Sunday, 26 July 2009

Uganda Talks and Barya Interview

As expected July has been an incredibly busy month with the launch of Uganda Talks. We seem to be making good progress and the reader figures are very encouraging. If anyone has any ideas on how we could improve they would be much appreciated.

Returning to Makerere issues, I did an interview a few weeks ago with one of the Vice-Chancellor candidates, Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba. He is the current Dean of the ICT faculty and has proposed a whole host of reforms to restore Makerere to its former position as one of the most respected universities in Africa. An extract:

JP: Now for the question everyone is asking, you are the youngest ever Dean at Makerere, can you be the youngest ever Vice-Chancellor?

VB: I am the only one who is qualified. As somebody who has been in the administration system since 2001 I know a lot that goes on in Makerere. I know what works and what doesn’t work. I can tell you the type of VC that Makerere needs is somebody who is of course a Professor with excellent academic credentials, but you must also have other talents. For example you have a limited budget from Government so you need to have money from other sources. Somebody must have that entrepreneurship and an idea of how the private sector works. However, the best way to change Makerere is not to rely on the VC but sort out the whole top system. The VC is just one position. We have a lot of redundant staff at Makerere in positions that don’t know what is going on.

JP: So you would be merging administrative departments, removing some academic departments, raising fees and removing some staff. Do you think you’re too radical for Makerere?

VB: That is not all! There is also duplication of academic programmes, duplication of services and unnecessary recruitment. If you look at the visitation committee report all these things were highlighted. The only issue is what do you start with? You have to have a strategy to say what comes first. For example duplicated academic programmes can be handled immediately and we will get a lot of savings. But you cannot say these are radical issues so we never handle them. Look at South Africa, look at the UK, their universities had problems and the government came in and restructured the institutions.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Uganda Talks

Blogging on this site is going to be much lighter in future with the launch of Uganda Talks, the new current affairs blog of The Independent magazine. It's been a while coming but we finally launched today and for the time being I will be editing the site. I hope that you have a look and I would really value any feedback you have. There are bound to be teething problems in the first few weeks but it is my hope that we will soon be established as the best place to find cutting edge opinion and analysis related to Uganda. We will also be running guest spots so if anyone has something to get off their chest please contact me either through the comments here or: joepowell at

Enjoy and spread the word!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Budget Boxes

One of the steps towards economic integration in the East African Community is a requirement that all the member countries hold their budget readings at the same time of year. This year the combined budgets of the countries (excluding Burundi) was $23.5bn. In Uganda the new Minister of Finance, Syda Bbumba, increased spending but kept taxes as they are, meaning a likely increase in the deficit. That is, of course, unless she can miraculously improve the ability of the taxman to pull in what is due to him.

One thing that caught my eye was this photo from Business Week. In the UK the Chancellor poses with the famous red box every year. I hadn't realised, though, that this tradition had been exported. Is this just a Commonwealth thing or do other countries have a similar practice?

Monday, 15 June 2009

Climate Change in Uganda

Last week I attended a British Embassy exhibition about climate change in the National Museum. The displays themselves were fairly basic, being aimed, I guess, at the hoards of school kids who make up the vast majority of the museum's visitors. However, the speeches beforehand were interesting, with the British High Commissioner acknowledging the fact that Uganda is suffering through no fault of their own and promising investment in 'clean development' through the international Climate Investment Funds.

An article in today's South African Mail & Guardian is well timed in that respect. It describes the melting of the Rwenzori ice caps in Western Uganda and the multiple effects that is having on the local community:

But on the dusty, quiet streets of Bundibugyo, the potential impacts on the region’s hydrological system are remote concerns. The locals are more bothered by the emergence of malaria, which they insist used to be a scarce occurrence in their cool mountain community. "Earlier we used to not hear mosquitoes and we had no malaria here. Mosquitoes were down," Maate said, gesturing to the warmer lowlands in the distance. "But now they are here."

"When we used to slaughter goats we could leave the meat for two days and you would never see bugs flying around," said Bikalwamuli. "When you slaughter a goat now, so quickly flying insects are everywhere."

Crop planting seasons have also changed and elders are quoted in the article describing the dramatic retreat of the ice. On an aesthetic note I always thought it fantastic that huge fields of snow and ice existed a short distance from the equator. That looks like it will soon be a thing of the past. Something, perhaps, for the climate change deniers in the Western world to consider.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Zumanomics Review for The Independent

My latest book review for The Independent is now on-line here. The book is Zumanomics, edited by Raymond Parsons. This is an extract:

It is indicative of President Jacob Zuma’s larger-than-life personality that so much of the international press coverage of him has ignored what the people of South Africa have elected him to do: run a country of huge income inequality which, despite growth rates of over 5% per annum since 2004, has failed to make any meaningful inroads into reducing poverty. Instead we have heard ad nauseam about the multiple wives, the rape trial in which he claimed he avoided HIV infection by taking a shower, the alleged corruption and the very un-Mbeki like dancing to the campaign anthem ‘Bring Me My Machine Gun’...

Zumanomics can be heavy going, but then it is hard to see how essays on inflation targeting and labour policy could ever be anything else. In all, it is refreshing to read a serious analysis of the problems facing sub-Saharan Africa’s industrial leader, and there are no shortage of lessons for Uganda. It is a popular misconception that the state sell-off of utilities for example, has hurt the Ugandan consumer and harmed the economy. However, a quick glance at the country’s roads should be enough to realise that it is no use putting the state in charge unless it has the capacity to deliver. A focus on effective regulation of the private sector is in fact a far more useful job for the state to play in Africa. Whether that is what Zuma has in mind remains to be seen, but it is certain that the whole continent is watching with great interest.

Chinese Newspaper Launched in Africa

More interesting developments in the continuing mass migration from China to Africa:

The Oriental Post, a Chinese-language newspaper, was launched in Gaborone, Botswana on Friday, making it the first paper to serve the Southern African Development Community's Chinese population.

Miles Nan, president of the Oriental Post, said he hopes the newspaper will enable better communication between service providers and product developers wanting to reach the Chinese community in Botswana. Nan said the fact that "most of the Chinese do not understand English and speak very little Setswana" has created a large information and communication barrier for the Chinese population in Botswana. Botswana receives important contributions to both its rural and urban populations from Chinese services.

Dr. Jeff Ramsay, the coordinator of the Botswana Government Communications and Information System, lauded the launch of The Oriental Post as significant achievement in the growth of the Botswana media, Mmegi reported.

H-T: My heart's in Accra

Monday, 8 June 2009

Links etc

1. If you have a spare hour and a half-decent Internet connection then Barack Obama's fantastic speech in Cairo is well worth watching. A little thing maybe, but can you imagine George Bush ever saying 'Asalaam Alaykum'?

2. President Museveni also delivered a major speech last week, addressing Parliament for his annual State of the Nation. The New Vision interpreted the speech as the beginning of a war against corruption, while other commentators were underwhelmed by the lack of policy announcements. A nice line from the paper: When the opposition refused to applaud him, he accused them of being jealous and teasingly said they can "go hang."


