welcoming princes of all kinds…oh Uganda!


NO – I was not one of those jumping around celebrating the arrival of the prince this week.

Which Prince? We had two; first, we congratulated the British royal couple just as we do anyone else who begets a child or an heir.

The British royal family is adored by even the ordinary British fellows who are adored by ordinary Ugandans, so it wouldn’t surprise me if some Kashaija in Kamwezi or an Ejakait in Soroti used the occasion to sip an extra bit of muramba or ajono.

On principle, I attempted to prove that I was not one of the ‘colonised’ Ugandans who can’t do without tattling about celebrities in the UK and America, so I ignored the announcement of the wedding.

Instead of watching the William-Kate wedding live on television as some people missed work to do, I was in office and meetings in the city. The pregnancy announcement ambushed me but I avoided the details until, very ironically, a Uganda online news site delivered a story into by inbox titled “Royal Pregnancy Something Something”.

Because it arrived shortly after the Princess Komuntale wedding, and Buganda’s Prince Wasajja was soon walking his bride down the aisle, I was intrigued enough to read the story, and was three paragraphs into it before my confusion over the mentions of Kate cleared.

To be honest, there is no amount of sensitisation, complaining or patriotism lecturing that will reverse the cultural disorientation we are going through – and not just in Uganda.

One British publication, Private Eye, summed my thoughts up best with a front page bearing only the headline, ‘Woman Has Baby’ and the tag: “Inside: some other stuff”.

On Twitter, a few of us cracked #namestheywontcalltheroyalbaby jokes and suggested, among others: ‘Sejusa’, ‘Aronda’, ‘Mbabazi’, ‘Besigye’ and ‘Semakookiro’ – thus Ugandanising this global story a little.

Among the names was ‘North West’, which took me a while to work out till twelve hours later I realised that is a Princess of Hip Hop – the baby of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian – news that also came to me by way of a Ugandan online news site, the same one that told me about Hip Hop Princess Ivy Carter, of Jay-Z and Beyonce amid other updates about lots of non-Ugandan stuff.

Another name suggested: ‘David Greenhalgh’, and we laughed because that would be most misguided of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge, but then that night said Greenhalgh was in the news in Uganda. This is the man at the heart of the Bad Black and Meddie Ssentongo saga, complete with cuckolding, embezzlement, lavish parties and lots of contempt-filled energy from people like me.

That day, Meddie Ssentongo was released from Luzira Prison and took a victory drive through Kampala in Soroti MP Mike Mukula’s Land Cruiser, the sight of which initially depressed me till I worked out that this was in line with the theme of the day.

That’s the second – you see, Meddie Ssentongo is a Prince as well, in his own right, and I won’t befuddle the suggestion by joking that a person can be a Prince, his Kingdom Corruption, Capital City Embezzlement, Queen Black (Not Good); or that there might be a major power struggle for the position of Prime Minister in his Kingdom. I don’t know who the King is either.

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In the interest of full disclosure

On Twitter, where his profile reads, “Presidential Aspirant 2016, National Vice Chairman NRM Easter, Member of Parliament, Chairman Pan African Movement, Fellow of Harvard, Free Thinker” Mukula explained that he was simply standing by Meddie because of the support Meddie had given him in Luzira.

I suffer seriously from an ailment that makes me seek logic in the actions of others, and therefore spend more time than necessary feeling disturbed by such as what I saw on TV that day.

I don’t want to be accused of being snobbish, elitist or Utopian, so I’ve got to say I am not against Mukula standing by Meddie. But I am against Meddie being given a Prince’s welcome because it shows us up, in general, as a society that celebrates the wrong values amongst us.

What exactly ARE our values as Ugandans? Who are our heroes? And what is our definition of leadership in Uganda?

Fixing this cultural disorientation in order to correct our national values is not going to be an easy task, and it’s made much harder when we have Princes such as the youngster from Cambridge being media-fed to us alongside Prince Meddie Ssentongo of Mityana via Bad Black of Greenhalgh chaperoned through the capital city by a national leader.

