Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Back to School

I started a postgraduate course in management yesterday and I am feeling quite nice about being a student again, 10 years after my undergraduate studies. I wonder why I hadn't done this earlier. It took only one day in class for me to remember how much I actually liked to study. Unlike most of my friends, I actually liked university for the classes and the studying. All the other stuff like partying was fun too but I had been raised in a pretty free environment so, for me, going to university was not a break from the shackles of parents and home like it was for most of my friends. Unlike in secondary school, I do not remember having that much difficulty studying for and passing my exams. Now I am a manager in training and I like the fact that the particular course I took and the institution I am studying at has more of an emphasis on the experiential than on the academic. Hopefully by the end of 2 years I should be a top-notch project manager and I will have figured out exactly how I am going to put my knowledge to use. Its not that I do not have an idea of what I want to do. I actually have way too many ideas running through my head that I do not know at this point where to begin and how to integrate it all. But I am hoping I will "see the light" in the coming months. It should not therefore be a surprise if some nuggets of project management find there way onto this blog. However I intend to leave most of that over at my other blog. While I am at it I intend to jump-start this here blog. Its been dormant for way too long.

Friday, 9 March 2012

And the Kony 2012 juggernaut rolls on

I spent yesterday trying to write a post on my views on Invisible Children's KONY 2012 video that has gone viral and garnered millions of views (38,430181 on YouTube as I write this). More specifically, I wanted to write about what I thought was wrong with both the approach of the film-makers and the way people without the slightest clue about the LRA (besides the misinformation gleaned from KONY 2012) were taking up the Stop Kony cause with such fervour.

However, Twitter could not let me do that in peace because almost every 5  minutes I received links to articles and blog posts reacting to the Invisible Children campaign. Posts like this one by Michael Wilkerson guest posting at Foreign Policy, and this post by  Ugandan blogger Angelo Izama are just two of the many that are out there echoing my feelings.  There is also this video from Ugandan blogger Rosebell Kagumire

As a result I feel what I had to say has already been said by many other people-many times over-and I do not see my self adding much to this debate.

But just when I was thinking of moving on I saw #konysurrender, which just confirmed that most people out there psyched about doing their bit to stop a murdering warlord are really clueless. What do they expect? That Kony is going to be so overwhelmed by millions of earnest pleas from American high school and college kids that he will cave in and surrender himself to a police station near him. The naivety of this later campaign is so incredible it hurts.

Kony will not surrender and Jason Russell and Co. know this because I am sure they know about the failed peace initiatives between the Ugandan government and the LRA in Southern Sudan in 2006. They also know about a US funded operation called Operation Lightening Thunder meant to capture Kony, after the failed peace talks, that was botched spectacularly. They know that the US government is more than aware of the Kony problem.

What exactly Invisible Children expects to achieve by Covering the night I cannot farthom. Getting people aware is OK, I guess, but ultimately there is nothing useful that can come of this campaign except cranking up the hysteria and misinformation.

There are efforts afoot to get the child soldiers abducted by Kony to abandon his army and surrender already. There are also numerous organisations that are on the ground attempting to find solutions to the problem that is Kony that are actually doing useful work that has a shot at working. However these efforts run the risk of being sidelined in favour of interventions that are ill-conceived which only play to the emotions and offer a sense of having helped solve a problem by buying an action-kit. These efforts on the ground need support from clear headed and sober people who know exactly what they are talking about. Here is a report  by the International Crisis Group on the LRA conflict as it is at the moment, work on the ground being done to end it and some meaningful recommendations on possible interventions by different parties. If only people bothered first to seek out reports like this before jumping on whatever save-the-hapless-Africans bandwagon that happens to be passing at the time, maybe initiatives like KONY 2012 just might be taken in stride and treated with the cautious scepticism they deserve.

But then again maybe I am being overly cynical and not giving the campaign a chance. Either way the StopKony juggernaut is on the roll and there seems to be no stopping it for now. I will see how this plays out-reservations and all.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Africa Reading Challenge 2012

I recently committed myself to taking part in the Africa Reading Challenge 2012, whose rules are pretty basic. Here they are as originally suggested by Kinna who started the whole challenge.

