Progressive Dictatorship Better for Uganda than Sham Democracy – The Independent

3 11 2010

This is a fascinating article to read as Uganda enters it’s campaign season.  I agree with Joseph Ossiya’s sentiments here – that often Western donors require the trappings of democracy from countries that might be better off with a different system of government.  Democracy has become a religion to us, rather than a political ideology, and we promote it as the ultimate goal.  We would rather see a country suffer under democracy than thrive under some other system.

In the words of Ossiya:

Any government on the donor payroll has to wear the garb of democracy – elections. Elections in Uganda do not establish popular mandate as the basis for the formation of government. They do not even seek to align political tenure with the will of the people. Our elections are essentially entry-level exams set by the donor community for bogus governments to qualify to receive international recognition in the beggars’ lounge. The pass marks are invariably very low and accepted as such as long as the situation does not conflict with the interests of the donor community which is primarily to maintain the global trade and resource extraction supremacy.

This is a very thoughtful article that should stimulate some serious debate:

Progressive dictatorship better for Uganda than sham democracy.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala


Gay Rights in Uganda

27 10 2010

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me, and I looked to see who would speak for me
but by that time no one was left.

A silent voice is a voice for the oppressors.  I have not written about the homosexuality issue in Uganda – partly because I have too much to say and partly because I find it so unbelievable, that I keep expecting to blink my eyes and find that none of it happened.  But the recent publication of a list of “Top Homosexuals” in Uganda printed along with a banner saying “hang them” compels me to use my voice and not continue to support the oppressors through my silence.

Homosexuality has long been illegal in Uganda, but the issue has been ramped up in the last year after the arrival of some loud-mouthed American missionaries led to the introduction of a Bill that would provide the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”  After a huge international outcry, the Bill has been quietly set aside, but the issue still rankles and it seems that many Ugandans would be very happy if it had been put into force.

Ugandans say that homosexuality just “isn’t part of the culture” here –  that it was “imported” by Europeans and doesn’t have a place in Ugandan society.  Besides the fact that it isn’t true, it is denying the possibility that a culture can evolve and grow.

Gay Rights are Civil Rights

What if all societies were allowed to just stagnate and remain stuck in old belief systems?  In the United States for much of the time leading up to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, it was illegal to marry or have sexual relations with someone of another race (miscegenation).  There were still anti-miscegenation laws in 16 states when the Supreme Court finally determined them unconstitutional in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia.  What if people in the United States had decided that equality for black people just “wasn’t part of the culture?”  What if slavery was allowed to continue because it was so deeply rooted in the culture of the southern states?

I would imagine that many of the same Ugandans who want homosexuals to be killed would be furious if they were told that they were not allowed to marry someone they loved who was of another race/tribe/religion.  Why is it so difficult to see the fact that homophobia is no different from racism in this way?  It is a form of oppressing a group of people for who they are.

No, Gay People are NOT “Recruiting” Kids to Become Gay

The big scare tactic here is saying that gays are going into the schools and “recruiting” kids.  It is truly amazing to me that intelligent people can actually believe that.  I don’t even know what that notion is based on, and have never seen any mention of this actually happening in the schools.  It is a smoke screen, pure and simple.  If you want to get people worked up about an issue anywhere in the world, tell them that their kids are threatened.  If anything, people here should be concerned about all of the 40-year-old men who pick up young girls at the boarding schools.  You can’t “recruit” someone to be gay, anymore than you can take a gay person and make them “ungay.”

