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Kampala: Hunger debacle bedevils pe-teen K’jong girls

Inhuman; Most of the street children in Kampala and other eastern towns of Uganda come from Karamoja

A hard-bitten journalist and former editor at Radio Uganda, last week, urgently summoned me to take a look at the pictures in his mobile touch phone. What were they?

These were pictures of very young Karimojong Girl-children; he had taken at the intersection of the Kampala-Entebbe Road, on the verandahs of the shops. They were in various stages of hunger effects: some were curled up in foetal forms; others, with raised begging hands; yet, some more were seen trying to chase the proverbial alms-givers.

All were very young – not more than six years of age – and all were girls. Where are the boys of corresponding disposition?

The Girl-children are driven off, presumably with their parents, from the drought-stricken Karamoja. Right now, it is in the middle of a fierce famine (not to mention other parts of Uganda). But whereas you occasionally see teenage girls with them, there are no men; and if there are boys, they look like three-year olds, or less.

This is a strange phenomenon that the journalist was recording. He asked me: “Where can I get a children’s paper I can publish these pictures in?” I answered, “Perhaps in the Toto pullout of the New Vision, or the Kampala Kindergarten.”

“No,” he replied. “I am talking of an international magazine.” I had no idea and referred him to Google in the Internet. He was not convinced that he could get his pictures published In a foreign paper.

But for Kampala, this is no longer scooping news. I recalled to the former editor a heart-crushing story I had done about five years previously.

A speeding motorist had knocked down a Karamojong child along Dedan Kimathi Avenue opposite Airlines House, in the early hours of the morning. The child died. The child had been with some women. A small crowd gathered around these grieving and forlorn women, as they shrieked begging for help. No one helped; perhaps to take the child to a nearby clinic, or to Mulago Hospital.

The other motorists merely circled around the child who was lying bleeding in the middle of the road. Nearby, at All Saints Church, “worshippers” continued with the morning prayers oblivious of the agony that Jesus would not have put up with without raising a helping hand.

I was sympathetic with the journalist’s intention, but told him that he was wasting his time. This was doubtless an unfortunate journalistic response. But with the experience that I had had, five years previously, it was obvious that the Government had not taken cognizance of the recurring Karamojong famine situation; or the knock-on effects upon the Karamojong children pouring into the Kampala streets for survival. Their presence on the apparent affluent people in Kampala, is very graphic, a reminder to the conscience of the so-called elite, how immoral and uncaring they have become. Or, is it?

There is aministry of State for Karamoja Affairs, presumably intended to settle, limit or completely remove the suffering of this section of Ugandans. Occasionally, the people of the ministry with the Kampala Central City Authority (KCCA) will swing into action arresting these children and bussing them off to Karamoja or to Kampringisa, for apparent rehabilitation.

At one time, the First Lady, Janet Museveni, occupied that ministry; and because of her high political standing and influence, one would have thought that the situation would be permanently reversed.

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