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.