It’s Not Easy Being Gay Anywhere

This is not an issue only in Uganda.  Gay people are still fighting for their rights throughout the world.  Even in the U.S., where we have made great strides towards equal rights for homosexuals, there is still a lot of resistance.  I was inspired to write this post partly because of an e-mail that my mother forwarded to me.  She had received a virulently homophobic message from an old friend of hers, and she took the courageous step of responding with this message:

“I wonder how many of the people you sent this to are gay or have a child or brother or sister or close friend who is gay.  How would you like to live in a world in which it would be illegal to be heterosexual, let alone get married?  How would you like the government coming into your bedroom and telling you how you can and cannot have sexual relations?  What kind of spiritual love, or the religion that has come to you since your healing, encompasses and encourages this kind of reactionary response to others who are trying to express love in the only way that feels right to them?  Gays aren’t trying to tell us to stop heterosexual love, why is it right for us to tell them they can’t express their love?  Perhaps you think it is a choice to be homosexual.  I don’t.  I also don’t think it is productive to try to make people hate themselves for what they are, unless they are doing something to hurt others.  I don’t see gays trying to do anything to hurt others, but rather just trying to live their lives in peace.  Live and let live.  Life is too short and too precious to feel hate.  For your own sake, please try to recognize that you can disagree without the negative emotions.  Those hurt you as well as others.  This world needs more love, not less.”

How often do we just “let it slide” when a friend of ours says something that offends us?  I think it is often more difficult to confront someone that we care about than to respond to anonymous “others.”  The person who had written the original message wrote back to her saying she had “lost her Midwest values.”  Well, if hate is a Midwest value, then good for her!

I also don’t understand why the anti-gay movement gets so much support by Christian churches.  What happened to “thou shalt not judge?”  Is there an 11th commandment that says “Thou shalt hate others for who they are?”  I don’t understand how spreading hate is a Christian value.  As my mother wrote in her message, “This world needs more love, not less.”

Homosexuals WILL Win Their Rights

The world is inexorably marching towards civil rights and equality for more people.  There are occasional steps backwards, like the case of the rights of homosexuals here in Uganda, but overall progress is being made.  Ugandans are intelligent people, and there will come a time when they say “I can’t believe there was a time when it was illegal to be gay,” just like it is hard to believe it was illegal for a white person to marry a black person in parts of the United States a mere 40 years ago.

In the meantime, though, homosexuals are being attacked, beaten and threatened here as they struggle for their right to live.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Wal-Mart Makes a Move on Africa

9 10 2010

Image of Wal-Mart Parking Lot

I guess it was just a matter of time…

Wal-Mart: Predator Capitalism and the Great Game

By Glenn Ashton

Date posted: 6 October 2010

So it looks like Wal-Mart may establish its African beachhead in South Africa. Rumours have flown around the South African business community for more than six months that Massmart, the South African based retail giant that includes well-known brands such as Dion, Game, Makro and Builders Warehouse, was a target for acquisition by the world’s biggest company, the retail behemoth Wal-Mart.

View the rest of this article online here:

What do you think about this?

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Talking About Race with Kids

24 09 2010

Three Musketeers

Three Friends

White people over there!  Black people over there!”

My wife and I stared at each other in horror as our then-3 1/2-year-old son stood on his chair and shouted this during a dinner we were hosting for a group of Ugandan and ex-pat friends.

The girl next door, a 6 year old from Zimbabwe, had been learning about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States at her school.  As the older and wiser of the two, she often plays the role of “teacher” when they are together in the afternoons.  Apparently on this day she had been teaching him about segregation, and he was sharing with us what he had learned.  Can you say “awkward?”

When we moved to Uganda in 2008, our son was 2 ½ years old and seemed to have no awareness of skin color or, really, of the fact that Uganda is a different place from America at all.  Even though there were very few mzungu kids in his school, we never heard him talk about being different, or show any awareness of the fact that most people around us on a daily basis are black and that we aren’t.

About six months later, he came home from school talking about “the black kid.”  We thought “ok – honeymoon’s over.  Now we’re going to have to figure out how to talk about this with him.”  But then moments later he started talking about “the blue kid” and “the red kid” and we realized he was referring to the clothes the other kids in his school were wearing.  Whew.  Dodged the bullet for a little while longer.

Then came the dinner party.

