Friday, February 25, 2011

At least it was peaceful….

‘At least it was peaceful.’  With this high praise from the international community, including the rather limp statement from our own dear UK Minister for Africa, the Ugandan Presidential and Parliamentary elections are well and truly over, give or take the odd rumblings emanating from disappointed Opposition candidates.  EU and Commonwealth observers have issued their interim statements pointing to vote-rigging, misdirection of public funds, lack of a ‘level playing field’ for Opposition candidates, including denial of a media presence, etc etc, but concluded that, when all was said and done, the elections were ‘peaceful’.  Well, that’s all right then.

And has it been peaceful?  Depends what you mean by....

According to the Encarta Dictionary ‘peace’ means:  freedom from war, or the time when a war or conflict ends; tranquillity – a calm and quiet state, free from disturbances or noise; a state of mental calm and serenity, with no anxiety; harmony – freedom from conflict or disagreement among people or groups of people; law and order – the absence of violence or other disturbances within a state.

Law and order?  There have been, and still are, a lot of localised disturbances, and a few full-blown riots, right across the country, and a lot of intimidation, mostly armed, but it hasn’t been like Kenya, Tunisia, Egypt or Libya.  And if the Opposition ever had a chance to bring the people out on the streets, they threw it away.  Ugandans want peace: they will put up with any amount of injustice, bullying, intimidation, inequality and unfairness just to be safe.  And who can blame them?  Discontent will fizzle out into resignation.  Nevertheless, the Wikileaks documents from the US Ambassador to Uganda are interesting, about Obama having waited for Besigye to do something and being prepared to support. 

You have to remember, though, that we have a lot of elections going on in Uganda just now, not just the ‘big’ ones other countries may be interested in.  What’s the picture there?

The election for the Mayor of Kampala had to be abandoned on Wednesday because ballot boxes across the city were found to be stuffed with ballot papers pre-ticked in favour of the NRM candidate.  Yes, there was violence, though it will not have got into the UK papers which, naturally and rightly, are much more concerned with the terrible events in Libya just now.  Lots of pictures of bloodied people caught up in the election violence have been splashed across the front pages of our newspapers and descriptions of rioting in various places.  Journalists representing a number of newspapers have been beaten up and arrested, and the local radio stations were kept busy all day.  And, yes, like last week, we also got a lot of warning messages from VSO and the High Commission about staying in and keeping out of trouble.  In fact, we have been advised not to go to Jinja at the weekend as there have been sporadic but violent clashes on an almost daily basis there.  We won’t go to Entebbe either, because we would have to drive across a difficult bit of the city.  So we remain trapped here, as we have been for two weeks. 

Elections at LC5 (local council) level across the country which were being held at the same time as the mayoral elections were much the same, with minor disturbances and the usual accusations of vote-rigging; not cancelled, though a low turnout.  Well, why wouldn’t there be?  Difficult to see much point.  And we have two more election days next week to look forward to, plus the rerun of the mayoral election.

One of the peculiarities of local government in Uganda is the number of levels within it, five altogether.  Five levels of jobs, five levels of salaries, five levels of expenses or ‘facilitation’, five levels of patronage, five levels of bureaucracy – nice work if you can get it.  So, for every £100 leaving central government and destined for, say, school inspection, there are five levels to get through before the poor district inspector on the ground can get his or her hands on it and go on his or her inspections.  For that is how it is done here.  Travel and subsistence (or per diems, as they are rather quaintly called here in that widely spoken local language, Latin) are claimed for in advance, not retrospectively.  But, I can hear you say, does that not make it difficult to monitor, control and account for expenditure?  Indeed...a fair point.  However, remember, people in Uganda will not necessarily have the wherewithal in their bank accounts to pay for travel up front, and may not trust the authorities to refund them anyway.

Given all that, the number of people who want to ‘monitor’ schools is less than surprising, including people at the level of a UK local council Chief Executive or Finance Director.  You see, those facilitation allowances....  All you do is find a nearby school on the main road, turn up, sign the visitors’ book, stay for ten minutes, have a word with the headteacher (if s/he’s there!) and go.  And the poor District Inspectors of Schools (DIS) get torn to shreds in the newspapers because of all the schools up mountains and in the bush which are never inspected.  Many inspectors cannot afford to fill the tanks of their motorbikes.

And this is repeated on an enormous scale right across the country for every form of expenditure for every form of service for which local councils are responsible.  The money, when it gets to where it is intended, may be just a trickle compared with the babbling brook which, it is claimed, left the Finance Ministry.

However, this is the way it is done, so next week we will have more elections: for LC4, LC3, LC2 and LC1.  Given the apathy about local government elections in the UK, you can imagine the lack of interest among ordinary voters here given the events of the last couple of weeks.  Think about the number of man hours wasted as people cannot get into work, or are afraid to, or think there’s a good excuse not to?  What about all the lost school hours which are irreplaceable?  One of the reasons given for schools remaining closed was the need for parents and administrative staff ‘to rest’ after the elections.  Children do not get a second chance at education anywhere, let alone in Uganda.

Still, nobody died last week, nobody died this week and, we hope, nobody will die next week.  What have died are the last breaths of democracy, if it was ever more than still born.    UK commentators have customarily referred to Uganda as 'one of Africa’s few democracies’.  Democracy is the free and equal right of every person to participate in a system of government...., Encarta again.  Free and equal?  Hummm…..

And what do governments do?  They provide public services and ensure law and order.  And in Uganda?  You will have read in earlier posts on this site about Ugandan schools.  As for health, there is virtually no government health service once you get out of Kampala, and the conditions in the national government hospital here are so bad that the patients went on strike the other week: silly people, they expected treatment!  What else was it that Encarta said about peace: a state of mental calm and serenity, with no anxiety?

