OF WOMEN, RAPE AND UGANDA’S NOT QUITE #MeToo MOMENT

this story first appeared in the New Vision of January 3rd, 2020

Tarana Burke, rape survivor and founder of the #MeToo movement

Tarana Burke, ‘founder’ of the #MeToo movement

Sometime before 2006, Tarana Burke, who grew up in a poor family in the Bronx, New York, and who was raped and sexually assaulted both as a child and a teenager, met a 13-year-old girl. The teenager confided to Burke that she had been sexually assaulted. Burke would later say that she wished she had simply told the girl, “Me too”.

In 2006 Burke used that phrase on the social media site My Space, and the #MeToo movement was effectively born. Burke explained that #MeToo was to ‘empower women… especially the young and vulnerable, by demonstrating how many women have survived sexual assault and harassment…’

But it would take another 10 years, until October 2017 when the New York Times published accusations from more than a dozen women who went on the record against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, that the #MeToo movement really took off.  It is a mystery why it took so long, given that accusations of rape, sexual assault and harassment had been made against Weinstein for years.

But it exploded internationally, and many powerful men not only lost their jobs and positions, many are being investigated and not a few, including Weinstein, are being tried for sexual assault.

A few weeks ago, #MeToo arrived in Kampala in a big way. Okay, it had been around for a few years, but it caught everybody’s attention when women started posting on social media how they had been raped and sexually assaulted by various public figures. While many chose to be anonymous, a few brave ones put their names and faces to it. And faced a furious backlash, mostly from men, but also from some fellow women.

What most of the counter-accusations boiled down to was that the assault accusations could not be true, otherwise why did the victims wait for many years before talking about it? Why didn’t they report to the police? Where is the evidence? It was probably a relationship gone bad, some asserted, and now the women just want to ruin men’s reputations.

What was interesting was that it was a default kind of response – without knowing who the victims were, or the details of the incidents, the counter accusers insisted the claims were not true, and that the victims must be liars.

It says a lot about our society that our instinctive reaction is to either blame the victim, or to reject their claims. Is there a guilty conscience somewhere in our collective psyche? Is there a fear that if we don’t reject these claims outright, our names might show up sooner or later?

Many of the attempted rebuttals insisted that the victims should have reported to the police; the Uganda police? Are you kidding me? There is widespread evidence that the police largely treat cases of sexual assaults as ‘family matters’, which should be solved amongst the people involved. And then again, many of the reported assault cases involved police officers.

And in a society where you can get anybody locked up by just going to the police station and accusing them of something, it says a lot when sexual assault victims are reluctant to go the police.  It is a fact that many cases of sexual assaults (including rape) are not reported, mainly because the victims believe they will not get any help, or they will instead be blamed for what happened.

In spite of that, the Uganda Police annual crime report revealed that 13% of women aged 15 to 49 reported experiencing sexual violence. This means that more than 1 million women reported being sexually assaulted every year in Uganda. And those are the ones that had the courage to report.

In the ‘more civilised’ Japanese society, it is estimated that only about 4% of sexual assault cases are ever reported. In our primitive, not-yet-middle-income society, it is probably a lot worse.

And the claim that most accusations are false? The U.S. Department of Justice reports that only around 2-10% rape and sexual assault allegations reported to police are determined to be false after a thorough investigation. And the USA is not a middle-income country.

The question is not whether it is happening, the question is what are we going to do about it? In all the years that Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assault by countless women, nothing was done. In fact he fought back, tried to pay of media not to publish the claims, hired high-flying lawyers to intimidate many of the accusers, and tried to pay off others. It was not till the New York Times’ expose that criminal investigations were started, and now Weinstein, clean shaven and moving with a walker, is answering for his misdeeds.

What will happen in our comparatively Neanderthal Uganda? Our tax-payers funded fellows in the Department of Ethics and Integrity spend their hours watching pornographic films, and waiting for more female nudes to leak before they issue a statement, and then go back to watching more pornography. They should put all that money and time to better use and investigate cases of sexual assaults.

And to the rest of us? It will not help if we get to middle-income and still treat our female folks as sexual objects. While the Ugandan #MeToo movement should be encouraged to expose more cases of sexual assaults, efforts should also be made to understand that ‘sexual consent’ is not something the European court talks about.

It does not matter if she came to your place at 2am (as Mike Tyson found out and paid for time with time in prison), or if she drinks all your expensive wine and consumes a sh200,000 dinner at the Sheraton. If she is in no shape to consent, and you have sex with her, that is rape. And neither all your nays, and claims that ‘she enjoyed it’, will change an iota of that.

ADJUMANI, AHOY!

(this article first run in the New Vision of December 13th, 2019)

Adjumani4

The Rooster is Adjumani’s proud symbol

For a long time, the only thing I knew about Adjumani is that it was the place my friend Pearl came from. Tucked away in the northwest corner of Uganda, I’d never really had reason to visit. All that changed early this year when I was working on a photography project, and I had to shoot in Adjumani.

That time, we drove over from Arua, through Moyo, took the ferry at Laropi (where everyone had to sit down), and got to Adjumani in the afternoon. We did the shoot, I spent a night and we left the next morning. Not much time to get the pulse of the place, but a few months ago I got the chance to go back for a week.

The rains that are causing havoc all  across the region had started, and we heard that some bridges had been swept away, so we had to start off from Kampala very early in case we had to make a diversion.

