eclipsing the graduation party


LAST weekend’s solar eclipse somewhat overshadowed the graduation ceremony that took place in Kampala at around the same time, and as I was driving back from Masindi I laughed at how similar both events are in Uganda.

I expect that the graduand with the hangover the morning after normally sits down to ponder the expense and activities of the night before and asks whether the party was really worth it.

Uganda knows that the money spent on the eclipse activities in Pakwach itself was worth it in terms of the publicity we received from it alone – including publicity driven through people’s personal tweets, emails, blogposts and whatnot.

Of course, the graduand might stop and think how much more benefit he would have gotten out of his party if he had taken the money for food, drinks, venue hire and whatnot, and used that to spruce up his wardrobe, buy a laptop, pay for a short course in project management, and other such things.

The government might be doing just that roundabout now, at the post-Eclipse Committee Meeting.

During the ‘Lessons Learned’  or ‘What Could Have Been Done Better’ segment of the meeting, some Commissioner from the Ministry of Tourism has probably asked, “Madame Chair, maybe next time we should start publicity efforts earlier for such events so that we get very many people to come and visit the country?”

Because, that could have brought in more benefit for Uganda overall, besides the hiring of tents, chairs and so on and so forth.

I asked one graduand last week why he had to throw a party and fund-raise to fund it when he didn’t even have a personal laptop off which to write his own CV or use for  research to make himself the most attractive candidate for any job he would be applying for, and he was licked.

But I couldn’t begrudge him his celebration, so I gave him moral support and wished him on his good way; a few days later I realised that I should have advised him to go ahead with his party but use it as a campaign rally for a job.

See, that’s what the eclipse was for Uganda; a campaign rally for northern Uganda as a tourism destination – which we hope the world saw in one way or another as they made their way there to catch the eclipse, even just because they could get there.

I should have told my graduand pal to go ahead with his party but ensure that he dresses up as the smartest guy in the room. And not to host too many relatives, but instead invite people who are likely to offer him a job or recommend him to people who offer jobs.

Then, pack a solid speech that blows everybody away and makes them all talk about him for the next few months or so with everybody they meet, so that people try to meet him just to get a feel of this amazingly impressive chap.

If he had been a Comms Graduate, for instance, he’d write out his invitation cards in flowing prose so that all the invitees know that he is a good communicator; a lawyer should invite people in legalese or, better still, have them sign indemnities as they walk into the party venue, saying they won’t blame him for their eventual hangover the next morning.

That’s what the eclipse was or should have been for us.

The surface-thinkers among us thought only of the ten-second or one-hour event that the actual eclipse is, just as they do graduation ceremonies, making them the highlight of one’s education, instead of considering the education itself.

See, even the eclipse itself, the act of one orb obscuring the sight of the other, was viewed differently by different people. Where I was, in Masindi, some people were waiting for the few seconds when the moon was over the Sun, while others enjoyed the entire cycle from the time the moon began to overshadow the Sun from the bottom right hand corner.

Same as graduation – many people find it interesting from the time the first drink is popped open, yet it begins with you going to primary one twenty years before…

The gradation is a one-off event after years of study and work, as the eclipse should have been; and it isn’t the end of everything. Even today, we should go on showing the world images of Uganda from last week and going forward because we are now on the map for this.

just as the solar eclipse has done; focus on Uganda


If you are not excited about this then you’re generally disinterested in science, your understanding of mathematics is rudimentary and your economics is poor – as poor as your country would be if you were in charge of things.

 This eclipse is exciting because it is going to make us RICH! And FILTHY RICH at that, in just a matter of days!

The clever ones amongst us have already reaped the benefits since we first started talking about this back when Father Simon Lokodo was addressing himself to Uganda’s skirt lengths. This rare natural phenomenon presented Uganda with an opportunity, and today, this weekend and this week, we collect! 

Some people, for instance, are paying UK£2,300 for a seven-day trip to Uganda. That’s just over Ushs9million (NINE MILLION SHILLINGS) for seven days; Ushs1.3million each day. This money is paid to tour operators who naturally make a profit off it – let’s assume it’s a profit of Ushs500,000 per person per day so that more of you are encouraged to go into this line of business and start selling Uganda better. 

The tour operator spends the rest on flights, accommodation, transport and food for the visitors.

That is money into the pockets of people who grow the raw food, the ones who buy and sell it forward, and the ones who eventually cook it; also earnings for food transporters; and dealers in the energy used to cook (from firewood to Umeme)…the list is long but the money is also a lot. 

Especially if you believe that there will be at least 30,000 people coming in through the borders for this weekend. 

And it doesn’t stop with those monies either – they also carry extra money to pay for things like booze, souvenirs, snacks, more booze, like that, like that. If these 30,000 people are each going to spend Ushs1.3million a day, deduct Ushs500,000 as the tour operator’s profit and that leaves Ushs800,000 per visitor/tourist – which equals a total of Ushs24billion (TWENTY FOUR BILLION SHILLINGS)! That, in case you aren’t paying attention, is Ushs24billion EVERY DAY! 

Catch your breath. 

That’s almost enough to build another parking lot for MPs, if you already have Ushs12billion. Sorry. That was an unnecessary suggestion, since we finished with the parking lot.

But there is more money coming in by way of this eclipse; YOUR money. I am already in Masindi as you read this, transferring money that I would otherwise have spent in Kampala and spending it here instead. On top of those 30,000 tourists we anticipated last week, we could easily top up with another 30,000 Ugandans from other parts of the country, all driving up to Masindi, Pakwach and Nebbi to catch the eclipse. 

