Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Goodbye for now, Uganda

Being in the unfortunate position of having to take an unplanned trip back to the UK which may last a few weeks, I thought I might reflect a bit on my feelings at leaving - if only temporarily. What shall I miss about Uganda?

The sounds
I love hearing the call to prayer in the morning, not too close but there hovering in the distance, several calls, in fact, and as one might expect here, completely uncoordinated. In the morning some of Uganda's more than 1000 species of birds come and sing outside our window and almost all are tuneful. In the evening we can sometimes hear the Ndere troup from the theatre around the corner drumming and singing. Sometimes some of our neighbours have an 'introduction' (engagement party) with traditional singing and dancing. I like that as well, though it is not always quite as tuneful.

What am I not so keen on? Ugandan dogs howl rather than bark, and the call to prayer makes them howl even more. The Hound of the Baskervilles and all his relations are alive and well and living in Kampala. We also have a couple of ibises flying around our flat just now. What a racket they make, harsh cawing to match their vicious curved beaks - though I'm sure they're quite harmless really. Sometimes I do wish they'd be quiet.

The light and dark
Our dawns and sunsets vary in time by about an hour at most as the year goes by. Sometime around six, the streaks of pink stretch out along the skyline, with darker streaks from the clouds.  How quickly the sun rises, and before you know it there is a bright white ball lightening the sky rising a few inches higher and then higher. We used to have lovely light and shadows to look at from our Edinburgh flat - not a direct view of the dawn but light reflected off Arthur's Seat, changing every minute and every day. However, Uganda's light is different, not necessarily better, but different. Uganda's sun rarely beats down on you - there's always a cloud or two not far away. Neither does Edinburgh's, one might add.  I have never risked getting sunstroke in Edinburgh.

What am I not so keen on? I do miss the long evenings you get in Scotland.  No sitting out on the balcony watching the sun go down - a few minutes, and then it's dark. The unlit streets are a real danger. You have to be constantly on your guard against running people down or ending up in a ditch. There are some street lights in the centre of the city, but I have never seen them switched on. As for the country beyond Kampala, it really is dark! Nobody wants to break down after dark.

The people
The Ugandan people are among the friendliest, most courteous people I have ever met. In the usual tangles of traffic at road junctions, no one loses their temper, no one shakes a fist or makes a rude sign (except Stuart). If someone loses the struggle for supremacy, he just shrugs and drives off quite resigned, a fraction or two later than he would have done anyway. There is no such thing as road rage. I shall miss the people we work with, among whom we have made some very good friends. And, beyond Ugandans, I shall miss the camaraderie of the VSO crowd on a Friday night. Indeed, what will I do on Friday nights? However, above all, I shall miss the children. They just get on with things whatever their difficulties. They look after and care for each other. They don't whine and complain. And they really really want to learn.

What am I not so keen on, in fact, what do I hate? The corruption of influential people, especially but not exclusively, politicians, the obsession with money, the dishonesty and the way all this affects ordinary people trying to live their lives and support their families. Above all, I hate the way people treat children.

The natural environment
The green everywhere, the hills, the forests, the splendid cows with enormous curved horns and the amazingly abundant wildlife. What more is there to say? It's a wonderful country.

What am I not so keen on? The shacks which appear everywhere because people have nowhere to live. The rubbish piled along the streets, with children climbing over and picking through it. The drains which are no sooner cleared than they are filled again with garbage, flooding the roads and people's houses. The dreadful roads, which most of the time amuse us because they are SO dreadful, but sometimes exasperate us as they hold up the traffic and delay everything in a country where effective time management is not a highly valued skill. And sadly, the fact that the people who live in Kampala, or indeed in most of the country, have no idea what a wonderful country they live in as they never get to see it.

The food
I will really miss the delicately fragranced rice, mangoes dripping with juice, the sweet little bananas, the pineapples, the avocados, the pawpaws and the jackfruit. I will miss the delicious steaks and the excellent grilled pork. I like the beans cooked with onions and tomatoes, the g-nut sauce and the greens. The African chapattis are pretty good, though not great for the figure, and the vegetable samosas. However, how am I going to manage without Mamba Point pizzas and the fantastic Indian food from Haandy's and Khana Khazana?

What am I not so keen on? The matooke is just plain dull and has as good as no nutritional value. The posho  is slightly more nutritious but has no taste whatsoever. 'Why do they bother?' I ask myself.

The weather and climate
I am a bore on the subject of Uganda's weather. I love the sun here and the deep blue skies (though not necessarily 'clear' blue skies). It is rarely scorching, just steady warmth and glorious, glorious sunshine - except when it rains. I love the huge mountains of cumulus clouds, sometimes white, sometimes ominously dark. Uganda does dark clouds particularly well. As they sweep over you would think a tropical version of Ragnarok was on its way, but no, no snow and ice, just torrents of rain. I shall really miss the spectacular lightning shows which we watch from our balcony, great pink sheets cross the sky in waves. The thunder is the loudest I have ever heard, and when it's directly overhead, no wonder the dogs howl!

What am I not so keen on? Nothing at all.

Goodbye, Uganda. See you soon.

If you enjoyed this, you may also be interested in the following posts:

Food and drink in Uganda
What do we do when we're not working?
What are the good things about living in Uganda?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Promoting girls' education in Kigezi

I have sometimes been quite critical of aspects of Christianity in Uganda, particularly the hysterical screeching from the Pentacostalists' shack below our flat and the corruption and hypocrisy of some of the 'born again' elite. However, this week I came across a wonderful example of a Christian life well lived in the service of others, in particular in the service of girls' education.