Challenge Period  January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012
Region The entire African continent, including its island-states, which are often overlooked. Please refer to this Wikipedia “list of sovereign states and dependent territories in Africa”. Pre-colonial empires and regions are also included.
Reading Goal  5 books.  That’s it.  There will be no other levels.  Of course, participants are encouraged to read more than 5 books.  Eligible books include those which are written by African writers, or take place in Africa, or are concerned with Africans and with historical and contemporary African issues. Note that at least 3 books must be written by African writers.

But some guys thought that a year was too long a period and they decided to tweak the rules a bit by  suggesting that each person taking part should read one book a month from March to July. 

I decided to set the following rules for myself;

  1. I'd read only books written after 2000
  2. I'd choose 1 book from (or written by an author from) North, East, Central, South and West Africa
  3. The books would be mostly about contemporary life and if possible in genres not generally associated with African fiction. 
Generally speaking, I knew I didn't want any of the stuffy overly literary stuff that reminded me of secondary school if I could help it or the kind of books that Binyavanga Wainaina seemed to have in mind when he wrote his satirical essay How to write about Africa. No books romanticising a pre-colonial Africa and not too much on the wars, corruption and poverty of the post-colonial period. 

With the above rules in mind to guide me, these are the books I have zeroed in on.

This is a novel narrated by an introspective psychiatrist of Nigerian descent living in New York city, who reflects on aspects of his life both in the US where he currently lives and Nigeria where he was raised. I read through. It felt deep. I decided to add.

I first heard about Al Aswany and his book on BBC's world book club a while ago and it was the only  book from North Africa that came to me immediately. It was the best-selling Arabic novel for two years. Considering, as the translator points out in his notes,
...the reader need not pay too much heed to the fact that the events described nominally take place before and during Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait: the novel reflects the Egypt of the present.
I figured it would be as good book as any to give me a glimpse into pre-Tahrir Square/Arab spring Egypt and a good read in the process.

This one had me at "crime novel set in Kenya". After a look through the first pages (courtesy of an amazon sample) I learnt that the main character is an African-American cop called Ishmael (hmm..) who while investigating the murder of a young woman on a university campus in Madison ,Winsconsin, in the USA, unearthes leads about the main suspect, Joseph Hakizimana, a genocide hero who is now teaching at the university, that take him to Nairobi where he partners up with a Kenyan detective called David Odhiambo, who might be high off something illicit when we first encounter him. I mean what was there not to like. Nairobi Heat fits every single rule I had set for myself in this challenge-it is written by a Kenyan (American) post 2000 in a genre that is not popular among African authors (crime fiction).
Though most reviews are largely positive they all seem to hint at some giant leaps taken (or expected of the reader) and plot holes therein but I am guessing Ngugi Wa Thiongo's son makes up for that in other brilliant ways. I mean, his daddy is like the most acclaimed author in our corner of the world. The apple can't have fallen that far from the tree (hopefully).

I first learnt of Alain Mabanckou while reading a list of recommended reading for 2012 and everything that was written about him seemed to suggest that he was the kind of writer I needed to be familiar with  (eg. he seems to have an issue with fullstops and hardly ever uses them). So when I came across Broken Glass (Verre Cassé) I thought I'd give at a look through and I was immediately impressed because its a funny book and it is about the kind of people and place I was all too familiar with until recently-regular patrons in a popular, somewhat rundown, neighbourhood bar (called Credit Gone West). Apparently critics and readers in Francophonia were going gaga about it when it came out. Even the French cultural minister referred to the author as Mabancool . Such a rare convergence of liking is a major plus in the book's favour. Critics, culture ministers and the hoi polloi rarely agree on what's cool.

This one I have reservations about. It makes it on the list basing purely on its genre-bending credentials. According to wikipedia;
Zoo City is set in an alternate version of the South African city of Johannesburg, in which people who have committed a crime are magically attached to an animal familiar – those who receive such punishment are said to be "animalled". The novel's chief protagonist, Zinzi December – who was "animalled" to a sloth after getting her brother killed – is a former journalist and recovering drug addict, and is attempting to repay the financial debt she owes her drug dealer by charging people for her special skill of finding lost objects, as well as making use of her writing abilities by drafting 419 fraud emails. The book's plot focuses on Zinzi's attempts to find the missing female member of a brother-and-sister pop duo for a music producer, in return for the money she needs to fully repay her dealer.
It doesn't get more unconventional than that and I can't help thinking of the book as a kind of cross between Tsotsi and The Golden Compass. I downloaded it yesterday but I haven't looked through it to see how the writing hits me. I am guessing the book must be worthwhile because it won something called the Arthur .C. Clarke award in 2011. I happen to know that during his lifetime Arthur .C. Clarke was the dog's bollocks  in science fiction writing. 

