After much courage and hardship we welcome Andrew Ssebulime, a young hero, to America. An extraordinary journey by a resilient young man. Now our hope is that the Miami community will embrace Andrew and make him feel welcome!
By Melanie Nathan, November, 25, 2015.
A journalist, who fled Uganda in fear of his life, has finally been resettled by UNHCR as a refugee in the United States. This is another one of too many stories in the insidious upheaval caused by the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 and its horrendous genesis and continued trajectory.
After almost two years of uncertainty and much difficulty, Andrew Ssebulime, a famed Ugandan journalist, arrived last week at Miami International Airport, ready to start his new life in the United States of America. If Uganda was a country that respected human rights, freedom of press and speech, Andrew may well still be enjoying a successful career in Uganda. But despite his talent and meteoric rise to fame, that was not to be.
In 2012, Andrew SSebulime was excited to start his new job as a journalist for Record TV. A great future lay ahead of him. Soon he was promoted to assistant news manager and then hired to the much coveted presenter, taking on the morning program called “UG ON AIR.” In the program he focused on Uganda’s political, economic and social life, discussing topical issues from news articles and Parliament.
In December 2012 when Parliament started to debate the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHA), he opined on the air about how Parliament should rather spend its time on the “real issues facing Uganda”. He believed there were pressing and urgent issues facing government that were being ignored, and that this was usurped with too much focus on homosexuality and the AHA. He spoke about the need for the enactment of laws that would serve to strengthen and empower the judiciary, to take on corrupt officials, all being an imperative use of Parliament’s time, rather than the scapegoating of LGBTI people through the enactment of the AHA.
“From UG ON AIR, news anchoring and reporting, I was given another program Public Platform, addressing local issues of the grass root citizens which all made me famous. It was because of my work on these programs that WBS TV which was more advanced, with a bigger viewership, and great command of the market share spotted me and head-hunted me from Record TV.”
A big step forward in his career, Andrew started working on June, 01 2013, as a news anchor and reporter for WBS TV. He also started taking on feature writing in a segment called Kampala Amakula running a feature entitled “Male Sex Workers” and “Depicting the Ugandan Gay Community”. It was a topic that was to be a significant part of his undoing. Life as he knew it was soon over for Andrew and he was fired, becoming a target for further persecution.
On December 23, 2013, mere days after the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act by Uganda’s Parliament, Andrew SSebulime received his marching orders, and in no uncertain terms. He stood accused – for his reporting the story in a manner that “condemned Parliament’s passage of the Bill” – denoting, according to WBS , his support of the so called ‘promotion of homosexuality.’ For merely stating his opinion on the air, in a so called democracy where freedom of press is supposedly espoused under the Constitution, Andrew was accused of breaching the Stations moral obligations by supposedly “supporting the promotion of homosexuality.”
Within hours of the AHA becoming law, through the signature of President Museveni, the journalist was a target not only for his firing but also for arrest.
The letter from WBS TV which is signed by Prof Gordon Wavamunno (*1), a man knighted by the Queen, terminating Andrew’s employment, illustrates the anti-gay persecution and how the Bill impacted freedom of press, speech and people in employment:
Andrew describes the devolution of his status from famed Ugandan journalist to refugee:
“After the passing of the bill by parliament on the 20th of December 2013 and my subsequent dismissal from WBS TV because of my support to the gay community things became impossible for me. I was arrested on the 25th of February 2014 only one day after President Museveni had signed the bill into law. Luckily enough, I managed to skip out of jail on a police bond of 800,000 UGX. With these happenings, noon was turned into darkness and I knew the next step would be lynching me, since people had started taking matters into their own hands. I was then outed on the morning program as a gay journalist, and so I had no choice but to run for safety and on the 23rd of April 2014. I crossed over to Kenya through Malaba border.”
The UNHCR process felt unending. Living there as an urban refugee in a slum, without the ability to work, was traumatizing. All through the difficult and ongoing process, I had no idea what was coming next or how I would survive to see the day I would be resettled. I often became despondent. I had a written interview followed by oral interview, after which I was told to go for the decision several months later. I had many interviews and delays thereafter. At one point I suffered serious fever and could not make the interview. Finally, almost an entire year later, I received my mandate and then it took almost another year for the USA to accept me an for me to resettled.
I was constantly exhausted, often very hungry, and extremely uncomfortable. I feared losing all my health and I had to watch my back as it was never safe.”
At the time of advocating for Andrew, he told me: “I cannot work – I am degraded as a human being. I stay with a group of five people at Kawangware – we are living in sickening unsafe and deplorable conditions. It has been months of hell.”
Now finally Andrew has arrived in the Miami area with three other LGBT refugees resettled from Kenya. His difficulties are not over as it takes a great deal of orientation to settle in the USA as a refugee. LGBT refugees who arrive in the USA have very little and are in great need of community and friendship. Unlike other refugees, LGBT refugees have usually been rejected by family and depend on new community to offer meals, outings and donations of clothing and other needs.
A local agency has been appointed to his resettlement. It is their job to help Andrew obtain his benefits, open a bank account, and find employment.
Speaking to Andrew this week, after his long journey to Florida, he notes: ” Its a complete rebirth and another chance and opportunity to rebuild my life again after two years of idleness, shattered dreams and aspirations. A big thank you Melanie and the entire African Human Rights Coalition. My need now is finding someone to teach me Spanish and help me kick start off my new life. Not forgetting a concerted effort towards those who are still in the long and difficult process.”
As Executive Director of African HRC – I disclose that we worked with Andrew Ssebulime to provide advocacy, resources and strategy during his process. It is my hope that people will reach out and offer friendship and support to Andrew and his comrades in Miami and the surrounding area.
- If you would like to volunteer for a meal, friendship etc. to help Andrew and his fellow refugees please contact me at nathan@africanHRC.org
- Donations direct for refugees can be made via CLICK HERE – currently approximately 300 LGBT refugees still await resettlement in Kenya
- Donations to support African Human Rights Coalition’s work: CLICK HERE –
READ MORE ABOUT LGBT REFUGEES IN KENYA HERE .
(*1) Wavamunno, the coward who fired Andrew Ssebulime, has an honorary doctorate degree from Makerere University, Uganda’s oldest institution of higher learning, and from Nkumba University. He is a professor in business and entrepreneurship at Makerere and is the current chancellor at Nkumba. In January 2013, the Queen of the United Kingdom bestowed upon Wavamunno the British royal order of chivalry as a knight in the order of Saint John. Recipients of knighthoods in this order are not normally entitled to the honorific of “Sir”. The award was in recognition of his philanthropic work with St. John Association of Uganda, where he has been a member since 1983. He currently serves as the chairman of the association. African HRC plans to protest the knighthood based on human rights infractions by Wavamunno.