SOMEONE at Namugongo Martyr’s Shrine on Saturday made a remark with some measure of wonder and not little happiness, that has stayed in my mind till now.
The line was something like: “Whereas we’re accustomed to hearing developed countries issue travel advisories and security notices against countries on the African continent when we are engaged in national elections, Uganda is hosting the Pope!”
This Pope, meanwhile, must be a source of headaches for his security team in the way he operates, yet at the same time that should be a source of comfort for everybody.
At Kololo, for instance, I noticed the bullet proof side shields being removed after a lengthy discussion between the SFC and Vatican security shortly before @Pontifex arrived – that wasn’t an oversight – it was deliberate.
I checked this morning and found that there is, indeed, an advisory on Uganda by the United States government but it is NOT a travel advisory – it is just a “Security Reminder”.
We have to pat ourselves on the back quite a lot for being so solid that we can achieve this – and applaud our security services a lot more than we pat our own backs.
While doing so, however, we also have to take up issue with some of the international media and set them right on this specific matter.
I don’t like joining in the chorus against the international media whenever they report wrongly about Africa and countries on this continent because I have a day job that would suffer greatly if I took away so much time to address this.
Media houses like Fox News are not worth responding to because their basic stance is anti-racial-harmony <—a new term I have coined in order to avoid accusing people of being racist.
We must acknowledge that on the continent we do create a lot of opportunity for the world to continue calling us violent, conflict-ridden and so on and so forth.
But we must always stress that this is NOT true of the entire continent and certainly not true of every single African on this soil.
Checking online for the approach the international media took to the issue of security gave me the results that I expected, but a couple of juxtapositions were really amusing.
Sky News reported, back in September, that the United States had thwarted a security threat to the Pope ahead of his visit there, and that: “The US Department of Homeland Security has said the visit will be a National Special Security Event – meaning the Secret Service will head the planning of security.”
The same Sky News, however, describes the Pope’s visit to the Central African Republic, “the most dangerous destination on his three-nation Africa tour”and talks about, “he was greeted by acting CAR president Catherine Samba-Panza under tight security, with roads leading to the airport bristling with troops and security forces.”
Which country in the world would the Pope visit WITHOUT security, and which President would receive him under ‘loose security’?
Plus, what is this nonsense of “the most dangerous” as if the other two countries are dangerous but just less so?
In the US, Sky News reported, “New York officials announced … a series of new security measures ahead of the visit, including airspace restrictions, screening checkpoints and a ban on balloons, selfie sticks and backpacks at papal events.” even though in Uganda we had a blast without any such restrictions.
According to Reuters, “Protected by the heaviest security ever seen on his trips, Pope Francis on Sunday preached reconciliation in the divided Central African Republic, a nation racked by bloodshed between Muslims and Christians.” <—that last part is our fault, stupid fighting Africans!
But in the story, they say, “Central African Republic’s government is deploying around 500 police and gendarmes to secure the visit. More than 3,000 peacekeepers from the MINUSCA U.N. mission will also be deployed and French troops will be on alert as well.”
And there are only 900 French troops in that country, the same story says.
Now, in the United States leg of his tour a couple of months ago, “In New York, security screening will be just part of “layers and layers and layers of protection” the pope will receive during his visit, including a deployment of 6,000 extra police officers and specialized counterterrorism units, said John Miller, the NYPD’s top security official.”
So…what do YOU think about YOUR security, where you are?
My day with Pope Francis in Kampala, Uganda started out with reservations about access and traffic.
I applied for accreditation as a journalist weeks ago but only collected my accreditation card at the very last minute on Friday, then spent hours weighing whether to cover Namugongo or Kololo – I didn’t see how I could possibly cover both what with the numbers of people involved and the traffic.
My special hire taxi guy was skeptical about our chances of getting to Namugongo, and when I flashed my accreditation tag at the security chaps at different stops the fellow saw me in a different light that I hope will result in fare discounts.
We got stopped, eventually, and I hit the road walking alongside hundreds of others. And as we walked I started recognising some of the people standing by the roadside, waiting to catch a glimpse of or wave from the Pope.
One family had even taken up seats outside (their?) gate and were settled admirably:
When I got to Kyaliwajjala, I realised I had an opportunity for a shot nobody else was ready for, and took up position just below the junction where @Pontifex was definitely going to drive past.
Ten minutes later, I saw the first outriders take position and whipped out my cameras – one phone video camera in the left hand and one still camera in the right hand.
And I learnt a fairly harsh lesson that also came up in discussion with a journalist friend at the close of the day.
