THE FORMER PRIEST AND HIS GHOST SEX MACHINE

 

I usually don’t like folks that go, ‘only in Uganda’. But where else can a whole Minister and his ‘sex committee’ play out their juvenile fantasies on the public’s expense? Time and again the ‘Hon’ Simon Lokodo, Minister of State for Ethics & Integrity in the Office of the President, has talked about importing a special machine that will be able to detect pornography in any form, and anywhere.

Lokodo

Simon Lokodo

But does a machine of that description even exist? Last year in August Lokodo declared to the media that a porn machine had been ordered from South Korea and would arrive within two months.

Bloggers and pundits outdid themselves in trying to guess what form the ‘porn machine’ would take; would it be like a satellite, hovering over Uganda with extremely powerful signals that would detect any amount of sexual excitement (the recently inaugurated Porn Committee declared that anything that causes sexual excitement is pornographic)?

Would it be mounted on trucks escorted by heavily armed policemen that would drive around seeking for people that are sexually excited? If even the American FBI could not hack into a phone used by a terrorist, how would Lokodo’s supposedly Korean-made porn machine hack into Ugandans’ phone to see if they were watching pornography?

A year later he was invited to appear on Urban TV and demonstrate that famous machine, but he huffed and puffed, declared he was disrespected, and refused to show up. But the former Catholic priest is now talking about software that would detect pornography in any form.

Last month the Pornography Control Committee, led by respected academic Dr Annette Kezaabu Kasimbazi, was sworn in. And Lokodo proudly declared that it will spend more than sh2bn in its efforts to stop pornography. Dr Kasimbazi was quoted as saying even phone texts between individuals that caused sexual excitement would be considered pornographic.

In a clear example of sexual excitement gone out of control, the good doctor was quoted as saying that well-built rugby players will have to cover up their chests when training, otherwise they might cause sexual excitement among watching females, thus be guilty in dealing in pornography, and could go to prison for ten years.

Kezaabu

Dr Annette Kezaabu Kasimbazi

Amidst all of this, folks conveniently forget that the Anti-Pornography Act was passed without a quorum in Parliament, the same afternoon that the Anti-homosexuality Act was passed. The latter was challenged and court declared it unconstitutional on that basis, so chances are that the first person ever charged with breaking the Anti-porn act will challenge its legality. And chances are high that it will be also be declared unconstitutional.

So why is Lokodo and his sex committee wasting our time and our resources? Can somebody call his bluff and challenge all this before a court of law? We really have better things to do with all the time and effort, and definitely that money can be used elsewhere, rather than let a former priest purse his obsession with things of the flesh.

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TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS ARE STILL THE EISH!

budo chapel

The chapel at King’s College, Budo

(this story first ran in the New Vision on June 2nd 2017)

A debate has been raging about the state of the so-called ‘traditional schools’, with some folks announcing how they are no longer relevant in modern Uganda. Fingers regularly get pointed at the results of national exams, where ‘modern’ schools now top the tables, as proof of the supposed demise of schools like King College, Budo, Gayaza, and St Mary’s Kisubi.

Sometime back I was approached by a journalist researching such a story, and asked my opinion because I attended Budo, and do not hide the fact (I was amused when, after giving her my opinion, she accused me of being biased. But it was my opinion, how can it be biased? Towards what, me? Ha ha)

In essence I explained that the so-called traditional schools still endeavour to do what they were established to do, and that is produce well educated individuals. In the past, this was enough for these students to also top the examination results tables.

But then things changed, when largely private schools realised it was good business for them to top exams results tables, and so their emphasis was on teaching students to pass exams. Many stories abound on how they do this, but they were successful, and these days schools with names like ‘London College’, ‘Manchester High School’, ‘Arsenal Campus’ and other colourful names top the lists.

The journalist asked me if traditional schools should also change their emphasis and teach their students how to pass exams. My answer? ‘Absolutely not!’ Schools like Budo should, and will continue to make sure they produce well educated students, even if they do not top exams results tables.

