​You have been served- by your embryos’

On Thursday 8th December, the BBC reported a peculiar suit filed in the state of Louisiana, USA.  Court documents obtained by the New York post indicate that Emma and Isabella have sued their mother. This sounds normal until you hear the bizarre circumstances under which this suit has been brought.
You see 2 years ago, Sofia Vergara an actress in the popular series Modern family and Nick Loeb, a businessman decided to have their fertilised embryos frozen and kept, apparently to be brought to term later. They went ahead to sign a contract that made it mandatory for the consent of the other to be obtained before the embryos could be used for any purpose by one of them. The relationship hit the rocks and they called it off. Fast forward and the father of the embryos, backed by a number of pro-life bodies wants his embryos (which he has named Emma and Isabella) planted in a surrogate mother and allowed to be born. He argues that they are being denied the opportunity to benefit from a trust created for them. Ms. Vergara wants none of this. So Loeb has brought a suit against his ex on behalf of his embryo


Of course, the first question to come up in ones mind is, do the embryos have the capacity to sue? Interestingly, the law in Louisiana recognises embryos as juristic persons. (It is partly because of such laws that Louisiana is considered a pro-life state) Juristic persons are those with the capacity to sue or be sued. They can be both natural and unnatural. The natural persons are human beings while unnatural ones include companies and body corporates. The unnatural juristic persons are normally involved in civil disputes and not criminal matters.
Most importantly and also the reason why I penned this article, the case resurrects the debate on when a fertilised egg should be considered a human being. In Ohio, Republicans are preparing anti-abortion legislation that would make it illegal to abort, once the embryo has a heartbeat, which is in effect a 6week embryo. To them once the embryo attains a heartbeat, it is deemed a human being.  According to the Catholic Church, an embryo is a human being upon conception. The locus classicus in the area of abortion is Roe V Wade. In this case, the US Supreme Court decided that the right to privacy extended to a womans decision to have an abortion. It however tied individual states anti-abortion legislation to the third trimester of pregnancy. The rationale was that the potentiality of human life became stronger over the course of a pregnancy and that a woman has the right to abortion until fetal viability. It went on to define viable as potentially able to live outside the mothers womb, albeit with artificial aid. The third trimester rule was later altered in Planned Parenthood V Casey (1992) where the U.S Supreme Court acknowledged that in light of medical advancements, viability of an unborn baby may be attained at 23 or 24 weeks and sometimes earlier.

In Uganda, the law and public sentiment remain generally anti-abortionist. According to Ministry of Health guidelines of 2008, abortion is only permitted under a few circumstances like where the mothers life is at risk, or where she suffers from HIV or cervical cancer. However under the bill of rights of the 1995 constitution of Uganda, Article 22 provides for the protection of the right to life. Article 22(2) goes on to explicitly state that no person shall have the right to terminate the life of an unborn child. According to the Penal Code, abortion is a felony and it is classified under offences against morality. It is punishable by a prison sentence of seven years for the woman who undergoes abortion and fourteen years for the person who helps to procure the abortion. Therefore, many health service providers who would otherwise perfom safe abortions do not offer this service because there is still a grey area on the circumstances under which abortion is legally permitted.  

As a result, the abortions in Uganda are secretive, unsafe and more often than not result into death or infertility. The reason why such laws remain unchanged in our statute books deficient of any revision is because issues like abortion are not a priority. They do not feature anywhere among the campaign manifestos of presidential candidates unlike in the U.S.A where the right to abort was a major point of contention with Donald Trump promising to have Roe V Wade overturned. The appointment of judges of the U.S Supreme Court also depends on their stance towards abortion. In Uganda, the prioritization of poverty eradication and economic transformation has pushed maternal health concerns to the rear. To make matters worse, information and counseling about abortions is widely unavailable. Such roles have largely been abdicated to the civil society and Non-Governmental Organisations. 
Some people admit that abortion should be permissible in cases where the pregnancy is as a result of rape, defilement or incest. However, these are not the reasons why women in Uganda have abortions. The grim statistics show it all. According to the Guttmacher Institute, unplanned pregnancy is the root cause of most abortions. More than half of the pregnancies in Uganda are unintended and nearly a third of these end up in abortion. In 2008, the Ministry of Health estimated that abortion-related causes accounted for 26% of maternal mortality. The Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development, a Kampala based research and advocacy organization has reported that 840 girls and women have abortions in Uganda on a daily basis and on average 5 of them result into death translating into more than 1500 deaths annually.
The time is ripe for laws on maternal health to be revised and updated. Both the Millennium Development Goals and now the Sustainable Development Goals not only provide for the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger but also the improvement of maternal health. This underscores the need to balance the efforts towards achieving a better world. We need clearer laws.
In the meantime I will continue to rub my fingers in anticipation, waiting to see whether Emma and Isabella will win the case against their mother. If they do, they will probably be the first human beings born as a result of a court order