The fastest route to Adjumani is to drive to Gulu, branch off to Amuru, drive towards Nimule, but before you get to the border with South Sudan, take the murram road to Adjumani. Total driving time? About 8 hours.

Usually a stop-over at the Kabalega Diner, just before you get to Kafu, is advisable. Although it aims at being sort of high-end, there’s not much on offer, bare bones, really. Quite a few new establishments are coming up, so the Kabalega Diner folks have to up their game, or they will lose out.

We had heard that the Kafu Rover had burst its banks, but we passed safely, and then to Karuma Falls, where one is likely to be arrested for taking pictures of the falls. Which is really daft, I think, because you can just Google and get all the pictures you want, from more angles than you can take from the bridge. The story goes about one tourist forced to delete pictures from her phone, so she Googled images and showed them to the soldier, who insisted that she also deletes the Internet images. Duh!

Nothing dramatic happened, the roads to Adjumani had been dried up by two days of sunshine, and we got there in good time for a late lunch. But first, we had to get a place to stay.

I had called ahead and booked at a hotel a friend had suggested, so we went to check it out. It was a bit out of town, but it was kind of neat, and is the preferred abode for many NGOs. But the network was lousy, which is very important when you are up country.

Adjumani frequent visitors know that you don’t book a hotel for the quality of services, or the size of the rooms, but for the quality of the network available. For some reason, the MTN network in Adjumani is very bad, in spite of the fact almost everywhere you go one can see the masts. So in spite of that place being not bad, because of the network I went looking for others.

Eventually I settled on a place on the ‘main street’, where the network in the lounge was not that bad. But, as I was soon to find, it played an intense game of hide-seek for a few days. It got so bad and frustrating that I finally went to the MTN service centre for help, where a technician switched my phone to 2G. Wow, when was the last time I used a 2G network? But he explained how to keep switching between 2G, 3G and possibly 4G. It was slow, obviously, but at least I had network and could access the Internet. MTN, whatever happened to ‘Everywhere you go’? But somehow the Mobile Money vendors have adequate network to carry out transactions, so who cares if the pesky visitors can’t check their WhatsApp?

The people of Adjumani are predominantly Madi, but there’s a sizeable number of South Sudanese, indeed there are a few refugee settlements around the town. So you get a plethora of languages spoken, from Madi to Dinka, even Arabic.

In the middle of the main roundabout is the statue of a rooster, which appears to be the official ‘animal’ of the district. Someone will have to explain that to me; in Gulu it is the elephant, Fort Portal has a line, but Adjumani has a rooster (my female colleagues liked to sue the ‘other word’ for rooster).

Adjumani3

‘at the roundabout, take a left’, the man said…

There are also several small ‘roundabouts’ made of old car tires, which was a problem for us at first, as the guy that gave us directions told us to ‘take a left at the roundabout’, except we couldn’t find the roundabout. But a passing boda guy saved the day, when he pointed to the old tyre and said, ‘that’s the roundabout’.

The main business on Adjumani’s main street, apart from Mobile Money, seems to be selling phones and Bluetooth speakers. And they start very early in attracting customers by playing very loud music, so it is difficult to sleep past 7am on any given day. All kinds of phones are on sale, and I bought a data cable for my Samsung at sh6,000, which the lady at the shop in Quality Village, Naalya had quoted sh40,000. It’s still working just fine, so I guess it was a good deal.

Main Street, Adjumani PHOTO BY KALUNGI KABUYE

Main Street, Adjumani

Adjumani is usually hot, and temperatures average 30°C; so the hotel staff seems shocked when you ask if there is hot water in the shower.

After a week we left, and although it had rained quite a bit, the roads had dried up again, so it was smooth driving all the way back. Au revoir, Adjumani.

 

 

UGANDAN’S AND THE QUEST FOR MEDIOCRITY

(this article first run in the New Vision of Nov 1st, 2019)

All he wanted was to share his frustration at a service provider that almost ruined his niece’s birthday, instead he got a bashing. He was called names, abused, branded a ‘hater that wants to bring someone’s business down’, and even called a racist monkey. Sound familiar? It should, if you live in this our Uganda.

It is almost inevitable that if you complain, publicly, about some poor service you have encountered, someone will first tell you that you used the ‘wrong forum’. What’s Ugandans’ fascination with the ‘right forum’? I just don’t get it. They claim that if someone does you bad, you take him to a quiet corner and explain what they did wrong. But as this story will show, when a service provider refused to apologise publicly for not being above board, what will they do to you in that dark corner?

By the time a client goes public about poor service, they are probably fed up to their gills with it; and Andrew literary was sick to the bones with this particular service provider.

So, here’s the story. Andrew’s niece’s birthday was coming up, and they had not ordered a cake. But he had seen these great pictures of cakes on Facebook, so he contacted one baker, Anitah, if she could make a cake and deliver the very next day. And she said she could, but he had to pay a deposit, which he did.

The day of the birthday party came, but after confirming delivery was on the way, Anitah did a disappearing act. Anyone that has done business in Kampala knows this is much too familiar, and probably is the reason why, in spite of being ranked the world’s most entrepreneurial country, most Ugandan businesses never last beyond one or two years.

