Monday, 24 December 2007

Blogging Break

As I'm now back in the UK for Christmas I won't be blogging until I return to Kampala on the 16th January. Merry Christmas everybody!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

One More Day in Kampala

The good folks at Brussels Airline cancelled my flight last night so I am still writing from sunny Kampala, having just eaten my normal lunch of starch and fish. Of course no-one from Brussels thought it would be a good idea to get in touch with their passengers, rather hope that on the off-chance people would double-check with them. Classy service.

Anyway fingers crossed we are now leaving tonight, although I am less optimistic about the connecting flight from Brussels-Gatwick. One upside is that I now have no excuse whatsoever to bring back my riveting diplomacy coursework...

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Guardian Article Online Now...

The following is an extract from an article I've done for The Guardian, which was published online today at:,,2226342,00.html

Hope you take a look...

"Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, may not be the obvious choice for those wishing to pursue postgraduate study away from the UK. On meeting Ugandan students for the first time I invariably get asked, "What are you doing here?"

The idea that someone would turn down a British university to come to Africa is near incomprehensible to those who want to study in the western world. However, I wanted a totally different experience from my undergraduate days at Cambridge and my home city of London. I had been to Uganda before as a volunteer teacher helping to build what has since become a strong sister relationship with my secondary school. I had not visited Makerere, but had heard it spoken of by Ugandan friends with great pride and affection..."

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Mob Justice

I had heard about Ugandans penchant for mob justice but had not seen it firsthand until Sunday night, when a thief was caught in the third floor room of one of the undergraduate students in the block next to mine. Having nowhere to escape the thief jumped from the window and, despite the grass landing, must have broken his ankle, or something similar. Unable to move the students pored out of their rooms, stripped the intruder naked and began thoroughly working him over. Brutal? Yes. And also supported by many intelligent, law-abiding Ugandans who believe that in a country where people work so hard for so little money, any thief deserves vicious punishment. In many cases this results in death but this time the police arrived to haul the criminal away amid mutterings of how he would be out by the morning if his friends came with sufficient cash.

While police corruption may provide an excuse for this behaviour, the practice is clearly wrong. The power that a mob feels is dangerous and volatile. It was this same atmosphere that led to the death of an innocent Asian man earlier in the year, when protests against the selling-off of the ancient Mabira Forest to a sugar tycoon took place in Kampala. Thieves deserve to be punished, but it must be under the jurisdiction of the country's laws and not its mobs.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Why We Need to Hear More Voices Like Archbishop Sentamu's...

In between 'Fight Morning' rounds of Mayweather outclassing Manchester's Ricky Hatton, a heated discussion about Robert Mugabe kicked-off in the common room. Zimbabweans support him as a liberator, the land reforms are a better alternative to South Africa where the white minority retain a stranglehold on the best land, it is the sanctions that are causing the economic damage etc etc. When I pointed out that Zimbabweans were so liberated that half of them have left their own country I felt like a typical armchair pundit that Mugabe would no doubt describe as some kind of 'neo-colonialist'.

That is why returning to my room after Hatton's KO I was delighted to read about the actions of Ugandan-born and Makerere-educated Dr John Sentamu, now the Archbishop of York. He tore into Southern African leaders for failing to criticise a man in charge of a country which is now totally food dependent and has inflation running at over 8,000%. Sentamu made the comparison with West African leaders (eventually) standing up to Charles Taylor of Liberia. The key point he was making though, is that it is far easier for Mugabe to dismiss Western criticism (especially British) than it is for him to ignore other African leaders, who are currently acting as 'sycophantic hero worshipers'. He also argued that if the current situation was happening in a white country it would not have been tolerated for anywhere near this long. While I'm sure that is accurate I think it is more a reflection on the failure of Africa to unite against him and his regime, than it is on global indifference.

The Bishop then chopped his dog collar into pieces and handed them over to Andrew Marr, vowing not to wear one until Mugabe had left office. A dramatic gesture and one that needs to be matched by the actions of Mbeki and Co if Zimbabwe is not to descend further into crisis.

Dag Crew

I have been taking some photos to send off with an article on Makerere that should be in the Guardian this week. They are all in the 'Dag' postgraduate hall and show some of the characters that live and work here. Above are a group of friends from the first floor of the block. Below is Wanda, who lives opposite and is putting out his washing, and Stephen, who is two doors down from me and whose house I stayed in for a wedding he invited me to a few weeks ago. Two down is David and Deo, the former works as a maintenance man in Dag and the latter has a car washing operation outside. Deo is also the fixer who makes sure all football games are on in the common room (most likely to be heard saying: 'that Adebayor is a very fake player') and can sort out anything you might need. Finally at the bottom of the page is the Head Custodian, known simply as 'Chief', who along with the Academic Warden is responsible for the smooth running of the hall.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Ebola and Dr Matthew

"Be on ebola elert, limit no. of handshakes. Wash hands with jik* after mixing with public"

* Industrial strength bleach

This text message, received from a Ugandan friend this morning, sums up the fear that Ebola strikes here after 173 people died in a serious outbreak in 2000. The virus causes hemorrhagic fever and has in the past had very low survival rates once contracted. This time 19 people are confirmed dead and many more infected, mainly in the Western parts of the country near the Congolese border, from where the outbreak is thought to have come. However, this strain is thought to be less deadly. Perversely this may mean the disease spreads more widely, as normally it is thought to kill victims faster than it can spread to new ones. One nurse has caught the disease, sparking memories of modern-day Ugandan hero, Dr. Matthew Lukwiya, who died from Ebola in the process of putting an end to the last bout of cases. James Astill writes about his life in the Observer here:,3604,416866,00.html

If you have a spare ten minutes it is an incredible story of commitment and service to his people. The lessons learnt from his actions will undoubtedly save lives this time round.

Monday, 3 December 2007

19.47 litres of Kampala nightlife

1. Uganda 19.47
2. Luxembourg 17.54
3. Czech Republic 16.21
4. Ireland 14.45
5. Republic of Moldova 13.88

On first glance it's not an easy list to decipher. On what possible scale is Uganda the world's number one - beating European minnows Luxembourg into second place? Well the answer is not entirely a positive one. 19.47 actually refers to the annual litres per capita consumption of pure ethanol in the country. Uganda's position as the world's biggest drinkers is surprising due to the low income of many people, especially in rural areas, but is explained by the World Health Organisation's decision to include locally brewed drinks in their survey. This meant that crude waragi, tonto and the many other drinks that I can't spell which are served up in tiny local bars, pushed Uganda to the top of the list. Unsurprisingly alcoholism is a big problem in parts of the country.

I hesitate to make the link to Kampala's vibrant nightlife, which is more a symptom of the safe, friendly and outgoing nature of the city, rather than excessive alcohol consumption. It is certainly more civilised than a Saturday night in the West End. Indeed, Kampala at night should be one of the tourist board's biggest selling points for the country. Compared, for example, to Nairobi, where tourists take taxis for distances as short as 500m for fear of being robbed, people here can walk around the centre in the knowledge that they are in one of the safest African capitals. And better still they are never far from a cold beer.

Dream Draw!

It's the tie every QPR fan was hoping for - away at arch-rivals Chelsea in the FA Cup third round, scheduled for the first weekend of January. It will be the first time in over ten years that the two sides have played a competitive fixture. We did, though, stuff them 3-1 in a pre-season friendly a few years back, during which Leroy Griffiths (pictured above) made his one and only positive contribution to QPR history when he turned Desailly and smashed in a volley from 30-yards. Sadly that was probably one the fans' best moments since our relegation from the Premiership in 1996. Given our current form I'm not holding out much hope for a repeat...