Some experts blame the high un-employment rates of young people on the fact that while they can pass exams, they are unemployable because they can’t do much else. I have personally encountered graduates of journalism with very good degrees who can’t write to save their lives.

A few days after this interview (which was not published, by the way), a report came out that one of the exams best-performing modern schools fared very badly at pre-entry exams for the Makerere Law School.

Out of 100 students from that school that sat for those exams, only 2 made it. And guess who topped that particular list? Drum roll… Kings College, Budo.

As people in South Africa would say (it’s also in the Oxford Dictionary, by the way), traditional schools are still the ‘eish’.

SOROTI AHOY!

Soroti rock

Soroti Rock is a landmark in the town

The last time I was in Soroti, we flew back to Kampala in the Presidential helicopter. The year was 2003, and the first season of the Big Brother Africa reality show had just ended after twelve tumultuous weeks. Uganda’s fist housemate, Gaetano Kagwa, had become an international phenomenon having had a stint in Big Brother UK and become a darling of the UK press.

His amorous liaison with South African housemate Abby had gripped television viewers right across the continent; and, although he did not win first prize, his return from South Africa saw one of the biggest crowds of people to go to Entebbe airport to welcome him back.

Soon word came down that President Museveni wanted to meet these people that had caught the fancy of many Ugandans and other people across Africa. But it turned out that the President was at that time camped in Soroti, so one Sunday morning, together with Housemates from Kenya and Tanzania, and officials from the then M-Net, we piled into Charles Hamya’s then rather small SUV and drove to Soroti.

It was a cramped ride, and the road was nowhere as smooth as it would later become. So when the meeting with the President was coming to an end, Abby asked him if we could use his helicopter to fly to Kampala, seeing the journey was rough and long. It was something of a gamble on Abby’s part, and we expected the President to just laugh it off. But he turned to his aides and asked if the helicopter was ready. They said it was fine, he said okay, we could have it, and I had my first chopper ride.

This time round, we drove to Soroti, and while the Nissan Hardbody is not the most comfortable ride, the roads were smooth, almost all the way. The project was to photograph all Vision Group radio presenters in northern Uganda. From Arua, we took the route through Anaka to Gulu, which was something of a revelation to me.

Several years ago I never would have in any wild imagination thought that we would be driving through deepest Acholi; apart from a short section which was being repaired, it was smooth motoring all the way to Gulu.

From Gulu, after shooting the presenters there, we drove down to the famous Corner Kamdini (I still haven’t got the story why so many places up north are called ‘corner’), branched off to Lira, and then took the bypass to the Soroti highway. It was also exciting to pass through Dokolo, and made sure Google had it on record that I was there.

Before we got to Soroti that rainy afternoon, I Googled places to stay. It was amazing that some of the better places to stay (as I was told) were all of five or more kilometres out of town; seems Soroti is one large town.

I ended up staying at the Landmark Hotel, not for any special reason but that it was the most accessible when we got there. It was half-decent, was bang in the middle of the CBD, and the receptionist had the widest smile I have ever seen at a hotel reception.

I also found out why it was probably named Landmark, because while it did not have a lounge, its large dining room served as a sort of meeting point for many of the locals. I must say I was amazed at the number of fine girls that came through the door, all tall and very shapely. It definitely was a model scout’s dream.

AB

With AB Etoori at the Landmark Hotel

I spent the free afternoon we had catching with an old friend, AB Etoori, whom I hadn’t seen in a long while. We had a lot to catch up on, not least of all the memories of all the stuff we got up to when were much younger than we are now. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to go see his place in Serere, but promised to do so at the earliest opportunity.

Heading back to Kampala we used the Tirinyi road, at one time arguably the best road in the country. But it seems the contractor doing repairs on the road was playing not by the books, so he was laid off, leaving parts of the highway not very smooth. But it is only a small part of it, although some politicians threatened to undress in public in protest.