One of my friends and colleagues led me to a book called Venturesome Love: the story of Constance Hornby 1884-1972.  It is very well written by the Scottish writer and educationalist Elizabeth Traill. Traill 'lives with one foot in North Berwick, Scotland and the other in Kabale, Uganda.'

Constance Hornby, a product of the Victorian age, went out to Uganda with the Church Missionary Society (CMS) as a young woman and eventually died there, for it had become her home and the people had become her friends. The friend who introduced us to the book was herself the product of the most famous school founded by Constance Hornby.

It is customary these days to decry the aims, influence and impact of colonialism, and I myself have included various derogatory comments - by which I would still stand - in the pages of this blog. Britain drained its colonies of their riches, sharing very few, if any, of the profits with the people who produced them. The great cities of Glasgow, Dundee, Bristol and Liverpool were built from the sweated labour of Indian and African workers and, indeed, African slaves. 'Opening up Africa to trade' was a very one-sided business.

The work of the missionaries who followed - and sometimes preceded - the explorers and traders has been similarly decried, with tales of them covering the bare breasts of the women they encountered, force-feeding villagers with the scriptures and baptising them wholesale. We know all that. We find the work of their modern day American counterparts, with their military-style jeeps and ostentatious reading of the Bible in public places, similarly insensitive to the culture around them.

However, there is another side to the story and it is one which Constance Hornby exemplifies. Very quietly, and with no hullabaloo, Miss Hornby tramped the hills of Kigezi (on the western edge of the Great Rift Valley), at first in the company of an askari carrying a spear, and, when she decided she had had enough of that, on her own. There were no roads at the time. She used to come across herds of elephants blocking her path and leopards killing their prey outside her tent, but she persevered.

The south west of Uganda at that time was linked with Rwanda and only became part of Uganda in 1911. It was a desperately poor area, having suffered inter-tribal conflict, famine and various disasters which had destroyed the fabric of society. Unlike the rest of Uganda, the Bakiga people had clans but no kings, and therefore no accepted leaders whose influence went beyond the village. The people were animists and considered to be 'notoriously religious'. Religion permeated every aspect of life. The same could be said of Uganda today - even including the animism, which goes hand in hand with Christianity.

When Miss Hornby arrived at a village, she used to call on the chief and negotiate with him and local families for any girls of an appropriate age to come to her school. The idea that girls could and should be educated was an alien concept at the time. There were no schools in Kigezi, the population was illiterate and putting girls first seemed bizarre. She walked with the girls to Kabale, perhaps 40 miles or more in distance up and down steep 'Alpine' hills. She started with four girls and soon had a score: from Rwanda, Rukiga, Ankole to the east and Buganda (the most powerful of the tribal lands) the area around Kampala. The girls arrived wearing skins, and had a blanket, a mat (woven from papyrus), a dress (cotton, for school) and a cloth to wrap round them for when they dug the crops in the school garden.

Then as now, Ugandan women worked extremely hard. 'What a life these women and girls live, work, work, work nothing else! Off with a baby on their back, a basket on their heads, huge hoe in one hand, a wee piece of fire (a small piece of glowing wood in grass) in the other hand, they are off to their food patch away on the top of some hill where they stay until nightfall, when they return and cook for the men.'  As with young women in Britain at that time - and indeed until much later - it was difficult for families to conceive of another life for their girls. 'Such is their life, and yet in spite of this fact they won't try to save the girls from the same fate,' wrote Miss Hornby in a letter home.

Miss Hornby was not a trained teacher. She taught the girls what she herself had learned in her Victorian classroom: reading, writing, arithmetic, cleanliness and hygiene and sewing and crafts - and, of course, religious instruction. She used the Victorian methodology of pupil-teachers. Once each girl had reached an acceptable level in her learning, she taught the other children. Narrow though the curriculum might be by today's standards, Miss Hornby had high aspirations for these girls, with whom she developed lifelong relationships based on affection and respect. Certainly, the earliest expectations were that the girls would become the educated wives of the new African pastors. However, Miss Hornby had ambitions for them beyond that. These girls were to become the teachers, nurses and midwives for their communities - and they did.  She walked the first girls right across Uganda, to board at Iganga (in the east) and then at Gayaza High School (outside Kampala), both CMS foundations, where they took their limited education further and joined the early teacher training courses. When the girls returned to Kigezi, at around the age of eighteen or so, they became headteachers themselves and started up elementary schools in the remote villages in the hills, run along the same lines as Miss Hornby's original school.

By 1934, Miss Hornby, with the help now of others, had developed:

  • a boarding school with 65 boarders
  • a Girls' Training School with ten in it
  • A Girls' Day School with from 60 to 90 in it
  • Seven girl teachers out in village work.
(from a letter to the Girls' Friendly Society which supported her work.)

In time, the school Miss Hornby had started in Kabale became a Junior Secondary School and a few trained teachers arrived from the UK to develop the education provided, working alongside their African colleagues. It was renamed Kigezi High School and finally, in honour of its founder, Hornby High School. In the late 1960s, Miss Hornby developed a section for blind children. The girls who had been to these schools have been recognised across Uganda for the qualities nurtured in them, and their values and principles. Many of them have gone on to become respected educationalists and leaders.

Miss Hornby herself became the school superintendent. Her job was to 'inspect' the schools. Like the hospitals, the first schools in Uganda were all founded by missionaries. The Government provided them with grants and expected certain standards.  The Aims of Education according to the Phelps-Stokes Commission 1924 were:

  • The development of character on the foundation of Religion
  • The improvement of health
  • The acquisition of agricultural and industrial skill
  • The improvement of family life
  • 'Sound and healthful recreations' which include music.