These business owners think they are doing you a favour by even talking to you, so they limit that ‘talking’. Which drove Andrew mad, and to try and get a response, and not disappoint his very anxious niece, he took to social media. He posted screenshots of his WhatsApp conversation with Anitah on a popular food page, and hoped she would be shamed into making good on her promise. And it apparently worked, because eventually the cake was delivered, it was judged to be indeed delicious, and the little girl was happy. End of story, you would think? No way!

screenshots of Andrew's conversation with Anitah

Because his screenshots post had gone viral, and within an hour had garnered hundreds of comments. Some called upon Anitah to apologise, and life would go on. But there were many that insisted that Andrew had done wrong in airing his frustrations to the public.

Some particularly bitter ones had it that while Ugandans were hustling to improve their lives, ‘haters’ like Andrew were busy trying to bring them down. One particularly nasty one wrote that Ugandans indeed were ‘monkeys’, and don’t appreciate other people’s hustles.

The next day there were calls for Anitah to at least apologise to Andrew, but again the mediocre brigade went into attack mode. Who’s Andrew to ask for an apology, they asked? Hundreds of clients are disappointed every day, one wrote; they don’t ask for apologies, what makes Andrew feel he is entitled to one?

apology

In a bizarre twist, some called upon Andrew to apologise for ‘tarnishing’ Anitah’s reputation. This would be very funny, if it wasn’t very sad. Ugandans are so determined and proud to defend mediocrity, they will attack anyone that tries to insist on excellence, or even just asking for people to do what they promise to do.

To these misguided miscreants (someone who behaves badly or does not obey rules), to do good is a crime, but to be a mediocre is something to be celebrated. These degenerates act like Uganda is one big ghetto, and everyone is trying to make a score, who cares about the rest?

These depraved, flagitious, nefarious, perverse, reprehensible villains are the types that gave former Kampala Mayor Nasser Sebaggala a heroes’ welcome after he served a jail sentence in the USA for fraud.

These wicked, unprincipled, corrupt and unprincipled reprobates are also the ones that recently lined up to welcome the convict Mbuga at the airport after he was imprisoned for stealing someone else’s money and money laundering, among other crimes. His estranged ‘wife’, Leilah Kayondo, even addressed a press conference where she declared that she was happy to see him back, and he knows where to find her. This in spite of the fact she took him to police for battering her, after which he went and married another woman.

These wanton and immoral Ugandans are the ones who love to call people tycoons, and think the conmen who pretend to be witchdoctors in South Africa, then come to blow their ill-gotten gains at so-called ‘money-parties’ are great role models. They think Zari Hassan is really a boss lady, even if her main claim to fame are the number of ceilings she has looked up at. They think Bad Black is the real thing, after all she had the biggest score a Ugandan has ever done.

Back to Anitah and her hustle of baking cakes, which is the new ‘traders from China’. There was a time everyone who had any little money went to China to buy cheap goods to sell to undiscerning customers. But the customers eventually got tired of buying stuff that doesn’t even a last a week, so those traders had to look for something new, and many have turned to baking cakes.

In every suburb in Kampala, there’s a baker on almost every street. Some are really good, others mediocre but full of self-importance, and others like Anitah won’t answer your calls.

There are tens of thousands of people on the different Kampala-based food pages, but I doubt if any of them will be giving orders to Anitah. They saw what happened to Andrew, and they don’t want it to happen to them.

DANIEL M. KYANDA – A BUDONIAN’S BUDONIAN

(this article first run in the New Vision of September 20th, 2019)

Kyanda

He had spent all his school life at King’s College, Budo, but when the chance came for him to head the institution that had nurtured him, and which he loved with all his heart, he hesitated. For all the then 64 years of existence, Budo had never had an African Headmaster, and this 30-year-old was not sure if he was really up to it.

In fact, it was the second time he had been approached for a position at Budo. In 1966, he was given the chance to become the first teacher of colour at the school, which he declined, because he had no intention of ‘just adding colour’, as he would later put it. He did teach for one term, but that was all he could stand, so he left to become a teacher at Lubiri.

But it was different this time, because his former Headmaster, Ian Robinson, was retiring. Times were changing, and the school needed somebody completely dedicated to taking it into the future, which was continually looking ominous. So he prayed about it, the strong Christian that he was.

That praying would last for more than six months, but he still wasn’t convinced he was the one, and hoped that someone else would be appointed. But the Board of Governors and Robinson were convinced that Daniel Kyanda, all of 30 years old, was the perfect person for the job. He was, as he would later be described, the ultimate ‘Budonian’s Budonian’.

Son of a Sazza chief, the young Kyanda joined Budo Junior School in 1947, long before it became ‘independent’ and moved to its own campus at Kabinja in 1958. By that time he was leaving King’s College, Budo with a First Class School Certificate to join Makerere, where he read English, History and Geography.

But, most importantly to him and ultimately to everybody he interacted with, he had dedicated his life to Jesus Christ just before he joined Makerere. He was to immerse himself in Christian activities, but he did find time to play cricket, which he had learnt at Budo. He was so good at it that he was named to the then Makerere College first team.

After his short stint as a teacher at Budo, he spent the next four years teaching at Lubiri School, where he would become Head of the Geography Department and Deputy Headmaster. After that he took up a position at the Pan African Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Nairobi. But just before that, he had married his sweetheart, Victoria.

He was in Nairobi when the letter inviting him to become the first African headmaster of the country’s top school came, and he prayed about it.