​World AIDS day; why there is cause to fear

The latest statistics on new HIV infections hit me hard

The latest statistics on new HIV infections hit me hard. There are 570 new infections every week in Uganda, mostly among the ages 15-25. According to health experts, this is a state reminiscent of the 1990s. We have literally gone back to 1988. Uganda seems to be losing the fight against HIV/AIDS. Uganda now falls behind South Africa as the country with the 2nd most new infections each. There are close to 30 million people infected with the virus in Africa, majority of who are in sub-Saharan Africa. The BBC reported on Wednesday 30th November that there are almost 7million infected people in South Africa alone. 

2 years ago, I wrote that the reality of HIV no longer gnaws at peoples minds like it used to. The emaciated bodies of those infected plus the visible rashes and general body weakness is a thing hidden from the public eye. HIV/AIDS was an unimaginable terror in the late 80s and 90s. One disturbing revelation is that girls today have more fear for get pregnant than contracting HIV. The stigma has to a greater extent reduced and HIV+ people do not look that bad today because of ARV treatment that wasnt previously available. Today however, ARV treatment has tended to hide the ugly face of the virus and the fear has waned. Even the campaigns against the sexual network or the ABC strategy have reduced. Alone and frightened, the AIDS anthem sang by Philly Bongole Lutaaya is played only on World AIDS day. The straight talk newsletters that used to provide critical information about HIV/AIDS to the youth seem to have vanished. I remember listening to some radio dramas and watching films that were all preaching the gospel of ABC. These are initiatives that I personally, see less of today. They are the same initiatives that won Uganda and President Yoweri Museveni so much international acclaim for the response to the AIDS scourge.

‘Hands up for HIV prevention’ was the global theme of the world AIDS day 2016 commemoration underlining the fact that prevention of new infections remains a critical part of ending the HIV/AIDS pandemic. If you are HIV+ get onto treatment, if you are negative, do not acquire it. 


The way forward
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Approximately 54% of people living with HIV are unaware of their status, many of whom are in need of treatment. HIV criminalization laws have not helped the situation with the HIV prevention and control act in the pipeline (although it is being challenged in the constitutional court). 

However, not all is lost. In terms of policy, new approaches continue to be developed. The one I am impressed with the most is 90-90-90 treatment target by 2020. In this policy, countries including Uganda have committed to have 90% of the people living with HIV  know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their HIV status to access treatment and 90% of people on treatment to have suppressed viral loads. Its a great policy if you asked me considering that 54%of those living with HIV do not know their status. . Through the sustainable development goals, the world has committed to ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. 30th November, 2016 also saw the start of new trials for the AIDS vaccine in South Africa, the closest one developed by scientists so far. There are more HIV+ people on ARVS than before.

The work of my local parish, Mbuya when it comes to efforts to combat the spread of HIV fills me with so much pride. Through a community organisation called Reach Out uganda, the efforts of the parish to do something about AIDS have gone a long way in saving lives. Not only does it provide treatment but also support to people living with the virus or children orphaned by the disease. The Reach Out centre, founded in 2001 by Rev. Fr Joseph Archetti was even graced with a visit by Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state of the U.S.A in August 2012 in recognition of its work. On Saturday 3rd December I shall join hundreds of people to participate in a charity run organized by the same parish to raise funds to lend a hand to some of the children orphaned by AIDS that it cares for. I am also thinking of volunteering there for a few hours each week. It is my own way of saying I care and Im willing to join the fight against HIV/AIDS. I realized this three years ago when one of my best cousins succumbed to an HIV related disease. You do not have to wait to get infected or lose someone, join the fight now. There is nobody in Uganda who can claim not to have been affected by or seen the effects of the AIDS pandemic. 