However, many early schools in Uganda, particularly the boys' boarding schools, went beyond that to provide academic boarding schools developed along the lines of English Public Schools, with prefects, cricket, tennis and 'houses'. And, as in the UK, ordinary Ugandan state schools with pretensions have often mimicked the alien culture of these prestigious establishments. Even today, the gulf between the schools for the elite and the schools provided for 95% of Ugandan school children is enormous, far greater than the still significant gulf between the equivalent schools in England (Scotland's education system is rather more egalitarian).

Miss Hornby herself, however, had a much broader conception of the role of schools in the local community and of the skills which young women could develop. She had done a six month course in midwifery and delivered over a 1,000 babies, in addition to running her own schools and developing an entire education system across the south west of Uganda. And as if that were not enough, she acted as relief nurse at the leprosy hospital which Dr Leonard Sharp, also a CMS missionary, opened on Bwama island on Lake Bunyoni.

There is an argument that Africa should have been left to develop without the intervention of westerners and their 'meddling'. It is difficult to read about the kind of work done by Miss Hornby and her ilk, paternalistic though it may have been in some respects, without thinking about the painful deaths from diseases like leprosy and the frustrating of talent, particularly among girls, which would have been even more commonplace than now without the work of people like her. In Uganda today, you hear a lot of negative comments from some of the most influential politicians about the current-day west, using the term 'colonialist' to refer to any interventions by Britain and its European partners. This is despite the fact that for every Shs14 billion raised by Ugandan taxpayers, Shs6 billion is provided by international donors. For many years, indeed, the west provided three quarters of Uganda's budget, with Britain one of the biggest donors and trading partners.

However, the contribution of the Miss Hornbys of this world cannot be measured in financial terms. We may find the religious context and language of mission work alien and have little sympathy with the idea of bringing souls to God. However, the values and principles such people exemplified have been carried forward into the secular contexts within which many modern NGOs and charities work. Sometimes scorned as 'naive do-gooders' who are easy prey for the often corrupt local administrators with whom they work, such organisations help to improve education and health; they care for the most vulnerable - the orphans, the girls, the widows, the disabled and the aged - and they work tirelessly to eradicate poverty. They do this by working alongside, and training and mentoring local staff, not by taking jobs from them. The indomitable and tireless Miss Hornby is not a bad model for them to keep in mind.

Venturesome Love, The story of Constance Hornby 1884-1972: 'Kigezi Girls' No. 1 Teacher', by Elizabeth Trail
Available in the UK from
Available in Uganda from
All profits from the sales of this book are devoted to the Constance Hornby Education Fund for girls in Kigezi with special educational needs.

You may also be interested in:

our earlier post about the Kigezi area, Highland lochs and braes - in Uganda, that is

and the novel The Ghosts of Eden by Andrew JH Sharp.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A moral and legal conundrum: justice for northern Uganda

How should we react to a rebel commander accused of multiple war crimes who says he has renounced his past? Prosecution or amnesty?

This conundrum relates to the recent legal action taken by one of the ex-LRA (Lord's Resistance Army) rebel commanders, Thomas Kwoyelo. Kwoyelo, a former colonel, took the Ugandan government to court seeking orders to compel the International Crimes Division of the High Court to stop his trial. He claimed that his continued detention 'traumatised and physically tortured him'. Last month the Constitutional Court ruled that Kwoyelo was entitled to receive an amnesty like others who have renounced rebel activities in the north. Kwoyelo had denounced the rebellion in January 2010.

What charges did Kwoyelo face? He was charged with 53 counts of murder, wilful killing, kidnap with intent to kill, aggravated robbery and destruction of property during an attack he commanded on a village in Amuru, northern Uganda, in 1999. Some of these offences were charged under the Geneva Conventions Act and others under the Penal Code of Uganda. We would be naive to think that that was the only occasion on which he killed civilians, but that was the evidence which formed the basis of the legal case. Tens of thousands of people died during the LRA's 20-year insurrection.

The Attorney General's Office and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions have contested the Amnesty Act (2000) which grants pardons to ex-combatants of rebel groups. In turn, the Uganda Amnesty Commission has asserted that these offices have a selective approach to justice and their actions could dissuade thousands of rebels from laying down their arms. President Museveni has said that all LRA combatants, most of whom were abducted as children and forced into rebellion, are eligible for amnesty. The only exceptions are the five rebel leaders (one of whom is now dead), including Kony, the LRA's charismatic leader. The International Criminal Court has issued warrants for the arrest of these leaders. Since 2000, 26,300 ex-rebels have benefited from the Amnesty Act, half of them from the LRA, a quarter from the West Nile Bank Front and the rest from smaller groups.

The question as to whether to offer war criminals amnesty is controversial. The Ugandan newspapers batted the issue about for some days. It is not just Uganda which has had to grapple with the problem. South Africa, for example, set up a peace and reconciliation process which it is said encouraged many perpetrators of war crimes to confess and even led to recovery of some human remains. Countries such as Sierra Leone and East Timor have set up reconciliation commissions. In Uganda itself, the amnesty was critical in leading to the surrender of the West Nile Bank Front.

However, an argument against blanket amnesty is that it removes the possibility of responding to individuals on a case by case basis. Some crimes are worse than others. Officers are more responsible than ordinary rebels.

Nevertheless, influential northern Ugandans have said that if it weren't for the amnesty, millions of people would still be living in IDP camps (for internally displaced people). They feel that peace should be prioritised and the issue of justice can come later. Acholi leaders have been responsible for supporting 'traditional' approaches to reconciliation when rebels return to their own villages. Just the other week the bishop of the Lira diocese urged the parents and students of St Mary's College Aboke to forgive the LRA rebels who abducted 139 girls in 1995. He said that forgiveness would enhance the process of reconciliation. 'We should not be prisoners of the past', he said. 'That would be like scratching the wounds.'