So that's my list for the African Reading Challenge for 2012. I haven't decided in what order I will read them  beyond deciding that Open City will be the first. I will post a review after I finish each book. I hope I have as much fun as I think I am going to have.

P.S. the links above lead to Amazon pages that will let you have a peek inside the books.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Getting the movies over the years, bootlegs and all

I recently visited my friendly neighbourhood DVD bootlegger to see if I could get a copy of Luther and because he didn't have it (or any other British series I suggested) we got into a discussion on the dynamics of access, wholesale, retail and distribution in his line of work. Our discussion got me thinking about how the story of how we have been quenching our thirst for foreign movies and TV series over the years is pretty much a story of bootlegging entertainment. This is especially true in my case.

I can’t say I remember when I watched my first movie, although the earliest clear memory I have is of a Clint Eastwood movie (most likely A Fist Full of Dollars) which I must have watched around 1984 at a relative's place. Back then I wasn’t sure whether it was on TV or not. But I have liked movies for as long as I can remember although getting the good ones hasn't always been easy.

We got our first VCR (along with the first colour TV) in 1985 and with it came 3 movies Live and Let DieAssault on Precinct 13 (not the one with Lawrence Fishburne) and All Quiet on the Western Front (I have always suspected that they were just tossed in as freebies). However, owning a VCR meant having a constant supply of VHS tapes to feed it. This is where the problems begun. Many of the Museveni-generation might not believe that there was a time when there was no proper movie library in Kampala (and Uganda for that matter). 

In those days I remember my father used to bring home tapes with the words Whittaker’s (or some such name) video library written on them. Mr. Whittaker (if there was ever any such person) had come up with the ingenious idea of having his friends in the UK record stuff for him off the telly, which they could send over to be lent out to us Kampalans. But because the recording was off TV and the people doing the recording probably just set the timer and headed on down to the pub, the tapes would come with commercial breaks, public service announcements, breaking news etc. We would go some minutes into a movie or TV series like the Far Pavilions or A Town Like Alice and then have a ketchup ad thrown in before we reverted to the “regularly scheduled programming”. Something like that would probably piss me off now but I was six at the time and even the ads were fun.

The other thing about those tapes was that Mr. Whittaker felt that the entire 180 minutes of the tape had to be filled. Along with every movie came a few episodes of some sitcom or series. These were mostly british programmes like Fawlty TowersNot the 9:00 o’clock newsTop of the Pops etc and sometimes an American series like Miami Vice or Kojak. I think its thanks to Mr. Whittaker I developed a love for British TV.

We moved to Jinja in1987 by which time VCRs were spreading all over the land and the movie rental business had started developing. We soon became members of Bashir's Video Library, which was next to a video hall called Town Talkies. Bashir had the movies, the properly edited ones without commercials, however the bootleg quality was not that great and neither was the variety. The movies were generally categorised thus;

-“You kill my father now I kill you too” old style Kung Fu flicks with titles like Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow. Closely related were the latter day versions of previously mentioned movies. High-octane Hong Kong martial arts kickfests all based on the same cop drama/revenge script like Police Story.

-Vietnam flicks. You remember the type where some badass GI would mow down a whole battalion of "gooks" (their words) shooting straight at him and somehow not get hit even once. 

-Those good old shoot ‘em up plotless B-Movies with titles like Exterminator 2000.

Besides the "latest" movie was two years old.

Did we mind? Heck no. That is until we were watching the movies faster than Bashir could stock them up. One thing I remember that stood out of place at Bashir’s was 40 something tapes of Dallas (they just didn’t fit in with the rest). We watched them all and this was the interesting Dallas (up to the point Jr Ewing dies). It’s funny when you consider that all that can now fit on one DVD.

By now the eighties were ending and we were back in Kampala. The good news was that real video libraries were opening up like Bimbo and Ripples (which was the video library to be a member of if you were somebody), but the bad news was that the membership and movie rental fees were way too high. Necessity, therefore, led to the emergence of a coordinated network of lending and borrowing movies among friends.

