Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Foreign News Musings: 2016, the year of backing the wrong team (US Elections, Brexit, and Colombia)



I follow international news quite a lot and, as a result, I tend to have opinions on a wide range of international events and goings-on.

Many times I follow international news events with a certain level of detachment. I follow the news, get to know the basics of what is going on and when that particular item or event is no longer in the news I quickly move on to whatever else replaces it in the headlines.

On other occasions I find myself so invested in a particular developing story because maybe it might have implications for my life or work.

However, there are times I find I am so into some foreign news stories even when they might not have any direct relevance to me. It is like how you can watch a football game between two teams you’ve never heard of but over the course of the game you find you are rooting for one side over another.

2016 has been a typical year in the sense that I have followed some news stories quite closely, and I have supported different sides in a range of elections, referenda, debates etc. all over the world.

However, I cannot remember any other year when most of the sides I have supported have performed so badly. 2016 has had many “bad” outcomes for me as far as taking sides in international affairs is concerned that it seems every side I have backed has failed or performed poorer than I had expected.

I will use just three of the major examples- the US presidential elections, the Brexit referendum and the Colombian referendum on a peace deal between the government and leftist guerrillas commonly referred to as FARC.

In all three of these examples  found I was following the debates and campaigns quite closely and  became convinced that I knew which side would carry the day but in all I found myself on the losing side.

With the Brexit debate I took in the analysis of the pundits and reinforced it with my own understanding of what I thought the British were thinking. I figured nobody in their most objective state of mind would want to leave the European Union. I figured that the ultra-nationalists and the anti-immigration groups (who I thought were the ones most opposed to Britain remaining in the EU) would never carry the day. I was wrong.

A majority of Brits voted to leave the EU (59.1%-48.1%)

In the case of the Colombia peace deal I took the view that most Colombians would “see the light” and vote for the peace deal, I figured that no straight thinking person would be opposed to a negotiated end to a conflict that had lasted 52 years. There were those who were campaigning against the deal because they favoured a military solution to the conflict and some who supported a peace deal but only one that ensured heavy punishments for the FARC commanders, which they felt the deal on the table did not address adequately. I figured these were a minority who would be easily defeated and international news channels seemed to agree with me. Again I was wrong.

A majority voted NO. It was a small majority (50.2%-49.8%) but a majority all the same.

Finally the one I am still processing-how Donald Trump wound up being the President-Elect of the United States of America. A lot has been written on this, and lots more is still being written, so I will not get into the details that everybody is familiar with.

Like most mainstream media and the political pundits that filled the pages and airwaves, I was pretty sure that there was no way Donald Trump could win. I felt that though he had surprised everybody by getting as far as he had in the primaries, the national election would be a different ball game and the vast majority would vote for Hillary Clinton. I was wrong once more.

While the three examples I have given seem to be very different, they have a common thread going through them-the experts and mainstream media read the mood of the people wrong. In all these cases the mainstream media (the one I was most likely to follow) gave the impression that the majority of the populace was on the side of the establishment and anybody going against the establishment was most likely painted as being narrow-minded, short-sighted, not very informed etc.

In Britain the “Leave” campaign was characterized as being full of bigots who were against immigrants or working class people who didn’t quite understand the benefits of remaining in the UK. In Colombia the proponents of the “Yes” campaign held that anybody against the peace deal was either simply hawkish or a rich urban middle-class person who had no appreciation of the suffering the war had cost the poor Columbians in the countryside. Trumps supporters were dismissed as racists and country bumpkins who did not appreciate what it took to run the country and maintain positive relations with America’s neighbours.

Obviously I am over-simplifying but the point is that those that lost were all surprised because they had taken “the others” for granted and became overly confident of the numbers of those supporting them. Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos had gone as far as saying that his people had no Plan B for when they lost the referendum because there was no option but to win.

I, like millions in the countries in which these referenda and elections were held, based my opinion on the mainstream media and the establishment pundits and I eventually found out just how off the mark I was.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Future of Ugandan Media in the Digital Age


The Ugandan media landscape is changing fast and, as a result, traditional print and digital media are being forced to rethink the methods of work that have kept them relevant to their audiences and profitable for decades.

With the advent of digital media platforms, the leveling effect of social media and the multiplicity of online sources of news, many legacy media houses are finding themselves more and more alienated from the audiences they have come to depend on for views and sales.

