NAMING AND SHAMING IS THE NAME OF THE GAME IN 2018

I have many friends and colleagues who are either psychologists, or students of human behaviour. But none of them have ever explained sufficiently to me what it is in Ugandans that make them complain to high water about things going wrong, threaten to expose all, and then turn around and say they will only do so if they are dared, or challenged (and that is the longest statement I have written in a very long time!).

Largely, naming and shaming usually works where systems do not work (sounds familiar?). In Uganda there are no consumer protection agencies, and the way the systems works is that so-called ‘big men’ and politicians get away with all kinds of abuse. In circumstances like these, naming and shaming is usually the last and only resort for normal citizens to stop impunity and abuse.

My good friend Pumla last week shared a picture of a driver that had parked so badly that she had no way of getting into her car. Of course she was incensed at the insensitivity of the driver, so she took a picture and put it on Facebook. But she blotted out the offending car’s number plates. Her reasoning? That ‘even those with bad manners are entitled to privacy’; so why did she share the picture? Was it just to let off steam, or in the hope that offending driver would change his ways? But why would he if he or she wasn’t named, and thus shamed?

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In such a situation the police, or parking attendants, should have clamped that car and made the driver pay a fine, in that way they would think twice before parking badly and inconveniencing others. But we all know that is not going to happen, the police are too busy doing the job of traffic lights, and the parking attendants think their main job is to show women how to park cars. So Pumla my dear, there really was no work done. That driver will go his merry way inconveniencing every other driver they meet.

History is full of stories where naming and shaming has worked, where nothing else would. We know that autocratic societies do not respect human rights, and the Soviet Union was one of the most autocratic ever. So when dissident and human rights campaigner Andrei Sakharov got under their skin, they shipped him and his wife off to a labour camp in Siberia.

No means of negotiations or pleas from other countries made any difference, so somebody in Washington came up with the brilliant idea of changing the street name where the Soviet Embassy was to Andrei Sakharov. The embassy address thus became ‘No. 1 Andrei Sakharov Plaza’; the letterhead had to be printed with Sakharov’s full name, and they had to mention and see Sakharov’s name almost on a daily basis. Ashamed, after a year Sakharov was released.

There is a Facebook page named Kampala Food Network, where foodies get together to share experiences about, well, food. Service providers advertise their wares there, but woe befalls anyone that dares to complain of poor service. Often that person would be criticised for not approaching the provider personally and sorting out the problem, instead of ‘trying to spoil their businesses’. I don’t know what psychology that is, where the victim is at fault and the perpetrator gets away with shoddy work. Is there any surprise, then, that in our society often victims of sexual harassment are blamed for inciting the abuse?

Most service providers now are taking advantage of social media to freely advertise their wares, and invite the public to like their pages or groups. This is our chance as the public to make them accountable to us.

For example, when power goes off, folks are quick to post and call Umeme all kinds of names, most of them unprintable in a family paper like this one. They don’t wait to ask for an explanation why power off, maybe some transformer blew, or the old systems get overloaded when it rained and switched off automatically; no, they just rant away. Now somebody even proudly got a dictionary of insults ready to take the Umeme rants to a new level. If they can do that, why keep quite when you get bad food in a place, or some manager is acting like they are doing you a favour to serve you?

As I wrote this someone posted on the Kampala Food Network page that those that ‘de-campaign others businesses should stay in 2017’. To their credit, and hopefully it is a sign of the times, almost all of the forty-something comments that followed were blasting her for that post. In fact one of the comments gave me the headline for this column, indeed ‘naming and shaming should be the game’ this year.

 

 

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‘History of Africa’ a huge disappointment

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Sometime last year the BBC aired a series of documentaries entitled ‘History of Africa’. Narrated by BBC correspondent Zeinab Badawi, originally from the Sudan, the series was promoted as ‘divulging into Africa’s long and complex history, which has been largely distorted by the mostly Western historians’. It was supposed to have been based on the General History of Africa, a project by UNESCO started in 1964 as an effort to let Africans tell their own history.

This was a series worth watching, I thought to myself, and programmed my decoder to record all the episodes. I thought finally our history will be told by the word’s top professional filmmakers and, maybe if I was lucky even the history of our own Kintu, and the truth about the Bachwezi would be told. Or so I hoped.

Sadly, it was not to be. Badawi was touted as having travelled to all corners of Africa interviewing historians, archaeologists, and plain citizens while giving us the untold story of a people that build ancient civilisations that our history books usually ignore. But apart from a passing visit to Zimbabwe, and a rather unflattering inclusion of the ‘pygmies’, the series were all about North Africa.

Zeinab Badawi with hunter-gatherer tribe, Hadzabe, in Tanzania

The series History of Africa is really mostly about how northern Africa met Europe, and although we learn some intriguing facts about how Africa impacted the western world, it is not Africans telling Africa’s history.

A great part of the second half of the series is about how the three major religions of the world, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity impacted on Africa. The indigenous religions are largely treated as so much mumbo-jumbo.

Ms Badawi might be of African origin, but she definitely was not telling Africa’s history the way Africans would like to tell it. To say it was a huge disappointment is probably not enough, the BBC should have done much better than that.

To dig further into this, I think I will get myself that 8-volume General History of Africa publication by UNESCO.

