Monday, July 6, 2009

Moving on

Hi everyone, sorry for the absenteeism...parents' visit, Rwanda trip, etc... but I will be back up and running beginning this week, though I am moving on to Wordpress. Please visit me there:

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dr. Tajudeen's final column

Below is the last column Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem wrote for the Daily Monitor, which he had written last week before a car accident took his life on May 25, 2009.

Govts discourage enterprise and penalise those fighting poverty

The irony of Africa being a very rich continent but Africans being some of the poorest peoples in the world is no longer lost to anyone. While we can argue about the historical, structural, attitudinal, personal and institutional causes of this state of affairs, the fact remains that majority of our peoples remain in need amidst plenty.

Decades of aid, humanitarian intervention, prayers, activism, development plans, action plans, government declarations and so many other initiatives have not produced fundamental change for the poorest and weakest sections of our societies. Yet Africans remain one of the most optimistic peoples, perpetually believing that tomorrow will be better. It is always a miracle how majority of the poor, whether in our urban slums or impoverished rural areas, survive.

Our cities’ overburdened road infrastructures have spurned entrepreneurship in the form of shops on roads and legs meandering between armies of pedestrians and impatient vehicle drivers frustrated at the gridlock traffic. Similarly informal settlements have developed, several times the size of our capital cities with little or no infrastructures. Some of them like Kibera Slum in Nairobi are even becoming ‘famous’ globally for poverty tourism. Unfortunately, it is not the impoverished peoples in these settlements who are even the beneficiaries of their own poverty.

The majority of Africans continue to survive not because of government but in spite of governments. They eke out a living to keep body and soul together, provide for their families, doing all kinds of dirty work with little pay or selling anything that is buyable; hawking all kinds of household wares, fruits, vegetables and myriad of consumer items.

The concept of informal settlements in Africa is not just about where people live but extends to informal markets in all kinds of goods and services.

As the son of a hardworking woman who was a ‘petty trader’, I confess to a bias in favour of these small entrepreneurs who do not depend on any connections with government officials, politicians and big business influence. You go to many neighbourhoods rich or poor and you will find these largely female entrepreneurs, selling food to those working on construction sites, cheap vegetables to other poor members of the society from their baskets, trays or single tables at the corners of roads and streets.

So living in Kenya, a settler, apartheid type state in all but name, I find myself in solidarity with ‘Mama Mboga’. These are women who sell vegetables from their trays, or traditional load carriers tied to their heads, carried on their backs.

From Mama Mboga selling daily perishable vegetables, the ambition is to own a kiosk where you can have storage for more goods , stock more, put a fridge and freezer that can preserve perishable items. When Mama Mboga becomes a kiosk owner, it is a personal triumph of hope over adversity- a long journey from grinding poverty to bearable survival and foundations for permanent exit from poverty. The bigger the kiosk and the better stocked it is, the further away the owner is from poverty. Government policy is threatening the survival of the Mama Mbogas across this continent. In the name of ridding cities of illegal constructions, returning to the original city plans and ‘beautifying’ our cities, city councils and central governments are creating more poverty. Of what use is a ‘beautiful city’ inhabited by people who have lost their livelihoods? Would they appreciate the beauty?

The Mama Mbogas are on the street and in kiosks because they cannot afford the malls and most of their clientele cannot afford the price in the malls.

Our elite are embarrassed by the mass poverty that surrounds us but they are unwilling to provide leadership and appropriate policies to take our peoples to prosperity. Instead they engage in avoidance and denial mechanisms to pretend to visitors that ‘everything is okay’.

That’s why they rid our capitals of beggars, hawkers, and other undesirables before any major ‘international’ conference, but out of sight is not out of mind for the Mama/Baba Mbogas in our midst. You can pull down their kiosks and destroy their tables but they will come back with new tables, under umbrellas and their clientele will know where to find them. By no means are there clients all wretched of the earth. I still call my favourite Mama Mboga, Mama Sarah, or her husband , Martin, to send me top up cards from wherever Nairobi City Council have forced them to.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Afrobarometer Global Release

First of all, Happy Africa Day (yes, it is today, however underpublicised it may be). It was a good day for Afrobarometer to launch their Round 4 Results for surveys they have been conducting in 19 countries across the continent. I attended the Kampala release event today at the Serena Hotel, where Robert Sentamu of Wilksen Agencies delivered a presentation of the main findings, covering such topics as: democracy and regime consolidation, poverty reduction, globalization and cosmopolitanism, and the emergence of democratic citizens. Afrobarometer is a fantastic resource for scholars, journalists, civil society, political parties, and anyone else interested in public opinion, advocacy, policymaking, etc.

My one qualm with the findings of this release is that they paint a rather biased view of democracy and related issues in Africa. Why? Because Afrobarometer does not carry out surveys in countries where they have reason to suspect citizens will give "politically correct" answers for fear of repercussions by the state (i.e. Rwanda). This obviously leads to selection bias -- the countries where citizens are/feel "more free" to say what they really think are also probably more likely to be more democratic. Excluding those countries where citizens are not free probably paints an overly optimistic picture of democracy in Africa as a whole. Nevertheless, the findings of the release are very useful (particularly for each individual country) and quite intriguing.