The "new media" is creating newer modes of capturing, packaging and distributing news content that are more relevant and responsive to the needs of a new generation of news audiences.

These changes in the media landscape have forced many media houses in Uganda to begin thinking critically about how they can embrace the new technology and platforms in order to stay alive in a rapidly changing media market.

This has led to media houses getting involved in experimentation with different formats, content and distribution channels but as yet nobody seems to have a good idea of what works best.

Those that have made some headway in producing, and delivering, content that their audiences want are finding they have to figure out how to make money from these new formats and platforms.

The dilemma that many media houses are facing is that innovations in digital and mobile news gathering and distribution will ultimately mean very little if these innovations cannot be monetized.

At present, while the media houses are slowly getting to grips with digital media, the advertisers are still hesitant to spend their money on these new products and platforms. The advertisers are still more comfortable dealing with legacy media, probably because they understand it better.

All things considered, it will be a while until Ugandan media houses sort through the experimentation to find what works and inevitably some will not survive.

However, those that are thinking seriously about the future, and investing in keeping relevant in the digital age, will experience lots of birthing pains but they will inevitably be the first at the table when what is today's new digital/social media fad becomes tomorrow's mainstream platform for delivering news.

Its a brave new world out there but it is also full of untapped potential.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

My Swahili journey and why Ugandans do not speak the language



I recently decided to start teaching myself Swahili, which is the most widely spoken language in East Africa.

I wanted to learn Swahili (or Kiswahili as it is called in Swahili) because I have been a keen supporter of the East African community initiatives and I am a firm believer in the idea of an East African federation.

However, over the years I have increasingly began to feel like a bit of a fraud because of my inability to speak any Swahili.

I have been finding my inability to speak Swahili at odds with my preaching the gospel of integration and getting East Africans to come together as one.

Because Swahili is the de facto langauage of the East African community, I felt I was not setting the right example myself by not speaking Swahili, which I believe is the easiest step an individual Ugandan can take towards being part of the bigger East African family.

It is now a few weeks into my "Learn Swahili" project and everything is going rather well. I wish I had embarked on this earlier.

However, as I have been studying Swahili, I have also been reflecting on why the language is not spoken as widely in Uganda as it is in other East African countries.

Everybody will tell you that Ugandans do not speak Swahili because it is a language that was long associated with brutal military dictatorships and their soldiers but this, while true, is only a small component of the whole story.

The reasons why Swahili never developed as a widespread lingua franca in Uganda have more to do with opposition to in from the kings of Buganda and the early Christian missionaries.

The British in Uganda had decided in the early 20th century to promote the Swahili language as a means of communication among lower levels of government and as a language of instruction in the early years of education.

However, the Christian missionaries at the time resisted, and worked against this, because they associated Swahili with Islam and they felt that teaching Swahili might somehow give Islam a foothold in Uganda.

This missionary opposition to Swahili might not have amounted to much if the Kabaka of Buganda, Daudi Chwa II, had supported the policy of teaching Swahili.

But Kabaka Chwa was not only opposed to Swahili, he was actually quite emphatic about how he would never allow the language to be taught in his kingdom.

Kabaka Chwa believed that teaching Swahili would lead to a situation where it became the lingua franca of the Uganda Protectorate and he was afraid this would then diminish the cultural influence Luganda, and by extension Buganda, was already beginning to have on the expansion and establishment of British rule in the protectorate.

The Baganda collaborated with the British from the beginning of their establishment of the Uganda Protectorate and they had been rewarded with lands from other kingdoms and communities and Baganda chiefs were being used to spread British rule to other parts of Uganda especially in the East and parts of the West.

This had led to a situation where Baganda had been elevated to a special status by the British and by default Luganda had started to gain an equally special status in local administration and education outside Buganda.

It is against this background that Kabaka Chwa felt that Swahili would diminish this new found status of Luganda and he thus opposed its teaching in Buganda and since the British depended on the goodwill of the Baganda at this time, they acquiesced to the Kabaka's demands.

Because British colonialism spread out from Buganda to the rest of Uganda, when the teaching of Swahili in Buganda was abandoned the Swahili project died for all practical purposes though efforts to teach it continued up to the late 1940s.

In the late 1960s President Milton Obote, through his "Move to the left" initiative had laid out plans to make Swahili a national language and a unifying force in Uganda.