Thursday, 4 June 2009

Kristof's Misplaced Travel Advice

I had to read Nicholas Kristof's New York Times column on tips for 'evading bandits' abroad several times before deciding whether is was genuine or spoof. The latter theory was supported by advice like the following:

4. At night, set a chair against your hotel door so that it will tip over and crash if someone slips in at 4 a.m.

12. If you are held up by bandits with large guns, shake hands respectfully with each of your persecutors. It’s very important to be polite to people who might kill you.

14. If terrorists finger you, break out singing “O Canada”!

Overall, however, I decided it was a genuine article, although if its purpose was really to encourage American students to visit far-flung places it surely fails. A mention of the fact that the vast majority of people in any country are kind, helpful and welcoming might have been in order to balance the story. Indeed either Kristof has spectacularly bad luck when travelling or he has exaggerated a few stories to suit his column.

Ironically, though, the article has come out at the same time as the Economist's Global Peace Index, which this year ranks the United States at number 85 out of 144 countries surveyed. This places the country below perennial coup candidates Equatorial Guinea and Madagascar, as well as numerous other states that might be considered 'dangerous'.

Now just imagine the reaction if Kristof's advice had been directed at visitors to the US...

Monday, 1 June 2009

President Wine of Kamwokya

A friend has just sent me this great link to a Guardian blog about the Ugandan dancehall scene. Naturally as a neighbour to ghetto President H.E. Bobi Wine, it was the references to Kamwokya that piqued my interest:

VBS.TV recently flew out to Uganda to film a documentary about a dancehall collective called Fire Base Crew, who have set up a breakaway republic, the Ghetto Republic of Uganja, in one of the slums in Uganda's capital, Kampala.

While there, the internet TV station discovered the republic has a full cabinet of appointed members: Bobi Wine (who is the leader of the crew) is the president, the vice president is an artist called Buchaman, they also have a prime minister, a defence minister, a minister for disaster preparedness, a minister of agriculture (whose crop of choice, unsurprisingly, is cannabis) and many more.

The whole concept may appear trivial, but these musicians have much more influence on local people than politicians could ever wish for. If the government needs to communicate a message to the people in the slums of Kamocha [sic], where the Ghetto Republic of Uganja is based, they will get in touch with the crew. Recently, according to Buchaman, they were contacted by the government to help encourage wary locals to go and receive immunisation jabs, and the crew obligingly recorded radio messages telling locals it was safe.

The documentary looks good too. I'll be loading it up overnight (Note to Seacom: your cable cannot come soon enough).

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Africa Maps

Ryan C Briggs has posted this great map based on the number of times African countries feature in the New York Times. Scarlett Lion adds a couple of long-standing Africa map favourites here. I would also add the following take on Uganda to the list, courtesy of Ugandan Insomniac's workmates:

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Campus Water

When it comes to bottled water I have always been a one brand man (for UK-based readers the tap water revolution has yet to hit Uganda. I blame cholera). Highland, Aqua Sipi, Riham, Wavah, Dasani, Ripples, Peak, Refresh and the other atrociously named bottles on offer just don't compete when a bottle of Rwenzori is on sale - although I have to admit being disappointed when I found out it was actually tapped from a swamp at Namanve (also home to a large power station) and not the ice topped border mountains with DRC.

However, my loyalties are now going to be tested as the ever-innovative Makerere Food Science department has launched their very own 'Campus Water'. Now if they could just improve the metallic taste...

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Higher Education Minister Slams Makerere

Mr. Mwesigwa Rukutana has been Minister of Higher Education for a little over three months, however he has already begun the baiting of Makerere which is a favourite hobby of most NRM politicians. At a conference of African business academics I attended last week he delivered a highly disingenuous speech of which the following are some highlights:
  • Many universities in the Third World countries turn into opposition agents.
  • In Uganda dons attack the government, condemn the government and castigate the government but make very little contribution in terms of policy.
  • Ugandan academics need to come down from the clouds and live here on Earth with us or they will remain irrelevant.
  • When did practical ideas ever emanate from Makerere?
  • Where are the Makerere professors? I only ever hear from Mamdani and Mazrui.
Of course the reality is that there are plenty of ideas coming out of Makerere but they are ignored if they fail to conform to the narrow political agenda of the government. For example Dr Augustus Nwagaba has publicly argued that Uganda's rapid population growth is likely to harm the country's attempts to reduce poverty, which is contrary to the President's position that it is actually a good development for Uganda. There are countless more cases like this.

It would also help if the line minister focused more on getting the university the resources it desperately needs rather than repeatedly criticising the place.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem Dies

For those of you who haven't yet heard, pan-Africanist giant Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem tragically died in a car accident near Nairobi yesterday. He has recently been involved with trying to promote a peaceful solution to the Migingo island dispute, and leaves behind a vast legacy of writing and activism. Alex de Waal has this moving tribute:

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, the most irrepressible Pan Africanist of his generation, died in Nairobi on 24 May 2009. His friends and colleagues are stunned at the loss of a man who was so full of life and humour, such a determined Afro-optimist, and such a devoted father to his children, Aisha and Aida. Africa is impoverished by his untimely death...

Tajudeen was a Director of Justice Africa, Chairperson for the Pan African Development Education and Advocacy Programme (PADEAP) and Chair of the International Governing Council of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD). He joined the United Nations as its coordinator for outreach on the Millennium Development Goals in Africa, and was living and working from a base in Nairobi in recent years.

Tajudeen never allowed his critical sense degenerate into cynicism or disillusion. His confidence in Africa and Africans to resolve their problems, whatever the setbacks, was always undimmed. His untimely death leaves a vacuum of human energy and hope that will be difficult to fill.

Kabushenga in Unfortunate Salute

Possibly time for Vision Voice to hire a new marketing team?

H-T: Rowan

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Quote of the Day

"[The] National Resistance Movement is modelled along the lines of the Communist Party of China"

Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo quoted by Angelo Izama. At least they're being honest about it I suppose...

Friday, 15 May 2009

The Tories on International Development

Owen Barder's excellent podcast series 'Development Drums' has an interview this week with Shadow International Development Minister, Andrew Mitchell (pictured). Mitchell has held the post for four years so is well versed in the challenges facing DFID and aid more generally. On most topics he follows the Labour lead, for example guaranteeing that the Department will remain independent with a minister in cabinet (historically Conservative governments have tended to have development under the control of the Foreign Office).

Mitchell does, though, propose some changes. He wants a Department that focuses on outcomes rather than inputs, that engages more with the private sector, and rather cryptically calls for an injection of 'civil service DNA into DFID'. Having listened to the section several times I am still not entirely sure what he means by this. I do, however, agree that there should be more emphasis on the private sector and the critical role it has in the development of any country.

Also in the interview Barder talks about the general consensus that exists in the British political mainstream on development policy. While I agree that Cameron and most of his front bench speak genuinely on the issue I return to my analysis in a LabourList piece from February:

Andrew Mitchell may have tried to drag his party kicking and screaming to the centre ground on the issue, but does anyone truly believe that the phalanx of right-wing MPs behind him will not influence the character and content of a Tory development policy?

