PHONE CAMERAS TO THE RESCUE FROM TRAFFIC DWANZIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

drivers creating extra lanes along the Ntinda-Kiwatule road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE STREISAND EFFECT AND LESSONS FOR UGANDA ‘CELEBRITIES’

Streisand

American actor and singer Barbara Streisand

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

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

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

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

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

mansion

Streisand’s Malibu mansion

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

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

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

Luzinda

Desire Luzinda

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FARMING IS A THING OF THE SPIRIT

the passion fruits plants 7 months later

7 months old passion fruits plants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearing the land last May

clearing the land readying for planting last May

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

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

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

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

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

 

OF BELLYACHING UGANDANS AND TRAFFIC LIGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

traffic lights_Lugogo

Traffic lights at Lugogo

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

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

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

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

REMEMBERING HERBERT WAMALA

Herbet Wamala_1b

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budo_9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

BLACK PANTHER, AND TOWARDS THE END OF WHITE PRIVILEGE

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

Black Panther_a

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wakanda_2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CAN WE ALL SHOOT THE DARN DEEJAYS?

Deejay

A few days ago we were at one of the quieter pubs in Ntinda, unwinding after a hectic week. The resident Deejay was playing music videos, mainly of ‘oldies’, as most of the clientele was of that preference.

As Deejays go, he usually does a good job, and he outdid himself when he played Come go with me by Mavis Staples. It is a really uplifting song, and gets better when the guitarist does a jazz riff towards the end. But halfway through the song, the Deejay cut it off and mixed it with another, completely different song with a different tempo.

You should have heard the howls of protest that went up after that, so much that the Deejay was forced to replay the video, all the way till the end. After that he was told to play the next videos till the end, and not cut them half way.

I am not a professional Deejay, but have had my stints at the ones and twos. Apart from the tempo, I am guided by the fact that I like the music I’m playing, and would want to listen to the songs I know and like.

It is different in discos (or clubs, as I was told ‘disco’ is so 20th century), where the people go to dance and it is important to keep the beat going from song to song. But how many clubs do we have in Uganda? After Club Silk closed, the only ‘club’ I go to is Guvnor, and that is when either the Afrigo band is playing, or when it is their ‘Oldies night’.

In most other places, folks are just having a drink and listening to the music. And when you are listening to your favourite songs, the similarity of beats from one song to another does not really matter. So why don’t Deejays get it?

A couple of years ago I had a very long photoshoot that included shooting models at sunrise over the lake, which meant we had to be in Entebbe before 6am. The shoot took the whole day and at the end I was solely tired and need to unwind over a drink and listening to some good music.

I went to a place called Triple R in Ntinda, it was a Saturday and I knew there would be very few people there. When I got there the soccer had ended and in fact I was the only person in there, apart from the bored waitresses.

There was this young Deejay who did what every Deejay loves doing, mixing. But he would cut the songs halfway, even the selections I asked him to play. Irritated, I asked why he did that, who was he playing for? He answered that he was ‘being professional’, and that professional Deejays mixed songs!

I thought professional Deejays try to make the people they are playing for happy? He didn’t want to know, so I cursed him out and left. Of course I complained to the management, and glad to say we did not see that Deejay again, hopefully he is probably ‘mixing’ in Kimombasa or someplace like that.

Then there is very popular place in Ntinda called Old Timerz. It is a nice and decent place, and as the name implies, they play old time music. But it does tend to get very busy on Fridays and Saturdays, so we laid back folks like going there on Sundays to chill.

Once in a while the resident Deejay would play a rhumba song, especially one by either Madilu or Franco, or at times Afrigo. That always gets some folks dancing, and the rest don’t really mind.

But at times they switch Deejays, and this particular Sunday the replacement Deejay thought he would get the people dancing again. So he played the same Lingala songs the previous Dejay had played, and others he thought people liked. Except these were kwasa kwasa. Now, I don’t mind rhumba, especially on an easy Sunday, but kwasa kwasa can hurt your ears, and give you a headache. And typical of Deejays, he wouldn’t listen, so again I cursed him out and left (my curse seems to work, for I haven’t seen that Deejay there again).

A few weeks ago, we had a family function, and my sister asked me to bring some music we would listen to. It was not a party, just a ‘polite’ get together. But the youthful Deejay (apparently he was from UCU) decided he would play the worst of Uganda’s ‘kidandali’ sound.

