THE WORLD CUP, MEN’S SILLY SEASON?

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The football World Cup used to be the single most exciting sports event, and not just because for a long time it was the only major sports event we would get to watch live. In the years gone by, the then UTV had no live sports. We used to watch ‘Football made in Germany’ when it was a few months old, and the only regular sports programmes were some athletics programs of which didn’t know when they actually place, but we would watch them with relish all the same.

For those that played and enjoyed basketball, every time the USAID showed NBA games a year old at their office along Mackinnon Road the place would be full to the brim, hours before the appointed time.

But every time the World Cup came up, it would be gloriously live, and the government would make sure of that by paying the necessary fees for UTV to acquire the license. So the month or so when it was happening everybody’s life would change. Schedules would change according to the games’ schedule, especially the beginning and the final. Those who didn’t have televisions sets at home became very friendly to those who did, and these were expected to act very valiantly and let anyone who could watch.

Even as recently as the nineties and noughties, watching the World Cup was something special. Men, married or not, would use it as an excuse to either stay out very late at night, depending on where the tournament place, or wiggle out of paying attention to their better halves. Jokers would issue guidelines on how women should behave during this very sacred time that only comes along every four years.

Women, on the other hand, would wonder how the spectacle of 22 grown men chasing a leather ball could be such a big deal (for the record, I’m unfriending any females that comes up with that lame joke again).

Some smart women would counter that the usual schedule of events at home would continue, whether the man was there or not, including bedroom matters. And this year members of the fairer sex are saying that Russia is in the same time zone as Uganda anyway, so no excuse about late matches.

But it has all changed now, because there is live sports on TV every day, at times the whole day. DStv now has 15 channels dedicated to sports (in the early noughties subscription to Multichoice and buying of new decoders always reached a peak during the World Cup).

The English Premier League is the most popular sports to watch on TV, and it happens every year for almost half the year. There is live rugby, tennis, cricket, athletics, golf, motor sport, even horse racing.

And these days you have to clarify which world cup you are referring to, is it cricket, rugby (union or League? Sevens or fifteens?)? Or is it football (some call it soccer)? You even have to clarify further if it a women’s world cup or the men’s. And if it is men’s football, is it the under-17, under-21, or under-23 world cups?

For the record the world cup that kicked off this week in Russia is referred to as the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

But the biggest change is that you can find almost as many women watching sports in pubs as men, it is a rare female that is totally and absolutely against watching sports. But chances are you will be supporting different teams anyway, and that may depend on what the team coaches look like, not how effective the team performs on the field.

During the 2010 world cup that took place in South Africa, a TV commercial used the song very much loved by English fans, ‘Two world wars and one world cup’. In that chant England supporters refer to the UK’s victories in the first and second world wars, and the 1966 FIFA World Cup.

Supporters of other teams point out that while Brazil has own the World Cup five times, Germany and Italy four times, and even Argentina and Uruguay twice, England has only won it once, although it was against Germany. So these supporters use it as a put down to any England fans.

For the record I support England, and I point out to these naysayers that England actually has more world cups than any other country. It has won the Rugby World Cup, the Under-21 and Under-23 world Cups, and even the Women’s World Cup, both soccer and rugby. So there.

I will watch the world cup, especially games when England is playing, and there is a good chance it would at least make it to the quarter-finals. If it does not, a black box on me.

 

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GIVE JUSTICE BAMUGEMEREIRE A BREAK, WILL YOU?

Catherine

(this article first appeared in the New Vision of May 18th, 2018)

There are certain types of people, of whom the late Godfather of Soul, James Brown, said are fond of “…talking loud, but saying nothing.” These people (the British have a polite word for them – windbags) like drawing attention to themselves, it does not matter if they are making fools of themselves, but as long as they get some 15 minutes in the lights. This column is for all of you, gobermouths, fopdoodles and flibbertigibbets of this world.

Politicians in Uganda seemingly can do anything they want, and very often do, with the knowledge that they will most probably get away with it. Influence peddling, using their offices to commit all kinds unsavoury acts, down to outright murder – they have done it all. But very few of them get called upon to answer for their actions.

Uganda is beset with many problems, but one of the most painful is how public officials break the law or ignore it with impunity. I am willing to bet that almost every politician or government official, small or big, have used their offices to unfairly acquire land.

This is where the Land Inquiry Commission comes in; there have been complaints that the report that will be produced at the end might never see the light of day, as indeed many other commissions’ reports are lying somewhere gathering dust. The report may be shelved or, as some lawyers argued, there may be legal reasons why it will not be binding or acted upon. But what Justice Catherine Bamugemereire is doing is shedding light on what these gobermouths have been doing, away from the public eye.