Sunday, 25 November 2007

CHOGM leaves, Christmas arrives

Normality has returned to Kampala after the whirlwind visit of the Commonwealth Heads of State. Gun-toting Special Police Constables are no longer grouped menacingly on every street corner, the centre is regaining its normal bustle and lecturers have started attending class again (sorry ran away with myself there...). Reporting on the event in the British press focused more on 'Brown escaping trouble' - the summit is arranged 3/4 years in advance - and on the personal stuff - Sarah Brown's curtsy, the Queen's handshake with an HIV positive man etc - than on the summit itself. Given the blandness of the final communiques I can't blame them but there was no need for some of Daily Mail correspondent Benedict Brogan's sweeping judgements of Uganda on his normally excellent blog. One of his gems and my reply:

It is too early to judge what CHOGM might mean for Uganda in the long-term but one hope is that Kampalans will no longer tolerate pot holes and dark, dirty streets. If we can scrub up when the world comes to visit there is no reason why the City Council can't maintain a decent level of order all the time. I get the feeling, however, that cash will be hard to come by after the billions of shillings spent over the last few months and therefore all the good work will slowly unravel.

Totally off-topic, I stopped in at supermarket last night and did a double-take when 'O Come All Ye Faithful' came over the tannoy. Looking around I saw plastic Christmas trees for sale and tinsel appearing in the shops. I'm used to ridiculously early Christmas celebrations from Cambridge, where it was not unusual to be eating mince pies in mid-November, but certainly didn't expect it here.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Queen Arrives as England Fail

The Queen arrived yesterday amid much fanfare. She went to the newly refurbished State House to get her official gun salute and was received by President Museveni. Very rarely for him he looked slightly out of his comfort zone. The common room at 'Dag' was full of people watching the ceremony and apparently the roads down to the airport were lined with well wishers. Most Heads of State are arriving tonight or tomorrow morning in preparation for the official opening of CHOGM.

Last night was, though, an embarrassing time to be English. The Chelsea trio were pathetic and tactically it was surely inept to start with a 4-5-1 given the number of defenders we had out injured. Only QPR-groomed Crouch looked anything like an international class player. Anyway I've just put a tenner on Jose Mourinho...

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Wedding Photos

Bride and groom eating the first of the wedding cake as the bridesmaids look on:

The mother of the groom cuts the graduation cake as we look on in full academic dress:

Preparing to leave for the wedding in the small town of Ishaka. I am with my friend's younger brothers:

Traditional dancers entertain the guests:

CHOGM fever and 'Bring the Noise'

Over the last two days it has really felt like CHOGM has finally arrived in the city. Delegates are swarming all over the city centre while the normal inhabitants have cleared (or have been cleared) out till it's all over. As a mzungu in Kampala everyone automatically assumes you are here for the various forums, which means battling with hugely inflated prices for boda rides and the like. As much as I try to convince them that it is very unlikely CHOGM delegates will be riding round the city on motorbikes, it is impossible to dampen down what has become a frenzy of excitement. The Queen's arrival today is now the only talking point in town and from Thursday onwards the President has declared a public holiday - in part in celebration but also to try and ease the horrific traffic jams that have delayed commuters over the past few days.

Tonight a few of us went to the British Council organised 'Bring the Noise' concert at the main cricket ground. It marked the end of the Youth Forum and brought together artists from across Africa in what is meant to be a celebration of the 200 year anniversary of the 'abolition' of slavery and 50 years of Ghanaian independence (the first African country to dispatch the colonialists). The music was great even if the atmosphere was slightly muted due to a smallish crowd for such a big venue. The 10,000 shillings (~£3) entrance fee was too much for most Ugandans and it was a shame that an event which had the potential to allow delegates to interact with 'Kampala-real', ended up wasting that opportunity.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Ugandan Wedding

I was away on the weekend at a wedding of a friend's nephew in the upcountry district of Bushenyi. The day was long but enjoyable, and as it was also a graduation party I was made to follow the Ugandan tradition of recent graduates attending in full academic dress - mortar board and all (pictures to follow!). This is in part to inspire young children to work hard and try to attain a university place, which in Uganda can be a tough ask due to the high fees. Government sponsored places are ultra-competitive and therefore only the very top A-level performers are eligible.

The wedding itself began in the local church at 2pm and moved to the house of the groom's grandparents for the reception. There were many speeches, including a brief effort from yours truly which was saved by a few words of the local Ryankole language (very similar to the Ritagwenda spoken where I taught in 2004), that seemed to amuse people. The only problem with the day was the born-again Christians who had run off with the key to the shed with all the booze in it! They were determined to keep it a dry wedding but the father of the groom (a relative of the President) was having none of it, so we were soon making trips to the local bottle store to bring back beer and Uganda Waragi. These supplies, combined with a fiery pot of local beer that was been brewed next door, ensured the after-party continued deep into the night.

I was staying with a friend of mine from the post-graduate hall at Makerere. He and his family very hospitably put me up for what was left of the night and got me on a bus back to Kampala the next day. The Commonwealth has now truly descended on the city and thousands of plain clothed special forces are crawling all over the centre. This is because the Ugandan Government does not want gun toting uniformed soldiers standing on street corners to put off the visitors. The soldiers have instead retreated to the suburbs - out of harms way of the delegates but instead annoying the rest of us. Traffic is also even worse than normal, grinding parts of the city to a halt and even disrupting the frequent motorcades that attempt to carve through everyone from the airport.

I will try and put up a daily update until the end of CHOGM on Sunday.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Museveni Sends Them Back

Just a very quick update on the Makerere Chancellor race that I have been covering since the interview process began. The President has refused to choose between his VP and the deputy-head of Social Security, and has asked the governing body to re-open the nominations. He was clearly put in an impossible position and resented the fact that he was being asked to do the job of the panel for them (they were supposed to only send one name forward for simple confirmation). Expect this to drag on but my instinct is that the VP now won't get the post as a less controversial appointment is sought.

Friday, 16 November 2007

We Are Liftoff!

Last night I attended the first of the Commonwealth events that are taking place in Uganda during the lead up to the Heads of Government Meeting next weekend. The event was the opening ceremony of the Youth Forum in Entebbe. This is a week-long workshop in which two delegates from each Commonwealth country come to discuss youth issues. I was sitting with the invited guests but it was interesting to watch the delegates' reactions to the Big Man's speech. One told me it was how he imagined it would be listening to Castro (a bit unfair I thought - although I had heard the exact same speech last week), while the Maltese lady, who had to close the ceremony as the previous host, took the opportunity for a quick snooze. Overall though it was a great event, with the Caribbean delegates easily taking the award for greatest commitment to the after-party...

Pakistan looks set to dominate the news agenda in the run-up to the main event. Don McKinnon, the straight-talking Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat, has already talked about suspending the country and it will be no surprise if some kind of censure is issued next week. A Pakistani journalist I met recently thinks that the situation is being over-hyped by Western media outlets and had some very valid criticisms of Bhutto's constant shifting of her position. In terms of next week, though, I would be very surprised if Musharaff would be prepared to risk leaving the country anyway.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Meeting the Big Man

On Tuesday I went to a Youth Forum organised by a friend, at the plush Hotel Africana in Kampala. The forum was designed to act as a precursor to the Commonwealth youth activities later in the month. The highlight of the day was a speech given by HE the President Museveni, which lasted close to 3 hours and covered a vast number of issues. I have heard M7 (as the press refer to him) speak before but it has always been in vernacular or at big outdoor rallies where it is hard to hear. This time we could get everything he said perfectly and it was fascinating.

Perhaps the issue which agitated him most was that of democratic reform. In response to a complaint from a young opposition activist he told her that he wouldn't be taking 'any lectures on democracy' and advised her to avoid 'being like the Jews'. 'The Messiah of democracy has already come to Uganda' he argued, proclaiming the Ugandan constitution 'the most democratic in the world'. He is right in one sense that everything a fully functioning democracy would want is written down, however it is actions that count and if last year's Presidential election is anything to go by (in which the main opposition candidate was falsely accused of treason and rape) Uganda still has quite a way to go.

