Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why Kalyegira needs a dayjob

WASH, D.C - Timothy Kalyegira is intelligent and industrious. His work (book and website) on the Uganda and Africa Almanac was ground-breaking and a useful compilation of historical facts that, sadly, have not been updated. Some of Tim's newspaper articles are very well informed and insightful, drawing on extensive research and scholarship. It is not uncommon, in the midst of a discussion or a radio debate, for Tim to quote Newsweek of 1983 or a BBC broadcast from 1973 or thereabouts. But Tim, like many of us, has his moments of madness. The only difference is that while we spew our madness into cyberspace, Tim does so through a national newspaper. How I wish Tim would use that space to construct, rather than destruct and distract!

I have been meaning to write and respond to one of his regular themes but had not found the time to do so until now. Just before I started writing this I read a piece by Jenkins Kiwanuka questioning Tim's demands for someone -- anyone -- to produce evidence that Idi Amin killed more than 600 people during his reign. Tim is right to note that some of the claims about Amin have been exaggerated -- but to use these broad brushes of inexactitude to try and gloss over the canvas of Amin's terror is mischevious at best and provocative at worst. Amin could have killed 5, 10 or 100,000 people but those would still be people he need not, should not, have killed. Tim has not provided the list of the 600 (or less) that he believes Amin killed; why then does he want or expect others to do the harder job of listing the 300,000 that are often quoted?

I think Tim would serve his readers better if he used his research skills to find out the exact (or approximate) number of people Amin killed -- and the whereabouts of their remains for those who are still listed as missing -- to allow friends and family find closure, not dance on their presumed graves in a mathematical tango of indifference and pedantry.

While Tim calls for scientific proof on Amin's murders on one hand, he, on the other hand, holds out encounters with a 'seer' about events that are likely to happen in the region, as truths that he holds to be self-evident!. Beyond the obvious contradictions between science and speculation, readers are subjected to doses of latter-day Nostradamus-like posturing by an unnamed oracle! Should we, really, not watch the weather forecast or carry out economic research because we have seers to tell us what next year's inflation rate will be (come rain or shine) and which countries will go to war? This from a guy who compiled an almanac and who says, in his latest column, that the most brilliant Ugandan is Fred Guweddeko, a researcher? Tim!

I, of course, have my own thoughts about that matter of brilliance (the original Daily Monitor stories on the matter, which were flaccid and insipid, spoke of the most powerful/influential Ugandans so this rejoinder was a comparison of apples and oranges) but let me say that while brilliance is relative, authorship of a letter speculating about possible motives for the presumed poisoning of a government civil servant do not hold much sway in my stable, but to every man his own.

More troubling for me, however, of all the things that Tim writes, is his regular theme on higher education, particularly that pursued by Ugandans abroad. In a nutshell (at least the way I understand it), Tim says Ugandans go abroad for master's degrees as a fad and that they have nothing to show for it in terms of changing the country when they return. This is a dangerous and false generalisation that needs to be exposed for the fallacy it is. Tim seems to have a problem, not only with higher education per se, but with higher education sought abroad, particularly in western universities. Tim has previously thumbed his nose towards Ugandans who go abroad for 'kyeyo' but these same folks keep people in school and food on tables in Uganda.

Of course many Ugandans who have gone for "further studies" in "outside countries" have ended up staying on, sometimes to do menial jobs that put to waste years of education. Others have returned to lives of crime, indifference or obscurity (or alcoholism, I hear some of you wags saying). But is a higher education to blame for these choices and other shortcomings? Why not encourage people to drop out of school at primary seven, then? Are the people who do their master's degrees at Makerere, Nkumba, etc., necessarily better than those who do them abroad? Does it even matter where you do it? And who says your degree is supposed to change the world? What of the hundreds who've used their opportunity to change/improve themselves and their families? Should they refund part of their scholarships or family contributions to their tuition because we still have no cure for Aids and still have a war in the north? Getting an MA or a PhD might not make you a better person or any smarter -- and it certainly won't change the world -- but neither will discouraging people from nurturing their aspirations and ambitions.