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REMEMBERING STEVO OF WANDEGEYA

Stevo

I must have known Stevo for more than 20 years, but never got to know his last name, very few people actually did. Everyone knew him as just Stevo, of Wandegeya. To the thousands of people that ever had a drink in Wandegeya, Stevo’s story is the story of a Wandegeya that does not exist anymore. And with his reported death last month, an era ended that unfortunately has not been well documented.

Everyone that ever had a drink in Wandegeya before the new market was built has a story about Stevo, and what went on in the small shop he ran for so many years. Here is mine:

I must have first met Stevo sometime in the early to mid-eighties, during the latter days of the Obote II regime. Those were the days of the real kafunda, when nobody could be caught, literally, in bars. Security was very bad, drunken but heavily armed soldiers roamed the streets of Kampala, so it was important to be able to see what was happening around you as you gathered for a drink.

The kafunda was basically a small, one-room grocery store. Groceries were hard to come by those days, and a few enterprising shopkeepers made it their hustle to get whatever they could and sell it. That eventually included beer, which mainly high-ranking members of the then ruling UPC party could get. They would get ‘allocation chits’ from the minister, and then sell the chits to these shopkeepers who would collect the beers from the UBL factory, which was the only one functioning at a very limited capacity.

Stevo’s mum owned one of such shops in Wandegeya just outside the market, and everybody in Kampala would come to get whatever groceries were available from there. Stevo’s mum was from my clan, Ngeye, so we chose her shop over the others and used to gather there. We called her ‘mwanyinaze’.

It was always in the evenings, because nobody would dare be caught out at night. It was after the NRA captured Kampala that folks started going out at night. His mum would run the shop during the days and evenings, and Stevo would take over at night, often the whole night ill morning as people tried to make up for all the time they had missed out on night life.

He wasn’t highly educated, but was a very friendly, stockily built, open guy. Those days people depended on ‘making deals’ for money, and Stevo was very often the middleman, or where people would leave or collect their money after a successful deal.

The kafunda of those days was the basic social unit in Kampala, that is where guys took girls for drinks, or met new girls, and very often fought over them. Many stories about Stevo’s place centre around fights witnessed there and, during the late eighties, not a few gunfights. In fact his immediate neighbour, known as Sandy, was killed when a grenade was thrown at his shop. It was never known who was responsible, but a girl who was Sandy’s waitress took over the shop.

Life improved in Kampala, more pubs were opened and even discos opened up, but Stevo’s remained. It was a routine that folks would go to discos and then end the night at Stevos. If you ever had an early morning and passed by Wandegeya, it was hilarious to see some very drunk guys trying to fight.

There was a time, when the RPF had taken over Rwanda but before life in Kigali has stabilised, when RPF soldiers would drive to Kampala on weekends, go to Ange Noir disco, and then end up at Stevo’s where they would fight anybody that was willing to put them up.

The people that frequented Stevo’s was a kind of community, and when deals dried up as the economy became more formalised, many of them went abroad for what would be known as ‘kyeyo’. For many of them Stevo was their man on the ground, and it was through him they sent whatever money or goods they sent back. And when they managed to come back for a visit, it was party time at Stevo’s.

But the time of the kafunda was limited, and as the Ugandan economy grew it was no longer the preferred social gathering place. Supermarkets had more, cheaper groceries, and pubs had more comfortable sitting than those hard benches that Stevo put out every evening for his customers.

But Stevo’s still remained open, till the old market was razed down and the new one built. I occasionally heard from him, as like me he never changed telephone numbers from the one he had when cell phones first came into the country.

late last year I run into one of those guys from the ‘Stevo community’ that had gone for kyeyo, and was visiting after a long time away. He suggested we get together with anyone from that community who was around; I agreed, and suggested we get Stevo to also attend.

Unfortunately that will not happen now, and if we get together it would be to say goodbye to a person that brought many of us together. Fare the well, Stevo.

 

SSESE ISLANDS – THE LAST TOURISM FRONTIER

Map

Late last year I went to spend a few days in the Ssese Islands, something I try to do every year. I first went to Ssese in the late 90s, together with a group from the Rotary Club of Kampala-Ssese. At that time everything was almost ‘virgin’, there was no electricity, no telephone network, and no bodabodas.

In addition most of the natural forests on the largest island of Bugala still existed in their virgin states. Not many people visited, and the visitors’ books at the few ‘resorts’ were proudly displayed to show who had been there.

About 20 years later, Ssese is a much changed place. Ugandans in their droves have discovered it is a great place as a getaway, resorts have mushroomed all over the place, there is electricity and running water, and there is a chance some unruly bodaboda rider could run into you.

But for all that, Ssese is probably Uganda’s last tourism frontier, still very much a work in progress even as Uganda tries to develop its tourism sector.

I met Kasim Musiige on my last day, although I had tried calling him from the time I got there. While all the major telecom networks have coverage there, along Lutoboka Bay where most of the ‘resorts’ are built, the thick woods interrupt the reception and network is poor.

For those looking for a real break, that is probably a blessing in disguise; but Musiige was supposed to be my tour guide, and his unavailability meant I had to improvise. When he eventually showed up on the afternoon before I left, nursing the mother of all colds, he confirmed that tourism in Ssese is indeed largely an improvisation.

