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Archive for June 19th, 2012

Activists say the number of maternal deaths is unacceptably high in Uganda

Posted by African Press International on June 19, 2012

Activists say the number of maternal deaths is unacceptably high (file photo)

KAMPALA,  – A petition backed by over 50 NGOs and charging Uganda’s government with failing to prevent the deaths of expectant mothers was thrown out by the constitutional court on 5 June, but the petition’s supporters plan to appeal.

The constitutional court argued that upholding the petition, which urges the government to boost health services, would have forced judges to wade into a political issue that was outside their jurisdiction.

However, the petitioners said the court relied on outdated international law in making its decision and overlooked its constitutional obligation to protect Uganda’s mothers.

Principal State Attorney Patricia Mutesi, who argued the case for the government, said the petition “was asking the court to do the work of the parliament in reviewing the efficiency of the health sector”.

The petition, which centred around the deaths of two mothers (Sylvia Nalubowa in central Uganda and Jennifer Anguko in the north), got nationwide media coverage when it was filed in March 2011. It said the women’s deaths could have been prevented if the health centres where they died had had “basic indispensable health maternal commodities” and if health workers at the facilities had not neglected the two women.

In throwing out the case, the justices suggested the petitioners seek an order from the high court compelling a public officer, such as a government health worker, to carry out his or her duties, or to request compensation for individual deaths from the government.

On 14 June the petitioners filed a notice informing the Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s office of their plan to appeal against the constitutional court decision; they have 50 days to finalize and file the appeal.

Rights denied?

Moses Mulumba is the executive director of the Centre for Health, Human Rights & Development (CEHURD) – the group that originally pushed the petition forward. He said the court’s decision not to wade into a “political question” was based on antiquated law and failed to address the fact that women were being denied rights guaranteed under Uganda’s constitution.

“I think it was very wrong for the judiciary to rely on very old United States jurisprudence to inform their decisions on clear violations of human rights,” he said. The courts should focus on upholding the constitution, he said, instead of “hid[ing] under old political doctrines.”

In a country where statistics show that 16 women die every day from childbirth complications, the activists generally charged the government with perpetuating a maternal death rate that is “unacceptably high”. Ultimately, they are looking for the government to invest more in the country’s health system, to improve care and make sure critical resources are always available.

Valente Inziku, Anguko’s husband and one of the petitioners, said he watched his wife bleed to death as he tried to get nurses at the hospital to attend to her. “When she started bleeding seriously, the only the thing [the staff] did was they came and they told me… to clean the blood,” he said.

“People are disappointed, but we are not stopping there,” said Sylveria Alwoch, of the Uganda National Health Consumers Organization, one of the groups that supported the petition. “We are encouraging people to always report those cases. They shouldn’t be demotivated… They should still have that courage, that vigilance to speak out and bring out those issues.”

Win or lose, CEHURD’s Mulumba said the petition had raised awareness of the country’s ongoing maternal deaths and helped rally people around the cause.


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Burial societies provide for the here and now

Posted by African Press International on June 19, 2012

Photo: IRIN
Some burial societies start funeral-related businesses like selling tombstones or flowers

CHITUNGWIZA,  – In low-income suburbs like Chitungwiza, a dormitory town about 30km south of the Zimbabwean capital Harare, burial societies have long played an important role in helping their members meet the costs of burying family members, but increasingly they are helping to boost livelihood opportunities for the living.

Homadi Chibwano, 58, from St Mary’s in Chitungwiza, has chaired the Gule Burial Society for the last 10 years and is proud of having helped transform it from a savings scheme into a profit-making venture that employs three people.

About 15 residents of Malawian origin, mostly men, formed Gule in 1994 with the aim of preserving their burial traditions. The society experienced financial problems over the years and nearly collapsed during the economic crisis that afflicted Zimbabwe from 2000, but it now has 105 members, each of whom pays a US$5 monthly subscription.

Two years ago, Chibwano convinced the society’s members that a business venture was needed to improve their finances and ability to contribute whenever a death occurred. They decided to launch a brick moulding business that now generates an average profit of US$400 a month.

“Burial societies should no longer be about death only, but must help us live a good life as well,” Chibwano told IRIN. “Our main business remains assisting each of our members when they or their family members die, but we also need to improve our livelihoods while we are still alive.”

The society is now in the process of setting up a small grocery shop in the home of one of its members.

“Our bank account is growing steadily. Members can apply for a loan whenever they have pressing financial needs and our committee sits down to assess the applications,” said Chibwano.

“When we are big enough, we will consider sharing the profits on a regular basis,” he added.

Traditionally, burial societies in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the region have functioned as a means of informal insurance for low-income earners who rarely quality for life assurance policies and would otherwise struggle to afford the high cost of a funeral which can be as much as $2,700 in Harare.

''Burial societies should no longer be about death only, but must help us live a good life as well''

“The majority of the people who belong to burial societies are poor and unemployed. They don’t qualify for life assurance policies because they are not in formal employment,” said John Robertson, an economic consultant, who notes that burial societies as evolving in response to changing times.

“They retain their identity as social grassroots groupings guided by the need to provide decent burial to their members, but they are increasingly realizing that their role will be easier if they extend it to generate income to cater for their social needs,” said Robertson.

He added that burial societies’ commercial ventures would remain small and informal unless members received training and support to improve their management skills.