It took the Commission, way before it has concluded its inquiries, to stop a reign of terror that the ever obnoxious Ronald Kibuule, State Minister for Water, had inflicted upon people of Buikwe. Not only had he used state machinery (including the police) to evict residents from land that did not belong to him, his agents had inflicted actual physical harm on the people. A case where one of the residents was killed is still in court.

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Ronald Kibuule, State Minister for Water

But when the residents took their case to the Bamugemereire Commission, all the dirty underhand dealings were exposed. Eventually the land titles that Kibuule had fraudulently acquired were cancelled, and maybe the residents can now sleep comfortably without fear of being attacked in their homes.

Then came the Minister for Lands, Betty Amongi, under whose docket the Commission of Inquiry falls. It took the threat of a warrant of arrest to make her appear, and the theatre of the absurd ensued. She huffed and puffed and tried every each way to try and avoid accepting blame for a whole litany of wrong doings.

Amongi

And that got Justice Bamugemereire hot under the collar, so much so that the good Justice even raised her voice in trying to get the Minister to give truthful answers. That did not go down well with some Ugandans, very typically so, especially lawyers.

Unsolicited opinions from so-called ‘learned friends’ made the rounds, expressing disappointment that the Justice had dared raise her voice to the ‘Honourable Minister’, and even referred to her as a ‘young lady’ at one time. They went on about legalities and matters of ‘procedure’ ad nauseum.

You really have to give it up to Ugandans to choose the petty over the very important, and it brought back memories of how members of the legal fraternity had attacked Lady Justice Ssebutinde’s Commission of Inquiry into the police. If Ssebutinde had been treated more seriously, maybe the police would not consistently rank as the most despised public institution in this country.

Like my colleague and BBC journalist Alan Kasujja put it: “…Until you’ve heard the stories of impunity, blatant abuse of power, dispossession of the poor and theft by government officials with no scruples that Justice Bamugemereire has heard, please sit down.”

So, y’all give Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire a break, and pray you’re not appearing before her next.

WHEN OUR ATHLETES COME BACK HOME TO MORE OF THE SAME

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The last few days have seen the celebration of our ‘gallant’ athletes that flew Uganda’s flag high at the recently completed Commonwealth Games. I have never really understood that expression, ‘flying our flag high’, because honestly speaking and comparing to others that took part, it did not fly that high, except maybe to our own meek standards.

For the record, Uganda was 15th out of 39 countries, half of which are some very small island countries you have probably never heard of. With an estimated population of about 40 million, we got a total of 6 medals; compare that with Australia’s (pop. 24 million) cache of 198 medals. Cyprus (population 2 million and divided into Greek and Turkish halves) had a total of 14 medals, including 8 golds. It was not even our best performance ever, that was in New Zealand in 1974, with a total of 8 medals (2 golds, 4 silvers, 2 bronze). But sure, the Ugandan flag flew high.

And when the gallant sportsmen and women came home, it was to the same promises of how it was time the country treated its athletes like the kings and queens they are. Almost lost amidst the lavish dinners and appearances in Parliament is the fact that this has happened all too many times before. The bumbling Minister for Sports (has he been there much too long?) professed ignorance that the promised stipend that medal winners are supposed to get actually has not been paid regularly. Pray tell me, apart from attending world games and welcoming back winning athletes, what else does the Minister of Sport do if he does not know that what could probably be the biggest driving force for Ugandan athletes to excel is not happening, and all on his beat?

My hope is that these athletes will look at going professional, and making real money out of their successes.  Stephen Kiprotich was probably treated better than most Ugandan athletes, but he has made his mark in international races, and on average makes about US$50,000 (sh185m) for every marathon he runs. He is definitely not waiting for the paltry monthly sh5m from the government that does not even get to him.

Sir Mo Farrah (originally from Somalia but now of Britain) has made a fortune of doing the 5,000m and 10,000m double; touted as the most successful British Olympic track athlete in modern history, he is estimated to be worth at least US$5m (sh19bn). Here is hoping that Joshua Cheptegei, who did the same double and is probably a better runner, can do even just half as well. At least he has a professional manager and already a sports kit endorsement deal, so there is hope (Thomas Ayeko was not far in fourth place, and Phillip Kipyeko was sixth in the 5,000m, so they can join him; as should Jacob Kiplimo and Timothy Toroitich, 4th and 7th in 10,000m).

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Stella Chesang, middle, and Mercyline Chelangat, right

Here is also hoping that Stella Chesang (gold 10,00m) and Mercyline Chelangat (bronze 10,000m) can leave their ‘mama yingiya pole’ dwellings and join the money making ranks. Same goes for Solomon Mutai (silver in the marathon), and boxer Juma Miiro (bronze boxing).

