Sunday, 14 December 2008

And so it starts again...

Governments launch military offensive on Uganda rebels

By Jack Kimball

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and south Sudan launched a joint military offensive on Sunday against northern Ugandan rebels in Garamba, eastern Congo, a Ugandan army spokesman said.

The three governments agreed in principle in June to launch joint military operations against the LRA guerrillas -- known for mutilating survivors and kidnapping thousands of children -- if leader Joseph Kony did not sign a final peace deal to end two decades of conflict.

"It's a joint operation ... We have attacked Lords Resistance Army bases. The operation began this morning," Uganda army spokesman Paddy Ankunda said.

Ankunda said they had attacked several camps, and no casualties had been reported so far.

Officials from south Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo were not immediately available for comment.

A swift victory would be unlikely against the guerrillas, experts say, noting they have been in the area for some time and are used to launching hit-and-run attacks against larger and better equipped forces.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last week renewed a call for Kony to sign the peace deal. He was speaking after Kony again snubbed mediators by failing to show up and sign the agreement, thrashed out in two years of negotiations in south Sudan.

Kony has demanded International Criminal Court indictments for him and his top deputies be withdrawn before they leave their forest hideouts in northeastern Congo.

Thousands of people have been killed and 2 million displaced during the 22 years of fighting between Kony's rebels and the Ugandan government.

The conflict has destabilized parts of oil-producing south Sudan and mineral-rich eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Friday, 12 December 2008


For the last six days I have been in Kisoro District, volunteering with the Uganda Red Cross at Nyakabande Refugee Reception Centre on the D.R.C. border. I will post a full account in the next few days, however I would like to quickly draw attention to the excellent Ushahidi site which is tracking the conflict day-to-day. Ushahidi came to prominance during the Kenyan unrest earlier this year. It allows people on the ground to report acts of violence on the web and then uploads them to create a live map of the conflict. As you can see from the above clip violence has been particularly concentrated on the Uganda border, creating an estimated influx of 30,000 Congolese into the country.

Photo Update

For those that hadn't guessed the photo in the previous post is of the elaborate grasshopper catching technique that dominates the tops of Kampala's buildings at the moment. Operating much like the Venus Flytrap, the bright lights attract the grasshoppers to an area surrounded by smooth iron sheets propped up vertical in old oil drums. When the grasshoppers attempt to land on the sheets their grip fails them and they slide helplessly into the drums from which they can't escape. Hours later they will have been de-winged, deep-fried and devoured.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Kampala At Night Photo Competition

While I admit this photo is unlikely to be on the short-list for a Pulitzer, try squinting a bit and using your imagination, and then see if you can guess what is going on here just 100m from our house...

Hint: 2 storey building, large iron sheets, 1 x 1000 Watt light

Friday, 28 November 2008

Grasshopper Season

There is only snack to be seen eating in Kampala at the moment...fried grasshoppers. All around the city ladies have set up stalls where you can buy bags of the insects either alive, dead + wingless, or fried and ready to eat. One benefit of increased electrification is that street lamps now provide a magnet for grasshoppers at night, making the job of catching them much easier. I have to admit that I haven't yet plucked up the courage to try one but if/when I do, I'll let you know...

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Letter in Monitor

Excellent Piece by Prof. Nuwagaba

Prof. Augustus Nuwagaba is based at Makerere and is an outspoken expert on poverty eradication. This article is a very good analysis of the moral bankruptcy of corruption, entitled 'The Corrupt Are Heroes, The Honest Are Fools'. This is an issue we have touched on in lectures and is undeniably a pervasive attitude in all sectors of society. Driving without insurance? Pay off the traffic police. Find yourself as Minister of Health? Supplement your salary with donor funds meant for AIDS drugs. Want to change the Constitution to give yourself a third term? Distribute brown envelopes stuffed with 5 million shillings to Members of Parliament. As Nuwagaba put it:

"Corruption is like a snowball, once it starts rolling it must increase. This implies that when those who are corrupt go unpunished, few are willing to swim against the tide"

Below is an excerpt and the full article can be found on the New Vision website at the following web address:

"The Inspectorate of Government on November 19, officially released results of the third National Integrity Survey, yet, another milestone for the Inspector General of Government (IGG), the Police and Judiciary who took the trophy of the poorest integrity in the land.

According to the report, the corrupt practices were largely attributed to greed, a practice characterised by what I call primitive accumulation of capital. This refers to a situation where people steal public resources with impunity, including drugs for children, and medical equipment.

As a result, Uganda continues with a shameful infant mortality rate of 76 per 1000 children born alive every year and even a more shame of death of 435 per 100,000 women annually during child delivery.

How about our schools and roads? The answers are known to every body. It is, however, most saddening the corrupt and the wealthy are perceived as “heroes” while the honest and the poor are regarded as “fools”. This is the highest level of moral decadence and societal betrayal."

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Boda-Bodas Banned From Campus

It's been a turbulent couple of weeks on campus. First Kenyan students rioted in protest at paying more in fees than their Ugandan counterparts. Seemingly oblivious to the fact that (as far as I know) every university in the world charges their international students more, the Kenyans threatened to take senior staff members hostage and as a result there is now a police enforced curfew at Makerere. The situation was not helped by a knee-jerk request from the Big Man to allow them to pay the same. It seems the way forward will now be for the next session of the East African Legislative Assembly to agree on a common tariff, so that all citizens in the region can study at a cost below that of the standard international rate.

The second major issue to arise is today's banning of boda-bodas on campus. In the past few days a resolution was passed by administrators to prevent the motorcycles from entering, and as a result three friendly (if AK-47 wielding) police officers were stationed at the main gate to turn around the drivers and their passengers. It was not a coincidence that our lecture hall was half-full tonight. I expect this will last for a few days before the police get bored, however the point remains that there are surely more pressing concerns at the university than a pointless ban of this popular, and generally harmless, form of transport.

(Full Disclosure: Our lecture hall is a 25 minute walk from the main gate...)

Monday, 17 November 2008

A Word of Warning on the Free Trade Area

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the potential of a Free Trade Area for Africa in terms of strengthening regional integration, growing inter-state trade and even promoting peace on the continent. However, I was probably too brief on the potential problems in setting up such an agreement and on the economic imbalances that exist between countries. Karl Lyimo in The East African has summarised some of the issues here:

An extract:

" To that end, these new dreamers on the socio-economic development bloc propose a memorandum of understanding in six months that would commit them to the establishment of an FTA with a combined GDP of $625 billion — about 58 per cent of the continent’s total, nearly half of which is South Africa’s. This is still less than the $700 billion in taxpayer funds that US President George W. Bush sought to bail out his country’s ailing financial sector.

