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civic techToday, Information and communication technology has transformed the way people live, conduct business, relate with one another and consume services. Almost all spheres of life have been and are shaped by technology ranging from political, economic, social and cultural aspects.  Technology has become everything and everything is technology.

This week, I attended a forum  on the role of civic tech in social accountability: a showcase of social and civic tech in Uganda. The meeting was hosted by CIPESA and Outbox and it aimed at increasing knowledge and awareness on how various tech tools can be adopted for social accountability, civic participation and service delivery.

Civic tech as defined by Colin Wood is technology that enables greater participation in government or otherwise assists government in delivering citizen services and strengthening ties with the public. Indeed, a number of technology tools exist to support social accountability and civic participation in Uganda. These range from tools to support CSOs in data collection, tracking of public expenditure, service delivery, citizen journalism, environmental monitoring to mention but a few.

During the forum, several tools were showcased. The first tool that was  presented is M-Omulimisa an application that was formerly developed to link farmers and extension workers. The application has now been transformed to monitor service delivery in Eastern and Northern Uganda. Launched in July 2016, the platform enables users to report service delivery gaps to local authorities by sending a message to the short code 8228 with the sender’s location.

The second application showcased was  the Parliament Watch that  monitors and analyses proceedings of the Parliament of Uganda.  Parliament Watch  uses  social media such as Periscope, Facebooklive to hold digital dialogues and engage  Members of Parliament on pressing issues. They also use other conventional methods like community  dialogues to link  members of parliament  with their constituencies.

Other tools that were presented include User.Ug an electronic system for monitoring construction works in Kampala City, Yogera, a citizens engagement platform that connects citizens to their government and increase government responsiveness to raised issues in communities.

Although these platforms exist, their utility leaves a lot to be desired and this can be attributed to several factors including lack of awareness, limited and expensive internet, illiteracy  access among others. Additionally, most of these tools have not been translated into local languages and this means that they can  only be used by people who can read and write English.

Since this forum was the first event in Uganda, we hope that it will be a springboard for further discussion and engagements on how  civic tools can be adopted and fully utilised to promote social accountability, civic engagement and improve the much need service delivery in Uganda.  Now that the government has committed 9 Billion Uganda Shillings    in the 2017/18 financial year, we hope it  will go a long way to support these initiatives.

 

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RTIThe right to information (RTI) is essential for the functioning of any democracy and is a prerequisite for transparency, accountability, gender equality and citizens’ participation in governance processes. However, Uganda faces numerous challenges to realising the right to access information despite having an access to information law. In the course of 2016, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) made various interventions to advance RTI, including holding training events and round table discussions for civil society, the media and government officials.

Uganda’s 2005 right to information law remains little known and largely unimplemented. Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) hardly release information voluntarily and tend to be unresponsive to information requests from citizens, due to a culture of secrecy and government bureaucracy that conflict with the law. Conversely, few citizens demand for information as a result of low awareness of their rights and the belief that public officials routinely ignore citizens’ information requests.

At a December 15, 2016 dialogue involving public officials, including information officers from various MDAs, journalists and civil society representatives, it emerged that the government and citizens have not prioritised RTI. “The role of information has been undervalued and sometimes it gets a zero release in [MDA] budgets,” said a public official. Another noted that 11 years after the law was enacted, no MDA has submitted an annual report to parliament on its information disclosure record, including requests received from citizens, as required by the law.

Other challenges prominently cited included under-staffing in MDAs, employing information officers that are unqualified and who often lack mandate to speak on behalf of the public entity, and conflicting laws that make implementing the RTI law difficult.

Journalists shared their experiences of regularly being denied information, often with no reason provided. One journalist noted that informal approaches are the primary means of attaining public information held by the state.

At an earlier training for journalists, which was held on November 23, challenges of public information officers who are either not authorised to release information, or who refer to secrecy oaths not to release information, were prominently cited.

Further, journalists pointed out the cost of accessing information as a hindrance for ordinary citizens. “If it is my right to access information then why am I paying for it?” asked Regina Nassanga of Mama FM. According to the law, a fee of UGX 20 000 (Just over US$ 5) is required when making a formal request at an MDA office.

