Monthly Archives: July 2009

I Get Older and Unwiser Probably

Hey folks! Hope you’re all off to have lovely weekends.  My week was okay, really hectic in the beginning then slowed down a bit.  Tomorrow I am meeting a group of people at a restaurant/bar called Zone 7 in Bugalobi, for my birthday, then going to Jinja the following weekend to see the Nile to keep the celebration going one more week.  As one professor once described this: jubilation.  I don’t know if 24 is worth jubilation, but I am always happy to find a moment to count my blessings & celebrate.  We don’t know how long we have on this planet, so it’s good to periodically appreciate the moments that we have!

My friend Gerald is off to a journalism conference in Florida, which will be honoring African journalists.  I’m so proud of him.  I set up a google news alert for him (Gerald Bareebe), and I am always amazed at how many well-crafted articles he produces in a month! Eesh! Congrats!

And I get older….

The past year has been insane, and the future is so vague, so undefined, that I feel almost too terrified to look beyond a week or two.  But I pray that the upcoming year surpasses my expectation and takes me to 25 in one piece.  Boda-boda drivers, take heed: one piece! Pleaseeee.

To another year,

Becky

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Tuesday

beckula

Hey folks, good afternoon.  How is your Tuesday treating you?

It’s sooo hot at work, but despite that, I am gulping down hot ginger tea.  This will not surprise anyone that knows me, of course, but I still feel the need to tell you that I would take a hot cup of coffee or tea anywhere, in the southern Sudan or perhaps Death Valley in California. 

I don’t like iced coffee because I have no self-control, and it seems like a waste of money.  Whenever I order iced coffee in New York, it seems like the delis and Dunkin Donuts  give you a massive amount of ice and a tiny bit of coffee.   The few coffeeshops in Uganda are just as guilty.  After I forked over a small fortune at Cafe Pap for a small iced coffee, they handed me a tiny cup full of brown ice, I swear.  Where is the coffee, I wondered.  Meh.

As mentioned, another problem with iced coffee and tea is that I have no self-control.  None! I’ll just gulp it all down in one swallow.  At least if it’s hot, I am forced to show some sefl-restraint.  By the way, this is why I could never smoke a cigarette.  I have an utterly addictive personality.

I wrote one story today, and need to write another before I can head back to Kitintale.    I really needed to throw out these horrible contact lenses in my eyes yesterday, but alas, I wore them to work again! Out of desperation, I went around lunchtime to Eye Care at Lugogo to buy another pair of lenses, and the doctor told me he couldn’t examine me because I already had lenses in my eyes.  I offered to take them out, but he said my eyes need to be free of lenses for 12 hours or else I’ll spoil the eye exam.  I’m skeptical, but I am going back tomorrow at lunchtime, in my glasses. 

What’s new in Uganda-

mugabe

-Robert Mugabe and I are in the same country.  He’s here for a conference, and has been joing other foreign dignataries in bashing the Western press  & local journalists for writing bad stories about the African continent.

Here’s an article from New Vision about it.  Props to Henry Mukasa:

“When Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe raised his hand, prolonged applause filled the hall. Mugabe once again seized the opportunity to attack the Western media, which have criticised his handling of the economy and his political opponents.

“There are agencies like BBC, CNN. When you act as agents (correspondents) of those kinds of media, do you have the option of being impartial?” he asked.

“If they are pursuing a hostile attitude, do you protect the interests of Africa because you are Africans? Can you report truthfully or factually or do you fear losing your jobs.” He urged African journalists not to serve neo-colonialist or imperialist interests…
King Mswati III of Swaziland wondered why the media do not cover the positive projects happening on the continent.

To which Stephen Asiimwe of the East Africa Business Week replied that the media report a lot of good things about Africa but they are not appreciated. Instead, he said, the media are reprimanded for the critical articles.

Zimbabwe’s deputy prime minister Tokozani Khupe asked bluntly why media reports are always “lopsided”. In response, Charlotte Ampaire of the Uganda Media Centre said the media are a two-way street and governments needed to be more open and accessible. “

Mob Justice at a Bar in Nakawa

Hey everybody, how are you? How was your weekend? Comment and let me know.  This weekend was both horrifying and stressful.  Stressful was Sunday… was racing to get articles done that I hadn’t finished the previous week, and had been too exhausted to work on them on Saturday.

On Saturday, I went to a bar with my friends Igor and Ernest.  Two completely different guys utterly united in what I will describe as Pure Bro-mance.   One American, one Ugandan.  One likely to listen to death metal on his ipod while taking a boda-boda ride, the other more likely to groove to 80s soul over a very cold beer. 

Anyway, as I was working on my typically lame Saturday night fare (Fried chicken and french fries! a.k.a. ‘chips chicken’) , people started shouting when someone outside the bar took a stone and broke someone’s car window.  We were at a place called Shell Club, where really corporate guys get together to do business, network, and down beers over pork.  They have massive SUVs worth tens of thousands of dollars in a country where most people make under a $1 a day.  Basically, they’ve made it.