The disparity in GDP levels among the 26 is disruptive enough to be distortional in FTA terms. According to the CIA, South Africa’s GDP is $282.6 billion while Egypt’s is $127.9 billion. On the other end, Somalia’s GDP is $2.48 billion; it’s $1.726 billion for Zimbabwe and $1.001 billion for Burundi "

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Is it a Crack Den?

No. It's the wash room in the Faculty of Food Science and Technology at Makerere, where our enthusiastic International Relations class meets four times a week for evening lectures. Unfortunately anyone who has spent any time on campus will find this photo totally unremarkable. They may be surprised that it comes from one of the newest buildings at the university - built with Norwegian aid money - but the state of disrepair will be sorely familiar. My question is when will students and staff stop accepting the situation? When will it become the exception to find examples of shoddy workmanship, as contractors and their employers scrabble around to 'save' money which consequently disappears.

The university is the flagship institution in Uganda. It is high time for a new civic pride in its appearance and performance which reflects that status.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Election Prediction

Having spent more time than is healthy in the past 9 months studying polling data, reading first hand accounts of volunteers and browsing political blogs, the following is my electoral prediction for tonight...

Barack Obama: 382 (53.5% of vote)
John McCain: 156 (45.5% of vote)

This is based on:
Obama retaining all the Kerry states.
Picking up now near-certainties in Virginia, Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.
Winning surprisingly handily in Florida.
Squeezing through in Ohio, Missouri and North Carolina.
Causing an upset in Georgia and Montana.

The last two may be a little far-fetched but it is my guess that rather than seeing a 'Bradley effect' of white voters changing their minds in the booth to vote for a white candidate, the pollsters will suffer an 'Obama effect' of overwhelming turnout amongst African-Americans and harder to contact young voters. This could even lead to Obama topping 55% in the popular vote which would be an extraordinary achievement.

Uganda is certainly abuzz with talk about the election at the moment. In two different Makerere administrative offices today I was asked if I had voted - all looked disappointed when my nationality was revealed - and in one whether I could 'lend' my vote to him. It is the way that ordinary Ugandans feel the American President will have an impact on their lives that makes it an election like no other. And although I find the 'who the world would vote for' polls a little insulting to Americans who will have to live with the domestic policies of the next President, there is of course absolutely no doubt who Uganda would be voting for today.

Good News Story? Africa Free Trade Area

Amid the renewed violence in the DRC, a disputed election in Zambia and the splitting of the ANC in South Africa, there has been little coverage of the Tripartite Summit that met in Kampala recently to agree on the first steps towards a vast African free trade area stretching from Egypt to South Africa. It will encompass 26 countries, 527 million people and a combined GDP of $625 billion (See BBC Map right).

There are several reasons this could be of huge significance for African economic development. The first is stature on the world stage. There has been a marked shift in recent years in the politics of world trade because of the decision of Brazil, Russia, India and China (B.R.I.C) to negotiate together on many issues. This combined clout has made it harder for the West to impose their agenda on the rest of the world. An African bloc of this size would be in far stronger position to ensure their interests are also met.

Second, the bloc will provide a large internal African market for exporters. Currently high tariff levels, bureaucracy and transport costs mean inter-state trade is running well below its potential. If these issues can be addressed capital circulation within Africa can be increased and capital flight to the West reduced, thereby boosting economic growth.

Third, the agreement will bring an end to the confusing nature of African economic integration which currently has some countries as members of four different organisations. It will also address one of the main concerns of the new Economic Partnership Agreements with the EU (they were negotiated with small groupings of countries), which was that they would economically fracture Africa rather than foster regional integration.

Finally, the greater political and economic integration that such an area will bring improves the chances of a peaceful continent. States which have a vested interest in each other's stability are far less likely to engage in conflict.

Of course there are concerns about the ability of small businesses in less developed countries to cope with an influx of competition, and it is likely to be several years before the institutional capacity is in place to launch the free trade area. However, in the medium to long-term I am confident this will be a great leap forward for African economic and political development.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Obama Fever

Although I'm sure security in the Great Lakes region has crossed Barack Obama's mind, I think it is just possible that in light of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, American troops engaged in two intractable wars, a huge energy deficit and a healthcare system which leaves millions out, the New Vision might have got slightly carried away yesterday.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Photos from the 'HungerFREE Campaign'

Over the past three weeks a team of Action Aid staff has been touring Uganda to promote our 'HungerFREE' campaign, with a particular emphasis on the role of rural women in food security issues. Our broad themes of access to seed, land and markets remained the same, however we were also aiming to raise some of the specific problems that women in certain parts of Uganda have to deal with. To give some context women in Uganda constitute 80% of the agricultural labour force and yet only 7% of women own land. This means that the proceeds of production are dominated by men, who, it is generally thought, waste far more. Of course the issue of land ownership is highly sensitive in certain cultures, meaning our campaign has to tread carefully. However, after speaking to dozens of women farmers on the tour I have no doubt that Ugandan agriculture would be in a far stronger position if women were allowed to have full control over the means of production, and not just supply the hard work.

These are some of the photos I took during the campaign, starting with children holding up 'HungerFREE' placards outside the campaign bus in Barlonyo, Northern Uganda:

A group of women farmers from the islands of Kalangala discuss what changes they would like to see to improve their livlihoods:

A mass rally of women farmers marching through Masindi town as bicycle boda-boda men look on:

Action Aid staff discuss the Masindi march:

My Kind of 'Straight Talk'

In my opinion this is one of the best quotes of the campaign so far. It came from Gen. Colin Powell last Sunday on 'Meet the Press':

I'm also troubled by, not what Sen. McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said such things as: "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is: he is not a Muslim. He's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is: What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is: No, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7 year old Muslim-American kid believing he or she can be President? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion: he's a Muslim, and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


Hardly earth-shattering (sorry) news I know, but what the below image indicates is that at 5.15pm local time an earthquake of 4.6 magnitude hit the region. The epicentre was 195km from Kampala under Lake Victoria. The window panes were rattling over here in Kamwokya but fortunately the rumblings were no match for the sturdy foundations of an ex-Kampala City Council flat. Now if only they could put the same effort into their roads...


Thursday's New Vision take on the quake:

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

'Kenyans are unfriendly/thieves/mercenaries*' (*delete as appropriate)

Travelling to Nairobi with a bus load of Ugandan postgraduate students was an interesting lesson in the attitude of an African nation towards one its neighbours. Of course neighbourly stereotypes are nothing new. France is to Britain as Belgium is to France and so on. However, it seemed to me that Ugandans had primarily reserved this type of scorn for the tribal groups within the country, and not for the other nations on their doorstep. Apparently I was very wrong.