“I was brought up and nurtured at Budo, everything that I am is a result of the years I spent there, and I was prepared to give the very best I could, God helping me,” he would say.

His image of Budo was that of a school producing people of ‘discipline and self-respect, inner directed men and women of character behaving with dignity and restraint whether in high office or at home’.

He saw a school that would produce educated men and women, ‘able to judge a case or course of action in a rational manner, with independence of thought, free from discrimination, true and consistent to their principles and practice, widely informed yet always ready to learn; tolerant of others but intolerant of error’.

So in 1971, he entered the staff room to address his first staff meeting. In attendance were 28 teachers, 25 whites, and only 3 Africans. With a tongue firmly in his cheek, he told them that he had come to ‘add colour’ to the school.

“While my first wish was to ensure continuity I, at the same time, wanted to do something that fitted with my beliefs, training and personality,” he would relate. “I wanted to assure the students that each of them counted. I wanted to ensure they all had ready access to me.”

The mainly white staff did not take kindly to this seemingly very un-English way of running the school, which was after all based on a typical English school. But to their credit, they did not challenge him, but gave him time to make things run his way.

But that time did not materialise, because things beyond his control would soon pose the biggest challenge he had ever faced in his life. In 1971, military commander Idi Amin overthrew Milton Obote and began on a military dictatorship. At first all was well, and the country celebrated the removal of a very unpopular leader. But Amin would soon show his true colours, and that would bring immense problems for the young headmaster.

In 1972 Amin expelled all Asians and, fearing for their fate, most of the white teachers also left. Barely a year after he became headmaster, he only had a teaching staff of only 13 for over 500 students. A-Level students had to take turns in teaching the O-Level classes; in addition, the breakdown of the economy meant it was becoming increasingly difficult to feed the students. From having bread, butter and eggs for breakfast, Budo could only offer watery porridge to the students.

The students, inevitably, did not understand what was going on, and not a few ‘food strikes’ broke out. But Kyanda tried his best to insulate the school from what was fast becoming a kind of Wild West society. Some of Amin’s military commanders could not understand why he would not give their children places in the school, and at one time a colonel sent lorries full of soldiers to teach him the ‘correct way’, but he evaded them and survived.

It was a terrible comedown for Daniel Kyanda, from the heights of heading the best school in the country, to scavenging for food from villages to be able to feed the students. Depression set in, and he almost had a nervous breakdown. Much as he loved Budo, for his health and the well being of his family, he had to leave the school that had been such a big part of his life.

Kyanda_11a

A group of Old Budonians pay visit to Daniel Kyanda

But in spirit, Daniel Musisi Kyanda never left the school, and Budo never left him. Last week on Wednesday, we laid him to rest. He was not the first, nor will he be the last, but there rests a truly ‘Budonian’s Budonian’.

 

 

WHO’LL CLEAN THIS UP? A NIGHT IN MBARARA

Hotel Kash_a

It was the end of a long and exhausting week working on a project in western Uganda, and on our last night we decided to spend the night in Mbarara, in order so we could leave early on Sunday morning back to Kampala and normality. I had not been to Mbarara for several years, but the last time I had stayed at the Acacia Hotel, on the recommendation of a friend. It was mid-range, as far as Mbarara Hotels go, was slightly out of town and was a relatively quiet place last time I was there, so it was just what I needed to recuperate.

But when we got to Mbarara on Saturday evening, we found it was fully booked out. Silly me had assumed we could just walk in and get rooms; seems Mbarara had moved on since I was there last, and hotel business is booming.

Then I remembered that during the last time I had covered Miss Uganda, I had stayed at the Hotel Kash; it was not a very satisfactory stay, but hey, the devil you know, and all that; so we drove to that street that has about half a dozen hotels. Hotel Kash seemed to have been stuck in time, with the same weird set up, the same slow and seemingly un-interested staff, and the reception still had that first generation computer the size of an old TV.

They assured us they had rooms available, so we asked if we could check them out. I have had some not very nice experiences with up country hotels, ranging from showers that don’t work, lack of hot water (a hot shower after a day’s field work can be the stuff of heaven), and doors that do not close; so the veteran that I am now demands to check out the rooms before checking in.

One of the male staff offered to show us the rooms they had, so off we went to what now seemed very familiar territory. The first room he showed us seemed decent enough, the windows actually closed properly, and next was to check if the showers worked. They did, and I was about to ask if there was hot worker, when the guy let out what sounded like a cry of despair.

Him: Why did you do that?

Me: Do what?

Him: Turn the water on

Me: I was checking if the shower worked, you have a problem with that?

Him: Yes, who’s going to clean this up?

Me: Excuse me? You don’t have cleaners?

Him: they’ve left, so who’s going to clean it up?

I wanted to laugh, the whole thing was so darn funny, and thought he was just pulling one on me. But dude seemed very serious, and extremely upset that I had turned on the water to check if the shower was actually working, at a time when the cleaners had left for the day.

But wait, what kind of hotel was this that didn’t have cleaners on call throughout the day? I really wanted to give him a piece of my mind and a lecture on how hotels should be run, but I was tired and just wanted to rest, so I put it down to typical Mbarara arrogance and left.