Museveni has undoubtedly done a lot of good for the country though, and as most Ugandans outside of the capital are still thankful to him for restoring security (their number one priority), he is unlikely to be off anytime soon. I have listed a few more of his quotes and paraphrased some of his ideas below. As the title of this blog suggests I also got to shake his hand at the end. As one of the only two bazungu in the whole hall I must have stood out and I think he was quite bemused to see us there, asking where we were from and what we were doing in his country.

- 'Tear gas is good for trouble makers and remember it is non-lethal'

- 'Love at first sight is a Western invention which is unscientific and dangerous - always do background checks!'

- 'Anyone who tells you that circumcision can solve the HIV/AIDS crisis is talking nonsense' (on recent discoveries that circumcision can cut infection rates)

- 'Anyone who blocks the path of industrialisation is an enemy of progress' (on environmentalists trying to save an ancient forest from sugar producers)

- 'The Commonwealth is in name only, as the wealth is clearly not common to all its members'

- 'Africans still don't know how to be free, slavery and colonisation may be over but its legacy continues'

- 'The world has islands of modernity surrounded by seas of backwardness, don't be fooled by the term 'developing country' - we are backward countries'

- 'Privately owned business is more efficient and less corrupt' (on who will be responsible for extracting Uganda's newly found oil reserves)

Wednesday, 7 November 2007


I haven't done a news round-up for a couple of weeks but since there has been a lot going on recently here goes...
  • The Lords Resistance Army (LRA) negotiators have been in town this week in an effort to kick life into the Juba peace talks, aimed at bringing a lasting end to the war in Northern Uganda. One of the key unresolved issues is what to do with the LRA leaders if peace is agreed. Joseph Kony and his four top commanders all have International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants hanging over them and are refusing to leave the 'bush' until these are lifted. However, the Ugandan Government cannot unilaterally do this and regardless it is clear that some sort of trial is necessary. It is inconceivable that Kony and Co will avoid justice for the horrific crimes of the LRA, which include murder (some would say genocide), child abduction, mutilation, rape and looting.

  • President Museveni has heaped scorn on the inaugural Mo Ibrahim award for African leadership, which gave former Mozambique premier Joaquim Chissano a $5 million prize last week. "If you are used to poor leaders, I am not one of them" he told us, arguing that he doesn't need to be 'bribed' to retire and therefore fulfill one of the criteria of the award. In other news the 'Museveni for a Fourth Term' campaign is now up and running...

  • CHOGM preparations continue to disrupt (sorry improve) the streets of Kampala. The Queen is certainly the guest most people are looking forward to seeing, although I expect the vast majority will be disappointed. Let's hope Prince Phillip is on form too.

  • And finally Maureen, Uganda's entry on Big Brother Africa, was evicted last week, leaving three remaining housemates to battle it out for the $100,000 prize. She was met at Entebbe airport by huge crowds, which prompted the Minister for Ethics to tell Ugandans to get back to work and stop wasting their time on frivolous so-called celebrities. I'm just happy that the monopoly on the common room TV can now be broken.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Makerere on Strike

This morning academic staff at Makerere are rumoured to have gone on strike due to the lack of water on campus (in our hall of residence there has been nothing since Saturday). I suppose it was only a matter of time considering Makerere's track-record of striking at virtually any opportunity, however flowing water is not the issue I expected would set things off. My guess is this strike is actually over a culmination of non-payment of bills by the university that has seen power, internet, water and wages all being delivered in 'sporadic' form over the last few weeks. This came after the new 2 billion shilling perimeter fence was washed away by a storm because the construction company used too little cement (i.e. skimmed off the top). A serious shake-up in the financial administraton is needed, and fast.

Thursday, 1 November 2007


Boda-Boda drivers are one of the most distinctive features of Kampala, despised by most motorists but critical to the transport network of the city. The best way to describe them is as 'motorcycle taxis', which sit waiting on nearly every street corner ready to whisk passengers to all corners of the city. Prices are cheap and negotiable, ranging from 500 shillings (~15p) for a ride anywhere on campus to 1500 into the centre of town. They are quick (being able to weave in and out of the traffic) and easy to find, but can be just a little bit scary at times. In their wisdom the Ugandan Government introduced a helmet rule for drivers (not passengers) but it is very poorly enforced and thus rarely followed.

Selecting which bike to take you is an art in itself. First you need to make sure you avoid the older models that struggle up hills and frequently break down at the most inconvenient moments. Then the driver has to be assessed - does he look responsible? does he have tale-tale waragi red eyes from the night before? does he actually have any idea where you are telling him to go to? Once you have picked the right Boda and the price has been confirmed you are off...

The drivers are the London cabbie equivalent of Kampala, which normally makes the journey more interesting, even if I would prefer them to focus all their concentration on the roads. In normally broken English they will fill you in on the gossip around town, their thoughts on the Queen's visit and quiz you on the best way to get a white girlfriend. Despite their downsides Kampala would be a much more boring (and slow) place without them.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

100% Record

For the second time in three weeks the Ugandan branch of the QPR supporters' association were treated to a 1-0 victory live on TV. The Hoops were great today and fully deserved to beat a very poor Charlton side (see Danny Mills looking happy above). If Flavio is informed of this good luck omen maybe he can pay for every QPR game to be screened in Kampala...?

Thursday, 25 October 2007

CHOGM Disruption

It seems that everything that goes wrong in Kampala at the moment is blamed on the forthcoming Commonwealth Conference, to be held here next month. Hence the lack of internet on campus for the past three weeks is blamed on the need to patch-up our roads in case any delegates happen to wander in to the university. My visa application is also on hold due to 'CHOGM backlog' (more reasonable I suppose than my first grumble). I have written before about the hype the conference is getting but I am becoming increasingly sceptical about its ability to give a long-term boost to Uganda. As a friend of mine recently pointed out, can anyone remember where the last CHOGM was held?

The World Cup final on Saturday drew a huge expat crowd to 'Just Kicking', the main rugby showing sports bar. English were outnumbered 3-1 by South Africans but it was still a great atmosphere and one of those occasions here when you have to remind yourself that you're in the middle of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Another expat dominated event was the play I went to see on Friday at the National Theatre, titled End of an Error. It was, however, a rather unwelcome domination as several white actors had 'blacked up' for their parts, something that seemed totally unnecessary (to put it kindly) and smacked of laziness on behalf of the producers for not finding local actors to play the roles. The theme of the play, how land transferred from colonial owners back to Africans in the post-independent period, was interesting, if a little worthy. I just hope that next time they don't feel obliged to reach so readily for the make-up box.

Monday, 22 October 2007

News Round-Up

  • The death of reggae star Lucky Dube, in a botched hijacking attempt in Johannesburg, has really affected people here. A peace-loving musician who campaigned against racism, he had an immense following throughout Africa and was mobbed every time he visited Uganda. He was due here in a couple of months for another tour and will be sadly missed.
  • The Government has dropped plans to giveaway part of the ancient Mabira Forest to commercial sugarcane producers. The 'Save Mabira' movement has regularly protested at the move and the decision represents a victory for environmentalists here.
  • Brazilian President, Lula Da Silva, has called on African countries to develop their own lending and financing institutions to escape the clutches of the World Bank and IMF. He argued these 'rich nation' bodies do nothing for developing countries and hinder attempts to gain economic independence.
  • The large number of boat accidents on Lake Albert has been explained by the discovery of British deployed metal spikes, positioned to repel attacks from Belgian run Congo during the 'Scramble for Africa'. Over 1000 people have died on Lake Albert since 1997.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Registered...At Last

The issuing of an ID card may not seem a particularly extraordinary event at any university but after 45 visits to 14 different offices, upwards of 50 photocopies, 12 different forms, 7 stamps, 1 name change and several million shillings, it marks for me the day I became an officially recognised student at Makerere. That is not to say that I deliberately scowled into the camera out of protest at the mindless bureaucracy, merely that smiling in photos is frowned upon in Uganda and the ID issuer refused any attempt on my behalf to look less like a mass murderer.