Kibuku2

We also passed through Kibuku district just after Mbale, which led to a heated debate whether it was named for the frothy beer made out of sorghum, or the beer was named for the district.

 

IS THE TAKING OF SELFIES A FORM OF MENTAL ILLNESS?

selfie2

Recently, as is wont to happen, a document purporting to be from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) made the rounds on social media. In it, the APA is said to have confirmed that the taking of selfies is a form of mental illness. It claimed to spell out that there are three different levels of ‘selfitis’: borderline, acute and chronic, depending on how often one took selfies and posted them on social media.

The document further claimed that this obsessive disorder is brought about by the need to make up for a need in self-esteem and to fill a gap in intimacy.

Of course, a quick search on the Internet showed that this, like most stuff posted and shared on social media, was fake (and it originated from India, where it seems most of this fake stuff comes from). The APA pointed out on its website that there were actual and real mental disorders that needed attention and treatment, but that ‘selfitis’ was not one of them.

Maybe it is not officially a form of mental illness, but we all know that there is something not quite right with people that feel compelled to take pictures of themselves and share them with others, at times complete strangers.

A few years ago a group of journalists from across Africa were taken to South Africa to discover, and share, the attractions of the country. Among the journalists was a female that was taken along because of her presence on social media, and she was encouraged to share with her followers the places we visited.

But she spent the entire visit posting pictures of herself, albeit in the different places. But it was all about how she looked like, or what she was wearing. The client got so irritated that during the last few days she was left at the hotel where we stayed (not that it made any difference, she continued posting pictures of herself at the hotel, anyway. I understand she left ‘journalism’ soon after that and fled to Public Relations). We all agreed that she was not really being cricket.

While growing up we were taught (actually it was driven into us) that being vain was one of the worst things a person could be, and I think the Catholics have it as one of the deadly sins. It might not be in the Ten Commandments, but most religions frown on self-aggrandizement.

But these days self-aggrandizement seems to be the rage, from it being considered okay for men to make themselves look pretty; to the President of the most powerful country in the world claiming all kinds of attributes that we all know are not true, and can be disproved by a quick search. But that does not stop him from claiming he is the greatest thing to happen since history begun (we will know the apocalypse is at hand if he ever starts taking selfies).

And while it may not be officially declared a form of mental illness, selfie-taking can become very deadly. It was recently reported in the media how a group of teenagers on vacation drowned when their boat capsized because they all went to one side to take a selfie. It is estimated that at least 27 people died in India last year while taking selfies.

Selfies-taking is definitely a form of narcissism, which is defined as an excessive interest in one’s physical appearance (the word is taken from the Greek myth of Narcissus, a handsome boy that is said to have fallen in love with his own reflection in a pool of water).

Experts explain that while such people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration, they actually suffer from a fragile self-esteem.

Another dark side to selfies is that a whole generation might grow up thinking their self-worth depends on how many likes a selfie they shared got. Instead of being proud of coming first in class, or being a sports star, young people might be longing for the perfect pout to become popular.

Of course, that will last as long as the next popular picture, which might inevitably lead to unhappiness and low self-confidence. So before you become too taken up with taking the perfect selfie, you might want to reflect that something might actually be wrong with you.

 

THE SECURITY GUARD THAT WOULD READ SHAKESPEARE

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Christine Atim with the copy of Shakespeare’s Othello

I know, it sounds like the title of some fancy book that has just won an award. The likes of ‘The Girl with a dragon tattoo’, ‘Half of a yellow sun’, ‘The God of small things’, ‘Children of a lesser God’, and other such grandiose sounding titles. But this is a simple story of a security guard that declared she wanted to read a book written by one of the greatest writers in the English language.

It so happened that someone returned books they had borrowed from me, so I stashed them in my laptop bag. Leaving the New Vision offices that evening, this lady policewoman guard was checking my bag and noticed the books. She asked me what I do with all those books, and I answered that of course, I read them.

