Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why Businessmen (and women) flock to Rwanda

When you think of Rwanda, if you think of genocide, you should think again. Not that we should forget the horrors of 1994, but Rwanda is moving on -- and it wants your investment and tourism, not your sympathy.

Though it is difficult to rebrand the country (especially after movies like Hotel Rwanda), the government is certainly working hard to do so, and investors are listening. One way Rwanda has made business easier for investors is by creating the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). This is a new institution, essentially combining 8 previously independently existing organisations: the Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency (RIEPA); the Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN); the Privatization Secretariat; the Rwanda Commercial Registration Services Agency; the Rwanda Information and Technology Authority (RITA); the Center for Support to Small and Medium Enterprises (CAPMER); the Human Resource and Institutional Capacity Development Agency (HIDA); and the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA).

While in Rwanda, I spoke to Clare Akamanzi, the Deputy CEO in charge of Business Operations and Services at RDB, as well as their new CEO, Joe Ritchie. Mr. Ritchie is the co-chairman (with President Kagame) of the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC), which hosts quite an impressive team of advisers, from Michael Porter to Rick Warren to John Rucyahana to Donald Kaberuka.

Through enhanced coordination at RDB one can now register a business in Rwanda in a record 2 days!

I will be posting the interviews with Joe and Clare after they have been published in the Independent.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rwanda Rwanda

I've just returned from a week in Kigali. Unfortunately my power adapter blew out the first night so I was basically computer/internet-less for the week (especially since internet at Bourbon Cafe is 4000 francs after the first hour!!! That's about $7). All that means is that I have a lot to catch up on. The most exciting thing for me was to visit King Faisal Hospital, Rwanda's main referral hospital. This place is seriously impressive. We spent about an hour with a Ugandan radiologist who had previously worked in both Mulago and Mbarara hospitals. Long story short, he became so frustrated with his inability to treat patients in Uganda that he took a chance on Rwanda. Since coming to King Faisal, he was able to acquire a new CT scan, a flouroscope, and a machine to do mammograms, among others. He is also excited about getting an MRI machine at the end of this year, which I believe will be the only MRI in Rwanda. There is also a digital x-ray so that films are no longer needed, and so that doctors and patients can share and consult on results much faster and easier.

The doctor (who prefers to remain anonymous) bustled about the radiology department, clearly proud of his work and the service he is able to provide to his patients. After a while though, he insisted he had to get back to work. "If a patient waits for more than 15 minutes," he says, "you'll have the ministry [of health] calling you the next day."

Much more on Rwanda soon. An amazing country and government, despite the fact that some (ahem! France) have beef with Kagame.

In other news, but on a related health note, I went with David (see "What Would You Do?") to the Surgery in Kampala today. At numerous clinics/hospitals, he has variously been diagnosed with: malaria, ulcers, cancer, and typhoid, to mention a few. So we went today to Dr. Stockley to get a second (ok, more like fifth) opinion. After 3 hours and $70 we walked away with a diagnosis and treatment. The culprit(s) for the pain and suffering he has been undergoing for the past few weeks/months? Bilharzia, amoebiasis, and internal yeast infection. No wonder he felt like crap. I couldn't help but think he would have been treated much better and faster if he had been a Rwandan instead of Ugandan citizen...but we have hope for the future. And I am a patriot, Mr. President. Are you?

Tomorrow I am off to Mulago for a story for the Independent. You can be sure I will be ranting in 24 hrs time...

Monday, March 23, 2009

$450 a month

That's what senior doctors are paid by the government of Uganda at Mulago hospital, according to the latest article on Mulago in the Daily Monitor. New recruits make only Ushs 626,181 (about $315 dollars) a month, still better than the Ushs 200,000 a month new teachers are paid (about $100), but it is not hard to see why doctors who have invested much more time and money in their education would hop on the next flight out of Entebbe to more enticing salaries abroad.

By contrast, in Rwanda, newly recruited doctors reportedly earn $2000. What is going on here? Or maybe the better question is, what is going on in Rwanda? As it happens, I am headed to Kigali on the 9am bus today, and hopefully some answers will emerge this week for me...