So what are the key findings?

On Democracy:

The 20 African countries included in the Afrobarometer include many of the most politically liberal countries on the continent, including 7 countries ranked by Freedom House in 2008 as "Free." However, when we assess the quality of these regimes based on popular attitudes and perceptions, we do not find any consolidated democracies among them (although Botswana comes close). In fact, we find some consolidating as autocracies, but most countries are best understood as unconsolidated, hybrid regimes. They exhibit some key elements of democracy, such as regular elections and protection of core individual freedoms. But either the popular demand for democracy, or the perceived supply of democracy, or, in most cases, both, fall short of the standards of full democracy. But the trajectories of individual countries are extremely diverse, with some exhibiting sharp declines away from democratic consolidation, while others are steadily advancing.

On Poverty

Even with the significant growth that sub-Saharan Africa has experienced over the past decade, as of 2008 lived poverty (or the extent to which people regularly go without basic necessities) is still extensive. It has declined in nine of the Afrobarometer countries for which we have over-time data during this period, but it has increased in another six. Cross-national differences in economic growth help explain differing country trajectories in lived poverty. But a more complete picture must also take political freedom into consideration. Lived poverty is strongly related to country-level measures of political freedom, and changes in poverty are related to changes in freedom. This finding supports Sen's (1999) argument about the crucial importance of freedom for development. Using our alternative measures of both development and democracy, we corroborate the findings of others that there is a "democracy advantage" for well being and prosperity.

See more findings and related articles/papers from the Afrobarometer website here.

Following the main presentation, Managing Editor of the Daily Monitor, Daniel Kalinaki, made a thoughtful and eloquent presentation on the Ugandan context (excerpt follows):

As we head towards the next election in 2011, we find ourselves at a crossroads. We can choose to continue the personality-driven winner-takes-it-all political model where we have an election and petition every five years and then let our MPs and other politicians sleep on the job as long as they wake up and vote for their parties. Alternatively, we can choose a bi-partisan approach that puts Uganda first, that allows free and open debate about our burning priorities and how to achieve them, and which puts power back in the hands of the people.

Asking the politicians to decide which model to adopt is, like an African saying goes, asking the monkey to decide whether the forest should be cut down. It is up to the people to demand this right to be heard and served. The Afrobarometer survey and others like it help provide a reality check for our countries and provide useful information that can be used by the media, civil society, and progressive political groups to empower the public.

At the end of the day, however, the responsibility falls on every individual to inform themselves and others, in order to build political awareness and a critical mass of interested and involved publics who can mobilise, organise, demand and receive what is fairly due to them.

You can read the complete version on Kalinaki's own blog.

Look out in the daily papers for more articles on the Afrobarometer surveys in the coming days...

In Memoriam: Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem

Road carnage claimed yet another victim today -- this time a renowned Pan-Africanist, Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, who was rushing to Jomo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi when he was killed in an automobile accident. Alex de Waal has an excellent in memoriam post in honor of Dr. Tajudeen:

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, the most irrepressible Pan Africanist of his generation, died in Nairobi on 24 May 2009. His friends and colleagues are stunned at the loss of a man who was so full of life and humour, such a determined Afro-optimist, and such a devoted father to his children, Aisha and Aida. Africa is impoverished by his untimely death...

Tajudeen never allowed his critical sense degenerate into cynicism or disillusion. His confidence in Africa and Africans to resolve their problems, whatever the setbacks, was always undimmed. His untimely death leaves a vacuum of human energy and hope that will be difficult to fill.

Read on...

New Vision and Daily Monitor have also published articles and tributes in Tuesday's papers.

Okello Oculi says Dr. Tajudeen was a true son of the continent in his tribute.

May he rest in peace. And may we find some way to prevent more of the many unnecessary and devastating deaths that occur on our roads every single day.

Gettleman rafts the Nile

So my parents visit in one week and, as luck would have it, the first NYT Uganda travel article in four years (I think the last was in 2005?) was published Sunday. What timing! (and good looking out Mom!) Unfortunately the whole thing was about rafting, which my beloved mother and father are not particularly keen to do. Not to mention, rafting was the only activity of consequence in Uganda, Gettleman? I think we deserve better than that (ok, fine, you mention other activities in the fifth paragraph but that hardly counts). At least the commentary is pretty amusing.

My favorite line? "The whole experience was like riding a bouncy castle through a tsunami." Hahaha. Not inaccurate at all.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Why Don't We Have a Global Fund for Maternal Health?

Well, cause someone would steal the money anyway. No? Ok, how about because the international community is preoccupied (is obsessed too strong a word?) by the much more exotic sounding tropical and infectious diseases (a virus that turns your insides to mush = exciting/terrifying, bleeding to death giving birth = boring). Not everyone gets Ebola or HIV or malaria, but most people either give birth or are the direct cause of someone else giving birth (and if nothing else, at least someone once gave birth to them). So maternal health is ordinary, banal, and just plain not-sexy. That is, unless it is tied to something exotic (see Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV -- PMTCT)...