It is my dream that the She Cranes players (netball) get to join their captain Peace Proscovia in the professional ranks; and for the other athletes that came close but didn’t quite make the medal ranks, Albert Chemutai (5th 3,000m steeplechase), Winnie Nanyondo and Dorcus Ajok (4th and 6th in 800m),  and Juliet Chekwe (4th 5,000m), they should consider the 14-leg Diamond League, where the pickings are much richer than that measly 5m that s

HONG KONG AHOY!

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view of Hong Kong from my 15th floor room window

You get to Hong Kong after a total of about twenty hours in flight, with a five hour layover period in Dubai in between. Being a Ugandan, you do not need a visa to enter what was for a long time a British colony, and the immigration officer, when you tell him you are there for the rugby, wishes your team luck. He does not put a stamp in your passport, but gives you a piece of paper you are supposed to keep until you leave (and you fill in those irritating entry forms).

I had heard a lot about Hong Kong, and how the landing was always kind of crazy. Hong Kong is built in a kind of a bowl, surrounded by mountains and water. When it was initially established by the British as a trading post in the early nineteenth century after besting the Chinese in the so-called ‘opium wars’, it catered mainly for shipping, and the shelter it gave from the notorious winds and weather systems made a lot of sense.

But then the airplane came, an airport was built, and landing and taking off at the now defunct Kai Tak airport became the stuff of legend. With high rise apartment buildings all over Victoria Harbour, a plane had to make some very sharp turns at high speed, literally fly over buildings, and hope there was no typhoon lacking to mess up things even further. That landing and take-off would become famously known as the ‘Kai Tak Heart Attack’.

But that airport was closed more than 20 years ago, and the only spectacular thing when we landed on a Thursday afternoon was trying to get a clear view of the famous skyline. I travelled in early April to Hong Kong to cover the World Rugby Sevens qualifying tournament. Uganda had qualified for these qualifiers after successfully defending the Africa Sevens title in Kampala. We had been there before the previous year, but this time we all thought our time had come, and we were ready to play with the big boys of sevens rugby.

Hong Kong has also for a long time been on my ‘bucket list’, one of the places I had to visit during my lifetime. During childhood my friends and I were fascinated no end by the stories as told by the author James Clavell in his Asian Saga novels – the books Tai Pan, Noble House, and Gaijing. That the great trading company featured in four of the books, Struans a.k.a the ‘Noble House’ was based on a real life company, Jardine Matheson & Co.; and the founder, Dirk Struan, based on a real life character (William Jardine) added to the fascination.

So when I told my friend Sema Barlow that I was headed to Hong Kong, he jokingly asked me to look out for descendants of one of the more colourful characters in the books, Four Finger Wu.

I travelled with Andrew Owor, President of the Uganda Rugby Union, and his wife. Andrew had been to Hog Kong before, so he was a kind of our tour guide, and had done all the bookings for us. Although he reckoned travelling by train from the airport to our hotel in central Hong Kong could be quite the experience, we opted for a taxi, which allowed us to see more of the city.

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And that was when I got my first shock, because not many people appeared to be able to speak English, at least English that you and I would recognise. Wasn’t Hong Kong a British colony for almost 200 years? Our taxi driver had very few English words, but was a very typical taxi driver, in that he was driving an average of 120kph where the limit was clearly marked as 80kph. And the roads and streets are even narrower than Kampala’s, or at least they seemed to be, so any small mistake would have resulted in a terrible accident. But everybody seemed to drive the same way, and soon we arrived at our hotel, the Charterhouse on Wai Ching Way.

As soon as we checked in, Andrew took us on a forced march of about 2 kilometres to the stadium, where I was supposed to collect my media pass. We had to walk, for the police had cordoned off most of the roads leading to the stadium, because of the rugby tournament. I would do that walk at least twice a day for the four days I spent in Hong Kong.

The Media Centre on the top floor of the Hong Kong stadium was a nice and friendly place to work out of, even if of all the dozens of photographers and reporters, I was the only one with a dark skin. But everybody was friendly enough, and when I finally said my goodbyes on Sunday night, promising to see them all next year, I was presented with a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

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inside the Media Centre in the Hong Kong stadium

Unfortunately Uganda did not get very far in the rugby, falling in the quarter-finals to eventual finalists Germany, who were beaten in the final by Japan, a team we have beaten handily at least three times in the past.

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Also disappointing was the visit to Hong Kong’s highest point, Victoria Peak, where I thought I would see the entire city skyline. At least witnessing a sevens rugby series live was quite an experience, although many of the ‘big’ teams like South Africa and England fielded a second side, with their eyes on the Commonwealth games a week later.