The main sports bar in Kampala, which is always packed full of expats supporting their teams, was a sombre place last night after England's capitulation in Moscow. Like Uganda we are left relying on other teams to ensure qualification, unlike Uganda we don't deserve any better, despite the clearly incorrect penalty decision. Let's hope Saturday sees a more spirited England performance in a final that will bring together the two largest expatriate communities in Kampala. Kicking-off at 10pm local time it is bound to be an interesting night.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Dag Hammarskjold

Dag Hammarskjold is the name of the postgraduate hall of residence where I have my room. He was the second UN Secretary-General and died in suspicious circumstances over what is now modern day Zambia. Recent discoveries suggest that MI5 and the CIA were almost certainly involved but the motive behind the killing remains unclear. Anyway why Makerere decided to name the hall after him I cannot tell you but the photo below shows the view from my balcony/corridor (it's not as prison-like as it looks like!) . The community here have been exceptionally welcoming and aside from one or two small incidents it has been an ideal place to live in terms of convenience and settling in.

Now I've found a system for uploading photos more easily onto this site I will aim to get far more for you to look at in the coming weeks.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Hippos in the Night

If there is one fact that people know about African wildlife, it is that the hippopotamus kills more people per year than any other animal. Surprising when you consider that for the vast majority of the time they are not unlike semi-aquatic cows, basking in fresh water sources for hours on end doing very little. However, hippos are territorial and highly protective of their young, thus having a tendency to charge anything that gets in their way. You can imagine, therefore, the not inconsiderate panic that I felt when one of these creatures, after spotting the torch light, started buffeting the tent I was sleeping in on Saturday night. Fortunately it soon got bored and took its one and a half tonne frame somewhere else.

Murchison Falls NP was one of Uganda's key tourist attraction until the rebel group, the LRA, began operating in the area but they have since moved on and visitor numbers are on the rise. The waterfall that the park takes its name from is incredibly powerful, squeezing the entire infant Nile into a ten-metre wide gorge. Although animal density is nowhere near the levels of, for example, the Masai Mara, now it is being protected properly (we saw three poachers being arrested on Saturday) there is every chance it will increase.

On Saturday evening, after a 'gift' of three bottles of Nile Special, our driver took us to the workshop of the Ugandan Wildlife Authority where they have satellite TV set-up. After a bit more persuasion we managed to get the rugby on to see England scrape past France, although I don't think the sport ever has a chance of being as popular as football here. George, the chief engineer of the UWA, is himself named after Best, has a brother called Bobby (after Charlton) and has gone even further in naming his first two children Terry and Lampard respectively (nb. not John and Frank). I somehow doubt these these Premiership stars have any idea of the dedication they attract here.

Having been away I will not do a news round-up this week, suffice to say that the tension between the leading political factions in Northern and Southern Sudan continues to dominate the headlines here.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Weekend Away

From tomorrow I will be away from Kampala (and the Internet) for several days at the Murchison Falls National Park, in the North-West of the country. The Nile runs through the park and, according to the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, 'explodes violently through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley escarpment to plunge into a frothing pool 43m below'. Sounds exciting.

Yesterday I attended the launch of the Millennium Development Goals Progress Report for Uganda. It is striking how far so many of the goals are from being reached by the target date of 2015, not that Uganda are by any means doing badly compared to other Sub-Saharan African countries, particularly on HIV rates. It seems the most difficulty here is in cutting infant mortality rates and reducing the number of mothers dying during childbirth. The latter is a reflection on the fact that the majority of births here do not take place with a trained health professional present. My first thought was of the number of Ugandan nurses working in the UK...

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

45th Indepedence Day

Today is the 45th anniversary of Ugandan independence from the U.K. The President was in attendance for a military parade in Kololo, an upmarket suburb of Kampala. It featured a troop of North Korean trained martial arts specialists who have been detailed with protecting dignitaries at the upcoming CHOGM. We also had a 90 minute speech from the President himself, which due to a failing sound system sent most of the crowd to sleep (but i'm reliably informed he argued for Uganda to take the Japanese road of development...).

Monday, 8 October 2007

QPR live on Super Sport 3...

Unbelievably the Championship game between QPR (24th) and Norwich (22nd) is live on TV in Uganda tonight. I have had to spend the day lobbying to ensure Big Brother Africa is switched off for a couple of hours but I think I've succeeded. Besides what could be more exciting than a traditional English second tier dogfight?

Come on you R'rrrrrssss!

News Round-Up

  • The President today opened Uganda's first pharmaceutical plant designed to produce generic ARVs at the rate of 2 million pills per day. This has the potential to drastically cut the cost of HIV drugs in the country.

  • The polythene plastic bags known locally as 'buveera' (cheap and flimsy) have been banned in order to try and cut the pollution they cause. Although this seems like a forward-thinking law many market traders have vowed to continue using the bags, arguing they cannot afford to distribute anything more costly.

  • Kenyan Presidential candidate Raila Odinga visited Makerere to rally Kenyan students around his Orange Democratic Movement. He has recently taken an opinion poll lead over the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, who is increasingly seen as an out-of-touch establishment figure.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Angry Students

Makerere University is having a rough week. After the burning down of a warden's office over the pace of renovation in one of the halls, there were further student protests yesterday around campus. These focused on the total blackout on Thursday which saw classes (including ours) ending early. The rumour is that the university has effectively run out of cash and cannot afford to keep paying its power bill. Further to that the internet service has also collapsed, again rumoured to be due to missed payments.

This all came after over 100 students were expelled earlier in the week for producing false academic papers in order to complete their registration and 7000 undergraduates were revealed to have not paid any part of their fees yet. There clearly needs to be a shake-up in the administration of the university and many people are pinning their hopes on the new Chancellor to sort out some of this mess.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Frustrating Days

One of the things you have to get used to here is having days when nothing seems to go right and the endless bureaucracy thwarts you at every turn. In my case I am in the second of 'one of those days'. Yesterday, aside from the water being off, the internet being down and getting very little sleep due to a huge middle of the night argument between the on duty warden and an 'unauthorised guest', it was the library system that got to me.

I was looking for a book in order to begin a piece of coursework of which, according to the online catalogue (I think I must be the only user on campus), there were four copies in two different libraries. The social sciences librarian keeps his entire stock memorised in his head so looked very confused when I quoted him a classmark. He did, however, know the book by title and while it was out at the moment he promised to reserve it for me. Next stop the main university library where I was quickly dismissed for having the temerity to ask for a book during the lunch hours (it was 12 o'clock). I decided to console myself by picking up my post (sorry the letter must have been lost), collecting my ID card (not yet arrived from Germany), applying for my Visa extension (where is your letter from the Dean of students?) and eventually returning to the social sciences library (still no sign of it, come back tomorrow). That will teach me to try and do more than one piece of admin per day...

Anyway 'rant over' as surprisingly much more important things are happening in Kampala than my quest for library books. Makerere students have burnt down the warden's office in one of the undergraduate halls of residence in protest at the refusal to allow them to privately fundraise for renovations to dormitories. Indeed, upkeep of Makerere has become a major political issue since a boundary fence costing 2 billion shillings (just over half a million pounds) was washed away during a rainstorm. The Government run daily, New Vision, is asking in its editorial today why the 'Harvard of Africa' (optimistic) has been starved of funds, and urges the Government to consider a tax rebate rather than forcing the University to hike its fees. Let's hope a resolution is reached soon before anything else is burned down!