Down the road was the Oxford Inn, another one I had spent some not very memorable nights in the past. But the staff was very polite and friendly, it looked a lot cleaner and more organised, and they didn’t mind if I turned on the water to check if the shower worked. The door to the balcony didn’t lock properly, but they had a worker fix that very quickly, and they offered me the WI-FI password as soon as I checked in (most hotels you have to practically beg for the password, and in some it is only the manager who knows it, but he never seems to be around).

We had planned to check out Mbarara’s famed night life, but we were all very tired, so we decided to take a rain-check, and just sleep. But they forgot to tell us that Mbarara indeed does not sleep. Very loud music played till about 4:30am, then at 5am what must have been LDUs trainees passed by under my window, singing very loud drill songs. Then at 6am, the churches kicked in. And that folks, was the night in Mbarara.

THE SHE CRANES, BYABASHAIJA AND UGANDA’S DEFEATIST ATTITUDE

she cranes2

You really have to feel for the She Cranes, Uganda’s national netball team. They have fought against almost impossible odds to make the biggest international impression any Ugandan sports team has ever done, but nobody seems to be cutting them any slack, least of all the very people that should be having their backs, Uganda government officials.

During the last week of the Netball World Cup, the She Cranes were due to play the SPAR Proteas of South Africa in a do or die match-up. What was up for grabs was a chance to qualify for the semi-finals and a guaranteed position in the world’s top four. The She Cranes had lost to England, but had won the next two games, against Scotland and Trinidad & Tobago. Ranked 6th in the world, this was their biggest chance to go where no Ugandan team had ever gone (By contrast, the soccer Cranes are ranked 72nd).

You would imagine the whole country would be behind them, wishing them well and giving them positive vibes in the battle to come. Maybe the First Lady (under whose docket sports in this country falls) called them that morning and offered them blessings, maybe other ‘important’ Ugandans also called, to make them feel what they were doing for Uganda was important. At least the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga tweeted her support and confidence in their ability.

Then what goes and happens? The Commissioner General of Prisons, Johnson Byabashaija, posts the most amazing tweet of all; he said that he ‘expected South Africa to beat the She Cranes, no doubt about that’. What kind of captain tells his troops before a major battle that the other guys are too good and are going to wipe you out? That they are better armed, better paid, and probably had bacon for breakfast and so y’all should just roll over and die?

she cranes3

To their credit #UOT (Ugandans on Twitter) quickly took him on, but he was unapologetic. He claimed he was being realistic, really? So would Queen Elizabeth 1 of England, upon being told that the Spanish Armada, the largest collection of war ships the world had ever seen, was heading towards England have picked up her expensive gowns and fled England? What would have happened to world history if the Duke of Wellington, seeing he was facing Napoleon with an enormous French army at Waterloo, told his men that they did not stand a chance? Or what if David had taken one look at Goliath and fled, would Israel now be the land of the Philistines?

I have competed in sports almost all my life, and you do not go for any competition not expecting to win, otherwise you might as well as stay home and feed the dogs. And I know that no captain or team coach ever tells his players that their opponents are better than them, and that they ‘expect to lose’. It does not matter if it was ‘realistic’, you NEVER SAY THAT! Which just goes to show how our leaders have no absolute idea what time it is.

As it turned out, the game against South Africa was a lot closer than everyone thought it would be. The obviously exhausted She Cranes (blame it on poor preparation, where was Byabashaija then?) had fought back to come within 5 goals of South Africa in the third quarter. They had outplayed, outhustled and out-shot their opponents. But they were tired, and maybe they had read Byabashaija’s comments that they were expected to lose, anyway. So they stopped fighting, stopped putting in that extra effort to catch that errant pass, stopped hustling and bumping the opponents, who started scoring freely and run away for a 27-goal victory.

And you know what Byabashaija and his cohorts said after that? That ‘we told you so’; and yes, the Prisons boss had his supporters, unbelievable as it might sound. Some said Byabashaija had a right to his own opinion, others that he was speaking the truth; yet others said Uganda can never do anything good, and that we were destined to be beaten.

Byabashaija, as a leader, should have known better than to post that tweet; but because he saw nothing wrong in doing so, and had people support him, shows the inherent defeatist attitude in many Ugandans. My country mates are so used to being second or third best that they frown at any attempts to be the very best.

The Uganda Prisons, which Byabashaija heads, has always been a power house in Ugandan netball. The big fish in a small pond syndrome, if you will. Reminds me of the time in my youth when the Prisons basketball team, because it had access to facilities none of us did, was supposed to be unbeatable. But that did not stop a bunch of young guys of the Charging Rhino wiping them off the court. Many of them were so depressed they never played competitive basketball again. Prisons also had the best tae-kwon-do instructors, from Korea; but we kept on knocking the Prisons guys out till we were stopped from training with those instructors. But we still continued knocking them out.

Incidentally, the English victory over the Spanish Armada started that little island’s march onto becoming the biggest empire the world has ever seen. If Queen Elizabeth had told her troops that she expected them to lose, we would all probably be speaking Spanish.

 

IT’S THE IMPUNITY, STUPID!

bamugemereire

does anyone think we shall ever see the report of the Land Inquiry Commission?

The year was 1992, and Bill Clinton, then Governor of the state of Arkansas in the USA, was up against the incumbent George H.W. Bush in presidential elections. Just a year earlier, after the Gulf War, Bush had an approval rating of around 92%. So Clinton needed something that will grab the attention of American voters, and make them forget the war that the US is supposed to have won.