 

still against raising Uganda’s retirement age – we MUST not


I’VE tried all week to understand the motivation behind Bufumbira East MP Eddie Kwizera’s suggestion that Uganda raises the retirement age for some positions – from 70 to 75 in the case of the Chief Justice and other judicial officers.

Kwizera confirmed it on television, and said he didn’t have an actual Private Member’s Bill, but had done “some research” into this and thought it serious enough to warrant legislation.

Fighting off a deep urge to describe Kwizera using very unparliamentary language, and ignoring the idea that the MP might have suffered some mental trauma that impinged on his rationality, I did a little ‘research’ into his announcement.

It turns out that Kwizera is not as bad as he first appeared; in fact, by beginning this ‘Raise Retirement Age’ conversation, he is carrying out a major requirement of bringing a successful Private Member’s Bill – more research.

The process is simple, yet designed to avoid having tax-payers time and money wasted pursuing Bills motivated by, for instance, heavy drinking, insanity or plain stupidity: a Member of Parliament gets an idea for a bill, goes to the technical offices of the Parliamentary Commission (Legal and Research, mostly) for help, and the first thing required is research into the idea. It could be a whim, as Kwizera’s appeared to be, that would require fleshing out to find reason; or a terribly bad idea in need of outright rejection voiced in polite language as the employees of the Parliamentary Commission should be well-schooled and practised in, so that the MP isn’t offended or made to feel silly.

Thereafter, a draft is put together for the MP to move a motion on the floor seeking leave to introduce the Bill; and it is crucial, at this point, for the House to debate the proposed draft Bill thoroughly. For government Bills, the equivalent process would be the Cabinet meeting that vets a government Bill before it is brought to Parliament. The debate must be informed, serious and thorough, conducted by sober minds working in the best interests of the nation and its people.

This is a critical stage in the life of a Private Member’s Bill, and in the lives of everyone who is not yet 70, or 69, or 68 (continue till 60).

That’s why I called up my MP this week and wrote to officially tell him I was against the idea of increasing the retirement age of anyone in Uganda – and that’s deputy Attorney General Freddie Ruhindi, so I am quite certain he will be in the House and alert on that day (no snide remarks, please!) The rest of you who, like me, think Kwizera’s idea is selfish, ill-founded, retrogressive, backward, inward-looking and unpatriotic, please ensure your MP is in the House and alert on the day Kwizera’s draft Bill is put on the Order Paper.

If, God forbid, Kwizera’s motion carries the day, then the Bill will be sent to the Government Printer and gazetted.

Then, it will go through the First Reading, and get sent to the relevant Committee (maybe Legal & Parliamentary Affairs), for scrutiny and for stakeholders such as you and I to be consulted. But the Committee cannot crush it. It can make suggestions for amendments and will compile a report to be taken to the House for debate along with the main points of the Bill.

But the Committee can’t reject the Bill.

Thereafter, the Bill will go back to the House to complete the process, and the rest is our future, being controlled by our past.

I haven’t read Kwizera’s research but in this age when the entire globe is grappling with youth discontent and widened gaps between rich and poor, I disagree with the principles he suggests. Yes – some people are still useful and capable of working and have accumulated a lot of experience and knowledge at 70.

But they should be allowed to retire so they write books for the following generations to read and learn from. They should leave the low-paying government service to set up high-charging consultancy practices for those of us with means to pay for – after all, they have gathered so much experience and knowledge!

After working so hard for so long in service of the public, our 70-plus grandparents should be allowed to rest and enjoy the fruits of their long years of sacrifice, served by their energetic and very numerous grandchildren, who are 70% of Uganda’s population!

Plus, as tax-payers we need to have as many professionals and public servants working for us as possible; it stands to reason that with the little money we have available to us we are better off employing cheaper employees to cover the entire country.

And practically speaking, it’s easier for unencumbered young fellows to be sent out to Nakapiripirit and Bufumbira East to work long hours for public benefit than it is to send 70-year olds who have children with children and God-knows what other worries.

Kwizera should research into the ENTIRE picture, not just bits of it –put together all the elements: education, training, public service remuneration, succession planning and pensions, and THEN come up with an idea.

