I have been distraught by the way most Ugandans appeal to their government to come to their aid in places across the country where health conditions are devastating. If a non Ugandan heard the way our citizens express their pleas to their government, one would think they are begging for mercies from the government mandated to serve them. It is very common in Uganda’s media to hear sector leaders saying “we appeal to the government to fix this hospital so that people have better health facilities, or to fix the road so that they are less accidents.” Either Ugandans are so submissive to their government that they are afraid of rising up to ask for their inalienable human rights,or we have no idea whether we have rights or not.
A few months ago, I took a trip with colleagues from Global Health Corps to spend Christmas with families and children affected by nodding syndrome in Kitgum Referal Hospital in Northern Uganda. Being my first visit to the region, I was keen to learn and to understand the struggles that have befallen these communities. I have always heard and witnessed the horrors of Joseph Kony, the neglect and marginalized of these same communities by the government of Uganda. However, I was not ready for what I encountered at Kitgum referral Hospital. Nodding disease and its aftermath are already a great tragedy to these poor families, but the state of the hospital calls for a mass protest against the injustices that our very own government has inflicted on its citizens in this region. The hospital was covered in spider cobwebs, broken windows, without ventilation and had not seen a coat of paint in over four decades. Despite not having much to offer, we spent time with the children and their parents sharing and learning more about each others lives and shared in their burdens and their misery of neglect by a government that has not prioritized them nor their health and wellbeing of which is their human right. Article 25 of he Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including…medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security… sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” There are probably 20% of Ugandans who know that they have a right to health care and adequate social services. Our very own constitution in article 39 says “every Ugandan has a right to a healthy environment. and other articles mention a right to human and descent treatment.” Although these documents were drafted to protect the fundamental rights of the vulnerable and the unjustly treated in our society, little effort has gone into implementation of these rights. The government in many instances has acted with impunity and knowingly ignored sensitizing people about their rights both in failing to incriminate health leaders who misappropriate funds meant to rehabilitate health facilities as well as failing to enforce and implement its policies regarding these rights. It makes sense that the politicians stand to gain from this because, citizens can continue “begging”to be supported by government, instead of actively seeking after their human rights and demanding for results from politicians, citizens see them as gods who come to give them ‘the gifts’ social services in exchange of their votes. In his letter from Birmingham jail, Re. Dr. Martin Luther King warned, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
I believe it is up to us Ugandans, young and old, big and small, rich and poor to peacefully march and ask for our fundamental human rights to quality and emancipated education, to quality health care, and to economic and political freedoms as well as accountable results from our elected officials. Without it, most of us if not all of us will continue “begging” for government and those in power to come to our aid when a road is broken, a disease outbreak, or when our children lack adequate resources for quality education such as teachers, libraries and or books.
True and authentic leadership is about solidarity in service not impunity. Rise up Uganda!
Dr. Brian Ngwatu, Moses Ariong and James Arinaitwe 2012-2013 Global Health Corps fellows and now alums on their way to Gulu to have Christmas with children affected by nodding disease