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Fighting Islamophobia in Uganda

26 Jan 2022 15:44

Justice Access Point is a partner of GAAMAC in Uganda. Its Director, Mohammed Ndifuna, explained why countering Islamophobia was one of its priority campaign.  

Can you describe how and where islamophobia manifests itself in Uganda?  

Islamophobia is defined by the UN Economic and Social Council as “the baseless hostility and fear vis-à-vis Islam, and as a result a fear of and aversion towards all Muslims or the majority of them. It also refers to the practical consequences of this hostility in terms of discrimination, prejudices and unequal treatment of which Muslims (individuals and communities) are victims and their exclusion from major political and social spheres.” (E/CN.4/2005/18/Add.4, para. 13) 

In Uganda, Muslims are discriminated against in their access to education, medical services and employment. There are also instances of unfair targeting or profiling in counterterrorism operations and interferences with the teaching of Islam through the Madaras. 

Islamophobia is particularly prevalent in the Central Region (around the capital Kampala) and the Rwenzori Regions (where DRC borderlines with Uganda).  

Is the phenomenon recent, and if so, how can you explain its upsurge?  

Islamophobia has been a defining element in Uganda’s pre-colonial and post-colonial history. Islam was the first external religion to gain foothold in present-day Uganda, but the arrival of the white missionaries redefined the political terrain. Religious wars that ensued  among the divergent religious  sects were ultimately won by Christian groups and the colonial system favored Anglican and Roman Catholic intuitions.  

In the post-independence era, Islamophobia was exacerbated by the emergence of violent Islamic groups: the Lord’s Resistance Army and, from the 1990s, the Allied Democratic Force. These groups led to the misconception that all Muslims are extremists, feeding their unfair targeting in counterterrorism operations and everyday prejudice and discriminations.  

What do political and religious leaders do about it?  

Islamophobia has not been fully recognized as a problem by the political class and the need to address it is overshadowed by counterterrorism priorities. However, Ugandan religious leaders, through their Inter Religious Council (IRC), have spoken out against Islamophobia. 

Do other religious, cultural or ethnic groups suffer from similar discrimination?  

Other groups are discriminated on the basis of their ethnicity, notably the Bakingwe and the Bagabo. These indigenous ethnic group were regrettably excluded from the Uganda constitution of 1995, which detailed the country’s ethnic groups. This act of omission rendered these groups stateless de jure. The Bakingwe and Bagabo have therefore been denied their right to nationality, they are unable to meaningfully participate political affairs, and their culture in danger of extinction.  

How does Justice Access Point (JAP) fight islamophobia?  

JAP is combating Islamophobia by raising awareness with public media, graphic art, videography and storytelling; building the capacity of victims of discrimination and duty-bearers through trainings; researching and reporting human rights violations to national, regional and international mechanisms; and campaigning for a legal framework adequately protecting marginalized groups.  

More generally, JAP seeks to confront Islamophobia boldly, creatively and through inclusive processes involving all stakeholders. It is also committed to engendering reconciliation and peaceful coexistence. 

JAP has produced two comic books to counter islamophobia and discrimination through graphic art. Can you explain the project?  

Our comic books entitled “The Blight, Rights & Light” and “The Brother’s Keeper” illustrate common scenarios of discrimination against Muslims. The former targets students, teachers, owners of educational institutions, religious leaders and policy makers. The latter is directed to youth, religious leaders, security agencies, national human rights institutions and policy makers. 

JAP disseminated the comic books online through social media, and physical copies were delivered to a few selected stakeholders.       

How does the fight against islamophobia fit into JAP’s broader mandate?  

JAP’s broad mandate is to prevent atrocity crimes, counter violent extremism and hate speech, prevent statelessness and promote the rule of law in Uganda. Islamophobia can breed hate speech and violent extremism, or even trigger atrocity crimes and grave violations of human rights.