As the story goes, Clinton’s campaign strategist explained and insisted that, ‘the economy, stupid’, should be their main focus in an internal memo to the campaign team. The team quickly realised the phrase could be a rallying call for the campaign, and used it in all subsequent advertising and statements. It quickly caught on, Americans forgot the war that was never won, and Clinton surged in the polls. He eventually won the election, and the phrase passed on into popular culture, and has been used to describe all kinds of circumstances.

Which brings me to Uganda, and the answer as to what ails our country is as simple as what the Clinton team realised all those years ago – ‘it’s the impunity, stupid!’

From top government officials to the plumber you call to fix a leaking pipe, they do not do what they should or are supposed to, and they do not really care because, ‘what are you going to do?’

The saddest example of impunity is exhibited by the people who like to refer to themselves as ‘honourable’, members of what is usually called the ‘august’ house. ‘August’ in this case does not refer to the calendar month, but to something that is ‘respected and impressive’. Sadly our Members of parliament are far from these attributes. The so-called ‘representatives of the people’ forget all about that once they get elected, and it is soon becomes ‘for me and my stomach’.

Although they are amongst the best paid people in this matooke republic, they still want more and more, and the fact that they decide their own emoluments means they can satisfy their basest wishes. They have increased their pay at regular intervals, and stopped any taxation of their allowances, among other things. But the lowest point was when they decided that tax payers, the people they supposedly represent, will not only pay for their use of social media, but also the OTT. Yes sir, these honourable people, who are the best paid in the land, did not want to pay the measly sh6,000 a month for use of social media. That is impunity right there.

So of course if the MPs can ‘did it’ and get away with it, so can everyone else. So that government official who has access to public funds will believe it is his right to divert them to his own use, after all the MPs do it. The anti-corruption bodies will carry out token investigations, a few people will be taken to court, but the majority get away with their ill-gotten gains.

The feeling is that the government will not really do anything, so impunity will reign. Whole institutions have taken this impunity thing to great heights, to such an extent that the stench becomes so strong and so obvious that the powers that be realise they have to do something. So some smart public fellow came up with the idea of public commissions of inquiry.

There have been several public commissions of inquiry in different institutions, and for a period they have their moment in the light, spend a lot of public money, uncover a lot of rot, and eventually write extensive reports that get buried in some government stores that must be bursting at the seams with reports.

I think the only report of a public commission of inquiry to be published was the one set up in 1986 to look into human rights abuses by previous governments. Lots of people showed up to testify, and a lot of truths came to light, and fingers were pointed at perpetrators of heinous crimes. So the commission compiled its report, and the people waited for action to be taken against those mentioned – but nothing happened.

Remember the ‘infamous’ Sebutinde commission of inquiry into the Uganda Police Force? What was revealed of the impunity of the police was really shocking, but that report has never seen the light of day, and all those mentioned went right back to do what they were doing.

Other commissions of inquiries included one into the Kanungu massacre, another Sebutinde one into the URA that revealed shocking levels of corruption, one into the Uganda Wildlife Authority, junk helicopters, Global Fund, and several others. But nothing has ever really come out of all those commissions.

Apart from a few bruised egos when shady deals come to light, mostly nothing happens afterwards, and people continue to do what they have been doing. Again, impunity right there

So, if Members of Parliament, government officials and the police can get away with all kinds of nasty dealings, what is the public going to do about it? It becomes a question of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’.

And when that government official with an illegal lead car forces his way through traffic with sirens blaring, then Musoke, Ochaya and Mugisha will also follow suit. And bodabodas will do anything and ride anywhere they want, after all the police is busy trying to get ‘kitu kidogo’ from motorists to pay much attention to them.

The ongoing Bamugemereire land inquiry commission has uncovered shocking dealings of ‘connected’ people acting with impunity to acquire land illegally. But does anyone really expect anything to come out of it? I bet the shelf the report will sit on has already been installed in that government store where such reports go to die. It’s the impunity, stupid!

 

NICOMPOOPS, AND MORE NICOMPOOPS!

(this article first run in the New Vision)

 If you have been on social media these past few weeks, you would have been inundated with dozens of your friend and acquaintances acting like total dunderheads posting spoilers, first for the new Game of Thrones season, and then the latest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, Avenger: End Game.

And when you complained, they defended their right to be absolute idiots, and their absolute right to rain on other people’s parades. It is a sign of the times that people not only are not afraid anymore of acting like total fools, but are proud of it. Like an anonymous quote on Twitter had it, (paraphrased to avoid hurting some sensibilities) ‘posting spoilers is like pleasuring yourself in public, it’s only you that enjoys it while the rest look at you as an idiot’.

But enough of those losers, for there are others just like them in all walks of life. So here is presenting the nincompoops you find everywhere you go:

The National Council of Sports

No Ugandan national sports team has achieved more, or reached higher levels, than the She Cranes, our netball team. Against almost impossible odds, and with hardly any help from our authorities, they have nevertheless gone out and conquered the world of netball. Right now they are preparing and training for the Netball World Cup, which will take place in July.

They should be training, but they are not because, you guessed it, there is no money. That’s right, the whole team was told to stay away from training because the National Council of Sports had not given them any money. The NCS explanation? The government had not yet released money for the second quarter. The dates for the Netball world cup were set four years ago, and the whole country knows that, so why didn’t NCS officials, knowing government’s reluctance to release funds for sports activities, not plan for any eventualities? Now the girls, who stand a very good chance of having a stellar performance, are out of training. Yes ladies and gentlemen, the nincompoops do live among us.