Exasperated, we left him all alone in the garden and went indoors. The silly fellow played his very irritating music louder and louder, and started dancing all by himself. At the end he even came dancing where we could see him (we only discovered much later where the wine we had left in the garden had gone to).

Are all Deejays naturally half-wits, or does the music they play loudly for a long time scramble their brains? I don’t really care, and next time a Deejay pisses me off, I swear I’m going to shoot them.

 

COMING TO A WHATSAPP GROUP NEAR YOU

WhatsApp

By the time you have finished reading this sentence, it is estimated that about one hundred new WhatsApp groups would have been created worldwide. Latest estimates have it that over one billion people in more than 180 countries are active on WhatsApp, and this number will only increase almost exponentially. Whatever you think, or what your take on social media is, you are not going to escape this latest trend in communication.

For the record, WhatsApp was created by two ex-employees of Yahoo that could not get employment by Facebook. Ironically, Facebook bought WhatsApp for almost $20bn in 2014, only five years after refusing to employ the duo.

Also for the record, it is no longer just a new-fangled creation for the so-called ‘Generation Lol’, or a venue for slay-queens to share meaningless conversations. With the introduction of WhatsApp for Web, it is increasingly becoming the venue where businesses are communication and sharing information. Anything and everything from documents to pdfs and of course pictures can now be sent via WhatsApp.

There are many advantages and disadvantages to using WhatsApp, and a quick Google search will come up with several dozen of each. But the biggest advantage is that is free. As long as one has data on their phone, they are in touch with the whole world.

And they are no limits to how many messages you can send, or to how many people. With the supposed upcoming reduction in the cost of data in Uganda, chances are more people will soon be communicating via WhatsApp than any other means. Personally I make very few voice calls, much of what I want done is communicated via WhatsApp.

Another big advantage is security. In spite of what some authorities might claim, they cannot access what you have shared with another person. If the British MI6 failed to crack the encrypted communication of some alleged terrorists, how could some small fellows sitting in a small corner of Kampala be able to do so? And remember the FBI and Apple? Nobody is going to hack your WhatsApp messages, believe me.

But what is going to impact our way of life the most is the Group Chat. For better or for worse, the Group Chat is changing the way we lead our lives, and even the way we do business.

There are Group Chats for every kind of activity, from pubs to sports clubs to companies. With the ability to be able to send a file of up to 100MBs (some companies limit email attachments to 5MBs, bandwidth things…), one can share high resolution images at no extra cost.

But this not a column on technical stuff, rather society, so I will go on to the etiquette of WhatsApp groups, or the lack of it.

Becoming part of a WhatsApp group is voluntary, although you can be added to any kind of group once the admin knows your telephone number, or via an Internet link. You are free to leave, of course, unless you live in Malaysia and other predominantly Muslim countries. Apparently there it is considered a sin of rudeness leaving a WhatsApp group without apologising to the members and the admin, and explaining why you are leaving. If they don’t accept your reasons, they can add you right back, and there is nothing you can do about it.

‘Blue-ticking’ is when you read a message, and the sender sees two blue ticks. So you can no longer claim to have not seen a message, although of course you can disable that application so nobody can know whether you have seen a message or not. But it also means you will not know if the message you sent was actually seen, and your better half might ask why you disabled it.

Groups have all kinds of people, and if you join one it means everyone in that group will know who you are, if they want to. On the other side, many of them might prefer the use of pseudo or fake names, which can be a real pain when trying to identify who posted what.

But that is not the worst of it, there are always people that think everyone is interested in the latest gossip, or a joke that has been making the rounds for the last ten years. The group might have been set up for a business venture, or to bring people together for a common purpose like, say, farming or neighbourhood security; but somebody will share what was on last night’s ‘Agataliko Nfuufu’, or a 2,000 word message from some con-artist pastor.

But eventually each group will no doubt come up with guides on how its members will interact with each other, on the pain of being removed. Does that give the admins dictatorial powers? A case for another day.

I shall end with a hilarious story I heard over the weekend, about a fellow that wanted to send a graphic image to his girlfriend, but instead sent it to a group he belonged to with his wife. So maybe WhatsApp will add to the efforts to bring discipline to this country, because I bet that fellow will read each message he sends at least twice, and be very careful to where he sends it. Hopefully that will also translate to the way he drives.

 

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.

 

 

‘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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