Archive for Uganda

Halfway There: The Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project – “For Our Children’s Sake”

Students at breakfast at Kutamba School

By Morag Neill, graduate student of human rights at Columbia University


The hustle and bustle of the city was not forgiving on my first day in Uganda. I attempted to maneuver through Kampala’s town center searching for the shared taxi headed for Luafu stage, the minibus stop where the Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project offices were located. After an hour of confusion and with the help of both curious and kind strangers, I finally found myself at the black gates in the quiet neighborhood of Makindye. A wide-smiled lady named Barbara greeted me at the reception and handed me the guestbook to sign as I waited for my supervisor, Jennifer Nantale to emerge. As I sat there, proud of myself for finding my way to the cool offices decorated with pictures of graduating students draped in their academic garb, I had no way of knowing that the next few weeks were going to be as impactful and challenging as they turned out to be.

The Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project (NAOP) was established in 2001 by Twesigye Jackson Kaguri, 2012 CNN Hero and an alumnus to ISHR’s Advocate’s Program at Columbia University. I had the honor of joining the NAOP family as their development intern with the task of broadening their local fundraising strategy in Uganda. Consistent with the nature of NGO work, Nyaka is in constant search for new funders and innovative ways to maintain the multiple programs that the Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project houses. NAOP has over 600 students enrolled in their two primary schools. Alongside the two schools and their libraries is the ever-prospering Mummy Drayton School Clinic; the Grandmother Project which supports over 7,000 grandmothers in the area; the Desire Farm which facilitates both schools’ nutrition programs; the Clean Water System which provides running water to the communities in both districts through a gravity-fed pump; and the pending construction of the secondary vocational school and boarding houses.

In my third week in Uganda, I took a break from the city life and travelled 12 hours southwest to Kanungu and Rukungiri districts. Thus far, my week in the field has been the highlight of my time in Uganda. Our first stop was the Nyaka School and we arrived just as the students were getting out of class. Proudly displaying their bright purple uniforms, the students darted across the school compound playing basketball, netball, volleyball and football (soccer). Our trip was especially important as we brought with us nine donated computers for each of the classroom teachers at the Nyaka School and connected the library with satellite internet. Jennifer and I held a workshop to ensure that the teachers could maneuver through Microsoft Office and access their emails. In the following days, we were able to visit each of the projects under NAOP, including a day visit to the Kutamba School. To top off the end of each busy day, the teachers, interns and some of the student athletes competed in a grueling volleyball tournament which brought everyone together before the sun set and the mosquitoes began biting.

After reading Jackson’s book “A School for my Village” which details the first few years of the NAOP’s journey, it was inspiring to see how much progress the organization has achieved. The trip was personally fulfilling as it gave meaning to the seemingly arbitrary fundraising research that had me occupied in Kampala in the preceding weeks. It demonstrated the extent to which Jackson’s vision for implementing a holistic human rights-based program to end the systematic deprivation, poverty and hunger has been realized. The passion that surrounds NAOP is undeniable and has made my job in sharing the organization with new funders less daunting. Nonetheless, the eight weeks that have been assigned to the fundraising project is hardly enough to make as big of an impact as I would have liked. I’m happy to have gotten the chance to crack the fundraising prospective for NAOP, however, there is so much more in store for the Nyaka AIDS Orphan Project.

Don’t miss the opportunity to hear from Jackson himself on October 1st at 12:15pm at the Jerome Greene Room 103 at Columbia Law School.

Learn more about the NAOP and how to get involved at:





Hailing from Zambia, born in South Africa and raised in Botswana, Morag Neill is completing her M.A. in Human Rights Studies at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. Morag’s studies focus on the rights of African refugee women. 

Notes from the Field: Securing Women’s Land Rights in the Acholi sub-region in Northern Uganda

By Allison Tamer, MA student in the Human Rights Studies program at Columbia University

For many people living in Northern Uganda, land is their only means of survival. Land is such a prized possession that disputes over land is a common occurrence, frequently escalating into aggressive and sometimes violent situations.  For example, one man in the Amuru district attempted to poison a village’s water source so he could take over the deceased’s land. In 2010, a family in the same district lit another family’s home aflame during the night over a land dispute. This act of violence took the lives of two young girls who were sleeping during the attack.

As land conflicts intensify in this region, the situation for women and their right to land seems to be getting worse.  Gender and socio-cultural factors compounded with the aftermath of the two decades of civil war in Northern Uganda has made the struggle for women’s right to land more difficult.

