Revisiting the Vice of Tribalism in Institutions of Higher Learning

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On 23rd March 2010, two distinct but related events happened in my student leadership life. I handed over (I know this is not familiar in some corridors in the country) two offices–one of Clerk to Guild Parliament and the other–as Speaker of Teso Students’ Development Association (TESDA). These two positions nourished me with some deep appreciation of the (negative) role tribalism plays in University politics (at least in the one I attended!)

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UCU students cheer a candidate in one of the past Guild elections (PHOTO: The Campus Times)

From the campaign onset, the different candidates scout for “influential” people in tribal groups (Nkobazambogo, Basoga Nsete,  Acholi Students Development Association, etc.) to organize association meetings and invite them to speak. In other words, regular developmental meetings become quasi political rallies—complete with a Q&A session, drinks offered (just like in the village) etc. Even “affirmative-action packages” are offered here and there.

In one of those meetings I attended, I vividly recall a friend from Lango (he is now a youth winger in the Opposition Uganda People’s Congress) advising us to vote his candidate (a fellow Northerner) because apparently, “the rain that falls in Teso is the same that falls in Northern Uganda.” He further reminded us that, “we have been marginalized at national level and so we should not accept the same here.” He counselled us to unite and resist the “common enemy” who comes from the same area as the “dictator” in State House. A deafening applause always followed whenever such statements were uttered—of course to my chagrin!

For those who are not familiar, the top contenders in this particular campaign included a student from Nebbi District in Northern Uganda and another from Kabaale in Western Uganda. This geographical coincidence was a common trend in most elections. Somehow, there would be someone from one of those regions.

I also remember, in another campaign, one candidate who “dropped” his Teso surname because some Iteso (yours truly inclusive) betrayed him by supporting “these Westerners.” Incidentally, the same guy currently works in one of the government Ministries in Kampala.

I always raged with disgust just wondering what these presumed intellectuals (and so-called future leaders!) would be later when they get power or occupy influential positions in their work life. I mean “couldn’t they see that the students’ problems needed a sober, charismatic and articulate person but not tribal chief?” I would always ask myself.

Fast forward: The elections are done and the President-elect has to assemble a Team to constitute his (in my time, we never had a Female President) Cabinet. There are always key positions to look out for; General Secretary (now you it’s not an NRM thing only), Minister of Finance, Attorney General, Heads of Tribunal and Electoral Commission (not for rigging, but cutting procurement deals in the next election). In most cases, the occupants of those positions speak the same or similar language. As a matter of fact, even my own appointment, regardless of my technical competencies, had a tribal undertone to it because the then Speaker, was my good friend and we came from the same region.

In about three out of the five elections I participated in as a student, I earned the wrath of my tribe-mates (or those from fellow “marginalized” tribes) when I openly supported candidates from Western Uganda—very competent guys, I must add. Some extremists in TESDA suggested I be “suspended” from the group. The weirdest one was one who linked my light skin complexion (that is before the Karamoja unforgiving sun roasted it away) to a possibility of not being an Itesot (the guy knew my mum and dad were from Kumi and Bukedea respectively) and further asked me to change my name from Ochom to Ochomugisha. Now, the list of people who are very proud of their origin is surely incomplete if my name is missing. In fact, I have stated before, like I will state now that I am an Itesot before I become a Ugandan. This is a fact and I am so proud of it. But to use this as a yardstick for determining political or other choices is absurd, divisive, regressive and backward especially in this era of integration.

So, as we try to confront the issue of tribalism in our politics and work places, maybe we should tackle it right from where we take our children to study, where they are expected to be groomed into professionals and future leaders. Can we create initiatives that unite students regardless of their tribes or courses? Think tanks, for example are not farfetched for a University.

Outside school, there should be deliberate measures to promote fairness by availing equal opportunities to all Ugandans to access whatever resources there are in the country—business, scholarships, jobs, etc. so that nobody feels cheated (of course some will always feel) and all have a reason to be proud to be identified as a citizen of Uganda but not a member of a certain tribe only.

Short of this, this country is sitting on a time bomb!!!

Don’t say I did not warn you…

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Why are UCU Alumni Shunning their Association?

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On 29th October, 2010, I graduated from Uganda Christian University after a four-year stint pursuing a Bachelor of Laws Degree. One of the pre-graduation requirements was mandatory subscription to the University Alumni Association. I was excited! I saw prospects of keeping in touch with classmates, networking with other alumni, and who knows; those connections could easily land me the much-needed job at the time. Sadly, this was my last interaction with the Association—registration!

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A photo grid of my class graduation in 2010 (PHOTO: Onyait Odeke)

Four years later, I am clueless of what the Association is doing. I hear stories of poorly-attended meetings where elections to the Executive Committee were held. Dead silence follows. Another election. Then dead silence… The vicious cycle of inactivity continues.

