August 5, 2012

Border town: Gulu, gateway to Darfur, is Uganda’s NGO heaven!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 2:58 pm

Still in search of information on human trafficking and child soldiers in Uganda, I hit the road with two Global Exchange experts on the subject, driving up to Gulu, a rugged frontier town next to the South Sudan border. For years now, Gulu has possessed the dubious distinctions of being the gateway for sending aid to Darfur and also home of the notorious child-killing monster Joseph Kony.

“There are over 500 NGO operations located in Gulu,” someone there told me. 500? Really?

The streets of Gulu were jam-packed with black SUVs driven by NGO personnel and white SUVs driven by UN observers — and also with Ugandans selling “Welcome to Uganda” T-shirts. The whole combination was WEIRD.

The first thing we did once we got to Gulu was to go straight to the Coffee Hut — for Greek salads and espresso. The place was packed with “Mzungas” — white people. And why not? The Coffee Hut offered free wi-fi!

But not all NGOs in Gulu are run by white people, however. Au contraire. Most are staffed by caring educated passionate capable Ugandans — NGOs such as Invisible Children, the RON bread project, the Undugu Family Band, GUSCO, Human Rights Focus, Not For Sale and MEND — just to name a few NGOs that I visited while in Gulu.

This border town has served as a supply-line to Darfur and southern Sudan for years now. But Gulu itself has also had its own problems in that it used to be at the eye of the Joseph Kony hurricane for many years. So forget about Darfur for the moment and let’s concentrate on Joseph Kony. That man is one sick puppy!

First off, I learned that Kony had been terrorizing East Africa for over 22 years. “You don’t last that long in the war game unless someone major is backing you,” said one NGO rep. And just who might be backing Kony? The same corporate slime-balls who usually back everything wrong in this world. The “extraction industry” hit men who thrive on chaos because it gives them the opportunity to step in and steal oil and minerals from the natives — from West Virginia and Iraq to East Timor and Darfur, they are there. And these guys are a talented lot. They steal and pilfer globally with great panache and never seem to get caught.

So I learned a lot about Joseph Kony while I was in Gulu. And we even drove by his mother’s house outside of town. Kony was a homeboy.

One missionary stationed near Gulu told me, “The mayor of our village came to ask us to help him bury the dead because Ugandans don’t like to handle dead bodies. So we went out into the fields and collected approximately 87 skeletons, victims of Kony’s 2007 battles near the village. Two of them wore the LRA uniforms. Many of them were children.”

Someone else told me that, “You can always tell where Kony is operating these days because he leaves a harvest of havoc behind him. People start showing up dead and children go missing and villages are destroyed. He is currently operating the the Central African Republic. You can tell by their latest swath of dead bodies.”

Another man told me about his experiences with having the LRA raid his all-boy prep school when he was a kid. “An old man on a bicycle rode up and warned us that Kony’s army was coming so we all scattered to safety in time. But no one warned our sister school, Aboke, and the girls there, the cream of Uganda’s most intelligent and high-charactered girls, were mostly kidnapped and raped.”

Apparently one old nun followed the soldiers, threw herself in front of Kony’s soldiers and said, “To take these girls, you will have to kill me first,” and many of the girls got away as a result. But the rest of them were forced to become child soldiers and sex slaves to the LRA. Tragedy.

After hearing so many stories about Kony in Gulu, I began to realize why one of the leaders of the “Invisible Children” NGO recently went a bit crazy. Kony was driving me crazy too!

We then talked with some staff members of Invisible Children. “IC is trying to help as many children as possible in many various different ways — but it is a daunting task. For every child that we are able to help, there are over 500 more waiting in line with major needs.”

Invisible Children offers 700 high school scholarships a year and 300 scholarships to college, as well as help in constructing school infrastructure all over this area. Kony would be truly pissed off.

