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: Ana Taban

Ana Taban, which means ‘I am Tired’ in Arabic, was established in 2016 in Nairobi, Kenya out of frustration of South Sudanese artists with several issues related to the civil war in the country. This was after another conflict broke out at the Presidential Palace in Juba a few months after the signing of a peace deal.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Jaqueline Mutere

Jaqueline Mutere’s motivation to establish Grace Agenda was a response to the post-election sexual violence of 2007 and 2008 in Kenya. Additionally, as a survivor of sexual violence which resulted into conception of a child, and following the experience of other survivors, Jaqueline identified the need to form an organisation that advocates for reparations for survivors of sexual violence.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Ocen Ivan Kenneth

Ocen Ivan Kenneth is a Program Director at Foundation for Development and Relief Africa (FIDRA), with more than 10 years’ experience working in the human rights field. Ivan’s ambitions for change focus on building inner peace, defending human rights and empowering local communities using theatre and storytelling. He creates a space where people from the community share their personal stories of trauma and resilience as well as identify mechanisms of healing.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Sandra Aceng

Sandra Aceng is an outspoken and energetic woman human rights defender (WHRD). She is a gender and ICT researcher and policy analyst for Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) where she coordinates the Women ICT Advocacy Group, advocating for internet access for all. In addition, she writes on various platforms such as Global Voices, Freedom House, and Impakter Magazine. Her regular contributions to Wikimedia Uganda often focus on profiling WHRDs, female politicians, and journalists.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Chantal Mutamuriza

Chantal Mutamuriza does not wait for problems to be solved. When the Burundian woman human rights defender (WHRD) encounters a problem, she will seek a solution there and then. When hundreds of thousands Burundians had to flee from political unrest in 2015, many of them were stranded in refugee camps with little economic opportunity or access to education. In her problem-solving spirit, Chantal felt compelled to act: she quit her job to put her skills and network to use and founded the NGO Light For All.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Foni Joyce

Foni Joyce has engaged in humanitarian work since the age of 20, when she joined a refugee student organisation to amplify the voices of refugees. Originally from South Sudan, Foni grew up as a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya, but she makes it clear that ‘refugee’ is merely a legal definition: “I firstly define myself as a human being who has been uprooted.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Meskerem  Geset Techane

Meskerem Geset Techane has fought injustice since she can remember: as a child she was known to stand up for herself and others, whether against bullies, teachers, her parents or church. Fighting injustice and promoting human rights is a common theme in the lawyer’s life. “It’s a passion, promoting human rights is not something you choose to do for a living or as a career opportunity. It’s more of a calling for me.”

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