Sunday, 30 September 2007

News Round-Up

  • Clashes have continued on the water of Lake Albert, which straddles the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. These have escalated since large oil deposits were found under the lake. For obvious reasons this re-ignited the long-standing feud over where the border lies. The UN presence on the lake is clearly insufficient and despite apparently successful bilateral talks between respective Presidents Kabila and Museveni, the tension has not abated.

  • Statistics revealed that 25,000 babies are born with HIV in Uganda every year. In many ways this is one of the most disturbing facts of the crisis for two reasons. First, there is the obvious difference between someone contracting HIV through sexual activity and one born with it. There is something heartbreaking about a totally innocent baby been born with such an awful disease. Secondly, there are many ways in which the risk of mother-child transmission can be drastically reduced (a dose of Nevirapine during labour, Caesarean delivery and abstaining from breast feeding are all known techniques for reducing the risk, if far from eliminating it). However these all rely on the mother knowing she is HIV-positive (by no means a given) and on the funds being available to provide drugs, milk formula etc. Surely this is one area where the collective conscience of the West, who have the power to help, can not stand by and watch.

  • The press has had a mixed reaction to Gordon Brown's boycott threat over Mugabe's attendance at the Lisbon summit. While some commentators have praised him for his attempts to isolate the regime there have also been many voices praising Mugabe for his refusal to bow to Western pressure. In general I think there has been a failure on behalf of Western leaders to understand why some Africans (especially in the South) have such difficulty openly condemning Mugabe. He is still a figure of anti-colonial resistance and even the disastrous land reforms have earned him kudos. In some ways I think that the sanctions on the country are giving him an excuse for the terrible economic conditions that he presides over. I don't pretend to know the answers but the current tactics are not working either to undermine Mugabe or to help the Zimbabwean people.

  • Prime Minister Nsibambi officially retired from the Chancellorship of Makerere after the final graduation ceremony of the season on Friday. All eyes are now on State House to reveal which of the two candidates forwarded by the University Council will be appointed.

Quick Update

It has been a fairly quiet few days on campus, aside from a leaving party for a group of Norwegian medics on Thursday night which was very lively. It seems that there is always a welcoming/leaving meal for medical students from various European countries who come to work at Mulago Hospital for ten weeks as part of their 'elective'. There are two designated houses for them on campus and they all seem to enjoy the level of work they are able to undertake at Mulago, which is far above what they would be allowed to do in Europe.

Other than that I have been to football training everyday as there have been no lectures. We have a game on Tuesday which I hope to be involved in but unfortunately I have to miss the last session tomorrow. There has also been a novelty this weekend in that power and water have stayed on throughout. Maybe Uganda really is 'ready for CHOGM'...

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

5-day Weekend and Miss Uganda

With the lecturer unable to make class tonight and graduation ceremonies taking up Thursday and Friday, we now have a 5-day weekend to make the most of. I have some job/internship applications pending so I hope to make some progress on them. Anna left on Sunday so it has been back to the campus routine, far less interesting than visiting high-profile political offices!

On Monday a friend of mine introduced me to Miss Uganda 2007, who is a student at Makerere. Unfortunately she did nothing for the beauty queen stereotype by subsequently crashing her brand new car (the prize she won) into a pedestrian, who she then had to pay not to go to the police. Beauty contests are taken very seriously here and during the competition the press was full of allegations that her mother had bribed the judges. I think I better not pass comment as to whether she deserved it or not...

Have just finished the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie novel 'Half of a Yellow Sun' based on events during the Nigerian civil war and the attempts to create a Biafran state. The descriptions of how life continues under siege and the effect crumbling hope has on personal relationships, are particularly powerful. It is still very evident here that Ugandans know all too well the brutal way in which civil war can tear apart communities, and how determined they are to avoid it ever happening again.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Headlines - Weekly Round-Up

  • The floods in Eastern and Northern Uganda are showing no signs of abating and the forecast is for more heavy rain in those areas in the coming weeks. The President has declared a state of emergency which allows for rapid international help. Many of the people worst affected are in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps that are dotted around the North after years of instability. Cruelly some of the people who had recently left the camps after hopeful peace talks have been forced back due to the rains. If you want to make a donation to the relief effort then the Red Cross website should help:

  • There have been accusations of assault, rape and even a murder against Ugandans doing business in Juba, the capital of potentially the world's next independent country, South Sudan. Ugandans are very angry at the stories as they see themselves as one of the biggest supporters of independence for their neighbours during the South's long battle for secession from Khartoum.

  • Close to 7,000 undergraduates have failed to 'register' at Makerere before the deadline. Given my experience of the endless form filling, rubber stamp collecting and document photocopying that the process entails I'm surprised anyone has managed at all.

  • According to the UN and World Bank an estimated $148 billion is stolen by African leaders each year, totalling a quarter of the gross domestic product of African states. Most of this money is being kept overseas and the aim of the announcement was to launch the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (SAR). This scheme will attempt to enable developing nations to claw back some of the funds misappropriated by former rulers, which is a noble aim but will be difficult to get past the Swiss bankers.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Chantily Quintet

A German Quintet visited Kampala last night, playing to a 'who's who' of the well-heeled Ugandan and expatriate communities at the plush Serena Hotel. It would be fair to say classical music has a niche market in Kampala, lagging far behind reggae, gospel, local hip-hop and American rap in terms of popularity. Indeed many of the audience were clearly there to 'be seen' and seemed far more interested in the waiter service that ensured drinks flowed freely throughout the recital. That and the Ugandan propensity to not only keep phones switched on at all times (lectures, meetings and concerts not withstanding) but also to answer them, meant it was difficult to listen properly but to my untrained ear they seemed very good. That said a new piece based on animal noises was excruciating and seemed like a rather cack-handed idea to make the concert seem 'African'.

I recently made a trip to the United Nations Volunteer Office in Kampala, but the process of putting your name forward appears long-winded in the extreme. There is a lengthy form to fill in, which needs to be sent to the processing centre along with two sealed references. That would seem reasonable but the centre is in Cyprus and even if accepted you only join a roster of approved candidates. From there you must wait until the Uganda office submits a request for a volunteer fitting your description. Even then they may ask you to work anywhere in the country, not taking into account those of us who are already settled in a particular area. While it would be a great opportunity to get one of these placements I'm not sure it justifies the time and expense of the application procedure for what remains a voluntary position.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Deputy PM and Makerere's Electricity Bill

On Wednesday we visited the office of the Prime Minister, supposedly to arrange a meeting with an ex-Minister who had served under Amin and subsequently published a book on the period surrounding the coup. As often happens here things take you by surprise and within ten minutes we were sitting opposite the Deputy PM, a man called Kirunda-Kivejinja, who has been at the forefront of Ugandan politics for over forty years. Considerably more articulate than Prezza (damning with faint praise?) and with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Uganda's history, he was a very interesting man to talk to and clearly pinned much of the blame for Amin's rise on the British and Israelis. He finished with a schoolmasterly "now I hope you have learnt the mistakes of your ancestors so they will not be repeated in the future".

Makerere University's electricity bill has been on the front pages of the newspapers this week with senior figures apparently launching a crackdown on 'illegal appliances' like computers, fridges, kettles and other such sinister gadgets. The report goes that only small radios are allowed in student rooms and anyone who wishes to live in 'more comfortable surroundings' should pay up the difference. The postgraduate students are particularly unhappy about this development but short of an electrical appliance witch hunt I can't see any practical way this can be enforced.

