Monthly Archives: June 2009

Wednesday

becky 3

Good morning, everyone… just got to work, trying to organize my stories and getting ready for a trip to northern Uganda to attend the conference I mentioned yesterday on mental health.  Should be amazing.

What are people talking about in Uganda today?
-The opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change, is launching an investigation on the death of political activist, Tom Jjulunga, who is suspected to have been killed in a “botched robbery.”  The man suspected of killing him, Vincent Baguma, has said that when Jjulunga was killed, the two were on a “crime spree” in Kawempe (a suburb of Kampala) when Jjulunga was shot by a police unit.  Baguma brought Jjulunga to a nearby hospital.  The two had planned to sell stolen property using forged keys, which in the past Jjulungula had used to break into the offices of another opposition party, the Democratic Party, and steal computers.

-The Democratic Party is threatening to boycott the 2011 elections if Uganda does not reform its electoral process.  On April 19, the president had released a letter stating that electoral reforms are unnecessary.  Reforms being called for by opposition parties include the restoration of term limits, disbanding of the Electoral Commission, and banning of the army and security agencies’ involvement in elections.

-Across the border, in Kenya, five elderly men are suing the British government for their torture and lawful imprisonment during colonial rule.  One said he was castrated by British forces in 1954.  Check out Reuters article below: Continue reading

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Failing at Apartment Hunting, Going North Tomorrow

Kampala Life

Kampala Life

Hey everyone, how are you? It’s seventy-two degrees in Kampala, very humid, about to have a wicked thunderstorm, if iGoogle’s weather application is accurate.  I am doing okay, relieved to have a computer after all the ones in my section and Features were in use yesterday.  Spent the whole day reporting since I didn’t have any space to write.  Not a bad thing, except I spent the whole day chasing a source that I was never able to get, this pediatrician I was trying to get an interview with for a children’s health story.

Apartment-hunting is a failure so far 😦 .  Wish there was a Craig’s list for Kampala, so I wouldn’t have to rely solely on sketchy brokers.  But shhh, that’s something I’ve been developing on the side as part of my media venture.  The places I’ve found so far have either been overpriced or don’t have toilets inside the house, and I want to get a good place since living in a not-great place for the past 3 months, far away from work, has been exhausting.  Having to spend 3 hours a day trying to get to your job (waiting in traffic jam), or not leaving work until 9 pm (avoiding Kampala’s treacherous jam), left me so drained.

This week has been all about the homesickness.  There is something about a nasty cold and a severe bacterial infection that makes you wish you were back at your Mom’s studio in Long Island.  Worse, Father’s Day was last weekend, and I felt awful about not being able to spend it with my Dad.  My parents are basically the greatest people on Earth.  The kindest, most selfless, most loving individuals.  Creative, intellectual, compassionate, you name it.  I miss them so much.  I never used to be like this when I was back in NY, I was never the kid to come running home on the weekends during college or grad school, but being a reporter in Kampala has been so challenging that I find myself missing my family horribly.

What’s new in Uganda…

-Museveni gave a State of the Union address about a week and a half ago.  Uganda’s economy is growing at a robust 7%, lower than expected because of the global recession, but much better than other anemic economies around the world.  Who benefits from the 7% is a complicated story, but it’s great than Uganda has been somewhat insulated from the economic crisis.  The president declared war on corruption, causing some tittering among parliamentarians, as well as inspiring arguments between the current regime and opposition parties over who is more corrupt… you already know my thoughts about corruption in Uganda (such a complex and frustrating issue)… it’s similar to how I feel about corruption everywhere, but the root causes vary from country to country.  In Uganda, it’s rooted in the country’s relatively young political and economic institutions, colonial history, weak economy, and to be more specific, terrible pay of police officers (think $60 USD a month after taxes) and health workers. 

-Political parties have begun planning for the 2011 elections.   I feel ambivalent about politics in Uganda, largely because it’s so disappointing.  When I first came to Uganda, I was so frustrated and unhappy with the president, but after being here for awhile, I don’t feel impressed in any way with the opposition parties either.  Still frustrated and unhappy with the president, but the opposition parties have not really captured my confidence either.  Part of me feels that if they took power, they would be just as eager to “eat” as the current power. 