Not surprisingly, our Ugandan friends just laughed.  I say “not surprisingly” because here in Uganda, you call it like you see it.  Some people are black, some people are white, some are fat, some are skinny, and somebody with one leg is known as “the guy with one leg.”  You frequently hear Ugandans say “you white people are like this” or “we blacks are like this.”  It’s not like in the United States, where we all try to pretend we don’t notice differences between us, and where we will twist ourselves into all kinds of verbal contortions to avoid mentioning that someone is black/fat/disabled/whatever:

Person 1:  “Excuse me, do you know if Jim is in today?”
Person 2:  “Who’s Jim?”
Person 1:  “Oh, you know, he’s about 5’8”, usually wears a sweater, has longish, shortish hair and a beard and mustache.”
Person 2:  “Hmmm, I know a few guys like that here.  Can you be more specific?”
Person 1:  “Well, he’s worked here for about six months, has a blue coffee mug, and always reads a book in the break room at lunch.”
Person 2 (wants to say):  “Oh yeah – do you mean the only black guy who works here?  It would’ve been easier if you had just said that!”

Not that we should become known strictly by one aspect of who we are but, interestingly, we don’t have the same issues with using some physical descriptors, like “the woman with the really long, blond hair.”

We Need to Talk About Race

A recent article in Newsweek, See Baby Discriminate, makes me wonder if our son really hadn’t noticed skin color before, or if his “lesson” with his friend just finally gave him the language and permission to talk about it – an opportunity and framework that we hadn’t given him because we were waiting for it to come up (and on some level probably hoping it wouldn’t).

The take-home lesson of the article, written by Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman, is that kids develop racial awareness earlier than we expect, and that there is no substitute for explicit conversations about it (as opposed to vague platitudes like “everyone is equal”) very early in their development.

The first study that the authors looked at was done in Austin, in 2006, by Birgitte Vittrup of the University of Texas.  Vittrup wanted to see if there was a change in kids’ racial attitudes after watching multi-cultural themed videos, watching videos with accompanying guided discussions with parents, and participating in race discussions without the videos.  She selected 100 Caucasian families from the Austin area (a liberal bastion within Texas) who had kids between the ages of 5 and 7 and divided them into the three study groups.

The first thing she found was that most of these families just plain didn’t want to talk directly about race issues, and many either dropped out of the study or had conversations that were too vague for their kids to really get the point.  According to Bronson and Merryman, “Of all those Vittrup told to talk openly about interracial friendship, only six families managed to actually do so.  And, for all six, their children dramatically improved their racial attitudes in a single week.”

This finding is significant given that, according to a Journal of Marriage and Family article, 75% of white families “never, or almost never, talk about race.”

Kids Notice Color

Yesterday, as I was giving my son a bath, he sorted all of his bath toys by color along the edges of the tub.  Is there any reason to think they don’t do the same thing with people?

Referring to findings by another researcher, Rebecca Bigler, Bronson and Merryman state that “kids are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism; they’re going to form these preferences on their own.  Children naturally try to categorize everything, and the attribute they rely on is that which is the most clearly visible.”  This was seen even when different shirt colors were randomly assigned.  They also cited studies showing that 86% of white 3-year-old children show preference for white friends, and that by third grade, it might already be too late to reshape attitudes.

Diverse Environments Don’t Necessarily Engender Racial Equality

Perhaps the finding in this article that surprised me the most is that integrated school environments might actually increase racial segregation socially.  This goes against the prevailing view that kids who are raised in diverse school environments are more likely to have inter-racial friendships and see other races as equal, something the authors call the “Diverse Environment Theory.”

A study done by James Moody from Duke University on 90,000 teenagers at 112 different schools found that “the more diverse the school, the more the kids self-segregate by race and ethnicity within the school, and thus the likelihood that any two kids of different races have a friendship goes down.”  Only 8% of white American teens have a best friend of a different race.