Despite these obstacles, there are some indications that things could get better. Each government department is now required to have an information officer, and a few public bodies are beginning to implement the government’s 2013 Communications Strategy, although they have been unable to make any significant increase to budget allocations for the information function.

Civil society representatives pointed out additional concerns including the lack of deliberate action to promote RTI particularity for women and people with disabilities. Moreen Nambalirwa from the National Union of Women with Disabilities noted that when information is disseminated to the public via television and radios, people with visual and hearing impairments miss out. She also stated that despite the directive from the Uganda Communications Commission that all TV stations should have a sign language interpretation during some news broadcasts, none of the more than 10 local TV stations have done so, further contributing to the exclusion and limited participation by PWDs in governance processes.

The convenings were organised by CIPESA and provided a space for civil society, public officials and journalists to share their experiences, learn from one another, and suggest possible ways to improve access to information.

This article was originally published on CIPESA Website

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On May 4, 2015, the president of the Republic of Uganda, H.E Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni addressed a high level thematic debate on strengthening cooperation between the United Nations and Regional sub-regional organizations in New York.

womens agencyAs the global women’s movement  mark 15 years of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, the UN marks 70 years of existence. In his speech, Mr. Museveni   pointed out that at the time of UN formation; many of African countries did not exist as independent countries and therefore they were not represented just like the women who were absent.

Mr. Museveni acknowledges the fact that since 1945, there have been reforms at the UN  but most of the fundamental structures that were created after World War II by the victorious powers, such as the powers conferred upon the Permanent Five countries in the Security Council, remain unchanged. Although the UN provides for cooperation between the UN and Regional Organizations, the crucial decisions of international peace and security, within the Security Council, are mostly taken by the veto-wielding members.

If the Security Council members that took military action in Libya had listened to the voice of Africa, the present chaos in Libya, Nigeria, Mali, the people who are dying in the Mediterranean sea from the African shores trying to get to Europe, could have been avoided” said Mr. Museveni.

In light of gender, every day gender struggles between women and men are embedded  power difference  in terms of  who does what, who gets what and  who frames the agenda.

Mr. Museveni  emphasizes the UN should  reaffirm the Principle of Complementarity envisaged in Chapter VIII of the Charter as the basis for building and strengthening cooperation between the UN and regional and sub-regional organizations.  This means that the UN should respect processes that are undertaken by the regional organizations especially in areas of conflict resolution.

He calls for the establishment of the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) which an African is owned initiative for rapid military intervention as and when the need arises, to quickly respond to crisis situations on the African continent. Mr. Museveni termed  the UN Peace Keeping Mission as a ‘sitting duck’ mission with no peace to keep because of the restrictions of the mission.

He concludes with a question of ideological disorientation such as religion, tribe, gender and race which leads to misdiagnosis of social, political or economic issues.

Click here to Read the Full Speech

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On July 31, 2014, the elders of Ethur in Abim district, Northern Uganda imposed 6-months alcohol ban on women. This was agreed upon during their meeting that was convened to discuss matters affecting social lives of the Ethur and the major topic of discussion was reckless manner in which women behaved when drunk. Indeed, this is a good practice of ensuring that communities live together in peace and harmony. But  the concern here is why discuss the behavior of women only women? Don’t men also misbehave when they are drunk? This decision brings in mind many questions and unearths the cruel realities, violations and discrimination that women face in their daily lives. This is typical patriarchy at work and unfortunately, society has normalized it.

The Elders further stated that if one woman violates this ban, all the women will pay, because they failed to guide their member. And as part of the payment, woman will kill a bull for the elders, and each of the women will be required to brew a certain quantity of local beer (Kwete) for the elders. Really, this is selfishness of men   and unfair treatment of women

Why should women be judged differently from men? If they must ban alcohol it should be for everyone not for just women. Where is the Gender Equality that is inscribed in our constitution, policies and other international Human Rights Instruments. In any case do these people know that such instruments exist? So where is the missing link?

