Thursday, April 27, 2006

Balkanisation, Ugandan Style

Yesterday, I was trying to update my list of work contacts and when I came to the local governments section things became a bit tricky. I realised that I had just come round to adding districts like Amuria, Nakapiripit (very belatedly) to my address list and here I was faced with the task of looking for the contacts of many new districts most of which I was hearing of for the first time.

Sometime last year the government decided to increase the number of Uganda’s districts from 56 to 72. The parliament approved the increase to 69 and 3 other districts are awaiting approval.

The reasoning behind creating new districts from the larger ones made sense when it had just been started in the early 90s. The argument back then was that certain districts were very large and some of the subcounties in those districts that were furthest from the district headquarters were not receiving their share of resources due to their “remoteness” but now it has become a misused vote getting trick by the government and a weapon of blackmail for the electorate.

These days every time an election comes around the President promises somebody a district. Sometimes, as was the case in Tororo county last year, he was told not to bother seeking votes in the area if by election time they didn’t have a district of their own ( I forget what they called it).

It had come to a point where if you blinked you’d miss the creation of a new district. I have somehow managed to get a list of the districts and I am trying to place districts like Kabingo, Bukwa, Amolatar and Butaleja. None of them is on the maps yet and neither are they in the telephone directories.

Actually some will probably not appear in the directories for a while given the fact that telephone lines and thus fixed telephones are yet to make a debut on their soils. Some districts that have been in existence for years do not have telephones yet in their district headquarters. I was trying to set an appointment with the district leaders in Amuria sometime back and you have no idea what a hassle it was to get the mobile telephone number of the LC5 because it is the only means by which to contact him.

Many of these districts do not even have a half decent permanent structure to house the headquarters and other district offices. They are still being run from the offices of their mother districts.

Infrastructure problems aside, the creation of large villages and calling them districts has brought about some really petty quarrels. In Manafa, the people of Manjiya subcounty threatened not to be part of the district if Bududa subcounty was not declared the district headquarters instead of Bubulo (something to do the with the fact that the people of Bubulo always seem to get the good things). In retaliation one of the subcounties made its own letterheads because it could not have its official correspondence bear the address of another subcounty. Such petty quarrels plague almost all the new districts.

I will not even get into what each new district means in terms of costs. More district officials to be paid, more women parliamentarians to be overpaid etc.

To be fair, a district like Koboko (where I have been twice) stands a chance because it has had its own infrastructure (most of it privately built) for years. An amazing feat considering the entire town was razed to the ground and it was a ghost town for nearly 10 years following Amin's overthrow (Koboko was Amin's hometown). Koboko town is always abuzz with life and business to and from Sudan and Congo (Koboko is in the extreme northwest). The district is financially viable and it has promise. Ibanda had been a sub-district for over 20 years and should have been made a full district ages ago.

If this balkanisation goes on there will be a welcome to (insert district name) sign every 2 kilometers in the near future. We might soon have places like Bugolobi and Najjanankumbi districts.

For now, I guess every time I want to contact Kiruhura’s CAO (Chief Administrative Officer) I will call Mbarara and tell them to shout across the border and find out if the guy is in office.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Island Fun

I was in the Ssese Islands for part of the Easter weekend with a few Ugandan and Kenyan friends and I must say I should get out of Kampala more often. There was nothing that wasn’t fun about the whole trip.

I got to make my maiden voyage on a ship (actually its called a ferryboat but if it moves, sways and looks like a ship then its one) and contrary to what I thought would happen I didn’t throw up due to sea or is it lake sickness. The MV Kalangala left Nakiwogo in Entebbe at 2pm and we excepted to reach Ssese at 5pm. Initially I wasn’t looking forward to spending 3 hours on the lake but I got round to actually enjoying the experience. It helped that I was surrounded by about 20 friends so the engaging conversations and card games took my mind off the waters. In fact after the first hour it was quite festive in there, thanks largely to constant flow of beer from the bar and various other carry-on drinks and snacks from people.

After the ferry docked at Lutoboka pier in Ssese, we made our way to the Hornbill camp, which is right next to the pier.

The scenery at the camp took my breath away. There is a long semicircular beach that is shared by Hornbill and another camp and for a few seconds I thought I might be on some south pacific island until I looked around and saw the dense forests and water that was so still it couldn’t be ocean water.