I could not believe it cut short JUST AS THE POPE GOT TO ME – especially because he actually held me with a direct look as he went past, and I was the only camera on that road, having left @echwalu up on the main road. Cloaking my mind with sensibility, though, I entered journalism mode and soldiered on seeking another opportunity. I was so disturbed I ignored the convoys of the Kabaka and Salva Kiir (was he the one, mpozi?)
And that’s how, as I was walking past the first gate to Namugongo, I paused a bit and Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba rolled up and started briefings with his officers. A couple of shots later, I uploaded a (different) photograph of @mkainerugaba at work:
Inside Namugongo itself, the size of the crowd was not daunting as we have become immunised by the political campaign crowds, but it was quite something to behold.
I went straight to the choir, accessing the restricted area quite easily by way of a staircase and probably due to my gray hair and girth – those overlay name tags apparently stand out better when positioned on top of a large chunk of belly fat.
Within minutes I was taking up-close shots of the choir and recording video:
Ten minutes later, the crowd went wild as the first cars in the convoy descended and dropped off security and protocol – raising in my mind those same thoughts about how we still need highly trained, armed gunmen to protect a holy man of peace who is the representative of God Himself here on earth.
The paradox was as confounding as the humility of this Pope against the insistence that we all sustained in treating him like a God even if the Ten Commandments themselves makes it clear that we shouldn’t be this way; from the swooning in the stands to the national leaders scrambling for a handshake with the Holy Man, it was a little disturbing.
But just to a few of us – I had to focus, meanwhile, on getting shots out on Twitter under #PopeInUganda, and taking some video evidence for my family to account for the Saturday absence.
This time I stayed firm and even did test recordings just to be sure I wouldn’t lose the plot – and I was successful! The video (one of MANY) worked out fine.
Plus, he came round again and due to some nifty journalistic skills I found myself standing right at the front of the Procession of Bishops waiting for the Holy Father to finish changing and then lead the walk to the alter set in the lagoon at Namugongo.
Both sets of security were obviously a little confused as to my seniority, and let me be long enough for @Pontifex to emerge and make himself available for some close-up shots from five metres away – but the crowd of security and bishops frustrated visibility and clarity, so I don’t have much to report on that front, except, maybe:
Now, the above is not just to prove how close we were to @Pontifex, by this time, the rest of the media corp that had found their way onto the pavers above the lagoon had joined me and were snapping away.
Shortly after the above, a female photographer to my right entered into an altercation with a security guard, and was joined by a male colleague.
“You security guys should stop blocking us!” they shouted, sustaining the to-and-fro for a couple of minutes as the procession made its way to the altar. When I was tired of listening to the conversation, I suggested to them that since the Pope had left perhaps the issue was now moot.
“No!” she responded, ” He is still inside there!” and pointed at the small building within which he had changed his garb.
They hadn’t realised that the Pope had changed his clothing and was now up the aisle…
Much later on, I found myself joined up with the international press corps as they left Namugongo for their hotel en route to Kololo, and I was amused at how much time they took off to shoot photos of a couple of ladies and their children, sitting outside their modest house in Namugongo.
The ladies were equally amused, and as I took footage of them taking footage, one lady laughed, “Eh-eh! N’omuddugavu atukwaata?!” (‘Even the black one is filming us?!’) Of course, I understood their enthusiasm for these shots, as the women and children looked more “Africa” than most of those inside Namugongo or sitting on the verandahs of the shops across the road:
In fact, some Ugandans even own their own buildings and had branded them like:
A few metres after that little family, one female journalist, @pgovejero, took a keen interest in a fenne (jackfruit) tree and it’s offering but the fellow standing next to her began to say something about her probably not taking to the taste of the fruit so I jumped in quickly to explain its amazing food nutrition value and sweet taste.
Long story, short: I called out for the owner of the fenne tree, a gate opposite the tree opened up and a lady stepped out with her three children to explain that it was all raw – but, she added, she had some ripe fenne in her fridge.
I waited a precarious three minutes as she left to check her fridge and the journalists boarded the buses and their convoy lead car lights flashed up. The lady returned in the nick of time and handed me a plastic dish covered carefully with clingfilm wrap – surprise! Not kaveera – clingfilm.
In my hand was a Ushs2,000 note on the ready but in her mouth was a refusal of any payment.
“Nkuwadde buwi, ssebo. Twaala!” (I’ve given that to you free of charge; please take it!”)
I was licked. I couldn’t pressure her to take it, this had nothing to do with the international journalists, and I didn’t want to miss the ride into town just because of this fenne that they had not even asked for. Quickly, I turned to her children and quizzed them about Christianity, then gave them the money to spend as they wished but told them to thank God for giving them a generous mother and bringing the Pope to Uganda.
In the bus, @pgovejero liked the fenne – and since everybody else was probably afraid to try out new food “in Africa” or had sensitive stomachs, she did a good job of it, sparking in my mind ideas we had discussed days earlier about the many opportunities we could have taken advantage of during the Pope’s visit (to come later).