Will trade this for Kindergarten Cop
If person x had that movie you had to watch like Batman, Rambo 3 or Die Hard you had to find him an equally interesting movie or trade him something just as cool (like an Asterix/Tintin comic book, or a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew/Famous Five novel). Lunchtime at "The Rocks" in Kitante was the time most of these exchanges could go down. It had the feel of some kind of stock exchange with young boys haggling over what movie was worthy to be exchanged for another or one guy promising to lend movie to another for an extra day on condition that a certain comic book was thrown into the bargain.

It wasn’t long before the Ugandans hooked up with bootleggers from around the world and swamped the market with the latest VHS movies that were on offer. Soon the bootlegged copies started getting bootlegged and every other neighbourhood had a video library stacked with 5th and 6th generation bootlegged VHS tapes. 

Then there came the shortlived VCDs followed by the DVDs. Since these days everybody and their uncle has a DVD player, or computer, VHS has disappeared. The DVDs are ubiquitous on the streets of Kampala and they are cheap. For the price of an “original” VHS tape of back in the day you can have yourself 5 DVD movies.

Many people don't even bother with DVDs any more. They would much rather watch their movies as digital files that they can transfer to the portable gadget of their choice. Over the last 5 years internet access has greatly improved and the costs of accessing the internet have gone down, which has greatly improved access to movie downloads for those with the right bandwidth. Actually one doesn't have to download the movie if they don't want to. There are many sites that offer movies for streaming. Obviously the free ones also happen to be "not very legal" but I don't see anybody bothered by that. Torrent sites have given the world access to virtually any movie for the cost of some patience and bandwidth.

The SOPA people obviously do not like this and it riles them to think that they are not getting a cut off all the movies you and I are watching. However, its unlikely that countries like Uganda are about to get into the cross-hairs of anti-piracy campaigners any time soon simply because we are not considered a worthwhile market. The big movie companies are more interested in the Indians and Chinese because they would love to have a cut of what each one of those 2.6 billion people are paying for their bootlegs.

Back at the DVD place I had to settle for an incomplete season 6 of Dexter after getting assurances from my DVD guy that he will hook me up with more British series than I know what to do with as long as I swore allegiance to him and only him. I could see why he needed all the support he could get. There are no less than 15 similar business within a 100 meter radius of his small shop all with the exact same bootlegged merchandise.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Thursday, 19 January 2012


We moan and groan and frankly b*%ch alot about the state of our country-Uganda, but as we approach our 50th birthday stop to reflect and think, our national emblem (the Crested Crane) has a mohawk, cool huh!! Sure beats having a bald headed eagle, Ug 1: US 0.

Says a friend on facebook.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Dangers of Forgetting in Uganda

The following article, written by Andrew Green, was originally posted on the ThinkAfrica Press website on 14th November 2011 (link to original story). I am reproducing it here, with full permission, as the first of a number of interesting articles from other sources related to my promotion of Uganda's Jubilee this year.

October 9 may have been Independence Day in Uganda, but it could have been any other sleepy Sunday in Kampala. Disappointment from the previous night’s football match against Kenya – a 0-0 draw that denied Uganda a spot in the Africa Cup of Nations – dulled any impulse for celebration. There were rumours of a ceremony at the Kololo Airstrip, where British colonial administrators had handed power to Milton Obote 49 years previously, but the grassy field stayed empty even after the morning drizzle finally cleared.

The lack of pageantry was apace with the scepticism and dismissiveness that marks Uganda’s approach to historical discussion and celebration. It is a country where the national archives cannot accept new material because it does not have the space and because the government tried to tear down the national museum to turn it into offices last year.

Uganda has the world’s second youngest population, but the lessons of its past are being lost to its children, leaving no national identity to overcome commonly held ethnic stereotypes. The USdecision this week to join an ongoing conflict in northern Uganda highlights a division some scholars believe a more complete teaching of history could help resolve.

How soon is now?

Ugandans have “made a lot of mistakes in the past and we still make mistakes,” explains Edwin Paratra, who works at the Uganda Museum. “I look at the children we groom and they’re docile … many are just passing through the time.

