A Voice For the Voiceless


The Advocacy Project (AP) recruits students to help marginalized communities tell their story and claim their rights.

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Tunaalabagana (See you later), Kampala

Annika | Posted September 6th, 2010 | Uncategorized

This is my last blog entry. Since I left Kampala one week ago, I’ve had time to reflect on my 11 weeks at UWEAL. I have now seen in stark reality how difficult life can be for the average (not to mention the poorest) Ugandan. Babies that would be kept alive for months in a US hospital die shortly after delivery in Ugandan hospitals. Paying for a child’s education from the primary level onward — by far the number one motivation for the female entrepreneurs to whom I spoke — is not easy. The practice of human sacrifice has somehow (re)emerged, and terrorism is a real threat.

Listing these challenges has become so cliche that you might have skimmed or even skipped the last paragraph. That’s alright; it’s difficult to grasp and easy to forget that life is so different only half a planet away. I’ve tried to share stories here that make the experiences of Ugandan women seem somewhat less distant. These women, some of whom I profiled here, are from slums or suburbs, are PhDs and primary drop-outs, are cleaners and lawyers and everything in between. They have only one thing in common: they are entrepreneurs who believe that women deserve success and independence. As I sit in comfortable classrooms and boardrooms debating the best path for (other) women’s empowerment, they sit in the market, on the farm, at trade fairs, in parliament, and in other venues that allow them to lead the way for women in business. In my three months at UWEAL, seeing these women has encouraged me to do more than I thought I could  (but not as much as I should). I hope in some small way I have shed light on their challenges and successes.

I extend the warmest of thanks to my hosts, my colleagues and their families for welcoming me and telling me their stories freely and frankly.

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So Much With So Little

Annika | Posted September 1st, 2010 | Uncategorized

The last profile I’ll share here is that of a restaurant owner based in Kampala. She is not (yet) a member of UWEAL, but her story was particularly compelling for me so I wanted to share it here. Enjoy the read and the video just below.

Eleanor Kembabazi Byarugaba has earned her success. Her primary education was long and slow because she alternated between attending school for a term and planting and selling crops to raise her fees for the following term. With only a Primary 8 (grade 8) education, she moved with her husband—a scientist—a to Germany, where she trained to be a cook. On their return to Uganda, she opened a small shop specializing in hamburgers and fries, which were rare treats in Uganda. “If four people were eating, the place was full.”

By 1988, after moving her business between her home and different small rental spaces, she had earned enough to buy three acres of land in Naguru, a high-demand, upscale residential area of Kampala. In addition to catering services, Kembabazi Catering Centre is now a full restaurant, bar and event venue able to serve up to 2,000 people in a single function. Eleanor’s five children are highly involved in the business, and, from time to time, Eleanor herself cooks.

She has done what many MBA-graduates and experienced businesspeople have failed to do. She has built a successful business slowly and steadily over decades by working hard, staying focused and saving her money diligently. In fact, she has been able to thrive with only a few minor loans.

But the growth of her business is threatened by a dispute with her husband. Eleanor says she was “a fool” when she married a man who underestimated and undermined her at every turn. Her husband has sold one third of the land in Naguru without her permission and has taken her to court with various complaints that, although minor, are costly to defend.

Nevertheless, Eleanor will not be deterred. She continues to run a successful business and remarkably, started her O-levels at age 61. Now, at the age of 66, she has completed secondary school and enrolled in university to study social work. She started classes last week.

For a delicious meal in Kampala, visit www.kembabazi.com or email kemcenterltd@yahoo.com.

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Soft-spoken but not silent

Annika | Posted August 26th, 2010 | Africa

Lillian Kabazeyo shows off the chickens at her poultry farm in Bushenyi, in the rural western region of Uganda.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of travelling the long, dusty, bumpy road to Bushenyi, west of Kampala, where a group of Bushenyi businesswomen (and businessmen!) graciously invited us to their monthly meeting. The differences between Kampala and Bushenyi were what one would expect. Bushenyi was slower, quieter, and gentler. I administered a survey to the businesspeople I met, and when it came to the question, “Is your financial/accounting system by hand or by computer?” they laughed out loud. Some had never even seen a computer!Lillian Kabazeyo organized our meetings. I was, as usual, intrigued by her story.