Ten minutes later, we were at the Imperial Royale Hotel (nanti we had a lead car even if we were not with the Pope at the time) and it was STILL MORNING HOURS – and @Pontifex had THREE MORE FUNCTIONS TO GO before calling it a day…
I JUBILATED along with the rest of you the other week as the Uganda Cranes thrashed Togo into bits, but this is not about soccer.
During the game, I kept noting an exciting aspect of the game – the coordination of the team members that kept leading to the desired result in the opponent’s goal net.
It was beautiful to watch, especially for those of us who recall the days long ago when we (not the Uganda Cranes, I must clarify) played what I will call ‘village soccer’. In ‘village soccer’ we generally split the field into two with no regard for numbers, so it was possible to have teams of about twenty people per side.
As such, there was no allocation of roles and responsibilities besides that of the goal-keeper – and even that position could undergo rotation during the game if the team generally felt the need.
Of course, we had no team managers and therefore no game plan.
One specific play was called “Diimula” – where one person on one end of the pitch (or field) kicked the ball into the air as far as possible in the direction of the opponent’s goal. The other side, when they got the ball, would kick it back in the same way.
Presumably the person kicking the ball had hope in his (we were mostly males) mind that somehow it would end up going through the goal posts.
Because we generally had no game plan, wherever the ball landed, the entire team would converge around it and try to make it go towards the goal posts. The opposing team, meanwhile, would also converge at the very same point in order to try to stop the attacking team, while at the same time trying to get the ball to the other goal posts.
It was always messy, and you almost had no choice but to engage in “engwarra” (rough tackling that involved tripping up your opponent) because of the size of the melee.
As we became more organised people began to emerge as team managers and coaches, but I remember hearing a high level (maybe even national, but don’t quote me) player complaining that their Coach did not give them guidance:
“This man just shouts at us things like, ‘Play harder!’ Yoongera mu amaanyi!’ But HOW are we supposed to play harder or kwoongera mu amaanyi?!”
As I said, this is not about soccer.
I only recalled all of this during a couple of discussions this week of a political and economic nature in which it occurred to me that some people were engaged in intellectual ‘diimula’.
In fact, I laughed to myself, there are issues that crop up like the ball dropping on one side of the field and attracting a throng of rather uncoordinated mental activity, thoughts entangled in a muddy mess and erupting in non-stop verbal “engwarra”.
Be it floods in the city or the supply of hoes, one feels that the discussion would have as smooth a flow as a Uganda Cranes game if one’s thoughts are guided by a thought coach or manager who shows you how to guide them from one idea to the next until the point goes through the goal posts.
It doesn’t work for only discussions and arguments; reading a blog post by my brother Paul the other day about City floods and the planning of our infrastructure, I had to share it with a City manager and point him to a small pile of garbage accumulated by the side of the newly constructed Kintu Road, near a mini-slum in my neighbourhood.
That pile of garbage, I pointed out, was bound to end up in the drainage trench and would eventually be part-cause of flooding one day, which would cause part of the road surface to be eroded, but also more likely to drown the slum-residents who had dumped the garbage by the roadside.
Constructing the tarmac road, therefore, needed to go along with a provision for a garbage collection spot in the neighbourhood, and sensitisation of the residents so they carry their garbage just fifty metres to the collection centre, which should have a truck parking provision for the garbage collection trucks assigned.
Instead, it’s messy – like the spot where the ball lands after a shot of “diimula”.
Since we have now officially began the season of political campaigns, we must brace ourselves for even more political commentary and discussion within our homes, other social settings and in the media.
All the commentary is going to be made with serious looks on our faces and delivered in deep, quasi-intellectual tones wrapping collections of words into phrases presented as wise gifts from all directions, not just the East. And this is just the political commentary, hovering above all the promises the actual politicians are making.
Sadly, a lot of it will be nonsense and if we swallow it down without thinking then we will deserve the intellectual indigestion later on.
In the past two weeks alone, for instance, I have heard and read the phrase, “It’s not rocket science…” from more than six different and unrelated people on different platforms.
This phrase is presumed to mean that rocket science is very difficult and that therefore any issue that is rocket science would confound the ordinary person such as myself.
It is true, but in reality I have never come across anything to do with rocket science.
The only people who actually attempt rocket science are people who have studied it in school at an advanced level. Those are people who are so intelligent that they actually apply for the courses required to get into rocket science classrooms and lecture theatres, and learn well enough to advance to become rocket scientists.
A rocket scientist does not find rocket science to be difficult; which means that just before you (if you’re an ordinary non-scientist like me) walked into a room full of rocket scientists the general consensus in the room would be that rocket science is easy, straightforward stuff.