No, there were no sudden deaths in Uganda during the elections.  On track record alone, however, we can predict that there will be deaths following the results, slow, inexorable and unacceptable deaths – of women in childbirth, of newborn babies, of ill-nourished children dying of preventable diseases.  On track record, if patients even get as far as the health centres, they will find them empty of staff, empty of the drugs which have been sold off on the black market, and empty of any sense of dignity.  Women will continue to give birth on mats on the floor because they do not have enough money to bribe the hospital staff for a bed.   This is what peace is like in Uganda.  Yet who knows if a different result would have changed all this?  How would we know?

Isn’t it odd how content we Europeans are to apply double standards when dealing with Africa?  If Uganda had been Britain, would the comparative peace of the process have been the final yardstick by which the validity of the outcome was judged?  The qualities of government inscribed on the Scottish Parliament’s mace are wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity, not a bad set of values for any government at any level, national or local, to abide by.  It doesn’t mention peace.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Our intrepid explorers discover the source of the Nile…and Jinja Golf Club (Golf Clubs of Uganda Part 4)

Perhaps not so much ‘discover’ as ‘escape to’.  Although we love the Ugandan sun, which bathes us in warmth but never batters us with heat, sometimes Kampala itself just gets a bit much.  What with the traffic and the dust, not to say the rifles and uniforms, it is good to get away.  So far what we've been doing at the weekends is go down to Entebbe, where Stuart plays golf and I swim at the very civilised Lake Victoria Hotel.  However, we’re changing tack.  Stuart, ever mindful of getting his money’s worth, has discovered that if you join the golf club at Jinja, to the north east of Kampala on Lake Victoria, not only can you play at Entebbe and Fort Portal (the latter admittedly rather a long way to go even for the golf-obsessed), you can actually play at the normally extortionately expensive Kampala course for a more reasonable sum.  Never one to turn down a bargain, Stuart is therefore planning to join the Jinja Club, which is significantly cheaper than all the rest, has a good-sized swimming pool and even some pleasant tennis courts as well if you feel so inclined (I speak theoretically, of course).

If the golf is not up to scratch, the view of Lake Victoria makes up for it.
Jinja golf course stretches pleasantly along the banks of the Nile, where it pours out of Lake Victoria on its way to Lake Albert, Sudan and Egypt.  Being on a river bank, the course is almost all flat, good for the ageing golfer.  Although it only has 9 holes, these limitations do mean that I don’t have to come prepared to carry out heart defibrillation, but can relax genteelly by the club’s little swimming pool and read an improving book.  The course has its little quirks, however, including the inordinate number of termite mounds from which players can get a 'free drop'.  

The beginnings of a termite mound, and a golfing hazard.
The same rule applies if you land in a hippo's footprint, though hippos are rarely if ever seen these days.  
Only the most gentle of slopes...

...and the broad sweep of the lake.
There is not the same preciousness about most Ugandan golf courses as in the UK, so nobody really minds about sharing them with the odd dog.  And why shouldn't the locals take a short cut when collecting water?

Trespassing dog.
Water carriers and the oldest golf trolley in the world.
The marabou storks have forgotten their clubs...
However, first things first.  What do you need to know about Jinja?  Well, we like Jinja town itself.  It is shabby and faded but has a real sense of its colonial past.  Jinja was very largely built by Indians, with long broad tree-lined streets on a grid pattern.  

One of Jinja's main streets on a quiet Sunday morning.

The Asians who came to build the railway which transported cotton to Mombasa and then on to the Lancashire factories, stayed to develop Jinja’s industry and commerce: tobacco, textiles, brewing and copper.  Goods and people were ferried across Lake Victoria from Jinja's port.  In the centre of the town, many buildings still bear the names of their Asian owners and the companies they founded.   A few have been renovated; it would be lovely if the rest followed suit.  
The renovated Madhvani building, 1919,
once housing Vithaldas, Kalidasi and Haridas & co.

Eastern Villa, complete with election posters.
Pitamber Motibhai and Bros, 1932, with particularly impressive Ugandan wiring.
The shaded walkways are lined with fabric shops, the seamstresses plying their antique Singer machines along the side of the pavements.  Here you can come to choose the bright cotton or silk fabric for your new gamese and get it designed and made on site. These small-scale businesses look healthy enough and, indeed, the recent development of Jinja as an international adventure centre for white-water rafting has provided the incentive for some of the old colonial houses to be bought up and renovated as guest houses.  And very nice some of them are too, with some excellent food – good places to ‘chill out’.

Garden of the Gately on Nile hotel, with invisible pelicans and ibises.
The Ripon Falls Hotel has lost its grandeur.
The Asians, together with the small European population, used to live in large lakeside houses with verandas, not far from the golf club.  Once they were expelled by Amin, their lovely houses began to fall down and many of them are now shared among many families.  Washing hangs across the once neat lawns, goats nibble at the vegetation and ragged children run around.  

Once grand lakeside villa...
...and another...
...and another.
With the disappearance of the Asians, the industry also collapsed.  And what Amin started, the current administration continued, transferring what industry was left to the centre and west of Uganda and leaving Jinja and the surrounding region of Busoga, now notorious for its epidemic of jiggers, to decline into poverty.  The average inhabitant of Jinja earns just $100 per year, well below the official international poverty level of a dollar a day. Jinja, once the industrial heart of Uganda, went through an inevitable process of decay and dissolution, though a few Asians have since returned to run the sugar works and other industries.  The once proud Busoga railway line, developed following Winston’s Churchill’s visit in 1907, now carries only a few freight trains which rumble along the Nile on their way to Kampala.  

A rare sight in Uganda - a working railway line.
By the way, Churchill’s book My African Journey, is a wonderful description of his travels through Uganda, his respect for the political structure and order of the kingdom of Buganda, with its straight broad roads easily the equal of those of the Romans, and his appreciation of the fertility and beauty of the country as a whole.  It was Churchill who coined the phrase ‘The Pearl of Africa’. 

