Kampala Notebook

Sketches from the ‘Green Pearl of Africa’

Kampala Notebook

Foreigners are too quick to press the “genocide” button

Published in Uganda’s Daily Monitor on January 10, 2011

Shortly before Christmas an American professor from the respected, Catholic university of Notre Dame posted on the Internet what he believes to be an authentic memorandum, dated November 14 1986, from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni to his brother, Salim Saleh.

The document (posted at www.musevenimemo.org) describes a low-altitude flight that Museveni allegedly took over the north of the country that he had just begun to rule. It states that “we must assume full control of the fertile lands. It will be necessary, therefore, to find a way to drastically reduce the population.” Elsewhere, the memo describes the local, Acholi people as “chimpanzees.”

U.S. “special forces” not needed in central Africa

Published (with some edits that are omitted here) on the website of The Guardian (London) on November 29 2010.

It is hard to imagine a more evil man than Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord who heads the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and President Obama’s new strategy for rooting him out has won praise from US activists who campaigned vigorously for “the humanitarian use of force” in the region.

Yet the pledge to "apprehend or remove from the battlefield Joseph Kony and senior commanders [of the LRA]" in fact contains little that is new, risks fanning the dying embers of the conflict, and perpetuates US efforts at geopolitical steering of Africa.

Social justice is the big development issue

Published in Uganda’s Daily Monitor on September 20.

Delegates gathering in New York this week to discuss progress on Millennium Development Goals that were agreed in 2000 will hear calls for redoubling efforts to meet 2015 targets, given evidence that many countries, including Uganda, are not ‘on track.’

There is no Chinese template for development

Published in Uganda’s independent Daily Monitor on September 14.

It is good to see a debate about the extent to which Uganda can learn from China unfolding in the Daily Monitor’s pages. (Editorial, August 25; James Kahoza’s Comment, September 7). This reflects the growing, and essentially positive, feeling that Africa now has wider development opportunities than in recent decades.

But the Chinese would be the first to point out that their renaissance has derived from a determination to find their own path, through an experimental process of ‘feeling the stones to cross the stream.’ This has, certainly, involved learning from others: but selectively so, adapting lessons to the Chinese context, rather than importing ‘models’ wholesale.

At the dentist

Tom Mutyabule may or may not be a brilliant dentist, that’s not the kind of call I could make, but he is certainly a charming one and an accomplished salesman.

7/11: Ugandans pay for botched ‘counter-insurgency’

A commentary based on this article was published on the website of The Guardian (London) on September 25, 2010.

For over a month corporate sponsors had swamped TV screens and city billboards with sumptuous advertising that celebrated ‘the first World Cup played on African soil’ more vibrantly than much of the football. ‘Africa United!’ was the upbeat slogan of telecom giant, MTN. But the cracks rather than the unity were ruthlessly exposed when, on July 11, three bombs ripped into crowds watching the final match in popular Kampala nightspots.

Snapshots on a wet Sunday

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.

Mob justice fills the policing gap

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.

The strange geometry of an anti-gay rumpus

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.

"To ask someone’s tribe is not really modern"

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.


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