Category Archives: IRIN Africa Report

Uganda: Traditional ways could be a tool against HIV

Originally posted on IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

KITGUM, 30 August 2007 (IRIN In-Depth) – The lyrics of the latest Acholi pop songs are a lament: they mourn the loss of “values” in northern Uganda after a two-decade civil war that has displaced two million people.

“The singer says all the girls are now prostitutes and the men have turned to drink,” said Alex Odong as he translated the lyrics of a song blaring from the radio in his taxi, in the northern town of Kitgum. “He wonders what has gone wrong with our society since the war.”

A walk through Labuje camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kitgum proves the singer’s point. It is only 10 o’clock in the morning, but in a small round hut with ‘Ber’ – ‘good’ in Acholi – written on it, several men huddle in a circle, sucking on long straws that snake out of a pot filled with the local alcoholic brew.

While the men drink, women and young children, hoes in hand, walk several kilometres to work their fields. At the height of the war, insecurity made cultivation impossible, and women were regularly attacked as they farmed. Now that the north is largely peaceful, they are back on the land.

But not all women live a traditional lifestyle toiling away in the fields. In Kitgum town, young women trawl the bars at night; in the clubs, couples are slow grinding on the dance floor before slipping off together.

According to Odong, the behaviour of the urban youth is a far cry from the traditional Acholi way of life, when men earned their position of respect by providing economic support and physical protection to their wives and children, and women looked after the household.

In Kitgum district the war forced 90 percent of the people off the land and into desperate, squalid IDP camps. Now, talks between the government and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have raised hopes that the long lull in fighting may crystallise into a permanent peace.

But many Acholi worry that the 20-year experience of the war has irreversibly changed traditional values, and a new culture of hard drinking and sexual freedom may heighten the new threat of HIV.

Kitgum already has an HIV prevalence rate of nine percent, about one and a half times higher than the national average. “Young people no longer respect their elders; girls don’t listen to their mothers, and men have forgotten how to work,” Odong said. “AIDS is killing us; it is the next killer after the war.”

‘Back to yesterday’

The people the girls are listening to are the men who provide for them financially, commented Rufina Oloa, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) project officer for HIV in Kitgum. “They listen to the soldiers who patrol the roads; they have relatively more money than the IDP men and women.”

Olushola Ismail, head of the UNICEF office in Kitgum, said excessive drinking was driving sexual infidelity and, worse, sexual violence and child sex abuse. He suggested that the high rates of alcohol abuse by men could be linked to the dependency and emasculation they felt in the camps.

“The men live in camps for years, unable to feed their families or take any real responsibility for them, so they turn to alcohol,” he said. “The women turn to soldiers, not only because they have money, but because they are ‘real’ men, who work – not drunks in bars.”

Relief workers in northern Uganda are looking into ways of resurrecting traditional Acholi values as part of “early recovery”, to help post-war communities get back on their feet.

“One of the biggest problems has been that no one listens to the men; no one has given them a chance to express their frustration with their lives, or to discuss with them alternative ways for them to be productive,” Ismail said.

On the few occasions when he had sat down with local men, they had expressed a desire to ‘go back to yesterday’ and reclaim their place as the respected heads of their communities.

“It will be a long road back to yesterday, but once real social workers, not just NGOs [non-governmental organisations], get the chance to speak to the men, and once they get involved in income-generating activities, like farming, they can own their manhood again, and their self-esteem can begin to be restored,” Ismail said.

There was also an urgent need for every child, particularly girls, to be in school, he said, which would ensure they were not only fully aware of the facts about HIV, but had little time to spend with men interested in them only for sex.

Zimbabwe: Disability is much more than a physical constraint

Originally posted on IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

HARARE, 30 August 2007 (IRIN) – The disabled are becoming increasingly marginalised, with the state and civil society neglecting their basic needs, says The forgotten tribe, people with disabilities in Zimbabwe, a new report.

Data for the report, recently published by Progressio, an international development agency, in collaboration with the Zimbabwe National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped, was provided by a 2006 survey based on interviews with experts on disability, and disabled people themselves.

The report noted that disabled people generally did not receive appropriate levels of healthcare, education or rights protection, and concluded that much needed to be done to reduce discrimination against, and increase opportunities for, those with disabilities.

HIV/AIDS, myths and misunderstanding

Discrimination and stigma by the public, and even family members, exposed disabled people to higher risks of sexual abuse and HIV infection.

“People with disabilities are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse and rape than their non-disabled counterparts: it came out clearly that the vulnerability of people with disabilities is high, mainly due to the prevailing economic situation, cultural beliefs, and the general abuse of people with disabilities by family members, relatives and other sexual predators,” the report said.

Increased vulnerability was rooted in the belief that the disabled were not sexually active and therefore less vulnerable to HIV. But the opposite was true: “myths on curing HIV and AIDS, which proclaim that HIV-positive individuals can rid themselves of the virus by having sex with virgins, have contributed to a significant rise in the rape of children and adults with disabilities.”

Stigmatisation of the disabled was highlighted by the lack of HIV/AIDS information available to them. “Most counselling and testing centres are unable to deal with people with disabilities,” according to the report.

“For instance, people with visual impairments have never seen a condom, but they need to learn how to use them; they say they can use them as long as they are taught and provided with information in appropriate formats.”

The authors pointed out that “No known research in Zimbabwe has managed to determine the number of people with disabilities in the country who are infected by HIV and AIDS. However, evidence suggests substantial rates of HIV infection, disease and deaths among people with disabilities.”

Zimbabwe’s HIV prevalence dropped from 24.6 percent in 2003 to 20.1 percent in 2005. Nonetheless, it remains one of the countries with the highest rates in the world.