Then on the drive back to Kampala, I discovered two more things — rhinoceroses and chapatis. At a huge new rhino reserve, I got to actually walk within 100 feet of a nursing rhino mother and her calf. It was magical. And all along the roadside, people were selling handmade chapatis. YUMMERS! Well worth the trip to Uganda alone.

PS: Next I went off to Jinja, the source of the Nile. Wow. And sat beside the shores of Lake Victoria and ate some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. Zachery’s in Oakland? Eat your heart out!

Jane Stillwater, fearless African explorer. “Dr. Livingston I presume?”

No, just the waiter, asking me if I wanted mushrooms or anchovies on my pizza. Of course I wanted mushrooms. “Got any olives?”

PPS: Global Exchange is also currently staging a fact-finding trip to Kabul, Afghanistan, that will explore the role of women in current Afghan society — and will also include a side-trip to the former site of the legendary Bamiyan buddhas This is totally exciting! When I was in Kabul back in 2007, the only way that an American lady like me could get there was to ride on the floor of the back seat of a car while wearing a burka.

Sign up for the Afghanistan trip here and be your own fact-finder:


Here’s some of my Uganda photos from my FaceBook page:


July 30, 2012

Children of Uganda: They have NO safety net!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Jane Stillwater @ 10:04 pm

Kids in America usually have their parents, free public education, child protective services, Medicaid and Sesame Street to fall back on when times get tough — but children here in Uganda have none of that. And the children of Uganda need a safety net far more than our children do because they have a whole lot further to fall if they should make even the slightest misstep.

For example, when times get tough for kids in Uganda, it is completely possible for them to be sold into slavery or forced into prostitution or live in overcrowded orphanages or become child solders or starve to death or get caught in war zones or die of horrible diseases or become homeless because their parents’ land has been stolen by the “extraction industry” or become street beggars or… The list goes on and on and on.

You had just better thank your lucky stars that your children were born in America and not in Uganda.

And we Americans also need to guard our children’s safety nets with our very lives and just pray that the One Percent doesn’t get their way and cut our precious safety nets off — or it will be our kids who are out there begging on the streets or living in orphanages or forced into prostitution too.

If we Americans also lost our safety nets such as medical insurance and schools and everything else that, in the past, we have pooled our money together to buy because we couldn’t afford to buy any of this on our own, then this could be also happening to us.

Scratch that. It has started to happen to us already.

Now that huge corporations have bought out our government lock, stock and barrel and have made it work for them instead of for us? Now we Americans are no longer unique. Now we, like the Ugandans before us, are also fast becoming merely one more group of residents of what Chris Hedges calls corporate “sacrifice zones”.

In Uganda, it costs a whole bunch of money for children to attend public elementary schools. Have you noticed how our corporate-owned government is already charging a whole bunch of money to attend public universities here? So. Will they soon start charging us a whole bunch of money to attend public elementary schools here as well, like they do in Uganda? Guess what? It’s already happened

And what if you lose your job in America, now a distinct possibility? You still might be able to survive by feeding your kids with food stamps and housing them through HUD subsidies. But not so in Uganda. Here you just sell your kids to a human trafficker. That’s your safety net here.

I love Uganda. It’s a wonderful country and people here really do try to help each other and the government here is also really trying hard to keep its finger in the dike that holds back human misery. But let me tell you, aside from possible help from a few foreign NGOs, ultimately you sink or swim on your own here. And now the Republicans are telling us that we too need to man up and be responsible for ourselves instead of relying on a “nanny state” — while the GOP itself never applies these rules to it own, blatantly stealing our tax money to buy vacation homes in Monaco and the Caymans

It’s time to tell the One Percent that they also need to stand on their own two feet too — no more government safety nets and free subsidies and handouts for them. Or, better still, let’s just send all of THEM off to beg in the streets of Uganda.