Lillian Kabazeyo started her poultry farm in 2005 to supplement her income and pay her children’s school fees. After a two-week workshop on sustainable agriculture, she purchased 300 chickens with less than 5 million shillings (about US$2,200). When she sold those chickens and their eggs, she raised an additional 4 million shillings. She now has over 700 cocks, layers and other chickens.

According to Kabazeyo, training has been essential to her success. Training from Uganada Women Entrepreneurs Association Ltd and other organizations in financial management, business planning, project management and other areas has had a tangible benefit for her business. In fact, she is now such a firm believer in business planning that she says, “Those who make losses haven’t made plans.” Her current target is to reach 1000 chickens by the end of the year.

But Kabazeyo lacks the capital she needs to mechanize and grow. None of her assets are in her name, so she has no collateral. Her husband must accompany her to sign all documents, and – as culture dictates – she must turn over funds she receives to him on his request. According to Kabazeyo, “women are silent.”

Kabazeyo herself is soft-spoken, but not silent. She is the leader of the Mothers Union in her diocese, and uses her position to sensitize women about their rights – to education, to health, to inheritance. Kabazeyo and other community leaders took their problems to Mary Busingye Karooro Okuruf, Member of Parliament for Bushenyi District, who helped them start a bank for women that requires no collateral.

Like many UWEAL members, Kabazeyo doesn’t think twice about using her to uplift the community. According to Kabazeyo, Bushenyi has too many malnourished children.  Although there is a lot of food in Bushenyi, most parents sell the food. Depend on matooke, which doesn’t have all the nutrients needed for healthy development.

Kabazeyo heads UWEAL’s Bushenyi arm in the western region of Uganda.

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Preparing Matooke

Annika | Posted August 17th, 2010 | Uncategorized

Matooke is a type of banana and a Ugandan staple in the true sense of the word. It seems that most Ugandans eat matooke at least once per day, every day. It makes sense; bananas are plentiful and delicious in Uganda. In the short video below, new member of the Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association Ltd Edith Kyeswa explains how matooke is prepared.
Edith Kyeswa is a retired teacher and new entrepreneur. In addition to growing matooke for her family, she raises cattle and chicken, and grows celery and mushrooms.

One Response to “Preparing Matooke”

  1. Christy Gillmore says:

    Louis and I love matoke!

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Omwami kyakoba zena kyenkoba – What my husband says, I follow.

Annika | Posted August 9th, 2010 | Africa, Uncategorized

I recently travelled to Jinja, Uganda’s second largest city, to meet members of UWEAL’s Jinja arm. Prior to my meetings, I was repeatedly told that women in Jinja enjoyed less financial freedom than their average Kampala counterparts. Marriage is of utmost importance, and polygyny is widely practiced. The wife is to blame for the failure of a marriage regardless of her husband’s behaviour, so she is sometimes wary of ventures that might risk her union, like a new business. Omwami kyakoba zena kyenkoba is a telling maxim.Margaret Kyemba Kulaba is the Chair of UWEAL’s Jinja branch, and an adventurous Jinja woman. When Margret noticed that the small city boasted many tourists but little accommodation, she turned her home into a hostel and started Jinja Hospitality Services. She opened with one room hosting two guests. Those two guests brought two more, and her hostel has now grown to 16 beds on half an acre. Her clients live there as if at home.

Margret is now proud to be a well-known and appreciated busnesswoman in her community, and is pushing to access the capital she needs to expand to meet market demand. For Margret, “It’s about perseverance.” She advises budding female entrepreneurs not to fear risk. “Your first business might not be successful, so you might have to change along the way. When you have a loss, God is opening the way for a gain.

Margret is also a proud second wife. “My husband sees it as development,” she says, laughing. “Because of competition among the wives, each household has more and he reaps the benefits.”

Flavia Nakisuyi is less comfortable with polygyny. Flavia, UWEAL’s Secretary in Jinja, left her husband when she could no longer accept her position in the home. Looking keenly for ways to make money, she saw growing grass as an opportunity. She started mowing lawns for cash, expanded to schools and other public and commercial properties, and then moved indoors to provide cleaning services. In addition to offering interior and exterior compound maintenance, Avia Enterprises is a supplier of cleaning products.

Flavia is also makes handicrafts. When women in her community were seeking income-generating activities, she formed the Together in Poverty Alleviation (TIPA) alliance of home-based women handicraft makers to help them improve their skills and market their products.