Go get tested, abstain, use condoms, be faithful and get off the sexual network. An HIV free generation is possible and it starts with each one of us.

​I will return to Bushenyi someday

Bushenyi shall be my permanent home some day.

Beautiful blue butterflies twirl around in colourful circles. Fresh floral leaves drop down from tall dancing trees which sway delightfully to a light rustling wind carrying sweet tantalizing smells. The birds can be heard pouring out their early morning melodies in the small woodland nearby. Beams of golden light burst through the green foliage at the canopy and give the ground below just a peek of brightness. It’s a beautiful day and I can’t help whistling. I tread carefully creating my own rhythm as I let each foot sink into the bed of dry leaves and branches on the ground. 

This is the reward for each morning of hard labour on the farm that begins at 4:30 a.m when the shrill piercing sound of the alarm clock invades the silent night instantly awaking me from my slumber. It’s time to milk the cows or else the milk will ‘evaporate’ as they say. The moon is out and gives me confidence to walk in the lifeless night. The only sounds are the hooting of an owl somewhere or crickets chirping plus the thud of my boots as I scamper downhill. In 20 minutes, I am at the farm gate draped in a heavy jacket, warm khaki pants, rubber boots to protect my ‘tender’ feet from the dew and wielding a herding stick and a LED flashlight. The two herdsmen are already up, just waiting for me to start off the day. Quickly we fetch the pails and milking salve cream and the drops of milk accumulate into litres with each pull at the cows’ teats. The stubborn ones are milked from the crush. Within an hour we are done with milking and feeding the calves that still take milk. Then the bulk of it is sold to the community around. By this time, the sun is starting to rise from beyond the horizon creating a sight to behold.

As the first glimpses of daylight appear, we set the herd off into the grazing paddock for the day. It’s a fresh paddock. One that hasn’t been used in a week and the excitement is evident on each cow’s face; fresh sprouted grass. If any of them stays behind or walks sluggishly, the simple deduction is that it is sick and the veterinary doc is called straight away. Fetching water from the nearby stream to fill the 1600 litre trough (80 jerry cans) is the last and also the toughest of the morning labours. This has to be done early before the sun is out to intensify the job. It is after this task that come the reward I speak of; the short quiet walks in the pastures and woodlands soaking in the beauty of this part of the world from which I derive a lot of pleasure. 

The stream, full to its brim because of the November rains, happens to run faster at the eastern edge of the farm. It is a calm constant flow that you hardly imagine drying up in the dry season when the heavens are mean with rain and the dry grass is tasteless to the cows. The sun rises higher and forces me to think of returning home. The emptiness of my stomach has begun to make it churn. A few minutes after nine, I’m homebound with a bucket of milk in hand for a hearty breakfast. 

Deep in my mind, I know this is pure bliss. Deep in my mind, I know that these are beautiful days. Yet these are but the exceptional days that I enjoy on the sojourns to my village Bushenyi, the place of my father’s birth, which never last more than two weeks. For the rest of the year, I must bear the buzz and rush of the capital.

Bushenyi shall be my permanent home some day.

African Visits

In Africa, the one I take pride in the most is the tradition that when someone visits your home, you must prepare a feast for him or her

Gourds of bushera (millet porridge)

There are conventional practices we observe in our ordinary day-to-day life. The most bizarre come to mind at the moment. For instance, no one ever teaches a man that when he goes to the urinals and finds another person already using them you ease yourself from the furthest spot. I have also observed that when a meal that has beef, chicken or fish is served, people always eat the beef or chicken last. I dont know why! In Africa, the one I take pride in the most is the tradition that when someone visits your home, you must prepare a feast for him or her. In Africa, we don’t read health magazines about eating healthy, neither do we monitor our calorie or cholesterol content, we simply enjoy our food. In Africa, visits can pretend to be about so many other things but finally boil down to the food. So when we are expecting visitors (especially important ones) we work ourselves crazy to prepare a sumptuous meal-often times slaughtering whole animals; chicken, turkeys, goats and cows as well plus a variety of other foods, of course depending on the region you visit.