“The biggest challenge is that there is no organised tourism here,” he told me, seated in the quaint Islands Club’s dining room, which also serves as the reception when a guest appears. “There is nowhere you can get any credible data on Ssese tourism, for example. Nobody knows for real, everybody is doing their own things.”

A wooden cabin for tourists along the beach on Bugala Island, Ssese

A cabin at Ssese Islands Club, right next to the shore

Musiige is the General Secretary of the Ssese Islands Tour Guides Association (SITGA), a group of about eight tour guides, all volunteers. They had a chairman but he left, so they are planning to elect another one sometime soon. He complains that the resorts usually use their own staff as tour guides, even if they are not trained to do so.

“We badly need a District Tourism Officer, then we can start getting organised,” he says. “Then tourism would improve, and everybody would gain.”

But in spite a lack of organisation, there are several packages available for tourists, and a plethora of places to visit.

Getting there

There are two ferries that go to the largest island of Bugala every day, one from Bukakata near Nyendo, Masaka; and another from Nakiwogo in Entebbe. There are actually two ferries between Bukakata and Bugoma on the southern end of Bugala Island; as one leaves Bukakata, the other one leaves Bugoma, and each take 30 mins for the journey.

The MV Kalangala ferry from Entebbe appraoches the dock at Lutoboka

The MV Kalangala is one of several ferries to the island

The MV Kalangala leaves Lubotoka bay on the northern side of the island at 8am every day, and arrives at Nakiwogo, Entebbe about 3/12 hours later. It leaves Nakiwogo at 2pm for Bugala every day.

The beaches

This is where most Ugandans stop when they go to Ssese, and it is common to have large groups travel with their own disco equipment and have a party on the beaches for several days (sound carries very easily across water, so even folks on the far side might think the party is next door). Unlike the mainland beaches, the ones on Bugala are almost pristine, and the water looks clean.

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A couple having quality time on the beach

Most of the popular ‘resorts’ are built on Lubotoka bay, and if you’re lucky and the lake levels are low it is possible to walk from one end of the bay, where the Victoria Forest Resort is, to the modern-looking Brovad Sands Lodge, a distance of almost 5 kilometres of pure white sand. An evening walk on the beach as the sun is setting is a popular past time for visitors. Many of the resorts also organise bonfires for their guests at night, and you can choose to have your meals at the beach, or relax with a book.

enjoying a sunset walk along the beach

A sunset walk on the beach is a popular pastime

Lunch at the beach

Lunch at the beach

Speke’s Fort and forest walks

On top of a hill in the Kasese forest are the ruins of what the islanders say was a fort built by John Speke during his search for the source of the River Nile. It can get confusing because there is sign welcoming you to the ‘Henry B. Stanley Fort, 1875’. Apparently an overenthusiastic student of tourism took it upon himself to put up the sign during the Tourism week that was held there earlier 2017, probably chasing the allowances that went with it. He got both the name and the date wrong, because Speke published his account of the search for the Nile in 1863.

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Inside the ruins of the Speke Fort

To make it worse, within the ruins there is a big tree, and people have taken it upon themselves to attach large notices that they were there, including a Minister for Tourism. They forget the basics of tourism that you’re supposed to leave sites as they are, and not pollute them with our passage. Any organised Tourism office would no doubt remove those offending signs without haste. Anyway it is said that Speke started building that fort out of stones and mud, but later abandoned it.

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Getting to the fort you pass through a typical tropical forest with huge trees that are obviously very old, and this serves as one of the tourist attractions. The locals insist that the spirit of the forest often appear as a beautiful young woman, or as a huge snake, and one has to stop and let it pass. They also say the trees are harder than mahogany.

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Forest walk

Mapeera landing site

The man that brought the Catholic faith to Uganda, Fr Simoen Lourdel, is said to have landed on the southern side of island from Tanzania before proceeding to the court of Buganda. Together with Brother Amans the two landed on February 15th, 1879, and rested for a day before continuing their journey. The site has since become part of the Martyr’s Trail, and every February a pilgrimage is made to that spot, which is marked by an old wooden cross. A church was built on the hill above, and the beginnings of what is supposed to be a museum can be seen near the water. All this was told to us by fishermen repairing their nets and boats.

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The Bidco palm oil plantations

When the idea to establish a palm oil project on Bugala Island was first mooted, there were objections from many, especially environmental groups that feared deforestation as palm trees plantations replaced indigenous forests. Currently about 10,000 hectares are planted with palm trees by Oil Palm Uganda Limited, a subsidiary of Bidco. According to Musiige the palm oil factories have become of a tourist attraction, too.

palm trees planted by Bidco have replaced some of the forests

palm trees plantation on Bugala Island 

Bukasa Island and Nanziri Falls

Another popular destination, although a bit off the beaten track, is Bukasa Island, another relatively large island. Some claim it is more picturesque than Bugala, and the Nanziri Falls are a particular attraction. You access it via speed boat from Bugala Island.

There is also a boat ride to the Virgin Island, called that because efforts are being made to eliminate any man made influence. No fishing or activity of any sort is allowed on that island.

Cultural sites

The Ssese islands play a very important role in the culture of Buganda kingdom and its people, and it is claimed that all of the clans of Buganda have their origins in these islands. It is also said that the ancient people of Ssese had supernatural powers, and many kings of Buganda would seek their help, especially in times of war. Thus many of the sites on the cultural trail are linked with the supernatural.