PS: On a lighter side (sort of), there are so many orphanages here in Uganda that one sometimes wonders if there are any parents left here at all. So I went off to visit an orphanage and had a wonderful time having cute little babies crawling all over me. Babies everywhere — smiling and cooing. Plus I got to talk with many American couples who had come to Uganda to adopt one of these cuties. Good for them.

PPS: With the help of Global Exchange representatives, I was also able to meet with members of a UN agency in Kampala that deals human trafficking in Uganda, and to learn a whole bunch of stuff dealing with that particular scourge. Here are my notes on the subject:

“The Karamoja region in northeastern Uganda has the most children being trafficked into Kampala. Why? Because Karamoja is the most unstable area in Uganda — due to poverty and war.” Karamoja also has many “sacrifice zones” because the “extraction industry” is in full swing here too.

“Aunts and uncles of these Karamojong children arrive back home from Kampala and look relatively better-dressed and more well off. Receiving 10,000 shillings a month (approximately ten dollars) doesn’t mean too much to us — but it is a fortune to these parents. And so the desperate parents trust them and give them their children to take back to Kampala, to hopefully have a chance to get an education, learn a skill and have a better life.

“And so the children are loaded onto trucks and buses and brought here. And nobody ever stops these trucks to ask, ‘Where are the parents of these children?’ Plus you cannot stop people from moving around. People do have the right to go where they want if they have documents.

“But what the traffickers neglect to tell the children is about the deplorable conditions they will find themselves in once they get to Kampala. They are sent out onto the streets to beg, for instance. And there is always a watcher or ‘street mother’ nearby who makes sure that the children always have their hands stretched out to beg. And if they don’t beg they are beaten, so they soon learn to stretch their hands out — even in their sleep.”

These children are brutalized, beaten and sexually abused. They ‘rent’ tiny spaces on the floors of small crowded rooms for 200 shillings a night. The girls, after age 12, are then forced into prostitution, and the boys start picking up scrap metal or go into petty theft.

“Sporadically children are rounded up by the police and then warehoused with little or no food. Then they are taken back and dumped in Karamoja again. But there is no life for them in Karamoja either. Are they being provided with schools, counseling, housing, etc. once they return? No.”

When the children are repatriated, they are sometimes given a package consisting of a small amount of money, a few clothes and a mattress. So then people there started sending their kids to Kampala in order to just get the package.

“This is the status of our work to prevent domestic trafficking right now: We are concentrating on case management, social integration and raising public awareness such as how people can protect themselves from traffickers. To this effect, we hold outdoor video screening of trafficking documentaries in the villages, and one famous pop singer here has even written a song about it.”

Regarding deterrence, this UN agency is also working with the police in Kampala in order to train them how to best deal with a bad situation. And although a number of the children taken in routine police sweeps really want to go back to Karamoja, some don’t because they know that they will just be going back to the same bad situation they came from. And some parents don’t want their children to come back for the same reason; because they won’t be able to put food in their mouths.

“Karamojong children have been trafficked for over 20 years now. This should have been stopped long ago — but there is sometimes discrimination against the Karamojong here in Uganda.

And with regard to the subject of sexual trafficking, people here in Kampala do know that it goes on — and even people in really high places are sometimes involved. There is currently one man who has instigated a class-action suit on behalf of women who were trafficked internationally, claiming that the government did nothing about it. In another instance, recently 600 trafficked Ugandan women were stuck in Malaysia and the government was made aware of this situation when a media spotlight was shown on their plight.

What is the definition of trafficking? Apparently it has to do with exploitation and failed expectations. Traffickers promise one thing and deliver another.

And sometimes even traffickers delude themselves too, thinking that “I’m improving someone’s life” or “This is a way of life where we live; has been done by everyone for a long long time.”

Uganda’s new human trafficking law, passed in 2009, may not be as effective as it could be because it is too punitive in regard to punishment. People might think twice about turning in a relative if the punishment is life imprisonment.

“But there is always hope. It’s a big problem but we have a task force for it and are working on solving it. But the underlying problem is unemployment and poverty, which puts young people at risk.”