To give this some context a group of backbench Tories tabled a bill today (that was withdrawn at the last minute) which would have effectively abolished the minimum wage in Britain. These extreme MPs will evidently have more power if and when a Conservative government takes office, a fact that we would do well not to forget.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Recession Brings Ugandanomics to France

The New York Times had a great piece yesterday on how the French have been pouring money into cows as an alternative form of savings during this period of rock-bottom interest rates at the banks. The featured farmer's Holsteins will give a 4-5% return on investment through the selling of their offspring:

“At this difficult time, it’s a much better investment than real estate and much more tangible than the stock market,” Mr. Marguerit said. He then proceeded to praise the new interest “in natural, organic and lasting things” among the French, who have always romanticized the countryside and imagined themselves shrewd peasants at heart.

“This is part of the patrimony,” he said. In the steep financial crash, “we’re having a moment of realization — we’re landing hard and people are asking real questions.” Diversify into cows? Why not?

Of course any self-respecting Muyankole or Muhima could have told you that a long time ago, not least the Big Man himself.

Monday, 11 May 2009

The BNP Slurs Uganda

Ugandan Insomniac has been having fun with the Simon Darby (he of the far-right British National Party) comments about Uganda last week. For those of you that missed his rant this is the best part:

Dr Sentamu should not interfere in the political process. He’s not in any position to tell me or anyone else who is, or isn’t, English. If I went to Uganda and told them that they were all genetic mongrels and that anyone could be Ugandan I’d still be picking spears out of myself now.

He went on to defend his remarks:

I am not implying that all Ugandan people use spears at all. I was speaking specifically about the indigenous people. The spear is an integral part of their culture and lifestyle.

Ah, the indigenous people. That explains it. Ugandan Insominiac then helpfully compiled a day in her life to help Darby with his future proclamations about the country:

Once I’m done with my breakfast of warm buffalo blood and slugs, I’ll shower in the jungle waterfalls outside my cave and smear myself with pig fat. I think I’ll wear my chicken bone earrings today; they go well with my goat skin skirt and my leopard teeth necklace...It’s gonna be busy, but only after my supper of wild mushrooms, ostrich eggs and giraffe intestines, will I write an appropriate response to Mr. Darby.

It is comments like his that reinforce my belief that the best way to deal with the BNP is to let them spout their rubbish and then tackle it head on. Gagging them invariably results in free publicity and undeserved sympathy. In this case I cannot believe that his ignorant, juvenile and racist comments will win them any votes in next month's elections.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Review of Moyo's Dead Aid in The Independent

My review of Dambisa Moyo's controversial new book 'Dead Aid' is now on-line at The Independent's website here. There have of course been a huge number of reviews already so I tried to see how practical her prescriptions would be specifically in Uganda. This is an extract:

The vast, and often complacent, global aid establishment has rarely been as panicked as they have since the publication of Dambisa Moyo’s debut book ‘Dead Aid’. The Zambian ex-investment banker, educated at Oxford and Harvard, declares the $300 billion of aid money that sub-Saharan Africa has received since 1970 as not only wasted, but as a key factor in the decline of relative living standards in many countries. Moyo concludes that all direct government to government aid should be cut off in five years (emergency humanitarian and charity-based aid are spared).

For those that have spent years campaigning for increases in global aid the idea is anathema. It is made all the more galling that the suggestion has come from an African woman. How can an African, they ask, have the temerity to call for a decrease in aid?

Interestingly President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has a piece in today's Financial Times which also discusses the book. This is part of his take on it:

Dambisa Moyo’s controversial book, Dead Aid, has given us an accurate evaluation of the aid culture today. The cycle of aid and poverty is durable: as long as poor nations are focused on receiving aid they will not work to improve their economies. Some of Ms Moyo’s prescriptions, such as ending all aid within five years, are aggressive. But I always thought this was the discussion we should be having: when to end aid and how best to end it.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Stomachs Rumble at Makerere

Not for the first time the university administration is threatening to stop providing free meals for students on Government scholarships. The above cartoon is the take on the situation by Mr Ras, the New Vision's often inspired cartoonist.

In other news lecturers are likely to hold exam marks hostage until salary arrears have been cleared. The situation prompted a stinging editorial in The Daily Monitor:

The long-term solution is to run Makerere like a private university. It must be allowed to charge, within reasonable ranges, fees that allow it to return value in the form of good education. The government should scrap its sponsorship programme and replace it with a student loan scheme which beneficiaries have to pay back.

This way, Makerere shall have a predictable and sustainable source of funding and shall have a vested interest in providing quality education, say by paying lecturers well and on time, in order to attract top students. The students, with their loans in mind, will also ensure that they demand and get an education that allows them to succeed on the outside.

Other private universities in Uganda do not have Makerere’s chronic financial woes and are catching up on quality. It is time for the Ivory Tower to learn a few tips from the new kids on the university block.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Links etc

I don't normally post link lists but I think these are worth sharing:

1. Alison Evans pays tribute to the 11 years Simon Maxwell spent as Director of the Overseas Development Institute. Maxwell's mantra of 'find out who is making what policy decision and when, and what evidence they need to make it' should be at the forefront of every researchers mind. His attitude reminds me of one of my old Cambridge Professors, Ron Martin, who drummed into us the importance of doing policy relevant research.

2. Rosebell Kagumire chides the Ugandan Journalists Association for accepting a gift of UGX 150m from the President.

3. Paul Collier points out the trillion dollar 'aid' flows from China to the US.

4. For those of you abroad who crave good radio the Africa Online Digital Library has a great podcast series which I've only recently discovered.

5. Nancy Birdsall writes about the disappointment many in the 'development community' have felt about the lack of attention USAID has received during Obama's first 100 days


6. An innovative scheme by Kenyan women's activists to break the country's political impasse.

1912 Update - bonus link:

7. White African charts the rise of the motorcycle taxi (boda-boda) in Africa.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Gold Diggers

I am a great fan of Polyp's cartoons. His work in the New Internationalist was always first rate and directly to the point. As so often this one is simple but highly effective.

Hat-tip: Africa is a Country

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Will The Ugandan Githongo Please Stand Up

It is hard to avoid John Githongo these days. The publicity generated by his starring role in Michela Wrong's excellent 'It's Our Turn to Eat' has once again catapulted him to the forefront of Kenyan politics. He is staring out of the latest edition of the Kenyan aspirational men's magazine 'Adam' and is on the cover of the East African version of The Africa Report (which is, by the way, vital bimonthly reading). His vision is to launch a new grassroots political party cutting across tribe and based on the principle of honest and effective government. Many African Governments will be watching (not least in Uganda) with interest, and a little trepidation, to see whether he succeeds. But this got me thinking: where is the Ugandan John Githongo? Is there any one individual who we can really say is carrying the fight against corruption in this country?