Water shortages in the city continue due to CHOGM works disrupting the pipe network. There has been no running water for nearly a week in my hall and residents are becoming irate, not to mention the body odour side effects that have come with the loss of showers. Let's hope they mend the system in time for us all to smell of roses for Her Majesty...

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Trip to Parliment

Yesterday we visited the Ugandan Parliament for a meeting with the Commissioner of Parliament and M.P for Kabula County, James Kakooza. He is a very affable politician and gave us a long interview on the events surrounding the coup of Idi Amin in 1971. He was also one of the key architects of 'Kisanja', the programme to secure President Museveni a third term and as such is very well connected within Government. Today we are hoping to meet Henry Nyemba, a Minister under Amin who fled to London when the extremes of the regime got too much and published 'A State of Blood' (a comprehensive account of Amin's early years) in exile.

The Parliament building, like all public offices, is receiving its 'CHOGM' makeover at the moment but still stands impressively dominant in the heart of Kampala. The meeting was set up by a good friend of mine in the postgraduate hall who used to work for the governing National Resistance Movement Party but is now on a two-year study leave. He is well-known around Parliament and was greeted by everybody including the Chief Whip and the Foreign Minister, whom with we shared a lift. It is amusing watching student politicians with aspirations in the party desperately trying to cosy up to him in the canteen or common room. He is firmly 'on a break' though so I think they are destined to be disappointed.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Headlines Round-Up

  • The floods in the North and East of the country have dominated the papers over the weekend. Although not as bad here as in parts of West Africa and Ethiopia, people here have lost their lives and many roads have been closed. On top of that an estimated 400,000 subsistence farmers have lost their crops. The Government has been criticised for its slow response. Kampala, though, continues as normal.

  • Makerere University staff are revealed as the biggest PAYE taxpayers to the treasury, much to the amusement of the more cynical lecturers. There are still serious problems with the countries tax base as a whole. 83% of the take comes from just 1,000 companies and tax avoidance is very high.

  • The debate over rights for homosexuals continues to rage. This is the single biggest social issue in Uganda at the moment and fills the letters' pages everyday (e.g. "Legalising homos is like endorsing adultery or murder, Tom Mutete, Kampala"). On the whole there are very few people prepared to defend homosexuals and politicians have jumped on the bandwagon. I don't want to paint Uganda as an intolerant or unwelcoming country because that would be unfair, but on this issue there has been a lack of any constructive comment from political or religious leaders. I'm sure with time attitudes will moderate but at present external pressure from groups like Human Rights Watch ( have only served to harden opinion that homosexuality is an 'alien' concept to Uganda and should be resisted. I'm going to have a think about this issue and blog on it properly later in the month.

  • Pork and alcohol sales have allegedly fallen in Kampala as Ramadan gets underway and followers curb their indulgences.

Saturday, 15 September 2007


Just back from the sports ground of Makerere University Business School where we we supposed to have played out first league game of the season against another University side. However having arrived at 9.30 for a ten o'clock start we waited for over an hour and a half for the other team to turn up. There was then a protracted argument about whether they should forfeit the match and by the time an agreement had been reached the referees had disappeared. I was in the 18 man squad and although I would have started on the bench it is still frustrating not to play. Having said that the whole saga was, unfortunately, not surprising in the slightest.

There is another game next week but having missed some lectures to make training for this one I don't think I will do the same again. I have been busy buying cooking equipment as eating 'out' for every meal has become a bit tedious. Also an Italian shop has opened round the corner that sells lots of decent stuff I could easily cook and although more pricey than eating in the canteen it will be good to have some choice over what and when I eat.

Anna arrived yesterday from Nairobi so we are off to see a film tonight. I have been trying to fix up some meetings with people who will help on her dissertation topic and they will hopefully start on Monday. Will prove a good excuse to get a look inside Parliament too!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

'We're Ready for CHOGM!'...and other news

All around Kampala Saatchi & Saatchi designed billboards have gone up of various 'celebrities' declaring they are ready for the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November. The ad campaign has been widely derided for its choice of faces to represent Uganda, including Gaetano (had sex on Big Brother Africa), Ragga Dee (a local pop star) and bizarrely Rio Ferdinand (spent one night in Uganda's plushest hotel when opening a soccer school). It has been quite fairly argued that these individuals may not accurately represent Ugandans or create the type of image that foreign Heads of State will appreciate.

Nevertheless the city is in the process of getting a makeover. Pavements are being repaired, pot holes filled in and flowers planted everywhere. Hotel staff have been sent on service training courses and every small business is desperately trying to get in on the CHOGM boom. It will be the biggest international event Uganda has ever hosted (and of course the Queen will be here) so I can understand why people are so excited. I just hope all this effort and money proves worth it in the long-term.

Otherwise things are continuing as usual on campus. Lectures and classes are interesting, although finding books on the reading list is not easy. I am still working out what exactly is expected but I’m sure the first assignments will shed some light on that. My room is becoming slowly more personalised, I've joined the local DVD rental club (the sort of place where you don't inquire too closely about copyright law) and am still looking for a day job. Tonight I have football training and then off to watch the England game at the Irish pub.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Update: Shock Result in S.A

Zambia have shocked everyone and beaten South Africa 3-1 in Cape Town to leave Uganda in a very precarious position with regards to qualification. The common room was full of conspiracy theories at such a freak result and everyone is feeling deflated after the elation of yesterday. With one runners-up slot left attention now turns to the Sierra Leone v Benin match, which doesn't take place until October 14th. If Benin win Uganda will miss out. The Leone Stars are about to get a new fanatical supporters' branch.

Oyee! Oyee! Uganda Cranes Oyee!

Uganda are now within touching distant of a place at Ghana '08 after beating Niger 3-1 at the Mandela National Stadium yesterday. Over 40000 people made the trip and the vast numbers of traders outside the ground ensured everyone was well equipped with team shirts, flags, whistles, hats, face paint and horns (I will try and get some photos up tomorrow). The match itself began in a surreal manner with Uganda awarded a soft penalty by the Zimbabwean referee in the first minute, which David Obua from Kaizer Chiefs converted. My first thought was that the game has been rigged, especially as the slow tempo felt more like a friendly game. However, an equaliser just before half-time silenced the crowd and it was not until the 75th minute that Uganda went back in front, Obua heading home for his second. The star man then completed his hat-trick with a superb free-kick.

Uganda should have won by more, a fact they may live to regret as qualification will almost certainly come down to goal difference. This was a fact not lost on the many MP's watching the game, with the tannoy announcer periodically telling the crowd during the game that 'so and so MP from Kampala has offered 500,000 shillings to the next goalscorer', as if the players would try that extra little bit harder! We also had the sight of Uganda's biggest tycoon, Michael Ezra, regally sitting on the running track between the stands and the pitch, surrounded by 15 white tracksuit clad bodyguards, one of which held a large parasol over him for the entirety. I imagine Obua will be receiving a large gift from him. The President will also give a reception to the team today.

The journey back into town last night was incredible. With the roads totally gridlocked and everyone dancing and singing on the pavements it was like a carnival. To get back in town in time for the England game, my Canadian friend and I took a 'boda-boda' (motorcycle taxi) which must have been a very amusing sight for the locals - two six foot plus mzungu (white men) dressed in Ugandan shirts weaving through the traffic at high speed. We were helped though by inadvertently joining the parliamentary speaker's motorcade, his driver on the other hand being less than impressed that a boda-boda was getting between him and the police outriders. In town the party atmosphere continued and I expect Kampala was suffering from a collective hangover more serious than usual this morning. It is richly deserved.