A short Bodaboda ride from the town of Kalangala is the Luggo forest, the source of the Katikiro of Buganda’s Damula, or mace, the instrument of power. There are also caves which still see regular traffic of people seeking the favour of traditional spirits. No shoes are allowed in there, and no photographs either.

What to do

Apart from the usual tourist sites, visitors to Ssese have a choice of several activities, including quad-bike riding, beach hopping, boat racing and sport fishing. There is also a golf course, although all the times I have been there I have never seen anybody playing golf.

 

A lost Christmas

(This story first run in the New Vision in December 2012 under the headline, Can I have my Christmas back? My preferred headline was A Lost Christmas, but because of how a newspaper is laid out, it was too short and so had to be changed. A friend has again brought up that thing about how big a deal it is to be born on December 24th, so I thought I would dig this up)

There is a time in our lives when we remember how Christmas used to be when we were children, and we miss those times. Somehow as we grow older we lose the true meaning and enjoyment of Christmas. This is for all the lost Christmases we wish could come back:

As far as I remember, I have always been told that I was lucky to be born on December 24th. “Wow, just before Christmas!” I do not know how many times I heard that. Some people even go further and say my parents must have been aiming for a Christmas birth, but missed it by one day.

But to a kid, having one’s birthday the day before Christmas is probably the worst possible thing to happen. To the rest of the kids born earlier during the year, their birthdays were always a big thing, all the attention was on the birthday baby and, of course, birthday gifts were on the card.

That does not happen when your birthday is the day before Christmas because everybody’s attention is focused on what will happen on the 25th. It got so bad at one time that you had to wait until Christmas Day to open your gifts.

“But you’re celebrating your birthday with Jesus”, did not wash down very well when all the other kids are getting presents twice in the year, and you only once.

I have a few friends that were actually born on Christmas day and one of them always wonders what it is like to have a ‘normal birthday’, although she is happy everybody remembers her birthday. That means there are probably millions of people out there who have never had a ‘normal birthday’.

But I always enjoyed Christmas as a kid, that little bit about the gifts and parties notwithstanding. Christmas was always a magical time, even when the troubles in the country started and very often even the very basics of life were missing.

Of course, at one time things were so bad the gifts stopped coming because there was nowhere to buy anything. But still the magic was there and we believed wholeheartedly in the spirit of goodwill and peace to all mankind. We even liked to believe that the Amin boys and the Obote thugs did not kill anybody during Christmas.

But as we got older, things started changing, and we realised that peace was not an easy thing to come about, and that mankind was busy looking for ways to screw us over. Somehow that good feeling slowly disappeared, and Christmas became just an excuse to have a good time. But it was still special, given that it became a day when the family all got together and had a very big meal.

During the 1990s, after that big meal and when everybody had gone back to their homes, we guys who lived in Makerere University found it quite lonely. It was holiday time and all the thousands of students had gone home. Many of the staff and their families had gone to their villages, so campus was quite empty and quiet.

One Christmas Day I met a girl in Wandegeya who seemed to be also lonely so we got together, had a few drinks, and afterward I escorted her home on West Road. She promised she wouldn’t be long, but would be out through the back door in an instant. So I waited, and waited. I must have waited for almost two hours, after which I gave up and left, cursing Christmas all the time.

Along the road I came across a pack of mongrel dogs from the nearby slums of Kikoni, usually a real menace to anybody walking about at night. But I was so mad at everything I took it out on them, removed my belt and whipped and chased them all the way to the Faculty of Agriculture, where they disappeared, yelping and crying at this crazy guy whipping them on Christmas Day.

Eventually I ended up in Wandegeya again, where I found the Kirunda boys (Sam and Peter), who were also coming from their own big family meal and did not know what to do with themselves, so we sat in a small bar on Biashara Road and saw off that Christmas.

Many years later, my friend Paul decided he would have his Christmas party on the 24th, which just happened to be my birthday and that became my unofficial birthday party. This was a different kind of party from the ones we had as kids and almost nobody mentioned Christmas at all, but everybody wished me a happy birthday.

So, did it feel like I had got one up back on Jesus for taking my birthdays away from me when I was a child? Didn’t feel like it, especially when it felt like the ‘Walk to Work’ guys were all over my head the next morning, and I had to somehow force down that big family meal later on during the day when the family gathers, as it has done all these years.

When the years pile on, birthdays do not matter as much as they did when young, and I do miss that ‘goodwill and peace to all mankind’ thing. Okay, Jesus, I concede birthdays, you can have all of mine; now can I have my Christmas back?

 

SLAY QUEENS? COME ON, GET A LIFE!

If you have been exposed to social media in the past year or so (and not been in some jungle, forest or in jail), you’ve probably come across the phrase ‘slay queens’. You are forgiven if you don’t know what it means, as it is one of those terms that are exploding on the scene, largely fuelled by said social media.

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nobody has ever looked good with a ‘duck face’

What exactly is a slay queen? A quick Internet search gives several dozen different descriptions, very few of them favourable, which makes me wonder why some folks still want to describe themselves that way.