But Jinja was an important place long before the British or the Asians appeared.  Where the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria it forms the boundary between the kingdoms of Buganda and Busoga.  And there also there used to be the ‘stones’ of the Waganda, later renamed the Ripon Falls by John Hanning Speke.  Speke came across them in 1862 and claimed them as the ‘source’ of the Nile.  In fact, there are many tributaries of the Nile, and the claim was much disputed over the years.  Still, most people agree on the Jinja location.

These troubled waters are all that are left of the Ripon Falls.
Looking across to the shrine and, below, in the other direction.

Fishing on the Nile.
Speke describes ‘the roar of the waters, the thousands of passenger fish leaping at the falls with all their might, the Wasoga and Waganda fishermen, coming out in boats…hippopotami and crocodiles lying sleepily on the water, the ferry at work above the falls, and cattle driven down to drink at the margin of the lake.’  It would be nice if his description finished there.  Alas, being a Victorian gentleman, it continues, ‘I felt as though I wanted only a wife and family, garden and yacht, rifle and rod, to make me happy here for life, so charming was the place.’  He does make it sound rather like the Lake District.

The cormorants quite like it too...
...and so do the egrets...
...and the herons.
Incidentally, some of Gandhi’s ashes were scattered over the waters of the Nile at Jinja, the place marked by a monument to him.

Gandhi's memorial
Well, the Ripon Falls are gone, overwhelmed by the river following the building of the Owen Falls dam further downstream, which provided the power for Jinja’s industries.   So also are the hippos and most of the crocs.  However, the charm of the place remains, despite the best efforts of the boat touts and cafés on the Jinja side of the river to make it loud and tacky.  The Owen Falls, of course, were also affected so the Nile at Jinja is a very different place from when the Waganda and Wusoga venerated the Falls and made their periodic sacrifices to the spirits which dwelt there.  If you go further downstream, you reach the Bujagali Falls where young people from all over come to enjoy the impressive and terrifying white water rafting.  But get there quickly.  A new hydro-electric plant is going to swamp the Bujagali Falls as well some time this year, though informed friends tell us that the rafting will continue further downstream.

Bujagali Falls.
Nevertheless, despite all these changes, Lake Victoria remains lovely.  We have stayed twice at the Kingfisher Safari Resort which is situated right on the lake, its thatched bandas looking out onto trees, just a short walk from the jetty where the boats come in.  

The garden of the Kingfisher Safari Resort, looking down towards the lake.

Collecting water from the jetty.

The fishermen come in with their haul of tilapia, and small children collect water, ignoring the bilharzia and other contaminants.  

Kingfisher Safari Resort.

Walking towards our banda.

You can take a very pleasant boat trip down the river away from the lake to see the source and watch the birds.  However, I think the view of the source from the gardens opposite the Jinja bank is lovely.  The first time I was there, 30 or 40 vervet monkeys were out playing before the day got too hot.  The Source of the Nile Gardens are pleasantly run down and peaceful so I do hope some over-enthusiastic tourist official doesn’t decide to redevelop them.

Looking down towards the source of the Nile.
Speke memorial.

Well, I think Stuart and I can see some pleasant weekends ahead of us.  Some gentle golf, some lengths in the swimming pool, one or two beers looking over the lake and fresh Lake Victoria tilapia, what more could one want?

PS (08/01/2012) Stuart's membership of the Jinja Golf Club never did work our, sadly. He applied a year ago and despite repeated promises that his membership was up for discussion at the next meeting, it has still not happened. We have a feeling that mzungos are not all that welcome though the staff at the clubhouse itself are very friendly. We still go to Jinja every so often for golf and swimming, but not as often as we were planning to. Pity...

PPS Membership came at last in April 2012! We left in December that year, and the membership only ran out a year or so ago.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The people have spoken…well, perhaps

So, the official results are finally out and our predictions were right.  Museveni has won the election with 68% of the votes while the opposition parties trailed well behind, with Besigye getting just 26%.  IPC (Inter-party Cooperation) has rejected the result, while the Uganda People’s Congress and Democratic Party have accepted defeat.  About 60% of those registered actually voted.  As we said in a previous blog, there are a number of reasons why many did not register in the first place.

As you would expect, a post-mortem is underway and international observers are beginning to comment on the fairness or otherwise of the election process.  The well-worn expression used across news programmes and papers is that ‘the elections have been largely peaceful’, certainly compared to previous elections, particularly those in 2006.  Scrutiny of websites following the election does not make it appear to have been all that peaceful in some parts of the country, but then that is inevitable: a nationwide broad-brush view is always going differ to some extent from the detailed picture on the ground.  Commentators also refer to alleged bribery of voters and the redirection of government funds into political campaigning by the ruling party.  It has certainly been said that 40% of all government funds for 2011 have been re-assigned in this way.  EU observers have called this phenomenon ‘monetisation’ of the election.  ‘Ugandans vote in most expensive election ever’ was the headline in this week’s East African Business Week. 

The following incidents and situations, and many others like them, have been reported publicly by the BBC, or are on the web or in the press.  We, of course, were not there and have no view as to their authenticity.   However, they will give you some idea of what has been reported from across the country.

