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A night on the town

The visit of an old friend from the UK provides occasion for a Friday evening pub crawl to test Kampala’s reputation as a city that really knows how to party.

We enlist Peter, a boda boda (motorbike taxi) man whose number I once took because I was impressed by the absence of lunacy in his motoring style, and he sub-contracts another driver to help because we are a bit heavy both to sit aback just one 125cc machine. Peter had taken Tim (my friend) around town a few times the week before and has now become confused about our identities, is no longer able to tell us apart. Embarrassing for him but not surprising, really: two big, affluent (little does he know) middle aged white men who talk oddly; the commonalities must be more striking than the differences. Tim rides ahead with dependable Peter while I follow with the other guy who doesn’t seem too bad but blows it in the closing stages when, by the roundabout near the golf club, he attempts to overtake Peter—why bother?—and gets stuck behind a truck.

Obama may nudge but won’t shake the world

It will be good once again to have a U.S. president who is a fluent speaker of English. And how fluent! Obama’s victory oration was a fine display, my favourite part being the closing remarks when, in ritual contradiction of those who doubt America’s ability to recover her economic and political prestige, he threw out that quiet little ‘Yes we can.’ Said too empathically, with a rising tone, too rousing a tone, this would have sounded strident, embattled. Instead, he deftly threw the line away, no emphasis at all, just quiet assurance. It was a beautiful delivery. Every bit as beautiful as the entire Obama family.

Talking with the enemy

In June 2008 I was invited by the pressure group, Human Rights in China (HRIC), to serve as guest editor for an issue of their quarterly journal, China Rights Forum. The piece below is an introductory article, discussing the role of human rights organizations like HRIC, that I contributed in my capacity as invited editor. HRIC declined to publish the article, offering instead to publish a truncated version comprising the first four paragraphs followed by one or two sentences selected from the subsequent text. I did not consent to this arrangement so the article sees the light for the first time here.

Culture as ideology

Various Western commentators have noted a resurgence of ‘Confuciansim’ in China. But will Chinese youngsters buy into it? This essay, which appears in China Rights Forum (2008, No. 3), discusses other influences at work on younger generations: smaller family size; increased access to education; wider exposure to culturally demotic media; increased personal freedom and responsibility. It concludes that 21st century Chinese will certainly differ from their ancestors substantially (although in ways that are not easily predictable); and that a neo-Confucian discourse need not imply either loss of cultural diversity and experimentation or reversion to cultural type. (This was written in my capacity as guest editor of the journal. Unlike my ‘guest editor intro’ piece, which the journal’s publisher, Human Rights In China, declined to use, this was published with only minor modifications.)

Financial meltdown reveals democratic deficit

How many of the world’s citizens understand what began a year ago as ‘problems in the sub-prime mortgage market,’ was rapidly promoted into a ‘credit crunch’ and has since become a ‘global financial crisis’ and ‘looming depression?’

After repeated analysis and explanations from economists, journalists, politicians and financiers we have all got the point that something went badly out of control. Many people vaguely feel that unchecked greed was largely to blame. The general climate of opinion seems to be that Reagonomics is over; or, as Nicolas Sarkozy put it, (grabbing the chance to immortalise a French sound bite that Anglophones would understand) ‘Laissez faire, c’est fini.’ Even The Economist has pronounced that ‘Capitalism [is at] at Bay.’ New phases of capitalism, nearly everyone now agrees, need new rules. But how many of us grasp in any detail what actually went wrong, and thus what rules are needed?

On football, celebrities, media and Chinese soft power

Went up to the National Stadium today to watch Uganda beat Benin 2-1 in a World Cup qualifying round. Neither team stands a chance of getting through but Uganda played with enthusiasm and it was a rare treat to see the home crowd enjoy a victory. It’s been a long time since the ‘Uganda cranes’ won a match. Fans were especially jubilant because they were 0-1 down at half-time; a comeback is always elating. On the way back into town we got caught up in a crazy cavalcade of motorbike taxis bearing flag-waving and horn-blowing fans through the billowing diesel fumes and red dust of the Jinja Road at sunset. A good moment.

An African diva and the telecom smoothies

Friday night rush-hour, which in fact lasts several hours, finds us inching through outlying districts where the twilight is thick with bicycles and pedestrians picking their way between the potholes. We are bound for the Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort where 76-year-old South African diva, Miriam Makeba, is the lead act in the first ever Kampala International Jazz Festival.

Teen girl power comes of age

October 6, 2008 - 12:00am -- Nick Young


‘Juno’
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenplay: Diablo Cody
Fox Searchlight, 2007

Teen girl power has grown up with this film. Before, American TV had given us shows like ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ (1997-2003) in which teenage girls assumed dynamic, leadership roles and knew stuff that adults didn’t. The grown-ups were the innocents whilst the youngsters inhabited the ‘real’ world; yet the daft plot-lines made it all, well, puerile. Still, Buffy and other teen TV and film protagonists were emotionally and linguistically adult, clearly sexual although not yet having sex; and this was a lot edgier than, say, the 1980s Walt Disney universe of girls rehearsing for human relationships by becoming besotted with animals.

Where is China’s Balzac?

China’s economic renaissance and renewed cultural confidence have not yet been matched by a creative re-awakening. So argues this review essay, which considers the comparative globalisation of ‘Eng Lit,’ departing from an unpretentious detective story set in Shanghai.

‘Chinese need better conversations among themselves’

This April 2008 e-interview with the US-based Grantmakers without Borders provided an opportunity to offer detailed answers to very frequently asked questions: what is the nature of civil society in China, the growth trajectory and challenges facing NGOs, the influence of foreign organisations—and what part in this was China Development Brief trying to play?

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