Women’s land rights are protected under Uganda’s 1995 constitution and the Land Act 1998, which defines the types of land ownership that are legally recognized. In Northern Uganda, however, the majority of land ownership is under the customary tenure system and is typically passed from one generation to another. This type of land ownership is guided by informal rules that are reinforced by the Acholi traditional clan structure.  This means that land is under the custody of clan heads (i.e., family heads) and elders, who are almost always men. Often times, male clan leaders refuse to grant their female relatives land ownership, as they believe that land should be transferred through male heads of household.

The customary land tenure system makes it difficult for women to navigate and advocate for their land rights.  Many widows, divorcees and separated women are denied land by their own relatives, and live, often with children to support, in misery and destitution. In a non-industrialized region with low unemployment, having nowhere to farm means no food on the table or money for children’s school fees

This summer, I worked with Charity for Rural Development (CHAFORD) in Gulu, Uganda. CHAFORD teaches women how land ownership can improve their livelihood and how they can protect themselves from unforeseen circumstances such as divorce or widowhood.  CHAFORD formed one group of about twenty-five women in Attiak, a sub-county in the Amuru district, and provided them with a safe outlet to discuss their land rights and receive educational training in the value of land ownership.

CHAFORD understands that women must have the economic means to purchase land in order to truly exercise their rights to land. Therefore, CHAFORD works with women in various ways to increase their income through training in various vocational skills, providing seedlings and facilitating village savings and loans associations so that the women can buy land.

Photo: Allison Tamer

During the summer, I met Alice, an active member of CHAFORD’s land rights group. She was the first and only member of the group to purchase land. When I spoke to Alice, she explained to me how the land rights group inspired her to follow through with her goal of purchasing land. CHAFORD’s staff, along with the women in her land rights group, motivated her to start a butchery business so that she could obtain the income necessary to buy land. Two years later, she purchased a piece of land under her name. She said that she hopes her two daughters will follow her example and own land one day too.

CHAFORD takes small steps to create change in the communities where they work. While there are many local NGOs working in Northern Uganda, few are working specifically on land rights for women. In addition, many NGOs including CHAFORD are quite young, and lack the resources and institutional capacity to tackle women’s land rights in a consistent and long-term way.

Women in the Acholi sub-region of Northern Uganda encounter multiple barriers in claiming their land rights. The most significant obstacles to securing women’s land rights can be found within the customary tenure land system. Women’s land rights will not improve until there are effective, long-lasting solutions to overcome the many dimensions that impede women’s access to land. Until this is done, local NGOs in Northern Uganda will continue to struggle to secure women’s land rights.

Allison Tamer is a M.A. candidate in Human Rights Studies at Columbia University. She was a participation in the Institute for the Study of Human Rights Graduate Student Volunteer Program in Gulu, Uganda this summer.



Mapping the Kony 2012 Controversy: what does it mean for human rights advocacy?

Jason Russell being interviewed on E News on March 8th.

If you have a Twitter or Facebook account, you’ve probably watched Kony 2012. This 29-minute film has more than 65 million hits on YouTube. Invisible Children (IC) co-founder, Jason Russell, directed and narrated the super-viral film that campaigns against Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a militant group that began in Uganda over two decades ago, and a wanted war criminal responsible for the death and abduction of as many as 30,000 children.

Russell asks viewers to join IC’s campaign to capture Kony after describing his friendship with one of Kony’s victims, Jacob, and then sharing a compelling narrative about the promise he made to Jacob – “we’re going to stop them.”

In less than a week, the film has created an uproar. Many criticize the film for misrepresenting the LRA’s part in two decades worth of complex regional wars in East and Central Africa. Others praise the film as a social media superstar. Whether or not IC’s campaign can overcome the criticism, Kony 2012 is sure to provide a lasting lesson in the power and limits of social media activism.

How did Kony 2012 go viral so quickly?
The campaign was extremely savvy in its use of various social media platforms to circulate Kony 2012. The film intentionally targets the younger generation through its simplistic narrative, upbeat music and powerfully edited visuals. The film evoked an emotive response, motivating viewers to “share” it via twitter or facebook.

The targeting of the twenty culture-makers helped this film spread like wildfire. Oprah, Katie Couric, Bill Gates, Justin Bieber and other high profile celebrities have tweeted their support to the Kony 2012 campaign, creating more publicity for the film.  The video accumulated nearly 7 million views on Vimeo within 16 days and the YouTube upload received over 43 million views in the span of 72 hours.

