Tuesday, 6 June 2017

UGANDA: THE STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS 2017

Monday, 22 May 2017

Idle Cogitations: Why do most Ugandans have difficulty handling divergent points of view?

Monday, 17 April 2017

Amolatar: The ideal site for a hypothetical future capital of Uganda? Why not?



Recently, Equatorial Guinea officially moved its capital from Malabo, a city on an island some distance off that country's continental territory, to a purpose built city deep in the interior of the mainland.

The new capital is called Djibloho, or Oyala, depending on what you happen to be reading or watching at the time. I guess they will figure out what name to stick with once they have turned on all the lights, the streets have been cleared of construction debris and the common people have started moving in.

Until then the new capital is a city in the middle of dense equatorial rain forest adorned with all the facilities you'd expect from an unaccountable leader with millions of petrodollars to spend on a pet project.

However, I am getting carried away. This post is not about Equatorial Guinea's new capital.

However, it is while reading about Djibloho and watching YouTube videos of its new fancy hotels and golf courses that I started thinking about something that has been on my mind for some years now.

And this is it.

If Uganda were ever to build a new capital, where would the ideal site for such a city be?

I have been thinking about this question for a while now and the I turn the issue over in my head, the more I think the small northern district of Amolatar might just be the ideal site.

Why Amolatar you might ask? I have my reasons but I will get to those in a short while.

First, some background.

The idea of building a new capital has been around for decades but it has remained just that- an idea.

Over the last few years, Kampala has become more congested and has practically run out of room to expand. Any attempts at widening the roads or creating any kind of major infrastructure are fraught with all manner of headaches.

This is largely because when Kampala was first conceived and planned as a modern city in the early 1900s. It was meant to cater primarily for a ruling British elite and an Asian business class.

Therefore, the parts of the city where these two classes of people lived were well planned with paved roads, good drainage, functioning sewer systems and all that. The rest of the city was just given the most basic amenities. In fact, up to this day the majority of Kampala's residents still do not have proper sewerage systems in their neighbourhoods

At independence in 1962, Kampala's infrastructure and public amenities were suited to comfortably cater for a population of about 100,000 people

The immediate post-independence government went some way in creating and implementing a structural plan that was intended to address the needs of the majority of the city's people.

However, most of these plans were abandoned in the years of political instability throughout the 70s and 80s and even that which was working at independence fell into disrepair and a lot of the public infrastructure crumbled.

Anyway, fast forward through all that and right now the  permanent population of the Kampala is around 1.8 million while the day time population (including the metropolitan population can be as high as 5 million). Yet the infrastructure, roads, sewerage system, etc has changed little from the 1960s.

As the population increased and the demands to plan for a city that is both the commercial, industrial, and administrative hub of the country grew, some people started toying around with the idea of building a new capital.

This idea has been popular in some circles but no moves have ever been made to seriously discuss it and see how feasible it is.

In 2015, parliament gave its approval for the creation of this new capital-citing all of the reasons I have given and a few more. This news created some buzz for a while but it soon died down.

Nakasongola 

However, like I mentioned, the idea of a new capital comes up every now and then there never seems to be any consensus on where this city ought to be. But for some time now the preferred site has been Nakasongola district, the northern most district of Buganda and of the Central region.

Nakasongola has its pros like being sparsely populated, hence having lots of land for construction and future expansion of the capital.

Its location as the northern most district of the central region puts in roughly in a more central position in the country than Kampala is.

Nakasongola generally flat and sparsely populated, which is always a good thing when building planned cities. This gives the planners more to work with and fewer issues of displacement to deal with.

The district also borders lake Kyoga, which would provide a much needed source of water for the city.

Also, it is close to Kiryandongo, which is the site of the Karuma dam, which will be the biggest Hydropower dam in Uganda when it is completed in a few years time..So electricity will not be an issue.

However, despite all the advantages Nakasongola has, I personally believe Amolatar would be a better site for different technical and, most importantly, political reasons.

Why Amolatar?
 
