This was my second visit to Karamoja. I hope to go back, to learn and write more about a place that strikes me as one of the world’s under-reported development blackspots, in many senses. The World Food Programme has been feeding much of the 1.2 million population for decades. Development agencies and NGOs of every stripe are thick on the ground there. But despite these interventions, and despite the poverty and harshness of most people’s lives, and their all too evident ‘humanitarian needs’, the agro-pastoralist Karimajong seem, in the main, not too interested in becoming ‘modern’. (And for this reason they are widely vilified: ordinary Ugandans from other regions lament their ‘backwardness’ and these attitudes are easily discernible in aid agency and NGO staff too.)
“El Hombre que Amaba a los Perros” (“The Man Who Loved Dogs”)
by Leonardo Padura (2011, Tusquets Editoriales, Barcelona; 765 pp)
There are three main dog lovers in this well-crafted reconstruction of the exile and death of Leon Trotsky: Trotsky himself; Ramon Mercader, the Catalonian communist recruited by Moscow to assassinate him, and Ivan, a young Cuban whose literary ambitions have been reduced to sub-editing on a veterinary magazine when, in 1977, he meets the dying Mercader on a beach outside Havana and eventually becomes the reluctant narrator of the assassin’s tale. The narrative manages to generate suspense despite our knowing in advance the sticky end that awaits Trotsky. Equal skill and scrupulous research are brought to the wider, historical canvas, which features ‘live’ excerpts from the Spanish Civil War and the Moscow show trials as well as snapshots of Kruschev-era Russia and the mass exodus of Cuban citizens from that island in the mid 1990s.
“The Mountain People” by Colin Turnbull (1973, Pan, London; 253 pp)
In Uganda’s far northeast, bordering Southern Sudan and Kenya, the Kidepo National Park offers visitors a rare experience of African wildlife undisturbed by people. Road access is still difficult, but upmarket tourists can charter a light aircraft to fly in to a luxury tented camp where the abundance of game is matched by the abundance of culinary comforts. People who have made the trip say it is unforgettable. Now largely forgotten, however, is the human cost of creating this safari wonderland.
Published in Kampala’s The Daily Monitoron August 19, 2011.
A working paper recently published by the Washington DC based Center for Global Development argues that Uganda’s future oil revenues should be distributed equally, in cash, to all Ugandan citizens.
Published in Uganda’s The Daily Monitor August 11, 2011 It has never felt worse to be British. First a financial crisis caused by the failure of governments to govern a finance industry previously hailed as an economic powerhouse. Then draconian public spending cuts that threaten to create recession. And now the worst riots in living memory, which seem to have less to do with politics than with opportunistic, loosely networked lawlessness and looting.
The short piece below was published by Index on Censorship on May 24. A longer analysis of Uganda’s post-election violence, which I contributed to the Foreign Policy in Focus website of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, can be found here.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni appears to have lost the plot. A violent crackdown on initially small and peaceful opposition protests at rising fuel and food prices has over the last five weeks left at least ten protestors and bystanders dead, including a two year old child, and hundreds injured. This show of indiscriminate force has shocked even government supporters, pitching the country towards political crisis. Now the 67 year old president, who came to power 25 years ago at the head of a rebel army, is blaming local and international media for his predicament, and promising to roll back the press freedoms that have been one of the saving graces of his rule.
Published in The Daily Monitor on April 12, 2011
As a guest at various meetings and workshops in Uganda over the last couple of years I have been interested to note how many of these, whether convened by government or non-government agencies, open with a short prayer.
Although having no specific religious affiliation myself I can see the positive value of this practice. It was exemplified by a woman invited to lead the opening prayer in an event I recently attended. She urged us to approach the proceedings “with humility” and “to seek wisdom and understanding from each other.”
On April 1, 2011 a small hairy animal hacked into my computer and dispatched the following piece to The Daily Monitor
by Polly Dog
Now listen up, humans: we dogs are not only your best friends, we are also your oldest. Archaeological evidence shows that dogs and humans have lived together for well over 10,000 years, and this has happened across the world in all known cultures. It’s been a good partnership for you as well as for us. Recent medical research shows that humans with dogs in their families enjoy better health, with lower blood pressure and fewer heart problems. So, we not only guard your homes from burglars and your airports from drug traffickers and terrorists, we also make you fit and happy.
And how do you repay us? By covering our environment in concrete!
British imperialists picked some fine spots from which to supervise their dominions. The colonial administration of Nyasaland, a 900 kilometre long strip of south east Africa that has been known as Malaŵi since independence in 1964, was headquartered on the lower slopes of Mount Zomba. Salubrious breezes ruffle the trees and flowering bushes that surround a cluster of early 20th century brick buildings, quaint and dinky now, making one wonder how so much power could be exercised with so little concrete. A dilapidated Gymkhana Club, built in 1923, looks out over a wide lawn that probably doubled as a cricket and polo pitch. It is easy to imagine the few dozen colonial officers and their wives gathering here for gin and tonic at sundown, some brightly planning an amateur performance of Charley’s Aunt in the surprisingly ample hall behind, others complaining about the insufferable stupidity of the houseboys and yearning for home.
Uganda’s democratic deficit (The Christian Science Monitor, March 3)
Yoweri Museveni’s decisive victory in Uganda’s elections, which will extend his 25-year rule by a further five years, puts paid to any thought that winds of change from North Africa would blow south across the Sahara. It looks instead as if the veteran leader, who came to power at the head of a rebel army, is settling in for a Life Presidency in the old, African style.