The word ‘slay’ literally means to ‘kill or destroy in a violent way’. But in colloquial usage, it has come to mean to impress others, especially on social media. It probably evolved from another colloquial term, ‘to kill it’, meaning one has impressed beyond measure. So those that have ‘killed it’ beyond measure are ‘slay queens’ (some wags insist that guys that try too much to ‘kill it’ should also be referred to as ‘slay queens’).

To break it down, ‘slay queens’ are women (you’ll forgive me when I don’t say ‘ladies’), but mostly girls, with an almost compulsive obsession to impress. They will do whatever it takes and go to any kind of length to impress their friends and any others that might happen to look their way.

And they do not try to impress with how clever or intelligent they are, or how hard they can work at whatever needs to be done. They want to impress with their looks or to make others believe that they ‘have it’, whatever ‘that’ may be.

An earlier generation had another word for these sort of people – ‘bimbos’. These were women that were only expected to look good, mainly blondes in the western world, and do nothing else. Mix bimbos with social media, and you have your slay queens. Anyone remember Fela Kuti’s classic song Ashakara woman? That is a slay queen, but in Nigerian talk.

What exactly do slay queens do? It would take a whole book (and in the future I bet someone would write one) to describe the kinds of things that slay queens get up to.

The one thing they do more than any other is to take pictures of themselves, in weird and at times plain silly poses. The pout, or duck face, is a favourite one. I’m a photographer, so I know no one has ever looked good putting on a duck face, so why they do it is beyond me.

A slay queen must have at least 5,000 friends on Facebook, which is the upper limit; and also have Snapchat and Instagram accounts. They use them to share those pictures they take, and wait for their friends to exclaim how they have ‘slayed’. Woes befall anyone that thinks the pictures are terrible, or ridiculous.

To be able to take pictures that impress, slay queens will go to enormous lengths. They will wear make-up that makes them look like they are auditioning for a Halloween play, and dress up in such ridiculous outfits they end up looking like badly dressed bridesmaids. The poses they can get to are akin to polio victims (apologies to anybody that has ever suffered from polio).

slay queens will pose for pictures with expensive cars that are not theirs

Slay queens will pose for pictures anywhere, and post them on social media

They will share the most mundane parts of their lives, and follow with paragraphs of hashtags. The favourite topics are their dogs, or cats, but mostly their ‘baes’. Stuff like #goofingwithbae, #mymanbetterthanyours #drivingwithbae, #mybaefeedsbetterthanyours.

Slay queens will go out of their way to be at events they think are a must attend. They may be broke (and they usually are) but they will find a way to afford sh100,000 to be at the Blankets & Wine festival. They will take tonnes of pictures, and then find some free Wi-Fi and post them on social media.

Remember those jokes folks used to tell about girls that have just come from the village? Slay queens are like that, only more so. They probably know what Kim Kardashian did last night, but when you take them out for dinner and ask for the menu, they will say ‘I’ll have that too.’ You know that hot hand cloth they give you to clean your hands before dinner in upmarket restaurants? One apparently thought it was a fancy chapatti and tried to eat it.

Smart people use social media to sell their brands and make themselves marketable, but slay queens think they will become overnight stars if they do something crazy enough and get thousands of likes on their posts. Like that Kenyan lawyer (Corazon Kwamboka I think her names was) that left her day job and had thousands of pictures taken of her ample derriere. She got hundreds of thousands of likes, but is probably somewhere still having githeri for dinner.

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The Kenyan lawyer that quit her job to become a slay queen

Leaving your muzigo in Kamwokya, taking a boda to the Pearl of Africa hotel, taking pictures and posting them on social media will not change that kicommando you’re having for dinner into a four-course meal.

So, being referred to as a slay queen is not a term of endearment or admiration. Get a life!

 

 

THE HEARTS HAS IT REASONS…

(I wrote this about ten years ago, for a Valentine edition of the City Beat, a magazine I used to edit. A few days ago we had a discussion with some colleagues about the Taj Mahal, I remembered this, looked it up, and thought I would share)

‘The hearts has its reasons’ is the title of the autobiography of the Duchess of Windsor, who was responsible for one of the world’s largest sacrifices to love when King Edward VIII of Britain abdicated his throne to be able to marry her, an American divorcee. She took it from the poem by the 17th-poet Blaise Pascal: “Love has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.”

THE HEARTS HAS IT REASONS

That a king of what was then the biggest empire on earth could give up his throne for the woman he loved was quite an amazing feat. But there are others who have done as much, if not more, in the name of love. We look at a few of the more memorable ones:

King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson

edward & simpson

Many kings in history have been forced for one reason or another to give up their thrones. But very few have done so for love, except King Edward VIII of England. He was in love with Mrs. Wallis Simpson, not only an American, but also a married woman divorced at least once. Yet in order for Edward to marry the woman he loved, he was ready to give up being ‘King of Great Britain, Ireland, the Dominion Beyond the Seas, and Emperor of India’—and he did.

Edward, the Prince of Wales, reportedly preferred married women, and he had a string of them as mistresses. But after he met Wallis, in the company of her husband, he dropped them all. She became a frequent visitor to his chambers, and they became very close.

On January 22, 1934, King George V died, and Edward became King. Wallis, whose divorce proceedings were not quite complete, became a constant royal companion. The divorce came through in October, after the couple returned from an extended cruise on a yacht.