The 40,000 people in the stadium cheered each break away try and side step without favour. That is one off my bucket list, now ready for the next one, wherever that may be.

 

PHONE CAMERAS TO THE RESCUE FROM TRAFFIC DWANZIES

One of the biggest news items a few weeks ago was about Australian cricket players who were caught tampering with the ball, and thus trying to cheat. Without going into the intricacies of what entails ball tampering in cricket, what happened was that cameras in the stadium where the test match took place caught one of the players trying to hide a substance he had used to change the texture of the ball.

The images were immediately shown on the stadium’s large screens, and the umpires questioned the players, who managed to talk themselves out of trouble. But the images went viral, the whole of Australia raised a might roar, a closer look was taken by cricket authorities, and the players are facing extensive bans from the game.

The moral of this short story is that in this time and age, it is very difficult to hide whatever it is you are doing wrong. Chances are wherever you are, there is a camera watching you, or there is somebody with a camera. Most of the perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Europe have been tracked down because of CCTV footage, and in China, with the help of face-recognition technology, it was shown that wherever you are, it would take an average of 20 minutes and the police would be onto you.

Uganda has been waiting for extensive CCTV coverage for more than 10 years now, and although a minister recently presented a sh9bn budget for them, there is no guarantee that we shall get them anytime soon.

But almost everywhere you go these days in Uganda, there is one thing in plenty, telephones with cameras. One cannot underestimate the power of ‘citizen journalism’, because that is what it actually is. As an example, several concerned citizens have spotted late model cars with registration number plates issued way before those cars were even made. Usually they post on Twitter and tag the URA. Quite a number of those cars, whose owners probably wanted to dodge paying high taxes for their luxury cars, have been impounded by the URA.

So, obviously this kind of thing works. Recently there has been a campaign, again on social media, to reign in errant drivers. The hashtag #StayInYourLane is used to show up these sons and daughters of knuckleheads, but we all know our police force most probably will not do much. Apart from threatening to issue a ticket to one of their own that was photographed driving across a traffic island, there has been not much response.

These last few days I have had the misfortune of being caught up in rush hour traffic, something I had managed to avoid for many years. But due to circumstances outside my control, I have not been able to avoid all these cars fighting for space on the narrow Kampala roads.

For the record, a good number of drivers in Kampala have become increasingly disciplined, but there are always those dwanzies that think they are more important than the rest of us, or that we are the dunderheads. There is nothing more annoying than seeing one of these muttonheads creating a new lane, and all the other numskulls that follow them. The next real epidemic of road rage is going to come from such an incident, and I will not shed a tear for the schmuck that get their goose cooked for them.

drivers creating extra lanes along the Ntinda-Kiwatule road

A traffic dwanzi creates an extra lane on the Ntinda-Kiwatule road

But, here is what I suggest. Let us all use our phones, take photographs of those nitwits and post them on a dedicated police page. In more developed societies than ours, most traffic offences are tracked by cameras, and those pumpkin heads get served with fines. And if they dodge the fines their cars get clamped.

What are the fines for such offences? Sh200,000, maybe? What if the police were to offer to give just 10% of the fine to whoever posts pictures of those thick-skulled blubber heads?

On my home stretch between Ntinda and Kiwatule, on any given day within a 30-minute period, especially in the mornings and evenings, at least 20 ratbags will create that extra lane. But if they knew that someone is taking their photograph, and that soon somebody would be looking for them to clamp their cars, they might think again about being such dum-dums.

What is even better, all those street guys waiting to snatch phones from unsuspecting folks stuck in that slow traffic will instead position themselves with their semi-smart kabiriti phones to take pictures of those boneheads, and know they will make an honest day’s work.

We really cannot wait while some government official tries to negotiate a kickback before buying the CCTV cameras, and the necessary technology installed. We really are tired of these scum bugs, and we should all say ‘NO MORE MORONS!’ and I hope someone in the police is listening.

THE STREISAND EFFECT AND LESSONS FOR UGANDA ‘CELEBRITIES’

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American actor and singer Barbara Streisand

For journalists it is a pretty common experience, you happen to be at a function or an event and someone approaches you. “Are you so and so?” they ask. Wondering where it was all leading to, and whether somehow you owe the guy money or not, you confirm your identity. Then they go, “don’t you dare write about me, or take my pictures”. Huh?

Many times you have no idea who the person demanding that you don’t include them in your story is, but they will go and tell you their full names, and at times even try to give you their contact. What this person actually wants is for you to include them in whatever story you’re writing, and if anybody is taking photographs you will see them position themselves where they are sure to be included.