Obote was a great admirer of President Nyerere of Tanzania and he wanted to emulate what the Tanzanian president was doing at the time to do away with tribal identities in Tanzania and create a Tanzanian identity through Swahili.

However, Obote was overthrown before his plans could take off.

Therefore by the time the military dictatorships of the 70s and 80s came around Swahili was already pretty much dead and it has been struggling since.

Anyway, I am committed to my pursuit of fluency in Swahili and I hope by the end of the year I will have attained a level of proficiency that will enable me hold general conversations on most common topics. By the end of next year, I want to be able to write, talk and debate on any topic of interest.





Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Why can't I call Kampala home?



Recently a colleague asked me what my hometown was and I said Kampala.
  
However, my colleague felt I had not quite understood her question because she chose to rephrase it along the lines of “ I mean where are you from”, to which I repeated “Kampala”.
 
At this point, the clearly perplexed lady said,

“ But you are not a Muganda” and I said  “Yes”.

She added, “ But how then can you be from Kampala?”

This exchange went on for a while but it ultimately ended the same way most such exchanges I have had over the years have ended, which is usually something along the lines of me being told I have no sense of roots or belonging or other things of that sort.
The confusion on my female colleague’s part arose because, for some reason, nobody seems to ever “come from” Kampala.

There is a pervasive mindset in Uganda that only the few thousand people who can trace their family roots to a pre-colonial Kampala are allowed to call it their Home.
I find this quite absurd.

For those that are a bit puzzled at this point, let me attempt to put the exchange with my colleague, and others of her ilk, in context.

Kampala, the city in which I was born and have lived for all but 2 of the 37 years I have been alive, is the capital of Uganda. 

Kampala also happens to be located in a region called Buganda, from which Uganda gets its name and, which is predominantly populated by the Baganda. Baganda make up around 18% of Uganda’s population, which makes them the largest single ethnic group in Uganda.

Also, my parents are from different parts of South-Western Uganda and they are Banyankore. 

Furthermore, Uganda is a largely rural country and people like myself, born and bred in cities and towns, are a relatively small (but rapidly growing) minority.
Finally, in most Ugandan cultures children "belong" to their father and hence take on his name, clan, and by extension, wherever it is he comes from.

You would think that that last point above would pretty much put my issues to bed. After all, if the dominant societal culture says I come from wherever my father comes from then why would I say I come from Kampala?

The thing is that Kampala seems to have its own standards when it comes to these matters.

Let me explain with an example.

If my dad had been born in Masaka, which is in Buganda, and had then moved to Mpigi, also found in Buganda, and I had been born in Mpigi, I am sure I nobody would say I was from Masaka. Most people would simply accept that I am from Mpigi.
However, when it comes to Kampala the same logic does not apply.

I remember spending an exasperating 15 minutes explaining to the fellow who was registering me for a national ID, why I insisted on filling in Kampala as my home district.
 

The man was adamant that the people who had put that section on the form had meant for me to fill in where my father came from, not necessarily where I was born or where I had lived all my life. I had more important things to do than argue with the man so I quickly picked new forms and filled in an answer that was more to his liking and only then was I entered into the system.

I also remember a friend of mine from secondary who had lived in Kyambogo all his life but he filled in Lira when it came to filling in university admission forms section on district of origin. He asked me why I had filled in Kampala and not Mbarara and I told him I had never lived in Mbarara. He said that that did not matter because, according to him, the guys at UNEB (or ministry of education) would be confused by the mismatch between my "home district" and my surname.

By the way, nobody should get the impression that I have no love or attachment to Rwampara County in Mbarara district, (which is where dad was from).  I do like the place. Quite a lot, as a matter of fact.

I like the fact there is extended family all around the area. I like the peace and quiet I enjoy when I am there. Most of the time I spend there is quite refreshing and I enjoy most of the visits I make there once or twice every year.  I might even spend my retirement years over there in the unlikely event that I get tired of living in Kampala

However, despite all the things I like about Mbarara, it just does not feel like home.  When there I somehow always feel like that guest who comes to your house so often that you no longer feel the need to to accord him any special treatment, but he still remains a guest. He is still has boundaries he cannot cross because he is simply not a member of the household. 

I essentially have no sense of history with Mbarara. I have no memories of growing up there. No childhood friends I got into mischief with, no romances and relationships or  special places with deeply held memories attached them. Nothing.

You can pass whatever judgements about what my parents should or should not have done but that is neither here nor there.