Edward knew that the British public would not accept a king who had a divorced American woman as a wife. So on December 10, 1936, came the announcement the he had abdicated the throne. His younger brother, the Duke of York, became King George, and Edward was named Duke of Windsor.

The next day he left for France, and Wallis went to America. They were mar­ried in France in June 1937. Wallis became the Duchess of York, but was refused the title of ‘Her Royal Highness’. The two were shunned by members of the Royal family, and spent most of their life in exile in France. Edward died in 1972 aged 77, and Wallis in 1986, aged 89.

Prince Khurram and Mumtaz Mahal

taj mahal

THE Story behind the building of the Taj Mahal, one of the India’s greatest monuments, is a story of love, and one man’s wish to preserve that love for posterity. Before Prince Khurram of India became Emperor Shah Jahan, he met Arjumand Banu in a shop. She was the daughter of the brother of his father’s consort.

The two reportedly fell in love at sight, although it would be five years (1612) before they could wed. He was 20 and she was 19. They were reportedly inseparable, and she often accompanied him to war. She bore him 14 children, seven of whom died in infancy.

After his father’s death Khurram became Shah Jahan, and Arjumand became Mumtaz Mahal. He built her many palaces as gifts. At age 39, Mumtaz Mahal died in child­birth. The entire kingdom was ordered into mourning for four years. Before she died, Mumtaz is said to have whispered to Jahan to build a monument that would symbolise their love.

And he built the Taj Mahal as a monument to enduring love and a beautiful woman. But he almost bankrupted the empire, so his son overthrew him and later imprisoned him. So Shah Jahan spent the rest of his life staring out of the win­dow of his room, at the Taj Mahal, pining for his wife.

Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, and Mark Anthony, 1st Century BC, Egypt

cleo and mark

The story of Cleopatra has long passed into legend, but enough collaboration exists to make it more than just a story, but the stuff of real life.

When the Pharaoh of Egypt, Ptolemy XII died he bequeathed the throne to two of his children, Cleopatra and Ptolemy Dionysus. According to Egyptian tradition, the two should have married and ruled together, but Cleopatra reportedly did not like to share. She seduced Julius Caesar (tradition has it that she went to his room hidden in a carpet), and with the Roman’s help, drove Ptolemy into the Nile where he drowned. She became Julius Caesar’s mistress, but when he was assassinated she returned to Egypt.

Meanwhile the Roman Empire was divided into two by Octavian Caesar and Mark Anthony, with the latter taking the east, which included Egypt. Cleopatra set out to seduce this newcomer. She reportedly appeared to Anthony as Venus, aboard a gilded barge with purple sails. The Roman soldier quickly suc­cumbed to her charms, and abandoned the war he was carrying out and followed Cleopatra back to Egypt. They dined and feasted in total splendour, got married and later had three children.

Meanwhile trouble was brewing with Rome. During a sea battle with Octavia, Cleopatra suddenly abandoned Anthony and left. Seeing her go, he abandoned the battle and followed her. Back in Egypt, they tried to forget their troubles by more feasting.

Octavia eventually attacked Egypt, and Cleopatra prepared herself to die with her lover. She ordered that Mark Anthony be told she was dead, and he stabbed himself. Cleopatra held the dying man in her arms. She then dressed in royal robes, ate a last meal, and had a basket with an asp (a snake whose poison does not distort features) brought to her. She put her hand in the basket, and the next day her unblemished body was found in a bed of gold.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, 19th century England

elizabeth barret and robert browning

The love affair between these two great poets produced some of the most endearing love
poems ever written. A recluse and invalid whose father would not let her out of
his sight, Elizabeth at first refused to believe that Browning’s intentions were sincere. But he eventually convinced her of his love, and they went to Italy where they were married.

They spent their life in sunny Italy, and there Elizabeth wrote what is considered to be her masterpiece, Sonnets from the Portuguese. They are really love poems to him, including the classic How Do I Love Thee? Let Me count the ways.’ They actually lived happily thereafter.

Jacob and Rachel, Old Testament, The Bible

jacob and Rachel
Even if you have never read the Bible, you may still have heard of one of its greatest love stories as told in the Book of Genesis. Jacob, the son of Isaac, had to leave his father’s land after he tricked the father into bestowing his blessing on him, instead of to his twin brother Esau, the firstborn. Needless to say, Big Bro’ was furious and Jacob had to escape his wrath by going to stay with a relative named Laban. Laban had two daughters, the older one being Leah and the younger one being Rachel. Apparently, Jacob fell in love at first sight with Rachel and asked to marry her. Laban, a pretty crafty guy, told Jacob that he could marry his daughter if he promised to work for him for 7 years. Not too many men today who’d be willing to wait that long for a woman, so Rachel must’ve been something special. After the 7 years, Laban did, technically, give his daughter to Jacob as a wife. Since the traditional wedding garb for a female during that time consisted of a heavy veil and because the newlyweds consummated their wedding night in a dark tent, Jacob didn’t discover, until he rolled over in the morning light, to see that it was Leah and not Rachel beside him. Naturally, Jacob was extremely upset, so Laban appeased him by giving him Rachel as a wife too, since polygamy was okay back then. Jacob loved Rachel so deeply that he agreed to work another 7 years for her father before he eventually went back to Canaan, the land of his birth.