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In 2000, world leaders agreed during the Millennium Summit of the United Nations to accelerate social economic development,  human dignity and equity. They agreed on eight goals to be achieved by 2015 which were named as The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and each goal has specific targets, and dates for achieving those targets. It should be noted that  most of these goals are interlinked  and failure to achieve one goal will affect  the others.

I would like to draw your attention specifically to Goal 3: Prompting gender equality and empower women and Goal 6: Combating HIV, Malaria and other disease using a scenario of a young  Ugandan woman.

Nora Nabanoba not her real name walked in my office, greeting me in a local Luganda greeting and asked me how we help women. She started narrating to me her story of how she came to Kampala. “I finished primary seven and because my parents were poor I could not afford to join secondary school. Our neighbour had a daughter who was working in Kampala and she decided to take me to look work for me in Kampala”. Nora narrated.

When she reached Kampala, thing were different, the person who brought her to Kampala never assisted her as she had promised instead took her to her home to become her maid without evening paying her.Nora said that after working for along time without pay, she decided to escape from her and look for work somewhere else which she got work and started working as a house maid and she was being paid some little money.

Two years later, a friend brought her a man whom she accepted to marry. The man was living in a one roomed house and he had chairs (commonly known as sofa sets). Norah revealed  to me she accepted to marry man because he had sofa set in the house which they did not have in their home. They stayed together for a few years and had a baby.

Norah became suspicious when her baby and her husband started  falling sick quiet  often. Unfortunately, the baby died. After the death of her baby she decided take a bold step to go for HIV test and the results came out positive. ‘I felt like my life was ending there and then’. Nora said. Finally, she had to come to terms with reality of accepting her HIV status.

When she told her husband about HIV testing and her results, her husband started abusing her, beating her and accusing her of infidelity and blaming her for infecting him. Little did Nora know that her husband had many wives.  The husband later became critically ill and was admitted in hospital and his condition improved. Nora got pregnant again and had another baby. Since she knew her HIV status, she did not breastfeed her baby.

When the baby was three months old, her husband abandoned her. “I reached at a time when I was giving my baby water only because I did not have any money to buy milk not even food for me” Nora said. She is now   ARVs and she is temporarily staying with a friend who offered her a temporary shelter. Given the costs of living here in Kampala she feels she is a burden to her.

Norah’s story is one of the many innocent young girls whose dreams have been shattered and can no longer see a bright future.Is this the Future We Want?  Therefore as we move from MDGs, specifically  looking at Goal 3 on prompting gender equality and empower women and Goal 6 on Combating HIV, Malaria and other diseases where little progress has been achieved and  in some cases there is reverse,  we should not forget that   poverty,gender inequality are the key inhibitors of sustainable development.

It is therefore important that as we to reflect on the Future We Want by formulating new Sustainable Development Goals, poverty, gender inequality and HIV should be at the center.  So for any sustainable development to be realized, poverty and gender inequality have to be addressed

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Fourteen years ago, UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 which recognizes women’s leadership in conflict prevention, resolution and peace building, as well as the gendered impact of war on women and girls. As part of promoting women’s participation as mandated by UNSCR 1325 and other international human rights instruments that promote women’s leadership and participation in decision making, Isis –WICCE has been conducting leadership training institution for women from conflict and post to upscale their knowledge, skills and enthusiasm towards making 1325 a reality.

The 2013/14 Institute brought together 35 women leaders Nepal, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Myanmar and Uganda on a three phased training under the theme theme ‘Women’s Agency in Peace building and Human Security’.

During the last phase which will take place from August 6 to 12, 2014 in Thailand, women leaders are expected to share the findings their research studies which were conducted in the second phase. Using new knowledge and skills acquired from the first phase of the training in 2013, participants critically analysed women’s participation in peace building and decision making processes as stipulated in the UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

Participants from Nepal analyzed women’s participation in Local Peace Committees Local Peace Committee (LPC) that are formed at the level of a district, municipality, town or village and requires that 33% of its membership are women. The work of the LPC among others include facilitating joint, inclusive peace making and peace building processes within its own context, facilitating reconciliation process at the local level between two or more parties to conflict, conflict-affected victims, and other stakeholders.

