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).