Category Archives: Kampala

Latest Update on Anti-Gay Bill in Uganda

Before the holidays, I posted about the anti-gay bill that a Ugandan MP had introduced, and the American evangelical connections.  I was thrilled to get so many comments on the post, and to facilitate such a thoughtful discussion from people living in Uganda and the U.S. This bill was clearly huge — I saw the story (not always accurately!) everywhere, from the Guardian to the BBC, New York Times, various Ugandan publications, the Rachel Maddow Show, and many others.  I wanted to give you all the latest update on the bill, which proposed the death penalty for gay people living with HIV (a.k.a. “Aggravated homosexuality” ) and life in jail for gay people who are not HIV positive.  It looks like these parts of the bills may be scrapped, but we won’t know until Parliament begins debating the bill.

Gay activists demonstrating in Uganda. Uganda's anti-gay bill includes the death penalty for gay people living with HIV.

The international community. The reaction to this bill has been huge.  The international community has a lot of weight in Uganda– about a third of Uganda’s budget is donor-financed (European Union, individual European countries like Sweden, etc.) , and many Ugandans depend on the U.S. government for antiretroviral drugs through PEPFAR.  Museveni went to this year’s CHOGM and was criticized by Commonwealth leaders, a big deal if you remember all the money and time spent on promoting Uganda’s image at CHOGM in 2007, when the summit was held in Kampala.  Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, the U.N.’s top human rights official, and some prominent American senators coordinating support of the Ugandan military in fighting the Lord’s Resistance Army condemned Uganda.

Reaction to the bill within Uganda. Most Ugandans didn’t seem to realize that homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, and thought the bill would forbid the practice.  Some thought the bill was meant to protect children from pedophiles.  Very few seemed to realize the bill would execute gay people with HIV.  When the Swedish government said it would no longer finance Uganda’s budget if they began executing gay people living with HIV, most Ugandans thought the Swedes said they would withdraw support to Uganda if Ugandans did not support homosexuality.  Many Ugandans reacted as if the Western world were forcing Ugandans to be gay or support gay people, blackmailing them with foreign aid.  Many Ugandans reacted as if the western world was imposing a gay lifestyle on them, then threatening to withdraw support for the neediest Ugandans if they didn’t comply.  Pastor Martin Ssempa, a prominent anti-gay activist in Uganda who runs the Makerere Community Church, is planning a million-man march in Kampala to support the bill.  President Museveni has tried to assure donors quietly that the bill will not pass, but top Ugandan officials said Uganda can live without the foreign aid.  One American senator wanted to threaten Uganda’s AGOA trade status, a special status for Ugandan goods in the U.S that is supposed to make trader easier.

Pastor Ssempa said people attending the march could take a photo and send it as a postcard to Barack Obama.  He described the Western world as failed states for supporting homosexuality.  A few Ugandans have spoken out against the bill, such as prominent lawyer and academic Sylvia Tamale, who is writing a book on how homosexuality is conceptualized in African countries (Uganda? East Africa? other African countries as well? I’m not sure).  A muslim cleric called for special squads to hunt down gay people in Ugnda, adding his hateful voice to the mix.

And for the American evangelicals?

In the U.S., the American evangelicals who helped MP David Bahati draft the bill faced a considerable backlash, and were criticized for importing an American cultural war into East Africa.  Evangelicals like Scott Lively said they didn’t realize what was in the bill being drafted, and were just trying to protect Ugandan families.

Personally, I’m a bit exhausted of the story.  I hope the bill doesn’t pass, and wish Uganda was in the news for something other than anti-gay legislation.  The 2011 elections are next year, and I am concerned about the potential human rights abuse that could explode.  The underlying fear of course is that there could be violence a la Kenya, but Uganda has always been less ethnically divided in Kenya, despite the September riots (the Buganda kingdom’s clash with the central government).

There was a disturbing incident where opposition candidate Olara Otunnu’s car was run off the road by the presidential guard brigade, which has barely been covered in the local press, and not covered in the international press.  Hillary Clinton has said she will observe Uganda in the 2011 elections.  The opposition has largely united and plans to field a common candidate.  You can follow election coverage through Africa Connections here, which is updated daily with the latest bit of news about the elections.  50 female Ugandan political activists were arrested yesterday, for a demonstration calling for the Electoral Commission boss to step down.  You can read more about that here, on the Voice of America website.  The Daily Monitor and New Vision have also covered the story.