I don’t know how much we will be spending right now, but this is the time for all those people who live and operate along the road from Entebbe Airport all the way to Pakwach to activate themselves. I know the aptly-named Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Industry might have already sent out these advisories so I am just re-enforcing the message with: 

a) It’s not too late: Print t-shirts with the words ‘I love Uganda’ t-shirts or ‘I Watched The Eclipse In Uganda’ or even, for those who don’t heed the warnings, ‘I Was Struck Blind Watching The Eclipse in Uganda’ and sell them everywhere up to the airport

b) Build Sunglass Huts especially close to Masindi, and stock them with proper UV sunglasses instead of those knock-offs sold in Kampala traffic that will one day make eye-omelettes on our faces if the Bureau of Standards doesn’t wake up

c) All the people who live in those places just off the road from Maganjo to the top of Pakwach, dig up your raw food that’s ready to sell and sell it, dammit! Don’t let any potato, tomato or mango stay behind – you won’t regret this!

d) set up kiosks selling soft drinks at various points along the road, all the way

e) Caterers, please introduce some travel snacks on the Masindi-Gulu road to replace those roast sweet potatoes and cassava, and those suspect bits of meat we’ve seen since the ‘80s. In fact, all Rolex stands should relocate to that road and line up neatly a polite distance from the road.

Speaking of politeness, all of us must be at our most polite this week because these tourists might enjoy their stay here so much that they choose to come back every year on anniversary visits; plus, when they go back they will tell everyone they meet what Churchill said: ‘Focus on Uganda’. 

Even Ugandans: Focus on Uganda.

#EclipseUG – take these solar eclipse viewing tips seriously – they are even from Mulago Hospital!


As we prepare to set off for Pakwach and Masindi to catch the hybrid eclipse (hashtag = #EclipseUG), I am particularly happy that we have had tips, cautions and words of advice from someone at Mulago Hospital rather than an expert from outside Uganda.

I’m not going to crack jokes about how because this is from Mulago Hospital it is more serious than just the usual kb.

Instead, a big round of applause for Opthalmologist Dr. Anne Ampaire Musika of Mulago National Referral Hospital, who compiled the following:

PLS TAKE THESE SERIOUSLY!

COMPILED BY DR. ANNE AMPAIRE MUSIKA (and received through a third-party):

This Sunday 3rd November 2013, there is going to be a hybrid eclipse and everyone is excited.

SOLAR RETINAL DAMAGE/ SOLAR RETINOPATHY
When a person looks repeatedly or for a long time at the Sun without proper protection for the eyes, this photochemical retinal damage may be accompanied by a thermal injury – the high level of visible and near-infrared radiation causes heating that literally cooks the exposed tissue. This thermal injury or photocoagulation destroys the rods and cones, creating a small blind area. The danger to vision is significant because photic retinal injuries occur without any feeling of pain (there are no pain receptors in the retina), and the visual effects do not occur for at least several hours after the damage is done.

WHO IS AT RISK?
Susceptible individuals include children and teenagers, because the lens of the eye filters little short wavelength light before the age of 20 years; people with ocular conditions such as retinal dystrophies or albinism or who have undergone certain forms of cataract surgery; those taking photosensitising medication; and those using alcohol or recreational drugs.

During a solar eclipse more people are at risk. With the sun partially covered, it’s comfortable to stare, and protective reflexes like blinking and pupil contraction are a lot less likely to be in use than on a normal day.

WHEN IS VIEWING THE ECLIPSE SAFE?
The only time that the Sun can be viewed safely with the naked eye is during a total eclipse, when the Moon completely covers the disk of the Sun during the short two minute period of total eclipse, and one should look away the moment the first rays of the sun appear at the edge of the moon.

It is never safe to look at a partial or annular eclipse, or the partial phases of a total solar eclipse, without the proper equipment and techniques

WHAT EQUIPMENT CAN FILTER THESE SUN RAYS?
The commonly used filters include:

1. all colour film

2. black-and-white film that contains no silver

3. photographic negatives with images on them (x-rays and snapshots)

4. smoked glass

5. sunglasses (single or multiple pairs)

6. photographic neutral density filters polarizing filters

These however do not offer adequate protection because most of these transmit high levels of invisible infrared radiation which can cause a thermal retinal burn.

Welders’ glasses and pin-hole cameras are relatively safer though not perfect.

7. The safest devices are solar viewers with aluminized polyester. Most such filters have a thin layer of chromium alloy or aluminum deposited on their surfaces that attenuates both visible and near-infrared radiation

Other suggested locally available filters include:

8. negatives without images (x-rays or black and white films) used as double layers

9. pin holes (made by passing a pin through a hard paper or cardboard)

10. black kaveera (polythene bag)

11. compact discs

12. floppy discs

These may not be entirely safe but are a lot safer than nothing at all.

Viewing the sun through binoculars or telescopes produces the 10-25° temperature rise in the retina required for a thermal burn. By contrast, looking at the sun with the naked eye induces photochemical injury to retinal receptor cells and pigment epithelium, associated with only a 4° rise in retinal temperature.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
This thermal injury or photocoagulation destroys the rods and cones, creating a small blind area.
The danger to vision is significant because photic retinal injuries occur without any feeling of pain (there are no pain receptors in the retina), and the visual effects do not occur for at least several hours after the damage is done

TREATMENT, IN CASE OF A RETINAL BURN?
No treatment has been shown to be effective in solar retinopathy.
The emphasis is therefore on prevention,
Children must be closely supervised.
It is unsafe to look at the sun during the partial phases of a total eclipse, or during a partial eclipse.
Failure to use proper observing methods may result in permanent eye damage or severe visual loss. This can have important adverse effects on career choices and earning potential, since it has been shown that most individuals who sustain eclipse-related eye injuries are children and young adults

Binoculars and telescopes should not be used.

SHARE THESE TIPS AND TREAT THEM VERY, VERY, VERY SERIOUSLY.

VERY SERIOUSLY.