It used to amuse me no end, and photographers often have the times of their lives when looking at pictures of an event, at all those “don’t take pictures of me’ fellows making sure they are in actually in position where they will be seen.

Not very long ago, I learnt there is a technical term for that kind of phenomenon, it is referred to as the ‘Streisand effect’. This is defined as the ‘phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the consequence of publicising the information more widely’.

It is named after the American actress and singer Barbara Streisand, who in 2003 sued a photographer for distributing aerial pictures of her mansion in Malibu. Streisand sued for $50 million in damages, claiming that the photos, taken for a scientific study of the Californian coast, nevertheless showed people how to gain access to her private residence.

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Streisand’s Malibu mansion

By the time she filed the suit the picture had been accessed a total of six times, including twice by her lawyers. But by the time they actually got to court, it had received over a million views, and it was picked up by news organisations and distributed around the world.

In Uganda, our local ‘celebrities’ do it differently; more often than not, when they feel they have been ignored enough, they might pick a fight in a public place, knowing full well the tabloids will pick it up and it might go viral on social media. Others have been accused as going as low as leaking pictures of their nude selves either just before a concert, or just before they released a song that might have otherwise been ignored.

The biggest example is Desire Luzinda, whose nude pictures became a national sensation. She denied having done it deliberately, and even went to court to try and stop their continued publication. But she did release a song, Kitone, after that, and held a couple of shows, and probably cried and sulked all the way to the bank.

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Desire Luzinda

It also is common for our so called public figures to pick something written about them in some peripheral publication, post it on social media (at times complete with a link to the original article), and complain loudly how those terrible snoops won’t leave them alone.

Journalists themselves have been known to fall victim to these ‘snoops’, but the seasoned ones know the best way to deal with it is to totally ignore the stories. Even if you are genuinely very angry at what is usually made up stuff, you just wear a stiff lip and it will blow away sooner than later.

For the record (and I can write about this now because it was a long time ago), one of the more nasty tabloids published a story about how I was so heartbroken after a failed relationship that I shut myself in my house and cried for weeks. It was funny because although that relationship had indeed ended, I was out of town with friends at a function, and we laughed uproariously at the whole thing.

Several years later I did meet the guy who wrote that and several other fake stories about me, but he had quit writing gossip, was into business, and was not doing very badly, too. I asked him why he did it, he really had no answer, but sheepishly bought me several drinks instead.

So, to our local celebrities, if you are genuinely aggrieved at a story written about you, and you are absolutely sure it is wrong, take the blighters to court. A casual check at our civil courts will reveal that tabloids are facing dozens of suits, many of which they settle out of court, along with an injunction not to write or publish anything about the aggrieved party.

Don’t be like Barbara Streisand, who not only caused the exact thing she didn’t want to happen, but also lost the lawsuit. In addition she was ordered to pay the photographer costs of the suit amounting to $155,567.

 

FARMING IS A THING OF THE SPIRIT

the passion fruits plants 7 months later

7 months old passion fruits plants

About a year ago I was bored in Kampala, didn’t have anything to read, and there was nothing interesting to watch at the cinema. I checked my Twitter feed and there were all this stuff about a farming expo at Namboole.

You have to understand that anything to do with farming has always seemed to be a chore to me, right from childhood. We grew up on a ‘small’ farm, about 10 acres, and there was always farm stuff to do. When I went to boarding school there was still no escape, as both Budo Junior School and King’s College, Budo had farms, and all students had to pitch in. When I left school I swore I would never have anything to do with a farm.

But here I was, bored almost to death in Ntinda so I decided to go Namboole to see what the excitement was all about. It was a Saturday afternoon, and at first I thought I had made a mistake and there was a soccer match instead, for the queues of people waiting to enter were very long.

Eventually I made my way in, and made the rounds. What really amazed me was the number of people there, all wanting to know about farming; since when did farming become this ‘cool’? I knew that officials like trumpeting how 80% of people in Uganda depend on farming, but always figured that was an exaggeration. And in any case, many of those folks did it because they had to, not because they wanted to. If the majority of Ugandans loved farming, what were all these bodabodas doing in towns?

But the enthusiasm on that grey afternoon in Namboole was catching, and I thought that, maybe one of these days I might give this farming thing a try. I tried going into one of the passion fruits training sessions, but there were too many people asking too many seemingly silly questions, so I gave up. But on the way out, I bought a DVD made by one of the trainers, which I promptly forgot about.

About a month later my neighbour Rasheedah asked if I wanted to buy passion fruits, apparently she was growing them. Really, I asked? She was a businesswoman, and travelled all around the world ‘taking care of business’, what was she doing growing passion fruits? But she wouldn’t stop talking about it, and eventually convinced me to visit her ‘orchard’.

