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What is going on at Hospice Uganda!

By Vision Reporter

Added 13th February 2010 03:00 AM

THE honest answer is that this has not just started today, or even recently. Like the worst wounds it has long festered. Now it has burst into the open and the stench is sickening. A little history?

By John Nagenda

THE honest answer is that this has not just started today, or even recently. Like the worst wounds it has long festered. Now it has burst into the open and the stench is sickening. A little history?

Hospice is the science (or should that be method?) of looking after those who are dying, and through palliative care, making sure their last days on earth are spent as far as is humanly possible with dignity, and through morphine with comparatively less pain.

“Science” yes, but the icing is that through Hospice comes warm humane comfort for the patient; it can hardly be overstated. Hospice trains always to put the patient first. It was first started internationally by an indomitable woman, Cicely Saunders, in Britain. She was rightly honoured by the title of Dame. Hospice is now found worldwide, Uganda being, at 12 years, one of the youngest additions, but towards the front in Africa.

The Founder in Uganda is Dr Anne Merriman, from Liverpool, England; of Irish ancestry. She is utterly deserving of Uganda’s utmost respect, and rightly gets it in huge amounts, especially from the grateful patients. Whether she returns the respect to Uganda and Ugandans must be placed next to her constant refrain that hard as she searches she finds it very difficult to ever find truthful Ugandans!

Thus the Merriman/Uganda relationship is at best unequal, not to say fraught. I would go further and call it racist, if by racism is understood a person of different race looking at another, from a different race, as by that difference an inferior.

We are not quoting racism of the bad old days of the Slave Trade, etc, but of today and now, and, worse, directed at our own beautiful nation. It stinks to high heaven. Incidentally I speak as Hospice’s immediate past chairman. Before that, when I was first invited to the Board, the seniors on it were strongly convinced that to give a fair chance to the new, and first, Ugandan Executive Director, one Dr Ekky, The Founder should operate from elsewhere, rather than the Hospice offices in Makindye.

I demurred, thinking the Board was supreme and could and would find accommodation with The Founder. How I blush at my naivety! Forewarned, antennae a-flicker, The Founder booted out Dr Ekky unceremoniously. The truth, as we now know, is that Merriman will not willingly suffer replacement, least of all by a local. She started Hospice Uganda and it is hers to hold! It took a long time to find a successor, Nina Shalita. Her greatest success has been to woo another donor, USAID, who have particularly noted that Nina is a local Ugandan product.

How Merriman, and her sidekick Lesley, in England, bridled at USAID, insinuating attached USAID strings might strangle Hospice! Did they consider us children? Cynic that I became I read into this that the two old ladies hated this “outsider” now offering bigger funding than their own contacts had brought to the table. Currently, and for the next four years at least, this comes to 60% of the total take. Uganda deeply thanks USAID. But Nina was putting a bullet to her head: the better she performed with USAID the worse her fate.

She had her own administrative failings, true, over which the Board (and myself as Chairman) took her to task many times. She was weak in keeping our donors and other helpers in the picture. Also, administratively, she failed to stem fuel theft. These were serious faults.

But I believed then, as now, that, with our help, she was solving them, as with other points the Board raised. Besides, faultless leaders don’t grow on trees. Thus the Board agreed latterly to give her another year, until July 2010, at which time it would decide whether to continue with her or not.

Amazingly, on February 4, 2010, the same Board, but on the day mostly composed of very new members, abruptly decided to terminate Shalita’s employment as Chief Executive Director, accordingly write her a letter, and boot her out, unheard, on Monday, 8th. The two vindictive white women had triumphed.

Appalled at what I called “bloodthirsty” tactics, I resigned on the spot. Why couldn’t we let her serve out her time, given by ourselves? Dr Ekky, five years before, had alluded to Dr Anne’s swinging moods when “she says something in the morning, and something completely different in the afternoon, and denies utterly the earlier statement”.

Would Merriman call this lying if done by a Ugandan; but since she is not, might it just be the outset of something odd that makes her behave in this fashion? I asked her once what Hospice’s international Founder, Dame Cecily Saunders, was like. She responded: “She was a terrible and dreadful woman, regardless that she founded Hospice.”

I can’t do better than turn those same words to sender, Dr Merriman, Founder of Hospice Uganda. There is an interesting coda to Shalita’s dismissal.

When somebody asked Dr Anne who was to be the Acting CED, she, rather than the current Hospice chairman (deservedly nameless) mentioned, of all people, a man given a last warning by the Board for bad behaviour and worse professional performance. He would obviously be putty in her hands. God protect poor Hospice Uganda!

What is going on at Hospice Uganda!

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