In the meantime, see this interesting discussion (hat tip Paul Collier and Jim Cust's Bottom Billion Blog) on Rwanda as "The World's Social Innovation Capital". More from Kigali soon....

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Christmas Came Early for Uganda Police

It seems Uganda's Ministry of Works and Transport is tired of taking all the heat for the country's shabby roads and high road accident rate. Daily Monitor writes today:

All motor vehicles in the country must be compulsorily tested for road worthiness, the Ministry of Works and Transport has revealed.

In a new law that seeks to reduce road carnage, the ministry has proposed strict electronic testing of private vehicles at least once every year while public vehicles will be scrutinised twice a year.

“The system we are using currently to inspect vehicles is inadequate and out of fashion but this new system will be like an x-ray, and no vehicle without an inspection certificate will be allowed on the road,” Works Minister John Nasasira said.

Um, excuse me? An x-ray? We don't even have working x-rays in the hospitals! Ok, well at least they don't all work all the time. In any case, I highly suspect that bad drivers and bad roads account for the majority of road traffic accidents/deaths, not the vehicles themselves. Oh, and seatbelts. This drives me nuts. Parents, BUCKLE YOUR CHILD'S SEATBELT. You are wearing your seatbelt, make your child do the same. There is no excuse for putting your safety above theirs. If they don't like wearing them, tough! They are children. They are your responsibility.

But I digress. Back to the "x-ray" inspection....

The police should be overjoyed at this new initiative. Now, along with lack of third-party insurance, logbooks/paperwork or driver's permit (among other offenses), the police have another way to get some "lunch." Here is how it will go*:

Officer: [Steps into road blowing whistle and waving. Positions himself such that driver can only stop, unless he hits the officer and/or swerves wildly while simultaneously pretending not to see him]

Driver: Yes, good afternoon officer.

Officer: Good afternoon. Can I see your driver's permit?

Driver: Sure, here.

Officer: And inspection certificate?

Driver: Well, you see officer, after waiting two hours to get my vehicle tested, the power went out and the vehicle x-ray machine stopped working. And when it came on again, inspectors had gone for lunch. So I wasn't able to get the certificate.

Officer: Hmm. But now, eh, you must have that inspection certificate. I don't know what we do... [pause] I don't want to take you to the station. [pause] You will pay a big fine if we go to the station.

Driver: Yes officer.

Officer: So. What do we do? [pause, tries to ascertain if he must be more direct]. I don't want to take you to the station. [pause] You could give me something for lunch...

Driver: [pulls out wallet, slips a 10k note on the seat].

Officer: Ok then. Nice day.

End scene.

I still fail to understand why one must go to the station for a simple offense. Just give us a ticket! As it is, there is no incentive for either the police officer or the driver to abide by the law -- if you do, you will go the station, fill out paper work, and pay a huge fine. If you don't, the driver can part with 20k instead of 150k, right then and there, and the poorly paid officer can get a little bonus. Of course, not all not all officers and drivers will take the moral low ground. But I have a sneaking suspicion the majority do (I even know of someone who had to go to the ATM with the officer because he didn't have the amount required for "lunch"!!!). And why not, when those poor officers get paid pennies (ok, shillings) to stand in the scorching sun for hours at a time? Oh, and Nasasira, please stop deflecting blame and do your job. I don't care about decentralisation or KCC. You are the minister and you are responsible.

* As to whether I have ever encountered a similar situation, I will take the fifth.

Johnnie Carson is Obama's Pick for Asst. Secretary for African Affairs

"President Obama's nomination of Johnnie Carson to be Assistant Secretary for African Affairs is a strong choice. Carson is an accomplished career foreign service officer with an excellent track record on African issues spanning many decades and a range of positions. Carson has a deep understanding of our diplomatic capacities and the importance of regular interagency collaboration. I look forward to considering his nomination and hearing how he and the administration plan to address the many challenges we face on the African continent."

