​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

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​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.

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)

At the SMACKOBA dinner in 2056

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Maj. Gen. Ssewalya, now chairman of the General Court Martial, looked over the epaulettes on his shoulder and gestured to me how Mrs. Okuku was seated uncharacteristically close to the guest of honour. The guest of honour that night was the mighty Chief Justice, Kaleeba Aaron Joel an accomplished lawyer, former partner and close friend. We had actually started out together from the bottom at Kaleeba and Ntungwerisho Advocates before he was appointed to the Supreme Court bench and recently Chief Justice. He was a remarkable gentleman, always smart to the nines. You could never catch him with his shit un-tucked even on the golf course where we played out a few rounds once in a while.

From my seat, I could sense the class that St. Mary’s College Kisubi had taught us to revere more than forty years ago. All were polished gentlemen, through and through. I could see it from the signet ring on Jeff’s little finger, or from the Chateau Margaux Bordeaux wine that Ojambo and Ongom shared. I could smell it from the unmistakable perfume scent that knocked my nose when I leaned over to hug Mrs. Ssewalya. Plus the five course meals in five star hotels serenaded by music from live bands. This was supposed to be the dream.

Also at the chief justice’s table sat Mr. Okuku Patience and his wife. He was effervescent as ever, easily mingling with everybody. His conversations were never dull. He told stories about almost anything, right from his student days in Canada to his latest political manoeuvre against the ruling party. It was a public secret that he was scheming for the highest office in the land. As leader of the main opposition party, his party was expected to sweep the polls in the next year’s elections. We still called him supreme leader.

At the high table sat another notable figure, Ms. Okello Jennifer our high school teacher of literature and English, now old and grey. Her hair was prominently white and she looked like she could use a walking stick but it seemed she had stubbornly insisted on labouring her wobbly legs. Even in old age, she had never stopped talking. She had plenty of stories for each situation and laughed as much.

It goes without mentioning that I was the 2nd most sought after person in the room (after the chief justice). You see my firm which comprised of 5 partners and 30 associates- a huge number for any firm, was one of the best in town. 40 years of consistent and pragmatic growth had moved the firm from a small stingy space on the ground floor of a downtown arcade to the 10th floor of Mapeera House and negotiations were in the concluding stages to acquire our own glass building right in the centre of town. This was one of those events which I attended, partly for the fun and partly for business, divorce, land deals, contract arrangements, name it. Now divorce is not an interesting branch of the law and neither was it my specialty, but it was one I had handled a lot for my Old Boys. That night alone, there were 10 of them for whom I had handled divorces and from the look of things, I predicted that I would leave with more to deal with since only about half had turned up with their wives.

Midway the event, Jemba Lutaaya Junior took to the stage to perform his latest hit. The youthful energetic star was a global star, but to many of us in the room, he was an embodiment of the half hearted dream of his father Kevin Jemba who had himself been a youthful upcoming music star before ditching a music career for a more rewarding one in law. He had initially made a name from protecting intellectual property rights especially music, again from his own experience as a musician but had moved on to serve as corporation secretary to the biggest corporation boards in the land. He had since retired but now trotted around the world as manager for his celebrity son. Tonight he was seated as ever next to Maj. Gen. Ssewalya. I still wondered what they talked about now as old men since all they ever did in youth was gossip. They thumped high fives often like they had done since the early days of their friendship in school. Nevertheless, Jemba senior had never lost the flamboyance that had characterised his youth. He was the only one dressed in a white suit.

In the room that night was also Messrs Ongom Brian, Jeffrey Kaddu and Ojambo Peter, another set of accomplished and well bred lawyers. At their table were all tribes of alcohol. The trio were well known connoisseurs of wines and spirits. If any of them recommended a bottle of wine, you were sure not to go wrong.. Ongom Brian meanwhile was fixed on his tablet- I guess playing FIFA55 or some ancient video game like Teken or Mortal Combat like he had done on prom night. He was an avid gamer and I was stunned by the levels he could take it to. Once when I visited his chambers, I noticed the huge screen, consoles, pads and joysticks that cluttered one corner of his huge office. On the other hand, Jeffrey Kaddu had found his niche in oil and gas law while Peter Ojambo was the president-elect of SMACKOBA.