(I am not so sure about his next comments which were that Christians should not blame the government or the LRA for the abductions but to 'put their blame on evil spirits.' Uganda has more than enough trouble with evil spirits.)

So, how do we balance the call for forgiveness, restitution and reconciliation with the need for fairness and justice? As the court which released Kwoyelo said, 'Justice is an important part of building sustainable peace'.

The UN has asserted that victims have a right to remedy and reparations. Avocats Sans Frontieres (ASF) has called for the Government of Uganda to set up accountability measures to accompany amnesty to ensure that the rights of the victims are also taken into account. ASF believes that 'limited amnesty' should only be granted to those who are least responsible. 'Justice should not be sacrificed on the altar of forgiveness.'

So where does that leave Thomas Kwoyelo, a commander responsible for many terrible crimes? Which was the right process to apply: prosecution or amnesty?

I wouldn't dream of making a judgement myself. This isn't my country, I haven't lived in northern Uganda or suffered like the people there and I don't know enough. However, the Kwoyelo case provides food for thought for us all. What do you think about it?

Oh, and by the way, Kwoyelo was abducted as a youngster of 13 by the rebels he ended up leading.

POSTCRIPT: Kwoyelo won his case on November 10th 2011. The International Crimes Division of teh High Court, sitting in Gulu, dismissed an application the State filed to block his release.

Supplementary background information: where are we now?

You probably already know that 100 'elite' USA green berets are coming to Uganda. Their mission is to act as advisers to the UPDF (Uganda's army: the Uganda People's Defence Force) to help them hunt down Kony and his senior leaders wherever they may be found. The special ops units are to be deployed in Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and DR Congo (DRC), subject to the approval of their governments.  The LRA rebels have terrorised, murdered, raped and kidnapped thousands of people in these four countries. 

The LRA has not attacked Uganda itself since about 2006, following a ceasefire achieved through the Juba peace talks. However, in 2008 these peace talks fizzled out as Kony did not turn up to sign the agreement and shortly afterwards the LRA attacked a town in South Sudan. One of the issues was the warrants issued by the International Criminal Court which Kony insisted should be lifted if he was to sign the deal. Uganda had played along with Kony by offering to try him in a special court in Kampala. This was difficult as Uganda had never had a war crimes court and had no laws dealing with war crimes, crimes against humanity, sexual enslavement etc. (Child soldiers are a difficult issue for Uganda as the National Resistance Army under Museveni used child soldiers in the 1980s.) Since the debacle, Kony's rebels have carried on doing terrible things in DRC and CAR, and attacked a couple of villages in South Sudan only a month or two ago.This year alone, the LRA has killed about 140 people, and abducted 600 children and adults (Invisible Children).

In 2008, Uganda, DRC and South Sudan launched a joint offensive, code-named Operation Lightning Thunder, which has resulted in the killing or capture of many of the LRA's top commanders. The USA has provided significant support for this offensive. It has provided Uganda with Shs64.4 billion ($23 million) worth of non-lethal equipment. It also gave Shs12 billion ($4.4 million) of aid after six out of the eight UPDF helicopters broke down. The Ugandan armed forces have 4,000 troops deployed over an 800 mile area of DRC which has as good as no roads. The USA has pinpointed the CAR as the likely current location of Kony. Only a few days ago soldiers came so close to catching him that they interrupted him bathing, finding his basin of water and soap in a clearing. They had been minutes away. 

It is thought that once Kony has been killed or captured, the LRA will collapse. Who knows?

You may also be interested in the following.

Rebuilding northern Uganda

First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army by Peter Eichstaedt

The Lord's Resistance Army: Myth and Reality by Tim Allen and Koen Vlassenroet

The Wizard of the Nile: The Hunt for Africa's Most Wanted by Matthew Green

Invisible Children  Invisible Children campaigns against the use of child soldiers by the LRA.

Article in Daily Monitor of 26/11/2011 Kwoyelo amnesty leaves justice at the crossroads

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ghost bicycles, ghost schools and real children

As in the rest of the world, everything in Uganda has a price. It's sometimes quite surprising whose pocket the money goes into and to what lengths they are prepared to go to make that money. The following big news stories have appeared in one place or another over the last couple of weeks. Some people get caught and some just get away with it. Some stories may make you smile and some will make you cry.

Corruption in the business world

The bicycle story. It was recently reported that 70,000 bicycles due to be supplied to village councils to enable officials get around their local areas have disappeared. In fact, they appear never to have existed. The Government deal was worth Shs9.9 billion ($340,660). 40% seems to have been paid over to a non-existent Indian company some time in December, allowing for partial shipment with further payments in March, but no signs of any bikes. Both the Bank of Uganda and Stanbic Bank have been embroiled in the scandal and issued notices disclaiming responsibility. As the Sunday Monitor (02/10/11) puts it, 'speculation is rife' with some claiming that the money was diverted into election activity. Who knows....  Ghost bicycles: you couldn't make it up!

From bicycles to roads. A French firm contracted to build the Jinja-Bugiri road, Basil Engineering, has disappeared after being paid Shs36 billion by the government. 'To the amazement of MPs,' said the paper, 'their [sic] physical address could not be traced'. The firm had also failed to pay 30% income tax. One MP has claimed that such companies without proper addresses are formed by corrupt government officials to steal money. Apparently the Public Account Committee is also unable to trace a firm called Dura Cement.

