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.