4 November 2012

Uganda: Babu, Inzikuru and the Agony of Representing Uganda Abroad


While the mood after the conclusion of this year's London Olympics was so high in Uganda, when the deserved Stephen Kiprotich put an end to the 40-year goldless spell; I heard other voices; which I now realize should probably have been given better attention.

Notably among them was the low voice of Uganda's only golden-girl--Dorcus Inzikuru. Inzikuru lamented as she struggled to explain her failure and that of "Team Uganda" to win medals at the London Olympics, which was overshadowed by the gold we bagged on the last day. But wait. Now that the storm raised by Kiprotich's golden-return is slowly settling down, let us get back to what Inzikuru was saying.

For those who missed Inzikuru's address, which drew defences from high-level government officials responsible for sports; she gave one touching testimony when she had to find a train to look for a pair of shoes before taking part in a race. Obviously, Inzikuru was "telling lies, false and unfounded" if you are to believe what the minister for sports said.

But for a period of seven weeks (between June and September 2012), I had a chance to see someone in a similar situation that Inzikuru described; and I must confess seeing him struggle while raising our national flag was so painful.

My good friend Martin Mwesigwa Babu was in the race to represent Uganda on the Committee of Experts of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), kind of taking up a path that Lady Justice Julia Ssebutinde took to get to the International Court of Justice which has given Uganda a lot of credibility.

Martin came to New York first in late May through June this year and spent five weeks supporting the lobby and advocacy initiatives for his candidature to the UNCRPD Committee of Experts.

He was the officially endorsed candidate to represent Uganda. So, he was our flag bearer just as Inzikuru and the team that went to the Olympics. Martin was provided with the required political and diplomatic support by the government of Uganda. However, he had to find himself a ticket, pay for his hotel bills and feed himself for all the seven weeks he was in New York. This literally means thousands of dollars, bearing in mind the very high cost of living in New York city.

Martin did a lot of groundwork before he left Uganda to come to New York and start his campaigns; and while he approached several government offices, concerned members of parliament and ministries asking for basics like an air ticket and a few dollars to help with his upkeep; the little contributions he received were mainly from friends and family. Martin thus left as a Ugandan who was coming to New York for "kyeyo" and yet in his bag was a special black, yellow and red piece of cloth--a symbol of our national pride.

He arrived in very high spirits, but as days went by, Martin looked like a forgotten fighter in the battlefield, whose country did not have a clue as to where he had been deployed to serve. While the Uganda mission at the United Nations played a significant role in meeting its obligations, especially in arranging meetings for our candidate to interface with election officers from other missions; it too was cash-strapped and couldn't do much more than just feeling sorry for him.

Other necessities like food, shelter and transport were left to the mercy of God, which certainly had negative effects to Martin just as Inzikuru said. Thank God, Martin made it and is now a diplomat representing Uganda - the only African who was voted during this year's committee elections. One then wonders why the "Inzikurus" and "Martins" of this world who strive to do our country proud are not supported by the very country they seek to represent.

And more so, why the state never puts up a budget to specifically support such endeavours. I am still puzzled as to why, all of a sudden, after winning medals and positions, the state finds resources to organize convoys to pick them from the airport and well-funded press conferences. I only wish the government of Uganda acted differently; whether or not one wins, it never takes away the fact that they stood up to represent their country. Martin is now a diplomat, but then do we as a country have any moral support to demand service from him?

The writer is a Ugandan disability rights activist currently living and working in New York.

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