Many things are going wrong in Uganda, and the architects of these wrongs are in government, civil society, the private sector and the communities where we live.
To correct these wrongs, it is taking the voices of people like Agather Atuhaire, who, in this interview, narrates the ordeal of taking up such a risky journey leading to a faceoff with the mighty of the land.
Below are excerpts from the first part of the interview.
You have had a successful career as a journalist, and another as a lawyer has beckoned. Why the activism now; you Should probably be comfortable chasing a good life and eating money in silence?
I have had a successful career as a journalist, having worked for all the major media houses in this country and some stints with international ones. But I wasn’t feeling the impact of mainstream journalism. I don’t know why. It might be because we are not big on reading as a people or something else. Then I studied law and loved it. Law school was the most interesting and worthwhile stage of my education.
There is a gospel song by Casting crown called “who am I?”. Some moments make me sing it in my heart especially this one of a brave, others say foolhardy, President tweeting about me! And yes, the trip has been eye-opening about many things. Will tell you guys all about it. https://t.co/dls6lU1j6D
— Agather Atuhaire (@AAgather) July 19, 2023
Before I studied law, I was sure I wanted to leave journalism for law because law was my first choice. The reason was to fight for the rights of people like my mother. I have grown up seeing the rights of my mother and many other women trampled upon by their husbands.
There is this story I will never forget of my mother’s friend with whom they traded in the market who came back home after a long day in the market sun, and her drunk husband demanded that she gives him the money. When she refused, he injured her arm with a panga. I must have been around ten, but I was filled with rage, and that incident never left my mind.
It wasn’t the only incident; they were so many like that in the village. There was old men who defiled children and paid their parents off, men who maimed their wives, and the entire village kept quiet because they can’t interfere in people’s “personal business” and many horrible things.
So I wanted to be a lawyer to fight for such people. When I got to law school, around the second year, I was no longer sure I wanted to practice law. But I had no doubt I wanted to continue studying it. I think the reason for this was that I started seeing its (law) limitations in a context like ours.
When I finished law school, I had so many job offers. My friends in government would contact me and say there is this position, we are going to advertise it, but you’re the person we want; apply for it. I would say, “no, thank you” and they wouldn’t understand me.
Of course, I want money and a comfortable life for me and my children but I want a fair, just and equitable society for everyone. So I decided to do activism. I think I do what one would call journalism activism. It must be because of my childhood stories that I have summarized for you above but that’s what gives me purpose and fulfillment.
You take on the mighty in this land, quite ballsy; how does this make you feel going after some of the most feared people and offices in the country?
Sometimes it makes me feel afraid but it also emboldens me and I say someone has to take them on. I think we should all do it. No one in this country is more citizens than others.
I saw instead of paying @NaigagaMartha, @Mbidde hired some idle p’ple to attack me. I’m told one threatened to expose me and I am not stopping them. Mine, is to try all I can to ensure that this woman toiling for herself and family gets what’s due to her. Some of the evidence is https://t.co/RDfRuSf6g1 pic.twitter.com/DAn5BiHGEX
— Agather Atuhaire (@AAgather) July 7, 2023
It has not ended well for bold and outspoken activists before you; people like Kakwenza and Nicholas Opiyo, does this not frighten you?
Yes, it frightens me. The impunity in this country gets worse by the day. The lawlessness and the sense of entitlement! But if we don’t confront it because we are frightened how will it end? It will get worse and still affect us whether we speak up or not.
So I take chances too and say let me speak if I succeed the benefits are immense, if I don’t it will be a price I have to pay for a society I would love to see for everyone.
How far can you go with this? Where and when do you stop?
How far can I go? I don’t know. I will try to go as far as I can. When I start a campaign, I don’t stop until it yields results. Sometimes not all the results are desirable but a few that we can work with.
So I won’t stop until we get results; accountability for public resources, all people being treated fairly, value for our money, respect for public offices etc.
You recently won the Human Rights Defenders Award from European Union, besides such perks, what drives you to be this bold and speak up?
The EU Human Rights Defenders award that I won has never been a driving factor. I didn’t even know about it until I was nominated for it. So awards like those are not my motivation. They can be a consequence but not the motivation of my “fights”.
My motivation comes from the so many injustices that I witnessed growing up and how they irked me. I would get so bothered by a person treating another badly and my siblings always told me to mind my business (like everyone else was).
There was this man that used to beat up his wife and one day he chased her and brought in a new woman who had a bar in the trading centre. I was in primary school and every time I passed his home (unfortunately I don’t know what they call okuhema in English.
It’s an insult, Banyankole do it a lot by showing their lower teeth to the person they’re displeased with) so I showed my displeasure with that man by doing okuhema every time we passed by his house from school.
My sisters always asked, “but what is your problem? “ What if the guy beats you?” So I guess what drives me is my ability to feel other people’s pain like it is mine.
What is it in for you as an activist determined to help people some of whom are strangers; what do you aim to achieve?
I aim to achieve a fair society that works for us all. And believe me before you tell me I am idealistic like many people have, I know I might not achieve it but at least I won’t blame myself for not trying.