Uganda Day 36: Report Launch
It may be Monday, but it was also launch day for the election report, so that helped! I got to work super early. I was told we were leaving by 8, but it wasn't until about 8:45 or so. One of the reasons we were late was because of the number of people we crammed into the van. I think there were two rows of four and two rows of three—it was cozy. The launch was being held at a hotel. We showed up late, but that's really just a way of life here.
I wasn't really sure what to expect; the only other event I've been to was the one last week, which was a fairly small crowd, so I kind of just assumed this wouldn't be too much larger. As it turns out, there were something like 171 people in attendance! Quite the to-do.
The first thing we did was to go around the room, one by one, and have everyone introduce themselves. If you're thinking, wow that sounds silly in a room that large, I would concur. Yet somehow I found myself in the role of microphone-minder, following it around the room and passing it along when necessary, while trying not to interfere with the numerous photographers and videographers. The advantage, of course, was that I never actually ended up introducing myself, thereby avoiding the inevitable confusion about my name.
There were some introductory remarks and then a short presentation of the findings. Here is Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana, FHRI's Executive Director, giving his opening remarks before the presentation:
This first part was fairly straightforward, nothing too exciting. One or two other people spoke after the report was presented, and then they ushered the important people en masse to the front for a photo op.
And there were actually some impressively notable people in attendance. Lots of Chairpersons and Directors and such, from government and from civil society, others from the police and military, and more. It was quite the crowd. One of the most interesting for me was the Lord Mayor of Kampala—which is significant in and of itself, of course, but from some of the discussions (and his own remarks) I came to understand that he has something of a contested history, having been driven from office and imprisoned at one point, then recently re-elected in spite of these abuses. Disclaimer: That's what I picked up from the conversation, and may be completely inaccurate. But either way, it was interesting.
I think what surprised me most about this event was the nature or tone of the plenary discussion. After the photo op they had four panelists (quite briefly) moderated by Dr. Sewanyana, which was interesting, then this was followed by a plenary discussion where people from the audience were given time to speak. The first person to speak surprised me slightly when he rather vocally criticized a certain piece of the report, which I suppose is part of the point, but in my head, at first, it seemed like the equivalent of going to a book signing and telling the author his plot needs some work. Just wasn't expecting it; then almost everyone afterward picked up on it as well.
The second person to speak surprised me even more. I can't recall her name, and I still don't have any sense of who she is beyond being a former MP with an influential (or at least storied) time in office (and in other ways since then). Again, I could be incorrect. Anyway, she stood up and started speaking, and at first, she seemed somewhat quiet and my immediate impression was that her turn would be quick and dry. I was wrong. It was like someone flicked a switch and she went into full-on orator mode. Truly impassioned. She went on for I don't know how long, the greater part of which consisted of a vociferous vocal attack on President Museveni, his government, the police, maybe others. Primarily Museveni, though. I think the first speaker holds some kind of Cabinet-like position, and she went after him and his remarks as well. I was on the other side of the room, so pardon the distance, but here she is, mid-way through:
It was fascinating to witness, and worth going today just for this alone. Took me completely by surprise—I was very much not expecting a speech like that. And it wasn't even the only one! Hers was certainly the most vehement, but several others got real, so to speak.
All in all, it was really, really interesting. Glad I got the chance to go. And as an added bonus, everyone in attendance got lunch at the hotel buffet, which is another small extravagance I wouldn't have expected could fit in the budget for a crowd this large.
We left around 2, and I was kind of secretly hoping we'd somehow be given the rest of the day off, but it wasn't meant to be. We made it back to the office for the last three-ish hours of the day—which is still much better than the usual 9-hour Monday. My supervisor asked me to write up a short article about the event for FHRI's newsletter, since I had been responsible for note-taking all day, so that's what I spent most of my afternoon on.
Tomorrow is back to normal. Sadly, this week, Tuesday is the new Monday. I wish there was an event to go to every day of the week.
But I'll worry about that tomorrow. For now, it's Game of Thrones time! Miraculously, I've avoided spoilers. Happy Monday, and good night!