He could also get a group of highly-knowledgeable, useful 70-plus people to help with that research.

age ain’t nothing but a number…mbu


It is true that Uganda’s Member of Parliament for Bufumbira East, Eddie Kwizera, has proposed that the retirement age for the Chief Justice of Uganda be increased from 70 to 75. The story seemed unreal when it broke, and at first I linked it to an earlier story in Daily Monitor that revealed which MPs had been quiet or ineffective or useless or something in the recent past. 

Then, it turned out that the reports were serious because there is video evidence and people have been talking about it.
 

A couple of legal minds have applied themselves eloquently to the seriousness of the matter and  Kwizera, so there’s no need to re-hash it, but it’s hard not to get confused.

The entire world seems to be engulfed by protests, revolts and riots all led by groups of youth who are complaining about the lack of opportunities and a growing gap between the rich and the poor. Even here in Kampala, where Kwizera most probably typed up the Bill/proposal/Act/research paper (so many media reports=so many names for this thing), there is grumbling and rumbling.
 

We don’t have recent accurate, census-led statistics to quote without fear or prejudice, but one New Vision report said Uganda’s life expectancy is 54.4 years, 78% of the country is below the age of 30, and that 80% of these are unemployed – statements that have been repeated often enough to be called facts, and which we will verify in 2014 at the next Census (feel free to visit http://www.ubos.org where the Vision of the Uganda Bureau of Statistics is revealed as “To become a Centre of Excellence in Statistical Production”.)

 

So how is it possible that with the world in turmoil because of this very same issue, this representative of people in Kisoro, is proposing to keep old men in jobs for longer?

I can’t ask the acting Chief Justice who is also acting Deputy Chief Justice (Take Heart! Somewhere along the way, the confusion compounds itself and unravels until one is quite clear about all this), because being at the helm of justice and governance, I presume he would declare a conflict of interest. Therefore, I neither believe this —> odd story (http://www.redpepper.co.ug/acting-cj-kavuma-backs-move-to-rise-retirement-age/) nor this —> same story, different publication (http://www.observer.ug/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=26403:chief-justice-pushes-for-judge-for-life&catid=34:news&Itemid=114)

I also can’t ask Kwizera’s constituents but I refuse to believe that Bufumbira East or Kisoro in its entirety to be full of 70-year olds demanding that their representative increases their employment opportunities by way of this legislation.
 

The reaction of the opposition is also confounding; as usual, their focus went straight to President Museveni and “fears” that he is behind this in order to stay in power. How is this still their most important issue instead of appealing to the youth for their votes? It amazes me that they are sticking to the tried-and-failed strategy of winning the Presidency by way of an election petition against an NRM Victory, but then what do I know about politics?

Nothing obviously, otherwise I would understand the report in The New Vision (hard copy – there is no online trace of their report) saying that ‘Independent’ MPs Gerald Karuhanga, Mariam Nalubega and Mathias Mpuuga held a Press Conference with the Democratic Party’s Joseph Ssewungu and Muwanga Kivumbi to “accuse” Kwizera of drafting the bill.

I was confused by this being an “accusation” because that gave the impression that by drafting a bill Kwizera was doing something wrong – see? I don’t understand politics at all; going by the way many MPs operate, perhaps drafting legislation is not in their terms of reference.

Reading the story again very, very carefully, I realised that the accusation was that the proposal was strictly tailored to amending the rules for the Chief Justice.

It still wasn’t clear why it was an “accusation” when the bill, according to 256lately.com, is a) titled, ‘the Judicial Officers Vacation Office Act, 2013’; b) signed by Kwizera! c) (quoting) “intended to… make provisions (sic!) for the age at which the Chief Justice, deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice of Appeal and the Principle Judge of the High Court may retire or vacate office; and for related matters.”

Eh – perhaps that would be wrong/awkward/odd, and just as I was beginning to kind-of somehow understand a little of their argument, the story went, “Karuhanga said the move is a precursor to change of the presidential age limit.”

This just reminded me of the saying that if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem will appear to be a nail.

But back to age and wisdom, the arguments being put forward by Kwizera and others include the gem by acting Chief Justice Deputy Chief Justice Stephen Kavuma, who said, and I bet he was misquoted: “In the USA, once you’re appointed a Supreme court judge, you serve until death or when you voluntarily retire…”
 
So what about stuff like presidential term limits? Perhaps the ‘Independent’ or opposition politicians should have jumped down this throat instead of the one they chose?
 