Says U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, who is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommitee on African Affairs. Ambassador Carson worked in the Foreign Service for 37 years (serving in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Portugal, Botswana, Mozambique and Nigeria) before joining the National Intelligence Council, serving as officer for Africa. See his complete bio here.

I understand he has been less than chummy with Museveni, criticising, among other things, his running for a third presidential term. What will Carson mean for Uganda? For Africa?

"Whether there are new ways for Museveni to re-invent himself and his government in the eyes of an Obama administration will now be seen," says analyst Angelo Izama in a November 2008 article in the Daily Monitor. "President Museveni’s appeal is waning. On the eve of the last election, senior US Africa policy heads, including Johnnie Carson noted that Uganda is a success story gone bad."

Museveni has allowed the potholes of his regime to grow wider and deeper in recent years, and now he is in for a bumpy ride.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Listening To: Nakaaya, Mr. Politician

"Mr. Politician" came out last year, by the talented Nakaaya Sumari. It is currently my favorite song...as those around me can attest to...

We stand for the 30 million walking these roads you never fix,
We sick and tired of hearing these lies, games and tricks
Instead of looking up to these fake ones for hope
Remember Amina the next time you vote...


Check it out here on Museke, "home of the African music fan".

On that note, I'm walking these roads all the way to the gym...

Condoms --> More AIDS

This is essentially what Pope Benedict XVI has suggested while on his current visit to Africa, where he will visit Cameroon and Angola. Regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has killed and affected millions, the vast majority living in sub-Saharan Africa, the Pope told reporters that it is "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems."

Criticism of condom use is an altogether unsurprising position from the Catholic church, which largely rejects the use of birth control. Nonetheless, the argument appears to have reached a new level, with the Pope actually suggesting that condoms are making the "problem" of HIV/AIDS worse. I disagree with the church's position on condoms in general, though I recognize the valid point that condoms will not alone bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Nonetheless, I find it incredibly irresponsible for such a powerful and influential leader to make a causal argument of this nature with little to no evidence to back it up. Millions of the devoted will be listening, and millions may thus come to the conclusion that condom use in and of itself may increase their chances of contracting HIV. This could obviously not be farther from the truth (if you are going to have sex anyway, wearing a condom will certainly not increase your chances of contracting HIV).

We can agree to disagree on ideology, but not on matters of scientific fact, especially when millions of lives are at stake. This kind of misinformation benefits no one.

For more thoughts on the subject, see the opinion by the Guardian's Ela Soyemi. Or yesterday's NYT editorial. Or on Bill Easterly's latest post.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This Week: Oil Roundtable

It's official. Uganda has oil.

But how much and what kind? What does it mean for Uganda's future? Who is calling the shots? Will it boost development, or will the oil curse strike again?

For answers to these questions and more, please attend a groundbreaking roundtable on Uganda's oil sector, sponsored by Kampala-based think tank Fanaka Kwa Wote and the U.S. Embassy Kampala.

What: Oil Roundtable
When: Thursday, March 19th, 9:30am to 12:00pm
Where: Protea Hotel, Acacia Road, Kampala
Who: Panel of experts and interested parties, including:

Professor Jacqueline Lang Weaver, University of Houston
Mr. Stephen Birahwa, MP Buliisa and Member of the Committee on Natural Resources
Mr. Brian Glover, Managing Director of Tullow Oil
National Environmental Management Authority
Uganda Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development
Uganda Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development

Moderated by Managing Editor of The Independent, Andrew Mwenda.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Blackboard Reporting

Way cool -- news/blogging via blackboard in Liberia:

Apparently blogger Alfred Sirleaf reaches 10,000 people daily in Monrovia, capital of Liberia. Seems like a stretch, but even if it's half of that, that's pretty amazing. Thanks WhiteAfrican blogging on Afrigadget.

Weapons of .... Mosquito Destruction

We shall kill them with...a laaaaaazerrrrr. Yes, that's the latest plan for mosquito, and thus, malaria, destruction. At least according to astrophysicists.