The wards described in the article of the Tanzanian hospital are not different from those in Uganda. In Mugalo Hospital, around 80 to 100 babies are delivered every day, and there are certainly not enough beds for all the mothers. One medical student working in the labour ward described to me how the "fluids" from one mother giving birth flowed into the ears of another mother who was sharing her mattress one night during his shift.

I don't know what the solution is to the neglect of maternal health. In Uganda, maternal mortality statistics have barely budged in the past 20 years. The 2006 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey (depressingly) discusses the lack of improvement with regard to maternal mortality:

At first glance, it would appear that the maternal mortality ratio has declined significantly
over the last five years, from 527 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births for the ten-year period prior to the 1995 UDHS to 505 for the ten-year period before the 2000-01 UDHS, and to 435 for the ten- year period before the 2006 UDHS. However, the methodology used and the sample sizes implemented in these three surveys do not allow for precise estimates of maternal mortality. The sampling errors around each of the estimates are large and, consequently, the estimates are not significantly different; thus, it is impossible to say with confidence that maternal mortality has declined. Moreover, a decline in the maternal mortality ratio is not supported by the trends in related indicators, such as antenatal care coverage, delivery in health facilities, and medical assistance at delivery, all of which have increased only marginally over the last ten years.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

First do no harm. Ok, first do not-too-much harm...what? You don't know how much you're doing? Well in that case...

"...apart from questions over its investments, the Gates Foundation has received little external scrutiny. Last year, Devi Sridhar and Rajaie Batniji reported that the Foundation gave most of its grants to organisations in high-income countries. There was a heavy bias in its funding towards malaria and HIV/AIDS, with relatively little investment into tuberculosis, maternal and child health, and nutrition—with chronic diseases being entirely absent from its spending portfolio. In The Lancet today, David McCoy and colleagues extend these findings by evaluating the grants allocated by the Gates Foundation from 1998—2007. Their study shows even more robustly that the grants made by the Foundation do not reflect the burden of disease endured by those in deepest poverty. In an accompanying Comment, Robert Black and colleagues discuss the alarmingly poor correlation between the Foundation's funding and childhood disease priorities.
The concern expressed to us by many scientists who have long worked in low-income settings is that important health programmes are being distorted by large grants from the Gates Foundation. For example, a focus on malaria in areas where other diseases cause more human harm creates damaging perverse incentives for politicians, policy makers, and health workers. In some countries, the valuable resources of the Foundation are being wasted and diverted from more urgent needs."

Excerpt from 9 May 2009 Lancet editorial.

This is the same point I have tried to make with regard to HIV/AIDS funding in Uganda. But it is hard to tell/convince donors that their massive spending on HIV/AIDS may actually be hurting other healthcare programs (not to mention that the funding decisions are often made by those in Washington, etc who have no idea what is going on on the ground). The response of the program and project managers, of course, is that they believe they are helping more than hurting. There are at least two problems with this argument though. One, measuring how much one is helping or hurting a country/population/sector/etc is difficult, especially as unintended/unrecognized consequences abound (i.e. doctors migrating from cash-starved district health centers to donor-funded HIV clinics). Two, what happened to "first do no harm"? Should one even be involved if the consequences of one's actions cause harm of unknown/unquantifiable amounts?

The good news is that the discussion regarding priorities/allocation of money within the health sector is emerging in policymaking circles -- New Vision, for example, reports today that parliament has recommended sh36b earmarked to purchase anti-retrovirals (ARVs) be re-allocated to other pressing government programmes. (Although, reading through the article again, I am thoroughly confused as to what MPs are proposing...anyone have insight?)

Meanwhile, Easterly and Wronging Rights have an interesting (and related) discussion on aid and the Love Actually Test.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Problematizing Corruption

I just finished (finally) reading Michela Wrong's latest book, It's Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle Blower. I'm not going to review the book, per se, but I do recommend it to anyone interested in East African politics, corruption, foreign aid, diplomacy, etc. More than anything, it has made me think more deeply about this problem we have called corruption.

What has really been bothering me of late is that it seems for too many people, corruption isn't a problem. Wrong quotes a journalist saying of Kenya, "Steal a mobile in this country and you get lynched, steal $100 million and you get to run as MP". This is also true, to some degree, in Uganda. You can easily be killed for stealing a chicken, but steal from the Global Fund, you can just sit tight in your Bugolobi or Kololo mansion. Yes, people talk -- some of them, for a while...but ultimately the story dies and the big shots soldier on. The media picks up on the next big story, perhaps even a fire or collapsing building that is actually the consequence of corruption, and the previous story is forgotten. Corruption is like a mosquito buzzing around your bed at night -- bothersome, but not annoying enough to make you get up and squash, so you roll over and keep sleeping. Which is too bad, since you may very well fall ill with malaria as a result of your inaction.

