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: http://www.redcross.org.uk/standard.asp?id=73941#section5

  • 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 (http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/08/22/uganda16729.htm) 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

Cancelled

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

Headlines

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.