For four days of a working trip to discuss the problems facing graduate researchers, poor old Kenya was dismissed as having bad food, dirty hotels, corrupt police (ahem), ancient cars, shady shopkeepers and expensive beer. The assassination of the character of Kenyans was even more brutal. It seemed that nearly a whole week without matooke was too much for the homesick Ugandans on the bus (the delicious Kikuyu food irio was summarily dismissed) and had triggered a backlash against their economically more developed neighbour.

However, as we crossed the border at the dead of night to return to the motherland there was no collective sigh of relief from our party. Instead we found the Ugandan immigration check-point closed as the relevant official had fallen into a booze-fuelled slumber and was nowhere to be found. As the hours ticked by (five in total) the rage of the group, previously so damming of Kenya, found a new target. 'These Ugandans are so lazy' a friend remarked, 'someone call the Internal Affairs Minister and we get them all fired' said a lawyer (the Minister was indeed called but that's another story), 'our civil servants are a disgrace' said another, and most tellingly 'this would never happen in Kenya' said absolutely everyone.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Rare mention of Uganda on the BBC gets to the heart of country's problems

Uganda seeking miniskirt ban

Uganda's ethics and integrity minister says miniskirts should be banned - because women wearing them distract drivers and cause traffic accidents.

Nsaba Buturo told journalists in Kampala that wearing a miniskirt was like walking naked in the streets.

"What's wrong with a miniskirt? You can cause an accident because some of our people are weak mentally," he said.

The BBC's Joshua Mmali in Kampala, the capital, said journalists found the minister's comments extremely funny.

Wearing a miniskirt should be regarded as "indecent", which would be punishable under Ugandan law, Mr Buturo said.

And he railed against the dangers facing those inadvertently distracted by short skirts.

"If you find a naked person you begin to concentrate on the make-up of that person and yet you are driving," he said.

"These days you hardly know who is a mother from a daughter, they are all naked."

Vice list

According to the minister, indecent dressing is just one of many vices facing Ugandan society.

"Theft and embezzlement of public funds, sub-standard service delivery, greed, infidelity, prostitution, homosexuality [and] sectarianism..." he said.

Earlier this year, Kampala's Makerere University decided to impose a dress code for women at the institution, our reporter says.

The miniskirt and tight trousers ban has yet to be implemented, but our correspondent sought the opinions of women on campus about the minister's opinions.

"If one wants to wear a miniskirt, it's ok. If another wants to put on a long skirt, then that's ok," one woman said.

But others had more sympathy with Mr Buturo.

"I think skimpy things are not good. We are keeping the dignity of Africa as ladies and we have to cover ourselves up," one woman, called Sharon, told the BBC.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

A Map of Stereotypes

One of the best written blogs here is called Ugandan Insomniac. Yesterday she posted the following map after asking workmates for a word to describe the various regions of the country. This was inspired by the people at GraphJam who came up with the Africa version below.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Royal Ascot Goat Races

It is hard to know where to start in describing the annual goat races at the swanky Munyonyo resort on the banks of Lake Victoria. I imagine when the event began the organisers had tongue firmly in cheek when naming the event after one of the UK's premier flat racing - and society - meetings at Ascot. Indeed comparing the two events would surely be futile? Ascot is of course defined by lavish hats (check), huge corporate tents (check), free-flowing booze (check), long networking lunches (check), gambling (check), excitable race commentary (check) and the finest thoroughbred horses (ah ha!). I'm sure thoroughbred goats do exist but they certainly weren't on show on Saturday. And needless to say even the lightest of jockeys would struggle to mount these farmyard animals.

After the first four races, and with my pocket considerably lighter due to that classic racing ailment of second-itis, it was time for the showpiece race of the afternoon, the Zain Gold Cup. Ten goats were to race three furlongs (or three circuits of the track) for a prize pool of 6 million shillings, or just under two thousand pounds. If only Walthamstow had caught onto this craze.

Having had little luck so far, and armed with a tip from a goat owner in the Pakistani telecoms corporate tent where our group was being hosted, it was time to head to the paddock to check out these racing demons for myself. Happily grazing on the sand dunes one fine young billy goat caught my eye. Wearing the Number 2 vest and straining at its leash, it looked primed for the race of its life. After thrusting my last battered notes into the hands of the friendly Tote lady I headed to a position near the winning line and waited for the off.

To my surprise with a circuit to go Number 2 was three lengths clear and pulling away from the chasing pack. As it rounded the last bend it seemed certain to win but, and herein lies the peril of goat racing, the grass on the home straight proved far too tasty for my goat's finely tuned racing mind. Losing a vital five seconds as it paused to snack, Number 2 was overtaken by the suspiciously muscular favourite, who stormed past to take the race following a photo finish. I'll let these photos do the rest of the talking.

Back in Uganda

As I've now been back in Uganda for just over a week I thought it was about time to reactivate this blog. I am back here for the start of the third semester in the two year Masters I'm taking at Makerere. I will also be continuing work as an intern (although now part-time) at Action Aid, working on trade and food security issues for the policy team. Indeed I'm just back from clocking up the first workshop of the new term at Entebbe, the snappily titled 'East African Community Regional Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Economic Partnership Agreements and World Trade Organisation Negotiations'.

This semester is when the research element of the Masters really kicks in. I am looking into Ugandan export industries and the potential effects that the furthering of free trade with the EU will have on them. This is the context of trade-led development which is increasingly seem as a far more effective path to higher living standards than the traditional aid strategies. I will aim to keep this blog reasonably up to date with the state of the research but as I'm aware this post has been incredibly dull I think I'll leave it there for now!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Quick Update: Guardian Competition Semi-Final

Just a quick update from London to post the link to a piece I wrote a while ago on the village of Barlonyo in Northern Uganda. It was home to one of the worst LRA massacres in 2004. The piece has been shortlisted for the Guardian's International Development Journalism Competition and can be found at the following web address:

"The children of Barlonyo, in northern Uganda, have taken to playing on the memorial to the 121 villagers buried after the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) attack on February 21 2004. The long, curving concrete slab has the appearance of a pavement, but in rural Northern Uganda looks horribly out of place. The mass burials that took place in the days after the massacre were out of necessity and the memorial's figure of 121 reflects only those who could be identified. The LRA tactic of razing the thatched mud homes to the ground had meant many people were burned alive and never afforded even this most rudimentary of resting places. Many more villagers are simply listed as "missing". Among the parents of Barlonyo there is the uneasy knowledge that many of their children were abducted on that day and will have since spent their formative years fighting in the lawless jungles of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo..."