Then I remembered the DVD I bought at the expo, watched it, and decided that maybe I should give this farming thing a try. The Vision Group also organised an employee visit to a passion fruits farm in Masaka, and after that I made up my mind.

But apart from my otherwise forgettable childhood experience, I did not really know anything farming, so I started asking around for advice. It turned out quite a few people were into passion fruit farming, and my cousin Phoebe came home and gave me a crash course on what I would need.

I decided to start small, a pilot project so to speak, so I asked my Dad for a quarter of an acre at his farm by the lake, and he agreed, more amused than anything. When I took samples of the soil for testing, and told him that while it seemed fertile, there were some elements missing, he started thinking that maybe it wasn’t a passing phase after all.

So last May, we cleared the piece of land, prepared it and planted grafted seedlings I had bought from Enoch Ssenyonjo in Matugga, and waited for the plants to grow. And waited, waited and waited. The darn little things seemed to take their sweet time growing. Rasheedah said she had to wait eight months before getting her first harvest; what, 8 months? That seemed like forever to me.

Clearing the land last May

clearing the land readying for planting last May

Nobody had told me that farming goes with a lot of patience; at times I would go to the farm and measure the pesky little plants, and if they had grown even a centimetre I would feel like a seasoned farmer.

But grow they eventually did, and with support from a WhatsApp group dedicated to passion fruits farming (most of the time, because at times being Ugandan they typically went deep it the night talking about other things), and visits from some ‘experts’, my little orchard grew.

After two months the first fruits appeared, and I almost threw a party. Four months after planting I got my first ripe harvest, which I prompted made into juice and drank. Six months into the project and I sold my first batch of ripe fruits, and this time had a celebratory glass of wine.

About a year after that boring afternoon in Ntinda, while I cannot say I am a real famer, I have no illusions about the vagaries of farming. The next step (and I appreciate the discussions with my buddies of the ‘Budonian Kafunda’ on this) is to make it a real and viable business.

I again attended the Harvest Money expo at Namboole this year, not because of boredom, but to pick up what I need to take my farming to the next level. The spirit is willing, and the body (coming off a scare about two years ago, but that’s another story) is ready to go along with it.

 

OF BELLYACHING UGANDANS AND TRAFFIC LIGHTS

Uganda is a fine and beautiful place, and regularly shows up on international lists of the best places to visit. The people are even better, and are ranked year in as some of the friendliest on planet earth. But there is one less than envious thing about us, we just love to bellyache.

The Oxford dictionary defines bellyaching as to ‘complain noisily or persistently’; there is the normal complaining when something is not going right, but there is that persistent and very annoying type that actually makes one’s insides hurt. Ugandans are becoming true champions of that.

It especially manifests itself every time a new set of traffic lights is set up in this our dusty, chaotic and confused city. In their efforts to make Kampala look a modern city, KCCA has started putting up traffic lights in various places in the city. According to their plans, 47 junctions in Kampala badly need the presence of traffic lights, so far about 20 have been installed, and work on others is ongoing.

The process of installing traffic lights involves the restructuring of the road junctions where they will be installed, and this does not sit well with Kampala drivers. After complaining every day about how bad and messed up traffic in the city is, they still don’t like it when work begins to install traffic lights to make it flow in an orderly manner,.

But the worst of the bellyaching is reserved for every time the lights become operative, when normally lucid and well-behaved people completely lose it, and become no better than the proverbial ‘market woman’.

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Traffic lights at Lugogo

The Fairway junction used to see one of the worst traffic jams before the colonial era roundabout was done away with and traffic lights were installed. Work to install the lights took a while, and all the time drivers were complaining how it made the traffic jams all the worse.

Then work was finally completed, the lights were switched on, and you could have thought KCCA had said some bad things about the collective mother of Ugandan drivers. People were literally foaming at the mouth as they sought to find new ways to abuse the city authorities. BBC stringer Catherine Byaruhanga accused whoever planned the lights of having cheated Ugandan taxpayer’s money, and that they would not work. Others likened city officials to all kinds of parts of the human body.

It is not a year since the lights at the Fairway junction were switched on, but it is like they were always there. Drivers have learnt how to cope with them, and traffic, while still heavy, flows smoothly.

So is it safe to assume that Kampala drivers have learnt how to cope with order where once there was chaos? Not a chance. Two weeks ago lights on the Lugogo Bypass were switched on, and the bellyaching and name calling started all over again. It has become so predictable that there every time a new set of traffic lights starts working, you can be sure which Facebook pages to go to for some colourful complaints. Two especially, Malcolm Muyinda and Ben Mwine, have turned it into a work of art. They have eased off now, but wait for the next set of traffic lights to start working, and they will be off again. Watch this space.

