How a Ugandan grandmother fought the President for her community's land - and won

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Keromela Anek sits with some of her neighbors in Apaa. Photo: Phil Wilmot

A new tactic of non-violent resistance secured a future for the people of Apaa, Uganda, after a violent government-backed land grab had threatened to turn their village and farmland over to a sports hunting business, writes Phil Wilmot. The unlikely leader was Anek, a respected grandmother of the village, whose naked protest sent both troops and government ministers packing.

Keromela Anek tossed her naked body back and forth in the roadway, blocking a government convoy in the remote village of Apaa, Uganda.

Lands Minister Daudi Migereko and Minister of Internal Affairs General Nyakairima Aronda had just traveled to the village that day, April 16, with the plan of redistricting it.

And that would place Apaa in a new region and help facilitate the sale of the peoples' land to South African investor Bruce Martin, who hoped to use the heavily forested, currently-populated area for sports game hunting.

Upon reaching a roadblock and witnessing Anek and some other women naked and in tears, chanting insults toward the ministerial delegation, Migereko began crying, while Aronda tried his best to avoid looking at the women.

Local witnesses claim that Aronda then called Ugandan President Yoweri K. Museveni - a dictator who has been in power for three decades - and received instructions to have his security personnel open fire on the women.

If this command was indeed given, Aronda wasn't able to follow through with it. Instead, he and the other government officials turned their caravan around and left the village.

While the action taken by these village elders may seem spontaneous, it was actually the result of careful organizing - and an event that forever changed Anek's life.

Four years ago, a local councilor came to Apaa with personnel from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, or UWA, and set fire to their huts and crops, claiming that the villagers were residing illegally on what was government property.

Anek's 29-year-old son, Okot Alaba, was stripped naked and beaten to death with his own garden hoe for refusing to leave his home. This marked the beginning of a series of government scare tactics and attempted evictions.

Shortly thereafter, in 2012, Museveni visited a village that neighbors Apaa to threaten its residents that they would soon have to hand over their land to Madhvani, a multinational company notorious for destroying lush forests and developing sugarcane plantations.

Upon hearing this news, a group of elderly women listening to his speech promptly disrobed - a powerful omen throughout most of Africa, where it is considered a curse, or 'abomination', to see a naked woman old enough to be one's mother. Museveni has never visited the area since that day, fearing the power of these female elders.

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