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Summer Break

I am now back in the UK until August. I will resume posting blogs about life at Makerere University then. 

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

New Vision: Why would a British student choose to study at Makerere?

The New Vision got in touch asking for an interview for their education section and this is the result. It is basically the same content which appeared on the BBC World Service/Website. Below is an extract and you find the full version online here:

"Every year, thousands of African students leave for western universities, but it is not a one-way traffic. Arthur Baguma writes...

JAMES Taylor, 25, had the leeway to go to a university anywhere in the world, when a scholarship opportunity came his way. The Canadian had up to five choices. “My first choice was Makerere,” he says, before adding “It could have been Oxford or Cambridge, but Makerere stood out as offering the experience I was looking for.” Taylor lives in an apartment in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb. He says his passion to see a different perspective of international development led him to Uganda. “There are people back home who speak authoritatively about countries they have never been to. That to me is wrong, which is why I came here to be able to understand issues on the ground. When I go back I will be talking from an informed view,” Taylor, a student of International Relations and Diplomatic studies, explains, . Taylor is among the international students pursuing different studies at Makerere University. He is the minister of Information and Public Relations of the Council of Graduate students at Makerere. “Some of the teachers I have are the best I have had in the history of my education. I wanted to study somewhere with rich culture and history,” Taylor says.

Joe Powell, a 23-year-old student pursuing a master’s degree in International Relations, echoes these views. Instead of choosing a university at home in the UK, he came to Uganda. He says he will consider taking up a job opportunity in Uganda after his course. “I came here because I like the reputation of Makerere. Despite its problems, the university is still held in high esteem internationally,” he explained. “Life here is totally different from anything I would get in the UK,” Powell explained in an interview. This trend is a silver lining on the problems that have dogged the university. There is congestion in the lecture rooms. In halls of residence, rooms that were designed for two occupants accommodate more than three. But despite this, students from the West are forking out about twice the fees their local counterparts pay to study at the university. Foreign students pay up to $4,000 (about sh6.6m) per year..."

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

"Two Whites and a Colonel" - Unnamed Observer During the COGS Swearing-in

Introducing Your New Foreign Minister

Okay, so it is only the Council of Graduate Students (COGS) at Makerere, and the election process was not exactly rigorous, but even so the title sounds good and it should be an opportunity to do some worthwhile work. My friend Abdul Muhiire (pictured right) is the newly elected President of COGS and he has the power to appoint his cabinet, hence as one of his campaign team he offered me the above position. It will basically involve forming more international partnerships between Makerere and other universities, and ensuring that international students have a enjoyable and trouble-free time here.

The swearing in ceremony took place last Thursday and was presided over by the Government Chief Whip, Hon. Kabakumba (over my left shoulder as I give the oath). The cabinet also contains a retired Colonel, Fred Mwesigye, who played an important role in the NRM bush war which brought Museveni to power in 1986 and who donated ten bulls to the victory party for the recently elected Students' Guild President, Robert Rutharo - the first NRM President for ten years. Also in the cabinet is James, the new Minister for Information (Mis-Information?). There is a possibility that a report about the new 'COGS' cabinet will appear in the New Vision shortly. If it does I will post the link here.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

View From My Window

I recently moved out of 'Dag' postgraduate hall on campus, and into a house down the road in Kamwokya where James has been living since last August. 'Dag' was good fun but it was beginning to feel claustrophobic and with most of my friends having left in the past few months it made sense to move. Having a fridge and a kitchen also means I am becoming slightly less reliant on take-aways in Wandegeya, much to the relief of my internal organs.

From my new window you can see the stark difference in the quality of housing in Kampala, which is easily identifiable by the type of roof a house has. New well-to-do houses tend to have expensively tiled roofs while a rusting iron number normally indicates a more modest home. Indeed, this is also the method the President uses to judge the development of rural areas as he flies over in his helicopter. In the rural areas, however, it is the iron roofs that are a sign of prosperity and the thatched mud huts that indicate greater poverty.

My window also overlooks our shared garden, complete with matooke (banana) plants and a towering paw-paw tree. The photo above is of two boys shinning up the tree to try and knock down the riper fruits.

Monday, 19 May 2008

I Know Times Are Hard But...

Much of our work in 'Food Rights' at Action Aid at the moment is concerned with the repercussions of rising food prices in Uganda. The President declared that this was a good thing for small-holder farmers. However, with the cost of essentials such as salt, sugar and soap also rising it seems that any benefit will be short-term and as always the main beneficiaries will be the middle men anyway. At the same time the urban poor can afford even less food and many are sleeping hungry.

One thing we did not investigate was the possible impact on that most maligned sector of society, students. It appears from the New Vision that the Dean has, though, beaten us to it. He has declared that campus canteens will be serving only posho and beans for the rest of the semester. Beef, chicken, rice, potatoes and matooke will be absent just as students enter the exam period, provoking the inevitable complaints from the Students' Guild. This coincides with the time in the year when most students are broke, having spent their termly allowances, and thus are unable to buy meals from elsewhere. Let's just hope the desire for chicken and chips in Wandegeya doesn't give the sugar daddies any more excuse to trawl around campus looking for prey.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Audio of Network Africa Interview

You can now listen to the 4 minute interview about Makerere that went out on the BBC World Service on Monday here.

Monday, 12 May 2008

BBC Appearance

Listeners to Network Africa on the World Service this morning would have heard an interview with me conducted a couple of months ago by Uganda correspondent Sarah Grainger. It focused on what it is like to be a foreign (bazungu rather than other Africans) student studying at Makerere and the differences between here and Western universities. My Canadian classmate James was interviewed too and should be appearing on BBC World shortly. They also talked to our Ugandan classmates and I particularly like this quote from Daphne: "At first I thought he was crazy".
You can read a written version of the interview here:

And until tomorrow morning it should be possible to listen to it from here (23:50 onwards into the 30 minute programme):

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Cabinet Meets on Makerere Future

As exams approach on campus the atmosphere continues to one of near-open hostility between senior management and the academic staff, represented by the MUASA union. In recent days the union has threatened to stop teaching all evening classes for privately sponsored students (full disclosure: that's me) from next semester unless allowances of over 10 billion UG shillings are settled. Cabinet is now calling an emergency session to try and solve the financial mismanagement at Makerere, the root cause of the lecturers' strike earlier this year. The President has promised to chair cabinet on May 23rd to specifically address Makerere and its woes.