Then she said there is a book she wants to read but can’t find it; I asked her what book it was (fully expecting her to name one of those dime novels bored people like reading). She answered “… Othello”. Not sure if I had heard her properly, I asked her whether the one written by William Shakespeare? And she answered in the affirmative.

Still in some shock (a security guard looking to read Shakespeare?), I left. It was late and I was tired so I didn’t even look at her name tag. When I got home and settled in, I started thinking how I could make her dream come true. I shared the experience on social media, and was overwhelmed by the positive reaction received.

Social media is generally seen as a place where folks waste a lot of time gossiping and writing about trivial things in generally bad English. But my friends really came through on this one, and gave suggestions as to where I can get the book; one even offered to send a copy from the USA (one castigated me for being condescending in assuming a security guard would not enjoy Shakespeare. Guilty as charged, Rita).

I finally got the book (another friend had it delivered at the New Vision offices) and presented it to Police woman Christine Atim. She was very excited to receive it, and immediately opened the pages to the character list.

“Are all the character there?” she asked. Of course, I answered, and asked her what her favourite character was. “Iago,” she replied with a big smile. But he’s the bad guy, I said. “I know,” she replied. “I like the way he twists all the others around his little finger.”

Unfortunately, Atim declined to be interviewed any further, so we may never know where her love for Shakespeare came from. Or why she especially liked the play, Othello, apart from her fascination with bad guys.

But the overwhelming response I got, and the number of people that offered to contribute in making Atim’s dream come true, shows there are a lot of very good people in this country. Uganda is not only about self-serving politicians and corrupt officials stealing our money and our land. There are many good people, and for that, I thank you all.

Mixed amidst all the offers to help, were also requests for different books that some of my friends wanted to read. There have always been complaints that Ugandans do not read enough, and justifiably so. But this shows that there really is some hope for this country.

I buy at least two books every month, and have shared them with some friends. But maybe I should look to starting a kind of reading club, where folks that want to read books can access them easily and readily. After all, books sitting on my shelves are really wasted if no one else reads them.

I will end with a quote from the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln (my father had a whole library on this great man, and I grew up reading his written works):

‘My best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read’

 

WE’RE LIVING IN INTERESTING TIMES, INDEED

(this story first run in the New Vision of 7th July 2017)

The late President Godfrey Binaisa famously called Kampala the city of seven rumours a day, but even the very quotable politician never imagined what the country is going through right now. One can only say, we’re living in some very interesting times.

The curious case of Sarah ‘Lady Charlotte’ Kizito

Kizito

Sarah Kizito and her husband Nyakana

It is often said that Ugandan youth do not have many roles model, but I bet most of them are now saying they want to be like Sarah when they grow up. You have to admire someone who strikes a lucrative deal with the country’s only city council, proceeds to break the agreement made, seeks and gets compensation, and then cries foul and insists she had been treated badly. You really have to admire Sarah, who is fighting tooth and nail to have her cake and eat it, too. Who needs to attend those very boring patriotism classes that attempt to teach the youth to respect law and order? Nah, if I was the youth I would just go and wreck it like Sarah; and bet some Minister will come to my rescue. Who cares about development of the country? I got mine, a whole park to boot; go worry about yours. Let’s go Sarah!

The ghetto goes to Parliament

Bobi wine

There is a story told that when the NRA had just captured power in 1986, Major Amanya Mushega was driving through Wandegeya when he spotted one of those street guys who neither bathed nor combed his hair, which had grown into what are referred to as dreadlocks. The good Major reportedly stopped his car, got a pair of scissors and proceeded to cut off the offending locks. He is reported to have sworn they did not liberate the country to give it to ‘bayaaye’. Well, Major Mushega don’t look now but the chap that stole all the headlines last week, Bobi Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi) had dreadlocks till very recently. This week he was sworn into Parliament as an MP, and drew bigger crowds than those ‘walk to work’ protests. It seems that, after all these years, the ‘bayaaye’ are actually taking over; told you these are interesting times.

