Last Tuesday was a milestone in our ‘Wakonye Kenwa’ group’s long struggle to bring alcohol regulation to Gulu town, and ban sachet alcohol. Over a year ago we coordinated a march to deliver over 10000 signatures to the local District Government to ensure they completed the law: we marched from a church to the District. This time, the march started at the District where our law was passed, and ended at Gulu Main Market, the District’s commercial hub where enforcement will start.
Check out our highlights video, including some of my favourite moments:“Don’t drink sachets, drink…. porridge!” (Confused? Here you definitely ‘drink’ porridge, not eat it. Preferably with added peanut butter and lemon juice, mmmm). One of Gulu’s beloved ‘street personalities’ dancing to two 11 year-old gangsta’s Acholi rap about the harms of alcohol consumption. Our Resident District Commissioner (a top position in the District) drilling the crowd on the enforcement start date, 6th December, 2016. And of course, everybody’s highlight, Wakonye Kenwa Group’s drama featuring Otim Isaac as ‘Okech,’ the drunkard. I should probably add a preface that there is a somewhat black sense of humor here in Gulu. Perhaps decades of war and trauma have resulted in turning dark things into melodrama and comedy in order to cope. So to warn you, yes, there is a suicide scene, and I’m afraid yes, the crowd is in hysterics. Remember many things included in western plays/films/songs seem inappropriate to people here! Feeling the unity and ownership. There weren’t any half-hearted speeches from disinterested politicians or other leaders. There is a shared feeling in Gulu that the time is ripe for this. Throughout this whole process we are yet to encounter much serious resistance. Maybe it will come when enforcement begins.
Let me let you in on a little secret (shhhhh…) I’m not really that into big events, and definitely not into organizing them. To pull this event off, we coordinated multiple NGOs to join the effort…think tents, chairs, brass bands, radio announcements, police escorts, banners, water bottle distribution, sound system, organizing the VIP speakers, getting tons of people to the same place at the same time…. So whats the point of all this faffing? After all, the law is already passed, right? Isn’t it a waste of time and money?
The reality is that in Uganda, laws often don’t mean all that much. Even if a law is officially passed by council, approved by the Attorney General, published in the national gazette, it can still result in absolutely no practical change. A whole lot of people have to know about the law, understand the law, and feel like it is their law. They have to believe their leaders think its important, and believe authorities are serious enough to make arrests, press charges, burn big piles of confiscated sachets. They have to feel like its worth it to kick up a massive fuss if they don’t see police enforcing the new law.
So that’s why we did the launch. And… it worked! There is big buzz about the new alcohol law and the sachet ban on the streets in Gulu and almost constantly on the radio. We are all holding our breath to see what will happen on the 6th December. Enforcement day.