Ok, maybe that's a lame analogy, but you get the point. If corruption is not seen as a "problem" to those it affects the most, how can we ever end it? Like malaria actually. Why do you think people have used mosquito nets as fishing nets and for bridal gowns instead of using them to prevent malaria? Clearly how one uses a mosquito net is a conscious choice, and people are responding to incentives in deciding how best to use a net (which they are sometimes given for free). Reducing the prevalence of malaria, like reducing corruption, will not happen by shoving solutions down people's throats, and it may even make the problem worse (as Andrew Mwenda will argue has occurred with anti-corruption agencies in Uganda, such as the IGG). We need to start thinking differently about how corruption works and thrives in different environments. I do not think there is a one-size-fits-all solution.

I will conclude with one of my favorite bits from Wrong's book, in the Epilogue, page 327:

One of the many lessons of John Githongo's story is that the key to fighting graft in Africa does not lie in fresh legislation or new institutions. To use the seemingly counter-intuitive phrase of Danny Kaufmann, expert on sleaze: 'You don't fight corruption by fighting corruption.' Most African states already have the gamut of tools required to do the job. A Prevention of Corruption Act has actually been on the Kenyan statute book since 1956. 'You don't need any more bodies, you don't need any more laws, you just need good people and the will,' says Hussein Were. In Kenya, as in many other countries, the KACC [Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission] is part of the grand corrupters' game, providing them with another bureaucratic wall behind which to shield, another scapegoat to blame for lack of progress. Rather than dreaming up sexy-sounding short cuts, donors should be pouring their money into the boring old institutions African regimes have deliberately starved of cash over the years: the police force, judicial system and civil service.

See Wrong's interview with Transparency International here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

No one cares about our nations more than we do

We appreciate support from the outside, but it should be support for what we intend to achieve ourselves. No one should pretend that they care about our nations more than we do; or assume that they know what is good for us better than we do ourselves. They should, in fact, respect us for wanting to decide our own fate.

Says Kagame in his op-ed last week in the Financial Times.

While I am concerned that certain individuals high up in the echelons of power actually care about themselves far more than their nations, I agree wholeheartedly with Kagame's sentiment. Especially the bit about supporting a country's own priorities, whether they be in health, education, infrastructure, etc., and not simply making up your own.

I wrote about donor distortions to Uganda's health sector in this week's Independent. I don't think many U.S. taxpayers, for example, realise that they are contributing more to fighting HIV/AIDS in Uganda than the Ugandan government is contributing to Uganda's health sector in its entirety. This is unacceptable on a number of levels. The current state of affairs is not the fault of only one party, but the donor/recipient relationship will never be equal and those involved should act/think accordingly, political correctness of "partnership" notwithstanding.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Afrobarometer shows waning faith in NRM

Afrobarometer recently released the findings from it's 2008 Round 4 Survey of Uganda. There were a number of interesting results. Among the most interesting to me were those on trust in government institutions, a major increase in support for presidential term limits since 2005, and the lack of NRM support in urban areas.

"Museveni not likely to win clear majority in 2011 elections" was the Daily Monitor's headline for a special report on the poll.

Trust in government institutions fell since the 2005 Afrobarometer survey across the board -- 20 percentage points or more for the president, the ruling party, the courts, the police and the electoral commission. Trust in the opposition party increased slightly, but was also was the least "trusted" to begin with.

Overall, it appears people are tiring of the incompetence and corruption of the ruling party, but the lack of support for the opposition suggests they do not yet see another good option outside of NRM. With less than 2 years until the 2011 elections, now is the time for the opposition to get serious about their campaign.

More analysis to come...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rwanda: Repressive or Responsible?

I am sure the Rwandan government will be blasted for their recent suspension of BBC broadcasts in Kinyarwanda, accused of being authoritarian and repressive. But before anyone jumps to conclusions I would like to see what was actually said, specifically by Faustin Twagiramungu, the former Prime Minister who now lives in exile in Belgium.

This is as much as I could glean, as reported by the AFP:

During the programme, Radio Rwanda said, former prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu, who now lives in exile in Belgium, said that as a Hutu, he could never give in to Tutsi demands to apologize for the 1994 genocide.

The government had this to say of the situation:

"We have suspended all BBC programmes in Kinyarwanda because they had become a real poison with regards to the reconciliation of the Rwandan people," Information Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told AFP.

"We could no longer tolerate that," she said. "The Rwandan government shall protest strongly, until the BBC can give us guarantees of responsible journalism."

The editorial in Rwanda's New Times comes down hard on both the BBC and the international community, concluding:

Even as we prepare to celebrate World Press Freedom Day, under the broader theme to do with the role of media in national reconciliation, the behavior by the BBC in Rwanda leaves us with much to ponder on.

Rwanda has every right to take exception when her history and efforts at moving on through reconciliation are insulted. Just like any other country reserves that right.

In Germany those who deny the Holocaust face judicial processes. Dutch politician Geert Wilder was banned in London and indicted in Holland for his radical anti-Islam views.

As I have mentioned before, those who discuss Rwanda are often polarized, either adoring or despising the government of Paul Kagame, and I think both sides are too quick to judge. Whether the response of the government in this case was an overreaction is impossible to debate (much less determine) without knowing what was being said on that particular show, and without fully understanding the social and political climate in Rwanda today.

