The women that fight our wars

In response to the police assault of FDC activist Ingrid Turinawe, who had her breast squeezed by a police officer, Allimadi and her fellow activists decided to protest while half-naked. “We settled on the bra protest. We thought it would be most appropriate for what had happened. It’s not like we were saying we don’t respect ourselves. We were disgusted by what had been done, “she says. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa/File.

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They know that they will most likely swallow some tear gas or end up behind bars but they still lead to the forefront to fight for what is ours as women. There are many such brave hearts, but Angela Nampewo sought out a few and brings you their stories.

Barbara Allimadi: Famed for the bra protest
At school, Barbara Allimadi excelled in Mathematics and Physics. It came as no surprise when she qualified as an Electronics and Communications engineer from the London Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom. With hindsight, maybe she should have studied Law because, as she would discover years later, her passion lay elsewhere.

Clad in a blue and white caftan, it is hard to imagine Allimadi in a state of undress as she appeared during the semi -nude protest that followed the televised police assault on political activist Ingrid Turinawe in April 2012. Allimadi’s first reaction to the images of Turinawe’s breasts being grabbed by police officers was shock and disbelief.

“I felt let down as a citizen of this country to know that our police force, which is obligated to protect us, could abuse a woman in full view. I was silent for a while as I tried to internalise what I had just seen. The next day, I knew for sure that we would have to do something. We couldn’t just let this pass,” she recounts.

Allimadi shared her feelings with friends and activists. Several ideas were proposed to protest Turinawe’s violation. Looking back, Allimadi laughs at the idea of the nude protest, one of many suggestions that were made. “I had said no to both the bra and the nude protest. At the time, I didn’t think I could do that,” she says. The more Allimadi and fellow activists thought about what had been done to Turinawe, the more they were convinced that there was no better way to portray the magnitude of the assault. “We settled on the bra protest. We thought it would be most appropriate for what had happened. It’s not like we were saying we don’t respect ourselves. We were disgusted by what had been done, “she explains.

“I had no apology. I understood that not everybody was comfortable with it. I can’t say I was 150 per cent comfortable with it myself. There was no comfortable way of handling the situation. What had been done to Ingrid was dire,” she adds. Before the bra protest, Allimadi’s was not a common face. When Allimadi speaks English, it is with a foreign accent, which is the result of having lived and studied in Britain since her teens. One of 17 children born to the late Otema Allimadi, a former prime minister of Uganda during the Obote II regime between 1980 and 1985, Allimadi attended Nakasero Primary School before joining Gayaza High School for one year prior to her family’s exile to the United Kingdom following the 1985 coup that ousted Dr Milton Obote. Until her return to Uganda, she worked as a network engineer in the UK. In 2007, she returned for her mother’s funeral, and eventually decided to stay. Allimadi, who describes herself as a human rights activist, asserts that she has no political affiliation and doesn’t belong to any political party. “For me, it’s just about dignity; human rights for all of us. I just want to see the right thing done for all of us,” she says. It is the pursuit for justice that has driven her to take part in various public protests, including a march to Luzira prison in opposition of the detention of men arrested on suspicion of participating in the Buganda Kayunga riots. Apparently going topless in protest was not enough to deter suitors. Allimadi who is engaged to be married this December, says her fiancé, whom she hadn’t yet met at the time of the bra protest, understood it well. “He respects me and says that I’m a super activist.”

Cissy Kagaba: A small woman with a big voice
Now that her hair is shorter, she looks even younger than her pictures in the press. Still, keen followers of current affairs will recognise the fiery anti-corruption crusader from her frequent media appearances where she criticises those engaged in thievery and misappropriation of public resources. Meet Cissy Kagaba, the Executive Director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, a lawyer from Makerere University and Law Development Centre.

In person, Kagaba is a study in contrasts. Besides being a small-bodied woman with a big voice, she is an outspoken, fast talker who claims to be shy by nature and an executive who wears jeans and not business suits while attending workshops like the one she just stepped out of to give this interview.

