Kampala Notebook

Sketches from the ‘Green Pearl of Africa’

Kampala Notebook

Uganda’s anti gay bill is a smokescreen for missing oil debate

This commentary (minus the last paragraph, which was requested as a supplement but arrived too late to be included!), was published on The Guardian (UK) website on February 10, 2012. Back in 2009, when the Anti Homosexuality Bill first hit international headlines, I discussed it in a longer piece, The strange geometry of an anti-gay rumpus.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has distanced himself from the noxious Anti Homosexuality Bill that has resurfaced in the country’s parliament, saying that he cannot interfere in the country’s democratic process. This is ironic coming from a man who, after a distinctly sleazy election victory last year, ordered violent crackdowns on peaceful protests at rising food prices and proposed a new crime of “economic sabotage.”

Security, livelihood gains are real but precarious in Uganda’s Karamoja region

The following reports were written for IRIN News, a UN funded ‘humanitarian news’ agency. The published versions (edited, and with pictures!) can be found here and here.

This was my second visit to Karamoja. I hope to go back, to learn and write more about a place that strikes me as one of the world’s under-reported development blackspots, in many senses. The World Food Programme has been feeding much of the 1.2 million population for decades. Development agencies and NGOs of every stripe are thick on the ground there. But despite these interventions, and despite the poverty and harshness of most people’s lives, and their all too evident ‘humanitarian needs’, the agro-pastoralist Karimajong seem, in the main, not too interested in becoming ‘modern’. (And for this reason they are widely vilified: ordinary Ugandans from other regions lament their ‘backwardness’ and these attitudes are easily discernible in aid agency and NGO staff too.)


“The Mountain People” by Colin Turnbull (1973, Pan, London; 253 pp)

In Uganda’s far northeast, bordering Southern Sudan and Kenya, the Kidepo National Park offers visitors a rare experience of African wildlife undisturbed by people. Road access is still difficult, but upmarket tourists can charter a light aircraft to fly in to a luxury tented camp where the abundance of game is matched by the abundance of culinary comforts. People who have made the trip say it is unforgettable. Now largely forgotten, however, is the human cost of creating this safari wonderland.

Oil debate needs to happen in Uganda, not Washington

Published in Kampala’s The Daily Monitoron August 19, 2011.

A working paper recently published by the Washington DC based Center for Global Development argues that Uganda’s future oil revenues should be distributed equally, in cash, to all Ugandan citizens.

Uganda is not ripe for twitter revolution

The short piece below was published by Index on Censorship on May 24. A longer analysis of Uganda’s post-election violence, which I contributed to the Foreign Policy in Focus website of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, can be found here.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni appears to have lost the plot. A violent crackdown on initially small and peaceful opposition protests at rising fuel and food prices has over the last five weeks left at least ten protestors and bystanders dead, including a two year old child, and hundreds injured. This show of indiscriminate force has shocked even government supporters, pitching the country towards political crisis. Now the 67 year old president, who came to power 25 years ago at the head of a rebel army, is blaming local and international media for his predicament, and promising to roll back the press freedoms that have been one of the saving graces of his rule.

Prayer should unite, not divide

Published in The Daily Monitor on April 12, 2011

As a guest at various meetings and workshops in Uganda over the last couple of years I have been interested to note how many of these, whether convened by government or non-government agencies, open with a short prayer.

Although having no specific religious affiliation myself I can see the positive value of this practice. It was exemplified by a woman invited to lead the opening prayer in an event I recently attended. She urged us to approach the proceedings “with humility” and “to seek wisdom and understanding from each other.”

Lack of green space makes me barking mad

On April 1, 2011 a small hairy animal hacked into my computer and dispatched the following piece to The Daily Monitor

by Polly Dog

Now listen up, humans: we dogs are not only your best friends, we are also your oldest. Archaeological evidence shows that dogs and humans have lived together for well over 10,000 years, and this has happened across the world in all known cultures. It’s been a good partnership for you as well as for us. Recent medical research shows that humans with dogs in their families enjoy better health, with lower blood pressure and fewer heart problems. So, we not only guard your homes from burglars and your airports from drug traffickers and terrorists, we also make you fit and happy.

And how do you repay us? By covering our environment in concrete!

The big man keeps power, but not much glory

Here are three short pieces on Uganda’s February 2011 elections, published (with some edits) in, respectively, The Christian Science Monitor, The East African , and The Daily Monitor.

Uganda’s democratic deficit (The Christian Science Monitor, March 3)

Yoweri Museveni’s decisive victory in Uganda’s elections, which will extend his 25-year rule by a further five years, puts paid to any thought that winds of change from North Africa would blow south across the Sahara. It looks instead as if the veteran leader, who came to power at the head of a rebel army, is settling in for a Life Presidency in the old, African style.

How corruption causes carnage on Uganda’s roads

Published in Uganda’s The Independent on January 25, 2011

Some time ago, Kenneth Onekalit and Joseph Okema returned from running successful businesses overseas to help rebuild their homeland in northern Uganda. They brought money, skills, energy and hope. Kenneth was establishing a Northern Uganda Farmer's Cooperative to revitalise family farming. Joseph headed the Northern Uganda Youth Development Centre.

Last year both men died in a car crash.

Three walks out west

Searching for some seasonal peace we arrive at a “Safari Lodge” perched on a cliff above Lake Albert in Uganda’s Rift Valley. Looking towards the far western shore we can just see—or is it a cloud?—the outlines of the Congo’s Blue Mountain range. It is certainly quiet, except for a jolly party of Swedes enjoying a family reunion. Nice. We take a dusk stroll for a couple of kilometres into the savannah behind, startling brilliant birds out of the bushes and being startled ourselves by the occasional family of wart hogs, wiggling their cute tails as they trot away from our approach. There’s no danger of meeting scarier wildlife here, though, for the big game prospects have already been trumped by big oil.


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