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...