  • It apparently took up to four hours for polling stations in Kampala and elsewhere to open.  Given that both election date and required arrangements were hardly unexpected, it is not clear what the reasons were for delay.  One polling officer interviewed by the BBC just said, ‘This is Africa.’
  • Whether these delays had anything to do with the quantities of pre-ticked ballot papers which are said to have appeared in various parts of the country, we don’t know.  Some of these papers were held up before cameras by Besigye while others are said to have been found in the NRM chairman’s house in Sironko district and elsewhere.  There may be credible explanations.
  • Similarly, there may be reasons for armed supporters of a government minister to target the opposition candidate’s car in Masilele, or so it is alleged in a verified report on Ugandawatch2011.  They shot a journalist instead and about 30 people were injured.  The opposition politician was elected.
  • Ballot boxes from Mbale are reported as having been removed to a secret undisclosed location for 7 hours en route to being counted, what should have been a five hour journey taking 12 hours.  However, there may be nothing untoward about this.
  • People across the country, from Kampala to Acholi and Lango in the north, have complained that they were not allowed to vote as their names did not appear on electoral registers at the polling station, despite having checked the registers and been given voters’ cards.  Some had travelled from polling station to polling station in an attempt to find their names and exercise their right to vote.  In Mackindye, 200 people were missing from the register and, despite having registration receipts, were not allowed to vote.  One of the Presidential candidates himself could not find his name on the register, though he was allowed to vote after all.  It is certainly unfortunate that quite so many educated and articulate people from across the country apparently made mistakes with the registration process.
  • The President has announced publicly that the authorities ‘know the homesteads of all those who did not vote NRM’, a statement which we are sure he did not mean to sound intimidating.
  • In Jinja, Masaka, Gulu, Iganga, Mbarara, Kabarole , Mukono, Agago, Bukedea, Bundibugyo, Nkotoro, Kampala and many other places, the NRM are accused of bribing voters with salt, sugar, soap or money, sometimes with the help of police and soldiers.  It is possible that witnesses may have misinterpreted the situation, similarly with the reports of people voting more than once, including one woman who apparently voted nine times and had to be rescued from a mob.  In a verified report, students from a named hostel in Kampala are said to have been transported to polling stations and voted six times.  However, again, we have no direct evidence of this event ourselves.
  • There have been many complaints about the intimidating effect the widespread and heavy deployment of armed soldiers and police have had on the voting public.
  • Before the election, the European-funded DEMgroup report asserted that the electoral register contained the names of 140,000 dead voters, 418,623 registered voters who are foreigners and not entitled to vote, more than 5,000 registered voters at least 110 years old and  4,629 registered voters with the same name and date of birth as others registered at the same polling station.  Apparently, 7.7% registered voters have the same name combination, more than a million share the same names and 'close' birth dates and 225,115 have the same name combination and actual date of birth.
The Sunday Monitor summarised the situation in its leader, ‘…reports of violent clashes…., ballot stuffing, missing names from the voters’ register, presence of ghost polling stations while some gazetted polling stations were shifted to unknown locations and heavy military deployment…’  It concludes ‘We have a choice; we can choose to go the Kenyan way or the Ivory Coast way but we can only choose to go our own way which would be to stay calm and peaceful.’

Such anomalies and influences before, during and after the election process are not new to Uganda.  The results of the previous three elections have been challenged in court for similar reasons, though with more evidence of accompanying violence.  Voters know this, just as they know that when they are offered money or salt, they are expected to vote in a particular way.  It is quite probable that even taking into account incidents such as the ones described above, President Museveni would still have been re-elected.  There are many reasons why. 

One of these reasons is expressed in the common assertion that Museveni has given Uganda ‘peace’.  The origins of this statement relate to events thirty years ago, before many voters were in school or even born, particularly given the demography of Uganda.  And it hasn’t been that peaceful for many of them.  The conflict in the north and east only came to an end about four years ago, and Museveni has been criticised by many in the north for a lack of will in resolving the situation.  Still, the perception of most people in the centre and west of Uganda is that, overall, they have had peace.

Perhaps more relevant to people’s voting patterns than past conflicts is the fear of new conflict.  Timing is all.  Although the protests in Tunisia and Egypt encouraged some people to feel that such change was also possible in Uganda, the sight of huge numbers of armed police and soldiers and armoured vehicles mounted with guns and tear gas in the streets of Kampala and other major towns, together with the loud sound of helicopters circling overhead would make most people nervous.  The outbreak of violence in Libya and Bahrain just as the Ugandan elections started would particularly worry them, as they still have painful memories of the deadly violence after the Kenyan elections.  Although Besigye has stated that he will not challenge the election results in court, principally because it did not work the last three times, he has suggested that he will call people out on the streets.  Whether the Ugandan people will have the stomach for this when city streets are bristling with military weapons, we do not know.  Certainly, Museveni has said that he will arrest and send to jail anyone who protests.  In preparation, Uganda Communications Commission has told service providers to block all SMS messages which contain the words Tunisia, Egypt, Ben Ali, Mubarak, dictator, teargas, army, police, UPDF, people power, gun, bullet among others.

There are many other reasons for people to vote for the NRM and Museveni.  Firstly, a large proportion of the middle-class population is employed by the public sector.  Among the influences which may be brought to bear on job appointments at both national and local government level, are party sympathies and patronage.  Private business deals may also depend on links with the ruling party.  Job security is important and people may be unwilling to risk unemployment.  An uncorroborated report on UgandaWatch2011 alleged that teachers who attended a Besigye rally in a particular place had been photographed and told that their names would be deleted from the pay roll.  We have no idea if this is true.

Furthermore, the opposition was fragmented, with seven opposition candidates standing for President.  Even though the candidates came to an agreement, voters would not have seen them as a united opposition or particularly strong.  Given the age of most of the opposition candidates, they are inevitably associated with NRM and the bush war.  There was only one party, the NRM, during their political development, and hence they appear as ‘breakaway’ NRM members rather than as having ideological standpoints of their own.  Some may only appeal to one section of the Ugandan population, for example, Beti Kamya with her openly pro-Buganda sympathies which may hold little attraction for members of other tribal groups.

However, the decision as to whether or not to accept the results of the poll is none of our business.  It is up to the Ugandan people themselves.  What is our business as British citizens or citizens of other western countries is the use of money from international donors for a purpose for which it was not intended, if that is in fact proven to be the case.  If the figure of 40% of the national budget being diverted is true, then we have to consider the fact that the west provides about 40% of that budget.  40% of 40% is a lot of money and may now no longer be used to contribute to the education, health and other public services for which it was intended.   This is an issue about which British, American, Dutch and Irish taxpayers may have a view.  The economy is quite unstable in some western countries, and people are losing their jobs.  For how much longer will western donors be prepared to fund a national government which does not appear to look after its own people?  As someone who marched for Make Poverty History and has signed many petitions about increasing international aid, it is not easy for me or for others like me, to start questioning the appropriateness or wisdom of such aid continuing, certainly to its current extent, in Uganda.

