South Africa, Ugandan women involved in women empowerment campaigns, including United Nations driven initiatives, like the 16 Days of Activism Campaign for No Violence Against Women and Children.
Maximum effort must be made to ensure women in Uganda play a significant role in the activities of organisations like the South African Women in Dialogue (SAWID). SAWID is an independent women’s platform committed to hearing the voice of every woman and to improving the status of women by engaging governments, the private sector and civil society in partnerships to shape community, provincial and continental agendas.
It works within the framework of the vision of the African Union and NEPAD for the development and regeneration of the African continent and honours the efforts of women in Africa and all other parts of the world who are organising themselves in their diversity to act together for a better future. We note with relief that in spite of their plight, women in Uganda have done many positive things to improve their lives. Against all odds, they have formed women’s groups meant to support each other and they have participated in the peace process.
Lastly, never again must we allow our beautiful countries to return to the hopeless era of wars and conflict. All of us have a duty to ensure that we do not become the prophets of doom. Remember, the colonialists construed Africa as a “Heart of Darkness” inhabited by irrational creatures crawling on all fours (Joseph Conrad).
Civil society has a crucial role to play in ensuring vigilance and defence of equality of all citizens and in the monitoring of the early warning signs. The citizenry must play a central role in conflict prevention, conflict management and peace-building and promotion of dialogue on the continent. It is important for all of us to fight impunity, by promoting, respecting and supporting all accountability measures including the work of the International Criminal Court.
I am appealing for all to commit decisively to the defence of the rule of law.
Women must under no circumstances justify or defend the war. Women are the biggest losers during the war. In all our countries, we have a duty to strengthen democracy, freedoms, liberty and good governance. It is our duty to put in place equality laws. We should strive for all these ideals with two goals in mind, the restoration of our dignity and the gift of hope, ITHEMBA, this we must do for all survivors and as a legacy for future generations.
Working together we can build the bridge of hope in Gulu!
I thank you.
Cell: 082 052 3499
Issued by: Department of Correctional Services
14 January 2010
Issued by: Department of Correctional Services
14 Jan 2010
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