Miss Curvy and the Minister

For the record, I truly feel for the ladies that took part in the recently convened so-called ‘Miss Curvy’ contest. But if there has ever been an officially sanctioned form of body shaming, this probably takes the cake. African men are reported to like their women with curves, fair enough, but they do want them firm, the kind that are worked on in a gym or aerobic classes; and not the ones formed from pork joints and ‘sittings’ .

It might sound unfair but I think all those contestants needed their BMIs straightened out, not paraded on a catwalk to wolf calls and loud laughter. I don’t know who the sponsors were, but among the prizes should have been a year’s membership to a health gym.

And of course that minister with a knee-jerk problem was there, proving that our public officials are immune to any kind of shaming. Questions have been asked whether this particular minister does a lot of sleeping, because he always seems to be dreaming up one crazy promotion after another, without really giving them enough thought or research. Yes, he is one of them.

Samsung stores

There are two ‘official’ Samsun stores in Kampala that I know of, one on Jinja Road, and another a rather new one at Forrest Mall. My last three phones have been Samsungs, and since I don’t trust replacement parts from those dime stores along Kampala Road, I make it a point to go for the real thing at the Samsun stores.

But unfortunately they don’t act like the have the real thing. Every time I’ve gone to both stores for a replacement battery or other part, either the part was not available, or they could call a guy who had it. I thought that kind of thing only happened on Luwum Street Arcades, and not certified Samsun stores? I will not pay Forest Mall prices to buy a spare part from a vendor hanging around the parking lot, and if that guy in the Forest Mall store whose attention was fixed on a candy crush game thought I would, you sir, are a nincompoop.

The Uganda Police

This kind of list would not be complete without the Uganda Police Force, who continuously come up with new and amazing ways of disproving that we should take them serious. The latest was when Fred Waninda, the Acting Commercial Court Registrar in Charge of Planning, Performance and Development was filmed assaulting a journalist that had gone to cover proceedings at the Commercial Court.

The aggrieved journalist, Hannington Kisakye of Smart TV, rushed to the Kampala Central Police Station to report the case of assault. And guess what our esteemed policemen on duty did? They declined to register the case, claiming they needed clearance before they did so. That’s right, the police that would usually arrest you for not eating all the bigenderako at a pork joint if a waitress complained, needed clearance to register a case of reported assault. Yes, they do live among us.

Honourable mentions

There must be something in the air around Forest Mall that makes people do the craziest things, from that Samsung employee that wanted to call a vendor for a spare part, to the girl in the Airtel office whose clip of her being rude to a customer went viral, you all deserve honourable mentions. I mean, in these days of social media, when everybody has a smart phone, you dare be rude? People have recorded terror attacks and police brutality, and you’re there trying to be cool and rude. A nincompoop to you, too.

OH THIS POLICE! (IN BONEY M’S VOICE)

This article run in the New Vision of April 18th, 2019

traffic police stopping a car

In 1978 the disco group Boney M released what would become one of their biggest songs, Rasputin. The song told the story of a Russian mystic who took control of the Russian royal family, forcing other power players to plan for his assassination. But it was not easy killing the monk, and he was poisoned, shot and thrown into the Moscow River. Eventually it was found he had drowned. The last phrase of the song summed up the entire weird story very aptly, ‘oohhh, those Russians!’

Since then the phrase has been used to describe things that defeat normal understanding, or as the English put it, buggers belief. The Uganda Police is one of those institutions that would drive you up the wall if you tried to understand why they do what they do.

Recently a story ran about a Kampala lawyer that had sued the police and government for wrongful imprisonment. The High Court sitting in Kampala found that the action of the police was not only illegal and high handed, but they had also ignored court orders.

John Kaggwa

What happened is that some people went to the police and complained that the lawyer, John Kaggwa, had received money through false pretences. The police summoned Kaggwa to explain what had happened, and in spite of providing evidence to prove his case, he was instead arrested.

First of all this is very typical of the Uganda Police, they will arrest anyone on any kind of complaint, and then claim to start investigations later. The lawyer was thus confined at a police station, and he spent longer than the mandatory 48 hours within which the police are supposed to prefer charges against a suspect. The lawyer even got a court order for his release, but the police ignored it, and only released him much later.

Of course the lawyer sued, and was eventually awarded sh300m in damages. What is more, and what should be a game changer, was that the police officer responsible for the whole drama, a one William Wilber Kototyo, was also sued in his personal capacity, and ordered to pay the lawyer sh6m.

This ruling by the High Court should be a watershed moment for all Ugandans, and everyone yearning for a society that follows laws and order. The Police is regularly listed as one of the most corrupt institutions in the country, but nothing changes because the individual officers often act with impunity, knowing even if the victim sued for redress, it is the taxpayers to foot the bill. And in the meantime some ‘kitu kidogo’ could have changed hands.

But not anymore, if only Ugandans could wake up and smell the coffee. Mr Kaggwa has shown us the way and the light, so darkness should never rule the land again.

