THE SECURITY GUARD THAT WOULD READ SHAKESPEARE

Atim_2

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

Ivan

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

Africa day

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.

 

THE TEN THINGS MEN KNOW ABOUT WOMEN

(this is an updated version of a story I first wrote about ten years ago)

It was a grand night we were having at the McGinty’s Irish pub in the Holiday Inn, Sandton City, Johannesburg (don’t go looking for it, it’s not there anymore, sadly). Over the years I had gathered quite a few South African friends, and every time I was in that city of gold we would get together for a drink. Those South African friends also had Ugandan friends so it would usually be quite a gathering.

Sandton city

Holiday Inn, Sandton City

It was one of those nights when Bren, who had spent time in Uganda as part of the ANC contingent, thought it was time for a quiz. Of course we were all for it. The question, as she asked, was ‘what are the ten things men know about women’? Knowing Bren, I knew there was a catch, but we all tried our best and gave different answers, even the women around the table.

When we finally ran out of answers, Bren gave hers: “the answer is… nothing!” uh? “That’s right,” she said, “nothing.” But you asked for ten things… “Yeah, one, nothing, two, nothing, three, nothing. Four nothing. Five, nothing. Six, nothing. Seven, nothing. Eight, nothing. Nine, nothing. Ten, nothing.”

After a few moments stunned silence, when we all looked at Bren with something like shock, we all burst out laughing. It was really funny, and we all patted Bren’s back and told her it was a brilliant quiz.

But at the back of my mind, I knew Bren was trying to say something. The more I thought about it, the more I realised how little we really know about women; especially when they say “nothing”.

There are times when women go very quiet on us. There is no preamble or warning, it just happens. You might have been chatting about something for a while, when all of a sudden it is all quiet on the female front. So you turn around ask her, what is wrong my dear? Her answer?  “Nothing”.

Then there are those times they kind of mumble something, and you don’t quite get what she said, so, of course, you ask: what did you say? “Nothing.”

Or you might find a group of them talking and laughing and obviously enjoying themselves. If you don’t know better, you might get curious, and ask what the joke was. Answer? “Nothing.” But you were laughing at something, what was it? “Nothing”. You were laughing at nothing? “Yeah”, and that will bring even more laughter.

We all have at one time or another found a damsel in distress, so to speak. She obviously looks right at the end of her tether. You are not sure what exactly is she is trying to do, but she looks like she can use some help, so the gallant you steps forward and asks if there is anything you can do to help. Answer? “Nothing.” Really? You are sure you don’t need any help? “Yes”.

She can even be crying, and throwing things around; but when you ask her what is wrong? “Nothing.”

Back to that Irish pub in Johannesburg, where another South African friend, Nopsi, tried to make things clear. She explained that women mean different things when they say ‘nothing’. And it will depend on the time and the place, or the circumstances prevailing. And at times it might not even about you, the man.

She went on that at times the nothing might actually mean everything; at times it might mean something of the things, or even none of those things. It is up to the man to try and figure out which one it is. And whether you do or not shall decide how long you are for this earth.

We all looked at Nopsi with total confusion, and thought of at least Bren made a bit of sense, and was funny.

When the South African women finally left, a Ugandan guy who shall remain nameless said he had an American joke about women. He told us about a man who had done some very good things, and pleased the Lord no end. So God told him to ask for whatever he wanted.

The man told God how he had always wanted to visit Hawaii, but was afraid of flying, so could God build an expressway so he could drive there? God was scandalised at the man’s selfishness, told him so, and asked him to ask for something else.

The man thought, and thought, and finally said, “Ok, I want to understand women.”

There was silence, then God finally answered: “how many lanes do you want on that expressway?”

We laughed very loudly at that, and rejoiced how we had the last word.

I do miss Johannesburg, and my South African friends.

 

I REMAIN, SIR, YOUR MOST HUMBLE AND OBEDIENT SERVANT

Growing up, and learning how to write properly in English, I was always fascinated by the way civil servants, and generally Government officials, used to sign off letters they had written. A typical one was the phrase, ‘I remain, sir, your most humble and obedient servant’.

Those days, government officials were generally seen as very important people, so for them to sign off that way always amused me. What did they really mean? Were they just making fun of the person they were writing to, when at times it was to castigate or complain about something the addressee had done?