We have just assumed that by raising our son in Africa he will develop a feeling of equality with people of other races because that is who he interacts with the most every day, and that he will somehow not really feel that there is any difference between him and the other kids around him.  This article shows that we might be very wrong about that.

If you ask him who his best friend is in Uganda, he names the girl next door, who is black.  However, if you ask him who his best friend at school is, where most of the other students and all of the teachers are black, he will usually name the girl who is the only other white kid in his class.

My wife and I originally wanted to believe that it was because the two of them transferred together from their old school so they had more history with each other, but I really think it has to do more with this desire to categorize, and Bigler’s finding that “kids are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism.”  He and she notice that they are similar to each other in a very obvious way, and this draws them to want to form a group in the same way that my son’s bath toys “belong” in groupings of red, blue, green and yellow.

Lessons Learned

I don’t think it is bad that he has formed this bond with his friend at school.  He plays with all the other kids, loves his teachers, and the girl next door is like his sister.  While it is obvious that he is becoming more aware of the differences between himself and so many of the people he sees around him, I don’t notice any type of value judgment.  Different, to him, does not mean better or worse.

But if what this article says is true, we need to get busy and make sure that we don’t leave a vacuum to be filled regarding what those differences mean.  We can’t just expect that living here in this environment will lead to him believing that everyone is equal.  We can’t even expect our own attitudes about equality to magically transfer to him, not least because we might have unconscious bias that we aren’t even aware of, but that he picks up through subtle behaviors.  We need to be clear and explicit with him about our belief that different races are equal and that discrimination is not acceptable.  And we need to start having these conversations…ummm…about a year and a half ago.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

World Gone Mad | Derrick Jensen | Orion Magazine

15 09 2010

The most recent issue of Orion Magazine includes an article by Derrick Jensen, a pretty edgy environmental writer, looking at the psychopathic tendencies of modern society in its attitudes towards the planet.  I have certainly seen our relationship to the earth as unhealthy, but he looks at very specific, clinical definitions of psycho- and sociopathology and draws direct lines between our attitudes towards the environment and a serial killer’s attitude towards his victims.

‘The New Columbia Encyclopedia states that a sociopath can be defined as one who willfully does harm without remorse: “Such individuals are impulsive, insensitive to others’ needs, and unable to anticipate the consequences of their behavior, to follow long-term goals, or to tolerate frustration. The psychopathic individual is characterized by absence of the guilt feelings and anxiety that normally accompany an antisocial act.”’

via World Gone Mad | Derrick Jensen | Orion Magazine.

Maybe we need a global therapy session.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Florida Church Promotes “Burn a Koran Day”

7 09 2010
Dove World Outreach Center

Image from Dove World Outreach Center

There is an evangelical Christian church in Florida that is planning to burn copies of the Koran to commemorate 9-11.  How stupid can you get?

I suppose they are trying to make a statement.  They are trying to let the world know that “hey, we are a bunch of bigoted, closed-minded buttheads, and we really want to escalate the amount of hatred and violence in the world.”

I am happy to see that the National Association of Evangelicals has spoken out against the planned demonstration, and even General Patraeus has asked the Dove World Outreach Center not to do it, as it is already making things harder for our troops in Afghanistan.

Come on, people, what do you really think you will gain from this action?  Is this going to lessen the possibility of future terrorist attacks?  Is it going to fix the damaged relationship between Islam and Christianity or between the Muslim world and the Western world?  Is it going to bring more people into the Christian fold?

The minister, Terry Jones, says of Islam “to me it looks like a religion of the devil.”  There is absolutely nothing positive that could ever come out of an action like burning the holy book of any religion.  And if you are not trying to do positive things in the world then maybe…just maybe…you are doing the Devil’s work yourself.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

The Expat/Ugandan Dynamic

27 08 2010

My recent post, The Plot Thickens at Uganda Wildlife Authority, drew two interesting comments from Dr. Muballe, the new chair of the Board of Directors at UWA.  In his more agitated comment he wasn’t actually responding to anything I wrote, but to a comment left by Wolfgang Thome, who has written openly about his criticisms of the new board’s actions on his own website and in his articles at eTurboNews.  However, since both comments were left on my site, I figure it is fair for me to write about the thoughts his comments provoked for me.