The anti-corruption activist, who won’t talk about her age, is the eldest daughter out of five children born to retired Dr. Mukasa Kyannamba, whom she looks up to as her first role model. She is married to Mr Kagaba Muhumuza and they have a 10-year-old son.

“I was a bit shy. I didn’t feel comfortable speaking in front of people but I prayed about it because I knew that for the type of job I was going to do, I needed to be bold,” she confesses.

Kagaba has worked with the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda since 2007 when she joined as advocacy officer. Prior to that, she worked with Balikuddembe and Company Advocates and then Lukwago and Company Advocates just after leaving university. She later worked five years at Uganda Human Rights Commission starting in 2003.

Kagaba is a firm believer that we all have hidden potential to be something more.

“I realise that at times we need to move out of our comfort zone to do those things we think we cannot do. That is when our true self is going to come out. If such a position had not come, I would not know that I can be as bold as I am.”

Even though she comes off as confident and daring, it is not for the absence of anxiety. She just has a unique weapon for fighting off fear. Without pausing for breath, she proceeds to quote from the Bible. The words from the second book of Timothy tumble out of her memory with great ease. She repeats them at high speed.

“I haven’t given you the spirit of fear, but one of love, power and self-control,” she recites.

One of the things that irk her is the politicisation of the work she does and being perceived to be in the political opposition especially since politics holds no appeal for her at the moment.

“When you look at the politicians we have, none of them really inspires me to take up political office. I would rather speak from the outside,” she affirms.

Achola Rosario: Thrust to the forefront
The picture of one woman in a scuffle with the police was one of the images that dominated the media coverage of the Monitor siege earlier this year. Achola says there had been no way she had anticipated what awaited her that day.

“As journalists, we had been following news developments on the closure of the Daily Monitor. Questions had been raised by civil society. How come journalists were not coming together to protest the closure of the media houses?"

"In the newsroom at Radio One, we decided to join the protest. The plan was to go on a sit down strike in front of the Daily Monitor offices to register our presence. This is something that had been going around on Facebook so we knew that other journalists and civil society were going to join us.

"On the way to the Monitor offices, we were stopped at the barricades at the Namuwongo-Kibuli turn off from Mukwano Road.

"I managed to walk through because I came in from the opposite side. I saw some women standing at the front doors of the Monitor offices. When I asked if they were Monitor staff, they said no and asked who I was. I identified myself as press. It turned out the women were plainclothes police officers. One of them escorted me back to the barricades.

"That is when Afande Onyango came. We all moved in to interview him. We told him that all we wanted was to sit in front of the building and register our presence. At first he objected, saying it was a crime scene. Eventually, he agreed to let us walk across although we wouldn’t be allowed to sit down.

"At about midday, we started walking. We were about 30-40 people. My colleague Ruhinda was at the front. I was following with my camera. I thought everyone else was behind me. When I turned back, only four or five of us had made it through the barricades. The police commandant was running from the front of the office shouting, ‘Stop them. Close the barricades’. As the rest of the journalists were coming through, they closed the barricades. There were only five of us who were caught in the middle.

"They started pushing us back. We protested, arguing that we had permission to walk across. That is when the scuffle started. The commander said, “This woman, bring a woman to arrest her.” A young woman came and started pushing me. When she grabbed my arm and started pulling my stuff, that’s when I grabbed her hand. I think when (Isaac) Kasamani took that picture, I was protecting my camera.

"The other police officers then ordered, “Don’t fight them. Don’t arrest. Don’t beat them. Just push them out.” When they pushed us back out of the barricades, they fired tear gas. I had carried a scarf in case of teargas. We also bought sunglasses from a kiosk. When they fired the teargas, I ducked into a nearby office. When they saw my press identification, they pushed me back out. They said I was going to get them tear-gased.

"I wrapped my scarf like the Taliban and put on shades but the gas had penetrated. My eyes were burning. I ran back into a kiosk a where there was a Good Samaritan, a shop owner, who had a jerrycan of water and soap. We stayed close to the barricades until members of civil society arrived. We just kept going. I think we went back three or four times until we were satisfied that we had registered our point.”