This is unlike some homes I have been to. A couple of years ago, my family paid a visit to one of my dad’s workmates, a Dutch lady. She lived with her husband and two kids. Like is custom in Africa, we thought of carrying some gifts but had trouble deciding which ones to take. Eventually, we passed by a supermarket and picked up some snacks and drinks, things that were quiet low-key considering that we normally carried things like chicken, goats and beer.(never mind that we expected to find the same at the host’s place) Nevertheless, we got on well with the kids, played games and talked. It is important to note that over the course of the whole visit, it was the man running between the kitchen and the front porch where the grown-ups were seated, engrossed in grown-up talk. At around half past seven into the evening we were served toast bread and butter, plus mushroom soup with peas and chicken. In our minds we imagined that that had to be the first course or starter and not the full meal. So we kept around waiting for the full course until the little girl hugged her mother goodnight. That’s when it dawned on us that supper was indeed done with. We had kept around for so long that we were encroaching on our hosts’ bedtime. By the time we reached home, we were hungry. 
It is a sharp contrast to when you visit an African home. I speak of a traditional home by the way, the kind that is found in the villages, where the mostly nice country folks reside. Originally you did not need to inform the host that you planned to visit him. You would simply swing your legs into his compound and surprise him. With changing times however, it has become another unwritten rule. Now you no longer have the chance to witness real indescribable elation and joy written all over the faces of people that have not met in a long time or are simply happy to see you. You might even find them dressed and wrapped in their Sunday best, unlike the times when you met them with soiled fingers, straight out of the garden and clods of earth still stuck on their cracked feet. Yet we still hugged, never minding the dirt. People embrace and cling to each other. An ecstatic old lady may even break into a dance of ekitaguriro (the Ankole traditional dance) in the compound while the neighbours are forced to come out and see what the cause of all the excitement is. 

So upon arrival, gourds of sweet porridge or local brew(tonto) are instantly served. Lengthy introductions and presenting of gifts take place simultaneuosly. The introductions are lengthy because the man almost always has more than one wife and a dozen children. On the numerous visits I have taken with my father, he always took crates of beer or soda plus a kanzu or a new suit and dress for the head of the home. The head of the home usually sends one of his sons to invite his neighbours and closest relative, usually a brother whose home is just a stone throw away. On a number of these visits I have been shocked when one of the boys leads a goat into the living room, hands it over to his dad who announces to his visitors that that is the goat we would have for lunch. I have been even more dumbfounded when two hours later that very same goat is served in big dishes laid out on the table for lunch. 

But although African visits are generally warm and enjoyable, they are not entirely so. I once visited a relative who lived a stonethrow away from our home in the village on my own. But as I rose to depart, I noticed a conspicuous plaque right above the chair of the head of the household, not all who smile with you are for you. The message scared me to bits. The man had been laughing and smiling all through our conversation. As I walked out, I made up my mind that I would talk to my grand aunt to look for those herbs she had been trying to convince me to take as they protected people from evil. The origin of her own fears was when a Crested Crane perched on the roof of the house, a sign of trouble, she said. We had laughed and made light hearted jokes about her fears at the time calling them mere superstitions (a word I failed to translate to my local runyankole) for her. She mumbled something I couldn’t hear, but guessed was related to stubborn educated people of these days being know-it-alls, her usual retort to such kinds of disagreements. 

Teargas!

​I’ve been at Makerere University slightly over a year now and obviously my dates with teargas have neither been few nor insignificant. So from hereon, take my word as fact. 

In my relatively long life, I have not inhaled anything as mean as teargas. There’s no feeling like your lungs constricting and threatening to give up on you so fast. I have seen a marabou stork choke and collapse from teargas. I have seen big muscled men bend in half and cry. I have seen girls wobble and hallucinate as if possessed by demons.

