a comedy of donations across Africa


I DON’T normally read the newspapers first thing on Monday morning and also avoid going to Twitter early on that day simply because there are rabbit holes that can derail one’s jump-start to a work week.

I am that guy who can scroll through the timeline for an hour straight simply because when I get to a negative troll post I must go and find an uplifting witty, positive and inspiring one to erase the first. It is not easy.

But this Monday I found myself cooling my heels outside of a government conference room waiting for a meeting to take off so I could contribute to a discussion of national importance. It didn’t happen.

Naturally, I ended up on Twitter to find news updates but mostly irritations and chuckles to distract me from saying rude things to the people within the room itself. Within minutes I found tweets about a donation made to the Republic of Malawi from the People’s Republic of China.

This happened. For real. And it went up onto the internet. In broad daylight.

I would have thought it to be a joke, hoax or meme, if the original tweet hadn’t been posted by @LiuHongyang4 whose Twitter Bio and Curriculum Vitae posted to an official website of the Chinese Diplomatic Service (http://mw.china-embassy.org/eng/dsxx/dsjl/t1578360.htm) both declared him to be China’s Ambassador to Malawi.

He was quite proud of the donation of two (2) motorcycles sent by 1.4billion people in China to 18million people in Malawi.

The motorcycles were, presumably, brand new items. I couldn’t be bothered over where they were manufactured because I was occupied by the photographs of Malawi government and Chinese Embassy officials seated at a high table with the two motorcycles in front of them.

They even had a large banner hoisted up on the building behind them.

The twitter abuse and ridicule brigade went at this halfheartedly and I moved on to more regular news, falling upon the page one call-out in The New Vision under ‘CHARITY’ that read, “Minister Builds Sh100m Church’.

“At least this is a sizeable chunk of money,” I immediately thought, then repented when I remembered the parable of the poor widow in Church.

I wasn’t sure about the story. Turning pages, the actual headline caused me worry: “Minister Namuyangu builds sh100m church, prays for rain.”

I read that and prayed that this story wouldn’t go the wrong way.

God wasn’t answering that prayer that day.

“Residents of Kibuku district have been urged to pray for rains so that they can be able to cultivate food…” the story started, before quoting the State Minister for Local Government, Jenipher Namuyangu, saying there had been no rains since June last year and the district was now facing a famine.

“Most families now have one meal per day and this is a worrying situation,” she said.

My forehead had become sweaty and was wrinkled by frowns of disbelief – just six paragraphs into this. The New Vision had given the story cheeky prominence, placing it on Page Six and filling almost half the page complete with four photographs!

The State Minister, a well-educated politician holding a Bachelor of Science in Forestry and Master of Science in Agroforestry, was probably using understatement as a tool of emphasis. Otherwise there was no way a famine and “most families” having one meal a day could be called just “a worrying situation”.

This would have been a matter for her colleague at Disaster Preparedness!

But she had taken it to a higher authority, apparently, by building a Church. The New Vision report, by the way, carried four photographs of the Church launch event. The tweet by the Chinese Ambassador to Malawi was also accompanied by four photographs.

That juxtaposition made me think that maybe Namuyangu’s church could have done with many more photographs – comparing the value of their respective donations in US dollars or Chinese Yuan. Two motorcycles versus a Ushs100million Church? Little contest there.

But let’s focus more: The Church official at the launch of the Minister’s donation reportedly “urged the youth to desist from politicking and instead engage in income-generating activities.”

My furrowed brow relaxed as mirth spread within me.

It was now obvious that the journalists AND the church official were in cahoots to deliver top-notch sarcasm and irony!

Surely this Church official wasn’t hinting that instead of building a Church the Minister could have used the Ushs100million to create an entrepreneurship or income-generating activity for the youth of Kibuku District?

A few paragraphs later, they were joined by a resident comrade-at-sarcasm, Steven Luwala, who “requested the minister to lobby for irrigation schemes to improve farming, which has been affected by the dry spell.”

At this point I had to cross my legs tightly to maintain some self-control.

