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!