A whole wildfire rages on your face and your eyes cloud in a hazy balloon. Your throat turns sore like a grinding stone and your own saliva becomes nauseating. Water cannot help but only dissolves the irritable gas into your skin. Then begins the itching. When a person tries to strangle you, you can kick and twist but how about when this colourless assassin gets hold of your neck? There’s nothing as futile as trying to stop breathing, or running fast before the gas fully diffuses and engulfs the whole space of air around you.

I speak so authoritatively on this matter because I have inhaled a whole cannister of teargas singlehandedly. (ok, plus my roommate) A brute of a policeman hurled a cannister straight into my room last semester when he saw me taking pictures. Boom! It ricocheted against the window seal and let out a puff of blue dust that settled on every inch of space inside my four walls. Momentarliy, I had a throwback to the diffusion experiments of Form 1 chemistry. Never mind that it was a Thursday. I have a feeling that that specific batch of teargas was never meant for us Makerere students because its concentration was on another level. I believe that teargas could have made even the eyes of a herd of elephants sore. Infact, at that time we were convinced it was shopped in the run up to the February general elections in anticipation of civil disobedience which never materialised. But I guess some law enforcer felt that teargas so potent could not be wasted but had to be utilised. We were the unlucky children of God who happened to be available. God bless that policeman.

It is paradoxical how I still sing weewe.. whenever there is a strike. Blame it on the Lumumba indoctrination perhaps. But, one thing is for sure, I scamper whenever I see the teargas trucks arrive. I don’t even wait to watch what happens. I learnt my lessons. Makerere teaches plenty of lifeskills you know, all those Ugandans in international universities will never know how important such skills are. 

Now, it wrenches my gut whenever I imagine what the Jews in Hitler’s concentration camps went through in the gas chambers or what the Syrians now face at the hands of chemical weapons. In real military battle, that’s way below the belt. But as for strikes, there never was a better way to teach a child not to shout Weeeeewee..(in the presence of the police)

From Lumumba with love

img_2599Weeewe…weeewe!

This is a catchphrase, sometimes a war cry, a rallying cry, at times even an alarm, and a magnetic chant that resonates with all Makerere university students but mostly among the residents of Lumumba hall.

Lumumba is a male hall of residence that derives its name from Patrice Lumumba. It is mostly known for its fearless nature. It leads the strikes, terrorises other halls and protects its turf with such ferocity that there is permanent fear in its opponents’ hearts. The atmosphere is akin to the Viking raids in the Anglo-Saxon times of 11th century England. Lumumba without doubt remains the premier hall of residence at Makerere University. One might attribute this to its talented or gifted residents, the shrewd and charismatic leaders but it is the spirit of Lumumba that is most striking about every lumumbist. That unfailing spirit and passion for the empire or other issues that are close to their hearts that is present in the DNA of each lumumbist.

For the first time I attempt to capture the atmosphere in Lumumba from the proceedings of the first kimeeza of the semester, observed by yours truly with undivided attention. (This is normally priviledged information and the highest offices in the empire had to be consulted first before it could be relayed to the public)

Kimeeza is a sacred assembly of all residents that is convened to pass on information, debate the affairs of the empire, declare war or raids on enemy halls, plan strikes, initiate freshers, but mostly to keep the barbaric spirit alive. This is where the leadership hopefuls flaunt their talents, it’s the community of Lumumba plus a few boxers fused in one song. It is also where the true Lumumbist is made, not at the porridge nights or the Lumbox carnivals or even the many episodes of the naked mile.

Tonight, the chairman is seated at the table (the only piece of furniture in the room) and regaling closely at his side is the chairlady of Box (Mary Stuart hall, which together with Lumumba forms the Lumbox solidarity) and a few other escorts. A short distance away, the god of the empire(a metallic stature); Emperor Gongom stands erect both horizontally and vertically just adjacent to the iron gates. He is draped in a kanzu that used to be white. At the waist of the kanzu is a hole that allows his ever-erect appendage to protrude. It is covered with multiple layers of condoms, a light hearted yet stark reminder to all to follow his example.