Once upon a time it would have been Teddy Cheeye, who ran an underground paper exposing corruption called 'Uganda Confidential'. However, Cheeye's fall from grace has been spectacular and he now resides in Luzira prison having been sentenced to 10 years for stealing money meant for the victims of HIV/AIDS and TB from the Global Fund. Current candidates are painfully thin on the ground. Faith Mwondha, the Inspector General of Government, has had some successes but suspicion remains that certain individuals and ministries are given an easy ride. Andrew Mwenda has done a huge amount for press freedom in Uganda, and has repeatedly embarrassed the Government, but he is just as likely to do this in the fields of human rights and nepotism as he is in corruption.

So, to paraphrase Eminem, will the Ugandan Githongo please stand up?

Monday, 27 April 2009

Swine Flu Boosts Pharmaceuticals

I am the only one that finds this type of market reaction to a crisis slightly disturbing?

Subs Having Fun At The Independent

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Quote of the Day: Wisdom of a Traffic Cop

From a retired Major in the traffic police:

"At night in Uganda when a car is swerving all over the road we know they are ok. It's when they're driving in a straight line that we arrest them, as we know they are too drunk to avoid the potholes"

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Rebuilding of Makerere's Reputation?

There is interesting article on the rebuilding of Makerere's reputation at the Science and Development Network website. It writes glowingly about the return of a 'research culture' at the university, indicated by a sharp uptick in the number of PhD students graduating in the past few years. This comes after Makerere's reputation as one of the best university's in Africa was hurt by years of neglect and hostility during the fifteen years of political turmoil that consumed Uganda from 1971. It is notable, though, that the article attributes many of the gains to foreign donor money (including the gleaming IT faculty - pictured above from ibeatty on Flickr), a source that is clearly unsustainable. It remains that Makerere is desperately short of resources from central Government, as any visitor to campus will quickly realise.

This extract addresses both the the recent improvements and the huge problems that remain:

Patrick Okori, a crop scientist at Makerere University in Uganda, is breaking a departmental habit of 40 years. He is employing a postdoctoral fellow.

"Today," beams the triumphant scientist from behind his spectacles, "I have been able to employ the very first postdoctoral fellow in the department. And I have also trained 17 postgraduates, 14 MScs and three PhDs over the last four and a half years." Across the university other scientists tell similar stories as Uganda's highest seat of education gradually regains its prestigious reputation of 40 years ago...

But all is not yet perfect and some successes have heightened the challenges. The recent report for IDRC, which it commissioned to assess its own support to the university, highlighted the strain caused by the enormous number of students, up from just 7,000 in the 1990s.
Problems include large classes, increased teaching and marking loads and poor salaries, said the IDRC, noting that "at the same time, [staff] are facing an increasing pressure to conduct research and publish"

Hat-tip: Africa Unchained

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Ugandan Guide To Road Users

In four weeks time I will, according to the friendly lady at the Automobile Association of Uganda, be the proud owner of a three year driving permit. That is of course if I can successfully negotiate the theory test, which is based on a handbook containing such gems as:
  • Do not overtake just for the fun of overtaking
  • Never compete with a train
  • Do not just dangle your arms out the window (in the signs section)
  • You can easily smell if the other driver has been drinking
And my personal favourite:
  • If you hear the siren or see blue flashing lights of the State motorcade approaching draw your vehicle to the extreme left...Do not try to overtake or join the motorcade.
Not join the motorcade! Do they want to take all the fun out of driving?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The Ups and Downs of IT at Makerere

Two recent articles related to IT development at Makerere caught my eye. The first is an upbeat post from Spartakuss on how the vast number of student elections on campus can now be conducted online, saving time and resources:

The room is packed and the tension is high as girls line up to cast their votes for their different candidates. The candidates in turn throng the lines of voters reminding them constantly with little flyers and sweets and candies, more commonly known as “logistics”, to nudge voters to include their names on the list they, the voters, will be ticking. But this is no ordinary election. It is Makerere University’s very first election that is being conducted using the E-Voting System.

The online system that has the aspirants and their pictures entered into the system was built at the Makerere University faculty of Computing and IT (CIT) as part of the National Software Incubation Center’s first batch of projects to be incubated. After being turned out as project, the system has now turned into an application. It has seen its first daylight during the current SCR {senior Common Room} elections at the university and seems to be taking the pressure pretty well. The idea, according to Mr. Benon Jurua, the Chairman, Electoral Commission, was to make voting faster and easier while reducing the long queues that are so often a result.

The second is a worrying story in the Monitor about the continued problem of theft from academic departments, this time a seemingly inside job at the flagship IT faculty:

Police is hunting for thieves who over the Easter weekend entered the Information and Communication Technology faculty at Makerere University and stole computer accessories worth over Shs96 million. The Police say the burglars did not break into the building but smartly found their way in. The robbery is captured in the Police’s Easter weekend crime statistics...

Despite the university deploying a big number of security guards, the campus has become prone to crimes ranging from theft and office break-ins. This is the fourth time computer equipment is stolen at the Makerere University in less than a year. The first incident happened in the Faculty of Arts last year. The crimes forced the Police management to upgrade the university post to a station in order to combat rising crime.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Wrong Review for The Independent

My review of 'It's Our Turn to Eat' by Michela Wrong for The Independent is now online here. This is an extract:

"John Githongo was appointed Kenyan anti-corruption czar on a wave of optimism in 2003, as the newly elected NARC Government led by Mwai Kibaki ended 24 years of rule by Daniel arap Moi. Promised unfettered access to the new President, the man responsible for reviving Transparency International in the country confidently set about uncovering the institutional corruption that had characterised Kenya for so long. The signs seemed good. Two new Acts were announced, the first of which would regulate the conduct of public officials and the second set up a new anti-corruption commission. Perhaps most symbolically, Kenya, the home of graft for so many years, became the first country to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption. Two years later, however, and his belief in a fresh start for his country had evaporated as Githongo pieced together a corruption racket that went to the heart of the new regime...

So what lessons to draw for Uganda? Clearly Anglo-Leasing is of a magnitude far greater than Temangalo, the ‘junk’ helicopters, or any of the other recent corruption scandals here. However, with several thousand barrels of oil a day likely to soon be in production, the potential for a large-scale scandal continues to loom large. An Ethics Minister who cares more about graft than miniskirts may be the logical place to begin beefing up Uganda’s fight against corruption, but it is Wrong’s description of the post-election troubles that should most pique the interest of Ugandans. The rigging by a small tribal clique surrounding Kibaki led to an overwhelming outpouring of anger, which expressed itself in ethnically motivated violence within communities that has previously lived peacefully side-by-side. It is, therefore, incumbent on Ugandan political parties to collectively reject the politics of region and tribe, or to run the risk of bloody mayhem come 2011."

Friday, 3 April 2009

G20 Snub Gaddafi?

Looking at the G20 guest list it was interesting to see which international and regional organisations were represented. The IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organisation and UN leaders were all understandably present. So was José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, and the Prime Minister of Thailand represented the Association of Southeast Asian nations. But the African Union (AU), Chaired by President Gaddafi, was noticeably absent. Instead Prime Minister Zenawi of Ethiopia attended in his capacity as Chair of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), a programme which is run by the AU. Surely protocol would normally dictate that the Chair of the AU would be invited before the Chair of NEPAD? Or perhaps it had more to do with who could be trusted to behave themselves at dinner and not disrupt the negotiations?

