Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Why can't I call Kampala home?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain with an example.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 9 November 2015

Christian Mafigiri: Telling Ugandan stories through graphic novels

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

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

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

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Mbarara Town 1961-2015: A short video comparison

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

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

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

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

Monday, 16 February 2015

Digital Migration in Uganda: A consumer's experience

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

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

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

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

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

The TV set

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

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

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

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

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

The Set-Top Box

There are different kinds of Set top boxes out there.

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

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

Free to air set-top boxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Channels Available on digital
 (February 2015)

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

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Dominic Ongwen appears before the International Criminal Court

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

A Day at the Uganda Museum

The Uganda Museum is the oldest Museum in the East African Community having been established in 1908 by the British Protectorate government as a repository of some ethnographic materials.

The museum has been in its current location on Kitante Hill in Kampala since 1954.

The Museum has a few artifacts of historic importance displayed in different galleries like ethnographic gallery, natural history gallery, traditional music gallery, science and industry gallery and the early history gallery.