The missing 10 billion has apparently been channelled into infrastructure improvements but any visitor to campus would find that hard to believe. The roads are deteriorating at a rapid state and are currently in an embarrassing condition. When you hear people praising Kampala City Council roads in comparison, you know things have got bad.

The President's clout is now needed to solve the problem. With NRM-leaning candidates having taken both the Student's Guild and the Council of Graduate Studies, let's hope that the President no longer views Makerere as a bastion for the opposition and will direct some of his energy to bashing heads together to come up with a lasting settlement. What is sure is that the time for 'band-aid' solutions is over. We need radical ideas to break the impasse and stop the endless speculation which is harming both the students and the academics.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Why I Hope Boris Proves Us Wrong

There is a connection between London's new right-wing Mayor, Boris Johnson, and Uganda. It was here that he uttered one of his 'amusing' asides:

"Right, let's go and look at some more piccaninnies*." Reported remark, while visiting Uganda, to Swedish Unicef workers and their black driver, the Observer, 2003.

* Offensive, a small Black or Aboriginal child [perhaps from Portuguese pequenino tiny one]

The new Mayor is, though, one of the rare politicians who seems to be able to do and say anything he wants and get away with it due to his 'funny' hair and bumbling way of speaking. Contrast this with US politics where in the Democratic Primary race Obama's far less offensive 'bitter' remark was almost enough to knock him out the race, and Senator Allen's comparable 'macaca' comment lost him Virginia at the last election. For Teflon-Boris though, he is able to not only get away with slandering the whole of Liverpool and Portsmouth, but also registering in print his insulting, colonial-minded comments about Africans:

"No doubt the AK47s will fall silent, the pangas will stop their hacking of human flesh, and the tribal warriors will all break out in watermelon smiles to see the big white chief touch down in his big white British taxpayer-funded bird."· In 2002, on Tony Blair's visit to the Democratic of Republic of Congo, Daily Telegraph.

However, I think on balance Boris is probably not a racist. Lacking any understanding of London's multicultural mosaic, yes, stuck in the British upper-class mindset of Prince Phillip and co, yes, but racist, no. Furthermore it is clearly incorrect to label the million-odd people who voted for him racist either, especially considering the many flaws of the incumbent.

I also don't agree with the legions of Labour supporters who want to see him fail. The job is too important for that. Personally I hope Boris proves us wrong, works hard to remedy his pariah status amongst London's ethnic minority communities and does a competent job for London. That won't stop me being the first in the queue to boot him out in four years time though...

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Caning in Primary Schools

In my mind caning is a British institution. While I'm sure children were beaten, or 'disciplined', before the British arrived in East Africa, it was the British that formalised the practice in schools, and it has remained in Uganda long after dying out in the UK. As someone who counts themselves fairly liberal on these kind of social issues, I admit that I find the whole idea of caning school kids morally difficult. As a volunteer teacher four years ago I deliberately didn't inform the Deputy Headmaster about two boys I had caught swapping exam scripts, knowing what their punishment would be. Naively I thought that they might realise I had 'saved' them and that they would then be perfect students from then on. Somehow I doubt that was the case.

This story, a few weeks ago in New Vision, reminded me of that time. The veracity of the father's claims (that the caning directly killed his son) are impossible to prove, but it remains the fact that a boy in the fourth year of primary school was subjected to a caning shortly before he died. Surely at the very least in primary schools there must be alternative ways of correcting bad behaviour? Or is this just my liberal, squeamish tendencies running away with me?

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Would this song pass the Advertising Standards Authority?

Bell Lager is the oldest and one of the most popular beers in Uganda. While it has had many campaign slogans in the past - 'You can tell who drinks a Bell' - the current campaign centres around the dubious claim that Bell won't give drinkers a hangover. Indeed they are not alone in promoting hangover-free booze. Somewhat more incredulously a new company is promoting vodka and whiskey which is 'guaranteed' to leave you with a clear head in the morning. Although I can't vouch for the latter I can unequivocally confirm that Bell is not the miracle drink it claims to be...

The following is Bell Lager's official anthem, which is aired night after night on Kampala's radio stations:

Evenings with friends,
The good times never end,
And yet mornings are as bright as the sun.

Take on the next day,
Clear as the sun ray,
Despite the long, long evenings of fun.

Bell evenings…
Are followed by clear mornings!

The brewing of Bell Lager involves a time-honoured process that ensures a unique quality you can see, hear, smell and taste.

It is so well matured that you can enjoy longer evenings...
and clear mornings.

Bell evenings…
Are followed by clear mornings!

Bell Lager shares your passion for quality.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

The Future of the LRA

It was almost laughably predictable that Joseph Kony, leader of the Lords' Resistance Army which has terrorised Northern Uganda for the past two decades, wouldn't come out of the 'bush' to sign a permanent peace agreement with the Government as planned last week. The UN and various donors had gone to extraordinary lengths to set up a tented camp at Ri-Kwangba on the Sudanese-DRC border, and had flown in journalists from across the world to cover the signing. In the event of Kony failing to show-up the lead LRA negotiator was sacked/resigned, the Government delegation went back to Juba in a huff and Kony returned to what he knows best by abducting over 50 children and killing one of his longest serving deputies.

There are many reasons why the talks were doomed to failure, foremost among them the total failure to agree on what kind of justice (if any) the LRA top command should face. It seems staggering that this most central of issues had not been agreed upon and yet people still expected the signing to take place. The difference between Kony's preference for mato put, a traditional form of Acholi justice involving little more than a few rituals and a public apology, and the International Criminal Court's demands for him to appear at The Hague, could not be starker. The following are my personal predictions for the future of the LRA (the percentages are totally unscientific but hopefully give a rough idea of what might happen):

- Return to Uganda with the top leaders facing a special tribunal along the line of the war crimes cases in the Balkans or Rwanda, while lesser ranks, including the child soldiers, are forgiven (15% chance)

- Return to Uganda to face traditional justice mechanisms and then integrate peacefully back into society (5%)

- Become a roving proxy army for Khartoum, operating in the DRC, CAR, Chad, South Sudan and Northern Uganda (30%)

- Defeated militarily through multinational cooperation, with Kony most likely KIA (25%)

- Kony apprehended and taken to The Hague to face war crimes charges (5%)

- LRA disbands with Kony given amnesty in a third country (most likely Sudan) as a reward(10%)

- Sign peace agreement with Uganda but continue operations on behalf of Sudan in the rest of the region (10%)

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Strike Threats Resume

(At the risk of sounding like a broken record)

The prospect of further strikes at Makerere has become a distinct possibility in the past few days, much to the consternation of students on campus. There are now 7 days remaining of a staff association issued ultimatum demanding the resignation of the Vice-Chancellor and three other high-ranking university officials. This time round the issue is over salary enhancements that would mean professors at Makerere would earn slightly more than their counterparts at other public universities. This is against Government policy and as such the extra money is, apparently, being diverted towards teaching materials and facilities.