If you read the other arguments as they are presented in the media, without the context of the atmosphere (including weather, backdrops and the ambiance of the room in which they were presented), simply read as stupid.
 
For example, one position went, you and I would be more comfortable being operated upon by a doctor with a lot of experience than one who is a fresh graduate. This is true. I certainly would prefer my chances of surviving surgery if it were being handled by a knowledgeable, experienced doctor, than a 25-year old with a hangover OR A 75-YEAR OLD WITH SHAKY HANDS, POOR EYESIGHT AND A TENDENCY TO FALL ASLEEP WITHOUT WARNING MID-ACTIVITY!
Eddie Kwizera
Speaking of which, exactly three years ago, Public Service Minister Henry Kajura insisted that the retirement age should remain 60 because the youth were not competent to run the country.
 
At that time, President Museveni had suggested that the retirement age be lowered to 50 so that the youth could get into government service as the old men and women would be ejected quicker.
 
And the same Henry Kajura, being challenged by journalists over this matter in that video said that at his age he was the most hardworking in his ministry: “Age doesn’t matter. You can be useless when you are twenty. Or fifteen…”

sympathy and healing for a sick system


I sympathised with Dr. Ian Clarke last Sunday as I read his article on private health care and the progress made by the International Hospital Kampala and International Medical Group since their inception.

But I sympathised more for Remie Nakintu Wamala and thousands of others who die every day in hospitals and health centres in Uganda, public and private, because of corruption, neglect, laziness, ineptness or sheer stupidity across the chain of health care.

Whenever someone dies under medical care, everybody becomes an expert; a lay pathologist of sorts, with clear explanations of cause of death, and perfect hindsight as to what could have been done to prevent death.

It’s uncanny how accurate our views normally are when they don’t really matter and emotions are high.

Most frequently, the targets of blame and wrath are the medical professionals who were “negligent”, “inept”, “incompetent”, “rude”, “cruel”, “unkind” and, ultimately, “killed (him/her)”.

In the case of Remie Wamala, the International Hospital Kampala is the target, and this is not a position that is new to the hospital.

It is a more painful position, for some of us who knew her, because Remie Wamala worked extremely hard for the cause of preventing needless maternal deaths in Uganda. I first met her last year while working on the Everyone Is Me project with Save The Children, from which organisation she had been seconded to the Parliament of Uganda to work as Coordinator of the Uganda Parliamentary Forum for Children.

She smiled all through our discussions and meetings, and had a gusto for this cause that warmed me so much so that she was on my list of special New Year’s messages this year – and she was my second work meeting of 2013.

The manner in which she passed on still sends chills down my spine at the memory of a harrowing four hours spent reviving someone very close to me who was in exactly the same position as Remie a day after giving birth.

I still swear that the nurses were to blame, in my case, for not having administered the right medicine at the right time even though the doctor had specifically told them to do so and we had reminded them a couple of times thereafter.

By the Grace of God, we did not end up at a graveside, and moved on pretty quickly but not without giving the hospital a heavy feedback session, and memorising the face of the nurse in question so we never get served even a glass of water by her if she eventually justly ends up as a waitress.

But this can’t be the conclusion all the time – moving on till the next death or close shave.

And neither can blaming the hospitals and doctors. Again, I sympathise with Dr. Ian Clarke and other hospital owners and health centre owners and managers. They normally hear of these cases and despair as much as we, the victims, do.

In most cases they are extremely sympathetic, apologetic and quite genuinely helpless, but in some cases, they come off as uncaring and arrogant – as IHK’s General Manager, Alex Alexander, did last week in an email to a lay complainant:

“I implore you to react based on facts and not propaganda…here are some facts for you to mull over (insert, unbelievably, press release content re: ISO certification and other successes of IHK). Rest assured ANY death at our facility is looked into and scrutinized from all perspectives. Please do not discourage us from doing our jobs, but rather support us, by not indulging in baseless stories.”

