Ugandans Nurse Scars From Disputes With Decades-Old Regime

Sep 22, 2018
Originally published on September 22, 2018 5:23 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Bobi Wine is back home. The Ugandan pop star and opposition lawmaker was on our program just a couple of weeks ago when he was in the U.S. for medical treatment after he says the presidential guards in Uganda tortured him. Amid a heavy military deployment, Bobi Wine returned to jubilation from his supporters. But as NPR's Eyder Peralta reports, the country he's returned to is still filled with anger and defiance against the regime.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Nalongo Nana's life changed as she was watching television. She heard a government official say that Ugandans had to make sure that their political class was well-cared for. Nana was filled with anger. She jumped on a motorcycle taxi and stormed into the meeting. It was all caught on live TV.

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NALONGO NANA: We are an angry lot, you people. Take care of us like you should.

PERALTA: She complains that these politicians are here sipping juice, talking about broadening the tax base, while Ugandans are left to suffering. Someone tries to calm her, but Nana recoils.

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NANA: Stop it. I don't care anymore. We have feared everything there is to fear. What will Ugandans do? What shall we do? What can we do?

PERALTA: A few days later, I find Nana at her store in Kampala. She's become a national superhero, but she's still busy dealing with life. As Nana digs through her purse, her daughter stands at the door.

NANA: For example, do you know why she's here? I've prepared them for school. And they sent her back because they needed - how many? - three brooms.

PERALTA: She paid tuition, but she didn't have enough money left over to buy the required three brooms. Her daughter says the same thing happened to a bunch of her classmates, and the head teacher ridiculed them and sent them home.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's so frustrating. Everything is so frustrating, you people.

PERALTA: Nana says in Uganda, they are being pecked to a breaking point. They go to the hospital, but there's no medicine. They call the police, but they have no fuel. It has left everyone, she says, angry.

NANA: Everything, everyone. The teacher in the school is angry. The nurse at the hospital is angry. The women selling tomatoes at the market is angry.

PERALTA: Nana raised five kids on her own. She once tried to get child support but says her husband bribed the courts to get out of it. And that day, watching television, she says all that anger, all that disappointment boiled over.

NANA: Too much suffering sort of leaves you numb. In my local language, (speaking foreign language) - some moments you don't feel anything.

PERALTA: I asked Uganda's minister of information if the government was concerned about these problems. And he dismissed them, saying, quote, "There is frustration everywhere, including in the U.S." Peter Gwayaka, a political analyst, says the debate in Uganda has become about the little things. Suddenly, he says, not being able to pay school fees or get medicine isn't confined to the poor rural areas.

PETER GWAYAKA: And these small things are starting to push them.

PERALTA: The crisis comes, he says, when, instead of trying to solve the problems, the government blames the people for them. I meet Jane Abola at her house near Kampala. She pulls out an X-ray and points to one of her vertebrae.

JANE ABOLA: See, this bone is collapsed.

PERALTA: Last month, she was campaigning alongside Bobi Wine in northern Uganda when she was badly beaten. She says a police officer screamed that this was the last time the opposition would cause trouble for the government.

ABOLA: This man pulled a pistol from his waist and put it on my forehead. I said, kill me. He put the pistol on my forehead. Because he had beaten me, I was feeling numb. I couldn't feel any pain - kind of pain. I looked at him and said, shoot.

PERALTA: Abola's father was a farmer, but she went on to college and turned to politics after she couldn't find a job. She says, in Uganda, you either have to know somebody or have sex with somebody to find a job. And that's not the kind of country she wants for her three kids.

ABOLA: Even if I do not see the change I desire - and if I die today, at least tomorrow, if the change I've been fighting for, the change I've died for comes, my children will benefit.

PERALTA: Her kids, she says, give her the courage to be angry, to take to the streets, consequences be damned. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Kampala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.