First, the mild one:

“Trust me on this the motive of the new BoT of UWA is noble. The proof in the pudding is the outcome of the ongoing forensic Audit. If the motive was less than noble why Audit UWA.

If it help you understand UWA whose Annual budget is approximatelys$15,000,000 runs 20 accounts in 5 different banks. Does that make economic sense.

Kindly give us time to prove our worth. Not all that comes out of Uganda is Corrupt. There are many honest ugandans who truelly wish to see the country Grow. If at any stage the temptation to be corrupted afflicts me then be assured i shall resign.  Pro deum et Patrium.”

In his favor here, I must agree that it is a little ridiculous to have 20 accounts in 5 banks for a relatively small budget.  That is a perfect set-up for corruption, as it is difficult to monitor expenses in so many accounts, and I can only imagine the convoluted signing-authority arrangements for retrieving money from any of those accounts.  Part of the “proof in the pudding” on this one will be how they try to restructure this.  Who will have signing authority for the new, condensed accounts?  While the finance committee of a board needs to have the ability to review the accounts of the organization they oversee, they should never have the ability to actually access the funds.  By suspending everyone with signing authority, the road was open to have the Board be the only signatories.  Now that the court has re-instated the Executive, that road is not so clear.

They will assuredly have time to prove their worth.  So far, though, the road is already bumpy.  Their dismissals of the Executive Director and the Director of Conservation have been overturned, and when Dr. Muballe was called to speak to Parliament he did not appear.  The Monitor, the independent newspaper in Uganda, has also reported unprecedented fees being paid to the new board under Dr. Muballe in “Wildfire Consumes Wildlife Authority:”

Members of the previous UWA board, headed by city lawyer Andrew Kasirye, received a monthly retainer of Shs700,000 and a sitting allowance of Shs103,000.

However, Dr Muballe now receives a monthly retainer of Shs2m [$1,000] and a sitting allowance of Shs300,000 [$150 per meeting]. Other board members have a monthly retainer of Shs1.5m and a sitting allowance of Shs250,000.

Travel and night allowances have also been doubled to $200 (about Shs400,000) for the chairman and $150 (about Shs300,000) for members.

The new board has also approved new allowances and benefits to its members with Dr Muballe receiving a monthly allocation of 200 litres of fuel [worth about $250 – $300], Shs200,000 [$100] for airtime, and an entertainment allowance of Shs1m [$500].”

Pretty sweet packages, I must say, particularly for the board of an underfunded government agency where a single sitting allowance would be a good monthly salary for many of the employees.  And for those of you reading this outside of Uganda, a “sitting allowance” is basically extra money that you have to pay higher-level people here to do their jobs.  If you need somebody from the Health Ministry to come see a project at a health center, you have to pay them extra to get them to leave their desk.

There are also questions around how the new board was selected, as most of them have no conservation or wildlife experience and some had never even been to the parks before joining the board.  Dr. Muballe was the personal physician to the Minister of Trade and Tourism, who appointed him to the post.

His next comment, directed towards Wolfgang Thome, is a bit spicier:

Mr Wolfgang,

you have judged us with inadequate information. kindly prepare your apology in 30 days time. YOUR EUROCENTRIC ATTITUDE SHALL BE PUT TO SHAME. BY THE WAY SOME OF THE CORRUPTERS OF UWA OFFICIALS ARE GERMANS. if i gave you evidence to the effect could you help bring them to book?

Have a nice week.

aluta comtinua, victoria ecerta. We have declare war on corruption if you believe in transperancy help us prosecute these corrupt europeans as well.