Ah. Unemployment and poverty. Could this mean that when the GOP gets its way and Americans too become just one more vast source of cheap labor, that there will be more human trafficking in America as well?

“With regard to international trafficking, Asia and the Middle East is where trafficking is really picking up — where there is a demand for both prostitutes and cheap domestic help.

“Regarding the rehabilitation of former prostitutes, a person who has gone through prostitution is really hard to get back into the regular work force. We used to give them cash to help them start a new life and they would run through it in a few weeks. Now we give them aid in kind — help them set up businesses. But it’s hard. It takes a long time to build the ethos for this.”

And most people forced into prostitution end up HIV positive and have little access to meds.

“Some former prostitutes return to the life because of the stigma at home. Some go off to South Sudan and are prostitutes there. Repatriation is hard. Do the women themselves want to come back from this life? Are there funds to help them come back? Of the 600 in Malaysia, we have only repatriated 15 so far. But once they are back, we help them to access services.”

This agency uses the same approach to international trafficking that it uses for domestic trafficking, and also offers ways for victims to come back to Uganda — such as giving cards to young women at airports with a number to call if they need help.

“If girls try to escape from their situation, they may be physically abused. And the traffickers also have their passports and may have ties to officials there so that there is no one the girls can report to.” The UN is also trying to make other countries aware regarding how to handle people who have been trafficked.

And Ugandan women trafficked to China pose a particular problem for Uganda, which depends on China for aid. They don’t want to offend China and so must tread lightly.

“People are so desperate in their situations here that they are willing to believe what the traffickers say. So as long as the root causes exist, trafficking will exist. And It is like another form of slavery. Slavery was abolished a long time ago but it still exists. It has just taken another form.”

Most international cases of trafficking involve girls over the age of 18 due to passport requirements.

“And sometimes those being trafficked turn around and become traffickers themselves because you have gone through abuse for so long that you become desensitized. You don’t look forward or look back because you are so beaten down — and you start to accept the life you are in. It’s the Stockholm Syndrome: Identify with the abuser to the point that they protect their traffickers and become traffickers themselves.

“These victims see their life as gone and they see no other way back for themselves. Victims have to be willing to change — and many of them are not.”

And Karamoja is still the greatest source of trafficking victims. “The poverty in Karamoja is obvious when you go there. The droughts of the 1970s and 1980s began this downward slide. It’s all about poverty. And the HIV pandemic has left many child-headed households as well. And the wars have had a big effect too — cultures there have been disintegrated by war and by drought.

“Originally Karamojong kids came to the cities looking for work. And the trafficking grew from there. And it is also an outgrowth of the custom of people having many children in order to share the work — so that now there are still many children to provide for but less work to support them.”

I’ve also heard that, as more and more minerals are being found in the Karamoja region, more and more farmers are being tossed off their lands by the “extraction industry”.

“Globalization has also been a large factor in another way , in that development projects bring in a whole new supply of johns. And it then becomes a matter of distinction of power. If you try to stop the Chinese johns, then it becomes a political issue.

“Women who get too old to be prostitutes may become madams, pimps, ‘street mothers’ and traffickers themselves. They stay in the game but in a different capacity. Many of them, however, flat-out die. HIV, gang rapes, poverty.

“The Ugandan military supplies major clients and johns. Camp followers are common. But that’s starting to change as soldiers who contract HIV are not being promoted.”

And it isn’t just poor people in Uganda who are being trafficked either. Recent university graduates without jobs have been answering what appear to be legitimate employment offers in the newspapers for work abroad in their fields. However, somehow only the young pretty female ones get hired — and then find themselves chained to a whorehouse in China or the Middle East.

After talking with the UN agency representatives, I then went off to Busia, on the border with Kenya, to learn about cross-border trafficking there — where the border is porous.