Michael Keating of World Politics Review says the sheen has come off Kagame. Human Rights Watch demands Rwanda restore the BBC to air, saying:

"This suspension of the BBC reflects the Rwandan government's growing crackdown on free speech," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "If Rwanda is truly committed to the fundamental right of free expression, it should allow differing viewpoints on genocide issues and related government policies."

Meanwhile, just to demonstrate the degree of this polarization, on the adoring side we have Pastor Rick Warren, who has just nominated Paul Kagame as one of TIME magazine's 100 Most Influential People, gushing:

Kagame's leadership includes a number of uncommon characteristics: One is his willingness to listen and learn from to those who oppose him, and even find ways to partner with them.

When Stephen Kinzer was writing a biography of Kagame, the president gave him a list of his critics and suggested that Kinzer could discover what the president was really like by interviewing them. Only a humble, yet confident, leader would do that.

Another uncommon characteristic is Kagame's zero tolerance for corruption. Rwanda is one of few countries where I've never been asked for a bribe. Anytime a government worker is caught in corruption, he is publicly exposed and dealt with. It is a model for the entire country - and the rest of the world too.

So the debate continues...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday rant on good intentions

I hate to harp on this, but the whole LRA/Northern Uganda/Invisible Children issue is still grating on my nerves (is that the phrase?). I just came across an article by Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy in the Huffington Post on Invisible Children's "Abduct Yourself" event tomorrow. I don't especially want to get into another debate on IC and the work they do/have done, but I want to say that how you approach and write about an issue or situation matters. For example, someone who did not know anything about Northern Uganda would have every reason to believe that the LRA was still active in this country after reading Wentz' article.

He writes:

I watched the film Invisible Children: Rough Cut a while back, about kids sleeping in the streets in Northern Uganda -- hundreds of them -- because they feared being abducted by rebel leader Joseph Kony and forced to fight in his rebel militia, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). They're kids. Except no one told them they were, so they carry AK-47s, kill their parents and murder, rape and terrorize their own people on command. In the past two decades, 30,000 of them have been abducted. This is a reality neither you nor I could ever begin to understand. It was one of those times in my life where I was given a choice -- continue ignoring the issue because it wasn't in front of me, or forget about myself and do something. I was losing sleep, I had to go to Africa. My band Fall Out Boy traveled to Northern Uganda to film our music video "Me and You" to see it for ourselves and my experiences have forever changed me.

Everyone I met, everywhere I walked, with every step, the hardwiring in my brain began to change. I was quiet. Every time I wanted to complain, I made sure to bite my tongue instead. One day, we were stopped by some local men holding machetes; they wouldn't let us pass. The fear I felt was paralyzing, but I looked into the eyes of these men and all could see was desperation. A pervasive hopelessness. These men stood at the mercy of a twenty-three year war.

Of course, the LRA are still active and wreaking havoc in the region (namely in Congo). They are continuing to abduct and kill with impunity, there are still many children whom they have taken captive, and whom they have forced to do terrible things. This is unacceptable, outrageous and terrible. It must be stopped. But I am not at all sure that Wentz himself knows that there is no longer a war going on in Northern Uganda.

There are many issues in Northern Uganda that may be publicized, but war is not one of them, and it doesn't really do anyone any service to suggest that the war is still ongoing there. If anything, it continues to make the country sound like a scary and dangerous place (the whole "heart of darkness" thing, a line I wish had never been written). We are working on recovery and redevelopment, people are returning home and trying to begin their lives afresh.

I am more than happy to pressure government to get on with the promised PRDP already, to demand more from a Prime Minister who had never even been to the north until last year. But I am so sick of hearing self reflections and misrepresentation of the many challenges there actually are in the region, especially from people who come for a week or two and leave thinking they understand the whole of the situation. You had to go to "Africa" because you were losing sleep? Give me a break.

Anyway, I'm glad if this publicity will help people find Uganda on a map. I'm glad lots of young Americans want to make their world a better place. I'm even glad if Mr. Wentz' trip has made him appreciate his own life a little more, or to think a little less about himself. Nevertheless, what you write and how you present yourself and your "cause", whatever it may be, matters. Good intentions do not always save the day.

End rant.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cope can't cope

So the results are mostly in for South Africa's national elections, held yesterday. The ANC has won nearly two thirds of the votes counted so far, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) picking up close to 20%. Cope, it seems, however, is not coping so well, winning less than 10% of those counted so far.

The biggest lesson to be drawn from the early results is that Cope, which so many South Africans had hoped would turn into a viable alternative to the all-powerful ANC, has done worse than most people thought it would. It may now fizzle out.

Says the Economist.

Meanwhile, the next biggest question is, with so many wives, who will be Jacob Zuma's first lady?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Burundi is rebel-free

But the challenges are far from over.

African Union troops are physically disarming 21,000 fighters from Burundi's last active rebel group, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL).

It follows a weekend ceremony where FNL leader Agathon Rwasa symbolically surrendered his own weapons to the AU.

A grenade attack killed six people but the BBC's Prime Ndikumagenge says it was not linked to the rebels.