It came undone at the very next paragraph where another resident, Wilson Ganda, “said the entire village of over 1,000 people depends on one borehole. This, he said, has led to an increase in gender-based violence.”

Why and how?

“…because when women go to fetch water they return to homes late in the night and some husbands do not understand why.”

Another reason for why the Church built by the Minister makes a lot of sense – those husbands need prayers to sort out their significantly diminished mental strength.

And so do we, in general across this Continent, so that we learn to order our priorities for ourselves rather than have other people do so for us. It’s either that or we share a couple of motorcycles amongst millions as we ride past our solitary boreholes with the limited energy we get from one meal a day to pray for rains.

where did OUR ancient, efficient medical prowess disappear to, that we need missionaries today?


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Photo from http://www.wral.com

THE year is 2017, the month October, just a couple of days ago. I opened up an emailed link to a story about a team of medical professionals from the United States of America who are performing surgeries at a hospital in Kampala.

Every day after that, I have received daily updates from and about this team of medical professionals.

It is good work, of course, whenever a life is saved, an illness cured, or a pain relieved. I can’t complain about that – ever.

But when I read lines like, ” Many people are watching as these surgeries are also meant to be training for medical staff here in Kampala, that they may continue the work after the Americans leave…” and “Some have had symptoms for years, as long as a decade and didn’t have the money to get treated, or could not find a doctor with the expertise needed.” and ” having the American surgeons from Duke come here and getting these surgeries is truly ‘a miracle.'” I get a little uncomfortable.

I can’t blame the Americans, of course, for positioning as saviours in most situations – it is a status they have enjoyed for most of my life, at least. Most of the movies and stories we have grown up on have them saving the world from Adolf Hitler to aliens from outer space.

My discomfort was at the memory of discovering some years ago that a foreign historian had recorded the fact that hundreds of years ago there were people here in Uganda conducting the equivalent of Caesarean Section operations.

One book records, “In 1884, British doctors were therefore intrigued to learn that a sophisticated abdominal procedure had taken place five years earlier in the African kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitanga, whose inhabitants had experienced minimal contact with the rest of the world until the 1860s.”

That “Bunyoro-Kitanga” was actually “Bunyoro-Kitara”, and please note already that the British doctors were surprised that even WITHOUT lots of contact with the outside world, these Africans seemed capable of doing things.

Continues the book, “In a lecture to the Edinburgh Obstetrical Society, medical missionary Robert W. Felkin (1853-1926) described a caesarean section carried out by Banyoro surgeons at Kahura, Uganda in 1879. Both mother and child had survived, and the expertise involved came as something of a surprise to those who saw Africans as a bunch of savages wandering about waiting for someone to come and civilise them.”

See, up until that point, most operations of that nature only saved the child and NOT both mother and child.

In that surgery by my long gone relatives, anaesthasia was conducted using banana wine, and had special knives for the purpose – some of which are now “part of the Wellcome Collection in London”, a museum of sorts there.

Book Extract

It is confounding to even consider how we got from there to today’s situation where troops of foreign doctors come here to conduct surgeries and everyone hopes that the lessons stay with us. To a day where we have headlines about a mother losing her child in a hospital because of “lack of supplies”, and many unwritten stories about mis-diagnosis and patient mishandling left, right and centre.

Our Makerere University is listed on www.topuniversities.com with a favourable ranking on the continent specifically for Medicine. And I know for a fact that there are many Ugandans out there being lauded for their professionalism and dexterity at medicine and science.

AND we have so many medical professionals winning awards and accolades out there for outstanding research and even life-sacrificing bravery when things like Ebola break out on the other side of the continent.

So why, oh, why, do we still have missionaries coming here to save Ugandans and show us how it is done? Why aren’t we sending missionaries from Mulago to Kaabong to do surgeries there? Or even, from that Bunyoro-Kitara university of medicine whose name I cannot find anywhere, to Puerto Rico where they don’t even have electricity right now? Why aren’t our scientists re-discovering and re-creating anaesthetic methods out of the Banana Wine as our ancestors did as recently as 1879?