“What we need are specially designed approaches focusing on people with disabilities, and in consultation with people with disabilities,” Alexander Phiri, the director-general of the Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled, told IRIN.

“There is a lot of illiteracy among people with disabilities, and when almost all information is written down, how do you expect people with disabilities to understand information on HIV and AIDS?” Phiri said.

“Radio may be effective in rural areas, but what plans are there for the deaf to access such information? How, for example, do you design a programme for people with no hands to use condoms? That is why we are calling for inclusion in all these policy formulations.”

No education, no employment

The laws and policies that could potentially benefit people with disabilities are in place, “however, the policies are only guiding visions, without implementation guidelines and structures. Existing legislation and policies that pertain to people with disabilities remain mere unenforceable tools,” the report noted.

Zimbabwe’s 1992 Disabled Persons Act (DPA) does not make provision for positive discrimination or affirmative action for disabled persons in the job market. In a country burdened with an 80 percent unemployment rate and economic meltdown, employment prospects for disabled people are particularly grim.

Poor access to education was seen as an underlying cause: “The high rate of unemployment among people with disabilities in Zimbabwe is due mainly to their lack of educational qualifications and discrimination from the employers. As has been established, many people with disabilities are denied the right to attend school,” the authors commented.

“Existing special-needs education staff have low levels of professional knowledge and skills, and there are no additional capacity building courses – most people with hearing impairments are unable to receive education beyond grade seven,” the report said.

“A majority of teachers that are available to teach the deaf are primary school teachers, with very few at secondary and tertiary levels.”

Uganda Diaries: Esther Lalam, 40, a teacher at Padibe East, Kitgum district

Originally posted on IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

KITGUM, 30 August 2007 (IRIN) – This is part of a special IRIN series: Uganda Diaries.

July

Home is a very important idea for us Acholi. It isn’t just somewhere you grow up, it isn’t just the place where you’re living – it’s the place where all your ancestors are buried.

I was actually born in Kitgum town because my father was working there as a teacher and I didn’t visit the village until I was seven but that didn’t stop me knowing that the village was ‘home’.

I’d hear all the stories from my parents about Loi Bide. It means ‘Let them talk, people will get tired’. Just two words in Acholi – it’s a very efficient language.

Visitors would come carrying fruit from the village and lots of milk. But whatever people brought would never be enough and I wanted to take all the food from the source.

It didn’t disappoint. We had cattle, we had land and it was so fertile. We’d never go hungry. We had one of the big houses in the village and we had so many relatives around so I was never lonely. Now many of them have died, with the war, illness.

Those who have died recently we haven’t been able to bury at home. But most of my relatives are buried there.

Some people will bury [their dead] under a tree but we buried ours in the compound, next to the huts. You feel their presence. We believe that the spirits are still alive.

Every year in November we would have a prayer for the ancestors. My sisters come all the way up from Jinja and Kampala. It’s called nipo – ‘remembrance’ in Acholi.

We prepare lots of food, slaughtering cows and chickens.

The small children might not know who their ancestors are, they might not know their history but on that day all the children learn and find out just who their grandfather is, where they come from.

My nickname is Amot, the same as my grandmother, and that is what my family know me as. One day when my grandmother was old she pulled me to her and said that I should carry her name. It was a real honour for me because we were very close. It’s very sad that I have been kept away from her and my other ancestors because of the war.

We haven’t been able to do nipo for a long time – five years. Now this year I hope that we can all get together again. If there is still peace we will have a really big feast.

Return

The village is close enough, just 1.5km away, and so I’ve been going to dig again since April but I haven’t moved back. Not many people have.

Some have built small huts on their land – they have one leg in the camp and the other in the village. The grass won’t be good to build huts until October and November, by which time we hope there will be some change with the peace talks in Juba.

For now people are still very fearful. In my village there are only two people out of perhaps 800 that have gone back.

People won’t really believe in the peace until they see [LRA leader Joseph] Kony and [deputy Vincent] Otti return. You have to understand what people have been through, why they are still so suspicious of the peace process.

How I came to Padibe

We came late to the camp. We saw others were leaving but we weren’t interested in coming, we hadn’t experienced trouble. But when others left the rebels started to cause trouble for us, stealing our crops. And then one day we saw our neighbour, a boy of 14, running as fast as he could and we knew something was very wrong.

We started to run but we were too slow, by then it was too late. They surrounded us and forced us down on the ground at gunpoint.

They took my eldest brother Milton along with two of my cousins. My brother came back but they killed one of my cousins – he couldn’t carry the heavy load they gave him and he was beaten so seriously that he didn’t even reach [South] Sudan.

After that we decided to come to the camp but for those who came late there was no space and so we stayed near the road. The landowner wouldn’t even let us put up a hut.

We stayed like that on the grass for the months before the Red Cross lent us a tent.

It was very difficult. We just had nothing. Nothing to live under, nothing to cook with. Nothing. But we couldn’t risk going back home.

Sometimes we’d eat just once in two days. There was no food and there was no laughter. You’d just sit and look at each other.

You couldn’t sleep properly because you’d hear the bombs and the guns going off.

The soldiers were still very few – not enough to protect us. So we’d often go and run from the camp and sleep in the bush.

And if they got you they would cut off your ears, your mouth or arms so people started moving again all the way into the town.

But in the town there was no water, no shelter, no food. So we started to move back again – at least you could eat the pawpaw from the tree and the World Food Programme started to register people.

[This is part of a special IRIN series: Uganda Diaries, in which a selection of ordinary people in northern Uganda talk about their lives in their own words. The “diaries” were gathered over several interviews in Uganda starting from July 2007. Each individual’s diary will be updated from time to time over the coming weeks.]