“Trafficking isn’t just about buying and selling human beings,” said a local expert on the subject. “It’s about any form of exploitation. Sexual trafficking is also a problem here because of all the long-distance truckers who come through Busia while bringing goods from China and the Kenyan ports into Uganda, the Congo and the C.A.R.”

Because Busia is now a boom town, women and girls come here seeking employment. But once they can’t find work and have no other choice, they are forced into prostitution.

After meeting with the trafficking expert, I then hopped onto the back of a bicycle for hire and set out for the Kenyan border itself, hoping to score an interview with an Obama. But no such luck. The crossing was too crowded. But I did meet one young woman who exactly fit the trafficking profile — she was young, naive, beautiful and desperately searching for work. Optimistic and bright-eyed and hopeful, she was on her way to a new job interview.

After all that I had just learned, I just wanted to scream at her, “Run, girl, run! Go back to your home. Go back now — before it’s too late.” But I didn’t. And she probably wouldn’t have listened to me either. What would have been her other option? No safety nets for her spring to mind.


July 23, 2012

Miscellaneous Uganda: Dealing with Big Pharma & beads in Kampala

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Jane Stillwater @ 11:31 am

In early July, I left for Uganda on a fact-finding tour sponsored by Global Exchange — and have learned a lot of really amazing stuff since.

First, I learned that taking anti-malaria medication sucks eggs. Your stomach begins to feel nauseous, then you break out in hives and then get the runs. And yet despite having to endure all this miserable uncomfortableness, there’s apparently still a fair chance that the freaking pills might not even work.

Next, I learned about a mysterious “nodding disease” that is currently killing children in northern Uganda — where Big Pharma is routinely conducting various human drug trials on the locals.

According to Ugandan journalist Angelo Izamaa, “One of the undesirable facts about Northern Uganda, beyond the [LRA] conflict itself, was the attractiveness of its conditions for disease research.” Further, “Last year the BBC reported that Pandemrix, one of the vaccines [involved in drug trials in northern Uganda], was being investigated by several countries including Finland for the link to ‘nodding disease’ like conditions.”

And then I developed a really bad cough. Really, really bad. Bronchitis. “Can you PLEEZE take me to visit a witch doctor!” I begged. But then I found out that, in Uganda witch doctors demand a human sacrifice as part of the cure — preferably a small child with no scars. Good grief. I don’t think even the FDA would approve of that kind of cure. So I took massive amounts of vitamin C instead and that worked.

Next I read an article in Kampala’s leading newspaper which touted the fabulous effectiveness of a new cervical cancer vaccine for female minors — and how every young girl in Uganda should get this wonderful vaccine ASAP.

Hey, isn’t that the very same vaccine that many Americans now refuse to give to their daughters due to the drug’s horrendous side-effects which are way out of proportion to its possible ability to prevent a STD that may give you a form of cancer forty years in the future that is already easily detectable by a Pap smear and thus relatively preventable anyway and may leave you dead at age 15 instead? Yeah. It is.

According to the Washington Post, “A new report (at http:/ / vaccinesafety/ vaccines/ hpv/ gardasil.html) by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that serious complications had occurred [from use of the vaccine, including 20 deaths], although the rate and severity of most side effects appear to be consistent with those of other vaccines.”

Now that a lot of Americans have stopped allowing Gardasil to be administered to their daughters, are its manufacturers now foisting off their excess inventory onto Uganda’s daughters instead? Anything for a profit, guys.

And speaking of vaccines, in Kampala I once again jumped head-first into that old argument over the costs vs. the benefits of giving babies and young children a whole bunch of doses of vaccines before they even reach kindergarten.

“If a vaccine can prevent horrible debilitating diseases like polio, then go for it,” is my point of view. “But as for the rest of the 38 different vaccination encounters recommended for children under the age of six by the American Academy of Pediatrics and being foisted off on our unsuspecting kids these days? 38 different doses administered to our babies in their first very vulnerable years of life? Really?”