Secondly, we need to consider quite carefully the role of NGOs and charities in countries like Uganda, where they may simply be used to apply Elastoplast to wounds which are far too deep and may, in fact, be self-inflicted.  All of us working for NGOs go through a process during which we question the ultimate purpose and impact of our work; that is only natural.  In many respects, Stuart and I feel that our most direct impact has actually been in the little school Royal Pride which is not, in fact, part of our ‘official’ work.  In Royal Pride we can make a difference to real children. 

In our everyday work, however, it is difficult to know what impact we are having.  We have come to the conclusion that perhaps our legacy will be the influence we have on the way our colleagues think about learners and learning, about education and about inspection in particular.  When we worked for HMIE we had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the inspectorate was completely incorruptible.  Every single HMI knew deep in his or her heart that although the work was immensely challenging, they were all doing it in order to make schools better places for children to learn.  At the heart of inspection is a high moral purpose.  Perhaps that sense of purpose will be what we leave behind. 

What we really do not want to do is to provide temporary patches to a public service which is being affected unnecessarily by short-term political decisions.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Let the people speak...

98.8%!  What an amazing vote for South Sudan a couple of weeks ago!  Congratulations.  And congratulations too to northern Sudan for standing back and letting it happen.  Here in Uganda, people worried about the possibility of violence during or after the referendum.  In fact, aid organisations have been preparing for an influx of refugees across our shared border.  Still early days, of course, and enormous challenges ahead (roads, health, education, agriculture…), but the omens are positive.

And the people have spoken in Tunisia and Egypt too, though not through the ballot box.  The reporting of the Egyptian protests has been very interesting here: lots of articles about Mubarak hanging on to power for so many years, about his intention to hand power onto his son, about his continual references to his role in Egypt’s struggle for independence and democracy in order to legitimise his continuing his presidency.  The newspapers have been making parallels with the situation here.

First you need to know that 90% of Uganda’s media is owned directly or indirectly by the ruling party, including the flagship paper, the New Vision.  The New Vision is, as you would expect, very supportive of the current regime, with occasional mild criticism just to show that it is a newspaper and not a PR circular.  Its main rival in attracting educated readers is the Daily Monitor which carries articles representing a range of viewpoints.  It is the only ‘quality’ Ugandan daily which dares to publish outright criticism of the ruling party.  During the last election in 2006, its editor and other journalists were jailed.

President Museveni with trademark floppy hat.
Good quality weeklies include the Independent, which, like the Monitor, published extracts of Uganda’s  previously banned book, The Correct Line? by Dr Olive Kifefe Kobusingye, the sister of Museveni’s arch-rival for the presidency, Kizza Besigye.  The book is well written and quite restrained in tone. It describes alleged manipulation of the polls during the last three elections.  It reports the detention and torture of opposition supporters in ‘safe houses’ in Kampala and Mbarara, the death of Besigye’s brother after months in jail, the exile of his other sister and the exile of Besigye himself.  On his return from exile to fight the election, he was arrested.  He was subsequently cleared of both allegations: rape and treason.

Museveni's main rival, Kizza Besigye.
The Correct Line? undermines the image of Museveni presented in his autobiographical writings, particularly Sowing the Mustard Seed: The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Uganda.  Whisked out of Kampala after the 2006 result, Besigye was apparently rowed across Lake Victoria into a further period of exile from which he only emerged last autumn.  The Supreme Court found irregularities in the 2006 election, but stated that the results should be upheld.  Interestingly, the reason for the ‘bush war’ of 1981 instigated by President Museveni and 40 close associates was Milton Obote’s rigging of the polls, which denied power to the Democratic Party, the party which had looked as if it might be winning.

President Museveni took over after winning the bush war, twenty five years ago. He is fortunate in the support of his loyal family: his wife the Minister for Karamoja, his brother an army general, his son at the Ministry of Internal Security and his daughter and son-in-law involved in various government projects.  National projects in recent years have included preparations for the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Kampala.  CHOGM is notorious for the billions of shillings which allegedly disappeared into Ministers’ pockets and are still unaccounted for.  The Ministers were absolved of responsibility by Parliament and the issue is unlikely to be resolved quickly (or at all) by the courts.

Kevin Kelly, the Irish ambassador, recently wrote a persuasive article on behalf of the Partners for Democracy and Good Governance (a grouping of ambassadors from the EU, USA, Japan, Norway and the UN), arguing for increased credibility of the election process, respect for the rule of law, active participation and a continuation of the relatively peaceful campaigning so far.  Finally he wished Uganda success with this ‘next stage of its democratic journey’.

The US Congress, concerned by the possibility of vote-rigging, issued a directive in January 2010 to Hillary Clinton ‘to closely monitor preparations for the 2011 elections in Uganda, and to actively promote, in coordination with the European Union, Canada and other nations, the independence of the election commission; the need for an accurate and verifiable voter registry; the announcement and posting of results at the polling stations; the freedom of movement and assembly and a process free of intimidation; freedom of the media; and the security and protection of candidates.’

President Museveni marking twenty five years in power.
Lucky Hillary has to submit regular reports to Congress on how Ugandan democracy is faring.  In exchange, Uganda receives $70,650,000 of assistance.  Uganda’s Electoral Commission was appointed by the President's office.  Four main presidential candidates (not including Besigye) have recently written to the Commission raising issues such as failure to issue voter identification cards, a flawed National Voters register, recruitment and training of vigilantes, corruption and bribery of voters by the NRM, inadequate civic education of the electorate and public media black-out of certain opposition candidates.  Still, not much violence by 2006 standards.  The army has reassuringly announced that it will not tolerate election violence and will ‘respect poll results’.