Flavia’s ambition is very clear: In five years, Avia Enterprises should be the leading provider in compound maintenance services in Jinja. “I will get there,” she asserts.

Margaret and Flavia agree that things are changing in, however slowly. Margaret and Flavia are proud to be part of that change.

One Response to “Omwami kyakoba zena kyenkoba – What my husband says, I follow.”

  1. kafuko says:

    Great work. Cheers ladies

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Florence Lwanga

Annika | Posted August 4th, 2010 | Uncategorized

All in the Family

Florence Lwanga (above, left) lived in exile in Kenya and the United Kingdom after the brutal Amin regime targeted her husband for execution. On their return, she found that the government expropriated businesses and placed them in the hands of inexperienced, often uneducated businessmen. The climate for business had deteriorated significantly.

But Florence saw opportunity amid chaos. With seed money from her husband and connections in the United Kingdom, Florence paid three months rent on a small shop housed in a prominent Kampala hotel and imported from the UK products that were not found in Uganda at the time, like dental floss, toothbrushes and foreign newspapers. Within eight months, the shop was self-sufficient and even profitable.

She is now one of Uganda’s most prominent businesswomen. She has owned a Shell petrol station, a children’s clothing store called Teens and Tots and a grocery. Today, the Lwangas own and run a telecommunications company called TimCom and a radio station called Radio Ssese, as well as several residential properties. Mrs. Lwanga herself owns nine acres of land, a key asset in Uganda.

She has seen how far Uganda has come in promoting gender equality. In the 1970s, Florence remembers, a woman couldn’t get a loan without her husband signature, a serious impediment to financial independence. Boys were blatantly favoured for education and women could not inherit, resulting in serious constraints to women’s access to finance. “There was a time when a woman had to ask her husband permission to travel well in advance. Today, I simply inform my husband of my itinerary.”

And she wants other women to capture their independence. She is a quiet advocate for increasing women’s access to finance and land. Although she is among Uganda’s upper class, she recognizes that Ugandan women of all classes have more in common than it may appear. She is as impressed by the hardworking market vendor who sells ten hours a day, seven days a week from a small wooden stall as she is by the well educated divorcee who has rebuilt her life independently after a failed marriage.

She is an example of an African woman who is part traditional submissive wife, and part modern, clever, common sense businesswoman. She is kind without being weak, hardworking without neglecting her family and firm without being harsh.

Her advice to budding female entrepreneurs? Manage your finances professionally, keep business and family separate, work hard and be persistent.

One Response to “Florence Lwanga”

  1. This is a very encouraging story. It is great to see people helping themselves to rise above their situation. By helping entrepreneurs such as Florence start businesses the whole community benefits, unlike many of the other aid schemes.

    Thomas Anderson

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Miss Independent – Racheal Kemirembe’s Kraft Uganda

Annika | Posted July 21st, 2010 | Uncategorized

Racheal (top centre, in bright pink blouse) and colleagues representing the Africa Businesswomen Network in Cairo.

With a Bachelor of Arts in banking and finance and eight years as a banker under her belt, Racheal Kemirembe was itching for more independence. She felt her business acumen and passion for art were not being used to their potential. She resigned in 2008 and created Kraft Uganda, a “uniquely Ugandan” firm that exhibits, markets and exports handcrafts, and provides business counseling and other consultancy services.

Racheal knows better than anyone that it’s more than what you know; it’s whom you know. She makes a point of learning from established businesswomen, connecting with fellow entrepreneurs, and mentoring young start-ups. In addition to being a member of UWEAL’s Finance and Administration Committee and Women Investment Club, Racheal has been involved with BLESD (Business, Leadership and Entrepreneurship Skills Development), an association of young entrepreneurs run from Makerere University, and TechnoServe, an NGO supporting both male and female entrepreneurs. In November 2008, she represented UWEAL at the Africa Businesswomen’s Network Conference in Cairo.

Racheal is not where she wants to be yet – she describes her business as “average, but growing very fast.” She is concerned with her shop’s limited space and rising rent, and constantly looking for workers who are as committed to her business as she is. Her growth strategy hinges on linking with women and youth – from the villages of Uganda to the cities of America – so her opportunities and theirs can grow together.

Racheal holds a Master of Science from Nkumba University, and has a six-year-old-son.

