By Mubatsi Asinja Habati
Twaweza speaks out about its impounded `change’ calendars
Uganda police could have impounded a consignment of 700,000 calendars because they have messages of “change”, a word that is apparently anathema to the force. Twaweza, the publisher of the calendars that bear photographs of politicians and celebrities, say close to 2 million of the same calendars had been distributed in Tanzania and Kenya without trouble. But the Uganda police at Mutukula border impounded them and questioned Morrison Rwakakamba, the Uganda country manager of Twaweza, an East African region organization focusing on social change. Rwakakamba told The Independent’s Mubatsi Asinja Habati why he thinks the police misunderstood Twaweza’s message.
What is in your calendars that caught the attention of the police?
The calendars are not a Uganda issue alone; they are in Tanzania and Kenya. We have the same calendars with the same message of: Who will change your world in 2012? Will you wait all year for someone else? Or will you take action today? In Tanzania, we have distributed 1 million calendars and Kenya 700,000. We had printed the calendars in Tanzania because it is cheaper there. On the way to Uganda the police impounded the calendars at Mutukula border post on Feb. 17 and transported them to Kampala on Feb. 23 yet Uganda Revenue Authority had cleared them. But somehow the police felt uncomfortable with the message in the calendars.
What reason did the police give to impound a consignment of Twaweza calendars?
They say the calendars contained messages which could incite the public. But we think this is a message that tells citizens to wake up to the realisation that they have to change their livelihoods not to wait for leaders, governments or NGOs to solve their problems. We believe empowering these people can help them make changes in their lives. We think this is a misunderstanding that the police should not have caused.
So do you don’t believe what the police say about your calendars?
Absolutely not; we think the calendars are not inciting as they want you to believe. It is colossal misunderstanding on their part. There are no political innuendos in these calendars.
Your calendars talk of change and Activists for Change, an opposition political pressure group, are calling for change. Could this have motivated the police to impound the calendars?
There are those who would like to think like that but Twaweza is a non-partisan organisation. It is independent and has existed before the activities of some political organisations. It has carried out campaigns which tell citizens that they should not be looking for change from somewhere else; whether it is from political leaders, NGOs, but citizens in their own way should be able to do the change that they seek. We have been explaining to the police that we are not behind any political activity. This is an innocent campaign trying to stimulate citizens to think about their lives. People will always use the word change and it does not mean change of the political system or the regime. It means change in people’s livelihoods. The change we are pursuing is from the individual point of view.
But these people you deal with live in a political world where politics affect their wellbeing?
Yes, politics may affect them but it is up to them to change their own environment, their own community. And we are saying don’t solely look at these leaders whether in government or opposition as the (only) people to change the situation; we are saying that change begins with you. Your leaders or governments cannot solve all your problems. That’s the key message we are pitching.
You reported to police for questioning, what did they say?
They want to know the reasons behind the message and why the calendars contained photographs of political leaders. We told them the faces on the calendar are of people in leadership, who are in the news and always in people’s face. People look at those leaders as having solutions to their problems. But we are saying that this should not always be the case. The calendars also have global leaders like President Barrack Obama, Ban Ki Moon, Nelson Mandela and celebrities like Lady Gaga, Wayne Rooney, etc. the message is that yes you may be enjoying watching Rooney play his soccer but he won’t come and solve the problems in your house. We are also saying government can bring teachers to the classroom but again it is the responsibility of the parent to take the child to school and ensure that when the child is back home, the parent can switch off the TV and see how the kid does their homework. Government can provide an environment and let people determine the change in their lives.
But after the photos and questions of ` who will change your in 2012’ that appear on your calendars, there is a box where you ask people to put a photo; which seems to be different from what you are saying?
It is just that again you misunderstanding. We are saying that who will change your world and then you have a couple of pictures and we are saying will you wait for someone else. By saying put your photo here it means it’s you to change your world. This is why we are called Twaweza ni sisi meaning `we can make it happen ourselves’ the citizens of East Africa. That is the symbolism.
What’s Twaweza about?
It is a Swahili word for `we can make it’. It is a HIVOS (A Dutch Development agency) initiative across East Africa. Our core business is to ensure that citizens access information to stimulate their imagination and take action. We believe that lasting change takes a bottom up approach. Every day we seek to contribute to making responsible citizens.