This brings me to my first observation—the insufficient communication approach used by those in charge of this entity. A number of colleagues I have interacted with on this matter corroborate my view.

Secondly, I think there is some form of a leadership crisis in this group. An alumni association, by its very nature is a link between the past and the present. They are like the “external wing of UCU linking former students to the institution“, as a politically active friend of mine put it. This means those leading it should be able to appeal to the wide and professionally diverse membership of the group. They should be ambitious and look at the Association as a launch pad for bigger things in life. Such people should be creative and design innovative projects that will make membership to the Association a source of pride.

From my own observation, the group is currently led by “contented” people–the conventional type. One of my friends, in an email exchange had no polite words. He insinuated that the leadership is so literally operating under fear, like continuing students “who can be suspended.” He advised them to up their game! Another opined that such a financially-limping group needs leaders who have worked for some with a little financial stability and resource mobilization capabilities so that they can bolster its image with their rich experience (and may be wallets as well!).

Lastly, is the operating environment in UCU. A growing association like this one needs a flexible setting to thrive. For all its great things, UCU is a very restrictive place and this, if unchecked may stifle progress.

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UCU’s main building. The beautiful scenery around the University is breath taking.

Besides organizing social events, publishing newsletters, fundraising, and helping the alumni maintain connections to their educational institution and fellow graduates, an alumni association should be able to, for example hold public debates on various issues in the country. But many times, this is a frustratingly bureaucratic undertaking in UCU. I state this with my own experience organizing well-intentioned public discussions while I was a student. Yet such events give the Association the much-needed publicity and in effect, attract many former students. Who would want to be associated with a dull entity, anyway?

I will not touch the “childish” and “harsh” policies that many had to endure during their time at this University and how it has ruined the University’s relationship with its (former) students. This can be a topic for another day!

Moving forward, I encourage the present leadership to fully embrace the use of social media and other electronic avenues like google groups to mobilize the alumni. Some of them are within Kampala and surrounding areas thus reachable. With all the thousands of alumni, just a few hundreds can be sufficient to reawaken this Association. And I believe many are willing and ready to be counted. But this needs an institutional structure to accommodate. For me, this is where UCU has miserably failed–to exploit the alumni’s good will to its advantage!

Up to now, there is no clear Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn page for this Association and yet thousands of potential members use these platforms. They should plan and communicate projects that can benefit the alumni or students. Can we have a forum to share jobs/internship opportunities or fundraise for needy students? All these obvious ideas can only be done if members have been adequately mobilized!!!

As I sum up, I want to challenge the University alumni to “come back home”. Like it or not, UCU is inextricably linked to our lives. It made us what we are now. It is our duty to re-organize ourselves and see how we can contribute to the betterment of the “Centre of Excellence in the Heart of Africa”

I rest my case!

Author’s Note: This is an unabridged version of the article written by Yours Truly and published in The Standard–Uganda Christian University’s community newspaper on 19th January, 2015

Seven Things A Lawyer Must Factor Before Joining the NGO World!

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Introduction

In Law School, many students who take time off to imagine what their life will be when they graduate often see a big future ahead of them. This ordinarily refers to a job in a huge law firm—handling lucrative cases for big corporations, high profile personalities or working as in-house counsel for the many big government parastatals in town. Others envisage themselves in International courts or organizations like the United Nations. Ask them which subjects they will pursue and they will tell you Contract, Intellectual Property, Banking, International Law, etc. If you mention Gender, you will m most likely receive derogatory glances or be regarded as “unserious”.

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The writer on his graduation day after attaining a Post-Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from  Law Development Centre, Kampala in August, 2013 (PHOTO: Onyait Odeke)

After all, as they are told before and after joining school, “Law is a marketable course”, “Only the finest brains pursue law” and inside law school, one should do the “hard” subjects.

Changes in the Legal Profession

However, as years pass by, a lot of water has crossed the bridge, as they say. Things have changed! Uganda now has 11 Universities offering the Degree of Bachelor of Laws (LLB) Programme (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_law_schools_in_Uganda). This ordinarily means the number of law graduates has significantly increased over time. By necessary implication, this means that the number of legal practitioners has also increased. In fact, currently it is estimated at 1, 700 Advocates registered with Uganda Law Society (per National Legal Aid Policy Draft 6). Now, because there are many advocates in the country, many of whom are practicing, this means the competition in the market is high and the most (especially new) lawyers are really struggling.

Another development in Uganda was the introduction of the mandatory pre-entry exam to join the Bar Course by virtue of the Advocates (Professional Requirements for Admission to the Post Graduate Bar Course) (Amendment) Notice, 2010 (http://www.ulii.org/ug/legislation/statutory-instrument/2010 ) issued by Prof Fredrick E. Ssempebwa, the Chairperson, Committee on Legal Education and Training of the Law Council. This law significantly reduced the number of lawyers admitted to undertake this mandatory course that enabled them become Advocates. The effect has been that most of those who failed to join or have actually failed the course have had to explore other ways of “practicing” law.