According to the study, 50% of the study districts (10) LPC had been able to achieve 33 percent or more representation of women in current LPC. Although the numbers seem to paint a positive image, it was discovered that women were there only in the name of inclusion and this has been described by feminists as the “just add women and stir” approach that is present in some of the UNSCR 1325 implementation efforts today. The notion of “just add women and stir” completely instrumentalizes women’s lives and fails to challenge patriarchal systems and structures which have consistently discriminated and marginalized women.

The study further revealed that the 50% of women in the LPC as drawn from the marginalized population such as the indigenous women, the disabled and are considered weak and have lesser capacity to lead/argue on women issues.

Likewise, in Uganda, institute participants analyzed the impact of women’s participation within the Uganda police force. The Uganda Gender Policy 2007, emphasizes that all government recruitments should have 30% of women. The Uganda Police has tried to fulfill this requirement but in most cases, the percentage is hardly never reached because gendered perspective of police which is considered to be a masculine institution as well as set recruitment standards which requires the Ordinary level certificate with an emphasis of science subjects (which in most cases are also considered to be masculine subjects) as the minimum requirement. That notwithstanding, the Uganda Police Force has 5951 Female Officers and only 293 are at a senior level rank.

Numbers aside, just like in Nepal’s Local Peace Committees, where women are considered as weak members, in Uganda Police Force, the women are also considered as weak officers and very few women are in decision making positions. For example, out of 129 District Police Commissioners (DPCs), only 5 are women.
In the two countries, a trend of keeping women in inactive posts where they do not get opportunities to meaningfully participate in the decision making process was observed. Despite this situation, the two studies agree that women are playing a critical role and their leadership brings unique values and perspectives to peace building and that is why Isis-WICCE has continued to organise leadership institutes for women leaders to ensure that women’s leadership is not only about the numbers but also the competencies to lead and hold policy makers accountable.

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As we mark the International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament and engage on the campaign ‘Gender militarism : Analyzing the linkages to strategize for peace’ let  us put into this  perspective that about 33.5 million people have been  displaced by conflict  at the end of 2013 according  IMDC report . We can consider these survivors as somehow  lucky  because other millions have  lost their lives  as a result of war, not forgetting immense destruction of infrastructure and natural resources.

It is a fact that in any conflict, it is the women and children who suffer most  and the  often-cited statistics are that  as many as 80 per cent of displaced populations are women and children. While women bear the brunt of war, they rarely receive any compensation because the rewards negotiated at the peace table benefit men. As I was browsing through  some literature, I came across  this statement from a woman Peace Activist from Northern Uganda  “When I look at the level of sufferings women go through in crisis, in violence, in armed conflict, then I just feel the need to play a key role to stop wars and violence from happening…..”   But can women play a key role in stopping war and violence? The answer is simple yes, women have the power to stop violence and suffering  but the  issues of patriarchy  and militarism  have made is very difficult for women to make meaning contribution in  peace building.

Militarism as defined by feminists is a threat system, which simply says “Do what I tell you – or else”. The basic value of militarism is power over the other. This statement  has been best explained by Rita Popo,  a peace activists who said “ the way men resolve conflicts is looking at whose power is greater… They don’t look at that possibility of saying: ‘Let me listen to him, let him listen to me and analyse Why we disagreed?’…They don’t look at it this way. They say: ‘I am powerful. I am more powerful than that one”.   Many times, male dominated agendas tend to emphasize and prioritize issues of power and political positions. In formal peace negotiations, men put there rules and regulations of what they want to happen, at the same time giving conditions for  putting guns down whereas  women go beyond this and want to see peace in terms of meeting human safety needs and other aspects of well-being.

Therefore, there is need for the new alternatives that will aim at dismantling and redefining  the power structures and patriarchal systems. The men  need to understand women’s participation in peace processes and  decision making  will not disadvantage them and that the idea is not to invert the balance of power, but to abolish domination, oppression, exploitation, discrimination and injustice. When both men and women work together to find solutions, they  benefit. It is a win win situation. This article was written as part of social media campaign on Gender and Militarism  organized by  Women Peace Makers Program, 2014  

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