-People are still talking about the ’09-‘010 budget that was released this month.  No new taxes, a boost to the agricultural sector and public school sanitation (badly needed, especially for teen girls who often have to stay home during menstruation because their schools lack basic latrines, or ‘outhouses’), a seemingly unrealistic ban on used computers and plastic bags.  The Independent did an interesting analysis of Museveni’s ‘election-year budget.’  Props to Uganda’s first female finance minister by the way, who launched the budget this year.

-Jeff Jarvis clued me into this last year during a class on entrepeneurial journalism where I developed the media venture I’ve been working on in Kampala, in addition to writing: mobile money, or using your cell phone as a bank.  This has really been taking off, which I am excited about.  In a country where many people can’t afford basic bank charges or have never had a checking account, people are using text messages to safely send money to relatives in different parts of the country.

I am going to northern Uganda tomorrow (yay), to Lira.  This is the itinerary for Thursday and Friday, I can’t wait…

Continue reading

Friday

Sleeping? Sweaty? But It's Your Girl

Sleeping? Sweaty? But It's Your Girl

Hey friends, in Uganda..United States…China… how are you doing? It’s 79 degrees in Kampala, 61% humidity, winds blowing south in the city. I am at New Vision, after a weird morning.  First,   I went to a Budget Breakfast, which was fascinating but interrupted because I had to interview someone at World Health Organization for a nutrition story, and they generously decided to squeeze me in the morning.  So I started off at Hotel Africana at 6:55 AM (yes, I left my house before 6), where I met a lot of interesting Ugandans who are working at Ernst and Young.  It’s funny, I had always thought of Ernest and Young as being really rooted in the U.S., but they have a significant base in Kampala, where they audit Ugandan companies.  I met two tax lawyers from E+Y and an accountant, and they gave me an interesting view of the budget.

Basically, the top news story right now is the budget, which was announced yesterday.  I don’t even know when the U.S. budget is launched, honestly, but everything seemed to stop in Uganda last afternoon when the budget was being read.  With so many people suffering right now from food insecurity in Uganda, and many living on less than a $1 a day in eastern and northern Uganda, the choices that the government makes in its annual budgets are really life and death decisions, so you hold your breath to see which sectors get funded.

The announce of the budget is also a time when people think a lot about the economy.  As you know, I’m kind of economics-obsessed, so I think a lot about the Ugandan economy, and was excited to see a lot of business and econ. news everywhere (yay).  First, Uganda is suffering a wrenching 12.4 percent inflation, which means that you would need a 12.4 percent raise this year just to keep treading water.  However this is a one percent decrease from last month, when inflation was at an even more frightening 13.4 percent.  I know, 12.4/13.4, not a huge difference, but thank God inflation finally seems to be slowing down! Unfortunately, this is the first time in 16 years that Uganda has suffered from double-digit inflation.

Most of the inflation is coming from the heavy rise in food prices, which is ‘crunching’ (as Ugandans say) many families throughout the country.  Starving might be a better verb, honestly, judging by the suffering people are experiencing in north and east.  With food prices so high, people have cut back on other things they used to buy, since they now have to devote a greater percentage of their income to buying groceries.  The last time Uganda suffered from such steep inflation was in 1992-1993, when a prolonged drought lead to a major increase in the price of food.  Food inflation is currently at 23.8%, so food is almost 25 percent more expensive than it was last year.  Yikes! Economists say the increase in food prices is from greater demand for Uganda crops from southern Sudan and the DR Congo, and bad….

Why was my morning weird? Well, I went to the Rwandan embassy to do some reporting for a story, and had made an appointment with the press person for the embassy.  When I got there, the receptionist told me I had no appointment, had never communicated with the press person, and probably hallucinated my cell phone conversation! I am serious! I was far out there too, I took a boda-boda to Kitante Primary School then walked to their neighbor, the Rwandan embassy.  Then she told me I was clearly mistaken and should visit the Ethiopian embassy! Augh! Then, as I am 5 minutes away from NV, my Rwandan contact called and told me he had been in a meeting.  See, receptionist lady, we did have a real phone conversation! I’m not insane. 

Then I came back to NV, met some of the summer interns (yay), had lunch (posho and beans), and worked on lining up sources for stories I am working on. 

Hope you are all doing great,

Siibe bulungi (good day in Luganda),

Becky