Besigye campaigning in the north.
Bribery, direct or indirect, is instead alleged by the press to be the tactic for 2011.  Local chiefs receive nice new bungalows, perhaps in the hope that they bring in villagers’ votes.   In Lira (north), all traditional chiefs in Lango sub-region have received pledges that they will receive ‘palaces… similar to the ones built for Acholi chiefs’.  The paramount chief received a new Toyota Landcruiser.    The people of Lango were also promised compensation for cattle raided by the Karamajong (report in the Daily Monitor).  Huge quantities of money have passed into the hands of traditional, local government and religious leaders and potential voters at all levels of society up and down the country.  It has been alleged in the media that this money has come from government coffers.  It is certainly money which could have been used to save the lives of women in childbirth and feed and educate their children.

So what issues are citizens voting on in this election?  Religious and tribal, as in Sudan?  Well, not really.

One of President Museveni’s significant achievements has been his deliberate and largely successful efforts over many years to encourage those of different religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds to understand and live alongside each other.  Though apparently a committed Christian, he attends Muslim festivals, for example Eid ul Fitr.  Muslim and Christian children usually attend the same schools.  Uganda shows little evidence of Islamic fundamentalism or Islamophobia, despite last year’s bomb attacks.  Indeed, rather more disturbing is the widespread Christian fundamentalism, with its vicious homophobia and cash-for-miracles campaigns.

What about tensions between tribes and clans?  Are they an election issue?

The state of ‘Uganda’ is a relatively recent and quite artificial construct.  The Berlin Conference of 1884-85 based Uganda on the well-organised and cooperative kingdom of Buganda, putting the Kabaka at its head but bringing in kingdoms and tribes which were hostile to Buganda and had completely alien cultures.  And the languages were different too.  Uganda is more or less bisected by the Nile.  To the north are the tribes which speak Nilotic languages and to the south are the Bantu-speakers: over 40 languages in all, some say 60, and many of them mutually incomprehensible.

Most of Uganda’s tribal groupings were partitioned by the new borders.  Tribes like the Banyarwanda were split between French-colonised Rwanda and Burundi and British-colonised Uganda. Indeed, the Rwandan divisions between Tutsi cattle rearers and Hutu cultivators are replicated in the west of Uganda (Bahima and Bairu).   The various clans of the Masai were split between Kenya and Uganda.  To the immediate south, a straight line was drawn between German-colonised Tanganyika  (now Tanzania) and Uganda.   In the far West Nile region, tribes which were basically Sudanese (indeed, often called ‘Nubian’) were brought into the mix.  Directly north and many miles from Kampala, warlike tribes like the Acholi, Langi and Karamajong with completely different cultures were also added.

Europe’s blind refusal to acknowledge these differences meant that problems were built into the very foundations of the new country resulting in many of the terrible events of the last fifty years.  Amin came from West Nile, Obote from Acholi-land and Museveni from Ankole (previously Banyankore).  Both Amin and Obote are accused of using their tribal and regional origins as motivating forces for the policies they enacted and actions they took.  Ugandans, those most courteous, friendly and welcoming of people, have killed other Ugandans in enormous numbers over the last half century.

There are still rumblings of discontent, for example, that the Ankole region has been ‘favoured’ and is consequently more prosperous.  The south distrusts the ‘warlike’ north and the north believes it has been starved of resources and allowed to suffer under years of internal conflict.  The Bagandan Kabaka has been involved in a long-standing standoff with the President and was banned from visiting part of his kingdom.  Only last year, Baganda’s famous Kasubi tombs, a world heritage site, were burnt down in a riot during which about 25 people were killed, allegedly by the police.  

Kasubi tombs as they were (picture from official website).
And inside - the 'forest' - the resting place of the Kabakas.

Kasubi tombs as they are now.
The Karamajong warriors continue to carry out cattle raids in a huge area of Uganda which is out of bounds to foreign travellers because of its instability.  The various presidential candidates, as you would expect, can call on particularly strong support in their home regions, or in areas where they are seen to be attending to local concerns.  Despite the overall result in 2006, for instance, about 75% of northerners voted for Besigye.  The Bagandan Betty Kamya, interestingly, has been standing on a federal ticket. Nevertheless, the issues on which this election is being fought are country-wide rather than regional or tribal.  They are also quite straightforward and inextricably entwined: poverty and corruption.  

Of corruption I have already written.  Poverty?

In the election, jiggers have been used as the symbol of poverty.  Poor areas of the country like Basoga, in the Jinja area, have had an epidemic of jiggers.  Jiggers are caused by poor hygiene, mud floors and inadequate living conditions.  If the ulcers are untreated, you can die of jiggers.  If you are poor, you try to keep the fleas down by smearing cattle dung on the floor.  Concrete is rather more effective but costs money.  Rather amusingly, the opposition took the NRM slogan pakalast (forever!), and came up with jiggers pakalast to irritate them!

Even pleasant Entebbe has its poorer areas.
The National Household Survey report released in autumn last year indicated that although the number of poor had declined from 8.4 million (2005/06) to 7.1 (2009/10), the gap between the rich and poor had increased.  A longer term view shows that in 1992 56% lived in poverty, whereas ‘only’ 31% do so now.  The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target is 25%.  As in Europe, poverty levels vary from region to region, with the east and north being significantly poorer than the centre and west.

  • 435 women out every 100,000 births die in childbirth.
  • Out of every 1000 live births, 78 children die shortly after birth and 137 before the age of five.
  • Uganda adds 1 million people to its population every year and by 2050 will have a projected population of 91 million, compared with 10 million in the 1960s and 31-32 million now.
  • Out of its current population, 30% find it difficult to find enough food to eat, 15% of the population is malnourished and 40% of child deaths are due to malnutrition (UN figures released on World Food Day 2010).

Yet there is hope.  Oil has been discovered in western Uganda and the revenue, if used wisely by the new government, gives the country real prospects of achieving the MDGs.  An increasing proportion of the younger population have no memory of the bush war and will base their voting on what they observe now, rather than on emotional attachment to the past.  Despite the enormous challenges within the education system, the proportion of literate and educated parents will increase.  The children in school today will have higher aspirations for their own children and higher expectations of their elected representatives.

