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.
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.”
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.