Medical loans

Nzira Yedu (Our Way) Social Club, another burial society in Chitungwiza, started a tombstone-making project eight months ago that employs two people as stone carvers but is yet to generate a profit. However, the society has managed to accrue enough savings from its 85 members’ monthly $10 subscriptions to extend loans for medical expenses.

“Hospital fees are beyond the reach of many. Even when a person is involved in an accident, we assist with loans,” said Raina Mhembere, Nzira Yedu’s treasurer.

She added that many of the society’s members were living with HIV/AIDS and regularly approached her for loans to cover the costs of treatment for opportunistic infections.

Burial societies have traditionally been dominated by older people, mostly men, but this is also changing. In Mufakose, a populous suburb about 10km southwest of the capital, young professionals are increasingly signing up.

Sylvester Chidziva, 20, a messenger with a law firm, was inspired to join Afterlife Burial Society after his father, a long-time member who had fallen on hard times, got a loan from the society so that Chidziva could do his A-level examinations three years ago.

“A number of my friends who have decided to join our parents in the societies also benefited from their loans,” he told IRIN.

Chidziva and his contemporaries are part of the drive behind using burial societies’ capital to start income-generating schemes. He hopes to help Afterlife start a funeral parlour in the future.


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Several of Jennifer Abalo’s family members were killed by the LRA

Posted by African Press International on June 19, 2012

Several of Jennifer Abalo’s family members were killed by the LRA

GULU, – Jennifer Abalo struggles to support two of her own and two of her late sister’s children. She lost her father, sister and two of her children to Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) violence between 1998 and 2004, but like thousands of other victims she has never received any compensation, despite government promises.

In 2010 Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni promised monetary compensation to 10,000 victims of the two-decade-long war between the LRA and the government.

“The president had promised to start compensating us in 2010, but nothing is coming,” Abalo told IRIN. “Life is hard, I am really struggling to manage. Government should have mercy to help us.

“My pressing problems are inability to send children to school, struggling to feed them and paying rent… The compensation money would help me buy land, construct a small house and start a business to raise some income for survival,” said Abalo, one of whose sisters was disabled when the rebels sliced off her lips and ears.

The LRA – notorious for killing and maiming civilians and abducting women and children to use as sex slaves and fighters – have not operated in Uganda for about six years, but rebel chief Joseph Kony, wanted by the International Criminal Court, and the remnants of his militia are still at large and have been linked to lootings, kidnappings and massacres in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan.

Penesy Lalam, 60, shares Abalo’s frustration: Her daughter Margaret Aciro had her lips, nose and ears cut off by the LRA in 2005; Aciro was a witness for the state in the trial of former LRA commander Thomas Kwoyelo, but has received no compensation.

“We have been deceived on so many occasions about compensation. However, I haven’t seen anything on the ground to date,” Lalam said. “We are now beggars.”

Anthony Atube, chairperson of northern Uganda’s Amuru District, said thousands of former internally displaced persons (IDPs) remained extremely poor and in need of support. “The attorney-general should look at the modalities of speeding up the compensation process for the victims as soon as possible; the president pronounced himself on the matter,” he said.

Landowners in the north who hosted close to two million IDPs over the course of the war are also seeking compensation. “Our land was affected for hosting thousands of IDPs during the rebellion,” said a landowner who preferred anonymity. “We need to get the compensation as a token of appreciation. The money will help us to buy fertilizers to rehabilitate our land.”

Lawsuit snag

State Minister for Northern Uganda Rebecca Amuge Otengo said the compensation exercise had been complicated by a lawsuit brought against the government by some war victims.

“The registration exercise started. However, some controversies came up. Some people went to court to sue government. This slowed the exercise… They are trying to hold other people hostage,” Otengo, told IRIN.

More than 24,000 claimants from northern Uganda’s Acholi and Lango sub-regions are seeking over US$1 billion in compensation for property and cattle they lost during the war.

“The government is committed to compensating all the war victims [and the] reconstruction and development of northern Uganda,” Otengo said. “We are also looking at general programmes instead of compensating individual persons to enhance the socioeconomic status of the people in the region.”

In addition to Museveni’s promise, a 2006 provisional peace agreement signed by the Ugandan government in Juba, South Sudan, contained provisions for the government to provide compensation and reparations to victims of the conflict.

Need for documentation

Stephen Oola, a transitional justice and governance analyst at Makerere University’s Refugee Law Project, said one of the problems with compensation was the lack of a legal framework within which it could be handled.

“As a country we don’t have laws and a reparation policy that address issues of compensation for war victims,” he said. “We don’t have a clear commitment from government to document the victims and compensate them. So far what we have seen is just political gimmick. The statements are made and not backed by action.”

“Clearly, there is an urgent need to compensate the LRA victims. Many of them are suffering from grave injuries as a result of the war. Many of them were maimed, tortured and amputated… They are not going to live longer if they don’t channel some treatment and some form of reparation in terms of compensation to alleviate their suffering,” he added.

“Everybody is a victim in northern Uganda. There is need for proper research, investigation and proper selection of the victims,” said Lucy Lapoti, an advocacy officer for the government’s Amnesty Commission in Gulu.

“We need community awareness campaigns on who is the victim and not. If the [compensation] process is tampered with, more internal wars among the community will rise again… Let it be a neutral process. There should be no political attachment on it as everybody suffered,” she added.


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