For most of us ordinary people, an ordinary car engine is even more confounding than rocket science, because we have no idea what all those cables, pipes, rubber bits and canisters represent or do yet we have to deal with them regularly.
Instead of saying, “It’s not rocket science”, therefore, we could say, “It’s not a car engine” and achieve the very same meaning.
But also, two brilliant rocket scientists might be equally confounded if they were placed in front of a pile of matooke, banana leaves and bits of firewood, then told to make matooke.
See, because it’s not rocket science.
Phrases like those that go over our heads and are easily accepted but have much less of an impact than the political statements themselves do, even though they deprive us of the more in-depth analysis that sensible political commentary should give us.
The politicians may and can say just about anything they want to – since they say all’s fair in love and war, but the political analysts owe us much more.
Political analysts should dissect the promises that the candidates are making, the viability of their statements and the veracity of the claims spoken at podiums. Political analysts should use the luxury they have of conducting research into the issues and topics that the candidates address, to present to us well-filtered views and opinions.
Unlike the politicians who operate in conditions of campaign heat and excitement, political analysts should think and speak in the calmness of their rooms, offices, libraries and studios, then clarify matters for the general public.
And the media houses that host these analysts, also known as commentators, should begin to apply some standards that spare us rocket scientists trying to make matooke, just as we ourselves should do as we hold these discussions within our homes and other social settings.
A COUPLE of years ago I visited a place called Tampere, in Finland. One of my stops there was the district business and tourism promotion office, which was very small yet quite efficient, as the Finns tend to make things.
I was intrigued by the concept of a district taking full charge of the promotion of its tourism at the local level, and when I returned I made mention of this to a couple of contacts at districts here.
The pleasant discovery I made was that there are district tourism officers in (some of?) our districts, whose job is to do just that – promote the tourism offerings of their localities.
The promotion of these tourism offerings involves both establishing them and making them more attractive; as well as marketing them to the general public both here in Uganda and, more importantly, abroad so that tourists come and visit.
The pleasure of that little discovery was short-lived as there was not much else to report about these people and their work – nothing that was visible to even someone as deliberately inquisitive as myself.
I haphazardly did a test run using a couple of districts and even timed how long it would take to set up a meaningful online presence using free tools such as google, gmail, twitter and facebook.
Of course, it was ridiculously easy. And then, as usual, I became ridiculously busy and dropped the idea that was threatening to burgeon into a project.
Last weekend the ghost of that idea returned to haunt me; as we were engrossed in discussions over the impending election campaigns by various presidential candidates I realised that our national attention was going to be taken away from Kampala and drawn to these districts for the next three months straight.
Day one of the campaigns had us all in Luweero, Rukungiri, Masaka and some other I cannot recall right now, but we were there via live television, WhatsApp, twitter, facebook, radio, television updates, newspaper reports, and direct conversation.
NONE of the district administration officials of the above districts, however, made an appearance anywhere in those reports, and neither did their districts.
Again, casual observers aside, even a deliberately inquisitive fellow such as yours truly had zero visibility of any information about these districts of a nature that would invite or compel me to invest or tour them.
The tens or hundreds of thousands of people gathered at those political rallies were exposed ONLY to political messaging, even though the districts could have established a method by which they would have placed advertising at the campaign rally locations promoting their offerings.
They could have used this chance to set up their websites or make them more vibrant, then opened social media accounts and deployed their District Information Officers to provide live updates of the day’s excitement while interspersing them with promotional messaging.
They could have had the candidates and their agents, mobilisers and organisations distribute promotional materials to all the people at the rallies.
Each district, ahead of the rallies, could make itself the focal point of all media coverage by hosting the media on an advance tour of their tourism hot spots, all the while speaking up the investment potential of their localities so they get onto the business pages.
On top of that, each district tourism and investment promotion officer should furnish the visiting candidate with a list of their available opportunities so that they get included in the campaign speeches in some positive format.
This could have a much better direct impact on a district’s economy, in my narrow, selfishly entrepreneurial opinion, than district officials grovelling for more funding from the Central Government.
This week has gone, and with it the above opportunities for the districts already. It’s not too late, though, for the ones ahead.
Get your act together and even, if need be, appoint some sort of tourism and investment development official to cover the duration of these campaigns.
If you have eight presidential candidates coming through your district, then you calculate the media and promotion exposure presence there in terms of a minimum of three days – the day before the rally, the day of the rally, and the day after the rally. That’s a total of twenty four days of media coverage and mentions!
Mind you, I am here talking about district tourism and investment promotion officers and hoping that the commercial entities in these areas are already taking advantage of the opportunities that these campaigns present – even though I am not seeing any evidence of that either. Not yet.