Tim is a smart fella and he ought to use his skills to do research to inspire people to work towards achieving their dreams. He does not need a PhD for that and while he might not change the world, he will change people's lives.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Here's to faster internet

GEORGETOWN, DC -- And so it came to be that the son of man (this version, not THE son of man) lay in his hotel room, recovering from jet lag and tried to take a nap in the afternoon with the aid of Mr Jack, Mr Daniels, and Ms Pepsi.

Many people have written to me wondering why I only blog sporadically. Looking through the posts, it appears that I seem to blog a lot when I am away from the office, which is understandable, considering the pressure of the job (hint hint, boss: pay rise). There is something about going away, from home, from the office, that allows one to think and, time and resources allowing, write about what they see and what they miss. Part of it is the loneliness, having so many hours to kill at airports and in hotels. Damn, I got so much time on my hands today, I even went out of my way and signed up to Facebook, all my misgivings notwithstanding! However, several times it is just the speed of the internet.

Several times I have tried to blog at home or in the office only for the internet to go off. Other times I have written extensively and hit the 'publish post' button, only for the damn thing to go off. We really need to do something about the speed and reliability of our internet connectivity in good ol' UG!

Anyways, gotta get some shut eye. Before I go, a few snippets about what's going down here: George W is hosting the Dalai Lama down the street at 1600 Penn. Ave, much to China's chagrin while there's worries about immigration, Russia's attitude towards the planned US missile defence shield (and Iran), as well as the price of oil which is flirting higher and higher and is expected to hit the $100-a-barrel mark soon!

The sun was out earlier and I was tempted to do one of my favourite things in Georgetown; rent a bicycle and cycle along the Potomac river. It (the sun) is now behind clouds so will take a nap and hit the pub later.

Later, folks.

P.S When we return after the break: Why Timothy Kalyegira needs to find a day job!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chewing funny mushrooms in Amsterdam

SCHIPHOL AIRPORT - Killing time. Trying to type as fast as possible so that I do not have to fork out another $10 for half an hour of internet time. Thankfully it is fast. A ferrari compared to the boda boda cyber cafes back in Kla.

Have not been to Schiphol before and it is like you would expect of any western airport. Went through Entebbe last night and noted that they are about done with laying the tiles. We are getting ready for CHOGM. And then? Will things fall apart soon after, having been hastily put together? Only time will tell. At least the guests will all be gone so it will be 'just Ugandans' to worry about.

Have tried to find one of those cafes that famously spice one's tea or coffee with stuff to send them high. Not that I would even contemplate trying it. Who me? Well, possession of small amounts is legal, but not sterner stuff. Just read a piece in the IHT (or was it the Guardian) on the plane about plans to make possession of 'funny mushrooms' illegal. See, while we go around eating mushrooms back home, here people eat some of the half-poisonous ones to get a high. There are reports of several deaths and injuries as people, high on mushrooms (lol!) jumped off buildings in the midst of hallucinations. Another guy drove his car through a campsite, although no one was injured.

If you hear of a guy who jumped out of a plane thinking the stewardess was trying to kill/kiss him, it would have been a good life (a good laugh, for you sadists).

Yours truly is off to DC, covering the IMF/World Bank annual meetings, and more. More about that and Georgetown -- oh, Georgetown -- if I am able to fight the temptation to jump.


P.S I am sure Dennis Matanda won't believe me posting more than twice in less than a month. Mid-life crisis or wanderlust/cyberlust? More about that, and Rwanda, soon.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Mosquitoes on a plane - scary

KIGALI - I thought 'Snakes on a Plane' was a bit scary, ish ish, although I liked the thrill. Had a similar experience Wednesday night on the small-plane ride to Kigali when I had to battle three mosquitoes for the 55-min flight. Of course I have grown up with moquitoes and know how to toss and turn -- but try doing that in a cramped, non-pressurised cabin with the propeller (yes, propeller; it was a tiny plane) roaring in your ears. More about Kigali soonish. Off to dinner then have early morning drive to Lake Kivu....

Orakoze Kyana! Or something like that

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Earning an honest wage – yeah right!

KAMPALA - Why is it next-to-impossible to find honest contractors in Uganda? Of course we know that government wastes a lot of our taxes on all sorts of schemes, school children are thrown out of their schools, buildings are razed and the ground is let to fallow, awaiting some hotelier to make up his mind. We know that people displaced by war are given rotten seeds when they finally get to return to their homes, complete with flexi-pangas to help them till the land and start new lives. We know all that, and more.