But he says it shows how many weapons are circulating in Burundi following more than 10 years of ethnic conflict.

According to the AFP news agency, estimates put the number of weapons owned illegally at between 100,000 and 300,000.

Reports the BBC.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has issued a call to find the killers of Burundian anti-corruption activist, Ernest Manirumva, who was murdered earlier this month:

(Bujumbura) - The Burundian authorities should ensure a speedy, independent, and thorough investigation into the killing on April 9 of prominent anti-corruption activist Ernest Manirumva, Human Rights Watch said today. The investigation should lead to the prosecution of those suspected of responsibility for the murder.

In the early hours of April 9, 2009, unidentified assailants raided Manirumva's home and stabbed him to death. Police and colleagues told Human Rights Watch that files were strewn around his room, and that it appeared documents had been taken from his house. Manirumva was vice president of the Burundian civil society group Anti-corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory (Observatoire de Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques [OLUCOME]). Since January, Manirumva, a highly respected economist, had also been vice president of an official body that regulates public procurement.

"Manirumva's work threatened the interests of corrupt officials and businesspeople who prey on Burundian society," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Those responsible for his death should face justice. That would send a clear message that silencing critics is totally unacceptable in Burundi."

Manirumva's death sent shockwaves through Burundian civil society. Neighbors found his body just outside his home early last Thursday morning and notified police. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that a bloodstained folder lay empty on his bed, suggesting that documents inside had been removed....

Monday, April 20, 2009

Workshops wasting time

So government (or at least Musa Ecweru) has finally realised that workshops are a waste of time. But only in Karamoja apparently. In Kampala, where you could find no less than 30 workshops (at least) per day, they are...productive? At least they are a good place for free snacks, tea and coffee...and lunch if you're lucky!

I like that government is making an effort (however feeble) to regulate NGOs and not the other way around for once, but the logic in this case should apply countrywide -- not just to where Mrs. Museveni is trying to make a good impression in her first cabinet posting.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika

This has to be my favorite national anthem (this version with Miriam Makeba). In fact I once tried to turn it into a title for this blog, but it proved far too lengthy/difficult to remember how to spell...

Anyway, back on the subject of elections, South Africa is next week (April 22) holding its national elections, with the African National Congress (ANC) set to win by a landslide (again) and Jacob Zuma to be elected the country's next president.

But politics in South Africa is not what it was in the 1990s after the fall of apartheid, especially with the dawning of the ANC breakaway party, Congress of the People (COPE -- quite a fitting acronym...), founded by disgruntled former ANC members following the ousting of former president Thabo Mbeki.

"The ANC is poised to win a convincing majority in national polls on Wednesday on the back of an effective electoral machinery and a resurgence in the populous province of KwaZulu-Natal. But beneath the headline figures, which will likely see the party coming close to the critical two-thirds majority it so urgently wants, there are signs of an important change in the political landscape. The ANC’s victory portends an arguably more significant realignment: a shift in the political landscape which could see the Democratic Alliance and Cope work closely together and so begin the work of crafting a governing alternative for future elections."

Says the Mail & Guardian, discussing what the ANC victory means. The Economist also has quite a comprehensive piece on the subject, and you can catch all the latest on AllAfrica...

Friday, April 17, 2009

How to feel like a little fish

in the big sea of democracies... look at India!

India's general elections are currently underway, occurring in 5 phases over the course of a month. The number of voters in Uganda during the country's 2006 presidential and national elections -- 7 million -- was just slightly higher than the number of staff reported to be working on India's election (6.5 million, though some estimates go up to 10 million!)

Some numbers to boggle your mind:

4,617 candidates
300+ parties represented
543 seats being contested in the Lok Sabha
828,804 polling stations countrywide
714 million eligible voters
1.3 million electronic voting machines
$400 million spent on the election
2 million security personnel deployed
5 voting phases across the country over the course of April and May 2009

Also, something to consider -- why does it cost more for some countries to execute an election than others? I calculated that it cost Uganda about $3.50 per eligible voter in 2006, and it is costing India about $0.56 in this year's election....hmm...

(Illustration by Jon Berkeley via The Economist)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Saving Survivors or Surviving the "Saviors"?

There is already a lot of heat surrounding the latest book by Ugandan-born Columbia University professor Mahmood Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors. Those whom have been involved in Save Darfur and similar campaigns have taken offense to Mamdani's harsh criticism of their involvement in Sudan. I have just gotten my hands on a copy and so cannot make an informed opinion of the book, but I am excited to jump into it.

In the meantime, Alex de Waal, director of Justice Africa and expert on Darfur, has reviewed the book here in the Monthly Review. Howard French of the NYT has reviewed it here. And the blogs are hopping, with Easterly chiming in on Aid Watch and a lively debate taking place at the SSRC blog, among others.

Anyone read it yet who'd like to comment?

Blogging Kagame's university tour

Rwandan president Paul Kagame's recent trip to the U.S. has got people talking, particularly about his emphasis on technology and education investment.