What will it take for us to re-discover our belief in ourselves to actually do the professional work that we are equipped, educated and expected to do, in a manner that makes us stand out for the rest of the world? What is that missing ingredient that will make all Ugandans of all professions and walks of life – medical, military, journalism, administration, education, political even – do their utmost best so we emulate those doctors of Bunyoro-Kitara in 1879 who amazed the British by their skill and knowledge?

So many questions, yet the answers can’t come quickly enough amid this haze of politics and whatnot.

time to shout: call me the minister!


cabinet hermanmiller.com
A cabinet (Photo from http://www.hermanmiller.com)

NOW that the Cabinet List is out and most of us are not on it, let’s get round to getting some actual work done by the government rather than prattling incessantly about these venerable persons at the helm of our country’s Executive management.
I use the words quite deliberately because they are befitting of a lot of the commentary going round on social media and even in otherwise sober conversations around the appointments to Cabinet announced this week.
The Ministers, numerous as they may be, constitute a small percentage of the people that must make Uganda work – even though they are an important percentage of those people. On a couple of forums this week I noticed that not too many of our (otherwise educated) commentators don’t really know what the job of the Minister is or who actually does what within the Government.
This is in no way to downplay the importance of Cabinet Ministers, as they are the heads of the government departments they are assigned to. They are heads of those government departments, however, as part of the Executive Branch of the government, which government works for us, the people.
As such, they are our employees – you and I the taxpayers (please don’t bring up tax defaulting and arrears, that’s a whole different topic).
The word ‘Minister’, according to some dictionaries and studies of etymology, was used in Middle English (the olden days of those countries) in the sense of “a person acting under the authority of another” – which is what they basically are – persons acting under the authority of the President, who is running the country on our behalf, chosen by the majority of us because of the promises he made.
The Latin origins of the word ‘Minister’, though, translate it directly to “servant”, derived from ‘minus’, which means “less”.
See, in reality Ministers are not and should not be Lords, who in the monarchical structures were nobility born into position. They are appointed employees charged with working for the people.
In the local reality of our more local government structures, however, the Minister only ‘oversees government policy’ as most people say. That makes the Cabinet Minister the equivalent of a Board Chairman of a corporate body (or company), who generally supervises the management team on behalf of the shareholders. The Board determines what should be done and sets strategy, as the Ministers should do, and keeps checking on the work of the management team to ensure that they stay on track.
The management team, headed by the Chief Executive Officer, is the one that actually does the work – and in the ministries, that is the Permanent Secretary. That Permanent Secretary, together with the Under Secretaries (Chief Operations Officer, perhaps?) and Commissioners (Senior Managers?) and the rest of the technocracy, are the people who draw up plans and budgets, then spend our money to deliver services to us.
Who are these Permanent Secretaries and other technocrats? Do we have a list of them anywhere? Do YOU know them? Do you talk about them at a level with as much excitement as you do the Cabinet Ministers?
In the media, the world of business serves up comments, opinions and updates of business managers of corporate bodies rather than the Board Members, while the world of politics serves up the reverse.
Could there be a link between the lack of public scrutiny and attention we pay to government departments and their perceived level of delivery, as opposed to that of private entities?
I am one of those who will not hesitate to call up the Chief Executive of a corporate body to complain about poor services, as many of you out there would shout out at the top of your voice in an irritating restaurant situation: “Call me the Manager!”
It is never: “Call me your Board Chairman!”
Why?
Because it’s the manager and their team that do the work, or are supposed to. THAT is the belt of government we should be calling out as often as possible – NOT the Ministers.
Again, this is not to downplay the importance of the Cabinet Ministers; they ARE important as well, to ensure that the strategy the technocrats are implementing is OUR strategy, but more importantly when we are caught in a health centre and find that a doctor is not in position to attend to our sick, we need to be able to call out in the direction of the government: “Call me the Manager!” before we get to the Board Chairman.