P.S. I should add that the title of this post is a popular football song. The national team takes the nickname 'Cranes' from the large, stork-like birds that inhabit the capital.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Sarkozy and the Big Match

I have not yet commented on French President Sarkozy's speech on Africa last week, delivered in Dakar. It included this particularly patronising paragraph:

"The African peasant, who for thousands of years has lived according to the seasons, whose life ideal was to be in harmony with nature, only knew the eternal renewal of time ... In this imaginary world, where everything starts over and over again, there is room neither for human endeavour, nor for the idea of progress"

Sarkozy's description, apart from being historically inaccurate and bordering on racist, is totally unhelpful in the current climate. It reeks of the former colonial master justifying their involvement in Africa as a civilising mission, to help these poor, backward people 'progress' towards some undefined end. Let's also hope it was his desire to shock, and not out of a genuine belief, that he purported to summarise a continent of 53 countries and 900 million people as never having 'entered history'. As an analysis from the President of a major world power (sorry I meant France) it was not only personally offensive to many Africans, but was also politically mistaken. He had a chance to recast France's relationship with Africa on more equal terms but I fear that opportunity may now have been lost.

In Kampala tension continues to build ahead of Saturday's game between Uganda and Niger. Everyone is talking about it and I wouldn't be surprised if the complex qualification scenarios have significantly raised the nation's mathematical IQ. Star player David Obua, who plays for Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa, has been involved in typical club v country battle but has promised to fly in tonight, much to the relief of coach Csaba. Radio stations are urging anybody who can to make sure they go to the stadium so I expect it will be quite an atmosphere.

Call to Arms

Those of you who read my post on the Makerere Chancellorship will be well aware of the political slant the race for this position has taken. Now it is threatening to get nasty. Student leaders are calling for a 'strike' in favour of the current Vice-President, who it is assumed would have won the post if the University Council had taken a vote, rather than forwarding two candidates to the President for him to decide.

This rather innocuous sounding 'strike' is nothing of the sort that we would associate with Bob Crow. Newspapers are reporting that students are prepared to stage a 'massive and if necessary violent' riot in support of the VP. Indeed the pro-VP students are allegedly stockpiling empty soda bottles, mineral water and stones in preparation (not the most fearsome list), and have asked all demonstrators to bring a spare t-shirt in order to cover their faces in the event of tear gas. On the other side, the backers of the alternative candidate have vowed to match any protest with equally large demonstrations of support for their man.

I should mention at this point that these rumours stem mainly from the Ugandan equivalent of The Sun, 'Red Pepper', but even so it should make for an interesting next few days.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Weekend 'Upcountry'

Last night I got back from a long weekend in Western Uganda, staying with the Kamasaka family with whom Tom, Billy and I lived for four months in 2004 while we were teaching at Equatorial College School (which is now the sister of our old school, U.C.S). ECS, as it is known, has benefited greatly from fund-raising from various UK sources (and of course good management) and has changed greatly since we were there. There is now a library, IT room, large multi-purpose hall, running water, reliable power through solar panels and a large generator, and two laboratories are just a couple of weeks away from completion. Exam results are also now among the best in the district. It just shows how much benefit a direct and personal link can be, one that doesn't have to deal with the bureaucracy and skimming of Governments and NGOs.

It was lovely to meet old friends again and to spend time with the Kamasaka family. It always such a friendly, welcoming and generous place to visit. I'd also forgotten how stunning rural Uganda is and while I wont attempt a Kapuściński-esque description of the banana plantations and deep-red earth, suffice to say it like nothing we have in the UK.

The rainy season has decided to come early this year so every afternoon we are treated to an hour of torrential downpour, during which the streets clear, the paths churn up and the shoe-shiners give thanks for the business they know they are about to receive. Or at least that is what has traditionally happened but many Ugandans are increasingly worried by 'drizzle', the type of moral sapping drip-drip rain that characterises London winters. Apparently it is becoming more common and is confusing what has always been a very typical Equatorial climate. If only i'd paid more attention to physical geography...

Tuesday, 4 September 2007


I was away all weekend so couldn't round-up the headlines in Uganda as I'm intending to do every Sunday. I hope this brief weekly summary will give people an idea of what kind of issues are dominating Ugandan news.

- An American Priest from Virginia has been consecrated as a Bishop by the Anglican Church of Uganda. This means 33 parishes in the US will now by under the Church of Uganda's authority, apparently to 'recapture the priority of evangelism' but in reality as a protest at the consecration of the openly gay Gene Robinson by the US Episcopal Church four years ago.

- Trouble again flared in Eastern Congo where a Tutsi warlord has declared a 'state of war' after accusing the Congolese government of working with Rwandan Hutu rebels to attack his forces.

- 75 Ugandan soldiers and family members were killed in a huge road accident, sparking debate over the professionalism or otherwise of the UPDF (Uganda People's Defence Force).

- In sport, Moses Kipsiro's bronze in the 5000m, ensuring the country's only medal from Osaka, narrowly squeezed out Ronaldo and Co's extra-curricular activities from the back pages.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Makerere Chancellorship (Ugandan Presidency) Race

Following the decision of the current Prime Minister, Prof. Apollo Nsibambi, not to renew his contract as Chancellor of Makerere an intriguing selection process has taken place. Of course the position is largely ceremonial but that has not stopped a bitter fight breaking out between the two leading candidates, a fight that is closely inter-twined with what is known here as National Resistance Movement (the governing party), 'succession politics'. This is the manoeuvring by senior figures in the NRM to try and gain prime position to take over from President Museveni when he decides to retire.

Vice-President Prof. Bukenya (see picture above) was initially excluded from the Chancellorship race as he was deemed 'part of the President's office', and as the President has the final say on the appointment this was seen as unfair. However, his supporters, backed by the Attorney General, had him reinstated in the process, blaming a 'mafia' of senior NRM officials who did not want Bukenya to have the publicity boost and kudos that would come with the position. Essentially they were trying to prevent Bukenya building up his power base for a tilt at the Presidency. Having been reinstated the interview panel then selected him as one of the two candidates to be put forward to a vote by University Council, the other being Prof. Kagonyera, a Vet backed by the Security Minister.

Yesterday evening, however, the University Council failed to even reach a vote and thus the two names will go forward to the President for a final decision, without a recommendation from the council one way or the other. This leaves the President in a position whereby he either has to effectively give a vote of no confidence in his own Vice or risk giving one of his potential challengers a significant boost and angering several senior ministers who have backed Kagonyera. The political nature of the contest is in stark contrast to anything that would happen at a UK university and certainly makes it more exciting. My guess is that the President will have no choice but to appoint his VP but he is a man capable of surprising everyone. I'll keep you posted...


Internet is still down at 'Dag Hall' where I stay, which is a pain, and after nearly two weeks I am still yet to be a fully registered student here. It seems there is always one more form, another stamp or a new official you must go and see. I'll write properly on this when it is finally completed...

First football session last night was a shock to the system. 45 minutes of fitness training followed by a full-length game on a ropey pitch meant I woke up extremely stiff today. The standard is good as far as I can tell and there is a match next week, although I doubt that is time enough to get myself in contention!

I also want to link this very good tribute to Ray Jones:

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Cup of Nations Fever

I am now the proud owner of a 20,000 shilling (about £6) covered seat for the Uganda v Niger game on Saturday September 8th at Namboole Stadium. It would be a very big deal for the country to qualify after a thirty year absence from the Africa Cup of Nations, reflected in the fact that the country’s equivalent of Richard Branson, Michael Ezra, has offered a $100,000 bonus to the squad and its coaches if they qualify. The maths is complex but effectively Uganda are attempting to get one of the three best runners-up places (Nigeria having won their group) and are currently 4th out of the 12 2nd place teams. A resounding win should do it.