"A quarter-century ago, American rocket scientists proposed the "Star Wars" defense system to knock Soviet missiles from the skies with laser beams. Some of the same scientists are now aiming their lasers at another airborne threat: the mosquito.

In a lab in this Seattle suburb, researchers in long white coats recently stood watching a small glass box of bugs. Every few seconds, a contraption 100 feet away shot a beam that hit the buzzing mosquitoes, one by one, with a spot of red light.

The insects survived this particular test, which used a non-lethal laser. But if these researchers have their way, the Cold War missile-defense strategy will be reborn as a WMD: Weapon of Mosquito Destruction."

Read on in Saturday's Wall Street Journal.

One question, if we can't even get cheap malaria meds to health centers in rural villages, how the heck are we going to get lasers there? And I'm guessing said lasers will also require a small thing called electricity...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Get that Goat!

This is the goat to put your money on in the next Royal Ascot Goat Races. The Museveni/Kabila convoy is a distant second, followed by lots of sprinting men in suits...

(Source: New Vision, story here)

Friday, March 13, 2009

What would you do?

There is a family that takes care of our compound in Kampala. David* and his wife, Susan*, take care of cleaning our flat, washing our clothes and letting us in and out of the compound gate. They have three children, two boys and one girl, aged 10, 7 and 5. They had two other children, but they died when they were very young.

Recently, David has not been around, and I assumed he had gone to the village as usual to visit relatives and take care of family issues. I discovered only yesterday that he has actually been extremely sick, unable to get out of bed, and that one of his aunts was now living with him and taking care of him.

Today I went in his house to talk to him. He said he had gone to a hospital (not Mulago) several times and was told he has ulcers and cancer that is causing pressure in his abdomen, leaving him in excruciating pain and urinating blood. He needed more money to go back to the hospital, but this morning his mother called, and told him that the family had wasted enough money, that he should come back to the village and they would find another solution. She told him to get on the next available bus, and come to Soroti, in eastern Uganda. The bus ride takes, I believe, somewhere between 6 and 8 hours.

David's brother had died some time ago, and David had to carry him back to their home. He has been having nightmares every night, and his family seems to believe that his illness is due in part to this traumatic experience. Hence the search for an alternative solution.

I could not tell from his description what exactly he was diagnosed with or how he was diagnosed, and his aunt did not know the name of the treatment he was given. At first he said he wanted to drive back to the hospital, but then at his family's insistence it was decided that he would get on a bus to Soroti today. He said he was confused, that he didn't know now what was causing his pain and didn't know what to do. I wanted to take him back to the hospital, get more medicine, and figure out what was really wrong. I can't imagine how he will survive the bus ride. He can barely sit up on his own and cannot walk without assistance.

But it is not my decision, however sure I am that going to the hospital in Kampala is a much better idea than getting on a long, hot and bumpy bus ride to Soroti for some alternative treatment. As a student of human biology (my first degree anyway) I of course have much faith in so-called "western" medicine. I know that it will not solve everything or save everyone, but I want to know that he has gotten the best treatment possible and been properly diagnosed at the very least. And I am not sure that he has been.

I am so afraid for him, and for his young family here, but it is not up to me to decide what is best for him. There was nothing I could do but drive David and his aunt to the bus park and hope for the best.

*for privacy's sake I have changed their names

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who needs electricity? Come on baby, light my fire

Does lack of electricity lead to more sex? Which leads to more babies? This is the argument Uganda Planning Minister (Ministry of Finance), Ephraim Kamuntu, has recently made according to the BBC's "Uganda Blackouts 'Fuel Baby Boom'". Without TV or other entertainment, Ugandans are falling into bed and making babies, leading the country to hold one of the highest population growth rates in the world, or so the story goes.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. condom sales are up, apparently for related reasons. What's the cheapest form of entertainment? No electricity and no entrance fee required (legally anyway), and it keeps you warm so you can reduce your heating bill! But in these times of financial hardship, U.S. consumers are apparently wary of accidentally ending up with a costly bun in the oven...hence condom purchases...

A few questions though...