Well, this is what mob justice is like in Uganda.  Common and awful.  They informally organized a search party to find the perpetrator, then these corporate guys brought the suspected man to the bar, took off his clothes, and almost beat him to death right there! He was covered in blood from head to toe, and screaming at the top of his lungs.  I’ve never felt so sick.  You would never imagine actually being happy to see the Ugandan police, but thank God they came and got the mob off the guy.  He was then arrested as a suspect for breaking someone’s window, but oh my God!

I told my friends at work about this, and they shrugged.  “Sorry you had to see that,” one said.  But the general attitude was that if you know the penalty for breaking someone’s window or stealing, why would you do it?

Back at work today.  Where I basically live.  Going home isn’t even that enticing since I can’t feed my gmail addicction in Kitintale.

I pitched a story to the Christian Science Monitor.  Cross  your fingers for me!! I’ve been working on the pitch for probably 2 weeks, rewriting the sentences over and over and over.

Buganda Kingdom Boycotts New Vision

 

uganda

This week has been a stressful one for New Vision, the newspaper I work for in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.  Last Sunday, one of my favorite reporters in the company, Barbara Among, reported a controversial story about the Buganda kingdom that has incited a serious amount of backlash against her and the paper.

 

The Kabaka, King of the Buganda Kingdom

The Kabaka, King of the Buganda Kingdom

The Buganda kingdom filed a lawsuit against New Vision’s editor-in-chief, Els Temmerman, and reporter Barbara Among, last Thursday, after a week of personal, vicious attacks against Among on CBS radio, and the launch of a New Vision boycott earlier in the week.  Simultaneously, angry people have been attacking newspaper vendors and even burning copies of our paper.

 

The Buganda kingdom is one of the famous kingdoms in Uganda, and the Buganda are one of Uganda’s most prominent ethnic groups.  The article Among wrote alleged that a cabinet minister in the central government was holding the Bulange (the seat of the kingdom) land title as a form of security for a $500,000 USD loan that the Kabaka (Buganda king) took out.

According to the Daily Monitor, the Kabaka wants the court to order The New Vision to retract the story, issue a public apology, and also pay both general and exemplary damages.

Last Monday, the Lukiiko (Buganda parliament) demanded that New Vision apologize for the article, but the company has stood by Among and the story, prompting them to go to court with Buganda.

Some Baganda leaders have called for the Kingdom to launch its own paper that will not “mix culture with politics.”  Simultaneously,  the prime minister of Buganda canceled an upcoming event with Bukedde radio station, in solidarity with the anti-New Vision boycott.

Although New Vision (the English-language paper) has still seen consistent sales, Bukedde’s sales have dropped off, not surprising since  Bukedde is written in Luganda, the mother tongue of the Baganda.  (FYI: Uganda is a country.  Buganda is a kingdom.  Baganda are the people.  A muganda is an individual.  Luganda is the language.  Quiz coming soon.)

 The article was published during a difficult moment for the Buganda kingdom, which accused the Ugandan government of running a hate campaign against the Kabaka last Monday, due to its partial ownership of New Vision.  The kingdom has been clashing this month with the government over management of Kampala– the government wants to take over management of Kampala from the kingdom (where Kampala is located), and the Buganda want Kampala to be relocated to another part of Uganda.

The whole situation frustrates me.  I hate that CBS radio, the mouthpiece for the Buganda kingdom, has been blasting Among with personal attacks all week, potentially threatening her safety.

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Conned

Conned. I’ve been living on and off in Uganda for nearly two years, and I absolutely love it, but sometimes I think I still get cheated on a daily basis. I still remember the first time someone robbed or cheated me, but it was in New York. In secondary school, I rarely had cash on me, but I had come back from my first trip abroad and had about $40 in my wallet after visiting a forex the day before. During physics class, I checked my wallet to see if I had money for lunch, and then went to the bathroom. When I returned to class, my wallet had vanished, rumored to have been snatched by a girl with a drug problem in the year before me. Now that I am living in Kampala, I’m less worried about getting my wallet snatched, but more concerned of being bankrupted in less obvious ways.
The first time I went to Uganda, my father warned me about conmen as we drove to the airport. As most young adults are, I was arrogant. I reassured him of my gut ability to discern conmen and protect myself from them, but really I was clueless. Now that I am earning shillings in Uganda as a journalist, and trying to figure out how I will pay back the loans I took out in dollars for my education, I try to protect myself by staying conscious of the different ways visitors, tourists, and foreigners get ripped off in Uganda.