The First Decade: From Long Island to Kampala to Brooklyn

At the Source of the Nile River in Jinja, Uganda, where some of Gandhi's ashes are scattered.

Hey all, whether you are in Brooklyn, Wisconsin, Uganda, or Kenya, I really wish you a blessed new year in 2010!

This year was one of the most challenging of my life– but also the most rewarding.  Many times I felt as if I had slammed my head
or fell over my feet (both metaphorically and in the real sense!), and other times I prayed for a crystal ball that would let me go back in time.
Do things differently.

I can’t say this enough- Hindsight is 20/20.  Hindsight is 20/20.  But mistakes offer the most powerful lessons of all.  In many ways, I entered 2010 with
a gigantic blindfold over my eyes, and had to let reality be my teacher.  I realized I was scrappier than I ever imagined, but simultaneously blessed
in more ways than I could fathom.

I enjoyed writing at New Vision this year.

2009 was a year of writing for Women’s eNews, Saturday/New Vision, and the New York Post.  It was a year I began in Jackson Heights, Queens, shifted to Brooklyn, moved to Kampala, returned for respite in Long Island, and relocated back to Brooklyn.  It was my first year that I was not in school.  Where my interview subjects ranged from the president of the Kampala ghetto (with a cabinet, no less!) to Felix Kulayigye, Manhattan garage owners, NYPD officers, bicyclists, colon cleansing patients near the Old Taxi Park (I kid you not), and a woman who survived living with HIV, a white blood cell count of 0, poverty, and cancer– but now weighs 80 kilograms, runs a support group for discordant couples at Mulago Hospital’s Infectious Disease Unite, and has reunited with her husband.  Her name is Zam.

It was a year of launching the Ugandans Abroad website and social networking site, and making our first e-commerce store at our Africa Connections ebay website.  I used all sorts of proxy sites to access Facebook at New Vision, tweeted quite a bit, started this blog, and temped at Iconix.

I got horrific food poisoning at Shell Club, was cheated dramatically Abii Clinic in Wandegaya, and attacked by bugs in New York’s Central and Highbridge Park.  When I would cough in Uganda, people feared I had swine flu.  I began paying back my students loans in June.  I skyped a bit, but mainly used gmail chat
as my favorite form of communication.

My father gave me a red Blackberry Curve for Christmas, allowing me to file from the field.  It was definitely an upgrade from my kiboko phone.  Or is it a
kikumi phone? I can’t remember.

To go further back… I spent New Year’s 1998/9, ten years ago, in Sayville.  I was 13 years old, and went to an awful laser show with my then step-brothers.
I was in eight grade (S2 for my Ugandan readers!), and had glasses, stringy brown hair, and pants that were too short for my rapidly growing legs.  My favorite past times were chatting on AOL instant messenger, drinking Mountain Dew, playing Mario Kart and Sim City 2, as well as Grand Theft Auto.

In 2000, I moved back to Oyster Bay, where I enjoyed history lessons, diatribes about Hillary Clinton (haha well maybe not that part! My family and I are lifelong Democrats), and learning about ancient Greece & Rome from Mr. Levorchick.  During a world history moment on Africa (an afternoon’s worth of coverage in 4 years of high school), I nearly blew off the assignment, disinterested in ancient Mali.  I lived in Karen Court, and did spring track with Grace and Stephanie.  I was awful at the 200 meter, but at least I got in pretty good shape.  I took my first and only photography class with Mrs. Crowley, who was terrified of peanut butter but loved my photos and writing.  The key quote from her is- “Has anyone seen a lens cap?” It was when Mrs. DiMaggio was Mrs. Scudieri, and I tried to get through Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.

My city of ruin...