I looked at the still water with both longing and trepidation. My “slight” fear of water means I have never quite learnt how to swim. I can get around but panic sets in every time the water gets shoulder high or I feel my feet are not touching any terra firma. That’s why I resisted the temptation to dive right in and instead opted to first check out the sleeping arrangements.

Most of us had opted to camp in tents (others preferred cottages) and those of us who had booked earlier found our tents ready. However, there was a mad rush for single tents (as opposed to the larger compartmentalised ones) by those whose plans for the evening involved getting cozy with somebody else in the tent as opposed to singing dirty rugby songs at the campfire. Personally I didn’t care where I crashed because I didn’t intend to do much sleeping and because I knew from an earlier experience that the campfires are the place to be.

Everything from there on was just a blast. I got to play some water games, tour the beach and generally make merry. I had a buffet supper that was quite nice and after that the night and early morning were full of singing, dancing and getting nicely juiced around the campfire.

I went to bed at some point but it can’t have been long because before long I was being woken up to go and have breakfast before boarding the 8 am ferryboat back to the mainland.

I did manage to make it to the ferry in good time and when I looked around I realised many people were paying the price for a good night. Major General Katumba Wamala was on the same boat and I remember him smiling bemusedly at our group of party-scarred people.

Sseese was quite the experience and I intend to go again, but this time I will be getting cosy with someone and there will be no all night campfire parties.

P.S would have liked to post some pics of the beach but somehow each has an individual in it and I wouldn't like to put people up on the net in their skimpies without prior consent. For the campfire, there are reputations to be protected. I dont know who reads this.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Muganda Man buying lingerie

I got this clip of a muganda man ordering sexy lingerie for his wife and I thought it was quite hilarious. I hope you guys do too. If its not clear try here

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Anything for the Visa

I am always amazed at the number of young Ugandans who would do virtually anything to go and live abroad (Europe and USA being the preferred destinations). Some people spend every waking moment planning how to acquire that precious visa at the expense of doing things that would benefit their lives in Uganda at present.

I got thinking about this recently when I bumped in a young lady I studied with at University. After exchanging the usual greetings we got to talking about what some of the people we studied with were doing and it turned out that quite a number had since left the country. What really struck me though, was how this lady went on and on about how bad luck seems to foil all her attempts to get abroad.

Apparently my friend has never bothered to get any meaningful employment, outside one or two research assistant jobs, in the four years since graduation. Initially she was waiting on her brother in the states to “hook her up” with a pass to the states. The brother wasn’t able to help despite his constant promises of “working on the things”, which was hardly surprising considering he was an illegal alien. After giving up on her brother she has since attempted, unsuccessfully, to obtain UK and US visas at least five times. In the process she has spent millions in dealing with crooked “travel consultants” (racketeers and scammers are more suitable names), visa fees, acquiring bank statements etc.

If my friend was a down-on-luck, unemployed and uneducated girl from the village I would probably understand her actions. But she is not. She has a university degree and if she can marshal 1 million shillings to pay a travel consultant for a visa every time she wants to travel (when will these people learn), she can get money to get her started in something.

She is not the only one. Because of the nature of the work I do, people are always asking me how I can help them get scholarships for short courses abroad or which conferences I can get them registered for. Many of these people are only looking at the course or conference as a ticket to the “greener pastures” offered in these countries.

I will be the first to concede that life in Uganda can be pretty difficult sometimes and that everyone has the right to pursue whatever they think will make them happy and prosperous. However, what makes me want to weep is that Uganda is losing out on many young people who cannot look around them and see that opportunities are here too. Many have delusions of a life of glamour and quick riches in the lands yonder.

Utter madness is when a young widow stakes her land title, sells all her property, sends the kids to granny and “invests” all her money in obtaining a visa. She gets rejected, she can’t get back her money and in the end she decides to take her own life. Why, Why, Why.

I think a very serious change in the mindset is required.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Up in Smoke

Recently BAT Uganda introduced the Dunhill brand of cigarettes to the Ugandan market. The launch was a festive and colourful one at Speke Resort Munyonyo. Personally I hope the brand does not gain any popularity, but probably not for the reasons you think.

