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.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Grumpy Old Man

Dear BBC,

I have lived in Uganda for two years and always thoroughly enjoyed the World Service. The programming is mostly of fantastic quality and I know how popular it is with Ugandans and expatriates.

However, I have one complaint to make which may seem trivial but I know is a real irritant for listeners here in Uganda. Why are Sportsworld and Sportsworld Extra constantly interrupted to cut to the news is Swahili? This happens week after week, one example being today when commentary of Manchester United versus West Ham was taken off with 10 minutes remaining. Why does this happen? Why can't Swahili news be scheduled normally (aside from the fact that the vast majority of Ugandans don't speak Swahili)? From canvassing friends I know that football commentaries are one of the most popular programmes on the radio station. Please allow us to enjoy the little we get without interruption.

Many thanks,
Joe Powell

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Refugee Camp Report

I'm now back in Kampala and have realised that I never followed up on the promise to write about Nyakabande refugee camp on the DRC border, where I spent some time before Christmas. Fortunately James has come to the rescue and you can read his excellent account here:


That is of course, if you don't mind reading a report written by a Canadian. Perhaps the Tories have spent so long out of office that they've become diplomatically incontinent, but quite what Canada and Korea have done to be on a tacky advert that implies the innate mathematical quality of British people is being stifled by Labour, I'm don't know. Perhaps this is one that should never have left the back of an envelope?