The backlash
The successful spread of Kony 2012 resulted in an explosion of conversations in the blogosphere about the credibility of the film. While everyone agrees that the Joseph Kony story is both horrific and tragic – critics argue the issues in Uganda are much more complex than the video made out.

The film was posted on Monday and by Wednesday there was so much criticism from the media that Invisible Children posted a response to the many questions about the film and the organization.

Potential consequences for human rights
The debates around the Kony 2012 video campaign cover a number of issues, from its clever marketing strategy via social media, to criticisms of the oversimplified narratives in the video, and even Invisible Children’s questionable finances. From a human rights perspective, the debate about whether or not this video is “a good thing” centers around the following questions:

1) Does the video campaign help those directly affected by the LRA because it brings awareness to the issue, despite some oversimplification and misinformation?
Despite factual errors and misrepresentations in the video, some analysts believe that overall the awareness generated is a positive outcome. In their article in The New York Times, Josh Kron and J. David Goodman make the point that the campaign “could help add to the international resolve to stop the killing.” They quote from an interview with Pernille Ironside of UNICEF, who feels the video campaign is “ultimately a good thing.”

News of the video’s success even managed to reach the UN Headquarters, wherea press release was issued on Friday, March 9, where Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe “expressed appreciation for the awareness-raising potential of a video about the LRA.”

At the same time, other commentators have questioned who actually benefits from this “awareness”?

2) Is the video campaign misguided because it focuses the attention on Kony and distracts from other issues that are more urgent for most Ugandans?
Many commentators argue the video is outdated, and that other concerns are more salient to Ugandans at the moment than the ongoing conflict with Joseph Kony.  As Dayo Olopade remarks in the Global Opinion section of the International Herald Tribune,

Victims of Nodding Disease in Uganda, this mysterious disease is spreading amongst children and adolescents in Uganda

“Ordinary Ugandans are worrying about other things….And if it’s Ugandan children in peril you’re looking for, there are those suffering from “nodding disease” — an unusual neurological disease that’s killed hundreds of children in the very region Kony once terrorized.”  She argues that the Kony 2012 video is a distraction from these more pressing issues.


3) Does the level of misinformation and misrepresentation actually make the situation worse for those directly affected by the LRA, and if so, how?
Many Ugandan journalists and activists  have expressed discontent with the video because of how it misrepresents the current state of Uganda, and its use of problematic, if unintended, cultural stereotypes to depict the situation. From a human rights perspective, though, does the video have the potential to cause harm beyond reinforcing simplistic stereotypes?

In The New York Times article mentioned earlier, the authors point out how activism in conflict zones can have significant and negative effects on the ground. The authors refer to activism around the crisis in Darfur, which gave the conflict an international profile, but, “the one-sided way activists painted the conflict — highlighting the Sudanese government’s crimes against villagers while largely ignoring the atrocities committed by rebels — ultimately made it harder to negotiate an end to the crisis.”

In the context of Uganda, many have argued that the decision by the International Criminal Court to indict Kony in 2005 actually made it more difficult for Ugandans to negotiate a peace settlement with the LRA. So an oversimplified advocacy campaign of “Stop Kony” could easily raise red flags for local activists.

This is image is from April 20, 2011. It shows U.S. Army soldiers meeting with the Uganda People’s Defence Force”(AP Photo/Stephen Wandera, File)

Additionally, the video calls for the U.S. government to continue its support of the Ugandan military. However, the Ugandan military has a very murky record when it comes to human rights abuses, and some locals in the Central African Republic (one of the countries where the LRA is now present) do not support the Ugandan military, backed by U.S. advisers.

Outside military intervention in Uganda, as well as in the surrounding countries where the LRA now operates, may not be the simple solution that the video leads us to believe.  Many are worried about potentially harmful policy decisions that may come as a result of this advocacy.

Keeping the conversation going
The Kony 2012 campaign raises an important question: What does “increasing awareness” mean if the source of this awareness is a video that oversimplifies and misrepresents the situation in East and Central Africa? Balancing impact, emotion and nuance have always been challenges for human rights advocates. Rather than allowing the video to get buried in the controversies surrounding it, how can we build on these many reactions and learn about how best to leverage social media and public opinion through producing effective – but nuanced – advocacy campaigns?

Leave us your views in the comments below!

Further links outlining the lessons other human rights professionals are taking from the campaign:

By Allison Tamer and Laura Reed. Allison and Laura are graduate students in the M.A.
program in Human Rights Studies at Columbia University. Allison’s research
focuses on violence against women in conflict settings, and Laura’s area of focus is human rights, transitional justice and representations of conflict in the media.