As is always the case on campus it is difficult to see through the fog of propaganda on both sides, but my instinct is that the lecturers would lose the sympathy of the students if they walk out again. Having already had a lengthy disruption at the start of the semester, which the student body largely supported, the semester has been compressed to the point that exams are being pushed back into the recess. The current grievances need to be resolved in the boardroom, and not by punishing those that simply want to get on with their degrees.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Monitor puffs Casino Simba again

Just a brief follow-up on a story I posted here a few weeks ago. It seems the Daily Monitor, strap-line: 'Truth Every Day', has again decided that a lengthy article on sports betting prominently featuring Casino Simba would be of interest to its readers. The headline this time around is the more sober 'Sports betting for the money, and the fun', rather than the 'Ugandans make billions' front page of last month.

I have no problem with articles on the increase of betting in Uganda but the Monitor's offerings are little more than an elaborate product placement. In the latest article Casino Simba is mentioned 8 times, while on March 3rd the company had 5 name checks. People working at the paper have told me it is not uncommon for money to exchange hands when writing this type of article. This is disappointing, especially from the Monitor which is Uganda's main independent newspaper and is relied upon by many for accurate and impartial news reporting. If the practice is found to have taken place here then heads should roll.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Makerere Update: Politics and Seduction

After two weeks on the road I am now back on campus and catching up with lectures missed and impending coursework deadlines. I have missed two stories of interest involving students here, the first of which was the surprising victory of Robert Rutaro in the Guild (Students' Union) Presidency elections. A victory for Rutaro was unexpected as he was running under the banner of the governing National Resistance Movement (NRM). It is the first time in ten years that the NRM has captured the presidency, which in the tradition of student associations across the world has been dominated by opposition activists.

The election campaign itself was not dissimilar to those run at UK universities, albeit a lot noisier due to the seemingly obligatory campaign trucks which, for two weeks, made early evening tours of campus blaring out popular hits while drunken supporters danced and shouted slogans at passers-by. The photos here were taken at the hustings in my hall of residence, which frustratingly was far more beauty parade than discussion of the many pressing issues affecting students at Makerere. Indeed, despite numerous enquires it was virtually impossible to separate the candidates on policy, aside from man standing on a socialist and anti-privatisation platform. Unfortunately the candidate reminded me of a young George Galloway, although to be fair this was more due to his flash brown suit than any evidence of extreme pomposity and dubious relationships with dictators.

The second story to hit the headlines was the front page splash in the New Vision that female students are sexually harassing Makerere lecturers. This included the following shocking findings amongst the staff:

- 78% see inappropriately dressed women on campus (read anyone daring to flash provocative body parts such as shoulders and ankles...)

- 40% have had a suspiciously irrelevant visit to their office from a female student

and my personal favourite...

- 34% of lecturers have been subjected to winking

Although there is probably some truth in the story it is certainly a two-way issue at campus. For every student behaving seductively in order to improve her grades there are lecturers offering marks in exchange for inappropriate liaisons. President Museveni describes these as 'sexually transmitted grades', an unfortunate phenomenon in Uganda which I suspect is more widespread in universities worldwide than academics care to admit.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Monitor: 'Uganda Fans Make Billions in Bets'

The above front-page headline in the normally reliable Daily Monitor caught my eye last week. Not adverse to the odd flutter myself it seemed like the punters' dream had come true - there was actually a bookmaker in existence that was losing money. Several betting companies have recently opened in Uganda, eager to tap in to the fanaticism for the English Premiership by getting fans to back their teams with hard cash. According to the Monitor Ugandans had been so successful that they were paying for weddings and other such large expenditures with their winnings. It could, the paper opined, "make the difference between wealth and poverty". And they weren't talking about people going broke.

This had me wondering. Had these bookmakers been setting incorrect odds? Were the cashiers getting their sums wrong? Or were Ugandans simply genius gamblers with a penchant for lengthy accumulators that don't fall down due to some freak result in the Scottish Third Division?

The answer, of course, is 'none of the above'. Below the banner headline, and paragraphs of suspicious anecdotes about one particular company (Simba Casino), was the admission that in the newspaper's research they found that "few will admit that they threw away a month's salary on an unlucky weekend of bets". No shock there but a greater concern was why this story was published in the first place and who decided to take such a positive slant on the industry? The whole thing stinks of an elaborate product placement perpetuating the myth that bookies love to push about everyone being a winner. The frontpage was at best ill-advised and at worst brings into question the integrity of the paper.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

My Favourite Bishop

The image of the Ugandan Anglican Church outside of the country is, I imagine, one of a hard-line, ultra-conservative group, especially after their very public decision to boycott the next Lambeth Conference over invitations being sent to bishops who condone homosexuality. Nothing in my experience here had persuaded me otherwise until I had the opportunity to meet Bishop Ochola in the Northern Ugandan town of Lira last week. He is a passionate advocate for peace and reconciliation in the North, and has been openly critical of his own Church for what he perceives as their warped sense of priorities in not speaking out forcefully enough on the subject:

"The Church of Uganda has been outspoken about homosexuality 10,000 miles away from here [in reference to Gene Robinson]...but while the house of your mother is on fire you don't talk about other problems"

In my view this is also true about other issues in the Church here. So much emphasis is put upon morality issues, dress and, yes, homosexuality, while many of their flock live with extreme poverty and hunger. In the evangelical church the situation is similar, except humility is invariably thrown out the window altogether. 'Prophetess' Imelda Namutebi, for example, drives round town in a bright yellow Hummer which she allegedly brought for 200 million shillings (~£60k).

Bishop Ochola couldn't be more different. He epitomises what I believe the role of the Church should be in general: to be political without being partisan, to advise without being dogmatic and to be a voice for those who struggle to be heard. His own forgiveness of the Lord's Resistance Army, who terrorised the North for so long, is all the more remarkable given his tragic personal history. His wife was killed by a landmine planted by the rebels and he also lost a daughter, who committed suicide after being gang-raped by the LRA. It is through the inspiration and leadership of people like Bishop Ochola that a long-term peace may finally be achieved in the North.