As the function came to a close, I squeezed my way through the sea of bodies covered with the flamboyant suits made from the finest linen. In fact it was a well known fact that some among us like Mr. Naigambi Kenneth, Q.C ordered their suits from Savile Row- Mayfair, London. Anyway, I needed to have a word with the learned chief justice, about some files of mine that were stuck in the Supreme Court registrar’s office. The files had to do with a multimillion dollar merger between oil companies that had gone wrong. Some could call it buying favours, but was it my fault that I studied with the Chief Justice? Surely not.

On the whole, we had turned out to be a bunch of lawyers whose abilities were never in doubt. I had faced off with most of them in court and we had nevertheless gone for each other’s necks. Top notch lawyers that you would recommend to anyone. Often I joked, that one could close his eyes and pick any of us and be sure that we would do justice to a case. At what rate did we come? Only top dollar.

PS. I know life is not a straight line but it has never been a crime to dream. If any of the above never turns out as I write it, please don’t judge us harshly.

16th April is the day, Grand Imperial hotel is the place. Be there

WHAT THIS COUNTRY NEEDS:

I discovered a great blog today! highly recommend it. Indeed Reka’ayehadikire

KANYEHANDIKIRE!

I am tired
Of hearing suited fellows
Hurl obscenities in my face
Simanyi Freedom, sijui Constitutionalism
What this country needs
Is a good dictator;
The kind of man born
By the mating of a leopard and a buffalo
Not these fellows
Begotten by half-gay men
What this country needs
Is a good dictator
The kind of man who would wage a war,
Who would teach weaned babies
How to sever heads clean
In his pursuit for power
What this country needs
Is a good dictator
A man who would swear
His barrel will spurt out fundamental change
And not a single copper bullet
Only later
With all the mischief a crook can muster,
To say
“Did I really mean democracy?
I was naïve then.”
What this country needs
Is a good dictator
One who would offer a constitution
And insist it be written in pencil
On who would stage an…

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Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye and his unfinished revolution

Its almost polling day, temperatures are rising and the leopard is shifting uncomfortably in his warm seat. A seat he has occupied for 30 long years. I don’t blame him for the uneasiness, I would feel the same. You see, the tide of change is sweeping with so much force that we may just yet be in for an unusual announcement from the Electoral Commission. The man who seems to be scratching the leopard’s ass is Kizza Besigye. Something he has done constantly for the last sixteen years but not as painfully as he is doing it this time.

I do not recall  seeing or reading about anybody over the course of my short life that has genuinely challenged a seating government in Uganda like Kizza Besigye has. For 16 years, this man has dug his own trenches among the people of Uganda rallying them not to settle for less and demand for more than they are being availed by the government. In the course of those 16 years, he has been thrown in virtually all police cells and prisons in Kampala, endured a humiliating trial of rape and trumped up charges of treason clearly aimed at breaking his back. He has been brutalized, almost blinded at a point and indefinitely confined to his home under the guise of preventive arrest. Yet this man has outlived each trick that the state pulls out of its docket.

This same man will today make his way to Makerere university to stir his supporters once again. I honestly don’t know how this man does his thing. It confirms that God has blessed us all with different talents. Enormous emotionally packed rallies have become his trademark during these campaigns. A feat that some must be attributing to black magic. Not even musicians can keep people on their toes like he is doing.

Daniel Kalinaki chose to call his book, an account of Rtd.Dr.Col. Kizza Besigye’s attempt to unseat the present regime, ‘Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s unfinished revolution.’ It is a fitting title. whether Besigye wins or loses or whether he ever becomes president, his name will forever remain synonymous with defiance, perseverance and courage in the face of insurmountable state pressure. Credit is also due to him for keeping the NRM government in check through his criticism of their policies. The mass support he enjoys all over the country is testimony of this unfinished revolution.

I cannot promise that Besigye will be a good leader (if at all he succeeds in this election) What I am sure of is that if he addresses the urgent issues of the country with as much enthusiasm, vigour and credibility he has professed all along, Ugandans will have got a good deal.

Today I will fetch only my first lecture and then all roads will lead to the freedom square to thank Dr.Besigye for keeping up the good fight. For jumping ship early before the likes of Amama Mbabazi who always thought that there was a queue. I plan to listen keenly but fear that I will most likely be taken up by toka kwa bara bara. Either way, it will be a fine way of adding my voice to the revolution. One day, some day, the revolution will succeed!!