REMEMBERING HERBERT WAMALA

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About forty years ago, a bunch of young lads and lasses joined King’s College, Budo. It was a threshold kind of moment, and they were all ready to take on the world. Most of them had met each other for the first time seven years previously, when they joined Primary one in Budo Junior School, also fondly known as Kabinja.

These days there is a huge debate on how early young children should attend boarding school, but by then it was no big deal. You did the interview, and if you passed then you were admitted. The classes were typically small, about 30 pupils, and there was only one stream.

I was part of that small group, and over the next two decades we practically grew up together. A child would typically spend more time at school over a year than at home (an average of 39 weeks at school, while only 13 at home for holidays), so from 5-year-olds to teenagers we were in each other’s faces.

Herbert Wamala, who we laid to rest in Nakawuka on Tuesday afternoon, was also part of that group. We were all different of course, and had different characters and personalities. Some were quiet and shy, others like yours truly tended to the naughty side and were always in one trouble or another.

Herbert grew faster than most, and soon was the biggest boy in whatever class we went to. But for all his ‘giant’ size, I don’t remember him ever getting into any kind of trouble. He never was punished for reading comic books under blankets with a torch after ‘lights-out’, or run screaming like a banshee over the forbidden quadrangle.

Or maybe if he ever got into any trouble he would charm his way out of it, for he had a natural charm that worked like magic on all near him. And it was a joyful kind of charm, that always came with a smile. Even teachers succumbed to that charm, but he never for once misused it to his advantage. History is full of charismatic people that grew into despots, he would not be one of those.

Kids always fight, for one reason or another, but Herbert never got into any fights, but actually broke up quite a few. Guess his size helped.

His size also helped when it came to athletics, and he was a natural runner. For all the years at Budo, the Nigeria House relay team was largely unbeatable, with him taking the anchor leg. Some of us were late bloomers, and only grew tall well into our teens. I would often take the first leg, and try to hold on to first place or a close second. We would try to keep it close till the last leg, because we always knew that Herbert would then blow away the field.

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Budo days: (l-r) Herbert Wamala, Semu Nsibirwa, John Gara, Chris Lule, Chris Kasolo. Hope Mukasa, Bill Muyanja, Wilfred Mukasa

He was also a natural leader, and throughout school he would be one prefect or another. He was Games Prefect at King’s College, and Head Prefect in his last year. He also played a leading role in the Budo Dramatic Society, and inevitably took on many of the leading roles, the brilliant actor that he was.

He would later lead an ill-fated campaign to become Makerere University’s Guild President as a DP candidate, at a time when the UPC government pre-determined who win, and a whole battalion of Special Forces would camp at campus for the duration of the elections.

After school I went ‘away’, and when I eventually came back and we reconnected, it was a shock to find that I had grown taller than he was. But typically it did not bother him, he just laughed it off, and we spent bountiful hours catching up over several cold Club beers.

I had also moved on sport wise, and took up martial arts and basketball, but he largely kept to running, and was instrumental in popularising the Kampala Hash Harriers, a group of corporates that seem to run everywhere each Monday, and then consume several gallons of beer afterwards.

He continued to run for most of his life, and it was when he stopped taking part in the Monday hash that his friends realised something was very wrong. For Herbert had been diagnosed with advanced cancer in 2008.

Again typically, he took it on with a smile, fought it, and for a time it seemed it was in remission. But it would come back in a more vigorous and virulent form, and on Sunday we got word that Herbert Galabuzi Wamala, the gentle giant, who made everybody laugh and did not have a single mean bone in body, had breathed his last.

Some of that brave bunch of lads and lasses have since passed on (Nathaniel Mulira, Christopher Kasolo and others), and the country’s troubled times meant many are scattered across the seven seas (Annette Namande is in London, Bill Muyanja is an engineer with Boeing in the USA, Phillip Kiboneka runs the Kasenyi Safari Camp in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, Ruth Nalumaga is somewhere in South Africa), but a few of us who are still around were on hand to see Herbert off. Fare thee well, my brother.

 

 

BLACK PANTHER, AND TOWARDS THE END OF WHITE PRIVILEGE

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery/none but ourselves can free our minds’ – Marcus Garvey/Bob Marley.

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When I was young I was really into fantasy stories (still am, admittedly), especially comic books. So much that one teacher in my Primary school declared I would fail English because I was reading comics every chance I got (wish he could see me now). I read and followed all the superheroes that are now being turned into movies, from Batman to Superman to the X-Men to Dr Strange and dozens of others.