Mbarara is just not home in the sense in which I understand the word.

I do however recognize Mbarara as my ancestral home and I see no contradiction in ancestral home and hometown being two very different, and mutually exclusive, things. It seems in this I am something of a minority, at least when it comes to the people I deal with on a regular basis.

Kampala, unlike Mbarara is in my DNA, so to speak.

I have seen it grow in the same way it has been all around me and moulded me all my life.  With its countless street corners full of memories, numerous childhood friends (and some foes), favourite spots that have come and gone, neighbourhoods I lived in that are now barely recognisable from 30 years ago. The good, the bad, the lovely, the memorable and the not so memorable.  Its all there in Kampala.

This city, formerly of seven hills, is the only true home I know. 

So. Guys…why won’t you just let me call Kampala home?

Monday, 9 November 2015

Christian Mafigiri: Telling Ugandan stories through graphic novels

Christian Mafigiri is a Ugandan artist whose love for American comic books led him to pursue a career in art. He later trained as a journalist and he has combined his skills in journalism and art to tell stories through different forms of graphic story-telling.

Mafigiri has recently collaborated on a multimedia project with Scottish photo-journalist Marc Ellison that tells the stories of 6 former child soldiers who were abducted by the LRA and their struggles to integrate into society, while trying to deal with their own trauma.

Mafigiri has also produced graphic novels for sell which use the style of the comic books he loved as a child to tell stories that resonate with Ugandans.He hopes that one day his graphic novels and comics will give Ugandan readers the sort of entertainment he got from reading American comic books like Superman and Batman.




Tuesday, 8 September 2015

A chat with Bernard Sabiti, author of "Uglish: A Dictionary of Ugandan English.

English has become an international language to the extent that it now has many different varieties of which the most well known are the British and American varieties.

However, because English has been adopted as an official, or second, language in many countries, the language has developed as many flavours as there are communities that speak it.

In this regard Uganda is no exception in that a variety of English that is flavoured by the peculiarities of Uganda's cultures and languages has emerged over the past few decades.

Ugandan English, or Uglish as it has come to be known in some quarters, has hardly been studied and, as such, there is very little written about it.

It is this lack of literature on the subject of Ugandan English that motivated Bernard Sabiti to write a a book on the history and nature of this variety of English. The result of Sabiti's work is the little book "Uglish: A dictionary of Ugandan English".

This book attempts to give a bit of an academic treatment to Ugandan English while not taking itself too seriously. The result is a fun read for people interested in Ugandan English or Uglish.

I had a chat with Bernard Sabiti about his book, and Uglish in general, and this video is a summation of his thoughts on the subject of Ugandan English and the discoveries he made while writing his book.


Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Mbarara Town 1961-2015: A short video comparison



Mbarara Municipality is the largest urban centre in Southern and Western Uganda and 3rd largest town (by population) in Uganda.

This short video is a basic comparison of what the town looked like in 1961 and what it looks like in 2015.

The 1961 footage is from a documentary called Gentle Winds of Change, made by an American academic visiting Ankole (the region where Mbarara is located) between 1959 and 1961.

This is a preview of a longer feature I intend to make on the changes that have taken place in the social economic lives of the people of Ankole over the last 50 years.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Digital Migration in Uganda: A consumer's experience



As of February 2015 only areas within a 65km radius of Central Kampala are covered by the digital signal.


However, by the end of the year the digital footprint is supposed to have increased to cover more parts of the country.


The Uganda Communications Commission has set June 15th as the date on which the switchover from analogue to digital will begin. It remains to be seen whether the country will be ready for this switchover by that time.


In the meantime, for those that are in the coverage zone the digital signal is up and running and quite clear.


For those seeking to make the switch to free-to-air digital television there are 2 important pieces of equipment necessary; a TV set and a set top box (also know as a converter). Also, depending on where you are, an external antenna might be necessary.


The TV set

Some people might be under the impression that to watch digital television one needs an ultra modern fancy High definition TV set.
This is simply not true.


Just about any TV set will do just fine if you want to watch digital TV all one has to do is hook it up to a set-top box that will convert the digital signal to an analogue one that all current TVs “understand”.


There are what are known as Integrated Digital TVs which come with the inbuilt ability to pick digital signals without any additional hardware. However, these TV sets are rare in Uganda and they are pretty costly at the moment.