So, we await the results of 18th February.  Let the people speak.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Young, female and the world at their feet...well, perhaps

The results are out!  The other week it was the Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) results; last week it was the turn of ‘O’ Level.

The press had the usual pages of beaming pupils with proud parents or teachers – not much different from Britain, though at least here in Uganda we are spared the pretty girls at privileged schools shrieking on cue at TV cameras.  No doubt, like most things, it will come.

When ascribing reasons for their success at ‘O’ level, young people appear to place God rather lower down the list of contributory factors than their younger siblings.  Whereas almost all the PLE stars had apparently excelled because they had gone down on their knees every night, the S4 achievers were quite definite about it: they had done well because they had worked hard!

‘I spent sleepless nights reading and I sometimes missed meals because I was revising,’ said one boy.

And teachers were much more likely to get some credit as well.   ‘Our teachers really did a good job,’ said one student. ‘They taught us how to answer questions and not to fear examinations and told us that if others passed we shall also pass.’ 

More pupils sat ‘O’ level this year, as a result of the introduction of Universal Secondary Education (USE).  Performance overall has fallen, hardly surprising if more candidates are sitting, especially when they come from over-crowded USE schools.  The head of the Ugandan National Examinations Board (UNEB) said that the failure rate was quite low despite the increase in candidates.  Sadly, one in three of USE pupils beginning secondary school dropped out.  Others have had to repeat classes or were not allowed to sit the examination.  Such negative experiences will have had a significant effect on young people’s self-esteem and represents a tragic waste of talent and potential.

There is also a huge disparity in performance between urban and rural schools.  As the Daily Monitor says, ‘Many of these (the poorly performing) districts have suffered armed conflict, floods or famine or are newly created.’

The reference to ‘newly created’ districts relates to the enormous increase in the number of local authorities over the last two or three years, an increase of almost a third again, brought about by splitting existing districts.  The official reason for creating new districts is to provide more jobs and bring services nearer to the people.  Cynics could argue that it simply provides more bureaucrats which the country can ill afford.   Indeed, people given these new jobs, in particular the ‘facilitation’ (expenses) which go with them, may be unduly motivated to demonstrate their gratitude at the ballot box.  Constant change at local government level, however, has a seriously negative impact on the educational achievements and long-term prospects of young people in schools.

There is an ongoing debate in Uganda about the wisdom of extending education to the whole of the population, given the fall in standards.  Stuart and I would tend to argue that USE has enabled many young people to achieve success who would otherwise have been excluded, though, admittedly, the resultant overcrowding has had a negative impact on some other pupils.    To us in the west, education is a fundamental right.  However, in Uganda, educational initiatives, of which there are many, have often been poorly funded and announced at very short notice.  One example is the unexpected announcement during a Presidential campaign rally shortly before Christmas, of the extension of USE to ‘A’ level, starting this month.  As far as we know, no extra funding or in-service training has been made available.  Anyway, there is no money: it has all been spent on political campaigns.  Initiatives also take time to implement right across the country.  Only about a quarter of secondary schools have science labs, for example, with many making do with a science store.  Encouragingly, the better equipped schools tend to be the government schools where some effort has been made nationally to improve science education.  And, of course, there is the usual Ugandan problem of resources intended for schools being diverted elsewhere.
So much energy and potential.
So, how did the girls do at ‘O’ level?  Very poorly in comparison with the boys, I am sorry to say.  Whereas in the UK we are now accustomed to girls out-performing boys, only a third of the Ugandan pupils achieving Division 1 passes, were girls, though, like their British peers, they did do better than the boys in English.  In 20 districts, not one single girl achieved at Division 1 and in 19 others, less than five achieved at this level.  Girls are less likely to make it through P7 and sit the PLE, less likely to do well at PLE and therefore less likely to get into the better secondary schools, despite positive discrimination over entry requirements. 
Let's hope these girls make it to secondary school.
Once in secondary school, girls continue to lag behind or leave early.  Regular readers of this blog will by now be able to chorus the reasons: early marriage, defilement (rape), poverty and low parental aspirations.  Addressing these issues requires schools to influence the attitudes and traditions of parents and communities.  The experiences of these girls’ mothers will have been shaped by their gender.  They themselves will probably have been married very young and although many want something better for their daughters, they may also have low expectations or limited understanding of what is possible.  They are often almost overwhelmed with responsibilities and household tasks, so it is hardly surprising that they keep their children, particularly their daughters, at home to help them.
The average Ugandan family of seven.
Ugandan families have, on average, seven children and in the rural areas, nearer to 10 or 12.  Even in towns, water has to be collected, often from quite far away, not just for drinking, but for family washing and household cleaning.  Ugandan women work hard at keeping their compounds and houses clean.  They continually sweep away the ubiquitous red dust, which so easily turns into sticky red mud, slash the grass to keep away snakes, and shop for, grow, harvest and cook family food.  Washing hangs on long lines, or is draped over bushes and grass, or the banks of nearby (or not so nearby) rivers.  All this, while they are almost permanently pregnant or nursing a baby.    Improving girls’ prospects and maximising their potential will require more than a change in their families’ attitudes.  It will require a fairer and more equitable distribution of the country’s resources overall.
  • One quarter of all women in Uganda have had no education beyond 15.  Many stopped school far earlier than that, being at least twice as likely as men to have dropped out of primary school.  Only 66% of women over 15 are literate, compared with 82% men.
  • Women over 60 form 5% of the total population.  20% are literate, compared with 57% men.

  • 11% of all women are widows.  Of these, 80% are heads of household, many older women bringing up orphaned grandchildren. 89% of them are economically active (usually agriculture), 70% are illiterate, 58% have never been to school and a similar proportion are disabled. 
  • The rate of child marriage is 46%: 27% in urban areas and 52% in rural areas.

