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...