The coach is a German born Hungarian called Laszlo Csaba and he has come out with some great lines to keep the press happy, including the following:

“It’s a pity that weddings in this country are better than qualifying for the Nations Cup finals…I now understand why Uganda has not managed to make the finals in over 30 years” – on finding their training ground had been hired out for several days.

“I am aware Niger do not play games at night” – when trying to move the fixture to Sunday evening in an attempt to gain a ‘tactical advantage’.

Posnet Omwony isn’t a bad keeper but the problem with him is he drops the ball so often” – convincing vote of confidence for the back-up goalkeeper.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Back to School

Had my first evening lecture last night. The first guy didn't turn up which apparently is quite common but after that we had two hours on international law which was interesting, extremely relevent and delivered by someone who is clearly a top expert in his field. After three years discussing 'fuzzy concepts', theories and paradigm shifts (which I enjoyed very much) there is something quite reassuring about returning to 'facts' on conventions, articles, security council resolutions and the other statures that are used in international law. Of course it is not as simple as that and there is plenty of room for interpretation and manipulation (see the US/UK invasion of Iraq) of laws that are difficult to enforce and as yet have no international court of law to which all states subscribe.

As the lectures are all in the evening I am currently firing off my CV to some of the agencies and offices in Kampala in the hope of getting some work. Will probably be voluntary, at least to start with, but will be good to get some experience working here.

Otherwise am trying to get a ticket for the Uganda v Niger match next month. If Uganda win and some results go their way they could qualify for the African Nations for the first time in 30 years which would be a big achievement considering the teams they are up against. Saw some of the weekend games but all overshadowed by the death of young QPR striker Ray Jones, he was probably the player at the club with the best attributes to make it really big and it is a great shame and waste of a talent.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Power cuts

Haven't managed to post recently due to the regular power cuts over the weekend. I will try and get an update on the site tomorrow. In the meantime these are the stories that have been dominating the headlines over the past week which I think give an interesting snapshot of Uganda at the moment:

- 95% of Kampala residents oppose any moves to pass law making homosexuality legal
- An opposition party have removed a portrait of President Museveni from their offices sparking a debate on whether it is really necessary for every business/office to display one
- An evengelical preist has been caught with a buzzer type device in his hand while claiming he was performing miracles on his congregation by giving them a shock
- The national football coach has attacked the football federation for hiring out their training ground for a wedding just two weeks before the crucial African Nations Cup qualifier against Niger
- A senior official has floated the idea that a women might suceed Museveni

Thursday, 23 August 2007


I have got myself a Ugandan phone so will be using +256751811479 until December. Feel free to distract me from the intensive academic programme I appear to have signed up to. The timetable (3 hours between 5-8pm Mon-Thur) is certainly a lot more teaching time than my undergraduate course and worst of all I have four three-hour exams at the end of this semester. They have also scheduled the classes in the 'Food Science and Technology' building which is the furthest point away from my halls on campus, right across what people call 'The Hill'. There is an upside though, in that it means I can now look for a job in the daytime. I have also had some positive replies about possible work for people in the UK.

Other than that Anna and her friend Natalia have arrived from Kigali so we have been visiting some of the sights of Kampala. If you are a fan of big set piece museums and the like, Kampala is not really the place for you, but it has a great atmosphere, good food and plenty of places to while away time in. Tonight we are going to the Cineplex in the 'Garden City Mall'. Garden City itself boosts (allegedly) the only escalator in Uganda and is a big Western style shopping centre that backs onto Kampala Golf Course. We used to come here occasionally when teaching in the west of the country and it took on a kind of heavenly status where we could splurge on imported food and new books.

P.S. Think I should provide a link to this very amusing sister blog...

Tuesday, 21 August 2007


Just back from a shebeen type bar in Wangagari, the local trading centre on the outskirts of Kampala that has grown up mainly to serve students coming out of Makerere for supplies, entertainment and general distraction from campus life. I went for dinner with two of my neighbours and ended up in a long discussion about tribes, family names, traditions and how you are defined historically as a person. In the UK we have such little understanding of our roots, everything has become mixed up and people can barely trace their family back three generations. In Uganda when you introduce yourself you are expected to say your own name followed by your father's (and his achievements), your grandfather's (and his achievements) and so on till you have covered at least ten relatives. It is true this applies almost exclusively to the men but despite all the problems tribalism may have created (mainly down to colonial segregation and type-casting) there is certainly something to be said in being proud of where you come from and being able to identify with people who would otherwise be total strangers...

Otherwise today has been spent battling with bureaucracy to try and get registered on my course. They had missed me out from the sheets they have posted outside the faculty of social sciences but hopefully that will soon be corrected. Looking down the list their is one Canadian, a Sudanese guy (african rather than arab from the name), a Rwandan and some Kenyans as well as the many Ugandans. I have also found out that virtually half of ECS (the school I taught at with Tom and Billy in the West of the country) are taking 'distance courses' here, including the headmaster and a teacher called Uwimana who started at the same time as us in 2004. This means they are here till the new term starts on the 17th Sept when I will probably travel back upcountry with them to visit the school and the Kamasaka family.

I will try and post some photos of my hall in the next couple of days.

Monday, 20 August 2007

First Impressions

Just back from the Makerere equivalent of the Cambridge 'Freshers' Fayre'. A lot more lively here - dance floor in the middle, beer tents and traders from all over Kampala selling all sorts of student stuff till late at night.

Writing this from my room in the postgrad hall which has wireless in the room (result!) so should be able to communicate pretty effectively. The room is not too bad at all and has a new bed and mattress which is welcome. The hall is small compared to the undergrad ones and seems to be a lot quieter considering the big parties that have been going on around campus. There is a common room with the equivalent of sky though so have been able to watch the football (did anyone listen to me when I was telling them Rob Styles was a prat 5 years ago?!), although it is a struggle to get the 'Big Brother Africa' fans to change the channel...

Just beginning to meet people doing others Masters courses here. I will meet the people from my course for the first time tomorrow hopefully, also looking to make contact with the football team. Otherwise went to a Ugandan wedding on saturday night which was lavish although embarrassing when the MC announced I had brought wishes from the Queen and the cameraman zoomed in to catch my reaction. Having never met the bride or groom I can imagine they will be surprised when they play the video back to their grandchildren in years to come.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Leaving home again...

Welcome to this imaginatively entitled blog 'Joe in Uganda'. Hopefully, to use a Hollowayism it will be just like Ronseal and keep everyone who's remotely interested updated on what I get up to from Friday onwards, when I move to Kampala to take a two year Masters course in International Relations and Diplomatic Studies. I will be studying at Makerere University, one of the oldest in Africa with an impressive alumni list including a number of current and past African Presidents, several prominant writers and other public figures such as John Sentamu, the first black Archbishop of the Church of England (in York). Apart from that I know relatively little about what I am about to throw myself into. There are apparently 25 other people on the course and a healthy number of international students, the vast majority being from other African countries. In terms of Europeans the wonders of Facebook have thrown up a few Norwegians that are going to be at Makerere over the coming semester. My overall feelings at the moment are a mixture of great excitement and a little apprehension, which I'm sure is natural at such a big move.

I am also slightly worried that I as yet have no confirmed accommodation. I have been promised a room in Dag Hammerskjold postgrad hall but the warden hasn't got back to me yet. Anyway at $15o a term I am not expecting too much...Regardless though it will good to be on campus and I reckon that will be one of the best ways of getting to know my fellow students. There are over 30,000 undergrads which is a bit daunting, especially as that suggests the football team will be of a seriously high quality. My pre-season of golf and the Salusbury is probably not the best preparation either!

Anyway I hope you will drop by and let me know what you're up to as well. I think there is a comments section which people can use (which will of course be heavily moderated...) and I will post my Ugandan phone number up here when I get it sorted next week. Otherwise look forward to seeing everyone again for the Christmas holidays...