From roads to oil. One of Uganda's great hopes for the future lies in its oil deposits. These deposits run right down its Great Rift Valley and under 50% of the country. Exploration is going on in the far north west and around Lakes Albert and Edward. The companies involved receive 63.5% of the revenue and the country receives 36.5%. There has been a huge fuss about the secret nature of the deals, with the Speaker refusing to let MPs discuss them until yesterday, claiming higher authority. Parliament is to investigate claims that three politicians have allegedly taken bribes from Tullow Oil, a British firm: the Prime Minister, the Foreign Affairs Minister (yes, both these also implicated in CHOGM) and the Internal Affairs Minister, together with senior officials. Tullow Oil has angrily rejected the allegations and has itself accused other firms like ENI, an Italian company, of offering bribes while the President himself is pooh-poohing a Wikileaks assertion that he might have received them. He has also been quick to reassure the country that the documents shown to Parliament are forgeries. Meanwhile, Shs1.1 trillion paid by Tullow in capital gains tax is alleged to have disappeared from the Bank of Uganda. The Finance Minister has said that it is being used for the Karuma hydro power project, the Uganda Revenues Authority says it is still in the bank and the President suggested profiteers had put it into a fixed deposit account for their personal use. Who knows where the money is or what has been going on!

Political corruption

Today is a very special day. In 2007 Uganda hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), with access to a Shs500 billion budget. Of this budget, Shs247 billion was lost through procurement procedures being flouted and money being syphoned off into private pockets. Today some of those responsible have gone on trial, despite being exonerated by Parliament in March this year. All of a sudden, the ex-Vice President was arrested and sent to Luzira Jail on remand. He had been sacked in the summer, in advance of legal proceedings. He is now out on bail having parted with Shs50 million and his passport. The Government's Information Minister appealed for bail to be given, despite the Judiciary's concern about this, because 'Bukenya is a senior citizen and of advanced age who should be treated with decorum'. He is 62 and his nickname is 'Mahogany', or 'strength': Stuart and I are clearly geriatric. The corruption charges relate to the purchase of BMW cars and police motorcycles from the company Motorcare at inflated cost and without proper competitive tendering. The contract was worth Shs9.4 billion - $3,2 billion. The 204 vehicles were purchased for Euros 8.28 million instead of being leased at a cost of Euros 4.17 million; somewhere in the middle, a lot of money went astray. And in case western readers feel too smug, Motorcare is, in part, a Danish company. A mischievous press report claims that some of the spoils were used during the VP's election campaign, for example purchasing jerry cans of warigi (gin). Strangely, the President has pronounced the defendant innocent on the eve of the trial, but they do things differently here. Understandably, the Judiciary is upset.

Then, yesterday three more senior NRM politicians, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Government Chief Whip and Minister of State for Labour, 'stepped down' ahead of court appearances today for corruption, this time for causing a Shs 14 billion loss in constructing the driveways, parking areas and marina at Speke Resort ahead of the CHOGM. The landscaping alone apparently cost $7 million! Clearly money was creamed off somewhere. The Prime Minister (security minister at the time) has also been accused in the Parliament's Appointments' Committee report on CHOGM of having 'hidden interests' in the $5 million TETRA communications deal, though he has not been arrested (yet?). The EU Head of Delegation commended Uganda's Inspector General of Government for at last embarking on these CHOGM trials - an example of the positive pressure international donors can exert behind the scenes. The EU joined other international donors in threatening to trim at least 10% (Shs915 billion, or $320 million) from their contribution to Uganda this year because of concerns over failure to address corruption.

Corruption in public services

All the examples so far are of the elite and big business treating the country's money as if it were their private bank account. However, the public services are not exempt. The Ministry of Finance recently claimed that there are over 260,000 ghost (non-existent) pupils across the country and that 86% of all teachers in government-aided schools are also ghosts. His Ministry's figures indicate that 60% of 13 sample districts had ghost schools, 85% had ghost teachers and 100% had ghost pupils. The ghost teachers included the dead (naturally!), absconders and those in 'unknown' (ghost) schools. These ghosts cause a loss to the government of Shs6.794 billion each year, paid as salaries and capitation allowances to crooks - public servants working in local districts - on behalf of non-existent people and structures. In addition, there are all the people paid off to keep quiet. This is all money which would otherwise be used improve children's lives.

The Permanent Secretary for Education disagrees with the Finance Minister. He claims that many of these ghosts are in fact absentees and the pupils are actually ill or working in local markets or the family garden or farm. The Education Ministry estimates that in Bundibugyo district there are 12,273 ghost pupils in 107 UPE (Universal Primary Education) schools. Dare one suggest that all this means is that no one knows how many pupils, teachers or schools there are in Uganda?

Dare one also suggest that it doesn't make it any better if the ghosts are in fact absentees? These are children being denied an education. They are also children at risk. No one knows if they exist; no one knows where they are.

Anything can be bought and sold in Uganda - no different from most countries, I am sure, but perhaps more blatant - and everyone appears to have his or her price. Many of the most flagrant perpetrators of crime are from among the elite and are, as we have already seen, among the highest in the land. Those of us on the outside may smile at some of the frauds described above. However, there are some crimes which bring the rich and poor together in the most devilish financial transactions of all.

Buying and selling children

Yes, it's another business, and quite a lucrative one. Child sacrifice is the story which has hit the British media this week, if not the Ugandan one: Ugandans know all about it already. The British Jubilee Campaign and the Ugandan Kyampsi Childcare Ministries have just published a joint report into child sacrifice in Uganda which has been widely publicised by the BBC.