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

The Expat Bar

BraveNewTraveler (via Owen Barder) has an amusing sketch on The 6 Characters You'll Meet At Every Expat Bar. I think anybody who has spent an evening (or two) at Bubbles Irish pub in Kampala could identify with this particular type:

Who is this leather-faced man, camped out on a stool which has over the years conformed to his shape, taking half-bottle gulps of the mid-range national beer between whisky shots?

He’s The Lifer, and nobody knows much of anything about him other than the fact that he’s been in town as long as anyone can remember.

Where does his money come from? How did he end up here? It’s all a mystery. But one thing’s for sure, when The Lifer first came through town, that’s when “travel was real, man.”

The Lifer is good for a few amusing stories involving the ingestion of huge quantities of drugs which haven’t existed since the mid-80’s, but be careful: he’s not in any hurry to get anywhere, so you could be in for a long night.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Report on the 'Africa Trade and Investment Conference' in Cape Town

For those of you interested in trade-led development and ways to deal with the global 'credit crunch' in Africa:


Bankers from across Africa gathered in Cape Town last week to call for an increase in South-South trade as a means to combat the effects of the global financial crisis on the continent. Trade between "South" economies currently makes up only 6% of global trade flows, although growth has been rapid. Since 1985 Africa's trade with other "South" economies is up 1170%.

The call comes as the financial crisis hits the continent in the form of reduced remittances, a drop in Foreign Direct Investment and an expected cut back in aid monies. Similarly as international banks scale back their credit lines to Africa a liquidity crisis has been growing, with businesses unable to find sources of trade finance for import-export deals. This is threatening the high levels of economic growth in many African countries, with Uganda’s growth estimates recently downgraded from 9% to 6% for the 2008/09 cycle. It was estimated at the Africa Progress Panel in Geneva that total GDP for the continent would fall by $40 billion in 2009.

Opening the high level trade and investment meeting Jean-Louis Ekra, President of Afreximbank, argued that “there is a strong argument that the potential benefits from freer South-South trade may indeed be as large as the gains that developing countries can obtain from better access to rich countries’ markets”. Ekra also called for a “de-commoditising” of African exports, with value-addition seen as essential to development. In Uganda areas suggested for investment in this area included beef products, aquaculture and forestry.

Due to the global nature of the crisis, unilateral action was labelled as futile by Kenyan Trade Minister Omingo Magara. He slammed “mutual mistrust” and an unnecessary focus on “sovereignty” as holding back regional integration. Delegates suggested that cooperation between governments could result in an estimated $460 billion in foreign exchange reserves being freed up to support African banks to lend more freely. The money is currently sitting in non-African banks earning low levels of interest as Western countries continue to cut rates in an attempt to stimulate their economies. The need to be involved in global financial decision-making led South African Finance Minister Trevor Manuel to recently call for the African Union to be given a permanent seat at the G20 meetings.

Poor infrastructure, however, continues to hold back economic development across the continent, prompting Magara to suggest 30% of African budgets should be directed at the problem. This, he believed, would have the duel effect of stimulating economies during the downturn and improving the investment environment. As an indication of the lack of reliable power supply, MTN estimates it spent $130 million on diesel for generators at its transmitting towers in Africa in 2008.

Despite the economic challenges facing Africa the conference did, however, remain upbeat at the prospect for continued growth. The telecoms sector is particularly robust, with Uganda experiencing 95% growth in 2008, second only to Uzbekistan globally. With penetration rates still low this is expected to continue in 2009. Similarly the substantial comparative advantage Sub-Saharan Africa enjoys in agriculture makes the sector ripe for further investment once credit becomes more easily available.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

China, the Dalai Lama and the ANC: Lessons For Africa?

The refusal of a visa for the Dalai Lama to attend a Peace Conference has dominated headlines in South Africa this week (see cartoon in Mail & Guardian). It has attracted widespread criticism from newspaper columnists, and from the deafening silence emanating from most top members of the ANC it is not hard to imagine what they are thinking. It was, after all, not long ago that Nelson Mandela himself was labelled a terrorist by many countries and denied visiting rights.

Perhaps more interestingly, however, is what implications this may have for China's relationship with Africa. It is an oft-repeated mantra that China is only in Africa for profit, that they don't impose even the most basic of conditionalities and that African governments prefer doing business with them as a result. However, it is clear that China applied considerable pressure on the ANC to refuse entry to the spiritual leader. This comes on the back of a South African spell on the UN Security Council in which they refused to support resolutions on Burma and Darfur, presumably again due to Chinese influence.

This raises several questions. The first, and most important, is whether or not China would seriously have curtailed its investments in South Africa if the Dalai Lama had attended the conference? The answer, I'm sure, is not. The Dalai Lama visits many countries around the world with which China do far greater business than South Africa. The fact remains that China are primarily in Africa for economic, rather than political, reasons. Why, then, was the visa denied? I think this has far more to do with the large amounts of direct funding the ANC party receive from China. Like any political party beholden to one or two major donors they have adapted their policies to ensure that the money continues to flow. Bernie Ecclestone and tobacco advertising immediately springs to mind.

However, in this case China are manipulating an entire country's foreign policy, effectively creating a client state to support their positions on the world stage. Few other African countries have the international clout that South Africa do, making them such an attractive target for the Chinese. I feel, though, that they may have just gone too far this time and I am hopeful the backlash will raise awareness of this new form of neo-colonialism in Africa. Regardless, South Africa must start showing stronger leadership if they truly aspire to join the BRIC countries in creating a new world order.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Chris McGreal Will Be Missed

Chris McGreal is moving to Washington D.C. after reporting on Africa for nearly two decades in The Guardian. He has been one of the best Africa correspondents for that period and his final dispatch shows that it is possible to write about Africa without resorting to tedious clichés, even when the subject is as brutal as the Rwandan genocide (although his does appear to have attracted some - I think unfair - flak in the comments).

Monday, 23 March 2009

Why do Western Journalists Continually Fall Into This Trap?

Mary Riddell is one of Britain's better columnists. She generally manages to produce original material, rather than resorting to the lazy rehashing of tired arguments and opinions that make up a lot of comment pieces. However, her article today reads like a checklist of what not to do when writing about Africa, ruining a potentially interesting analysis of the thawing in relations between Presidents Kabila and Kagame. Instead the piece is relegated to the overflowing dustbin of nauseating Western writing about the continent. An attempted fisking follows:

"A glimmer of hope in the dark heart of Africa?"
Phew! Don't keep your readers in suspense that you might be one of the first Western writers not to make reference to Conrad's racist book when writing about Congo, get it straight in the headline instead.

Photo (see above) of mother and scared looking baby.

"Mr Kabila had not been eager for this meeting. "Maybe I will see you," he had told me earlier. "I underline the maybe." "
Is that the same President Kabila who we learn later is in charge of a country the size of Western Europe with one million Internally Displaced Persons? How dare he have the temerity to keep a columnist from The Daily Telegraph waiting in suspense.

"This is the heart of darkness and the ultimate failed state"
It's been at least 200 words since the last Conrad reference after all.

