Palm Sunday and I find myself invited to assume management of Cologne Football Club. The North Rhine city of Köln must, I imagine, have some sort of team of its own. My prospective lads hail, by contrast, from Cologne FC of Bbira—an outlying Kampala township—whose captain and crew I meet by chance on a soggy patch of ground just off the at-last completed northern bypass. I am drifting about in uncertain temper taking photographs. They are standing in a purposeful huddle in the pouring rain, serious in their yellow strip, reviewing tactics while waiting for a local derby with Kasubi FC, who haven’t turned up for the fixture.
‘The Case for God: What Religion Really Means’
by Karen Armstrong, Bodley Head 2009, 376 pp
Visiting the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence half a dozen years ago my daughter, whose eight years of life had been spent in China, asked her mother who the guy hanging on the cross was. To the brief explanation that followed Tian Tian reacted with the genuine shock of one from whose eyes the scales have fallen, revealing the banality of the world: “God was a man!!!???” We took this at the time as intuitive, pre-teen feminism (Why not a woman, an Earth Mother figure?) Recently recalling the event, Tian Tian clarified that, on the contrary, her remark was ungendered: what boggled her mind was the thought that God could begin to resemble, let alone be, anything so idiotic as a human being. Before she could read more than a handful of English sentences, she had grasped an essential thread of Karen Armstrong’s theology; and, as we shall see, that almost certainly had much to do with growing up in China—and not just because of the relative dearth of Christian icons there.
‘The Boys Are Back’ (Dir: Scott Hicks; Screnplay: Simon Carr, Allan Cubbit; Screen Australia, November 2009) Twenty years ago Adrian Lyne’s film Fatal Attraction (1987) offered a reminder of Eve’s role in the destruction of earthly paradise. Women, it warned us, prey on the natural innocence of men and if you don’t watch out they will bust your balls and boil your kid’s pet rabbit alive. Widely acclaimed as ‘slick’ and ‘classy’, this was the 1980s’ clearest cinematic expression of heterosexual male fear and resentment of the object of desire. The Boys Are Back is a more thoughtful and provocative piece by far—a study in male virtue not only overcoming emotional adversity but finding fulfilment beyond the civilizing grip of petticoats. Thrown in for good measure is the more predictable sub-theme that Australia is a less suffocating place than stuffy old England.
Two Friday nights ago my son Jack, 18, was swilling beer with a group of friends in Fat Boyz, a cheerful, crowded but quite well-appointed bar not far from us, when uproar broke out as a crowd of angry customers set upon a man they suspected of stealing, or intending to steal, or being the accomplice of another guy who was stealing or intending to steal, purses and mobile phones. Nothing was found on the man but he was given a sound beating anyway and crawled off drenched in blood. The bar’s armed private security guard stood by watching.
In the UK for a week on family business I make the mistake of travelling by public transport in a country that is configured for the private car. The journey from my sister’s house outside Ipswich to my brother’s in Northampton, a distance of around 80 miles, takes 7 hours (on three buses, one train and one taxi) and costs a total of GBP 28.30. But I’m not in a hurry, and enjoy looking out the window. January’s cold snap is over. Snowmen dissolve into the bruised grass of town parks. Where there are still fields, water lies flat upon them.
Uganda is making global headlines again, this time with a proposed law to execute citizens found guilty of ‘aggravated homosexuality.’ Appended below is an op-ed that I contributed to a local newspaper, The Monitor, on the broader gender implications. (This seemed the most useful issue to raise with a Ugandan readership, and the editor I spoke to felt that the ‘cultural’ and ‘religious’ aspects of the subject had already received enough attention.) Before getting to that, though, it is worth reflecting on the comedy of errors that led up to this and which now, tragically, leaves Uganda internationally branded once again as a place of crackpot dictators and murderous Christian loonies.
I come a decade late to the American political drama-soap, The West Wing, and regret taking so long to catch a show that is as captivating as Star Trek, which had me glued to the TV set 40 years ago.
The star ship Enterprise spent the Cold War zipping about the universe fighting evil, but it was not that which made it compelling so much as the informal camaraderie of its egalitarian and inclusive crew—a Russian, a Japanese, a Scotsman, a black woman with long legs, and a cute alien with pointy ears—all, of course, under American captaincy. It offered a brilliant, if distinctly narcissistic, vision of what American world leadership would be like. The BBC’s best home-grown rival offering at the time was Doctor Who—still going strong—about an old bloke who travels round the universe with a young woman assistant in a 1960s police box. It was a post-imperial eccentricity that would not sell well beyond Dover.
West Wing, I now see, boldly went where TV seldom went before: into a universe where audiences are presumed to include intelligent life.
The G4S security guards contracted to protect us had an anxious few days during the riots that shook Kampala six weeks ago, leaving 27 dead and auguring none too well for the 2011 elections. There was no need for anxiety on our account since it would take a most extraordinary riot to penetrate the haven of Kololo hill, where foreign diplomats, aid workers and the local elite shelter behind bougainvillea and hibiscus. But there were grounds for anxiety about what might happen to the guards at the end of their shift when, along with Kololo’s domestic servants, shop girls from the local plaza and the beggars who ply their trade outside, they melt away home to their lower quarters in the mud and jumble of Kamwokya.
‘Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa’ by Dambisa Moyo, 2009 Allen Lane, London, 188 pp.
‘Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror’ by Mahmood Mamdani, 2009 Verso, London, 398 pp.
Dead Aid contains little original thinking but it is new and refreshing to find aid scepticism synthesised by an African woman with a big brain and a voice that is loud and clear: “Aid has become a cultural commodity. Millions march for it. Governments are judged by it. But has more than US$ 1 trillion in development assistance over the last several decades made African people better off? No.”
One of British colonialism’s minor legacies here in Uganda is an odd way of talking about travel outside the capital city. Londoners, if they go away for the week-end, always go to ‘the country.’ Could be Berkshire, Devon, Norfolk, doesn’t really matter, if it’s not London then it’s just ‘the country.’ (Come to think of it, New Yorkers talk the same way about ‘upstate.’) Ugandans too have adopted this cosmopolitan, syntactic mannerism. New inhabitants of the steadily expanding capital soon learn to divide this complex, multi-ethnic country, with 32 million people speaking 30 different languages, into just two parts. There’s Kampala and then there’s ‘up country.’
Last week I went up country—to Lira District in the mid north. This seems to have settled down now after the long rebellion by the Lord’s Resistance Army and the government counter-insurgency campaign. My main interest on this trip, though, is in what is happening to Uganda’s farmland, the country’s primary, and almost sole, natural resource. But war and its aftermath are the ‘back-story’ that keeps jumping to the fore.