Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The logo no-go, Mohammed rising, drunk Bishops and other short stories

LONDON - And so it came to be that, having burnt a hole through his shallow pockets despite taking it slow in Oslo, the son-of-man made a quiet re-entry into good old London to find the sun still out and the pints still reasonably priced at less than a fiver!

The news last week was dominated by a few amusing tales. First was the debacle of the 2012 London Olympic logo that was unveiled with aplomb, only to bomb with the public. Like many folks, I was shocked to learn that this caricature (pictured) had been drawn at a cost of £400,000! Some said it had the markings of the infamous swastika. A more cheeky pundit said it looked like a woman performing fellatio on a bloke (you have to see the Olympic rings for her supposedly curly hair). Then the kicker; it was revealed that the animated version on the website could trigger epileptic fits and had, indeed, caused eight of such.

The Olympic organising committee appears to be sticking to its logo despite 48,000 protests online within two days, and despite several (in my opinion) better logos being sent in to newspapers by disgusted artists. One, which had me in stitches, showed the above logo being flushed down the drain, a funny metaphor of the sums in question.

To the news, then, that there is a new most-popular first name in Britain. Forget Jack, Nick, Tom, Dick or even Harry. Top of the naming tree is the Muslim name Mohammed, with its various spellings. The reason given to explain this is that the Muslim population in Britain is having more children and many obviously want to name their offspring after the prophet.

Considering that the average first-buyer has to fork out an average £180,000 or so for a one-bed house in the lower end of London's housing market, it is easy to see why many people are taking longer to have babies. A report in the papers also warned of slave-wages; young people who must work for a large chunk of their lives in the hope that their wages can pay off the mortgage. We've had our own over-heated housing (or rather land) market in Kampala and its environs which seems to be cooling at last. I just wonder what happened to the much-taunted mortgage scheme that President Museveni promised in his campaign manifesto to help younger people get onto the property ladder.

Was it just another flash in the pan? Or was it flushed down the pan? It is clearly raining puns here.

One show that has been scrapping the bottom of the barrel for a while now is Big Brother. I don't watch much TV, let alone wanna-be celebrities in C-lass reality tv shows but Big Brother UK was on the news after one of the contestants, Emily Parr, I think, was booted for referring to one of her Afro-British BB housemates as 'nigger'.

No word seems to hold as much potential for trouble. It is all around us in rap songs and many young Africans still use it amongst themselves, almost like an antidote against its racially-offensive and demeaning origins. It appears, however, that once spoken by a white person, it takes on intent and purpose, wildly bouncing off the walls like a noun possessed by an adjective.

It might be possessed by evil spirits or by the devil's juice. Tom Butler, the Bishop of Southwark in south London might have had a dose of both after having drinks at a Christmas party last year. It was reported that Butler had one glass of Portuguese wine too many and then set off a series of unfortunate incidents.

As he sssssshtaggered off in search of public transport, he came across a parked Mercedes, got into the back and started throwing toys out of the window. When he was accosted, he reportedly said: "I am the Bishop of Southwark; it is what I do".
He incurred the wrath of the car owner -- and cuts, bruises, and a black eye as he was thrown out. He was later seen sssshhtaggering away in the rather inappopriately named Crucifix Lane. No one remembers seeing him carry a cross. Sorry but nice try.

Somehow he got home without mobile phone, briefcase and other personal items and turned up in church the next day with a black eye and claimed he'd been mugged. After details started seeping through about his inebriation, the church called an investigation which was leaked last week by the Times.

It now appears that, in true Christian spirit, Bishop Butler has been forgiven and there shall be no more whining about the wine. Vintage stuff.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Red Indians and Negroes

OSLO - I just came out of a two-day dialogue we've been having on covering diversity in the media. The view from the venue, the Soria Moria resort up on a mountain overlooking the Norwegian capital, is stunning, but so have the revelations from journalists within the conference centre.

This dialogue, initiated by the governments of Norway and Indonesia, came out of the Prophet Muhammed cartoon controversy when angry Muslims across the world rioted and demonstrated to protest the appearance, in a Danish publication, of cartoons that they said portrayed the leader of their faith in bad light.

There is a new study out on the cartoon controversy and how it was covered in 14 countries across the world. It is a thickish document that I will read over the next coupla days, but the controversy showed how the media is struggling to catch up with globalisation.

Journalists are no longer writing for local audiences. A story written in Malawi can and will be picked up off the internet and read by people across the world. While it might not offend the sensibilities of local audiences, it sometimes can offend those of people for which it might not have been intended in the first place, as the cartoons appear to have done.

So hacks from about 60 countries have been sharing experiences on how to report diversity and not our differences. In otherwords, how to be sensitive to minorities and to other cultures and beliefs that may be different to our own.

On reflection, it reminds me of some of the stories carried in the Ugandan papers talking about an "Asian businessman" or describing people by their tribe, as if that can explain their actions. Sometimes it does (the unfortunate soul lynched by a mob during the anti-Mabira demonstrations appears to have been, at least in part, a victim of his Asian ethnicity. Most times, however, it is journalists and other commentators sub-consciously playing identity politics; seeking understanding in our differences, rather than accepting the diversity that the world thrusts upon us as it comes closer.

It will not happen overnight, neither will perceptions change so fast. On Monday night we were entertained by Queendom, a group of five young Norwegian women, all of African ethnicity with hilarious skits about immigration to Norway (a full review of the group will run in The EastAfrican later this month or early next). In one of their skits, they read from real stories run in Norwegian newspapers, including one in which a university professor, no less, addressed an African as a Negro.

Such overt and covert racism remains across the world and many of us have been on the receiving end (including a British cop who once racially insulted me and my brother in Tottenham as we tried to find a pub to watch a football game). The shocking thing is how it is perpetuated in and by the mainstream media.

I have always been irked by tke fact that the Arab-Israeli conflict appears in the international press almost everyday while conflicts in Burundi, DR Congo, Darfur, northern Uganda, etc, rarely do, despite the death toll being much higher in those places.

The answer is that the international media, a lot of the time, reports the news for and in the way their audiences (i.e people like them back in the west) want to see it. The emergence of alternative media outlets on the internet, through blogs and through al-Jazeera appears, at least in part, an attempt by other people to tell their stories their way.

Unless mainstream media can learn to cover diverse issues (and reflect the diversity of their audiences through their newsrooms and coverage), many audience members will seek their information elsewhere.

Oh, well, enough rambling. It is off to the SS Johanna for an evening sail from Rådhusbryggen through the fjords. Good food, free wine, a diverse cultural crowd and the sun that won't set until about midnight. Surely a man can enjoy a few such moments, no?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Taking it slow in Oslo

Overlooking OSLO - Summer has finally arrived in Norway. The glaciers are melting, the waterfalls are gushing, the fjords are full and ever-so-beautiful, and the sun is out in full force. Even London last week had some sun, lifting the gloom of the spring rains.

Over the weekend I did the Norway-in-a-nutshell run; train from the scenic Bergen to Voss, then a coach, ship and another train ride up to Flam and then another train back into Oslo. Very beautiful and scenic.

It is also extremely expensive; waiting for my flight to Bergen at the airport, I decided to have a beer -- Heineken. I had read the Lonely Planet guide to Norway and its warning about the cost but I was still shaken when the bill came to about 6 pounds. For a pint! I, quite frankly, can't afford it at that price and it is the last beer I am paying for (not drinking, mark you), until I return to lovely old London.

It is off the sun for a lunch of smoked salmon salad whilst overlooking the fjord down in Oslo. Later, I will try to remember what it is I am doing here and, hopefully, share.