1. Boda boda inflation. Although there is no sensation like sitting on a motorbike, flying down an open road on a beautiful day, doing so can come at a serious cost to your wallet, especially if you’re a foreigner. After living in Uganda and knowing the prices for many potential boda-boda trips (home to work, for instance), it never ceases to amaze me how much boda-boda drivers gouge prices. One time, I was leaving Kanyanya, a suburb of Kampala, and needed to get to town quickly. I was already at the stage on Gayaza Road, and asked a boda-boda driver who was already heading that way to take me. He slowed down, and offered his price. “Ten thousand shillings,” he said. My mouth dropped. I had been planning to offer him sh1500. “Two thousand,” I said, furious. The look of horror he gave me sealed our mutual aversion to each other. “Someone should arrest you for asking sh10,000 to go to town,” I said. “I’ll do it for sh8,000,” he replied. “Ugh!” I said, and yelled at him for trying to cheat me as he drove off down the horrifyingly dusty and chaotic Gayaza Road. The best way to figure out how much a trip on a boda actually costs? Take what they offer and divide by two, three, or four, depending on what you judge to be their potential threshold for deception.

2. Conductor, my balance? As a foreigner, always beware getting your balance. Whenever possible, use exact change, and don’t get out of the taxi until you get your balance, unless you want the conductor to drive off with your note. Although taxi drivers don’t have the same opportunity to rip you off as their more rapacious boda-boda counterparts, they will still attempt to take at least sh100 or sh200 from you. Your best defense is to argue while standing with one foot on the ground, one foot inside the taxi. Make sure you don’t fall, of course. Recently, I was in a taxi with another mzungu. The sight of us together on the weekend was more than the conductor could bear. Even though it is only sh500 to go from Kitintale to New Vision on the weekends, the conductor wanted a lukumi from each of us. We each gave him 500 exactly, and the conductor became furious. He took my 500 coin and threw it in the dirt. “1, 000,” he yelled at me, even though I had just boarded. I should have just walked away, but I picked up the coin from the ground and gave it to him. “You’re so dishonest,” I said, and handed him another sh500. Granted, if I had to sit in a taxi all day yelling out the name of the destination, I would probably try to spike the fares too. But I take taxis several times a day, and each transaction is stressful, sometimes leaving a bad feeling in my chest. It’s just sh500, I tried to remind myself. Get over it. But I was mad. Sh500 adds up over time!

3. Transport. This is not so much a way of being conned as a way of being separated from your money. Sometimes, acquaintances will take a boda-boda to New Vision and request not only money from me for their transport home, but also to pay the boda who brought them there for their loan request. “I didn’t have transport to come and ask you for money, so I took a boda-boda to your office,” one person said. “Please pay the boda and give me money to go home.” Your blood pressure immediately begins to rise as they begin asking you for a larger loan, remembering other things they want money for, while still sitting on the boda ride they took on your credit expense. The same acquaintance, I recall, once contacted a Ugandan friend of mine when I had gone back to the States, and asked for a loan, saying that I had promised to wire money to pay my back friend. Luckily, my friend e-mailed me to confirm before lending to her, which saved both of us from being scammed.

4. Do You Want a Friend or an ATM? Sometimes, people will befriend you just for the sake of asking for a loan. This is a major reason why I got an mp3 player and try to listen to it when I am alone on a taxi, or walking through town. When I first started going to Uganda, I was very outgoing. I was happy to chat with anyone. After quite a few bad experiences, you’ll find me now sitting quietly on the taxi, headphones tightly in my ears. “Mzungu, I want to be your friend, give me your number,” passengers complain. “Give me your number, I want money. You have too much money. Give me your number.” Of course, such individuals are quite obvious. Others are much more insidious. They might hang out with you two, three, four times before they reveal that they are not interested in your friendship at all. Unaware of your small checking account, they imagine you have tens of thousands of dollars at your disposal willing to lift them, their extended family, and all of their friends out of poverty. When they find out that you won’t cough up a shilling, they lose all interest in you, and move onto their next get rich scheme.

Repatriation Roils Rwandan Refugees in Uganda

Rwandan child in Uganda refugee camp

Hey folks, here is a piece I did for Women’s eNews in a three-part series on Rwandan repatriation, 15 years after the genocide.  You can link to the article here, or read it below… this article was pretty challenging, but I am happy with how it came out.  Wish I had the capability right now to travel to Rwanda and visit some of the repatriated refugees.  But I am doing the best that I can from Uganda.

KAMPALA, Uganda (WOMENSENEWS)–Rwanda’s post-conflict recovery has a number of impressive signposts.

One is the economy, which grew at an annual rate of about 11 percent last year, according to the country’s national bank.

Another is the political empowerment of its women. In 2008, Rwanda elected the world’s first majority-female parliament and today a woman leads the country’s Supreme Court. One third of the cabinet of President Paul Kagame is female.

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Best Obama Photo

This photo made my day. 

G8 Summit

G8 Summit

Happy Monday, folks.  I am enjoying my new apartment, and was able to get a lot of work done over the weekend, so I am feeling more confident about the upcoming week than last Monday.
Lots of crazy stuff going down in Uganda… the money allocated to figure out who stole the Global Fund money has also disappeared, and the famine in northern and eastern Uganda has gotten worse.  Will write about this soon, when I have a bit more time.