"It’s important to make them be critical, but how can they criticize when they don’t really know [about the past]?”

Paratra joined the museum in 2007, part of a wave of new hires ahead of that year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kampala. He was a student at Makerere University then, and he clearly still delights in getting the opportunity to work at the museum. As he walked through its halls, he stopped to point out a temporary exhibition on transportation he helped set up.

For the last five years, part of his job has been giving tours to the busloads of students who show up each school day.

“It’s good that the young ones know where they come from,” he says, with a hall of displays on traditional Ugandan customs as his backdrop. But their interests are limited to the things they are taught in school, he continues. So they marvel over the country’s first car and its first typewriter – both legacies of the colonial era – but they rarely ask why there is no mention of the country’s post-independence leaders anywhere in the museum. History textbooks in this country end where the post-colonial era begins.

Reading, writing and remembering

“Anyone who comes in power doesn’t want the others’ history to be put anywhere,” Paratra explains. Not in textbooks, not in memorials, and not in the national museum. According to Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a senior history lecturer at Makerere, the decline in historical preservation is partly an attempt by the country’s leadership to control the national narrative.

More broadly, the history of history in Uganda is one of neglect. In a poor country with limited resources, doctors, engineers and even teachers provide the kind of results that look good on international donor reports and campaign billboards: lives saved, buildings constructed and students educated. The work of historians, archivists and curators does not deliver those kinds of statistics, so does not get the same kind of attention and support.

But, overlooked in a results-driven society, are the uncountable benefits of a citizenship with a robust sense of its own history. Uganda must, according to Ndebesa, create “motivation for society, incentives for work, motivation for nationalism and patriotism…We want to create the soul of a nation. We have no soul in this nation”.

In the absence of a national identity that the teaching of history would help create, Uganda is running the risk, he claims, of becoming a country where ethnic divisions dominate individual perspectives. He repeats several times that in his classes “I don’t take people into the past to leave them there”. One of the most important things he does in his history of Uganda class, he says, is to trace historical migration patterns to show people that contemporary ethnic prejudices have no basis in historical fact. That many of Uganda’s tribes are steeped in intermarriage. And that divisions within society, which sometimes erupt into conflict, are not necessary.

“The prejudices are there… but there is no systematic way of ‘de-teaching’ to remove those prejudices,”  he says, adding that, “[I am] aiming at doing that. But I don’t have big audience. These are very few students. Uganda is 32 million. If I teach 200 people, it’s a drop in the ocean.”

The dangers of forgetting

Ndebesa will soon be getting some support. Next year the state-of-the-art, fully digital Kitgum Peace Documentation Centre in northern Ugandan will be operational. Part memorial, part research centre, its goal is to encourage national reconciliation in a region subject to massive violence for more than 20 years.

The conflict in northern Uganda has variously been described as a guerrilla campaign by the Joseph Kony-led Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) or as a civil war between the country’s north and south. Through both force and persuasion, Kony drew troop supplies from his own Acholi tribe in the north, while simultaneously waging a terrorist campaign against the Acholi and their neighbours.

People in the north maintain that the government’s slow response to the LRA is, in part, out of ethnic retribution. The National Resistance Movement party of President Yoweri Museveni has never enjoyed much support in the north. And Uganda’s former leaders Obote and Idi Amin, who are vilified by the current leadership, traced their lineage to the northern part of the country. Even as the conflict has waned, thousands of Acholi are still displaced from their homes, breeding further resentment. Obama’s decision to send US troops to clear out what remains of the LRA underscores the fact that the conflict – and the ethnic divisions it has exacerbated – is still not fully resolved.

“The more we looked into the conflict in northern Uganda, the more it became clear that the problem is a manifestation of those historical problems [between north and south],” says Moses Okello, a senior research and advocacy advisor at the Refugee Law Project, the group setting up the centre. The violence “is a product of a blinkered way of teaching history”.

The new museum will build on oral histories and documents to “create a complete picture”, Okello says. But ultimately, the bigger goal is to force the country to reconsider how it teaches history.

“History, and particularly its cultural dimensions, creates a sense of identity as individuals and as a nation,” Okello argues.

“The average Ugandan kid is ignorant of other ethnic groups. The average Ugandan adult doesn’t know so much about other parts of the country. What they know is mostly stereotypical. By and large many of the problems of conflict come from this teaching of history.”