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Notes to Self (and a Snowsuit)

Annika | Posted July 12th, 2010 | Africa, Uncategorized

I’ve been delinquent in my blogging. After an enlightening few days, capped off by the senseless and tragic bombing of two Kampala gathering places, I haven’t known what to say.

Here are some of the themes of the last week or so in no particular order.

1. Africa, in this case Uganda, is more than we think we know. What seems like a distant drama – complete with kinte cloth costumes, tales of child sacrifice, militant tribalism and inhumane poverty — is real. When we criticize a government, when we discredit someone’s qualifications, when we scorn a way of life, we are dismissing people with a history that is astoundingly rich and strongly rooted. This is difficult to truly grasp without actually being here.

2. Women are human too. Those of us working to promote gender equality and support women’s empowerment can sometimes give the impression that women are a cure-all; that women are, by their very nature, less corrupt, more democratic, less selfish and generally more fair.

This is, of course, false. Gender equality is for better or for worse. In the past week, a new friend and once respected employee of a Ugandan non-profit was accused of embezzlement. Whether or not she is guilty is not entirely the point. The point is, for all my expectations of corruption and cheating and theft, I did not imagine the perpetrator would look like me. But when women rob strangers, take up arms, deny other women rights, and generally engage in acts that are considered ‘male-dominated’, this is also empowerment. For better or for worse.

3. Whose ownership? Modern development practitioners are  more aware of the importance of local ownership of development efforts. That means we play supporting rather than leading roles. So I did not expect that the West would be idealized and generalized to the point of complete inaccuracy. I’ve heard, “In the UK, there is no class division.” “In the US, there is no police corruption.” “Things were better when white people taught us English.” (Better for whom?) Now it seems as if doing things the Ugandan way means doing things the Western way, and doing things the Western way means doing things the Ugandan way. Confusing.

Finally, 4. Insecurity is indiscriminate. A loud crash woke me late last night, but I assumed I was imagining things. The sound of sudden destruction, the sight of bodies being carried away, and the shock on survivors’ faces might be familiar scenes for someone who has been in New York, Port-au-Prince, Moscow, Madrid, London or other major cities on a particular day at a particular time. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to get easier. I was personally not hurt, nor was anyone close to my new friends and colleagues (as far as we know at time of writing). Many others were, and I grieve with them.


A man lugs supplies while wearing a snowsuit. Kampala's weather is surprising mild at this time of year, particularly compared to recent heat waves in much of North America.

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The Kinawataka Women’s Initiative: Breathing New Life Into Drinking Straws

Annika | Posted June 28th, 2010 | Africa

From her home in one of Kampala’s poorest neighbourhoods, Benedicta Nangoya has adapted an ancient Buganda custom and turned it into a livelihood, a public service, and a niche. By weaving discarded plastic straws into mats, bags, belts, jewellry and countless other items, this retired mother of five has turned waste into opportunity for herself, for the environment, and for women.

Benedicta and her team collect straws from the local Coca Cola plant and other sites around the city. This in itself is an achievement — Kampala has a serious waste management problem. The straws are brought to Benedicta’s modest home-cum-workshop, then sorted, cleaned, pressed, woven and sewn in a meticulous ten-stage process. Quite deliberately, 80% of her employees and trainees are women. Her aim is to give these women the skills and financial independence to shed the inequalities of their households and societies, and build a sustainable business that can thrive in her absence.

Her five year plan? A three story building: separate rooms for the each stage of the process below ground, a showroom and office on the main floor, and living quarters for her and her 15 foster children on top. She’ll achieve it, with support. On June 26, 2010, Benedicta received a straw pressing machine engineered specifically for her businesses and subsidized by a grant from Vital Voices. This will triple her productivity, and help her meet the rapidly growing demand for her products.

Next time you discard your straw, let’s hope Benedicta finds it.

To see some finished products and to support Benedicta, visit www.strawbags.org.

7 Responses to “The Kinawataka Women’s Initiative: Breathing New Life Into Drinking Straws”

  1. Ava says:

    Hi Annika,
    I really enjoyed watching your video profile – I continue to be amazed daily by the resourcefulness of others (both Benidicta and you – I didn’t know you had such a talent for film production :) ). I’m looking forward to reading more…

  2. Annika says:

    Thanks Ava! I’m really excited about visiting other businesses run by members of UWEAL (Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Association). They might not all be this innovative, but they’re all really enterprising.

