Eternal Vigilance: The Price of Civil Liberty Prt 2
Freedom - I literally cannot imagine life without it.
Click here: The Price of Civil Liberty Prt 1
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First published: April 6, 2006
This is a reality check for you:
The scene is in one of the Internet cafes in a town of your choice in Uganda. Business is going on as usual when two men in the famous black mamba uniform stride into the main room and call for attention. Then, they make an announcement: It is forbidden to access certain web sites in Uganda. They list them for the attentive crowd.
As people are absorbing this, one of the men challenges a patron about a web site he is visiting and asks the man to step outside. At this point, a concerned citizen intervenes and calls the uniformed men aside. A police officer is summoned. The men leave after consulting between themselves. It turns out they are employees of the country 's notorious clandestine organs and were operating way outside their authority.
Now, I feel constrained to repeat, this scenario is not only happening in Zimbabwe, China, Togo, Cuba or North Korea. Rather, it could or is happening in your Uganda. Right there under the nose of the NRMO government of the " liberator in chief " and guarantor of our rights. How ironic! I thought our rights are enshrined and protected in the constitution - OOPS! – I guess not any more.
There are those of us who'd still say the country has become less deserving of the fundamental change era in recent years. They would point as evidence to the selective blocking of the information super high way without genuine reasons instead of regulating as is the case in other democracy's around the globe.
The jamming of independent radio stations-Choice FM in Gulu and Open gate FM in Mbale, to security agents empowered to check up on what you've been reading, to revelations of illegal eavesdropping of the opposition, forceful deportation of accredited foreign journalists (Lambert) and now the illegal detention in secret torture houses.
For lack of space, please kindly allow me to continue the rest of this piece as is it's not possible to list all the recent examples of the rot that rule Uganda today.
National Stability and Security – War against Terrorism.
And there are others who'd say, "So what?" - we should be ready to give up our freedoms in exchange for national security and stability. Of course this group of thinkers will be quick to tell any body willing to listen that the world's greatest democracy- USA has had plausible incidents of abuse of rights.
They would argue that from the Alien and Sedition Acts by president John Adams, which punished anti- government speech as traitors at the height of French hostility against U.S navel sovereignty, to Richard Nixon's expanded bugging and wiretapping of domestic 'subversives as the Vietnam war continued and the incumbent Bush in the name of the " war on terror " is authorizing electronic secret spying at home and abroad on his fellow Americans.
These are valid arguments, however we should not forget that the American government machinery is endowed with a sophisticated unique and effective system of checks and balance. As a matter of fact, as of writing, Bush's political capital has plummeted as a consequence of electronic secret spying authorizations among other factors.
Post September 11 and Anti – Terrorism War in Africa.
Given the dictatorial tendencies of many African governments, Uganda inclusive. The Anti - Terrorism Act has been used by the state to harass, intimidate and arrest not only its political opponents but also journalists and clumping down on the media establishments.
In times of war like the twenty - year old insurgency in northern Uganda, the government has employed the Anti-terrorism law to bar journalists from accessing information on its counter insurgency operations. There have been reports of detained journalists or their materials and equipment being destroyed or confiscated by state agents.
In its defense government officials claim that by publishing such material on the war situation, the media is in essence promoting terrorism or encouraging terrorists. And when faced with such a scenario, a journalist is left in a precarious situation. -Thus the public is ultimately denied their right to access accurate information.
Apparently the NRMO government of Museveni is ignorant of what Thomas Jefferson said: " Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and possessions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day."
The Way Forward.
Indeed, of all the many things I cannot fathom about certain of my countrymen and women, is their ability to be sanguine at the threatened abrogation of their rights.
My fellow Ugandans have resigned to the famous quote by one of my favorite American presidents Thomas Jefferson - " The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground "
You would think that after twenty years of testing a semi open system, the Ugandan people would be yearning for more openness after all.
In essence, the only way I can explain it is that freedom - the right to do, say, think, go, "live" as you please - is supposed to be ingrained in our psyche, it's a part of us. It's a God given birth- right, that I literally cannot imagine life without it.
Most Ugandans seem fundamentally unable to visualize how drastically things would change without these freedoms they treat so cavalierly, what it would be like to need government approval to use the Internet, buy a book, take a trip, watch a movie like Brokeback Mountain, or read these very words.
If that sounds alarmist, consider again the experience in the once promising country of Zimbabwe, where an agent of the government literally read over a man's shoulder, Big Brother like, and tried to prevent him from seeing what he had chosen to see.
The allegation that the material is unsavory as in the case of radiokatwe.com doesn't make it OK!
Look friends, freedom is a messy business. It is also a risky business. But it means nothing if we surrender it at every hint of messiness and risk. That's cowardly and it's un-democratic.
You'd think we'd have learned that lesson after the excesses of the Idi Amin (Uganda), Mobutu (Congo), Saddam (Iraq) and Milosovic (Yugoslavia). But apparently the lesson requires constant re-learning and vigilance.
To this end, I would like to thank the group of protesters in Nairobi who came out in large numbers when the Standard Newspaper in neighboring Kenya was invaded by government security operatives for having the guts to say, hell no.
Some things should never happen in freedom's land. - Because - "The people of every country are the only safe guardians of their own rights." --Thomas Jefferson to John Wyche, 1809.
Stand Up Ugandans and all human kind – Let freedom ring all over the globe.
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First published: April 6, 2006
Conrad R. Nviri is a gallant "son of the soil" of Buwenge Peri Urban Town, Kagoma County in Jinja district - Currently resident of North St. Paul, Minnesota.
He attended school at Buweera Primary (1982-1988) to Namasagali College (1989-1992) Ordinary level and Busoga College - Mwiri (1993-1995) Advanced level. Graduated with a B.A in Economics, Insurance and Rural-Banking at Agra University, India.
A Ugandan who has lived in the worlds two greatest democracies. - India and USA. "I cherish this a great deal and I know I have learned a lot from the experience of living in societies that espouse the democratic principles."
Conrad is pursuing a Masters in Health Informatics and Information Management at St. Scholastica College, MN and hopes to venture into private consulting as well as medical writing and reporting. Prior to this, he had a short stint in the family business where he introduced new innovations for the business. "In my family, we know that money is not a goal to happiness. Happiness is achieved only when you do the things you love, and you do them so well that the people cannot take their eyes off you."