I then moved on reading books by the likes of H Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and other writers of adventure stories. The stories fascinated me no end, and I would imagine myself as one of those brave and noble adventurers, finding lost tribes and civilisations and becoming their saviour while making my fortune.

It was not till I was much older that I realised my heroes were all wrong, and that the people I identified with were nothing like me. In many of Haggard’s tales, the saving hero was always a white man, and the lost civilisations they found were built by white people in the middle of darkest Africa. The black people in those stories were either porters, or ‘noble savages’ that were very grateful for the white ‘bwana’ for letting them go along on those adventures. I think I went through a severe identity crisis around that time.

How many generations of black kids grew up thinking the saving hero was a white man? Added to the devastating effects of colonialism, are there any doubts that our skewed education left many Africans thinking that white people are superior beings? Decades after independence and self-rule, many of our people still believe this in their heart of hearts (did you all see that advert last week where a hotel in Kampala was looking for a white manager?).

In the west this attitude mainly manifests itself as overt racism, but here in self-governing Africa, it is referred to as ‘white privilege’. Which is where the film Black Panther comes in. First of all it is amazing that I never knew there was a comic book where the super hero was black, in spite of it being in existence since the 1960s.

Instead of fantasising about flying over New York and trying to save America, if millions of black kids had seen themselves as superheroes in their own rights and skins, where would white privilege be now? Instead of dreaming of being like Alan Quatermain and going on adventures trying to find lost white civilisations of untold wealth, what if we dreamt about finding the real Wakanda?

The film Black Panther, and what it really means to black folks, has been the subject of intense debates all over the world. Some argue that it is just a movie, nothing is going to change, and that it is really more hype than reality.

My friend Tom ‘The Mith’ Mayanja, after watching the premiere at Acacia Mall, said he prefers Captain America and how he beat up on the Russians. His more grounded sister, Helena, on the other hand said she felt “…taller, brighter, hotter, and invincible” after watching the film.

How many millions of black kids are going to feel like Helena did after watching this film? Their lives will be changed knowing the colour of their skin is not a sentence to a second class existence. It is probably too late for the owner of that hotel in Mutundwe, who I understand is a Ugandan, but it can make a big difference to a new generation. From now on, I’m subscribing to Black Panther comic books, so all my nieces and nephews and all the neighbouring kids will grow up knowing they can be superheroes.

And then there are the women of Black Panther, never has the African woman been portrayed the way they are in the film. African society, by default, is mostly a patriarchy, and the woman is usually a second class citizen. So after the privileged white folk, and the African man, the women are a distant third. Not in this film.

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Zimabwe’s Danai Gurira, Kenya’s Lupita Nyong’o, and Uganda’s Florence Kasumba

And it is even more surprising in that Hollywood has never portrayed the black woman in favourable terms. When they are not the house help and cooks, they are women of the night. When Halle Berry was cast in the lead role in Catwoman, she was laughed right out of the box office; and the James Bond spin-off featuring her character Jinx never saw the light of day.

The women in Black Panther take no prisoners, as the saying goes. While the two main roles are men (King T’Challa and his rebellious cousin Erik Killmonger), it is the women that take care of business while the two men fight somewhere underground for the throne.  In the film there are no meek and silent women waiting to be saved.

From the king’s mother Queen Ramonda, to his former lover turned national spy Nakia, to T’Challa’s little sister Shuri, who is the mind behind many of Wakanda’s ground-breaking inventions (who many have said is more brilliant than even Iron Man), to Okoye, the general of the Wakanda army, they took over the film. And they are all natural, too.

It is an intrinsic nature of white privilege that black folks will want to knock their own, and many have done so. Unlike what some folks are more or less suggesting, Black Panther is not going to solve Africa’s problems. Others are declaring they will not watch it because all the money will end up with white folks in Hollywood anyway; yeah, right, like they won’t buy iPhones and designer jeans and handbags (and like they didn’t watch Queen of Katwe, also made by Disney).

While actual slavery is rare these days (apart from those very unfortunate folks in Libya), mental slavery is still very much with us. Almost one hundred years since Marcus Garvey first wrote those words, which Bob Marley immortalised in the 1984 song Redemption Song, mental slavery is still what is preventing black people from believing in themselves.

Africa will still be a continent with lots of poverty long after Black Panther has moved on the DVDs (some Ugandans, typically, are already asking if anyone has clear copies of the pirated versions), but if it can get our people thinking and believing that we can be as good as, if not better than, everybody else in the world, then I will not begrudge Disney from making lots of money from the film, as it looks like it is going to do.