 

A DISAPPOINTING AND FRUSTRATING UBER EXPERIENCE

 

I use the service of Uber taxis a lot, and for many reasons. Apart from the nuisance of having to direct drivers where you are (at times the GPS is off whack, or the drivers just can’t follow it), it is very convenient.

It is also relatively cheap (compared to the usual ‘special hire’ cabs), and the fact that you have the drivers number, and his photograph will show up on your email after the ride, gives one a sense of security. Surely no driver will try anything funny when you have all that data on him; or so I thought till recently.

A few weeks ago, on a Friday, I was at the Kampala Fashion Week, which took place at the grandiosely named Kampala Forest Resort in Muyenga. Later that night I was due to attend the 10th anniversary of the Uganda Rugby Cranes winning the Africa Cup, which I covered, and had promised to put up a photo exhibition for the lads.

The Fashion Show started very late, and it was going on to 11pm when it ended. The quickest way to get out of there was by Uber, so I requested for one. Fahad picked up the request, and when I called him he was just down the road, but it took him almost 20 minutes to find the place. That the entrance was full of banners and dozens of cars were parked alongside apparently didn’t make it any easier for him. But no worries, he eventually got to me, and off we went.

I had to pass the New Vision offices to pick up my laptop, after which he dropped me off at Legends. It wasn’t till much later that I realised I had left my tripod in his car. I called him back immediately, and he said yes, he had the tripod, and would drop it off the next day at the Uber offices, which are just a stone’s throw away from the New Vision. Great, I thought, because I would need the tripod for the next day’s fashion shows.

I called Fahad the next morning, he said someone else had his car, but he had the tripod, and would drop it off before 3pm. I go to the New Vision just before 3pm, but he hadn’t dropped it off, so walked over to the Uber offices, but no, they don’t open on Saturday.

I tried calling Fahad again, but he wouldn’t answer, and after some time the phone was off. I must have called about 20 times by 7pm, when the fashion show was supposed to start. How was I going to shoot without a tripod? Luckily there was a photographer who was not using his, so I used that one for the night.

The next day, a Sunday, Fahad finally answered his phone, said he really had the tripod and would drop it off at the New Vision offices on Monday morning.

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In the meantime I reported to Uber using the ‘help’ facility on the app that I had left my tripod in Fahad’s car. Their answer was a rude shock, and brought me back to earth with a big thud. After a long email explaining how they might help contact the driver, they wrote this: ‘Please note that drivers and Uber do not bear responsibility for an item left in a vehicle after a trip ends.’ Say what? All the confidence I had in Uber evaporated after that. It was just a tripod, what if it had been the camera, or laptop?

The seesaw between me and Fahad continued for the next several days, either he was out of town, or he didn’t answer the phone. At the end he said he could give the tripod to a boda guy to bring to me, but I would have to pay sh20,000. That felt like he was trying to extort money from men, he might be just around the corner for all I knew.

Eventually I went back to the Uber offices, but hey presto, they close at 3pm! Who closes offices at 3pm in this town? Luckily someone opened the door to enter, and I followed him in. The guy at the front desk asked if I couldn’t read, didn’t I see the notice that they are closed? But someone helped call Fahad, who promised to drop the tripod at the offices.

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Inside the Uber offices on Third Street, Industrial Area

At long last after two long weeks Fahad gave the tripod to a boda guy, who I paid sh10,000, and I got my tripod back. I have no idea if Fahad still drives for Uber, but for you folks out there, getting stuff back is not as straightforward as you might think. I still use Uber, but I’m very careful not to leave anything behind.

There are other issues I’ve had with Uber, especially about overpricing their fares, but that’s for another day.

 

JUST FOR THE JOY OF READING

Why do people read? Like an old nursery tale has it, the reasons are probably as many as there is sand in the sea and the stars in the sky. It was the subject of a debate on social media recently, and indeed all the sand and stars seemed to come out.

Some gave grandstanding reasons, like wanting to better themselves through inspirational reading. Others claimed they wanted to understand the world, some wanted to learn from other’s mistakes, and many said they read because they wanted to learn things they did not learn in school.

Someone said they read because they wanted to become wise, and quoted some dubious statement by a supposed white supremacist that if you want to hide something from black people, put it in books. This person said he wanted to be as wise as white people, no kidding.

A few said they read because they wanted to escape from this world, and into another word created by the authors of books. I feel for this last category, because personally, the written word has very often been an alternative to this crazy world we live in.

Growing up in a Uganda gone crazy, between the pages of books were other places and worlds where life was better than what we had. I started reading at a very early age, and have not stopped.

I buy at least two books every month, mainly from Amazon (Aristoc takes too long to re-stock), and the guys at the Large Parcel office at the Posta are so used to me they don’t ask me for an ID card anymore when I go to collect my latest order.

First-time visitors to my home always exclaim at the number of books in my sitting room, which tend to overflow from the bookshelves.

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I read almost anything, and many times everything, I can find. But I failed to read the so-called inspirational books, which has grown to be a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. I find them difficult to take them to heart, like people who typically tell you to do as they say, but not as they do (If you fail to find solutions in real life, I doubt if you can find them in books).

I tried, really tried. At one time I even bought the much acclaimed Rich Dad, Poor Dad; but I never got very far into it. It must be one of those stowed away in the trunk, or maybe somebody took it away, because I haven’t seen it in a long while.