Just for context, Wolfgang has been in Uganda for twenty years, is married to a Ugandan woman, and is set to live the rest of his life here.  He is clearly committed to this country, and probably has stronger ties here than he does back in Germany.  I’m not exactly sure what Dr. Muballe saw as “Eurocentric” in Wolfgang’s comment or his other writings.  He has been openly supportive of Moses Mapesa, who is a Ugandan, since this issue first started making headlines, and much of what he has written has been based on evidence that has come out through investigations by local, Ugandan reporters.  It is easy to avoid addressing the issues directly when you simply write-off your critics as “outsiders.”

Muballe’s comment, however, brings up a deeper issue.  There is a push-pull in Uganda between two opposing attitudes.  One, expressed here by Dr. Muballe, is essentially “Who do you mzungus think you are, telling us how to run our country?”  The other was expressed by a young man I met in a village last weekend who said to a group of us “Maybe we could sit down together and you could tell us how to organize our lives.”

Neither of these attitudes is healthy or appropriate.  Westerners have a role to play here just as Africans have a role to play in the United States or in Europe.  It is the unique blend of perspectives, experiences and gifts that different people bring to the table that make a country strong.

I do think there is a sense of entitlement on the part of many donor countries to have a say in the workings of Uganda, particularly due to the fact that a third of the national budget is direct support from international donors.  Compounding this is the fact that Uganda is actually moving backwards on the Corruption Perceptions Index created by Transparency International.  The Freedom House Country Report on Uganda also shows Uganda’s rating dropping over the last 4 years in the categories of Accountability and Public Voice, Rule of Law, and Anticorruption and Transparency.  The Civil Liberties category was the only one in which an improvement was seen.  So while Muballe is certainly correct that “not all that comes out of Uganda is corrupt,” it is impossible to ignore the fact that corruption is widespread here.  The cards are also very much stacked against those people, be they Ugandan or foreign, who want to steer clear of corruption.  That said, it is a delicate and awkward balance between “investors” having a say in their investment and a nation having sovereignty.

The frustration for me is that I don’t see Uganda as a poor country, or at least not as a country that needs to be poor.  The land here is extremely fertile, there is a growing business sector, recently discovered sources of oil, other minerals, and an English-speaking population, which makes it easier for Ugandans to interact with the global business community.  The human and natural resources are here.  What seems to be lacking is leadership that is committed to serving the people first, and themselves second.  Uganda could be a virtual paradise if the money that was allocated to strengthen it was used for that purpose.

Ugandan law does provide for both the bribe payer and the payee to be prosecuted.  It will be interesting to see what happens if this is enforced.  Will there be economic stagnation if authorities refuse to allow business activity without receiving a bribe but the businesses won’t pay the bribe due to fear of reprisal?

Donor countries do have a role to play in pressing for more transparency in the governments they support.  However, it must be remembered that those countries (and individuals working in the aid industry) have a vested interest in continuing to provide funding.  I think it is pretty rare for donors to follow through on any threats to reduce funding as a penalty for corruption.

The other side of this equation, the one expressed by the young man in the village, is also off-base.  None of us in the group knew anything about him, yet he thought we could help him “organize his life” simply because we are mzungus.  I believe that for some, there is a tendency to assume we mzungus bring more to the table than we actually do.  There are always pitfalls in making assumptions about entire groups of people, whether those assumptions are positive or negative.  As with anybody else, each mzungu here has some skills and lacks others, has certain positive character traits and certain negative ones.  I have enough trouble keeping my own life on track – I certainly don’t feel qualified to tell anybody else how to “organize” theirs.

So how do we move towards a healthier, more realistic relationship between western expatriates and Ugandans?  Reducing the wealth gap is an important step.  Improving the education system here to get it on-par with international standards is another.  But these are long-term undertakings.  Is there a way, in the meantime, to get people to look at each other as individuals, with unique strengths and weaknesses, no matter what their skin color or nationality might be?

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala