Interview | Javie Ssozi – Helping Ugandan voices reclaim the legacy of the LRA war

Think Africa Press recently published a very thorough, balanced and well-written analysis of the Kony2012 furore and what it means for humanitarian organisations and their future campaigns – read it in full here. There was one section that really got my attention,

Kony2012 was unrivalled in its spread as a viral campaign and, in the UK, donations to international aid NGOs have been rising. But at the same time, these same strategies are possibly undermining the cultivation of more concerted, long-term commitments. (Kony2012 itself did not even sustain interest long enough to mobilise action for its Cover the Night campaign the next month.)

While I broadly embrace the sentiment that, long-term, the ‘success’ of the campaign will be seen in an entirely different light I think that this point of view misses a very important part of the video’s audience – Ugandans.

The website was set up in the aftermath of Invisible Children’s campaign. As the Think Africa Press article points out, the film had very little Ugandan input, focusing much more on the IC director, Jason Russell. For obvious reasons, many Ugandans were incensed by having their narrative, their issue, taken off their hands and presented to the world as a problem that revolves around the actions of North Americans. The founders of UgandaSpeaks wanted to combat that.

I caught up with Javie Ssozi, one of the co-founders of the site, to get some more information on the project.

Javie Ssozi

UgandaSpeaks was prompted by the KONY2012 phenomenon, a topic which has garnered an unbelievable amount of attention as well as a huge backlash from the development blogosphere and Ugandan journalists and activists. What do you think UgandaSpeaks can add to this discussion?

What UgandaSpeaks adds to the topic is not only valid arguments about the subject but also voices of Ugandans who have more experience in the legacy of the war in the North.  

There seem to be quite a lot of people involved in founding the site: who are they and how did you all come together?

The people who are involved in UgandaSpeaks are:

  1. Javie Ssozi
  2. Rosebell Kagumire
  3. Maureen Agena
  4. Echwalu Edward
  5. Ole Tangen

All of these people have had experience covering news stories or doing social work in Northern Uganda where Joseph Kony and the LRA committed terrible atrocities.

Who is running things, day to day?

We all work as a team even though myself (Javie) does most of the work related to the website. 

How many submissions have you had so far? Are Ugandans excited about this initiative?

Yes, many Ugandan journalists, storytellers and social workers have strong interest in the initiative. In fact, many young people who have just started their careers in storytelling and journalism have asked to join the UgandaSpeaks team. Many other Ugandans have shown support through retweeting and sharing our stories on Facebook and other social networks. 

A lot of the people behind UgandaSpeaks a fairly well known journalists and activists – who will be overseeing the film production aspect of your project?

 Javie Ssozi and Maureen Agena oversaw the production of the film.

Recently, there has been something of a backlash (see here) against the rhetoric of ‘telling positive stories about Africa’ – does a project like UgandaSpeaks go beyond a marketing/advertising push? How?

Actually the approach that UgandaSpeaks takes is more personal story driven. Our narrative takes shape from the experience of the teller. For example we do want to tell positive stories about Africa but also we realize that people have challenges. So, we allow for people to show both sides of their stories. 

Is your aim to place Ugandan authored stories about Kony in the international press or the national press?

I think we have already done this. But our aim is to share the stories of the people who have first hand information about what happened in Northern Uganda. Eventually we shall cover stories about all sorts of people and things around Uganda depending on our budget. 

Who is your audience and why are they your audience?

Our Audience on the KONY2012 topic is mainly people from the west because they know so little about Uganda. We just want to educate them and perhaps in doing so we shall recapture the narrative that KONY2012 video puts across. 

Have you had any approaches by Ugandan political figures? If not, do you think they staying away from this topic because of pressures from international aid/development organisations?

Eventually the Prime Minister of Uganda (Amama Mbabazi) did two YouTube videos on the topic. I  think our government officials are not technically agile as we (UgandaSpeaks/ independent netizens) are but also I think they have to follow some kind of procedure.

How do you feel about aid/development? Does it have it’s place or is it time to replace it with large-scale trade initiatives?

Aid is good because in one way or another it ends up helping someone somewhere. However, aid is NOT sustainable. Promoting entrepreneurship and trade would be a more sustainable way of supporting people in the developing countries. 

Is there a middle ground in the aid vs trade debate?
Since (most of) the aid is always ending up in the hands of people who will either miss use it or embezzle it, I think trade would be the way to go. And there are already a number of initiatives promoting trade between Uganda and the rest of the world. I believe more of these initiative would bring the ultimate change we need – and perhaps one day we shall be like China! This country has the potential to supply 3% or even more than that of the world’s food.