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The dirty politics of radio ownership in Uganda

After the resignation of the Minister for the Presidency,  Kabakumba Matsiko, from cabinet over accusations of abuse of office and causing the government financial loss while she was Minister of Information, following the police's discovery that a radio station she owned (Kings FM in Masindi) was using a mast and transmitter that belonged to UBC, I thought that there would be no more stories on stolen masts and other misused UBC equipment. However, this week the media reported that 35 more cabinet ministers were to be probed for abuse of public resources (read using UBC equipment and services without paying) and it is starting to look like Kabakumba’s case might be the rule rather than the exception.

Two thoughts came to my mind when I reflected on the media stories:
  1. The UBC must have acquiesced to its equipment being used for free (despite the official line saying those using UBC equipment without paying were doing so by colluding with some lowly employees)
  2. Are there any opposition politicians being being investigated?
I could not help but think that UBC has been aware for years that all these high ranking politicians were using its equipment for free. I even began to think that maybe the ministers were enjoying an unofficial perk from the government for their support- a way of making it easier to own and manage a vital mobilisation asset.

While I was going over these issues, I came across a report on radio ownership and its impact on political speech in Uganda by the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) that put things in perspective.
The report, based on a study carried out by ACME just after the 2011 presidential elections, shows to what extent the politicians in the ruling NRM party are controlling the political discourse in the country through their ownership of radio stations. A disproportionate number of the 280 radio stations registered in Uganda are owned by NRM leaning politicians and businesspeople. This in itself would not be improper if the radio licensing playing field were level. However, it is anything but.

According to License to Censor: The Use of Media Regulation to Restrict Press Freedom, a September 2011 report by Freedom House

"Ownership in the radio sector, which has the widest reach, particularly in the rural areas, is more opaque, with a significant proportion of outlets controlled by political actors or their close associates."

It is virtually impossible for a known opposition politician or a businessperson openly sympathetic to the opposition to get a license for a radio station in Uganda. It becomes nearly impossible if such a radio station is to operate in an upcountry location.

The main opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) has tried unsuccessfully on a number of occasions to obtain a license for a radio station. According to the ACME report;

"The party had secured UShs 190 million (approx. US$ 76,000) from American donors to set up a radio station but it was denied a licence by the Broadcasting Council on the grounds that a political party was not allowed to own a station. When that course failed, the party tried to buy off two existing radio stations in the hopes of circumventing the licensing procedure. But there is a catch: the law prohibits the sale or transfer of a broadcasting license without the approval of the regulator. In other words, without the regulator’s clearance, a broadcasting station cannot change ownership."

At this juncture one might argue that the law does not allow all political parties (including the NRM) to own radio stations and therefore FDC should not expect any special treatment. However, in reality the NRM does not need to own its own radio stations because it already has the UBC operating as if it were the broadcasting arm of the party. This means that the NRM can use the government media for its own ends and it can also control the oppositions access to said media.

UBC’s lack of impartiality was highlighted in 2011 when it accepted money from FDC to run campaign adverts for Kiiza Besigye but only run very few, ostensibly after pressure was brought to bear on the management from above.

Even without UBC in the picture many party NRM party functionaries, cabinet ministers, government officials and NRM-supporting business people like Amama Mbabazi and Mike Mukula (here are some more examples) own radio stations through which they can disseminate the party’s agenda and on which opposition views are hardly ever aired.

Even private unaffiliated stations are wary of hosting opposition politicians because they do not want to get into trouble with the authorities. In a country where government authorities (like RDCs) can arbitrarily vet who appears on a radio talk-show and cause trouble for the hosting radio station, station managers are often likely to give opposition politicians a wide berth. The following example, from the ACME report, serves to illustrate the difficult position station managers who try to be fair to all parties find themselves in.

 "At Open Gate FM in Mbale, eastern Uganda, the director, Charles Mukhwana, said that the station was “always open” to all political views. They tried their best to be balanced and independent though they were sometimes compelled to consult with the RDC and the security authorities when it came to hosting “controversial people”. This, he said, was because they did not want to clash with the government. As Mukhwana put it, “We think we are partners and also they give us the licence to operate.” As a balancing strategy, they ensured that no opposition politician was featured on a talk show without a member of the NRM on the same show."

