Human Rights Defenders of the Month: Kamal Ramadan, Kodi Marshall, and Ganja Ali

Born and raised in the Nuba mountains in Sudan, Kamal Ramadan, Kodi Marshall, and Ganja Ali have for years been fighting for the rights of the Sudanese people. In 2014, the trio formed the group Nuba Mountains Sounds, and has since promoted human rights and freedom through music and movie productions. “We wish to be the voice of the voiceless,” Kodi stresses.

The trio produces reggae, dance hall, and hip hop music about the struggles of the Sudanese people. “We have grown up in a war zone. We have seen people dying, we’ve seen bombs, we’ve seen a lot of things – this is why we sing songs about freedom,” Kamal says.

The trio were forced to leave Sudan as they feared for their own safety, leading them to seek asylum in Uganda, but not without challenges. “When we came, we did not have all the necessary papers, and [border control] did not believe our story,” Kamal says. Still, they are waiting to obtain all their legal papers. Consequently, they are living a life in limbo, unable to continue producing music and movies, or their human rights work. “The only thing we want is freedom, freedom for all,” Kodi states.

While carrying out their work in Sudan, the group faced a lot of repercussions in the form of threats, harassment, and restrictions. These include restrictions by the government to perform and screen movies in Khartoum. “If you sing about love, you will not have any issues, but if you want to tell the truth about people’s struggles, you will have a direct problem with the government,” Kamal tells us.

In addition to making music, the trio has produced five movies about the situation in Sudan, including a movie about HIV/AIDS. Their latest movie, Akasha, was screened at international film festivals in Canada, France, Morocco, and South Africa. Due to their asylum process and travel restrictions, the trio was unable to attend the screenings. “We wish to go and promote our work, but we are not allowed,” Ganja says.

Since 2017, the group has received support form DefendDefenders, including financial support, protection, and capacity building training to continue their activism and art. 

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Human Rights Defender of the month: Alex Njenga John

Alex Njenga has always believed in egalitarianism both as a principle and as a tool for justice. As a result, he has always been suspicious of, and at times hostile to social prejudices that treat some people as “more equal than others,” – to use a line from George Orwell’s famed political fable, Animal Farm.

Some of the experiences that have shaped his social and political outlook have been personal. As an adolescent in Kenya’s Uasin Gishu County, Alex was stigmatised and denied healthcare after he identified himself as belonging to Kenya’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) community.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Abacha Ahmed Ibrahim

Abacha Ahmed Ibrahim is one of his country’s leading advocates for the rights of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs).

Born 34 years ago into a family of Eight, in Kajokeji County, East of Juba, the Capital of South Sudan, Abacha ’s passion for human rights was born out of grim personal experience. At birth, he was immediately neglected by his father on discovering that the little infant was visually impaired.

“My own father denied me access to education because he considered my disability a kind of misfortune brought to him by my mother,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Fadia Khalaf

Fadia Khalaf was not meant to be an activist. By her own admission, she was born into a conservative Muslim family – the first of six siblings. In Saudi Arabia where she was born and raised, the ruling ideology in the Kingdom was wahabbism – a puritanical version of Islam in which women are strictly expected to stay in the background and not play any public role. Yet even in that conservative setting, she managed to nurture a political consciousness:

“I think reading at young age helped build my awareness on concepts like justice and rights in general. I was exposed to concepts around human freedom, and that nurtured the rebel in me,” she says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Mugisha Jelousy

As the rest of Uganda readies itself to finally get its oil out of the ground with the conclusion of the Final Investment Decision (FID), Mugisha Jealousy, 50, is one of those following the events with a mournful resignation.

A resident of Kasenyi village, Nile Parish in Buliisa district, Mugisha is one of those affected by the Tilenga project, a multipronged project by Total E&P. The project involves reservation and development of land in districts of Buliisa and Nwoya for oil exploration, setting up of a crude oil processing plant and related infrastructure to support Uganda’s oil production activities.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Anny Kapenga

As a young student, Anny Kapenga used to cringe at the cult-like worship of Mobutu Sese Seko, the then Zaire’s President. By then, in the early 1990s, Zaire was still under one party rule, and calls were increasing for Mobutu to open political space to allow other parties to operate. In the meantime, however, all Zairians were expected to show affection for Mobutu wherever they gathered in public.

Students across Zaire’s schools were required to sing and dance adoringly before his (Mobutu)’s portrait every morning before they went to class, and all school scholastic materials were emblemed with his portrait. A young Anny never really appreciated the obsession:

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Fadwo Hassan Jimale

Women in Somalia are not supposed to be ‘loud.’ Historically, conservative religious traditions combined with a resilient patriarchal system ensured that women in the coastal nation remain veiled and meek, always in the shadow of their husbands.

Not so for Fadwo Hassan Jimale, Somalia’s crusading human rights defender. As a ranking member of Somalia’s Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Fadwo and her colleagues host regular capacity building sessions for current and emerging women human rights defenders (WHRDs).

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Oliver Rubama

As a lone girl in a traditionally patriarchal & heteronormative Muslim family in Tanzania, Oliver Rubama grew up with so much pressure to conform. She was expected to conform to socially expected patterns of female behavior and dress, and to aspire to get married to a man approved by her family.

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