The Permanent Secretary and the new dress code

muwanga

Adah Muwanga

As if our national blood pressure was not at an all-time high already, the Permanent Secretary of Public Service issued directives on how civil servants should dress. Social media went into a frenzy with widespread condemnation of Ms Adah Muwanga’s directive, with most posts wondering how, with all the problems Uganda has, all the energy now has to go into making sure public servants adhere to a colonial dress code. Should be interesting to see how this works out. What caught particular attention was her example how women civil servants sexually harass men (previously sexual harassment has almost exclusively been men doing it to women); she said that women ‘pump up their breasts and wear mini-skirts’. I understand the number of men wanting to work for the public service has increased exponentially since then.

When God wants dollars and pounds, not shillings

Just when you thought it was safe to breathe again, reports came that a female pastor advised believers that God preferred foreign currency to the shaky Ugandan shilling. Rev Canon Christine Shimanya, Chaplain to Uganda’s Parliament no less, reportedly made the remarks while preaching at the Namugongo Martyrs Church, and asked the congregation not to change the pounds or dollars they got from conferences abroad but give them to the church (wonder what the martyrs thought about that). Social media was quick to pick up on that with all kinds of memes (meme: a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied with slight variations and spread rapidly by Internet users). Some had it that God actually does his shopping on Amazon, which unfortunately does not accept Uganda shillings. So the good Reverend Christine only wanted to make things easier for God; and apparently there are no forex bureau in heaven.

 

GULU AHOY!

I had never been to Gulu. In my two decades as a journalist I have criss-crossed deepest Uganda, but there are two places I had not been to – Gulu and Kisoro. I have been to Arua (even crossed the border into Congo), and travelled the length and breadth of Karamoja. I have forgotten how many times I have been to Lira, but somehow never got further than Corner Kamdini.

John Minge, new President of the Rotary Club of Gulu

John Minge, President of the Rotary Club of Gulu

This all changed last month when we travelled to Gulu to attend the installation of the new President of the Rotary Club of Gulu, John Minge. My impressions of Gulu had largely been shaped by posts on social media about how electricity is always off in Gulu, and Umeme does not seem to care.

There are also almost daily complaints how people are being killed in the streets but the police do nothing. Acholi people in the diaspora belly-ache almost on a daily basis how the corrupt government is responsible for all the ills happening in Gulu. So to be honest I was expecting something akin to the Wild West, a legacy maybe of Kony’s 20-year-long insurgency.

Past Kamdini and nothing really changed, except we passed several swamps. Of course I have passed swamps before, but these had names. Where elsewhere there are signposts with names of towns and villages, here it was one swamp after another, all duly named. Strange, I thought.

Agada Swamp on the Gulu highway

It took us about 5 hours to drive the 300 or so kilometres, and were stopped about three times by traffic police who checked driving licenses and waved us on. After a brief stop-over at a place named Kabalega’s Diner for some coffee and a chicken sandwich we got to Gulu in good time for the function. In fact we guys from Kampala were among the first to arrive at Acholi Inn where the installation was, even after taking time to check into the Larem Guest House, and freshening up.

I have been to several Rotary Club installations, but I had forgotten how these folks love to talk. Everyone that got the microphone first announced how, because the function started late, they would keep it short; then they proceeded to be anything but brief. But it was all for a good cause, service above self, so nobody really complained.

I would like to report that power never went off, and according to a colleague that now works and lives in Gulu, it hadn’t gone off for a while. How was the security, I asked her? Better than Kampala, she said. In fact since she has no garage her car is parked in front of her house, with no fear that someone will come and strip it off some parts. She said that if somebody is out to get you, they will, whether you are in Paris or New York or Kampala or Gulu.

After the proceedings at Acholi Inn, which seems to be stuck in time, we were to go to a place with the unlikely name of Smiling Panda. Turns out it was built by one of the Chinese guys working on the Karuma Dam, but just got smiles and no answer when I wondered whether, like so often happens, materials from the dam had been used at the club.