For the record, this kind of signing off is referred to as ‘valediction’, and has been in use for hundreds of years. In its earliest form, it was written by officials to their rulers, who most often were kings or chiefs that held more or less absolute power, so one had to be very respectful.

In more modern times, it was mostly used by the British civil service, and that is where the rest of us borrowed it from. The main point here is that the public official was seen as a servant to the public; and was appointed, or elected, to work for that public.

Now, ask yourself, does any public official in Uganda ever sign off that way? Can you imagine the Uganda Communications Commission  Executive Director, Godfrey Mutabazi, who has been responsible for more public woes than any other single person, ever sign off as ‘your most obedient and humble service’?

When he issues letters warning that TV stations would be gut off, or people’s telephones are going to be turned off, does Mutabazi ever consider that he is actually supposed be our ‘most humble and obedient servant’?

letter_Mutabazi

What about another Executive Director (what is it about Executive Directors?), this time of the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA), Festus Luboyera, who insists that anybody in Uganda that wants to talk about the weather in public, has to get his permission first; is he a humble servant?

A look at recent communications from the two Executive Directors mentioned above shows that neither of them actually follows the ‘valediction’ practice. Valedictions are usually and normally written as a sign of respect or regard to the person or persons to whom the letter or communications is addressed. Luboyera and Mutabazi do not say farewell, or wish you well; they just append their signature to the letter.

letter_Luboyera

I do not usually communicate with Ugandan public officials, so I don’t know if they follow the Mutabazi and Luboyera rule; or if they still follow the way some teacher of English taught them to write.

Do public servants go through some induction process before they take office, to make them realise that indeed they are serving the public and that is why they are in those positions? Or do they take office assuming that the public is at their mercy, and require the likes of us to give them respect instead?

I mean, what goes through Mutabazi’s mind as he writes a letter that he knows is going to cause all kinds of problems with the public? Most of his missives are actually threats, that something very bad is going to happen to the public unless they do as she says.

I think much of the negative attitude that public officials have in Uganda comes from the mistaken belief that they are doing us a favour by being in those positions. With that kind of attitude, it is easy to not only abuse the offices they occupy, but also the public they are supposed to be serving.

How do we solve this? I think all public officials should go for a re-education course, and the main item on the syllabus should be to teach them that they really should be ‘humble and obedient servants’ to the public.

Maybe if Mutabazi, Luboyera and other public officials had to sign off that way, they would think many times before doing anything that would upset what is actually their master – the public.

I remain, sirs, your most humble and obedient servant.

 

THE UGANDAN MAN THAT OWNS THE WEATHER

Luboyera

Festus Luboyera, the Executive Director of the Uganda National Meteorological Authority

No, this is not a fairy tale, and it does not take place in Wonderland. And no, it is not a film, either, although there is film about a man that tried to own the weather. In 1998 Scottish actor Sean Connery starred in the film The Avengers, in which he played a mad scientist hell bent on controlling the weather.

In a case of reality imitating fiction, we have a scientist (could he also be mad?) hell bent on doing what that Connery character tried to do. Lost in the Godfrey Mutabazi’s circus about SIM registration was the news that the Executive Director of the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA), Festus Luboyera, had written a letter to several TV stations warning them against broadcasting unauthorised weather forecasts.

In his letter, Luboyera quoted the UNMA Act of 2012 and warned them against, among others, ‘making weather forecasts or observations, or releasing information about the climate in Uganda’, without written permission from the Executive Director.

When I first saw that on social media, I thought it was another case of ‘fake news’; but some people defended Luboyera, and said that those TV stations had been misleading farmers, at times predicting rain which never materialised.

I don’t know about you, but is there anybody that takes official Ugandan weather forecasts seriously? For the longest time, official Uganda weather forecasts run something like, ‘there will be scattered thunderstorms in some parts of the country;, while the rest of the country will be sunny and dry’.

I don’t know what the said TV stations broadcast, but what self-respecting farmer relies on these weather forecasts to plant crops? Most farmers don’t even believe their own rain-makers, so how can they believe some guy on TV?

For the record, what kind of forecast does Luboyera give? An excerpt from the UNMA web site has it that this April ‘there is an increased probability for above normal rainfall for western sector of Uganda, normal rainfall for central, Lake Victoria Basin, south-eastern, and central-northern Uganda, and below normal rainfall for Karamoja region and some parts of Lango and Acholi regions’. Just how different is that from the ‘scattered thunderstorms’ forecasts of old? If you were a farmer, would you plan your crops based on that?