In Uganda, sure, it may be dark, but you still have your seven other kids bounding around the house, how much time do you really have to sneak off and procreate some more?

Also, what about the men (and some women) who stay out in bars till 3am? They are there in numbers...I know because I can hear them when the Ntinda hotspots keep me awake at all hours of the night (and morning)...

Most importantly, what about countries with equally poor access to electricity? Why isn't their population growth rate as high as Uganda's? India, for example, has a population growth rate of 1.4% (according to the UNDP), and yet nearly 490 million people live without electricity.

Finally, I think population growth will fall only when couples have incentives to have fewer kids, or disincentives to have more kids. While in a taxi yesterday, the driver told me he had 14 children with three women. And wanted 2 more with a different woman. I am sure he makes far less than most couples in the U.S., but there is still no incentive (as he sees it) for him to stop making babies, electricity or no electricity.

Sorry Dr. Kamuntu, your argument falls flat. How many kids do you have by the way?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why M7 Overestimates Himself

Ok, I don't understand Museveni's psychology enough to take a legitimate stab at why he seems to overestimate his own abilities. But a recent article in TIME (by the way, did you know that TIME is an acronym? "The International Magazine of Events") discussed precisely this issue -- namely, why people in powerful positions (from Obama to Putin to M7) tend to overestimate their own capacity.

The article discusses a new study by two Stanford researchers published in Psychological Science. Authors note, "By producing an illusion of personal control, power may cause people to lose touch with reality in ways that lead to overconfident decision-making."

How does M7 measure up?
Personal control. Check. Losing touch with reality. Check. Overconfident decision-making. Check...

M7 was until recent years hailed the "new breed of African leader." Just months after coming to power in 1986 he announced, “The main cause of Africa’s crisis is leaders who do not want to leave power. There is no reason why anyone should be president for more than ten years.” And yet here we are, in 2009, with two years until the next presidential election, and his fourth term is already inevitable in the eyes of many. So what happened? Was his personalisation of power inevitable? (see last week's article in The Independent, "Family Rule in Uganda" , for more info on the subject)

I don't think an experiment with Stanford students rolling dice can provide any definitive answers to these questions. Nevertheless, I find valuable research on the psychology of power, and why some leaders take their countries to moon while others drive them into the ground. I tend to think that individual agency plays a large role...but of course this is a subject of great debate. Does a leader shape society more than society shapes a leader?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cabinet Reshuffle: Votes > Performance

I know, this should be obvious. The point of Museveni reshuffling cabinet was not primarily to ensure that the most qualified people become ministers of their respective ministries, but to secure votes for the not-so-distant 2011 presidential election. I know, but does government have to blatantly admit it?

In a recent interview with Uganda's Independent magazine, the Vice President of Uganda, Professor Gilbert Bukenya gave the following response to the following question:

Q: How do you regard the newly appointed cabinet; is it the best the President would produce?

A: This [cabinet] is a perfect combination which is going to lead us to the next general election with developments that will help us generate more support as the NRM party from the masses. The new cabinet has people whom I think are great performers and this is what the President needs as we move toward the elections in 2011. This does not mean that the previous cabinet did not have performers but I think these are vote winners.

And there you have it. Votes > Performance. No shame, no beating around the bush.

My other favorite part of this interview? In regards to his supposed shenanigans as reported by the Ugandan media:

"What these reports have done to me is denying me a chance to dine and mix with people in open places because during such times stories are made up, actually it's because of that that I decided to construct gyms and saunas in all my homes so that I work out privately."

Oh, really? Phew. Gyms and saunas in all your homes? Thank goodness, I was worried.

Who Cares About Cancer?

Cancer is not captivating. Or, at least, in sub-Saharan Africa it doesn't seem to be when compared with, say HIV/AIDS or malaria. Why is that? Is it the sheer numbers? The assumption that you are more likely to die of a communicable disease before you will ever develop cancer in this region? Or maybe, like global warming, it's a scary topic that it is easier to put off thinking about until tomorrow. Or the next day...Or the next day...