"The latest handbrake turn in Congo's history began late last year when an internal insurgency threatened not only Mr Kabila but also his neighbour, Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda"
An interesting way to describe Kagame's arming and support for Laurent Nkunda, only to succumb to international pressure to reign him in. Perhaps placed by the President's press office?

"Such pragmatism [working with Bosco Ntaganda] will cause shivers in an outside world alarmed by Congo's long implosion"
Because the 'outside world's' distaste for pragmatism has worked so well in Darfur, where a complex relief operation has been torn apart by idealistic, but probably unenforceable, ICC warrants.

"If Congo, with every natural blessing, cannot survive, then the future of all Africa hangs in doubt"
Eh? I don't remember the future of all of Europe being in doubt when Yugoslavia broke up. Does Riddell really believe that continued unrest in DRC will mean that Botswana, South Africa or Egypt will collapse?

"Now the UK's closeness to Rwanda and France's ties with Congo at last give the West some diplomatic leverage in a crisis whose ripples spread across the planet."
And we finally get to the heart of the problem - not enough Western leverage.

"For decades, the world has averted its gaze from a country drowning in blood and debt. This time it cannot afford to look away."
Is this the same world that happily lent Mobutu huge sums during the height of the Cold War? The same world that is addicted to mobile phones stuffed full of Congolese coltan? The same world that voted in the largest ever (albeit highly ineffective) UN peacekeeping force to the East of the country? And of course by 'the world' sub-Saharan Africa is implicitly excluded given that at one point six national armies were present in the country. I would surmise that the world has often had its gaze on Congo, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

Am I being too harsh?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Umony Mania

Brian Umony is fast becoming the poster boy for the 'Cranes', the national football team of Uganda. Yesterday at Namboole stadium he scored a terrific goal against Malawi, lashing the ball in from 20 yards to equalise in a match they went on to win 2-1. Last month he scored both goals in an away game against Sudan and he has been prolific for his club this season, including a crucial goal against South African giants SuperSport FC in the African Champions League. Umony is also a great role model for young footballers in the country. A university graduate, he possesses none of the petulance or arrogance associated with Premiership stars in the UK. No doubt the continent's scouts will be paying close attention to his form in the coming months. He certainly deserves a chance at a higher level.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Is This the Worst Interview Answer Ever?

Margaret Mbeiza is a rare breed of politician in Uganda for all the wrong reasons. She was the only new Presidential appointee who failed to pass the Parliamentary vetting process, after the committee in charge expressed grave concerns over her ability to handle the Economic Monitoring portfolio to which she had been assigned. After reading her interview in this week's Independent (during which Steven Kibuuka implies her 'special' friendship with the President is the reason behind her appointment) it is easy to see why Parliament rejected her. My favourite response is this one:

Independent: How does it feel like being appointed a minister?

Margaret Mbeiza MP: It's very good; in fact very good because everyone will fear you and you will be called titles like honourable minister which is fantastic.

No further comment needed.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Oil Roundtable Tomorrow

Tomorrow the US Embassy and Fanaka Kwa Wote are hosting an oil roundtable debate at the Protea from 9.30am. It will be chaired by Andrew Mwenda of The Independent. Looks like it should be interesting. More details here.

Election Fallout: Was 2008 Rigged?

The final tallies for Monday's election make for interesting reading. The DP's Robert Okware won with 6,129 votes, over 3,000 clear of the NRM's Kisuule in second place. Natukunda in third received 1,090. Overall turnout was up by nearly 300%, from 3,500 last year, and the winning margin increased tenfold.

Student politicians I've spoken to on campus attribute this this to one thing: the determination of the opposition parties not to be the victim of what they saw as 'blatant rigging' in 2008. They suggest that ballot boxes were 'pre-stuffed' before polling opened and that the postgraduate vote was a target for ringers, due to the fact that the majority live off campus and don't tend to vote. Indeed security around the ballot boxes was significantly beefed up this year, with four police officers assigned to each polling station for the entire day.

Even after his huge victory, Okware (right) acknowledged the common perception of Makerere politics as corrupt:

"It is the students who decide whether you bribe or not. This is about brain power not money as many think. I thank the students for the support and I promise them the best"

Let's hope he can deliver.

Monday, 16 March 2009

DP Take Back Campus

In what is likely to be seen as a return to normality at Makerere, Democratic Party candidate Robert Okware won the Students' Guild Presidency by a comfortable margin today. The NRM's wonderfully named Castro Robertson Kisuule finished in second place, while Independent Husnah Natukunda came in a better than expected third. Natukunda also managed to carry the postgraduate constituency, who are perhaps less easily seduced by the type of money which was thrown around by the DP and NRM campaigns. Regardless, though, all students should now be hoping that Okware can deliver real change in staff-student relations at Makerere.

Democracy In Action

Results to follow here. We should know the winner this evening.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Makerere Election Looms

Tomorrow is Election Day on campus, with eight candidates vying to replace Robert Rutaro as the Guild President. Rutaro's term has been largely uneventful, notable mainly for the fact that he was the first NRM candidate in a decade to capture the position. The campaigns this time around have been the standard mix of pointless noise-making, wasted money and terrible political slogans. This year we get to choose from such gems as 'Celebrating Diversity in Leadership', 'East African Community Oyee', 'One for All, All for One' and 'Struggle is Our Life'. Depressingly it appears as though the contest will likely once again come down to a battle between the candidates representing the NRM and Democratic Party, although I am hopeful that spirited Independent Husnah Natukunda will run them closer than expected. An improvement on last year's dismal turnout would also be a bonus.

Ivory Post, the (regrettably rarely updated) Makerere students' online magazine, has a good rundown of the campaign here.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

BBC Goes Crazy for Uganda

Uganda has been all over the BBC for the past few days, with four stories of varying importance. The rush has in part been sparked by the President's visit to the UK, during which he managed to meet his old friend the Queen, as well as Gordon Brown.
Does anyone want to guess which story will have had the most hits? I know where my money is...

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Should MONUC be Advertising in the Monitor for Combat Equipment?

MONUC, the United Nations mission in Eastern D.R.C, is a regular target for those that believe the UN is incapable of providing robust peacekeeping forces in conflict areas. Perhaps the most damming criticism came last month from Médecins Sans Frontières:

Shocked by the extreme violence of the LRA, MSF teams do not comprehend the inaction of MONUC forces regarding the protection of civilians. During a November 1, 2008 attack on Dungu, the “Blue Helmets” remained holed up in their base. Furthermore, the MONUC contingent has never intervened to protect people in towns under attack, even as attacks multiplied. The number of UN troops has remained virtually unchanged since their deployment in July 2008, despite the dramatic deterioration of the situation.

Attacks on their professionalism also include allegations of corruption and supplying arms to local militias. In their defence the 17,000 troops are expected to cover a vast area of Eastern DRC with few roads and multiple armed rebel groups. However, it did strike me that a truly professional force would not be advertising for combat equipment in the Daily Monitor.

