nodding

Censorship ahead of the IPU assembly in Kampala: On Nodding Disease

27 March 2012

In the next few days Uganda will host the 126th Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) assemby. The IPU assembly brings over 3000 delegates to Kampala. This assembly will discuss issues on (good) governance and maternal health among other pressing issues.

Apparently some of the delegates have already started arriving in Uganda and some of them are staying at the Serena Hotel in Kampala.

One of the key issues in Uganda at the moment is the Nodding Disease. Because the government is not very responsive in terms of supporting the victims of this mysterious disease, the civil society decided to take a very active role not only to lobby the government but also to support the victims.

The women’s movement in partnership with the NGO Forum in Uganda have organized two fundraisers for the nodding disease victims over the past 2 weeks. One of the fundraisers was held at Sheraton Hotel on Women’s day while the other was at the Kyadondo Rugby Grounds.

Because the fundraisers are for a good cause, Pragmo Jazz Band wanted to contribute to the efforts; to bring relief to the nodding disease children so they invited the women’s movement to conduct a fundraiser at their show at Serena hotel tonight (Tuesday, March 27, 2012).

At 7.45Pm this evening Emmanuel an Office Assistant at NGO Forum was impounded at Serena Hotel main gate by men in Police uniforms. Before his arrest, Emmanuel had come to Serena Hotel to deliver a banner, pictures of nodding disease victims used for fundraising and an empty fundraising box with writings “Please Donate to Keep a Nodding Child Warm”. This is the same material that this women’s group uses for the fundraiser.

After searching him (Emmanuel), the police men asked why he had showed up at Serena with pictures of the nodding disease victims. He explained that he was only there to deliver the material for a fundraiser. Then the policeman asked him whether he didn’t know that the IPU delegates had already started arriving in the country and that some of the delegates were actually staying at Serena Hotel. “Let them (the IPU delegates) read from the newspapers if they really want to find them but don’t go displaying the picture” the policeman said.

Apparently the management of Pregmo Jazz Band informed the manager Serena Hotel of this incident hoping that he could help. The manager tried to get through to security but there was not much for him to do. Following Emmanuel’s arrest the Band has been prohibited from mentioning anything to do with the Nodding Disease fundraiser during their show.

Allen a lawyer from FIDA together with colleagues have tried to talk to the DPC and other officers in charge at Central Police Station but they have refused to release Emmanuel.

Upon arrival at the Central Police Stationk, Emmanuel was charged with “Criminal Trespass”.

It is quite funny how things work in the government; this is censorship of the highest degree. But what is left to censor of the nodding disease? Over 3000 children have been diagnosed with the disease and over 200 deaths have been reported. The syndrome has come to light which is why our government should stop hiding it from the public and rather take a bold step to address it.

I know that this disease will be an embarrassment to the government of Uganda in front of the IPU delegates. It is only embarrassing because for over a decade the government of Uganda knew that the disease exists but they did the same thing they are doing now – hiding the disease instead of addressing it.

Four hours after the arrest (at 11:45pm) Emmanuel was released following an order from the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura. Even though all the charges have been dropped, the pictures and other fundraising material remains in police custody.

“Ok if there was a mistake we are sorry about it. Dont be political do your work you are civil society organisations” Uganda Police IGP Kale Kayihura told the representatives from the women’s movement who were lobbying for the release of Emmanuel after releasing him.