In 2001, there was 9-11.  My biology teacher, Mr. Billelo (spelling?) told us that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and we turned on the radio.  I figured it was an awful accident, then saw my best friend Stephanie in the hall.  I told her, and she gave me a startled look.  Mr. Rose, our history teacher,

told us that two planes had hit the World Trade Center, and the White House was on fire, the Pentagon attacked.  We thought he was kidding.  Mark Mitchell burst into stunned laughter.  Classmates began calling their parents who worked in the New York City.  I came home to my teary father, who hugged me and paced around the living room, devastated.  We went with a friend of his he had been seeing to a temple the next day to grieve.  On September 12th, there was a terrible smell of decay.  Only a week before, my friends and I had attended a boat tour of the NYC skyline for my friend Lisa’s sweet 16– the last time we would ever see the city whole.  I was writing for my high school newspaper, and we debated what to put in the next issue.  What should be our focus? Our teachers refused to turn on the televisions to keep calm, but students went to computer labs that week to download images of the crumbled towers.

In 2002, I took the PSAT, AP exams, and had my first boyfriend (no comment, but tragically, he loved anime, a type of Japanese animation).  He fetishized East Asian women (I hate the idea of racial/ethnic fetishes- shudder!), and dumped me for a Korean girl, hoping she would be “submissive.”  Glad that relationship didn’t survive! I looked him up on facebook, and found him overweight with long, greasy brown hair to his waist, working in IT.

Joshing Around in College

In 2003, I proudly served as my school newspaper’s features editor, and applied to colleges, a mess of anxiety.  I was accepted early decision into Sarah Lawrence, and felt more dread than excitement about university life.  In 2004, I finished up my freshman year in a difficult semester, full of drama and disappointment.  I joined facebook– back when just a few universities could participate! That summer, I interned at the Anti-Violence Project, and was fired from IHOP for being a shitty waitress.  I handed out copies of my poetry chapbook to my office coworkers.

In 2005, I took economics, history, and had a difficult summer at home.  The following year, in 2006, I spent the summer interning at the U.N.  I lived in the Columbia dorms (hey- where Barack Obama went to college! yay), and hung out with my friends who lived nearby in International house.  In 2007, I traveled to Uganda and Rwanda for the first time for a study abroad program with Makerere University, living with Ugandan host families in Kampala (Kanyanya) and Busia.  My life has never been the same since then.

Studying Abroad in Uganda, 2007...

That fall, I began my master’s in journalism.  While I had been in Uganda, I debated whether to go into international relations, development studies or journalism after getting accepted into three different master’s programs.  My heart was in journalism, so for better or worse (I didn’t realize the extent of problems in the industry), I began my new, exciting life at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism– community board meetings in Queens, living at International House with Adeola, Nadia, and other amazing friends, and (not) doing ballroom dancing or salsa (I have two left feet, to put it mildly!).

24 and with a master's degree in journalism! Graduation- Me, Jeff Jarvis.

Through CUNY, I got a grant from the Knight Foundation to intern at New Vision, and ended up going back to the English daily to work after graduation.  I also got a grant from CUNY to start my Ugandans Abroad website and Africa Connections company, which launched at the end of November.

I have no idea what the next decade will bring.  Journalism? Marriage? East Africa? New York? Someplace entirely new? Children?

God, I am staying tuned… please love and protect me in these years ahead.
Surround me in your love, and help me to grow as a person, writer, journalist, daughter and friend.



Where I will be for my 25th birthday?

Riots After Kabaka Blocked from Visiting Kayunga


Hi everybody.  This is your favorite munnamawulire (journalist), checking in with you from Uganda.   Yesterday and today have been pure chaos in Kampala.  Yesterday and today, riots killed as many as ten people, including a teenage boy, and the city was a mess of tear gas and bullets as the Ugandan military and police tried to quell the rioters

New Vision

New Vision

Yesterday’s riots began after an advance team for the Kabaka, the king of the Buganda kingdom, was blocked from entering Kayunga district.  The Ugandan government feared the visit would incite violence because the Banyala say they have seceded from the Buganda kingdom, and see the Kabaka’s visit as an affront.  President Museveni said the Kabaka cannot visit Kayunga unless Mengo officials, Banyala leaders opposing the visit, and the Internal Affairs minister meet.