It seems like a lot of friends of friends are dying or have died from cancer recently in Kampala. On Sanyu FM this morning, a caller asked for advice on how to handle his relationship with a girl who had terminal cancer. While I have long been interested in health and healthcare in Uganda, I have never looked much into cancer prevalence or treatment. I assumed, at any rate, that treatment was prohibitively expensive for most people when available at all. But do we even have accurate figures on who has cancer and where? I went circles around the WHO Uganda site to find any figures. At best they have projections for 2005, based on 2002 burden of disease estimates. Not exactly what you might call up-to-date or very accurate.

I next went to Uganda's most recent Demographic and Health Survey, from 2006. I was shocked to find that in searching "cancer", there was a SINGLE result, out of 501 pages! It was a note on reproductive organ cancer made in reference to the Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy Guidelines that had been developed in 1994.

According to WHO's stats, cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, followed by breast cancer. In men, the most common is prostate cancer, followed by esophageal cancer. Lung cancer is surprisingly low on the list (9th for men, not even ranked for women), given the number of people I see smoking around Kampala (of course this is not indicative of the rest of the country, but still, Kampala-ites are more likely to be diagnosed anyway I would imagine).

Uganda does have a Cancer Institute, which is almost definitely underfunded, understaffed and ill-equipped, though I haven't done much in-depth investigation of the place. While cancer may not yet be killing as many Ugandans as malaria or diarrheal disease (which primarily affects children), I have a strong suspicion that it is much more prevalent and pernicious than meets the eye. It may not be captivating, but it is killing. More on this to come...

Monday, March 9, 2009

More Moyo, Less Bono!

Smart, sexy, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo has recently published her first book, Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How there is Another Way for Africa. When I read her interview in the Feb. 19th issue of the NYT Sunday Magazine, I immediately shot an email to Andrew Mwenda telling him to pick up the pace with his own long awaited book, which will likely make some similar arguments to that of Moyo (though with considerably more Ugandan and Rwandan examples, among other things).

Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion and professor of Economics at Oxford, has written a review of Dead Aid in the UK's Independent. Collier actually taught Moyo at Harvard and Oxford, where she did her studies, and I believe he gives a fair assessment of her work. That said, he seems to disagree with some fundamentals, namely that he doesn't think cutting aid would solve many problems, because he says, "I doubt that many of Africa's problems can be attributed to aid." I am not so sure. Problems may not have started with aid, but many are certainly continuing because of aid....

I can't wait to get a copy and make my own assessment. In the meantime, Andrew, we are waiting! And watch out, your suits are sharp, but Ms. Moyo looks waaaaay better in heels.

(Source: NYT)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Andrew on Aid (Again)

In his excellent new blog, Aid Watch, William Easterly has posted a video of Andrew Mwenda speaking at a recent conference at NYU. Sadly, my Internet connection is currently too slow to watch it, but I have spent enough time with Andrew at The Independent and around town that I am pretty sure I know what he is saying...essentially that foreign aid makes governments accountable (if at all) to donors instead of their own people, which has damaging consequences for many young and emerging democracies.

I generally agree. In some cases, there is little evidence that governments need to be accountable even to the donors, who seem to keep throwing money at programs and government coffers without following up to see that the money translates into measurable outcomes. Domestic taxes are a good (if obvious) solution. When people are coughing up their hard earned money to pay for public services, for example, they are much more likely to make sure that government actually delivers these services.

Tax collection is not easy, however, especially when the richest businessmen are often top government officials themselves, or have close ties to the government. Studies from the Economic Policy Research Centre in Uganda have found that tax evasion in the country is widespread (an altogether expected finding). I am sure we would be shocked to know the real amount that is owed to the Uganda Revenue Authority. It is also hard to tax the informal sector, which constitutes a large and largely undocumented portion of the economies of many developing countries. Nevertheless, improved tax collection should be a high priority for those looking to create real systems of accountability in countries like Uganda. But who are these people exactly? Politicians? Government officials? The most powerful people in the land? Mmmm, methinks not...