By that time we were tired, but were told we could not leave Gulu without passing by BJs, where ‘everybody’ goes. True, it seemed ‘everybody’ was there, because the place was packed to the rafters. There were so many people that the few bathrooms available could not cope with the traffic, so of course folks just helped themselves where they could. At the end it was the smell of urine that drove us from BJs and into our beds.

The next day we were given a tour of the town before we left, although we declined the offer to check out Buganda Pub, Gulu’s equivalent of Kansanga. Why ‘Buganda Pub’? Everyone who is not an Acholi is a ‘Maganda’, I was told.

Gulu struck me as neat, organised, and was busy even on a Sunday morning as we left. I was told the fighting in South Sudan had dampened business, otherwise it would have been rocking even more with trade.

So Gulu is off my bucket list; I’m left with only Kisoro to visit to complete my Uganda travels. Here is hoping my new friend from Kisoro, back from her travels abroad, will work something out.

MBARARA, AHOY!

TV West presenters

TV West presenters

I hadn’t been to the town of Mbarara for several years, although before that I had regularly gone there to cover various Miss Uganda regional finals. But I stopped doing that because, truthfully speaking, Mbarara was not the most exciting place to visit.

After other parts of the country where the regional finals would be the most exciting thing to happen, getting to Mbarara was like throwing a wet blanket over oneself. The people would show up, sure, but largely just looked on till the whole thing was over and then go away. In fact organises stopped holding the West Uganda finals in Mbarara, and moved them to Fort Portal.

Last time I was there, it was dusty, chaotic, noisy and excessively expensive (some wags had it that it was a case of too many people having too much money and really very little to spend it on).

So when the chance came a few weeks ago to go and photograph the Radio and TV West presenters, I couldn’t wait to see what changes there were, if any.

And there were changes, right from the start as you approach the town (folks there like to refer to it as a city). The sign ‘Welcome to Mbarara’ is about 21 kilometres away, around Mukono if you were approaching Kampala. Does that make Mbarara larger than Kampala? Maybe.

It is a lot cleaner, too; and while the chaos is still there, it seems more organised. It seems to be slowly losing that ‘upcountry’ attitude, where the natives treat out of town visitors with suspicion.

We travelled on a Sunday, and I expected to see droves of SUVs driving to Kampala from their weekend sojourn, but they were actually very few. Traffic on the highway also was light, maybe it was a freak day, I don’t know.

The last few times I had been in Mbarara I had stayed at the Agip Motel near the entrance of the town, for it was less provincial than most of the others places. A colleague convinced me to try out the Hotel Acacia, one of the many new decent places to stay that have sprung up since.

That evening we got treated by a colleague to dinner at the Buffalo Resort, where he said the decision makers in Mbarara like to hang out, and the number of SUVs in the parking lot seemed to bear that out.

If the decision makers go to Buffalos, it is definitely not for the food, which took forever to get to us; and when it did, my roast pork was akin to pieces of charcoal. After a few brave attempts, I gave up, and just ate the fries, which at least were done well. A colleague that ordered chicken had his order delivered when we were leaving, and had it packed as a take-away. And, typical of many Ugandan pubs, they did not have any dry red wine, only sweet (I remember a Ugandan friend I was with in South Africa, and how waiters would always look at her with surprise when she asked for sweet red wine at dinner).

Talking about decision makers, one person in our party insisted that one of the men at the counter was the owner of the Capital Shoppers chain of supermarkets. We never did find out if that man was indeed the brain behind one of the most successful local businesses, but a colleague of his did know yours truly, and said he reads my column in the New Vision  very Friday. Bully to you sir, and maybe we will meet again some other time.

One of the people in our party, who was driving, seemed to have Bukumunhe’s ghost on him, and downed several Tuskers in the blink of an eye. On wondering if there was any ‘kawunyemu’ (breathalyser test), I was told it was difficult to arrest anyone in Mbarara, unless dozens of telephone calls to ‘big people’ had been made. Apparently everybody in Mbarara has a ‘big person’ on speed dial.