The person he emailed had lost his mother there just a month ago and is still fighting to come to terms with how it had happened, so the doubly-named Alex Alex struck the wrong tone in his over-assured, non-apologetic, unsympathetic email.

Alex Alexander aside – very far aside –I sympathise with ordinary health workers most of all. As we discussed many a time in the project Remie worked on, health workers, not Alexander, are often over-worked, under-paid and very, very under-appreciated – and this makes it easy for them to err. 

The analysis of this problem is much lengthier and deeper, yet the solutions are simple. They certainly don’t lie, as Ian says, in attacking private hospitals who are filling a gap that should rightly be filled by a public sector which chooses to focus its facilitation, recruitment and wage or salary allocations on administrators, legislators and technocrats.

 

radio & weasel, jotham musinguzi: you are true Ugandan heroes!


United States President Barack Obama “visited Africa” last weekend and, as expected, sparked off debates and conversations about United States policies on the entire continent, and the meaning of his visiting only three countries – or the meaning of his not visiting each and every country we’ve got!

Uganda was one of the countries he did not visit, but much more importantly for us, artistes Radio and Weasel went to America at about the same time, to attend the BET Awards where they were nominated for the ‘Best International Act: Africa’ Award.

Online reports say the BET Awards were watched live by 7.7million viewers in the United States on Sunday night alone – 4.3million of those being adults (don’t ask me how they know these things – THAT is America!)

So by merely showing up on stage and having our country mentioned in positive light, Radio and Weasel put Uganda into the minds of 7.7million people in an excited state of viewership.

And that’s not counting the viewers who caught the later broadcasts on DSTV and other channels that re-broadcast the event.

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The Awards also generated ten million tweets on the night, and whereas Radio and Weasel did not get mentioned in each and every one of them, they picked up a good share of tweets amongst Ugandan tweeps and our followers. All this was fantastic for Uganda!

And so on Saturday night we tweeted up a storm over the Radio and Weasel nomination and showing, so that Uganda could shine on the international stage and replace our most recent negative news a la high profile arrests over suspected drug trafficking or extortion, despicable politics and disgusting corruption.

But in the middle of our tweeting that wretched fuel tanker in Namungoona entered into an accident and erupted into flames that created a tragicomedy that is still running – from the accident narrative itself to the scramble for ‘compensation’ that is probably giving ideas to other criminals of a more regular and non-flammable nature.

Our inefficiency at some things was helpful in one regard that first night, as the media in patriotic somnambulance ignored the negative story for a while and saved us the international ignominy.

For only a couple of days.

But even after it had erupted, and Radio and Weasel had left the BET stage for the after party, we were saved again thanks to Dr. Jotham Musinguzi.

The former head of the Population Secretariat in Uganda made headlines international for receiving the 2013 UN Population Award in New York, handed to him by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Forget the fact that we haven’t had a census here for quite a while, Dr. Musinguzi’s work over the years has focussed on more than Uganda, and the citation given to him mentioned interventions that spanned the globe in reach and impact.

The unlikely trio of Radio, Weasel and Dr. Musinguzi gives us more pride in this country than the fuel-infused shame we feel over the actions (and inaction) of the hundreds of people involved in the Namungoona incident.

In fact, I’d happily push a motion to award national medals to the three – and all Ugandans who bring positive recognition to this country by doing what they do well enough to shine a positive light on the Pearl of Africa. The heroes of the bush war should all have received their medals by now, since the likes of Gen. David Tinyefuza are proving the law of diminishing returns in this field, and the focus of everything we do must now move to YOU – the ordinary Ugandan of every day who stands out and gives Uganda reason to be proud.

But until the national medals committee takes this up, in honour of Radio, Weasel and Dr. Jotham Musinguzi, I’m singing the three stanzas of the National Anthem – OUR national anthem.

For God and My Country.

 

“Oh Uganda! may God uphold thee,
We lay our future in thy hand.
United, free,
For liberty
Together we’ll always stand.
Oh Uganda! the land of freedom.
Our love and labour we give,
And with neighbours all
At our country’s call
In peace and friendship we’ll live.
Oh Uganda! the land that feeds us
By sun and fertile soil grown.
For our own dear land,
We’ll always stand,
The Pearl of Africa’s Crown.”