Monday, 3 March 2008

The Sun, The New York Post, Bild and...Red Pepper

In a list of the world's most infamous tabloids you would be unlikely to find Uganda's 'Red Pepper'. As the headlines above show, however, it is scurrilous and sensationalist in the extreme, regularly putting out stories that are fundamentally untrue, apparently with no concern for legal redress. Interestingly a friend of mine who used to work in Parliament tells me that it is widely read by MPs, all eager to soak up sleaze stories about their colleagues and pray that they avoid the same fate. For the past three days we have been treated to extensive coverage of the 'Red Pepper' exclusive that the world will end in 2012. Let's hope their sources on this story are as inaccurate as they normally tend to be...

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Launching 'HungerFREE'...and UB40

It is fair to say that a trip to a concert by ageing British reggae band 'UB40' is not high on many people's to do before they die list. However, when any group of international recognition performs in Kampala the effect is quite amazing. People will literally beg, borrow and steal to get the money together for the (relatively expensive) tickets and the hit songs are played ad nauseum on the capital's radio stations. In UB40's case this amounted to 'Red Red Wine' and 'Falling in Love With You', both of which are covers that it could be argued they have 'made their own' over the (many) years. Anyhow last night thousands of Kampalans packed into the cricket oval for what was an enjoyable, if slightly surreal, evening.

The concert last night came at the end of a busy week with Action Aid, during which we launched our 'HungerFREE' campaign in Kampala and the Eastern district of Katakwi. 'HungerFREE' campaigns are being run in over thirty countries worldwide, with the broad aim of forcing governments to deliver on the first Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. In Uganda we have decided to focus on three key issues: increasing women's ownership and control of land; promoting access to agricultural markets for small-holder farmers; and ensuring the availability of enough good quality seed. The key message is that in Uganda there is easily sufficient food to feed the whole country, meaning that where hunger exists it is as much a political issue as it is, for example, one of unfavourable climate.

As an advocacy NGO our aim is to campaign for the appropriate legal and policy frameworks to be in place at the national level to deliver on these goals, and where necessary to also embark on grassroots sensitisation programmes about the issues listed above. The latter is particularly relevant when dealing with the culturally controversial issue of women's control of land. Needless to say I don't have the space to go into great detail about the campaign here, but if anyone has any questions please feel free to get in touch.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Strike Over

The University is now officially open again after the lecturers decided to go back to work following a union meeting on Saturday. It seems the Ministry of Education stepped in to clear salary arrears which was enough to end the deadlock. Friday saw a minor demonstration but discouraged by the Guild President's appeal to remain peaceful, and a large police presence, most students decided not to bother.

Hopefully this will my last post on Makerere's woes for a while.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

All Quiet...Mak Sent Staff on 100m US Junket

Despite the hype campus remained quiet today. Students are apparently biding their time with the planned protest now likely to go ahead tomorrow. One thing for certain is that lecturers did not turn up to teach today despite the University Council's ultimatum. The academic union has suggested the deadlock could be broken by a promise to purchase sufficient teaching materials immediately, followed by negotiations over allowances and the pension fund raid in two months time.

In unrelated news it has emerged today that cash-strapped Makerere spent nearly 100 million shillings (~£30000) in September 2007 to send seven staff members to a junket in the United States...

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

'Resume teaching or resign'

Having been ordered to go back to work tomorrow the lecturers' union, MUASA, met today to decide their response. Given the tone of their spokesman prior to the meeting - "we all want a better university and that is why we are demanding teaching materials and better working conditions" - it is hard to see a quick resolution. Eyes now turn to the student response which is expected to come on Friday. During the last major lecturer strike, at the end of 2006, student protests were broken up by baton wielding police and liberal use of the President's favourite non-lethal form of crowd control, tear gas.

2120 update: The lecturers' union has announced that they will not go back to teach until more of their demands have been met (particularly the money for teaching materials). The students have responded by bringing forward their protest to tomorrow. Police are being deployed as I speak. It should be an interesting day - I'll try and post updates and maybe photos here tomorrow.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Strike To 'Get Ugly'

Students are now all back on campus after the holidays and the lecturers' strike is at a crucial stage. Tomorrow the University Council are holding a meeting in which (according to my source)the Chairman will order lecturers back to work on Wednesday or face disciplinary action. The lecturers' union is expected to meet on Wednesday morning to decide their reaction, which will almost certainly be not to comply to the order. Management has already started putting pressure on junior lecturers to show up or face the consequences. Government has also weighed in and is threatening mass sackings.

According to striking tradition at Makerere the next move will be a students' strike in protest at the lack of lectures. The rumour is that management is secretly encouraging the students to take action in order to force the lecturers back to work. All the while wages and allowances are in serious arrears and teaching materials are non-existent. Time to get out the marching boots...

Saturday, 9 February 2008

The Kenyan Crisis - A Boardroom Dispute Gone Wrong?

So much has been said and written about the situation in Kenya that there is no need to repeat much of it again here. However, one differing perspective I get from talking to people in Kampala is their belief that the tribal element to the crisis is in reality a class issue being manipulated by the political leaders.

Kibaki and Odinga (pictured right) are both hugely wealthy men from elite, political class families. Kibaki was Vice-President under Moi for many years, while Odinga's father was a prominent figure in the independence movement, eventually serving as the country's first Vice-President under Kenyatta. Indeed the two men were allies in the 'Rainbow' coalition that won the 2002 elections, unseating Moi's party. It was after this election that they fell out, when Kibaki went back on his promise to appoint Odinga as Prime Minister.

The reason this background information is important is to understand the intense personal rivalry that exists between the two men, to the extent that they have been prepared to whip up tribal sentiments among groups of largely young, poor, urban men. A key reason why this was so easy for them to initiate (apart from the vote rigging) is that the tribal split also represents the 'rich-poor' divide in the country. Because Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe have traditionally controlled more of the land and businesses it made it easier for Odinga to position himself as the champion of the poor, who are disproportionately non-Kikuyu. Clearly it is a more emotive story for international journalists to stress the tribal elements but the class issue should not be underestimated - while the Kenyan middle classes continue living a fairly normal existence it is those with the least that are killing each other.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Corruption - An Everyday Occurrence

There is a reason Uganda is ranked 111th in the world for corruption by Transparency International. Anyone who has spent a few months living here will have witnessed times when a sly backhander or brown envelope has sped up some bureaucratic process or paid off a grasping government official.

Today was a perfect little example. On my way back from work with Emmanuel, one of the boda-boda (motorbike) drivers I regularly use to commute with, we were forced to stop as a goods train crossed the road in front of us (no level crossings here). As the traffic was heavy we, along with many other boda-bodas, used the central reservation to snake our way to the front of the queue. Out of nowhere a plain-clothed law enforcement official jumped in front of us and took Emmanuel's key, his team quickly surrounding us while pointedly ignoring the half a dozen other motorbikes who were also not conforming to the 'highway code'.