The riots eventually spread to seven Kampala suburbs, with mobs angry that the Kabaka was blocked from visiting Kayunga, which is an area in central Uganda.  Five radio stations, including CBS, have been taken off the air/suspended for allegedly inciting violence.  You know my thoughts about CBS after they began inciting violence against the NV company & its reporters after our controversial Bulange story

I write features stories for Saturday Vision so I wasn’t affected, just working on some health and business stories, but the news desk and photo team were on the front lines, making our paper proud with their bravery and teamwork.  One of my friends taking photographs showed me two bullets he picked up lying on the ground.  I’ve been safe and sound, though, as a features reporter, and will probably spend the weekend most indoors, since public transport in the main part of town is blocked off, as are many of the streets.

I’ve been relying on facebook to get news updates from my friends scattered all over Kampala, posting the latest thing they’ve seen or heard on their facebook status pages.

According to New Vision, 64 people are currently being held by the police for taking part in the riots.  Also, some rioters have begun attacking Indian merchants, using it as an opportunity to loot their stores.


ugandan kids 

1.   Why don’t girls have hair? When I first came to Uganda, it seemed at first that it was a country filled with many, many boy children.  Upon closer inspection, I realized that most girls shaved their heads before classes began, for uniformity and neatness.  When I was in primary school, my mom showed her delight in having a daughter by making me grow my hair so long that I could sit on it.  It wasn’t until my parents separated that I finally felt the sweet pleasure of having short hair, the feeling of a cool breeze on my neck. 

In eighth grade, or S2 as it’s known here, hair was a huge deal.  It could make or break you.  All teen girls obsessed over their hair.  It took up a lot of time.  In the morning, before classes started, girls would flock to the bathrooms armed with large paddle brushes and combs, determined to get perfect, shiny locks.  A trip to the hair dresser could determine your social future. 

When I was thirteen, I hated my hair much more than I hated geometry and chemistry, my least favorite school units.  It was incredibly oily, weak, and limp—so limp, it could barely stay up in a ponytail or bun.  Thinking about the sad state of my hair took up most of my thirteen-year-old brain cells.  When I wasn’t thinking about it, I agonized over my jeans (too short for my constantly growing legs) and tops.  After I went to Uganda the first time, I showed my friend Dorothy (who I met in S2) pictures of my Ugandan sisters, and we reflected on what a big deal hair was growing up.  Maybe Ugandan schools have it right—shave your heads, and use your brain cells for something useful… like geometry, for starters.

Mosa Courts, Kampala

Mosa Courts, Kampala

2.  Where do people get their money? This really confounds me.  In the U.S., people’s source of money is usually obvious.  It’s their salary!  The expansive houses, luxury cars, and posh vacations usually belong to people who make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year at their (formal) jobs.  People with small salaries usually have tiny houses or rooms that they rent, and stay at home during leave.  Of course, salary doesn’t necessarily mean prestige in the U.S.  Some of my friends with prestigious jobs in the arts make little money, while a friend I know that works as a security guard and bouncer at a trendy club makes $90,000 a year, or sh180million shillings.  But people’s material wealth usually lines up with their salaries.  In Uganda, it’s a different story.  Someone will have a tiny salary, but a large car worth millions of shillings, and a huge house.  Others with salaries that seem to indicate they should be eating rolex own large amounts of land outside of Kampala.  Since credit is practically nonexistent in Uganda, compared to the debt-friendly U.S., I’m forced to realize that the same people with tiny salaries probably paid for their houses with cash.  Cash? Not credit! Where does their money come from, I often wonder.  What they own is much larger than their salary after taxes.  Of course, what I always want to say is—what on Earth are you doing after 5 pm? Clearly, harvesting some cash.

Bye Mzungu!

3.  Why do children say bye, rather than hello? Any friend who has the misfortune of walking with me anywhere in Uganda is used to hearing this greeting: bye-iii, Mzungu! Bye-iii! Although Uganda may sometimes be divided over land and other issues, at least its children everywhere seem to be in total solidarity on how to greet foreigners.  As soon as you start to feel comfortable in Uganda, like it could be your home, there is always a loud group of kids all too eager to wish you goodbye. 