First of all, it is a safe bet that Police cells all over the country are bursting with ‘suspects’ that have been incarcerated for longer than the mandatory 48 hours. Going by Kaggwa’s case as a precedent, each one of those people are just waiting to collect sh300m from the government for unlawful detention.

So all those hustlers on city streets and phone thieves, who stand a very good chance of being lynched on a good day, can wake up to a new hustle. Get someone to go to the police with a complaint, some officer will most likely lock you up as ‘negotiations’ proceed. Make sure the said negotiations take longer than three days, after which either the complainant will give up interest in the case, or convince the police to let you go. After which you talk to your lawyer, and you could be sh300m richer. QED; who needs the lottery?

It gets even better because after the Kaggwa precedent, the police officer who refuses to release you is personally liable, just like Officer Kototyo who has to pay Kaggwa sh6m for ignoring court orders (he still hasn’t paid it, and Kaggwa insists he will take the policeman to jail).

You know those police traffic officers that will stop you, and then insist that you drive them to the police station? Ignore them, what are they going to do? If they forcibly arrest you, then it’s your turn for the sh300m, and you get to send them to jail, too, after that. Ever imagine what happens to a policeman who goes to the coolers and finds inmates he probably put there?

A cab driver I know was arrested because a lady who had hired him reported to police that he had stolen her iPhone. It did not matter that it was about five days later that the lady reported the case, and it was just a day to Christmas, the police locked up the poor guy anyway, as his friends and colleagues tried to raise money to bail him out.

After the fourth day, the lady called and said she had found her phone, and withdrew the charges, and the cab driver was released, but after paying a ‘release fee’. If the driver only knew Mr Kaggwa, he probably would be thanking that lady for ruining his Christmas that year.

MEMORIES OF APRIL FOOLS DAYS GONE BY

(this article run in the New Vision of Friday April 5th, 2019)

My most outstanding memory of an April Fools’ Day was when we had just joined Senior One at King’s College, Budo. Early one morning (it was actually 2am), all the njukas (Senior Ones) were woken up, and told there was supposed to be a very important meeting at Girl’s End, very big government officials were expected, and so we had to carry chairs and tables to the venue of the meeting.

budo chapel

Of course it all didn’t make sense to me, not least of all that it had been drummed into us that Girls End was out of bounds for boys after dark, on pain of expulsion; and when I checked the new watch I had been given as a present for passing PLE very well, I saw it was 2am in the morning, so I protested. Couldn’t it wait till day break, I asked? The bigger boys, mostly Senior Twos, would hear none of it, and insisted that all njukas should get up and start ferrying the chairs.

I refused to get out of bed, and they eventually left me alone, warning that disciplinary action was coming my way and I wouldn’t last that term as a student. It all turned out to be a prank, of course, and the poor njukas that had carried those chairs to Girls End had to carry them back again, with the whole school laughing and calling them April Fools.

In school the most common prank was to tell a student that he was needed by such and such a teacher, and usually by the time break time came up, there was a line of very worried students waiting outside the staffroom to answer unknown charges. Some of the teachers would join in the fun of the moment, and would give the waiting students stern looks, but otherwise ignore them till it was time to go back to class, when they would be told they were ‘ April fools’.

The media usually plays along and publishes outlandish stories on April 1st but which many people fall for, time after time. The New Vision has always done so, including a hilarious one when a front page story broke the news that scientists had made the discovery that the continued consumption of pork causes sterility and impotency in men. The whole of Kampala panicked, and since that was before social media, many people did not realise it was just a joke till  many days later, in spite of the last paragraph of the story declaring it an April Fools’ Day prank (we all know Ugandans don’t like reading up to the end of things, anyway). Sales at the numerous pork joints plummeted, and didn’t recover till much later.

The BBC once published a story that due to an unusual alignment of the planets in the solar system, earth’s gravity would be momentarily and substantially less, and so if someone jumped in the air they would be able to float for a moment. They then went around filming people jumping in the air and trying to float, he he he.

So, where did this thing come from? Who cares, really? It’s all supposed to be just good fun, isn’t it? Not all the time, unfortunately, and some jokes turned out to be not quite funny, after all.

Like the lady that pranked her boyfriend. She waited till it was just after midnight of April 1st, and sent him a message that she was pregnant, what were they going to tell her father? She then switched off her phone and went to bed, planning to tell him the next day that it was a prank and share a hearty laugh with him, or so she hoped.

Unfortunately the boyfriend freaked out, and by the time she switched her phone on again the next morning, there must have been a thousand messages from him. He demanded that she gets rid of the pregnancy, and wanted to know how much it would cost. Thinking he was playing along, she mentioned a ridiculously high figure, but he promptly sent her the money. That is when she realised he hadn’t got the joke. But then she got upset that he would want her to get rid of a pregnancy, called him all sorts of names, and broke off the relationship. Guess they both ended up April Fools.

While that lady probably lost a boyfriend she could have done without, a TV producer in Boston lost his job when his April Fools’ Day prank also went too far. The station aired footage warning that a nearby hill had turned into an active volcano and was about to erupt. There was panic and by the time the station revealed that it was an April Fools’ Day joke, half the town had been evacuated. So was that producer from his job.

What about the woman that called and told her sister that she had just shot her husband, and would the sister come help bury him? Instead the sister called the police, who went with sirens blaring and guns drawn to find the husband sitting in the garden, trying to fight off a hangover. That woman spent the day in a police cell, guess the joke was on her after all.