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!