Interview | Manika Jha – Nepali journalist & human rights defender

Manika Jha was in the UK with Peace Brigades International, who do great work protecting human rights defenders all over the place. They also sent me the background information at the end of the interview. Apologies for the stuttering nature of my questioning!

NB: I’m planning to greatly increase the amount of interviews I put up on here as I so often have questions about the humanitarian sector that irritate me sufficiently to warrant asking some people who know about such things – as I have done previously, to an extent. I’d like these interviews to be video-fied so as to strip away my all-to-unecessary editorial filter and perhaps produce something more useful than my limited interviewing skills currently elicit.

Anyhow, that’s all for the future so, you know, watch this space.

Source: Peace Brigades International

Manika Jha

CLICK HERE for audio interview

What issues do you cover in your journalism?

Mostly I cover issues like violence against women, domestic violence and the human rights situation [in Nepal]. Sometimes I also write about crime issues and corruption.

Are many other people covering issues like this?

Corruption and crime issues are covered by other journalists – male journalists also cover these. But women’s issues, women’s rights issues some other people also cover but not so much.

Why don’t many people cover women’s issues?

I’m from Taraji [a rural area of Nepal] and there it is a male dominated society. In most of the newspapers, the owner and the main person is male so mostly the women’s issues is not an issue they touch. They never cover it, mostly: sometimes, when a woman is raped or murdered they have to cover it. But basically they don’t write a lot about that.

Are the articles that you write seen as being controversial?


Why are they controversial?

I told you, the society is not so free. In our society the men think that women have no rights so when you read the issue that we have rights, when you fight about your rights, it’s controversial, always. When you write about the woman who is inside his house – she has a right. When you write about the woman who doesn’t want to sleep with her husband – she has rights. But when I write about that, for society, it’s controversial. Because the woman, she has to always sleep with her husband so these are very controversial issues.

Do you get any support from other media professionals?

I don’t have any support in the media. Yes, I am a board member for Federation of Nepali Journalists, also, but any kind of support I don’t feel because mostly they all are male and I am the only female board member so… But there are some international organisations who help me like Peace Brigades International, because of them I am in Europe and I’m talking to you now.

Just not domestically.


How about with the police?

In our society, I told you, everywhere it’s male. In the police, there are no women police in the high level. With me, I am a woman journalist and when I want to talk with them about a lot of issues, about women’s rights issues, they don’t want to speak to me because I’m a woman. Mostly, the situation of Nepal we are still in conflict, we are waiting for the constitution so talking to the police is not… they are not so related with civil society members, they do not want to talk a lot to journalists. We don’t have a good relation with police, that’s easy to say.

What changes would you like to see from your work?

Mostly I think in our society, women never read newspapers. They are not educated, they don’t know about their rights – what’s their rights, what’s women’s rights, what’s a human being’s rights? So I write for justice. I want to change the mindset of men that “women can’t do anything”. I want to prove that; that we can do, we have the capability, if you give us a chance then we can do something.

If someone’s interested in what you’re working on or where you’re working do you have any links for people who want to support your work?

From the international community we are always waiting for support. We are not looking for any type of economic support or anything like that but moral support, I think, is the best type of support for our job. I’m working in a very critical situation so if anyone wants to support me…. maybe I want their blessings and their moral support.

Background info:

Manika Jha is a 23 year old female journalist and human rights defender from Janakpur, Dhanusha district (bordering India). Dhanusha district is widely regarded as one of the most volatile regions of Nepal, where police corruption is rife and political party cadre and armed groups act with impunity. Dhanusha is also very conservative socially, particularly regarding the role of women in society.

Manika started working as a journalist in this context when she was 19 years old. Due to the dangers inherent in the work, and the need to work all hours and in traditionally ‘male’ spaces, she is currently the only female reporter in the district.  Manika has written for two daily national newspapers and focuses on exposing corruption and on women’s rights issues.

This is difficult and dangerous work and there are many who would like to see Manika silenced. In January 2009, Manika’s neighbour and co-female journalist Uma Singh was brutally murdered by a group of 15 unknown assailants. That same night a cross was drawn on Manika’s door and she was told she would be ‘next’. Over the past two years, Manika has received numerous verbal and written threats and has been attacked on at least three occasions, including an attempt on her life in May 2010.