Option for Lawyers

The circumstances discussed above have therefore created the need for an alternative platform for lawyers to plié their trade. This is where Civil Society, defined by Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon  as “the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens” or “individuals and organizations in a society which are independent of the government” comes into play.

The popular translation of Civil Society and slightly borrowed from the above definitions in the Ugandan context is NGOs—Non Governmental Organizations. Most of the NGOs in Uganda now, owing to the relative peace and stability are re-directing their focus from humanitarian work to areas like Human Rights, Access to Justice, peace & Reconciliation, Democracy, Good Governance, to mention but a few—most, if not all require knowledge of the law. This has therefore created a platform for many lawyers, who have not been absorbed by the mainstream legal practice to exploit their talents.

What to Note

But what does a legal career in the NGO world entail? Many think it is a walk in the park. May be? May be not? I will leave you to make this assessment. Below, I share my views on what I think it takes to pursue a career in this area;

Working Up-Country

According to the Draft Legal Aid Policy, about 85% of legal practitioners in Uganda are based in Kampala. Even the remaining 15% are based in towns outside Kampala. It is estimated that only 16% of Ugandans have access to legal services. Therefore, a job in an NGO dealing in Legal Aid Service Provision may “throw” you to Kotido, Amudat, Isingiro, Buhweju, Bundibuyo, Gulu, Moroto, Mbarara etc. The reason is very simple–this is where these services, though urgently needed, are hardly available. You now help to bridge that gap!

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Abbreviated as ADR, this is latest trend that most NGOs are interested in. Even the mainstream legal practitioners now prefer this. ADR as opposed to litigation is preferred because it is cheap, quick, less bureaucratic, informal and user-friendly. It is therefore obvious that a lawyer should possess good mediation and other dispute resolution skills if he/she is successfully work in an NGO. This also entails ability to work with community elders, (ignorant) LCs, and other “small” community people.

Financial Management

Many organizations are cutting costs and one of the ways is by downsizing the staff. Most upcountry offices may not have accountants or other support staff. So as a Legal Officer/Assistant or Programme Manager Legal, chances are high that you may head an upcountry station. This means, besides managing the human resource, you will also need to be abreast with basic accounting skills. This includes; making budgets and requisitions, adhering to procurement procedures, spending the money and accounting for it. You should be able to scrutinize receipts and other documents and prepare financial reports for approval by the Organization’s Head of Finance. Any unaccounted money should be refunded lest you become personally liable as the Head.

Monitoring and Evaluation

This is an essential and arguably the most complicated part of a job in an NGO. Tracking the progress of a programme, the milestones, the impact on people’s lives etc. can be such a night mare, especially for lawyers (We do not study these things!!!). This entails designing an M&E Logical Framework (LogFrame), Indicator Tracking Tables etc. Words like indicators, outputs, inputs, outcomes, and means of verification will be all over the place. Unfortunately, there is no way out. M&E is an intricate but crucial part of a project. It is getting more complicated now with many donors emphasizing on results. That is why many people talk of Results-Based Monitoring and Evaluation (RBME). So, you have to learn it!

Report Writing

In one of my first Bar Course lecturers, we were told that one of the problems with lawyers is that on the whole, they do not write well and the biggest problem is that they have no clue that they do not write well.  Forget your legalese-riddled opinions. Reports in this context are just about summarizing what has been done in a given period, what has succeeded, failed and reasons for both, the operating environment, and other observations one has made relating to the project during that reporting period. This is an inevitable task in the NGO world because it is one way of tracking the project. But most importantly, it is one method of accounting for the money injected by donors to the project. In the past, a report primarily showed what has been done. However, presently, beyond the just the outputs, a report should portray the change that your intervention is causing hence the phrase “results-oriented reporting.”

Facilitation Skills

Despite the introduction of free universal education in Uganda since 1996, the literacy levels in the country have reportedly still been dropping. This means few Ugandans can actually read and write. It also implies that their appreciation of the law, human rights etc. are low. A lawyer therefore pursuing a career in this world should have strong facilitation. He/she should be able to demystify complex legal concepts for ordinary illiterate people who have never seen the inside of a class room.

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The writer facilitates a training of Land Adminstrators in Moroto District. May, 2014. (PHOTO: Iduwat Ochom)

Facilitation skills are also needed when you may be required to conduct trainings, workshops, meetings etc. Many NGOs run several trainings and in most cases, it is the staff who do this. It sounds but trust me, this may not be as simple as it sounds!