The kimeeza always begins with the singing of the songs of the empire led by the cultural minister. Words that ordinarily, do not escape from the mouth are sung with ease. For the newcomers they must wonder whether this is the so called Harvard of Africa. The whole Lumumba empire is on its feet surrounding the table and listening keenly. Whoever wants to address the kimeeza must stand on the table itself. The speaker is mandated to direct the proceedings and he yields the stage to those who desire to speak. Several speakers rise and address the meeting. The skilled ones can spend over five minutes while those who don’t know how to keep the audience on its toes are pulled off the table by the hems of their trousers even before a minute elapses. Notable speakers are the chairman and some members of his cabinet; the health, cultural, and entertainment minister with diverse messages ranging from the upcoming health week, the beach bash or complaints about the Wi-Fi connection.

You can’t fail to mention the GGB (Gongom Guard Brigade) commander. A dark, tall, fully toned student that towers above everyone else but most of all he is the only five star general in the rug-tug forces of the empire. There is a thin line between respect and fear for him even among his own friends. His remarks are brief and devoid of all political intonations. Firstly, he announces that the GGB is recruiting and goes on to elaborate the criteria for selecting those vested with the responsibility of guarding the empire. The positions available; head of misinformation and propaganda also called the spy chief, the chief mobiliser, and chief of recruitments. Finally, he gives the security report and elaborates the guidelines of how to be security cautious.

When everything has finally been deliberated upon, the cultural minister bursts out with twesimye nyoo…  Almost instinctively, every Lumumbist’s left arm grabs his crotch while the ladies reach for their breasts and all (by now also including freshers) lift up their right arm with a finger pointing to the skies and the empire is swallowed up by the tune of ekitibwa kya Lumumba. It is a catchy rendition of the ekitibwa kya Buganda, but instead of singing sabasajja Kabaka, its sabasajja Gongom. Similarly, asaana afuge egwanga lyona is twisted to asaana aziine abakazi boona.

Granted, this is not an original anthem and it might be littered with many vulgarities, the voices are even hoarse and not tuned or in sync but it is infectious. The passion and energy with which it is sung is the most visible show of solidarity in Lumumba, and that makes all the difference between the empire and the rest of the villages.

P.S; there is no inference of any living person in the above article but if any direct or implied allusion is detected  it is entirely unintentional or merely for dramatic purposes

The camera never lies

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And yet she wasn’t ugly per se. No, that would be unfair to the many heads she turned. She was one of those girls whom makeup helped a lot-especially when applied the right way. One of those girls whose selfies appeared stunning when taken at an angle. Her practice and research on Instagram based on likes of her own pictures, had revealed that a slight tilt of the head to the left, with the lips pouted downwards towards the camera, eyebrows raised beguilingly and braids tied down one shoulder always accentuated her cheek bones, enhanced her full lips and hid her prominent forehead. All seven of her latest selfie uploads on Instagram confirmed this. The number of likes and followers had sky rocketed ever since she discovered this new trick. All she adjusted in the subsequent ones was a change of an outfit, or expose a little more cleavage or change the colour of her lipstick.

But when Lisa turned up to take a real portrait at my room based studio in Lumumba that day, she had done an awful job with her makeup. A really awful job. Either she did not have a look in the mirror before she stepped out of her door, or she had very mean friends. The kind of friends who praised you yet in fact you resembled the Clementina Okot P’bitek had described in Song of Lawino. The one whose red lipstick made her look like a wild cat that has dipped its mouth in blood. The only things that deserved credit were the line of studs on each ear which looked like rows of street lights and the hair, which I still credited to her hair stylist.

After failing to gather the courage to say what her friends should have told her, I picked up the camera and clicked away looking for all the right angles momentarily forgetting about my predicament.Many praise Photoshop but hardly ever know about the grudging and dreadfully long hours photographers spend applying masks, filters and more to retouch photos.

Photoshop helps, but the camera never lies. Even Charles Dickens wrote as far back as 1838 that painters make out ladies fairer than they appear, but as for photography, the trade is a tad too honest.