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.