The Last Round-Up

Posted: 16 March 2015

Blog 7 from Rob Dunn 

Ugandans love proverbs. Stemming from cultural and tribal traditions, they are valuable gifts, presents passes down through generations. They are emblazoned on schools and public buildings, acting as sources of wisdom and guidance for the youth of today. Proverbs are used in Uganda to learn lessons, a memorable parting word to a family member or friend to ensure they do not forgot what they have been taught.

On 21st March 2015, I arrive back in England following 6 months of legal aid work in Kampala, Uganda. However, before I leave, I feel that I should engage which Ugandan culture once more; I should consider what proverb Uganda has for me. So, I spoke to colleagues in the office and did some research. My favourites are:

The tongue of co-wives is bitter
He who has not travelled thinks that his mother is the best cook in the world.
One should never rub bottoms with a porcupine
Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers

Brilliant, aren't they? However, I am unsure how relevant most of these are to my experiences in Uganda. I'm about to discover whether the second is true (it will be) and the first is certainly inapplicable… I hope.

One stood out however. It says 'One who sees something good must narrate it'. Perhaps it doesn't quite sum up what I've learnt from Uganda, but it does provide a good opportunity for me to briefly tell you now – an East-African epilogue.

My time in Uganda has been good. I use the word 'good', not to mean that all is well, but that the experience has been good for me, and on balance, good for those I have worked with. I have seen the craziest things I ever have, from wild driving to reckless welding, and the most hilariously (but probably quite dangerous) overloaded vehicles. You can't ride a motorbike with another motorbike strapped to your back – you just can't. I have seen incredible scenery, from jungle-like forests to vast savannahs, and a fire red sun setting across Lake Victoria. I've attended churches where people dance (crazy, I know) and where a 2 hour sermon is criticised as too short. I was lucky enough to go sailing, play football Ugandan-style and even go on a mini-safari. Most of the people I have met, especially in my office and my church, have been tremendously friendly and hospitable. I have learnt about the importance of culture, about understanding others before making judgements, about never second-guessing another's reaction to something you do or you say.

Moreover, I have learnt a huge amount about legal practice, working with clients and court procedure. Since I have been in Kampala, UCLF has offered legal advice to hundreds of clients. We have interviewed criminal suspects, made bail applications and represented them in court. We have taken up the cases of those whom have unfairly been dismissed from their job, or been illegally evicted from their land. Many of our clients have barely anything. No assets, no bank accounts, no job. Their small plot of land, or their family, is often their only pride and joy. Yet, when they are targeted by the rich and privileged, or the State authorities, it is these things which they lose. For many, UCLF is the only organisation they can turn to. UCLF has offered hope to those whom were hopeless – that justice can be achieved, that right and wrong matters. I fully commend everyone at UCLF for the work they do daily in very challenging circumstances.

So, Uganda is a fantastic place and a very different place to the UK indeed. Go and visit – see for yourself what is good and narrate it.

I considered finishing there. 'I've had an enriching time, helping the disadvantaged and learning more about culture, people, hospitality, and the law. The end.' Now, that is all true, but unfortunately it is not the full picture. Uganda faces some monumental problems, many of which I have been witness to.

Walking to work each day I see tens of toddlers, covered in dust begging on the streets. Goodness knows whether they have parents alive or with them. I see huge slums, rife with typhoid and cholera, sprawling by the city's main rivers and sewers. I see stationary traffic jams, miles long weaving out of the city. Upon reaching court, I am reminded again of the corruption epidemic. Court files or documents have gone missing, the Magistrate held the hearing yesterday without informing you, or the clerk refuses to set a hearing date without 'facilitation'. Last month, one of my colleagues was arrested upon attending court, removed of his identification, and forced to spend the whole day in the court cell so he could not represent our client. If he hadn't have managed to ring our office in the process he may have now vanished, becoming a faceless, identity-less number in the prison. UCLF does great work, providing legal advice and hope to many, but whilst we must still engage with government entities to achieve results, our progress will always be stunted.

I say this not to deliberately end my time in Uganda on a depressing or cynical notice. I say this so that I can give a balanced view to you of my time here, of what has been achieved, and what still remains unachievable. I encourage you to find out more about justice in East Africa – it's fascinating. If you have the time, research it, ask questions, sign petitions, pray about it.

So, concluding my conclusion, Uganda is a good place, it is. I've had an amazing time here, and so I must thank you. I am so grateful to all of you for your support, whether by emails, prayer, or finance. I would have been unable to have these experiences, do this work, and help these people if it wasn't for you. As you can imagine, it has been very difficult at times, and it is these times your prayers, parcels and encouragements have been so appreciated.

The proverb however, which I have found to be most true, and from which I have learnt lifelong lessons is this: 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight'. (Proverbs 3: 5-6). This has been invaluable in Uganda.