But Luboyera warns that anyone that even speaks about the weather in public in Uganda without his (Luboyera’s) written permission can go to prison for two years.

weather_Kampala

sharing weather info in public can get you 2 years in jail

It is a fact that most smart phones have an app that will give you a forecast of the weather wherever you may be; so it means that before you can share this, say on social media, you have to get Luboyera’s written permission to do so, or you might go to jail.

Charles Dickens, in his classic novel Oliver Twist, wrote that ‘the law is an ass’. What would he say about the people that passed that UNMA law? Or the people that are seriously embarking on enforcing it?

But let us give Mr Luboyera the benefit of doubt, and agree that it is only him, by default, that can talk to the public about the weather. So it follows that he should take full responsibility for any adverse effects that come from unseen weather conditions.

If it rains and floods destroy property, blame Luboyera. Any landslide? Luboyera is liable because he did not warn the people. Did you fall and injure yourself trying to take cover from the rain? Luboyera should pay the medical bills, he should have told you it was going to rain so carry an umbrella. If you have the goose, hey get the gander too.

Insurance companies have incidents they refer to as ‘acts of God’, where you cannot get compensated, for example if heavy rain washed out your function. But now we know, it is an ‘act of Luboyera’, he should have warned you that it is going to rain heavily. Or his agents with written permission to do so should have done so.

In that 1998 film, the mad scientist fails to sell the weather to world leaders, and is eventually killed by a storm. The film also bombed at the box office, made less than it cost to make, and is maybe a lesson that those that dare own the weather are fated to fail.

 

SO ITS LENT, BIG DEAL!

ash wednesday

(this article first ran in the New Vision March 17th, 2017)

Growing up in a very Christian family, and attending schools founded by Christians, I nevertheless did not know much about the period known as Lent till I was much older. I knew the basics of it, of course; and the origins, and how it was supposed to represent the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness while resisting all kinds of temptations from the devil.

At school our teachers and chaplains would emphasize how we should take Jesus as our example, and use the period of Lent to think about all the temptations we would face in our lives. Afterwards we would all go for lunch or supper, or for sports, because the scripture lessons would always be either at the end of the day, or just before lunch.

Lent was also important because it was the period before Easter; and in school that would be a big deal because, apart from Founders Day, that was the time we would get served very good food at school. That was it then, that was Lent.

Even after I left school, the people I used to hang out with did not take it that seriously. To us it was only those very boring, staunch Catholics that made a fuss of it. In fact I got to know about Ash Wednesday much later in life.

These days, and it was a kind of shock to me, Lent is not just very a big deal, but big business too; or to some maybe the lack of it. And it is no longer only that dyed-in-the-wool Roman Catholic guy that observe Lent, but a lot of other people, too.

What happens is that somebody will vow to give up something they enjoy doing, mostly food or drink, for the 40-day duration. So you will find many people giving up the drinking of alcohol. I have a friend who would give up the drinking of beer, but would then put away dozens of bottles of wine.

Others would give up things like smoking, the eating of pork or meat, and even sex (apparently mostly women, don’t ask me why). Lent affects business in that owners of pubs and restaurants will see a decrease in patronage as people carry out their fasts; and coming off a very slow period of January and February, when many people are broke because of Christmas and then school fees – pub owners just hate Lent.

But some Christians object to the whole Lent business, and claim its origins is in pagan festivals which the early Christians took over. They also insist that fasting and self-denial cannot be a source of purity; and that it is not even found in the Bible, but was a ritual created by the Catholic Church about 400 years after the death of Jesus.

They point to the putting of ash on people’s foreheads to mark Ash Wednesday as little better than the Pharisees, who Jesus gave as example of how not to follow the Lord. And they also question the fasting and self-denial for only 40 days, after which it is time to play catch up and binge on all the stuff you denied yourself.

And then I found out that Pentecostals, to which many young people belong, also do not do Lent. They claim that they fast any time and throughout the year, not just before Easter.

Now, I have no problem with Lent, or with people denying themselves what they like most. I don’t own or run a pub or a restaurant; and if people want to deny themselves all kinds of good things, they can go right ahead. And it might instil some little discipline in our people, God knows this country can use some of that.

So I will just sit quietly and watch as the period unfolds, and wait till the 40 or so days are over, when those people that were fasting start complaining about the mother of all hangovers.