  • 50% of girls under 15 (roughly 4 million) have suffered sexual assault, many becoming HIV positive as a result.  A recent Save the Children Fund study found that 60% of girls in Apac District (northern Uganda) had conceived when they were under age.

  • One in 25 women dies in childbirth, as a result of the impact of labour on immature bodies, exhaustion after repeated pregnancies or endemic disease (for example, malaria).

 (Uganda National Household Survey 2009/10 and World Bank survey 2008.)

So what are schools doing to support girls?

Girls with a future.
Quite a lot, actually.  Many initiatives are on the go, though as you would expect, some schools are more energetic than others in implementing them.  For example, schools are encouraged to have a Girls' Education Movement (GEM) club, a national initiative to improve the status and participation of 'the girl child' (as Ugandans rather quaintly call them) in school life. The clubs raise aspirations and increase awareness of the importance of school attendance for all children.  Other initiatives like Child-friendly schools and Safe Schools, while not specific to girls, contain a number of elements which support them and help them to keep themselves safe.  Similarly, the President's Initiative on AIDS Strategy for Communication to Youth (PIASCY) aims to educate young people about sex and HIV/AIDS, and how to protect themselves.

One of the main causes of girls dropping out of school is lack of access to sanitary pads and appropriate sanitation.  Even if they manage to go to school, they may suffer bullying from boys, for rudimentary toilet facilities make it difficult for girls to retain their privacy and dignity.  We were encouraged when we recently visited a government primary school an hour’s drive away from Kampala to find that, in line with Ministry advice, a female member of staff acted as Supervisor for the girls and a room had been put aside for them to rest and wash.  The school supplied sanitary pads and had a stock of spare uniforms.  However, this was a relatively good school with a strong, committed and experienced headteacher, carrying out recommended policy.

Commendably, the media also provide valuable support for female empowerment.  New Vision, for example, has set up a Woman Achiever award for those who have excelled in a particular field.  In 2007, a runner-up award went to a young woman, director of an NGO called Uganda Gender Rights Foundation, who had set up a business making briquettes out of environmental waste, replacing charcoal for cooking.  The number of women employed had increased from 30 in 2007 to 500 in 2010.  The NGO then opened a vocational school for disadvantaged girls who cannot pay school fees, are school drop-outs or are living with HIV.

Uganda Women’s Media Association and its radio station Mama FM promote gender equality and active participation of women in decision making. It educates them about their ‘rights, freedoms, roles, responsibilities, and civic duties’ and strives to counter the’ negative portrayal of women in and by the media’.  It also makes girls and women aware of able and successful female role models, and there are many of these in Uganda, including some of the people we work with!

These are positive initiatives to improve the education of girls and raise their aspirations.  But what about the ‘big’ negatives, the events which can devastate girls’ lives? 

Child rape is one of the most common crimes in Uganda, and the rates are rising.  Save the Children Uganda states that "over 25 children are defiled every day in this country which further translates into two children every hour." 

Police figures published in the Guardian in October 2010 state that from January to June 2010, in the eastern region, 535 suspected defilement cases were registered.  205 went to court, 209 cases are pending, while only seven convictions were secured.  It is difficult to prove the age of children in a country where few births are registered.  In many cases, families do not pursue the case but settle out of court for financial gain.    One wonders what the price is for a traumatised daughter.  Tragically, the physical violence associated with rape makes girls particularly susceptible to HIV infection.  Many defilement victims also end up in early marriages. 

We would argue that these are not simply girls’ issues, they are boys’ issues.  Why are there no 'Boys' Education Movement' clubs in schools?  What are schools, and what is society doing to change the attitudes and behaviour of young men?  Girls are raped by other girls’ brothers and fathers, by other mothers’ sons and husbands.  They may also be raped by their own fathers, of course, by their teachers or by other trusted, often professional, figures within the community, the latter, sadly and falsely, often offering to support their secondary education.  Surely, it is men, the perpetrators, who should be educated to change their attitudes and behaviour.

While polygamy does still exist, Ugandan men who are not polygamous may have a number of ‘side dishes’, young women and often underage girls.  Promiscuity or the 'social network' place young girls at great risk.  Schools are full of exhortatory posters with messages like ‘be wary of sugar daddies’ and ‘remain a virgin’.  The assumption is that it is a girl’s responsibility to keep herself safe.  Although individual schools and NGOs do some very good work in empowering girls, there is very little awareness in wider Ugandan society of children’s rights, and of the responsibilities of public bodies and of all adults as citizens to protect them.  Article 34 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child asserts that it is the responsibility of states to ‘undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse’.  The UN defines a ‘child’ as a young person under 18, the age of our secondary school pupils.  

Instead of taking the protection of children, and of girls in particular, seriously, Ugandan society has somehow got diverted into an irrelevant and murderous witch-hunt against consenting adult homosexuals.  One would almost suspect this diversion of being deliberate.  So American-funded born-again pastors rant hysterically from the pulpit, representatives of gay organisations have their skulls smashed by iron bars and the state has a Bill before Parliament to bring in the death penalty for homosexuality.  Obscure religious laws from nearly three thousand years ago are used as justification.  It is difficult to imagine Jesus of Nazareth advocating such brutality.   In the meantime, day after day, week after week, we read terrible news stories of girls being raped, and these are a tiny percentage of actual cases: those which come to the attention of the police, end up in court, result in a sentence and reach the papers. The rate of sexual abuse against girls in Uganda is beyond anything that twenty-first century society should tolerate.   

And the worst of it all is the impact on young people of both sexes of the messages which Ugandan society is inadvertently or deliberately sending out.  Boys learn that it doesn’t matter what men do to damage girls, the real villains in society are the tiny number of demonised homosexuals.  Girls learn that they are not important, that adults will do little to protect them and that it is their own responsibility to stop themselves being raped.  And these attitudes seep into every aspect of Ugandan life. 

Is it any wonder that so many girls do not believe in themselves, do not value themselves and do not succeed in school?

You may also be interested in this UNICEF video: Girls' Education Movement helps girls to attend school in Uganda