Human Rights Defender of the Month: Andrew Gole

Andrew Gole’s journey to become a human rights defender (HRD) was sparked by a small request: in 2015, a human rights organisation reached out to the trained software engineer about a digital security training. “I didn’t know much about the HRD eco-system or about digital security as an environment on its own,” Andrew says. “So, I did some research, and realised digital security support is just the basic support I used to provide in an internet café.” From there on, he started working with various civil society organisations and grassroots HRDs. In 2019, Andrew and a group of friends started Encrypt Uganda and the DIG/SEC Initiative, which both work on improving HRDs’ digital safety.

Despite growing up in an environment hostile to certain minorities, especially the LGBTI community, he has always pursued his own anti-discriminatory value system. “It’s very easy for me to work with the community and support them, because I reason differently from most people,” Andrew explains. Rather than focusing on how others are living their lives, he reasons that we should focus on ourselves and be our best version, without judging others.

If I have a skill that someone else needs to be safe, I am very happy to provide it. Many of the organisations I work with don’t have IT departments, so once I do something for them, I usually become their IT guy. Most of it is easy for me, so if I can help, I usually do it immediately and I can’t charge a consultancy fee for that.

Not fond of nine-to-five jobs, Andrew mostly works on a freelance basis and makes his living conducting digital security trainings, security audits or consultancy projects for NGOs. But his daily work consists of small requests like resetting passwords, helping out with websites or advising on IT equipment – requests Andrew mostly completes free of charge. “If I have a skill that someone else needs to be safe, I am very happy to provide it,” Andrew says. “Many of the organisations I work with don’t have IT departments, so once I do something for them, I usually become their IT guy. Most of it is easy for me, so if I can help, I usually do it immediately and I can’t charge a consultancy fee for that.”

Andrew is so passionate about his work that he even plans his holidays around it. In September, he spent three weeks traveling through Eastern and Northern Uganda on his ‘Boda Boda’ motorcycle. Rather than mapping out the route according to sights, his itinerary entailed the locations of 13 remote grassroots NGOs in need of IT support. DefendDefenders supported Andrew’s ‘Security on Wheels’ trip. “The trip was supposed to last 14 days, but it wasn’t possible,” Andrew explains, “some of the organisations had more work than anticipated and you really can’t start doing something and then leave. It will take quite a while for most organisations to get free IT services again, so I had to just take all the time I could and extended the trip to 21 days.”

The trip was supposed to last 14 days, but it wasn’t possible. Some of the organisations had more work than anticipated and you really can’t start doing something and then leave. It will take quite a while for most organisations to get free IT services again, so I had to just take all the time I could and extended the trip to 21 days.

While Andrew did not accept any payment from these grassroots organisations beyond room and board, he did not return empty-handed: he filmed 150GB of footage along the way. With the help of an editor, Andrew has turned this footage into a small documentary.

See more HRDs of the Month

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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