#oscarssowhite is not the issue when you’re in a kazigo


Chris Rock at the Oscars
Courtesy Photo: http://www.thewrap.com

I MADE a decision to stop watching the Oscars and Grammies back in the late 90s when, one night as we were gathering to watch the glitzy ceremony, Paul Busharizi burst into a typically uncontrollable fit of laughter at me.

Our viewing station was the kazigo next to mine, and as we walked past my door I smoothly inserted and turned the key in the door lock, unlocked the padlock, threw back the bolt, pushed the door open and quickly tossed my notebook into the dark room where I was certain my bed was located, almost without breaking a step.

Bush was impressed at the fluidity of my movements, but that quickly broke down into his fits of laughter when my notebook landed onto the edge of what sounded like a plate with crockery on it, bouncing it into the air to crash land into some other items of an indeterminate but loud, clattering nature – muffled as I shut the door within seconds of having opened it.

This was muzigo life.

As usual, I endured his ribbing and it didn’t hurt my feelings because it was really funny. But I became alive to the idea that I was putting aside these hours to watch the glittering world of Hollywood’s richest and finest in their splendid clothes at expensive hotels, from the comfort of a squalid one-room muzigo off a very fair sized colour TV.

So I have tried over the years to bring some glitz and glamour into my own little life in whatever small measure, even if there are no lights and cameras involved.

Part of that has been supporting stages for our own entertainment industry to claim some of the prominence and attention the Oscars and other such shows seem to own.

Further opportunity to do so showed itself when, for the last couple of weeks on the international scene an uproar erupted over racism in the world of entertainment, under the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite.

#OscarsSoWhite rocked social media almost as much as #BlackLivesMatter – which came up because of all those killings that involved white (police)men and dead black men – also racism.

#OscarsSoWhite arose because people were indignant that ALL the nominees for the Oscars this year were white – no blacks were deemed good enough to be nominated for these prized awards, and social mediaratti lost its collective control.

This was just weeks after Ugandan model Aamito Lagum was the subject of racist comments from ignorant and angry seemingly ‘white’ people, indignant over her inclusion in an ad for some high-end cosmetics – and that resulted in the social media campaign #PrettyLipsPeriod.

As all that was happening on the global scene I paid a visit to my daughter’s school and noticed once again that there were many posters, motivational messages and text book pages that feature non-Ugandans (their being white should not be the central issue).

As we waited to chat with her teacher, I received a couple of those ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Have a nice day’ WhatsApp messages with images of non-Ugandan (let’s not say ‘white’) babies, and my irritation bubbled over.

I immediately resolved to create my own WhatsApp greeting images using my own children (coming soon to a phone near you), in order to right the global imbalance between black and white. I am also creating for my daughter’s school motivational posters and messaging using images of ordinary, local Ugandans.

Even before vying for Oscar-winning roles, I am certain that creating more Ugandan content will right any so-called racial injustice and counter #OscarsSoWhite more effectively than a hashtag campaign.

If we allow our children to settle for a muzigo with a TV on which to watch the Oscars they will never get to the damn show either, let alone believe that they can create their own respectable alternative.