It is still too early to judge, but I am enthusiastic about the present Rwandan government investment strategy to initiate the necessary infrastructure to take the technological momentum and unlock the private sector possibilities- building of a national fibre network, roll out of national WiMAX access, a Kigali technology park and business incubator and external fibre landing stations to connect Rwanda to the coming east African undersea fibre. The strategies success or failure will hinge crucially on handover of the impetus to private sector actors. Indeed now it is up to private enterprise, foreign investment and the countries talent to sustain this momentum and fulfil Vision 2020’s ambition of Rwanda as a regional technology and telecommunications hub.

Says Jim Cust, writing for the Bottom Billion Blog.

Africa Unchained also linked to Kagame's lecture at MIT.

President Kagame will also be visiting Stanford University this month. These are the details I have dug up for those who are interested and in the area:

The Impact of the Global Slowdown on Africa
President Paul Kagame, Republic of Rwanda

April 24, 2009, 4:00-6:00p.m.
Stanford Faculty Club
RSVP's required and accepted on a first come first serve basis.
Stanford students must show Stanford ID.

RSVP Dafna Baldwin (650) 725-6668 or

Check it out and judge for yourself...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Debating Rwanda

Starting a conversation about Rwanda is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. Observers of the small East African nation are often polarized in their views of the country's governance -- either President Paul Kagame is an inspirational genius getting things done in a country that was hacking itself to death just 15 years ago, or he is a brutal dictator, quashing the opposition, press and anyone else who threatens his power or so much as mentions the words "Hutu" or "Tutsi". Whichever side you take, it is nearly impossible to talk about Rwanda without talking about Kagame. Because for many, Kagame = Rwanda (which is not to suggest that this is the way he would want to be perceived).

During the 15 year commemoration/remembrance of the 1994 Rwanda genocide last week, there were a flurry of articles and blog posts written on the subject, some applauding and others criticizing Rwanda's current government. You could almost wonder if you were reading about the same country while reading two articles like VOA's "Rwanda Gacaca Criticized as Unfair for Genocide Trials", and then "Rwanda 15 Years On" by Josh Ruxin, director of Rwanda Works and Columbia University public health expert.

Meanwhile, human rights organizations have also been hard at work to publicize their own assessments. Human Rights Watched published a news story last week titled, "The Power of Horror in Rwanda" in the Los Angeles Times and lists many more country reports here. In their 2008 Annual Report on Rwanda, Reporters Without Borders wrote: "
Appalling relations persisted between the government and a section of the independent press, especially the more highly critical publications..."

If you talk to journalists and some members of the diplomatic community in Uganda, you will hear stories of journalists being deported from Rwanda, picked up at their offices and driven to the airport without time to even collect their belongings, you will hear of the arrest of those who speak critically of the government, you will hear of those who have fled the country to escape will even hear of those who have been disappeared. I cannot speak the truth or accuracy of any of this. What I have heard are second, third or fourth hand accounts.

What I have experienced first-hand is Rwanda (and specifically Kigali) today. I have visited government officials in their brand new office buildings, I have driven (been driven) on smooth roads, I have run on clean sidewalks and walked alone at night without fear, I have seen how patients are treated with care (and medicine...and new machines) in Kigali's main referral hospital, I have met with investors and seen plans and blueprints for beautiful hotels and resorts around Rwanda. And I was impressed by it all.

This is not to say that everything in Rwanda is hunky dory everywhere all the time. Rwanda is a very poor country, with fewer resources and human capacity than Uganda, Kenya or Tanzania (in fact the country is soaking up talent from all over the world in its hospitals, universities, etc). Many people are concerned about what will happen in the next 5 or 10 years. They wonder whether Kagame will step down, or if he will become like so many African leaders before him, refusing to relinquish power. Being the optimistic person that I am, I of course am leaning towards the former. But these are critical years for Rwanda. These are the years in which systems, institutions, and capacity must be built if peace and development are to continue in an era post-Kagame or even post-RPF.

What I can say is that it is almost impossible (if not entirely impossible) to put oneself in Kagame's shoes. He has and will make mistakes, as any leader will do.
But I think as outside observers to Rwanda's development we should ensure that in being critical, we are not unwittingly being hypocritical instead.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Commotion" prevents rape in Sierra Leone

This has been circulating around a bit, but I found it so outrageous/hilarious/absurd that I had to share here as well. Wronging Rights stumbled across a recent press release from Weyone, a "a public information outlet for the ruling All Peoples Congress political party" in Sierra Leone, in which the APC refutes allegations that women were raped by security forces last month at the headquarters of the opposition, the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP).

The press release, titled, "We Meant No Harm to Womanhood and Reaffirm That Alleged Rape Is a Mere Fabrication" asserts, among other things, that the rape could not have occurred as it is alleged because:

"Under normal circumstance nature prevents the male penis from erecting when the individual is under threat or acting in a commotion. Even during war time incidents of rape occur when all is calm and quite and not when the battle in raging.
Thus, considering the circumstantial evidence, it is again very doubtful that the alleged victims indeed suffered from rape at a time when bottles and stones were being hurled from different directions..."