With such a state of affairs it would not be far-fetched to assume that the current probe into the rot in UBC will not go the full distance because its unlikely that the NRM government will come down hard on its faithful and also because control over the political discourse through controlling who owns and determines what gets aired on radio is of utmost importance to those that rule this country. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Ugandan history in rare pictures

I have been following the regular photo uploads on the History in Progress facebook page but I didnt know that they had a website. Until now. The website has a relatively large collection of pictures taken in different parts of Uganda from the very early 1900s to just after independence, which are a delight to look at for anybody as interested I am.
Students and teachers of Gayaza Girls School pose for a photo in 1908
In its own words "History In Progress Uganda collects and publishes photographs from (private) collections and archives in Uganda. By doing this HIPUganda opens up possibilities to relate to, react on, and think about Uganda's history in photographs. These photographs can be put in context by those who lived in the time the photographs were taken, or know stories about it. That way they can become valuable in understanding the past and relating it to the present". 
An aerial view of Kampala in the early 60s
Its the bit at the end about the value of the pictures in understanding the past and relating it to the present that is of particular interest to me. As I had already indicated I feel that Uganda's 50th Independence anniversary should be leveraged to get a strong campaign going that will have most Ugandans focusing on what they have in common that is worth celebrating. The Jubilee should also be used to reflect on how far we have come and why we have not moved further than we could have. The people that have been ruling Uganda should hence be called to account or made to step up to the responsibility of pushing the country further.

Making a canoe near Lake Bunyonyi Kabale in the 1930s
The pictures on History in Progress website and Facebook page tell a story of a country and a people developing and embracing a different way of life as the years progress. They show Uganda's steady evolution from a collection of traditional societies to a modern nation, which ought to cause one to reflect on the apparent stagnation or regression (in some areas) since independence. The pictures, especially those of the Uganda Protectorate Public Relations department show the kind of importance attached to things like agricultural extension services, which have all but disappeared in Uganda today resulting in some of associated problems the agricultural sector is facing.

Everybody should hop over to the History in Progress Uganda website or join the History in Progress Facebook page. Get a feel of a different era

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Interviewed on books I read

I was interviewed by the Daily Monitor for a the column The Books They Read a few weeks ago, which has been published today. When the writer approached me asking if she could interview me for the column I thought it would be an easy interview since I read a lot.

However, when the interviewer said that she was interested in only fiction I soon realised that I was going to have a harder time because I have read very little fiction in the last 6 years (as I had alluded to in a recent post). So Some authors I have enjoyed recently like Bill Bryson, David Landes, Richard Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and others were not going to get a mention. The interview was made harder because I do not have any particular favourites (or rather I have many different ones).

That was just as well because it was probably going to be heavily edited anyway- as the final published interview proved.

I have pasted it below. Here is the link for the story in The Daily Monitor.

What do you like about books?
I like books first of all because they allow me to experience a different world and life through the words and experiences of the characters. Books are a kind of teleportation device that enable one travel to a place and time different from one’s own which in many ways contributes to broadening one’s outlook and perspective. Books even when they are not based on real events can be a wealth of knowledge on real life issues.
Which are your favourite books? 
I do not have any favourite book(s) but Great Expectations by Charles Dickens would feature prominently if I had to make a list. It’s the one book I have read the most. About three years ago I read The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck and though I found it bleak and depressing at times, its central character Wang Lung’s, struggle to obtain land, till it and prosper against some pretty tough odds was moving and not easily forgotten. I also like short stories like those in A Quiver full of Arrows, A Twist in the Tale and 12 Red Herrings, all by Jeffery Archer, or like those in The Veteran by Frederick Forsythe.
Who is your favourite character in books you’ve read?
Characters come and go and they are your favourites for a while until other characters come along and become your favourite. I tend to find that characters that are also narrators of their stories somehow linger on longer in my head because I feel they are telling me their story themselves. For this reason, Pip from Great Expectations is among my favourites. My current favourite is Calliope “Cal” Stephanides from Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides because I finished it recently.
Which books didn’t you enjoy reading? Why?
There are many books I have started and not completed (or read and not liked) in all genres but self-help books seem to feature heavily in this category. I have come to realise that many (not all) self-help books in our bookstores, especially those on growing rich or gaining financial independence, are only marginally useful to people like me because they are written with a western (mostly American audience in mind). For example, though the general advice on being successful in business maybe the same everywhere, some factors like rampant corruption, systems and institutions that are non-existent or don’t work as they should and the all-pervasive technical “know-who” that characterises Ugandan society renders some of the advice in these books inapplicable.
Which Ugandan books have you read? 
I am a bit ashamed to say this but I haven’t read that many Ugandan books and even the few I have read were those that were around the house when I was growing up almost all of them written in the 60s and 70s. These were books like Dare to die, The Prodigal Chairman and the Trials and Tribulations in Sandu’s Home, all by Geoffrey Kalimugongo, or the famous poems, Song of Lawino, and Two Songs by Oko p’Bitek and quite a few others from that era like Return to the Shadows by Robert Serumaga.
However, I have recently come across a group of people who have been pointing me to Ugandan authors I had hitherto not known so I plan to be reading more Ugandan books.
Which book(s) are you reading?
Right now I am reading a pair of funny novels; one is by Mohammed Hanif called A Case of Exploding Mangoes and the other is White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Friday, 6 January 2012