  3. Dara Lipton says:


    The video was great–so informative and inspirational. You’ve inspired me to start making profiles in Nairobi ASAP.

    Keep up the great work!


  4. Erin says:

    Amazing video Annika! Great storytelling

  5. Christy Gillmore says:

    I adore hearing stories about women entrepreneurs using items that we discard without thinking twice to make beautiful products. It’s amazing how successful her business has become!

  6. Mat Heating says:

    Your stories present some very powerful women that wouldn’t otherwise get the credit they deserve. kudos to you and especially to the entrepreneurs out there making a difference in the world

  7. [...] KWI, I have had the opportunity to learn more about Benedicta and the organization by watching a video profile created by Annika Allman, a 2010 Peace Fellow, during her time working with Vital Voices in [...]

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“Tukusanyukidde / You are Welcome”

Annika | Posted June 19th, 2010 | Africa

Tags: ,

This is how I was greeted (in Luganda) on arriving at the airport, at my hosts’ residence in Kampala and at UWEAL, and how I am commonly greeted around town. Although it’s clearly just the formal version of the simple “welcome” I’m accustomed to, it has taken on a new warmth for me here. It also seems a fitting greeting for business in Uganda. After only one week in Kampala, I’m beginning to see the city and the world in terms of an opportunity to sell, to hustle, to do business. Kampala is open for business, and Ugandans are taking advantage.

A vendor arranges her stall near Lumumba Ave in Kampala. A female vendor selling petty goods from a simple stand is not an uncommon site in developing country cities. Research suggests, however, that Ugandan women are driven more by necessity than opportunity, unlike their counterparts in other developing countries.
A vendor arranges her stall near Lumumba Ave in Kampala. A female vendor selling petty goods from a simple stand is not an uncommon site in developing country cities. Research suggests, however, that Ugandan women are driven more by necessity than opportunity, unlike their counterparts in other developing countries.

Several of my Vital Voices/The Advocacy Project counterparts in Nairobi and elsewhere have been struck by the stark inequality that separates poor from rich. A few live relatively opulent lives — defined here as having multiple well-paid servants, computer(s) and internet access, running and hot water, and other luxuries — while most live more simply, and others in far worse conditions. One northerner tells me that the proliferation of non-governmental organizations has dampened many Ugandans’ traditional spirit of hard work, initiative and economic independence. But this obscures the contribution of a vibrant Ugandan middle class made up in part of hundreds of small and medium-sized business owners who are creating wealth from the ground up.

This group of thriving entrepreneurs did not always include women. Limited access to credit, legal restrictions on the ownership of property and other assets, and pervasive norms around gender roles severely restricted women’s freedom to do business in Uganda. Enter UWEAL in the 1980s.  UWEAL has become a source of information and inspiration, as one board member puts it, for women in business. This Association of over 700 women does not exist for it’s own sake. It trains women in marketing, administration, finance and other key business issues; it connects Ugandan women with their counterparts in the region, around Africa and all over the world; it mentors new businesswomen and it cultivates a spirit of entrepreneurship among girls. This group of experienced, capable, professional and entrepreunerial women will serve as my mentors for the next three months. Please follow me online as we research how UWEAL members successes, ongoing challenges and opportunities in life and in business.

Drivers await customers at one of the stages near Bugolobi market for the motorbike taxis known in Uganda as 'boda boda'. Boda boda drivers are invariably male.
Drivers await customers at one of the stages near Bugolobi market for the motorbike taxis known in Uganda as 'boda boda'. Boda boda drivers are invariably male.

One Response to ““Tukusanyukidde / You are Welcome””

  1. Janet Akao says:

    Anikka, gathering from your earleir post, I think you are open to learn and unlearn. That’s your ticket for a memorable summer experience in Ug.

    Bravo to the women of UWEAL and the many African women who through their work, amidst challenges have redefined what being a woman is today. Women need such and more platforms through which their potential can be harnessed and their contribution acknowledged. I think the northerner has a point. Within that vibrant class creating jobs are a proportion of people who have realized that the presence of many aid NGOs arrest creativity and create a false unsustainable economy. I am interested to learn about how UWEAL cultivates new entrepreneurs through the Young Entrepreneurs Program. I encourage Ugandans and their well wishers to embrace the theme for the 2010 Women’s Day celebration; Consolidating Equal Opportunities for Women: A path to prosperity for all.
    Anikka, I look forward to reading about your work.

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