“But without vaccines,” the other person responded, “we will run the risk of having measles epidemics and coming down with the mumps and hepatitis and….”

“But even whooping cough can be cured,” I then replied. “And even diphtheria. However, the occurrence of autism in American children has increased approximately 800% since the amount of vaccines given to them has proportionately increased. And now approximately one in every 88 American children suffers from some form of autism. Sure, autism has not been officially linked to vaccines — but what if getting 38 doses of vaccine in a very short time even MIGHT be the cause of it? Why take the chance? Whooping cough can be cured. Autism is forever.”

Still don’t think that autism is linked to vaccines? You are probably right. However, “All About Autism” magazine just featured an article stating that, “Approximately 50,000 adolescents with ASD will turn 18 years old this year in the United States. This is the first wave of children who were identified with autism in the early 90s.” Early nineties? First wave? There WAS a first wave? Right around the time that vaccines were becoming a fetish with Big Pharma? Huh?

Other miscellaneous stuff that I’ve learned here in Uganda? That women in the slums of Kampala cut up old magazines and calendars, turn them magically into beads and sell the beads to support their families. So I bought more bracelets than you can imagine from them — and they in turn gave me a tour of their homes, which were the size of many Americans’ closets.

“The more money that I make from the bead business, the more that the landlord raises my rent,” said one woman who lived with two sons and a daughter in a 10×12 shack under a sweltering tin roof. “And he charges me 20 cents every time we use the latrine.” And there is no drainage system, no water pipes, no washing machines, no showers or nothing like that in this slum. And yet these women all emerge from their houses each day immaculately clean. How do they DO that!

After seeing this slum, I was totally amazed that everyone living there hadn’t already come down with cholera. But for them, this life is normal. And life goes on.


July 13, 2012

Too much information: Uganda for Dummies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Jane Stillwater @ 5:57 am

There’s been so much going on over here in Uganda that I can’t even begin to put it into words and will probably have to wait until I get back home to be able to digest it all, having taken approximately 65 pages of notes.

But what have I learned so far? That on the one hand, there is a whole bunch of excruciating poverty here — I will never take running water for granted ever again! And the care and safety of children? NOT a given in this world of human trafficking and child soldiers.

But on the other hand, 35,000 students attend Makerere University in Kampala. That’s as big as U.C. Berkeley (but unlike Cal, Makerere University is not trying to buy a tank to intimidate its students with). Plus SO many people here really care about Uganda — and work their fingers to the bone to make it succeed. And so there is also much hope for Uganda’s future.

Am leaving soon to spend a night in the Doha airport. Then a night in the Singapore airport. Then three days in Jakarta visiting my friend Almira. Then a night in the Tokyo airport. And then home.

Wish me luck!

PS: If you think that the Ugandans have it hard and are struggling to hold on to their quality of life, just you wait until the spit hits the fan back in the USA. America’s corporate-owned government leaders are apparently scheming to turn us into a third world country too.

Just wait and see what happens to us once the Trans-Pacific Partnership is passed Then we too will be scrambling to have running water and safe children.


July 6, 2012

Working for peanuts: Observing human trafficking in Uganda

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 10:38 am

As we get older, we tend to start looking less and less forward to our next birthday. And turning the big Seven-Zero seemed like more of a threat to me than a pleasure — so I did something about it and made sure that I was doing something so special on my 70th BD as to look really forward to it rather than dreading it.

So. How did I spend my big day? Sitting for hours in a plane on a runway in Cairo, waiting to fly off to Kampala, Uganda, in order to study the effects of human trafficking on that country. Hey, how unique and memorable can I get?

Kampala is memorable.

Apparently all of east and central Africa has been in a state of flux since the bad old days of the Cold War, the CIA and the assassination of Patrice Lmumba by Eisenhower’s spook doo-doo-heads who never had a clue regarding which dominoes they were causing to fall — just like they also screwed up the Middle East, Latin America and China back then.