Over the last four years, 9,000 children have gone missing in Uganda, hundreds of them believed to have been sacrificed. A typical child sacrifice involves an educated member of the wealthy elite paying a witchdoctor to sacrifice a child from a poor family - never, of course, one of their own children - so that his body or body parts can be buried in the foundation of a building (sometimes still alive) or his blood mixed with herbs for 'medicine'. The aim is to bring financial prosperity to the 'buyer'. The number of children sacrificed has gone up over the last three years as people become ever more desperate for money and material goods. Some children are even sold by relatives or, unbelievably, their own parents. Most sacrificed children are boys, as they are valued more highly than girls.

Usually the child is castrated and beheaded and key body parts removed. Sometimes the perpetrators leave the child's head for the parents to find. A very few children have survived to tell their story. The witchdoctors are well known but people are often too frightened to report them. The fragmented polygamous families which are common in Uganda result in many children growing up without anybody really being responsible for them, or noticing if they go missing. Most children disappear from close to the house, for witchdoctors are part of the community. There are roughly 650,000 of them on the official register of witchdoctors/traditional healers. (I know, it's quite bizarre.) However, there are around 3 million practising witchdoctors, most of whom are not registered. Among these are many who practise child sacrifice.

The police figures are that 135 arrests for human sacrifice were made between 2006 and 2010. 83 cases went to court but only 1 person has been convicted.  Police claim that they have difficulty following up reports of sacrifice because the Child Sacrifice Unit doesn't have enough cars or fuel. This is probably true. On the other hand, the streets of Kampala are filled with police cars which are just used for transporting policemen from one traffic intersection to another in order to keep an eye on the local population, rather than protecting children or fighting crime. Local police, like local witchdoctors, are embedded in their communities. As with child rape, it is quite common for policemen to act as go betweens between criminal and family, negotiating the financial compensation, rather than solving the crime or bringing people to justice. The story goes that they are often paid off by the murderers and those rich people who have hired them: another way to make money from children. One other problem, of course, is that only 20% of births are registered in Uganda so it is very difficult to work out which children should be at school, let alone which have been abducted.  A further twist to this particular trade is that about 400 children each year are trafficked from Uganda to the UK to be used in human sacrifices within the wider African diaspora.

Buying a life is, of course, the ultimate financial transaction. However, all the examples of dishonesty and theft which I have given have an impact on the people of Uganda. This is no different from Britain where recently the newspapers have been full of stories about corruption and dishonesty at the highest levels. Every day, 320 Ugandans die of malaria and 16 women in childbirth. Diverting billions of shillings from the national coffers results in more people dying and more children being denied their right to education, or indeed, to a childhood. There are no such things as victim-less crimes. However, for people to sacrifice the country's future by killing its children in pursuit of personal financial gain is the sign of a society which has lost its moral purpose.

You may also be interested in the following.

The Jubilee Campaign
Catching up with the education news - in Uganda, that is
Demons, ghosts and evil spirits
Is the word 'corruption' synonymous with the word 'Uganda'?
Abducted children offered to undercover reporter - BBC 12/10/2011
Hundreds of African children trafficked to the UK - BBC 12/10/2011
Uncovering the business of child sacrifice in Uganda - BBC 11/10/2011
Child sacrifice deal offered to undercover reporter - BBC 11/10/2011
Witchcraft murder:the Kristy Bamu court case - BBC 03/03/2012

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Happy Independence Day, Uganda!

Today is the 49th Anniversary of Uganda's independence from Great Britain.

The national celebrations are being held today in Lira, Northern Uganda, and across the country.

I thought you might appreciate a quick burst of Uganda's national anthem.

Oh Uganda, Land of Beauty!

Oh Uganda! may God uphold thee,
We lay our future in thy hand.
United, free,
For liberty
Together we'll always stand.

Oh Uganda! the land of freedom.
Our love and labour we give,
And with neighbours all
At our country's call
In peace and friendship we'll live.

Oh Uganda! the land that feeds us
By sun and fertile soil grown.
For our own dear land,
We'll always stand:
The Pearl of Africa's Crown.

I like this national anthem. Atheists may object to the references to God, but, to me, the sentiments are exactly what you would want a national anthem to express. In the context of Uganda, forty-nine years on from independence, those sentiments are now as important as they have ever been. 'United, free, for liberty': how stirring are these words. They both bring together the people of a disparate country with many tribes, scores of languages and various religions and energise them as the citizens of a united country. Uganda has to use its natural resources well, as the last stanza reminds us. This anthem is about the present and the future. The words leave the past behind with no resentment, bitterness, nostalgia or sentimentality. It is an anthem about building a country together.

I have always felt rather uncomfortable about the British national anthem. I have never quite known why we are singing about the country's Queen and not its people. This discomfort goes back many years. When I was a child growing up not long after the end of the war, my parents, both conscientious objectors, always pointedly sat down during the national anthem. The anthem used to be sung on an amazing number of occasions in those days: in cinemas, at concerts and in church. I was both proud of, and embarrassed by the public nature of my parents' action (or non-action). Fortunately, they didn't require us children to sit down, being surprisingly sensitive to the potential for excruciating embarrassment and bullying of one sort or another. To this day, however, I have never sung the British national anthem, although I am now less concerned about its militaristic and royalist overtones, which just seem laughable, and more concerned about its complete irrelevance to the country I have grown up in and still live in - most of the time. I think I would sing an anthem with genuine enthusiasm if it were about the real concerns of the people who live in it. To me, Uganda's anthem fits the bill.

As with many such anthems, you have to hear the Ugandan national anthem actually being sung to appreciate its full meaning. Nevertheless, it does quite well in my international line up of national anthems or national songs, many of which, when you hear them sung at football games or the Olympics, seem designed to send one to sleep rather than rouse one to action.

