Do right even when no one is watching – Kirenga

Robert Kirenga

What you need to know:

Growing careers: His initial career plan was to join the Police Force because he admired the force. . Robert Kirenga graduated with a degree in Political Science and Public Administration at Makerere in 1995 and waited for two years to get a job with a tobacco transporting company. In between, Uganda Human Rights Commission advertised a job for research assistants and the rest is now a long-standing career.

What does your job entail?

As the executive director of National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda (NCHRD-U), I provide leadership. I have 11 staff who do programming and administrative work. We build the capacity of human rights defenders to be able to manage their personal security. For example, if Edgar is going to see what is happening with students in a strike, how does he ensure that he is safe as he is carrying out his journalism duties?

In terms of advocacy and networking, we try to bring human rights defenders together, especially if there are issues affecting them. Right now, we are advocating for a law protecting human rights and one recognising human rights defenders. Many people do not understand their work. Many of them are interpreted as members of the opposition. Others call them agents of foreign change, others promoters of homosexuality but if the law is there then it will legitimise our work. The bill had reached the first reading stage in parliament but following the death of Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, the whole process was repeated and we are in the process again.

What are the ethics upon which you anchor your career?

One is to do with values of our organisation and the most important values are accountability and transparency. The other is the issue of confidentiality; matters that have come to your attention cannot be shared by everybody.

Thirdly is integrity; that you should do what is right at all times. You are at the traffic lights, it shows green and there is no car, there is no one seeing you, do you drive or wait? Integrity means doing the right thing even when no one is seeing you.

The other issue is collectiveness. You cannot do everything alone. Whatever you are doing should reflect the purpose of human right defenders. I think you saw what happened to the president of the medical association when he was asked the views of all doctors?

Who has been the most focal person in your career journey?

My father. His career in public service lasted more than 60 years. He taught us to respect what belonged to others. He taught us good virtues. Unfortunately, I cannot live up to his standards.

He emphasised a lot about education but I saw it later. Sometimes, you do not see these things when you are still young but when you grow up they begin influencing you.

I always tell my colleagues, the young graduates, not to lose hope. The most important thing is to have life. I took two years without a job. Wherever I went, I was chased away that my father was capable of giving me a job.

What kind of literature do you read?

It is good to know about the things that happened at the international arena and know how they are going to affect us. We never knew that what Russia called special operations on Ukraine would have an impact on us. Did you ever imagine that the chapatti we have, the wheat used comes from Ukraine?You also look at how successful people can be haunted by the global system. So the kind of literature that I read is about international politics and the global economy.

I watch a lot of documentaries. The local bulletins frustrate me so much, especially when I watch issues of poverty and human rights. You imagine a fellow human being in Karamoja starving despite the minerals in their region, the early child marriages in Busoga and extreme poverty there and then the societies with so much food that they throw some of it away. In Somalia people are serving food but in Afghanistan parents are trading their children so that they get what to eat. The gap between those without and those with is very wide. How can you be successful amidst the majority of people who are struggling?

What do you do to relax?

I do a lot of sports. I never miss the marathon every November, and on a weekly basis I try to do some exercise, go for a steam bath or sauna. I have reduced the time of meeting the big boys in the bar. I spare time for the family if they are back for holidays. I like visiting my friends.


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