But we have now all learned the hard way that the idiots who have written American foreign policy for the last umpteen years never really had a clue as to what they were doing back then, and have been creating mess after mess throughout the world ever since. And are still doing it now! But I digress.

For whatever reason, there is a LOT of human trafficking now going on in this region of Africa. And all too many of those humans being bought and sold are children.

With a little help from Global Exchange, I got to interview people regarding that subject at the American Bar Association here in Kampala yesterday. Yes, that ABA. Back in 2009, when Uganda’s legislature passed an anti-trafficking law, everyone was all smug about this new law — until they realized that no one had a clue as to how to implement it. So the ABA has been helping Ugandans by holding workshops on how to interpret and enforce this highly-needed new law. Good on them. My beloved Berkeley-Albany Bar Association would be proud of the ABA.

But waiting for the 2009 law to be implemented hasn’t been enough for many grassroots “boots on the ground” organizations here who have taken to the field and are actually out trying to stop this filthy practice and to give solace (and job training) to its victims.

One such organization is The African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect — because many of the humans being trafficked are children.

In these desperate times of poverty and conflict, traffickers arrive in villages and refugee camps and they promise the world to stressed and desperate parents. “We’ll take care of your child and see that they go to school in the big city and get a chance that they would never get here.”

And then the children are sold to brothels and plantations and into harsh domestic service or made to beg on the streets of Kampala or Nairobi or the emirates or wherever. Or worse. They become involuntary organ donors or human sacrifices or child soldiers and are never heard from again. And this is a common practice in east and central Africa.

So. Here I am in Uganda. And woke up and realized that it was the Fourth of July. And I actually had a bag of “Yankee Doodle” peanuts for breakfast! How patriotic is that!

And driving into Kampala, I passed the U.S. Embassy to Uganda. It was like a freaking medieval fort. Nothing but armed soldiers guarding a really long fortified wall. “No stopping! No photographs!” read the sign. And this is the face that America shows to Uganda.

The Christian religion’s main message to the world is “Peace and Love”. And Islam and Judaism’s main message to the world is
“Justice”. Oh how far we all have fallen.

But Kampala seems to be an organized and peaceful and safe and hard-working city despite all the regional conflicts. And the ghost of Idi Amin no longer haunts Uganda — living on only in Hollywood movies. It’s like one anti-trafficking expert here said on that subject yesterday, “Amin is gone. Only Forrest Whitaker remains Get over it. The rest of the world needs to move on.”

And the kids here are getting an education and there Is a future for them, even the ones who have been rescued from the brutal and deadly trafficking routes. Good for the Ugandans.

Next, I will be going up to the border with Kenya. The border is very porous up there, somewhat like borders in the EU, and traffickers can do a lot of their dirty deeds in secret.

And if I actually should step foot into Kenya, I’ll let you know if I meet any Obamas (although when Mitt Romney’s papa ran for president, there was a court ruling that even though Pops was born in Mexico, he could still become president because at least one of his parents was a U.S. citizen. So if even Mitt was born in Mexico, he could still get elected. And
Obama is also good to go no matter where he was born.)


May 10, 2012

Fair Trade: It’s not just for coffee any more

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 3:29 pm

How many times have you walked into Starbucks, ordered a “Fair Trade” latte and felt all proud of yourself for supporting small coffee farmers in Central America? Virtuous, even? A lot of times, I would bet. But exactly how many times have you also walked into a computer store or a jewelry store or a grocery store or a sporting goods store and said, “Hey, I’m looking to purchase one of those Fair Trade diamond rings,” or “I need to buy a Fair Trade MP-3 player.” Almost never.

Heck, how many times have we even driven into our local Shell or Arco or Exxon station and ordered up ten gallons of Fair Trade gas? Definitely never. But guess what? Perhaps it’s time that we did.

Fair Trade isn’t just for coffee any more.

