The police asked me (made a kindly suggestion) to refrain from speaking any further publicly about the Africa Retreat Centre when I met them yesterday, and I will very likely stir up some trouble for this. But I believe isolation is how oppression thrives, and the mentally ill of this country have been oppressed enough. They must be vocally, practically and urgently protected from any further abuse.

I’m writing about the Africa Retreat Centre today because there isn’t a day yet when I’m not actively tormented by what they did to me and how much I have lost because of it; my job, my work, my family, and my peace of mind included.

Today, specifically, I’m thinking about a girl named Bibi. I met Bibi at the center and we became instant friends. She was warm, and brilliant, and funny. She was 30 years old and had three degrees, in Justice, Peace and Security Studies. She had worked with the Uganda government and the African Union.

Bibi’s bunk was adjacent to mine. We spent many long evenings talking through our beds about the world order, global security systems and the many wars on the continent and beyond that we can’t afford and quite honestly do not need.

In the abusive and depraved conditions of the Africa Retreat Centre’s environment, on some days we just held together and cried. Bibi had tagged herself my “Rehab Buddy”, a term we found most amusing and giggled about a great deal.

There may be mental health professionals reading this, and if they are, they know it is one thing to confine a disruptive mentally challenged person, to lock them up by force, and keep them locked up with limited interaction with their families for extended periods.

But it’s quite another thing to lock up an undeniably sane, resisting human being, who resists with every nerve and with every fibre of their body the indignity and the outrage of forcible confinement as a mental health treatment. As the only mental health treatment that is sometimes given. It’s an outrage.

In the evenings, the center would put us (three girls) in a three-bedroomed house with a grown man (a Kenyan national named Martin Githaiga, who was an alcoholic and a Counsellor at the center) and lock all the doors (except our bedroom which we were never allowed to lock and didn’t even have a lock) and keep the keys. In the mornings, they opened for us to get out and access the therapy rooms.

On one of the evenings, pushed to agony by the deplorable insidious behaviour of this small group of foreigners acting in our country unchecked and with impunity, we started a fire in our bedroom. I’m not sure why a center that was locking up and mistreating inmates would give those same inmates a live flame (they gave us candles and matches), except to endanger them against the extent of their professional negligence.

We had tried to summon the police repeatedly, unsuccessfully, writing small notes and throwing them over the perimeter wall, hoping someone outside would kick one and open it to see what was inside (at the grave risk of one of the center’s staff being who came across it).

We tried to send notes outside for the police to come and help us, but the centre intercepted our materials and confiscated them. We had also tried to plead with our families to believe what we were telling them; that this place was a place of abuse.

We were sure if the firetruck came, the center would be too busy to hide us (they always took us out of the house whenever guests we could talk to were coming, or locked us in one part of the house), the police would come along too, and maybe they would rescue us. Have you ever been pushed to such calculated extremes?

If the fire department didn’t arrive quickly enough, there was a chance that we could die in that house if the fire raged and the centre didn’t open the doors in time. By this time, the center had physically assaulted one of the patients and refused me medical care after I had been bleeding from a suicide attempt for several weeks. The lack of consequences was emboldening them. But the fire was so dismal even the neighbours didn’t realise it happened.

Bibi and I stirred up a sit-down strike. Then there was the hunger strikes… Going without food for weeks to compel the center to either let us go or let us die. We knew they held us purely for the money they hoped to receive from our families (they charged a nine-million shillings package for each patient for three months. The longer they kept you, the more money they made).

Some patients jumped the fence to deliver messages on the outside, others hand-coppied the documents we were writing, making copies manually by repetition, others hid pieces of paper down their trousers to beat the impromptu body and property searches. Some swallowed whole documents to keep them from being found, and others supplied the food we ate whenever ours would be confiscated to punish us.

We were looking to terminate the unjust sentences a host of money-hungry professionals had subjected us to for the sake of profit, and we had all now united to fight together. We were well enough to supply the rest of the patients with legal sermons and petitions, write well-worded, long detailed letters and grievance documents, and successfully stir up a revolution to protect current and future patients who might unluckily wander into this same center.

We were sane enough to successfully beat the abusive system and orchestrate all these things while they (the center) were many steps behind, but we were still subjected to the emotionally brutal indignity of forceful confinement as a mental health treatment in these modern, “regulated” times. Where’s the Law? Where’s legislation? Where is restitution? How do these things go unnoticed for years by a working government?! How can this be allowed to go on?

Few people will adopt the radicalism of our methods, Bibi and I, as I myself didn’t think I was capable of it. It is only after you have been through an intolerable sense of oppression that you know your true warriorism.

Not all of us will be as militant as Bibi and I managed. But I hope you can be inspired by our brief but every-day-too-long ordeal, by our unwavering, unafraid, unapologetic, very affected determination to stand for something important, noble and urgent this election season. For the political agitators — of any kind, the civil society, the social justice fraternity, refuse to submit to oppression.

I have become quite prepared to weather any retaliation that might come from my insistence on speaking up. Is it legal suit or prison that will silence me? I think not. I was imprisoned and broken by the Africa Retreat Centre, and even that did not stop me.

I hope you go out and vote for people who will be brave for you in the face of oppression. Fight for the safety you need to feel secure in your home (your country). Be like Bibi!  Start the revolution!

If you didn’t read my previous post on ARC, you can here: Remember to share.


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Open letter to Dodoviko Mwanje.