Which leads me to wonder, why don’t they say hi? At first, I tried to start a “Hello trend.”  Walking home, I would realize I had been spotted, and hear kids already making their goodbyes to me.  But I’m not leaving, I would complain in my head.  “Hello! Hello!” I would respond.  Eventually, I gave up.  Goodbye, it will have to be.

In My Culture, Being Thin Means Beauty & Wealth

In My Culture, Being Thin Means Beauty & Wealth

4.  How can you tell me I look fat? In the U.S., where a lot of our fruits and vegetables are imported, good nutrition and a slim, even malnourished body is associated with wealth.  Fans of Desperate Housewives, a series popular in video libraries here, might recall how one housewife fought to have the prestige of being a size “zero,” even during her pregnancy.  In America, it seems to be that the more money you have, the skinnier you become.  Some of the wealthiest women in the U.S. are the tiniest, like Paris Hilton.  Top-grossing supermodels seem to live on cigarettes and black coffee.  It seems that those overweight in the U.S. are perceived as depressed (as if you stay at home in your free time, weeping over a carton of ice cream) or poor (you can only afford to eat at McDonald’s and Burger King).  These are crude stereotypes, but perceptions stick.  After all, going to the gym, having a trainer, and purchasing pricey, organic fruits and vegetables requires quite a few dollars.  In fact, in some low-income neighborhoods in the U.S., it can be almost impossible to find anything resembling a mango or greens.  Living in Uganda gives me a large amount of cultural dissonance.  When I came back to the country in March, many of my colleagues greeted me warmly with cries of, “Becky, you’re grown fat! You’ve put on a lot of weight in your stomach.”  Instantly, I recoiled, wanting to run to the nearest bathroom to cry.  Although I knew it was a cultural difference, my gut reaction was—how can you be so heartless and rude? I would gulp two or three times, as if to swallow my hurt.  Luckily, I know that when I go home, I’ll be greeted with the sweet sounds of “Becky, you look so skinny!” My friends will grab me and compliment my skinny arms or waist, even if my weight is relatively the same as when I left.  This, in my land, means that I look good!


5.  Why are NGOs seen as business ventures? In the U.S., working for a nonprofit or NGO is something you do as a financial sacrifice.  Hence, perhaps, the name “nonprofit.”  Although not always the case, such as a career is perceived to require a lot of time, commitment, and financial austerity.  In Uganda, this is not true.  NGOs are a business, a source of foreign exchange.  Those I know working for NGOs in Kampala or upcountry are perceived as lucky, wealthy, “making good money.”  It’s a complete reversal of how nonprofits are viewed in the U.S., where people will often have to take on a second or third job to survive in their NGO work.  But in Uganda, the word on the street is that nonprofits are really for-profits.



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-


-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.

Productive Reporting Day (Woot)

Hello, how are you? Today was a very productive reporting day.  I got a great interview after camping out for a bit at the World Bank-funded Butabika Hospital in Kampala, which will be perfect for some stories on mental health in Uganda that I have been working on.  I interviewed a 13-year-old girl and her mother from Bunia, DR Congo, who fled the country seven years ago.  The young woman, her name is Sarah, had suppressed her memories of the war for years, but the memories came flooding back when she was kidnapped at a market in Kawempe last month, and molested.  Thankfully, she managed to escape, but was held in captivity for a day without food, and defiled.  Since then, all of the traumatic memories of her father and brother’s deaths by rebels in the eastern Congo have overwhelmed her.  About three times a day, she said she has flashbacks of her father’s day, and imagines that men with machetes will either attack her or the people around her.  At night, she suffers from terrible nightmares.  With terrible timing, UNHCR announced that they were cutting off support to her mother (they had been covering her rent in Kampala, where her mom worked as a washwoman), and she would have to resettle to a refugee camp for Congolese.  They were given two choices of camps that offer services for people living with HIV.  At this point, Sarah discovered that her mother had gotten infected when she had been raped by rebels in 2002 (they then fled to Uganda)– the mother hadn’t felt strong enough to tell her that she was positive.  When she found out, Sarah went completely mute, and her mother took her to Butabika for treatment for PTSD.

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