It’s high time for consumers to follow the Fair Trade coffee example and also start forcing big-business international monopolies and cartels to instigate Fair Trade practices on a lot more than just coffee. It’s also now time to offer Fair Trade options to all those dirt-poor miners and workers who now bring us tin, gold, tantalum, tungsten, diamonds, coal, gasoline and oil at an enormous personal cost to themselves, and who risk their very lives daily for peanuts — so that global corporatistas can turn around and gouge out higher prices from you and me, and make outrageously obscenely high profits off of someone else’s blood, sweat and tears.

Without our coffee in the morning, we’d merely have a bit more trouble waking up. But without highly-important minerals such as the tin, gold, tantalum, tungsten, diamonds and coal that make our individual worlds work, there would be no computers, no gold tooth fillings, no traditional wedding rings, no cell phones, no durable drill bits and nothing for joggers to listen to as they run through the park.

Without our coffee, sure, we’d be grumpy. But without our gasoline, we’d be faced with starvation — or at least faced with having to live mostly by what we can grow in our victory gardens or whatever we could haul in on wagons. But, hey, that might not be such a bad thing after all. Improvising in order to avoid starvation seems to be, in the long run, a far better solution than dying from carbon-dioxide poisoning and its resultant fires and floods. But then that’s just me.

Fair Trade oil? That would mean giving individual Iraqis, Iranians, Nigerians, Sudanese and even Californians and Texans a piece of the action — just like they now do in Alaska. I’ve been to Iraq. I’ve seen dirt-poor villagers with no shoes on their feet standing upon oil-rich land worth billions to anyone but them.

Fair Trade!

In Africa, where so many of our strategic minerals come from, miners can’t even imagine what Fair Trade might look like. They might even live a few years longer maybe, or have shoes on their feet or learn how to read. Who knows? How about giving them the same breaks that we now give to coffee farmers?

PS: In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda and Sudan, many so-called “conflict minerals” are taken out of the ground and then sold in order to buy more guns for bad guys — and so the SEC has been working on methods that will allow buyers to trace the origins of the metals they buy, thus making it harder for gun runners and human traffickers to make a profit from selling ill-gotten gains.

Nordic Sun has recently developed a cute little hand-held mineral-assessing thingie that allows perspective buyers to trace their mineral purchases back to untainted sources. However, no one seems to be in any big hurry to buy this cute little app. Why mess with a sure-fire profit maximizer — buying conflict minerals with no provenance — even though such purchases lead to supporting devastating blood-wars and completely screwing over poor miners working their fingers to the bone?

All across the world, people who care about the future of our planet helped to organize a wonderful Fair Trade movement to protect coffee farmers. Good for them! And now it’s time for us to get together and organize a Fair Trade movement for conflict-mineral miners as well — and then also a Fair Trade movement to protect all the rest of us workers too, especially those of us here at home. “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

In these enlightened times, a society that creates only billionaires and match girls no longer works.

PPS: I recently went on a virtual tour of an oil magnate’s house. Actually, I think it was only his secondary vacation home. Set on ten acres of valuable urban real estate, it had fifteen bedrooms, a kitchen with five (5) work stations, a spare baggage room for racks of last year’s Chanel gowns, a Rolls Royce in the driveway, a huge swimming pool, a vineyard and even a freaking TOPIARY garden.

Now compare that super-deluxe massive mansion to the homes of those poor villagers I saw in Iraq or the homes of poor miners in the DRC or even the homes of all us poor California taxpayers who get nothing back from the oil giants who are currently making off with OUR black gold.

PPPS: I’m trying to leave for Uganda in July so I can witness all this stuff for myself and report back regarding the corporate exploitation of miners, human trafficking and the plight of child soldiers — as well as to, hopefully, also report back on any and all progress being made toward establishing Fair Trade in Africa too.

Feel free to donate to my “Jane goes to Uganda” fund by clicking here:


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