I'm sure this will be news to the hundreds of thousands of women who have been raped in wartime across the world.

For a far wittier evaluation of this incredible defense, see the original post on Wronging Rights, "In Which We Learn Something New About Penises."

Friday, April 10, 2009

More on torture...

From the Great Lakes Peace and Security blog, an extended interview with the author of the HRW report on torture in Uganda, Maria Burnett.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Torture in Uganda

Torture has been a sensitive subject for the government of Uganda, and has led to the arrest of journalists who cover the topic. Human Rights Watch today released their 89-page report, "Open Secret: Illegal Detention and Torture by the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force in Uganda."

An article highlighting information related to the killing of four suspects can be found here.

A summary of the report, published in the Daily Monitor, is below:

JATT is torturing suspects - report

The Human Rights Watch will today release a report in which the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force (JATT), an arm of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, is expected to be accused of wide-scale use of torture and illegal detention of suspects. The report is expected to put the government’s rights record in the spotlight.

Conducted between August 2008 and February 2009, the report lies on testimonies from former detainees.
This won’t be the first time the rights body takes issue with the government on abuse of human rights and freedoms.

Past reports have accused the government of torture, questioned transparency of security agencies and general transgression on the rule of law.

The last human rights report condemned the 2006 election violence, intimidation of the Opposition and raised concerns of fairness ahead of the 2011 elections.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

When the beater is beaten, who wins?

This morning in Mulago hospital, a young man lay on a stretcher in the emergency ward, the side of his head split open over a lump that had swelled to the size of an apple. "Mob justice," explained a nurse. "They were found beating a woman, and so they were beaten." In the hall outside the room, two police officers waited for their suspects to be released. In the next room, patients waited to see the triage nurse, to register, to be whisked away to the appropriate ward, some of which remained too full to admit new patients.

I hoped the young man would make it, but I couldn't help thinking that he was taking doctors and nurses away from so many other patients who hadn't landed in the emergency room for beating someone (if in fact the story was correct, which it sometimes is not in the case of mob justice). I am sure the police saved the young man and his accomplice from the certain death they would have encountered at the hands of the mob.

According to Uganda's 2008 Annual Crime Report, released last month, the incidence of mob justice is on the rise. The statement read by Inspector General of Police Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, "Last year registered a 100% increase in cases of mob action leading to death, from 184 cases in 2007, to 368 cases in 2008. Of these instances, 232 suspects were lynched on suspicion of theft and 59 on suspicion of murder. Suspected robbers, burglars and witchdoctors were other categories of persons murdered through mob action."

He continued, "I am putting the public on notice that no one shall be allowed to take the law into their own hands, whatever the provocation or perceived justification. I have given strict instruction to the CID to apprehend and have all persons involved in mob action charged with murder."

I am not sure what the apparent increase in prevalence of mob justice indicates. The obvious explanation for mob justice is that people feel that the legal justice system does not work for them and therefore must take matters into their own hands. But why more so now than before?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Want a Condom? Think again in the land of ABC

Uganda has long been hailed for its success in fighting HIV/AIDS, bringing prevalence rates from a high of 20-30% (depending on estimates) to 6%, where it has remained for the past several years. The success was attributed, among other things, to the ABC campaign -- abstinence, "be faithful" and condom use. Well, I'm not sure about either the abstinence or the being faithful bit (though a new effort is being pushed forward with the be red campaign), but condom use remains tricky around here.

New Vision ran a fascinating piece in their Sunday edition, sending out reporters around the city/country asking to buy a condom from various shops. Results were mixed, but in general most were ridiculed, laughed at, or looked down upon for their purchase, where they were able to make it. It seemed to me the women fared worse...The men's accounts are here and here, the women's here, here and here.

This combined with the not uncommon idea that using a condom during sex is like eating candy with the wrapper on...

In any case, for those who thought promoting condom use abroad would be as (relatively) easy as it has been in the U.S. (where you often have 12 year olds putting condoms on bananas during sex ed class) should seriously think again, even in countries that have been supposedly successful in the fight against HIV/AIDS....

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rwanda Rising

Nobody likes to say "No, Mr. President." So three years ago, when Costco CEO Jim Sinegal got a call from shareholder Dan Cooper, a partner in Chicago's Fox River Financial Resources, asking if he'd have lunch with Rwandan president Paul Kagame, he agreed. That meeting in New York led to a presidential stop at Costco HQ near Seattle. Which led to Sinegal's promise to visit Rwanda. "I made it in a moment of weakness," he says, "before I realized how long it takes to get there." He ended up taking his whole family, and today Costco is one of the two biggest buyers of Rwandan coffee beans -- about 25% of the country's premium crop, by Sinegal's estimation. Without Cooper's introduction, "no way would this have happened. I knew the Rwanda story, but I wasn't intimately involved," Sinegal says. "It took more elbow grease to get this started up, but it has been very profitable. Good for us and good for them."

From the article in Fast Company magazine that CEO of Rwanda Development Board, Joe Ritchie, had mentioned in our interview last week in Kigali. Fortune magazine also addresses the issue of why CEOs love Rwanda.

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 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)