Not the First Lady I wanted in the news

Last week I noted the seemingly unusually frequent news stories related to First (and former First) Ladies around the world. I almost added at the end, "Who's next, Mugabe's wife?" Close, as it turns out. But instead it was Susan Tsvangirai, wife of the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe (Morgan Tsvangirai) who died in a car crash in Zimbabwe last Friday, March 6.

There has been some speculation that the crash was not an accident but a malicious attempt to oust the PM, but given the decrepit roads, poor driving and sky high car accident rates in the region, I would not be surprised if the official story (that the driver of the truck that plowed into the Tsvangirai's car) was true. In any case, it is a great loss and tragedy for the Tsvangirai family (which includes 6 children and two grandchildren).

There have been a number of high profile road traffic deaths in Uganda as well, which has one of the highest road accident/death rates in the region. Yet despite the fact that nearly everyone I know has lost a loved one to the roads, there is little to nothing being done to improve the condition of roads or people's driving. I don't understand why. It wouldn't seem to be a collective action problem, because everyone is suffering and I don't think one group is disproportionately affected. Perhaps it is a fatalistic mentality when it comes to the roads? I have heard multiple people explain these deaths as "God's will." Others have told me they do not wear seatbelts because they would rather be killed than maimed for life.

While I do not consider myself very religious, I do generally understand the "God's will" sentiment. I do not think it applies here however. It is not God's will that people within the Ministry of Transportation are not doing their job. It is not God's will that corruption eats up money meant for road construction so that in the end you have roads that have developed potholes before they are even completed (ahem! Northern Bypass). Submission to incompetence gets you nowhere at best and, evidently, killed at worst.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I heart the LRA?

I'm sorry, I have no words for the absurdity/insensitivity of Invisible Children's latest merchandise aka "Rescue Pack" (and thanks Julia for the tip).

First Ladies Galore

Is it just me, are are there an awful lot of first ladies in the news these days? There are Michelle's biceps (which you too can get with the help of CNN!), former Zambian first lady Regina Chiluba convicted/imprisoned on corruption charges, former Nigerian first lady Oluremi Obasanjo kissing and telling in her new book "Bitter-Sweet: My Life with Obasanjo", Ugandan first lady Janet Museveni adding Minister of State for Karamoja to her portfolio...who's next?

In any case, this is the book I want to get my hands on. I hope Mrs. Obasanjo inspires more women to tell the real story of the "Big Men" they love and hate.

Monday, March 2, 2009


This weekend should have been a time of celebration for Uganda's best performing secondary school students. Instead, the family of Isaac Bunkedeko, the best A level candidate of Namilyango Secondary School according to the New Vision, was in mourning.

The young man had planned to study law at Makerere University and become a lawyer, according to today's article in New Vision. But last week he got a headache, and was subsequently taken to a clinic on Thursday. When his condition did not improve he was taken to the (infamous) Mulago hospital, where he died at 1am on Friday morning. The medical report stated that he had died of "sinuses".

All I can wonder is WHY?? While it is possible to die of sinusitis, it is very rare, and usually due to the condition going untreated or undiagnosed, or complicated by another more pernicious illness. In any case, I do not understand how or why this happened. In the absence of contradictory evidence, I can only conclude that Uganda's deplorable public health system has let down yet another bright star.

RIP Isaac Bunkedeko.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Go abduct yourself

Invisible Children, a "movement" that has tasked itself with resolving the conflict formerly in Northern Uganda and restoring peace and prosperity in the region, is embarking on the latest in its series of adventures -- abducting themselves.

Why or how you can "abduct yourself to free the abducted" is unclear. Nevertheless, come April 25th, one imagines that thousands of youngsters across the western world will be in "9 COUNTRIES. 100 CITIES. ONE VOICE," attempting to kidnap themselves.

A constant debate will be whether an abundance of uninformed and idealistic naiveté, sometimes laced with unconscious hubris, will do more good than harm. While I have my own misgivings about this organization, founded by accident by "three young filmmakers [who] traveled to Africa in search of a story", I think the jury is still out on whether their intentions, however good, translate on balance into real benefits for the people they seek to "help."