What irks me the most are the smaller things; the micro-corruption, the cutting corners that we are subjected to daily – and not from Mr Government, which is too busy carving out plots, parcels and projects. Several months ago, one of the panes in my living room window broke. No, I have not been throwing stones and I do not live in a glass house, you desperate pun-hunters. The pane intercepted a rock cast by kids playing in the grass below. It fought a good fight, the pane, but ultimately suffered a fatal blow that left a huge gaping hole.

After unsuccessfully asking the estates manager to fix the pane (part of their contract, by the way) for several weeks, I took matters into my own hands, identified a fella who was fixing a window somewhere in the estate and paid him to fix mine. I paid for the cost of a new pane, his labour, and money to hire a ladder. He turned up the next day with one of his mates and they started fixin’ it up. In the course of holding down the glass in the frame, his mate broke it. Just like that.

I told the fella that it was his responsibility and that he should buy a replacement pane as the breakage was his fault. He mumbled something under his breath, climbed down from the ladder and went away, his mate in tow. They returned, all right, in the dead of the night, and carried away their ladder. My window is still undone. Even the shattered bits that offered some respite from mosquitoes and the elements were knocked down.

A few weeks later, in a moment of madness, and against my better judgement, I reinstalled satellite television. The crew turned up, and installed the dish smack right over my neighbour’s, blocking out his signal. When I called them back the next day, they said it was my fault, living in a flat. Or not seeing my neighbour’s dish. Or subscribing to satellite television. Whatever. It somehow had to be my fault. So they grumbled, moved it to a new spot and asked me to pay an installation fee. I refused but offered Shs10k as their transport refund. Two days later, the signal was off; they had unscrewed a bit off the dish and rainwater had now poured in, literary drowning the signal. I had to get a new crew to replace the missing bits.

Three other episodes come to mind. The first, involving a boda boda. One of those crazy days when the roads are all blocked, getting them ready for CHOGM, I am running terribly late for an appointment so I do the natural thing; park my car by the roadside, jump onto a boda and ask him to whisk me as fast and as safely as is wistfully possible, to my destination. After my appointment, I grab another boda and ask him to take me to my car. We get there. I get off. I ask him what the fare is. “Shs1,500,” he says. So I hand him two thousand-shilling notes and turn to open the car door, holding out my hand for my change (note: change, NOT balance, people!). I turn back to see the fellow speeding off on his boda, confident in the fact that I am not likely to chase him down the road screaming thief. That is what dressing up like a ‘corporate’, complete with flash disc hanging down your neck does to you. It soothes the primal instinct out of you.

Another time, another scene; a roadside roast meat market in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb. I park by the roadside and a fella dutifully comes to the car and takes my order. He returns 10 min later with the sizzling meat, packed to go. “That will be Shs8,000,” he tells me. I give him a Shs10k note. “Let me bring your change,” he says, and walks away. I wait. One minute. Then five. Then 10. Then it becomes clear; the only change the fella is getting is a change of scene for the rest of the evening, or until, as happens in another minute, I drive off.

I could go on and on – just don’t get me started with the car mechanic who got his house up to foundation level by inflating the cost of spare parts which the car seemed to need every time it had to go in. “Anti this is a German car,” he’d announce, until the day I rejoined “and I am a Ugandan employee” and found a new mechanic.

Why can’t people do an honest day’s work and earn an honest wage? Maybe it’s me putting too much trust in people; not holding the boda guy by the scruff of the neck – just in case – while he found a coin for my change; holding the bottom of the ladder and telling the window man I would pull it away if he did not somehow get an accomplice to bring a new pane.

Maybe everyone is doing it and I just came late to the party. You just have to read the papers and learn of folks bottling tap water in mineral water bottles, supermarkets recycling goods by printing new expiry dates and sticking them over the old, expired ones, etc. I guess everyone is stitching someone else up somewhere, somehow. This thought has just brought shocking images of what chefs, having been cheated out of their change by boda boda riders on their way to work, might be doing in revenge. Let’s just say that I am eating in today.

Enjoy a stitch-free day.