The Ugandan national anthem, I admit, is not as rousing as the Marseillaise (my all-time favourite) or Men of Harlech (of which my English version has the wonderful repetition of 'Saxon spearmen, Saxon bowmen'); but then, Uganda has had more than enough fighting and is calling its people to build 'peace and friendship', not war. The Star-Spangled Banner is unashamedly militaristic, although it does have the resounding line 'the land of the free and the land of the brave'. I can never forget the wonderful chapter in one of the stories about Ramona the Pest, when she wonders what the 'dawnzer lee light' is, the words she has been singing ever since she went to kindergarten, and gets laughed at by her older sister, much to her chagrin.

The Ugandan anthem doesn't have the arrogance of Rule Britannia or the lugubrious chip-on-the-shoulder tribalism of Flower of Scotland. Land of our Fathers, although it has the right sentiments and a lovely tune, is a little too romantic and backward looking for my taste. The tune of Highland Cathedral is wonderful, even if it was written by a pair of Australians. About the words I am a little vague although I know they were written later. Having tracked down some words on the internet, I do find that they refer rather too often to 'victory', as if no one ever actually had to live in a country, just fight other people. Still, it would do pretty well as a Scottish national anthem.  The Irish national anthem, which is quite stirring, is entitled A Soldier's Song in English, and, as you might guess, is all about fighting. Danny Boy seems to be sung anywhere where the Irish gather. It certainly has a great tune, but you want to slit your throat by the time you get to the end. Deutschland, Deutschland uber alles has one of the best tunes of all but, for me, cannot shake off its unfortunate associations. 

Nkosi sikelel 'iAfrika (God bless Africa), South Africa's national anthem, is one of the most moving anthems of all in terms of its tune and its resonance. It has an interesting history, combining new words with extracts of the mission hymn Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika and the former anthem Die Stem van Suid-Afrika (The Call of South Africa). Different lines employ different languages: the five most widely spoken of South Africa's eleven official languages - Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English. Still, the references are quite limited, being almost entirely religious and about the need to end conflict, rather than focusing on what the country needs in the future.

On the whole, I think Uganda's anthem does very well. It is down to earth and emphasises the things that really matter to its people's present and future wellbeing and prosperity. So...

Happy Independence Day, Uganda!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Gathering at the watering hole

One of the great pleasures of staying at Mahingo Lodge is watching the animals at the watering holes below.

Salt licks and watering holes from the swimming pool.

A closer view from the hide.
The groupings change all the time.

We spoiled ourselves for the last couple of days of our August safari. Mahingo Lodge in Lake Mburo National Park is special. Set on a rocky outcrop above a watering hole, it combines everything you could possibly want of a safari camp: comfortable tents with proper beds, plumbing and furniture, an infinity pool, a lovely bar and dining room sensitively designed to merge into the landscape, and all of them looking out over the savannah and down over one of the watering holes. The food is among the best we have eaten in Uganda. As the humans congregate at their own watering hole, they can look down at the animals gathering at theirs.

Swimming just below the human watering hole.

Don't be fooled by the pith helmet and safari shorts.
Stuart's animal-spotting abilities are minimal.

Lake Mburo is probably the least frequented and smallest of Uganda’s national parks, but it is a real gem. The River Rwizi feeds fourteen lakes in the area, of which five are within the park. Lake Mburo is the largest of these lakes. The park is also the nearest national park to Kampala.

Swamps around one of the lakes, savannah and thorn bushes nearer the viewer.
Extinct volcano in the misty distance - early morning in the park.

Driving to Lake Mburo from Lake Bunyoni in the west, you pass the last low hills of the Great Rift Valley and enter wide expanses of grassland filled with acacia trees. 

A spine of low hills parallel to the road and these market stalls.

The pot of gold lies in Lake Mburo.

What are these human trespassers doing on our grassland?

Wandering among the trees are great herds of buffalo, antelope and zebra. Indeed, it is the only place in Uganda where zebra can be found, similarly impala and eland.
Curious buffalo peer at the human wildlife and their odd form of transport.
Herd of impala among the acacia trees.

Warthogs weave in and out among their larger grazing neighbours.

And birds are everywhere – 312 different species within 260 square kilometres.

Probably a female black-bellied bustard, but possibly not.
Another kind of bustard, or something else entirely.
Who knows? Beak looks too short for a kingfisher.

Starling (see below) and a pair of cuckoos?

A starling and I'm pretty sure it's a Rippell's Long-tailed Starling.

Definitely a vervet monkey.

The whole area was depopulated – and emptied of animals – by tsetse fly until the 1960s, but they have now come back, including the lions, which had been hunted to extinction not long afterwards  – not all that welcome to the local population and something of a concern to the staff at Mahingo’s stables.  The locals, as elsewhere in Uganda, have some reservations about land being set aside for wild animals when they need it for their own cattle. We saw Ankole cattle illicitly wandering not only in the outer reaches of the park, but even down to the watering hole. As we watched, an enormous eland - about the size of a large buffalo, or even a small horse - checked out a herd of infiltrating cattle before deciding it was quite safe for its own species to return.

Ankole cattle looking as if they own the road...

...and even the watering hole. Antelopes retreated to the right.

