Monday, 25 June 2018

NTV Panorama: Gold in the clutches of the Armed

NTV’s Sudhir Byaruhanga went undercover in a mining area, which is under a 24-hour surveillance to lift the lid off the murky gold trade in Mubende district 

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Starting to drive late in life

I am 39 years old and I only recently started driving, which even in a country like Uganda is a pretty late start.

You will notice I say I only recently started driving and not that I recently learnt to drive because I did learn to drive a number of years ago but for different reasons I never went behind a wheel for about 15 years.

I recently obtained my license and got myself a cheap 22 year old car and I am enjoying myself immensely.

However the point of the video is not so much that I started to drive late but why I feel this was the right time for me to start driving and why I think in some ways starting to drive later has its own advantages.

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.


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.