Not a really a post

Technorati says I have to include this code in a blog post to prove I actually publish this blog. So this is a pseudo-post and part of the general blog tweak-up and house keeping.

Here you go Technorati.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Welcome to 2012-The year the world doesn't end and Uganda turns 50.

The new year is already 3 days old but I think it is still young enough for me to wish everyone a happy new year. Like all brand new years, 2012 is walking briskly along with a purposeful stride and an air of invincibility thinking it cannot do worse than 2011. However, this elation will not last and everything will soon get back to normal, which is not necessarily a good thing because normal for Ugandans means ever increasing fuel prices (with the accompanying price increments in nearly everything else), higher interest rates on bank loans, politicians stealing billions, et cetera. I could go on but what's the point, there will be enough of this in everyone's life during the course of the year. I don't need to labour the point. Besides there are people better placed than me to make predictions,  like the opinionated Mr. Kalyegira does here, or give analyses on what to watch out for.

However, there is one thing I am very certain of, and that is, that the world is not ending this year contrary to what ancient Mayans might or might not have predicted for the year 2012 or what The Red Pepper will inevitably dedicate miles of newsprint to. This year is going to be ordinary in many ways but for some of us it will be a special one because.....

2012 is the year Uganda turns 50.

I can already hear people saying "who gives a damn" or "how does that help me?" and I understand the average Ugandan's nonchalance towards independence anniversaries. Independence does not mean much to most Ugandans because only a small portion of us ever lived under colonial rule (and some who did wish things had never changed) and the difficult lives most Ugandans live have effectively immunised them of sentimentality and yet sentiments are what such jubilee celebrations appeal to. They aim to rekindle the pride of a people; engender patriotic fervour and cause the poets to writes odes to the nation's heroes and the people to break out in song and exalt the great legendary leaders that fought against the marauding hordes of foreign invaders and.. and....OK maybe I am getting carried away here but that is impression I get whenever I see independence jubilee celebrations of other countries on TV. Unfortunately, it appears Uganda does not really have anything of the sort make a big deal of. We had a pretty tame colonial experience (compared say to Kenya or Zimbabwe), the post colonial experience has not left us much to celebrate and these days NRM has kind of appropriated for itself any gains Uganda has made over the past 49 years so that any independence day celebration is indistinguishable from an NRM anniversary.

However, all hope is not lost and two initiatives by The New Vision and The Monitor called the Uganda Jubilee Project and Uganda@50 respectively hope to get as many Ugandans as possible involved in the jubilee year by sharing that which they feel they ought to celebrate or be proud of about Uganda as it turns 50 as opposed to the same old parades, boring slogans and speeches that are imposed on us every year. Because I feel we as Ugandans ought to make this anniversary one worth celebrating I will be monitoring how these two projects progress and giving my two cents worth every now and then. This kind of anniversary ought to be the kind of thing that should (if only temporarily) get most Ugandans thinking of themselves as a diverse group of people with a common stake in this project called Uganda that requires everyone's contribution if its to succeed.

Maybe I expect to much and I am making a fuss over nothing but I will see how the year progresses and I will keep dropping my two cents worth every now and then.

Happy New Year once more.