I know you're probably thinking this sounds like a 'fair cop guv' - roads are for driving, central reservations are explicitly not - but to put it into context it not unusual for cars to drive on the pavement here. It is simply accepted in Kampala that more unorthodox methods of road use are necessary, and during the hundreds of times I have used boda-bodas, all of whom employ the same tactics, I had never been apprehended before. Anyway the combination of an enforced stop and the sight of a mzungu (white man) passenger, meant Emmanuel's bike was on the way to being impounded. It was at this point that I was considering my friend Abdul's tactic of acting out a phone call to the Minister of Internal Affairs. However, Emmanuel was soon back having 'apologised' for his misdemeanour. The cost of freedom? £3.05...

Monday, 4 February 2008

UFOs spotted on campus

UFOs (Ugandans for Obama) are a new group that have started holding meetings on campus and are being enthusiastically supported by many students. Although I can't imagine Hilary is losing sleep over their potential impact on 'Super-Duper, Mega, Tsunami Tuesday' tomorrow, it is interesting to note the breadth of interest and hope Obama has created. The founder of UFO compared Obama with Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther-King in terms of his ability to inspire Africans, both within the continent and the diaspora.

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga has even attempted to cash in on the Obama magic by revealing they are distant relatives and remarking that 'America will have a Luo President before Kenya', in reference to the ethnic splits currently engulfing the country (more of which here tomorrow).

Several months ago I would personally have struggled to chose between Clinton and Obama but no longer. The cynical tactics of the Clintons in South Carolina, combined with a seemingly smug sense of entitlement that radiates from Bill whenever he speaks, have been important factors, but far more so the consistently impressive performances of Obama. There is also no doubt in my mind that he is the single candidate who could almost overnight start to re-build America's shattered reputation abroad. It's time for change.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Start of Term in Doubt - "We won’t teach next semester" say Lecturers

Trouble is once again brewing on campus due to a cocktail of unpaid lecturer wages, a chronic lack of teaching materials and, most alarmingly, a 800,000,000 shilling (~£240k) raid on the staff pension fund. The latter has apparently been used to clear a long standing income tax bill after the Uganda Revenue Authority threatened to begin imposing fines on the university. Pensioners have now been without their payments for several weeks.

This is not the start that new Chancellor Kagonyera would have been hoping for. The man who topped the performance rankings at the interview stage was eventually appointed by the President on Christmas Eve, ahead of Vice-President Bukenya. The tabloid rumours are that Bukenya was punished for not offering the President his unequivocal backing over a controversial Land Bill passing through Parliament. As has long been the case at Makerere, politics and education continue to be closely intertwined.

(Thanks to James for pointing out the original story here:

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Giving Away

On Saturday I got dressed up in my new kanzu (long white traditional robe - see right with my direct boss at Action Aid) to attend a function on the outskirts of Kampala.

The main tribe in the central area of Uganda are the Baganda and one of their most traditional ceremonies is in the run-up to marriage, when the prospective groom has to travel with all his clan members to the family house of his bride. There then ensues an elaborate court room like process (the two families are sat opposite each other in a British parliamentary type setting) in which the groom has to convince everybody that he will be a good husband. He appoints a MC to operate on his behalf in the style of a defence barrister - 'my client has an excellent educational history and does not drink locally produced hooch' etc etc.

To sweeten the deal the clan members then go back to their cars and bring out presents for the other family (see the carpeting of gifts between the two clans on the left). This is in lieu of 'bride price' which while the norm in other parts of Uganda does not operate to the same extent amongst the Baganda. However, given the range and quantity of the presents (3 piece suite, goat, crates of soda, chickens, baskets of fresh fruit and veg) I think 'bride price' may well have been cheaper...

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Article in Journal of Football History

My friend has launched a new online journal called the 'Journal of Football History'. In his first issue he published an interesting piece on the failure of Africa to become the third world footballing superpower. I have written a response in the latest issue out this month. I have posted the link below. To access it you need to sign-up to the site (very quick, free process). An extract from the article is below as well.

"It is approaching kick-off time between Arsenal and Manchester United in the English Premier League on a Saturday afternoon in Kampala, Uganda. Minibuses emblazoned with the names of superstars TourĂ©, Ronaldo and Ferdinand are ferrying their passengers to the nearest satellite television. Fans decked out in full counterfeit strips crowd round the smallest of screens. The ‘Old Trafford’ and ‘Highbury’ bars fill up with their respective fans, the names indicating who is welcome on the terraces of bar stools and plastic chairs. Those unable to pay entrance fees crane their necks to catch glimpses from the street. On the airwaves local radio presenters warm up their vernacular vocal cords ready to deliver their frenzied commentary to people stuck at work.

For two hours the town centre feels eerily quiet for a busy shopping day, yet the final whistle brings an explosion of activity. Young men pour onto the suburban dirt football pitches to re-enact their heroes’ exploits from that day. Playing bare foot, often with the most rudimentary of balls, the skill levels are impressively high and the games conducted at a furious pace. In short, the visiting eye would quickly credit Uganda with being as football-loving a country as you would hope to find, with levels of fanaticism and participation above and beyond that of their European counterparts...."

Friday, 18 January 2008

It's what everyone's been waiting for...'Joe in Uganda' is back

After a 24 hour door-to-door journey that left my luggage in Dubai and my sanity somewhere over Ethiopia I am finally back in Kampala. Not much seems to have changed here, although fuel prices are up by around 20% due to the problems in Kenya. There is a busy weekend ahead meeting the new volunteers from my old school in London, UCS. They are coming to teach at the school with which they are linked called Equatorial College School in Western Uganda. I will be escorting them up there on Sunday (after introducing them to what Kampala has to offer tomorrow night...) and then returning to the Action Aid offices from the middle of next week.

I thought I would write a list of some of my aims for this semester (a sort of Uganda based set of New Year resolutions), partly to force me into action by putting them into the public domain, but also so I can see how lazy/productive I have been when I come back to the UK in June. Here we go...

- Take some driving lessons in Kampala and pass my UK test in the summer
- Visit at least one of Kigali (Rwanda) or Juba (South Sudan)
- Help with getting the 'Teachers' Centre' project at the above mentioned school off the ground
- Successfully help launch the 'Hunger FREE 2008' campaign with Action Aid
- Visit the last main parts of Uganda I have not been to in the North and the islands on Lake Victoria
- Extend my local language vocabulary beyond greetings and basics
- Finish courseworks well in advance of the deadlines (!) and start on my thesis
- Publish another article for someone

Wish me luck.