Humility and Willingness to Learn

Many lawyers presume to know everything—little wonder we call ourselves ”learned”—a very unhealthy trait in a working environment. When recruited as a Legal Officer/Assistant/Advocate or Programme Manager Legal Services (whatever fancy title your employer may choose), chances are high your immediate Supervisor may not be a lawyer. I have personally experienced this. Many NGOs, because there are few lawyers with the relevant Project Management experience have tended to recruit non-lawyers to do the resource mobilization and monitoring for them. Truth be told, many non-lawyers find lawyers to be arrogant (even when they may not be). It gets even more complicated if the boss has a low self-esteem. He/she may always try to despise ypour ideas or even frustrate them–just to exhibit their power! So as the “learned one”, I advise you to humble yourself, take notes when they speak to you and challenge them in a courteous manner. This has personally worked for me. It has enabled me acquire skills I had never known of since Law School. Not to mention the “lucrative” assignments and promotions.

Other note-worthy skills include; Team work, strong conceptual abilities, knowledge of stakeholders, minute writing skills, litigation, client management, among others.

The good news is that you do not have to go back to school to study all these things. In any case, which school offers programmes with experience? You just need the right attitude, presence of mind and the vigilance to learn at work. Like I have always shared my friends, the things we need to learn now, we have to learn them by doing!

So I ask, is a job in the NGO world a walk in the park?

WOMEN AND LAND: Gender Politics in Customary Land Governance

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Uganda has a comprehensive legal, policy and institutional framework designed to guarantee rights of women in the country. The Constitution has a number of provisions that secure women’s rights. Article 21 provides for equality and freedom from discrimination. Artcle 26 provides for protection from deprivation of property—land inclusive. Article 32 provides for affirmative action in favour of marginalized groups.

When it comes to governance, Article 33 provides for rights of   women and sub-article (4) states that “Women shall have the right to equal treatment with men and that right shall include equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities.”
Regarding land, a number of institutions have been established under the law to govern this valuable asset and these include; Uganda Land Commission, District Land Boards and Area Land Committees. There are slots secured for women in all these government structures.

However, for purposes of this post, I will focus on Communal Land Associations–a structure established under the law to manage communal lands held under customary tenure.
The Land Act requires that at least three out of the nine members of the executive committee of any CLA must be women.
The spirit behind these provisions is to enhance the participation of women in land administration and management. This is also in line with the Constitutional provisions highlighted above

While working in Karamoja, I participated in the process of mobilizing the local communities to form Communal Land Associations. My oversight role in this noble exercise availed me a priceless opportunity to observe and analyze the practicality of these legal principles in Karamoja region.

The first striking case was at a community meeting in one of the villages in Kaabong district—North of Karamoja. In my usual opening address, I explained the legalities involved in CLA formation; the procedures and requirements with emphasis on the membership to the executive committee. After my address, everybody clapped for me (which ordinarily implies appreciation of the message) but I was in for a rude shock in the subsequent discussions!

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Ms. Sabina Kodet, an LC I official from Nacument Parish in Bokora County, Napak District addresses a community meeting. Such articulate women should be empowered to participate in land governance as well

People were asked to nominate names for election to the Executive Committee. In a snap shot, nine people were proposed for consideration. All were men. I objected and emphatically reminded them of the legal requirement. Everybody fell dead silent save for the rustling of the leaves of the tree under which we sat.

After labouring through the requirements again, community members grudgingly accepted to replace some male nominees with females. Some elders openly argued that having a woman as a representative of a minor clan (numerous minor clans form a sub-clan) was as good as having no representative because land issues are for men not women. They reminded me (and I personally observed this) that even the women the law is forcing them to include in governance structures will be mere listening posts with no input at all to offer to the discussions.
They further stated that very few women will attained future CLA meetings compared to men. When I probed, the common explanation was that it is the men who had the information on land and absence of women was inconsequential. Even in those few meeting where the women attended, they played a largely passive role.

From this experience, one clearly sees that the role of women in land administration and management is still lacking. Where the law prescribes a minimum number, it is instead taken as the maximum. No community that we interacted with nominated beyond three women (the MINIMUM requirement) to their structure. In fact arriving at the three alone was such a tall order!!!

After Session

The writer, (holding a blue notebook) dances with Karamojong former warriors after a land rights sensitization meeting in Nakapaelimoru Sub-County, Jie Country, Kotido District (April 2013). Community sensitization is one way the writer believes can go a long way in opening people’s minds to support women to participate in land administration and management

This calls for a more innovative approaches in tackling the issue of women participation in land-related issues and governance as a whole. This approach should partly deviate from the conventional emphasis on quantity and instead tackle the qualitative aspects as well. It should focus on empowering women, regardless of their numbers to articulate cross-cutting issues that are easily embraced by the male-dominated society. It requires intensive sensitization of the men to appreciate the biologically proven fact women, just like men posses the intellectual prowess to contribute to the good governance and well-being of our society when an equal platform is available.