It wasn’t the lions, however, which gave us a fright. Driving along the overgrown and winding tracks near the lake, we were suddenly aware of two hippos bursting out of the bush on the right, crossing the path within a couple of yards of our front bumper and disappearing towards the lake on the left. We remembered one of the first lessons we were taught out here: never get between a hippo and water. We had broken the rule without even realising. Hippos seen at close quarters are very very big. Fortunately, they were as spooked by us as we were by them, but I wouldn’t have reckoned much for our chances if they had decided to charge. The advice to zigzag away while veering to the left would have been difficult to follow, especially in reverse gear along a rutted track. We were just relieved that Stuart managed to brake before crashing into the nearest one. It would have made an interesting insurance claim.

Other wildlife we watched at a more reassuring distance: from Mahingo’s safari jeep and from their hide. Not much more to tell of the rest of our sojourn, which was far less eventful, apart from showing you the pictures. It is wonderfully restful. There is always something to watch whether bumping along in the jeep or sitting with a gin and tonic in your hand. You just have to go and see for yourselves.

Female waterbuck

Male impala with distinctive antlers.

Unmistakeably a pair of zebra

Strange human creatures descending from the Mahingo jeep.

You may also be interested in the following post:

On safari through Uganda's Great Rift Valley

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A visit to the Bahá’í Temple

You cannot fail to notice the Bahá’í Temple as you follow the Northern Bypass around the edge of Kampala. There it stands, on the top of Kikaaya Hill, looking out over the rest of the city. The Temple is so different from anywhere else in this dirty crowded conurbation that even a casual passerby is struck by its beauty and by the quiet serenity of the surrounding gardens.

We visited the Temple as sightseers a few months ago, but today we were back as part of the congregation. The Bahá’í Temple in Kampala is the only one on the African continent, although there are places of worship in other towns and countries. Each continent has its own temple. Europe’s is in Frankfurt, though there are Bahá’í communities with places of worship throughout the UK, including in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow.

The design of Kampala’s Temple is based on a vision of the oneness of mankind and the all-embracing nature of God, represented by the nine doors by which one can enter. There is no altar or dais. The structure is supported by nine big pillars and 27 smaller ones. Different countries contributed various building materials, symbolising the universality of the Bahá’í faith. The green dome is made of tiny glazed mosaic tiles from Italy, while the lower roof tiles are from Belgium. The walls are built of stone quarried in Uganda. Uganda also supplied the timber used for making the doors and benches. The window frames and fittings are from Britain and the coloured glass from Germany.

This morning the congregation probably comprised about 50 or 60 people, mostly Ugandans, but also some westerners and, possibly, a sprinkling of Asians or Arabs – difficult to tell. There were several children of various ages. During the service the doors are kept open, letting in the light and air, and also the birdsong. You can see through the open doors to the trees and flowers outside.

The service consisted of a number of what were called Songs, interspersed with Readings. There was no liturgy or ceremony at all. The Songs and Readings were taken from a range of religious sources: from the Bible and the Koran, as well as from some of the Bahá’í’ faith’s own texts such as the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá and Bahá’u’lláh. A well-trained choir sang the Songs, again drawn from music associated with a number of faiths from across the world and culminating in a Persian/Arabic chant - and sang them beautifully. Members of the congregation delivered the Readings, which included a prayer in Ki-Swahili and another in Luganda. The rest of the service was in English. I have never been to a Quaker Meeting, but I have the feeling there are some similarities in their approaches to contemplation.

So what is the Bahá’í faith? I am no expert, but I have gleaned the following information from various official websites and from the information displayed outside Kampala’s Temple. The faith began in Persia, now Iran. Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, is recognized as the most recent in a line of Divine Messengers that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad. The central theme of Bahá’u'lláh’s message is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for humanity’s unification into one global society.  Bahá'ís believe in:
  • the oneness of humanity
  • the common origin and unity of purpose of all world religions
  • the harmony of science and religion
  • equality of women and men
  • the elimination of all forms of prejudice
  • a spiritual solution to economic problems
  • the establishment of a world commonwealth of nations

Yes, Bahá’ís really do believe in achieving world peace.

The faith was founded in Iran in 1844 and now has more than five million adherents in 236 countries.  Bahá’ís come from nearly every national, ethnic and religious background. The faith reached Uganda in 1951 and there are now about 80,000 followers. Apart from a period in the 1970s during Amin’s rule when it was banned and some followers suffered badly, the Bahá’í Faith has been accepted as one of Uganda’s religions with the country’s customary religious tolerance. Notable public figures speak at its events, and a statement by President Museveni was read out at the fifty-year celebrations of the Kampala Bahá’í community held earlier this year.

The principle of the unity of religion is at the centre of Baha'i teachings. Bahá’u’lláh states that just as a person begins life as a helpless infant and attains maturity in successive stages, so humanity is engaged in a collective growth process quite similar to this. So humankind began its collective social life in a primitive state, gradually attaining maturity. Bahá’u’lláh taught that humanity, after a long and turbulent adolescence, is at last reaching a stage of maturity in which unity in a global and just society can finally be established. To this end, the Bahá'í Faith prescribes laws of personal morality and behaviour, as well as social laws and principles, to establish the oneness of humanity. Bahá’ís support their local communities and believe in caring for other people. (Taken from the website of the USA community)

In reality, there is only one religion, the religion of God. This one religion is continually evolving, and each particular religious system represents a stage in the evolution of the whole.

As one might expect, this belief that there is just one religion and that people of all faiths worship one God is not universally popular across the world, despite the tolerance the faith has been shown in Uganda. Followers of the Bahá’í faith are persecuted in Iran. Not only is it forbidden for young Baha'is to go to university there, but any teacher who attempts to provide them with higher education can be arrested and imprisoned.

We were impressed by what we experienced of the Bahá’í approach to worship. The beauty of the Temple’s surroundings, and of the words and music of the service underlined the messages the faith appears to be trying to communicate. Yes, we will probably go back.