I am pissed off that they have the audacity to introduce other brands to Uganda after shafting us and closing down the manufacturing plant in Jinja. They send all the employment to Kenya and they still want our dimes.

You might wonder why I am not going on about the grand conspiracy to have tobacco kill off the African through increased cigarette production in Africa after deep slumps in sales in other parts of the world. Or how cigarette smoking is bad for the health etc.

First, I won’t be telling anybody anything new. Second, seeing how I have been smoking for 11years it wouldn’t seat right with me. So I am looking at this purely as a smoker and a pissed off Ugandan one at that.

For all its sins BAT Uganda (BATU) was until last year putting a paycheck in the hands of hundreds of Ugandans employed at its cigarette manufacturing plant In Jinja. They were also paying the Uganda Revenue Authority a hefty paycheck after selling said cigarettes. But last year they did some restructuring and shut down the Jinja plant and decided that it made better economic sense to produce all the cigarettes for the Ugandan market in Kenya (all that is left here is a leaf processing plant and administrators). Obviously many jobs were lost and the shillings paid to the national coffers are less . BATU’s net loss was 6.94 billion shillings ($3.86 million) mainly attributed the loss to restructuring costs resulting from the closure of its Jinja plant.

My excuses are dwindling. I used to tell myself that by smoking I was doing my bit in keeping a tobacco farmer in Arua, or a factory worker in Jinja, happy. Taking one for the team, so to speak.
Besides young Ugandans smoke to much already and they are starting younger. We do not need any more temptations for those impressionable wannabes. I am waiting to see what coolness they will associate Dunhill with.I can already see the yuppies displaying their shiny Dunhill packets at counters from SteakOut to Silk Royale.
Yes, I know that my REX brand is produced in Kenya. I still can't help thinking of it as a Ugandan cigarette. If I must smoke imported tobacco at least let it be something historically associated with Uganda.

What? I am not making sense? You are probably right. I am in a very “Jay state of mind” right now. Just that there is no forum for Ugandan smokers to rant in.
Ministry of Health Warning- Cigarette Smoking can be harmful to your health

Onyo la wizara ya afya - Uvutaji wa sigara waweza kudhuru afya yako.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Just checking if this test video post works. I plan to send Jay's Eye View to another level.

I once was told that the messier the desk, the busier the person (hint, hint).

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Diplomatic Adultery/Espionage

The ongoing saga of the Rwandan diplomat who was caught in flagrante with a married woman in an Entebbe hotel is just the latest in a series of events that convince me that somebody in the machines is not happy unless we are having issues with Rwanda.

The whole incident has the hallmarks of a frame-up. A very unimaginative frame-up, but one nonetheless. Who ever heard of a diplomat being arrested by police for adultery. Whether or not he was sleeping with the woman is immaterial (according to this, he wasn't). It is the treatment he received after arrest that leaves me thinking the whole ordeal was meant to embarass the young chap. He was detained for almost 4 hours after clearly invoking his diplomatic immunity.

My suspiscions are all but confirmed when the adultery story is closely followed by an inside story of- surprise, surprise-espionage accusations. Obviously the government wanted him out of Uganda and the adultery bust was the way they figured they would achieve this.

Now before I get accused of being in cahoots with foreign spies let me say this. There are many ways he could have been sent home through diplomatic channels because God knows there have been other Rwandan diplomats before him who have been summarily expelled. The whole adultery angle is what gets to me. It seems the diplomat (and by extension Rwanda) also had to be embarassed in the process.

What amuses me is that it is widely acknowledged that diplomatic missions and espionage go together like well salted crisps and a cold lager. Actually wikipedia, under diplomatic immunity, says "The espionage conducted by embassies is actually more a custom than a violation of diplomatic immunity, as it is continuously carried out by all major world powers". I assume therefore that all diplomats are acknowledged as potential spies and are always being watched to make sure they do not get any really important secrets.

I wonder what retaliation our southern brothers are going to carry out. This see-saw game of accusing diplomats of espionage has to go on. Rwanda has been tagged and they have to do something. I wonder when all sides will get tired of the games and decide to go native on each other (this time across each other's borders, not in hapless Congo's backyard). All the provocatory moves are about to be played out.

p.s. WTF is adultery still doing in our penal code.