LRA Chic

The excellent Chris Blattman blog had this last week. It is possibly the worst taste item of clothing I have ever seen on sale (yes, yours for only $20 here). The most generous I can be is to hope that Invisible Children are employing the age-old cliché that 'all publicity is good publicity'. In this case, though, they are certainly pushing the limits of acceptability.

The ICC and Bashir

There is something deeply troubling about the ICC decision to indict President Bashir of Sudan. The aftermath suggests that there had been no real planning for what would happen next. NGOs have been forced into an ugly retreat over a warrant that is highly unlikely to be acted upon, at least while Bashir remains in office. The fact ignored by many is that most parts of Darfur have been relatively stable over the past three years and that agreements with Khartoum have allowed the UN and NGOs to construct effective systems for delivery of humanitarian aid. That is now threatened with destruction. As Julie Frint and Alex De Waal put it:

International justice is a virtuous enterprise, but not risk-free. Sudanese people are already paying a high price for the abandonment of the diplomatic approach that has yielded such benefits over the last four years. We fear there is more to come. There will be no justice in Sudan without peace. When peace and justice clash, peace must prevail.

The lack of forward-planning and cooperation reminded me of the fallout from the recent UPDF-led attacks on the LRA in the Garamba Forest of the DRC. In this case American intelligence and logistical support was provided in order to try and capture or kill LRA leader Joseph Kony (also ICC indicted). However, the operation failed in its primary aim and as a result the civilians of the DRC/South Sudan border area have felt the full brunt of the LRA's terror tactics over the past few weeks. It appears no thought was given by either Ugandan or American planners as to what might happen if the mission was unsuccessful.

As with the Bashir arrest warrants, it is ultimately the most vulnerable civilians who suffer due to the unacceptable lack of foresight of others.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Kagimu Calls for Privatisation of Makerere

Hajji Habib Kagimu has a colourful history as a link man between Libya and Uganda, and has become incredibly wealthy in the process. Today he was invited to speak to the Makerere University Private Sector Forum in the prestigious Main Hall and was to be introduced by Vice-Chancellor Lubobi. After the audience had waited for nearly an hour his son arrived to deliver the speech on his father's behalf, Kagimu having apparently been called to an urgent meeting with the Big Man at State House.

It was, however, worth the wait. Kagimu effectively called for the complete privatisation of the university, with lecturers renamed 'service providers', students 'primary customers' and sweeping market reforms to be rolled out across campus. He told the crowd that supply and demand should dictate what courses they take, as when they graduate they will become mere 'products' that could prove useless. Given the incendiary content of the speech it was perhaps lucky for the VC, who is facing numerous challengers as his term draws to an end, that he didn't have to respond to Kagimu directly. I wonder if any of the eight Guild President candidates will have something to say on the issue?

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The Deadly Flash Drive

Before training with Kamwokya FC last week (in an under-reported January transfer I made the switch from the University team), we (the players) participated in a drill designed to raise awareness of STDs. We lined up in two groups of ten facing each other and passed the ball behind our backs until the coach blew his whistle. A member of the other group then had to guess where the ball was, and inevitably chose wrongly on most occasions. The lesson? You cannot tell who has, or doesn't have, an STD just by looking at them.

This seemed to me a simple and effective way of spreading an important message. And it could easily be adapted for campus students. Under my plan 100 USB flash drives would be distributed to students of University Hall. They would then be told to go and print their work in one of the many duka computer shops in Wandegeya, before bringing their sticks back for testing. The horrified look on the students' faces as they see that every single flash drive is infested with viruses would surely be enough to solve the sugar daddy problem once and for all...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Strike Threat Returns (As If It Ever Went Away...)

It seems like the Makerere lecturers have come up with a new plan to scare the university's administration into paying decent salaries on time. The move? To threaten a crippling July strike which will shut down campus when, erm, there are no students around. Perhaps the new leader of the Staff Association, Dr Tanga Odoi, has decided that students should no longer be the proverbial trampled grass in their long running dispute, however I doubt his campaign will get very far if he has.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Makerere Jumps in Web Rankings

I'm a couple of weeks late on this story as we had been hoping to get a letter in one of the daily newspapers giving our opinion on Makerere's rise from 47th to 32nd in the Webometrics rankings of African universities. The letter below is self-explanatory, although it is perhaps a tad disappointing it failed to make it into print ahead of important missives such as 'Caution Those Rollar Skaters' and 'What Happened to Bundesliga?'


The Council of Graduate Students at Makerere would like to congratulate the University on its recent rise in the Webometrics rankings from 47th to 32nd position in Africa. However, we believe that it is unfortunate that the only system in place to rank African universities has such a narrow criteria. To rise in the Webometrics table you are required to increase Internet presence through making academic papers available online, being linked by other institutions, and improving visibility on 'Google Scholar'.

While we accept the Internet has become a key part of university success, it is still only one aspect. Teaching quality, research output, student satisfaction, faculty resources, student to teacher ratios, graduation rate performance, academic awards and the achievements of alumni are just some of the other ingredients needed in a thriving educational institution. A more comprehensive ranking system based on both qualitative and quantitative criteria is therefore urgently needed for Africa. The universities, and their students, deserve no less.


Abdul Muhiire, James Taylor and Joe Powell (COGS Representatives)

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Quote of the Day

Via Norbert Mao and Professor Mahmood Mamdani:

"In a 1972 visit, Amin went to Makerere with a full battalion of troops. He said: “I came with a full battalion of troops so that when you raise your heads from your books, you know who has power.” Amin then added: “On my way, I stopped at Mulago (the university teaching hospital) and I looked at your medical records and I saw that most of you are suffering from gonorrhea.” Then he paused and said: “I will not tolerate you spreading political gonorrhea in Uganda”. This attitude of “might is right” exists even in today’s Uganda."

Monday, 23 February 2009

Separated at Birth?

Col. Mummar Gaddafi, Africa's 'king of kings', and newly appointed head of the African Union, has been taking time off from his United States of Africa project to concentrate on something far more important - suing the scandal rag Red Pepper for publishing slanderous stories that he is having an affair with the Queen Mother of the ancient Toro kingdom in Western Uganda. Red Pepper has never let the facts get in the way of a good story, and apologies or corrections are rare in the Ugandan media, however so far Gaddafi has merely ensured that everyone is talking about the rumour and its merits. Perhaps most amusingly, though, is the amount is he demanding in damages, a figure so large that there is absolutely no chance the Red Pepper could ever pay (even if it was in shillings). $1,000,000,000 remind you of anyone...

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Was the President's Arua Speech Unconstitutional?

"If you give me 20 per cent of votes and another area gives me 90 per cent votes, then I will automatically consider the [region that offers] higher votes” - President Museveni speaking in Arua on Monday.