First of all Amolatar is separated from Nakasongola by only around 8 kilometeres of lake Kyoga, at the narrowest crossing point. This means it is just as central as Nakasongola is, despite technically being in Northern Uganda

In fact I believe Amolatar is a more central site being roughly equidistant east-west, north and south from Uganda's borders.

Just like Nakasongola, the topography of Amolatar is also mostly flat making it equally ideal for large scale construction.

The district is surrounded by water on 3 sides, by Lake Kwania to the West and Lake Kyoga to the South and East.

This means it has more water than Nakasongola and it  also receives more rainfall on average than Nakasongola, which is largely dry.

Now the fact that Amolatar is surrounded by water on 3 sides can be viewed as a disadvantage in that it makes it slightly harder to access from Kampala and other southern areas.

However, I think this is not that big an issue and it can be easily overcome with some clever road linkages.

It also offers a chance to build a bridge that connects the northern and southern halves of Uganda. This bridge could run from Zengebe in Nakasongola to Namasale in Amolatar. This is  an ideal crossing point and in fact there is already a ferry plying that route

This bridge will be costly to build but I believe that it would pay for itself in a short while when the capital is established and settled.

Besides it would be an ideal chance to have a grand infrastructural project that will in itself be a major landmark or iconic structure-a Ugandan equivalent of San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge or Lagos's 3rd mainland bridge.

Besides, Lake Kyoga is a shallow lake so I am guessing it might not actually be that much of an engineering feat to build a bridge across it.

I could go on and on trying to give technical justifications for why I think Amolatar would be Ideal for a new capital but these are not really the most important. At the end of the day my main reasons for favouring Amolatar are mostly political.

Having the administrative capital of Uganda in northern Uganda would be a big boost towards developing the region and going some distance in correcting the historical concentration of development projects and economic activity in the "Bantu areas" south of Lake Kyoga.

The greater northern region has suffered decades of neglect, to varying degrees, since colonial times and this was compounded by a two decade long war waged against the Lords Resistance Army that meant the region remained stagnant while most of the country was slowly moving forward.

Therefore, having a capital in the region will almost certainly stimulate development and provision of services for the people of the area and in the process create some kind of north-south equilibrium

I also believe that on some level a capital city in northern Uganda will help draw the people of the north and south closer and go some way in fostering national unity. Not least because of the interactions and inevitable migration to the city but also because things that happen around the capital or centres of power, like parliament tend to attract nationwide attention-this would draw attention to the issues of the area.

Besides if the capital were to be built in Nakasongola, this would not only mean that the two most important cities in the country were in the south but it would also mean having both these cities in Buganda. Knowing my Ugandan people's obsession with regional balance, this might not go down too well

Furthermore, on the same day that parliament approved the creation of a new capital, it also approved the establishment of the four regional cities of Arua, Gulu, Mbale, and Mbarara and the designation of five strategic cities, including  Hoima (as a centre for the oil and gas sector), Fort Portal (as a tourism city), Moroto (for mining development) and Nakasongola and Jinja (as industrial cities).

This means Nakasongola will still be developed as an industrial city and having the administrative capital just across lake Kyoga would raise the potential for so many positive linkages that I cannot begin to enumerate here.

Also that bridge discussed earlier would become a lot more necessary.

From my point of view there is more to gain for the country if  quiet sleepy Amolatar was made the future capital of Uganda.

Leaving Kampala to concentrate on growing its profile as the true heartbeat and engine of growth for Uganda by developing it as a hub for finance, transport, education, entertainment etc can only be advantageous

Granted, a lot of what I have just said is just theorizing and hypothesizing with very little in the way of concrete examples on how these ideas can be put into action. After all, I am not an urban planner, neither am I a civil engineer and my knowledge of Amolatar is very basic, having ever only just passed through the district once a few years ago.

There might be some real insurmountable reasons I am unaware of as to why Amolatar is not ideal for a future capital and some would argue that Kampala's congestion can be best dealt with by developing the other urban centres to take some pressure off the city.

However, Like I said earlier there is more to my reasons for recommending Amolatar than purely technical pros and cons and the more I think about it the more shifting the capital to a new city in Amolatar appears to be an idea worth considering.





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.