It is also worth noting that not every flat screen High Definition TV you see is digital.
I personally use a 15 year old JVC TV and it works just fine.


The main thing you have to be careful about is that the TV set you have has a way to connect with the set top box you have purchased or are intending to purchase. This is most likely to be by RCA Connectors, which for some reason are commonly called banana pins. Some others may use RF connectors and newer TV sets will also probably have a HDMI connection.


The Set-Top Box

There are different kinds of Set top boxes out there.


The kind most people are used to are those sold by GoTV and StarTimes, which come pre-programmed to scan specific frequencies and pick specific channels that are encrypted and one has to pay a subscription to watch these channels.


Such set-top boxes will not pick the free-to-air channels, unless those channels are included specifically in the paid bouquets available.


Free to air set-top boxes

However, this is not the kind of set-top box I will be discussing. I will be talking only about free-to-air set top boxes. As the name suggests, these boxes will pick any free unencrypted channels that are out there just like your regular TV would.


While these free to air set top boxes also come in many forms, anybody buying one for use in Uganda has to keep in mind one very important thing, which is that the set top box ought to be DVB-T2 compatible.


I will not get deep into the technical issues here except to say that there are different standards for Digital Terrestrial Television in the world, the most common being DVB-T and DVB-T2. DVB-T2 is the more modern of the two and it is the standard that Uganda adopted.


Also, depending on what your needs are and how much you are willing to spend the DVB-T2 compatible set top boxes also come with some differences. For example, some have slots for smartcards others don’t. Some are HD ready and some are not.


However, all those are extras that may not be immediately important, because as of now the PayTV companies will not sell you a smartcard without you purchasing their set-top box. Also, to the best of my knowledge there are no High Definition channels broadcasting on the digital platform at the moment.


As the technology progresses and high definition broadcasting becomes more common it might be a good idea to “future proof” yourself and buy the most advanced set-top box out there so you don’t have to upgrade in a few years.


I personally use a Chinese made set top box I bought from a company called Widestar in Kampala at a cost of 150,000 shillings. It has a smartcard slot should I ever feel the need to pay for subscription. Its is HD compatible and it has USB port to which I can connect a hard drive that I can use as a PVR to record programmes or from which I can view digital media files in a variety of formats.


There are some cheaper models going for around 70,000 shillings that have no card slot and have no High definition capability.


Earlier I had mentioned that some people might need external antennae and others might not. The reason for this is that the set top boxes come with their own antennae and if you are in an area where the signal is strong then you will not need an outdoor or external antenna.


However most people are probably going to need external antennae especially as the digital signal is till very much in the test phases and also because the digital signal is slightly weaker than the analogue one most people are used to.


Channels


At this point some might be wondering, “What channels do I get after I have set everything up?”
Most, if not all, set top boxes come with an auto-search function which will allow you to pick any channels that are freely available in your neighbourhood-which means pretty much every channel you have been watching free to air with your analogue TV.


However if for some reason your set-top box cannot do an auto-scan then you will have to manually scan specific frequencies in order to get the channels on those frequencies.


In my trials I found that most of the common Free to air channels are on the 474MHz (474000 Khz) frequency. With a few others on the 594Mhz (59400 Khz) frequency. By these I mean channels like NTV, Bukedde, NBS and so forth.


There are a few new channels out their and some that are testing their signals. I hope that there will be more stations.


Channels Available on digital
 (February 2015)


UBC, NTV, WBS, Star TV, Record TV, Urban TV, Bukedde 1, Top TV, LTV, Miracle TV (Channel 44), Al-Jazeera, BBC, CCTV, CITIZEN, EA TV, Capital TV, ITV..
The following are testing their signal, HTV, ABS TV, Delta TV, RTV, Magic One, plus 2 others I cannot quite figure out.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Dominic Ongwen appears before the International Criminal Court


On January 26 2015 Dominic Ongwen made a pre-trial appearance at the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

Ongwen was one of the commanders of the murderous Lord's Resistance Army that terrorized people in Uganda for 20 years.

Ongwen surrendered to Seleka rebels in Central African Republic in January 2015. He was later handed over to US special forces who subsequently handed him over to the International Criminal Court.

The International Criminal Court had issued an international arrest warrant for Dominic Ongwen, along with four other commanders of  the Lord's Resistance Army.

The ICC has set 24th August as the commencement date for Ongwen's trial.