I read because I like reading, just for the joy of it, if you like. I will read thrillers, even if they are not much to write home about. For example, I find Dan Brown’s books very lacking, especially in their endings, but I have read most of them.

I hated George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (the base of the extremely popular Game of Throne TV series), and the way he killed off all the good guys. But I bought all of them, and still waiting for the last two if he ever decides to publish them.

I am a sucker for science fiction (Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and recently came across a Nigerian writer, Nnedi Okorafor, although her award-winning book was more fantasy than good old sci-fi), and historical fiction fascinates me. English author Bernard Cornwell has a series of books on a Saxon warrior named Uhtred, which I really feel he could have told in about two books. But they are ten so far, Uhtred’s tale is still not yet told, and I can’t wait for the next one.

I have finally outgrown Jeffery Archer, I think someone is impersonating Wilbur Smith, and Eric van Lustbader is a better writer than Robert Ludlum. I think Nelson DeMille is a great writer, but he really should retire off New York cop John Corey. Alfred Michener is in a league of his own, as is Ken Follett (his Kingsbridge trilogy is a must read); I have read Lord of the Rings about ten times, and have read more versions of King Arthur than I care to remember.

I discovered The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo late, but have all the five books and counting; James Clavell and his books about Japan were an excellent read, and I think Ugandan writers take themselves much too seriously to write enjoyable books.

But it all began with Readers Digest, which made reading an easy and enjoyable exercise for a young boy eager to discover the world.

Where are the classics, you ask? I have done my share of Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and Hemmingway, but their world didn’t really appeal to me. I bow to Chinua Achebe and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and the countless others that have brought so much joy in my world.

So, why do I read? Just for the joy of it, thank you very much.

 

LESSONS FROM THE KAMPALA FASHION WEEK 2017

The 4th edition of the Kampala Fashion Week was held at the beginning of October at the Kampala Forest Resort in Muyenga, and it was agreeably different from the previous ones. Organised by local designer Gloria Wavamunno with help from LDJ Productions of New York, it was first held at the Kololo Independence Grounds in 2015. The following year it was held on the top of the Acacia Mall, and last year at The Square, a largely empty building on 3rd Street Industrial Area.

Gloria Wavamunno takes her bow.

Gloria Wavamunno, right, takes a bow

The Kampala Fashion Week has been the single biggest singularly fashion event since Santa Anzo gave up holding the Uganda International Fashion Week more than 10 years ago; it has both its critics, and praise singers. But, what have we learned from this year’s edition?

First, why hold a fashion week? Traditionally, fashion weeks developed as a way of bringing together designers and the fashion industry. It was mostly business, and designers and fashion houses used them as a way of showing what will be available for sale henceforth.

The economic impact of major Fashion Weeks is also huge, as hundreds of people descend on the venue. It is estimated that during a typical New York Fashion Week, over $50m is spent in restaurants, hotels, retail centres, and as payment to venues. The much bigger London Fashion Week generates more than £100m in revenue. Designers sell clothes, models and photographers get paid, and generally the communities benefit from the free publicity that comes with Fashion Weeks.

Did anybody make any money at the Kampala Fashion Week? Maybe the venue, Kampala Forest Resort did. The dozens of people that thronged the event bought food and drinks, and many were the Uber drivers that admitted they hadn’t known of the place, but now do.

We don’t know if any of the designers actually made any sales, and it was difficult to catch up with them after the shows. With labels like Say-Manda, Cirra-Sue, Bayimba Capsule and others, it was difficult to figure just who they were (to her credit, Joanita Nakigudde, the winner of Thursday’s SEED event, distributed her business cards after the show was done).

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Joanita Nakigudde shows off the trophy after being declared winner of the SEED show

In this digital age, much of the information about the designers and their clothes should have gone out via blogs and social media, but there was not even a media centre. The guy in charge of the media was only seen at the beginning when giving out press tags, and at the end when he collected them (why do they do that? Always wondered).

At some other events I have attended, each designer would have their own media team, but apart from the official photography and video team, plus about two other photographers that bothered to show up and plan their shots, the rest showed up with minutes to go to the show, obviously had no idea what to do, and ended up in getting in everybody’s way (Lesson to be learned, not everybody with a camera is a photographer).

The Kampala Fashion Week has been criticised in the past as being elitist (some wag described as Gloria Wavamunno and Friends show), and for the fourth year running many of the ‘big’ local designers were notably absent, both on the runway and even among the audience.

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outfit by student designer Eva Nakibirango

It is not clear how the designers to showcase their collections are chosen, but one can be forgiven for taking the whole event as a kind of make-believe. A lot of effort obviously went into putting together the collections presented, but it was also very evident that many of the people that attended were really there for the celebrity hype, and to be seen. And every other person you met over the three days introduced themselves as fashion bloggers. No kidding?

More than anything the fashion industry in Uganda needs some cohesion and bringing of everybody together, so it was with some amazement that I discovered something called the Uganda Fashion Council has been in existence since 2015.

What do they do, I asked the guy I was introduced to? “We’re working on it,” he said, without explaining exactly what that ‘it’ was.

I have said it before, and will say it again: we really need a ‘real’ fashion week to move the industry forward and give all the people a platform to do that.