i am going out to vote the right leadership for Uganda


TODAY we go out to vote – and not just for the position of President. Tomorrow (even tonight – Thursday) we start counting those votes. By Sunday we will know who won and be celebrating victory or mourning loss.
On Monday we should get back to work, and to existing side by side with our different political beliefs – the way we do with our different religious beliefs.
That analogy between Political Party ideology and Religion is always ideal.
We live side by side with our different religious beliefs, praying at different times on different days in different ways and we make it work so well that sometimes we intermarry.
Similarly, we should live side by side with our different political ideologies, meeting at different times, in different ways, and making it work so well that we can work together making progress happen for the entire country.
Perhaps it works better in religion than in politics because we pray and worship every day or at least weekly, while our political activity comes round every so many years?
If we were more deeply political on a more regular basis, then perhaps we would be more relaxed and understanding of what this ‘politics’ actually means.
On Saint Janani Luwum day I relaxed enough to pay attention to a personal chore a group of friends had given me – to proofread a political manifesto we drafted after our WhatsApp group had held some heated political discussions.
We are just a group of pals who grew up together doing what boys do, and recently one evening challenged ourselves to be more politically conscious, resulting in an impressive twenty-page document.
As I finished reading its final draft I was downcast that all of us had spent months talking about the Presidency rather than Leadership – because we could all make good national leaders at the different levels we will be voting today and in coming weeks.
Leadership does not mean Presidency, even if the Presidency is at the apex of Leadership in a country like Uganda. And by the way, Leadership is NOT Power; this is a word that Abed Bwanika, Amama Mbabazi and Kiiza Besigye, and various media commentators, have used repeatedly during recent months – but I am happy that my own candidate markedly avoids the word.
Today we all go to vote not just for the Presidency, but for Leadership – under the Political Party or Group we believe presents the best promise and premise for a stable future for this country.
See, the Political Party that wins it is not just the one that wins the seat of President; a President with a Parliamentary majority, for instance, gets more done easier and quicker – as even the United States showed us with the reverse when they “shut down government” for a while not too long ago.
Speaking of getting things done, it is farcical that in all these months we have talked about service delivery and paid little media attention to leadership in the districts where we know the work on the ground literally gets done.
See, we are electing into leadership – not power – the leaders under whom we will work, thrive and prosper; the leaders who will work on the policies that will enable us to work, to thrive and to prosper. The leaders themselves do not build our businesses or our homes, but they must build and implement policies under which we – Ugandans – must do these things.
We must get into our politics enough so we do not sit back and complain that ‘they’ have not done things, the way some commentators laughably yet confidently said last weekend, “There is no foreign policy in Uganda!”
Recently I have felt that the rhetoric, posturing and deceit of this political campaign period – which feels like it has run five whole years – might have blinded some of us to realities around us – echoed by candidate Yoweri Museveni at the debate last Saturday.
Today, we are voting in leaders whose work should be prescribed in a manifesto – a public document that constitutes a series of pledges and commitments. Every day of the next five years we should be calling the attention of those leaders back to that manifesto because it is the public contract to which they should be held.
Every day of the next five years, if that manifesto is ignored then the party in question imperils its chances of success at the next election.
To achieve the goals in that manifesto, however, the party must have the necessary numbers in the caucuses where the lobbying is done, in the full legislature where the laws are enacted, and in the districts where the work is implemented.
For me, that political party is the NRM, headed by Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who is unquestionably the most capable (and by far the most likeable) of the eight potential Presidents arrayed before us.
Because I am voting in an entire swathe of leaders under the NRM – possibly more than 600,000 including councillors – on the strength of a manifesto with clear targets (which, in this case, should already be accommodated in this year’s budget – due for reading in four months’ time and in formulation as per the process cycle since August last year).
I am also voting for change in the way we do certain things because the system and manifesto I am supporting gives me leeway to make a personal contribution to changing things in Uganda for the better.
I am voting NRM not to reward anyone for work already done – but because if those 600,000 leaders and I follow that manifesto, then we will get a lot more done – for everybody – especially if we are vigilant citizens all round. The voters of northern Uganda and Kampala can testify to this quite easily – judging from their voting patterns from 2001 through 2006 and 2011, as their protest at the ballot over war and infrastructure (respectively) transformed into heavy support because of the dramatic change and response that we see today. #SteadyProgress.
And I am voting NRM because I have not been given a promise by the other parties around what they will or can do – and believe me, I’ve listened to them. For instance, anyone can complain about the negatives in Uganda today – as indeed we should – but that is not reason enough for me to vote…for the loudest complainant.
No.
I am voting NRM because I like the ideology, believe in it and believe we can live it even when some people do make mistakes or, linking back to religion, fall short of the glory they should uphold.
Because as a country we have made progress under this same NRM, and I know we can continue this progress.
Provided WE stick to that ideology WE CAN make good. We CAN make Uganda greater than it already IS.