The implication of the words are clear: the national cake will not be divided equally and the State will discriminate against traditionally opposition areas like Arua. Unfortunately these statements are so common I tend not to notice them, but surely they should be provoking more of an outcry? Leafing through my copy of the 2006 Constitution National Objective III is very clear:

"Every effort shall be made to integrate all the peoples of Uganda while at the same time recognising the existence of their ethnic, religious, ideological, political and cultural diversity"

This is followed by National Objective XII (ii):

"The State shall take necessary measures to bring about balanced development of the different areas of Uganda and between the rural and urban areas"

I won't pretend to have had any extensive legal training but there seems little doubt the President is in breach of his own Constitution, which is under Article 2 "the supreme law of Uganda". Indeed Article 3 (4) states:

"All citizens of Uganda shall have the right and duty at all times to defend this Constitution and, in particular, to resist any person or group of persons seeking to overthrow the established constitutional order"

So who is going to stand up for the Ugandan Constitution? It is time to take a little more care of this battered and beleaguered document. Certainly it should not only be the subject of debate when Presidential term limits are discussed. The American Constitution is never out of the limelight, despite being written in 1787. On paper the Ugandan Constitution is a well designed, comprehensive expression of the rights of the people and the aims of the country. Implementation, however, is almost non-existent. When that is corrected politicians will no longer be able to get away with the type of casual threat that we saw in Arua. It should be a national priority.


There is not much I can add to the pages of reshuffle analysis in the newspapers, except perhaps to give a summary for non-Ugandan readers:
  • The President's wife and MP for Ruhaama County, Janet Museveni, received her first ministerial appointment in charge of Karamoja affairs. This was widely seen as a sign of things to come. On a personal note, having worked on Karamoja for the past two months, I was delighted to see a high profile Minister taking over the portfolio. The region is in urgent need of attention.
  • Finance Minister Suruma was sacked, the move being variously attributed to his role in a major land scandal or his inability to take on entrenched interests in the ministry.
  • The fiery Major General Otafiire was unhappy at being moved sideways from Local Government to Trade and Industry. Again on a personal note I am happy to see someone with more clout in the Trade Ministry, which had become incredibly ineffective under previous leadership.
  • In a range of other promotions Museveni rewarded supporters of the under-fire Security Minister Mbabazi, who was heavily involved in the same land scandal that may have ended Suruma's career.
  • In general the changes are being seen as creating an 'election cabinet'. Role on 2011.

Friday, 13 February 2009

LabourList Post: We should still talk about Africa, even in the downturn

You can find my full post for the new LabourList site here. This is an extract:

"It is tempting to think that in times of recession Labour’s commitment to international development should be downplayed. Focus is rightly on securing domestic jobs, ensuring people stay in their homes and providing help to small businesses and the financial sector.

However, it would be a mistake to begin ignoring Africa after the huge strides Labour have made in the past 12 years. It would be similarly injudicious to accept that international development is now a cosy bi-partisan issue. All evidence suggests that Conservative governments have been less kind to the cause. Major’s administration is infamous for the Pergau Dam scandal, in which aid was promised to Malaysia in return for an arms contract. Overall the Thatcher-Major years saw a fall in official development assistance from 0.5% of GNI in 1979 to 0.26% in 1997. 1979 also marked the abolition of the Ministry for Overseas Development, with the portfolio subsumed into the Foreign Office. The message was clear: foreign aid will be used to further British interests and not those of the bottom billion..."

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

When Leaders Exercise

Ugandan Insomniac flagged up this wonderful photo of the President doing press-ups at a visit to a secondary school, apparently to demonstrate the importance of exercise to the onlooking students. Of course it's a political stunt (time to amend the 75-year age limit in the constitution anyone? Never mind 2011, 2016 is fast approaching...) but one that every politician worldwide indulges in. There are some great example of paparazzi 'stumbling' across our leaders engaged in vigorous, virile activity, and it has the potential to do some good. President Obama has been credited with giving the US fitness industry a boost due to his daily workout. Similarly President Sarkozy has gone some way to changing the French attitude to jogging. Perhaps, though, we should hope that PM Putin's exploits prove less of an inspiration...

Monday, 9 February 2009

Our President, The Farmer

Being from good, solid Mhima stock it is no surprise that the President loves his cows. One of his favourite hobbies is lecturing small-holder farmers on how many litres of milk per day his farm produces, and advising them on the best way to take advantage of high food prices. In theory it's great to have a farmer in charge of a country where an estimated 82% of the labour force is engaged in agriculture, although I somehow suspect the President's vast farm is slightly better served in terms of fertiliser, machinery, good seed and all the other farm inputs that are important in raising production quality and quantity.

Given this background, it is not surprising that one of the most common gifts given to the Big Man are cows and other types livestock. It appears, though, that despite the much-awaited oil billions soon to pour into the Government's coffers, these gifts are to be auctioned for state funds. I wonder whether this has more to do, however, with the his love of pure breeding and the long-horned Ankole cow (see right). In a fascinating (yes...) New York Times article on the rare cow, the author argues that its leanness and low cholesterol levels make it perfect for meat export. The President concurs in this passage:

At one point, a reporter asked if the ranch had any Holsteins. “No, those are pollution,” Museveni replied. “These,” he said, referring to his Ankoles, “the genetic material is superior.”

The 'polluting' and often-sick Holsteins do have one great advantage though. They can produce over 20 times the amount of milk as an Ankole cow. For a dairy farmer in Western Uganda that is too good to ignore and as such the Ankole cow is an endangered species.

News of the auction reminded me of another one of my favourite Museveni-the-farmer moments, this time in a Vanity Fair profile of development economist Jeffrey Sachs. The transcipt speaks for itself:

"Yeah," says Sachs, hurrying to the crucial matter of Uganda's farm productivity. "What we saw in Ruhiira, they're going to get, in maize, six tons per hectare probably. This is really a bumper crop—not just a crop, a bumper crop. And it's because they never had fertilizer before."

Sachs is urging Museveni to launch a nationwide voucher program: offer bags of fertilizer and high-yield seeds to every small-hold farmer in the nation, he suggests. "Go for the big scale," he says dramatically. "Why wait? There's no reason to wait."

Museveni clears his throat. "I use fertilizers once in a while," he remarks, referring to his personal farm, his own situation. "I'm trying to remember: when I grew maize, I harvested 800 bags."

"Eight hundred," repeats Sachs, politely.

"Yes, 800. Eight hundred bags. I must have been using like 50 acres. The bag is 100 kilograms."

"That's 80 tons over 50 acres," says Sachs, running the numbers off the top of his head.

"Mmmmm." Museveni, reaching for the calculator on his desk, starts tapping the keys: "That's 1.6 … "

Sachs is way ahead of him. "Times 2.5 would be … " he says, before concluding, "That would be four tons per hectare."

"Four tons?" asks Museveni, puzzled by the figure.

"Per hectare," repeats Sachs.

"Ah, O.K.," agrees Museveni. "That's what I harvested. Yes."

"You're a master farmer: you got four tons," says Sachs, complimenting the president on his crop yield and anxious to return to the matter at hand. "But the average here is less than a ton," he points out, referring to Uganda. "But with fertilizer you get four tons," Sachs adds, hoping to seize the day. "If you had all the farmers quadrupling their yields, do you know what kind of growth that would mean for this country? That's like a 25 percent increase of G.N.P.!"

Museveni has settled back into his chair. As he sips his sweet tea, his response to Sachs is: "Mmmmm." On the wall directly behind his desk is a single framed photograph, of Museveni.