It was a short visit, and I must have photographed over 50 presenters in that one day. They seemed just as cosmopolitan as their Kampala counterparts; and just like at any other shoot, there those that were easy to photograph, and others that had no idea what to do in front of a camera.

The Acacia Hotel was nothing to write home about, just basic, I would say; but the service always came with a smile. Glad to report that the arrogance that used to permeate throughout most Mbarara service providers seemed to be at a minimum.

cattle trucks on the Mbarara highway PHOTO BY KALUNGI KABUYE

cattle being transported to Kampala for slaughter

The Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara highway used to be a very dangerous one, with many fatal accidents, but we did not see a single accident to and fro. The police road checks seem to be having the desired effect. There are still crazy bus drivers, though, and I wondered why the police never bothered those cattle-carrying trucks with people sitting at the top.

All the people that I know in Mbarara were out of town this time, so we did not get very adventurous, maybe the next time.

 

A TALE OF TWO FUNERALS AND A DINNER

(This article first ran in the New Vision on June 6th, 2017)

Last week three largely unrelated events took place, and made it quite a memorable one for me (unfortunately Namugongo was not one of them, apart from the crazy traffic that even affected far way Ntinda). Ivan Ssemwanga, of the un-lamented so-called ‘Rich Gang’, died in South Africa, and was buried in Kayunga. Then the founder of the St Lawrence chain of schools, Prof Lawrence Mukiibi, also died and was buried in Katende. And then on Wednesday, I attended the Africa Day dinner put on annually by Multichoice at their premises in Kololo, albeit a week late.

The Two Funerals – Ssemwanga and Mukiibi

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The late Ivan Ssemwanga and Zari in happier times

The two funerals dominated both mainstream media and social media through the week, and continue to do so, although for different reasons.

Ssemwanga died and was buried as he lived, not really taken seriously by many members of society. Reported to have come to his purported fortune as a quack witchdoctor of sorts in South Africa, his main claim to fame was to be married, have children, and then subsequently get dumped by the very beautiful but not so smart Zari Hussein.

He also headed the ‘Rich Gang’, a collection of equally dubious South Africa-based Ugandans that literally threw money around, mainly to get attention. They would do the same thing at his funeral, throwing wads of currency into Ssemwanga’s grave and pouring in what they claim was champagne (some wags claimed it was actually plain water).

It is thought ridiculous and a sign of madness when village drunkards try to bury one of their own with crude Waragi, but the Rich gang made front pages news when they did the same thing. It also raised not a few eyebrows why and how a self-acclaimed witchdoctor got a sending off in the Namirembe Cathedral (Last we heard, someone had petitioned court to dig up that money).

Mukiibi

Some of the late Mukiibi’s children at the funeral

The second funeral was for the late Professor Lawrence Mukiibi. It started out with the late being lauded for the number of schools and colleges he had built, but ended with questions about the number of children he had left behind. By mid this week the figure had climbed to almost one hundred, with the majority still infants; remarkable for a man in his late 60s. One glaring hole in the whole saga was the absence of the children’s mothers; he didn’t clone them, did he?

The Dinner

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Guests at the Multichoice Africa Day dinner

In 2005 I was in Nairobi when Ugandan designer Sylvia Owori stole the show at the then Kenya Fashion Week with her interpretation of African wear; she so impressed everybody with her collection that Charles Onyango Obbo, who was largely known for his hard hitting political commentary, turned his prolific pen to fashion.

He wrote that Owori’s designs were a welcome breath of fresh air, different from what he famously described as the usual, drab ‘meet my wife’ outfits that passed for African wear.

Multichoice has always celebrated Africa Day in style, and it is one of the days local socialites look forward to showcase their outfits in typical African style.

Charles is lucky he is based in Nairobi, as he would have been extremely disappointed to see the outfits that guests chose to showcase. Twelve years after Owori broke the mould, we are back to the ‘meet my wife outfits’. They were mostly drab, dull, boring, and at times downright ugly.

It was doubly disappointing in that African print (which actually has its origins in East Asia) is seeing something of a comeback in international fashion. All big name designers in the last year or so have included African prints in their collections, so there is no shortage of inspiration and ideas of what to wear.

To see what people wore on Wednesday was an affront to the homage to Ugandan artists, which was the theme of the night. And it was not for the lack of effort, as obviously a lot of effort went into the different outfits on show; sadly it was all in the wrong direction. Africans are known for their love of bright colours, so where did all that dirty green, muddy brown and dull blues come from? At times it seemed the outfits were made from leftovers from a funeral procession.

That said, kudos for Multichoice for recognising Ugandan artists, although a traditional music ensemble playing their drums at maximum volume is not exactly made for dinner parties.

 

THE LAW DOES NOT HAVE TO BE AN ASS

Charles Dickens said it all those years ago, in his classic novel Oliver Twist (okay, some scholars insist actually Dickens copied it from an earlier writer, but that’s not our problem here). We forgave him for that, and many times agreed that indeed, the law can really be an ass. Living in Uganda, and faced with all kinds of crazy and outrageous behaviour by public officials, we really believed in the truth of what he wrote.

But the law does not have to be that bad, and can actually be used by us ordinary mortals to get something back and hold government officials accountable to us, the public. There have been examples of this in the past.

A few years ago, tired of the endless impunity with which football officials run affairs in this country, a group of soccer lovers took FUFA bosses to court. Not only did they succeed in getting them to account for all the money they were in charge of, they ended up going to prison when they failed to do so. That should have been a lesson for public officials, but sadly the new FUFA bosses are back doing what the old ones used to do.

We as Ugandans know that we can use the law for the public good, but mainly we do not realise this. Like the person who went to court to challenge the right of Parliament to question the multi-billion shilling ‘oil handshake’. Great effort, we must say, but grossly misplaced. And more recently an aggrieved Ugandan petitioned the courts to get the grave of ‘Rich Gang’ boss Ivan Ssemwanga, who was buried with lots of money, exhumed.

I dare say those concerned Ugandans were well meaning, but they chose the wrong cases. Here are my suggestions of what we should petition the courts for:

boda

boda bodas in Kampala can be a real pain

First of all, Kampala traffic has become a nightmare, and while drivers have become more disciplined and will patiently await as the line slowly moves along, there are those folks that decide to create extra lanes (Ugandans are nice people, if one did that in South Africa you would get shot).

So a concerned citizen should get a court declaration that if any driver tries to break traffic rules like that, you can stop them using ‘reasonable’ means. If they still insist it should be okay to break their windows; or if they still don’t get it break their heads, too. I can imagine every other driver carrying a kiboko or rungu in their cars, and giving those unruly blighters six of the very best.

We have all been held up at traffic lights, patiently waiting for them to turn green, only to see droves of boda bodas ignore everything and go where they please. The traffic police know it is wrong, but they just let those little menaces go their merry way. So a concerned citizen should get a court order allowing us to apply the law, and in this case it would be kiboko for both the boda drivers, and the traffic police that allow them that impunity.

That court order should be effective anywhere you find a boda guy trying to either go the wrong way, or carrying more than they should. We have all seen boda guys carry everything from mattresses to huge pigs. Kiboko for them, and maybe a barbeque afterwards.

ambulance

Ugandan government vehicles are often mis-used

But the biggest would be to get a court order that any Government vehicle seen on the roads after hours should be impounded. We all know these blokes are breaking the law, and they also know it; but every weekend we see those cars going and coming back from villages loaded with sacks of charcoal. Or parked outside pubs at night. No one in Government is willing to do anything about it, so we should use the law against them.

With a court order in hand, we could get ourselves some court brokers and hunt these public officials down. That would teach them a lesson that they are not above any law, but are supposed to actually be our humble and obedient servants.