O Holy Night

19 12 2010

I’m off for holiday travels and don’t know how regularly I’ll be updating this blog in the next few weeks, so I thought I’d leave you all with this song, performed by a very dear friend, Lee Bob Watson:

In the words of Lee:
“Oh Holy Night” has been my favorite Christmas song for quite some time. This version was recorded late in the night of Dec 20 2009, the sounds of the street are from the alley below my window in North Beach. For me, the sounds of strife amplify the longing expressed in songs such as this one. Regardless of one’s religion, we all hope for deliverance sometimes.

This song has always been one of my favorites, too, I think because of the sense of melancholy that is woven through the beauty of the song.  That’s my experience of this holiday – beauty with a dash of melancholy.

The images in my head of Christmas involve people sitting nice and cozy by the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate and hot buttered rums.  I love the fact that at this time of year, in the parts of the world that celebrate this holiday, people who might never talk to each other at any other time will stop to say “Merry Christmas” to the people sitting near them on the train or in line at the grocery store.  It is a time that brings family together and makes people think about giving rather than getting.

But I can never shake the melancholy.  I can never stop thinking about the fact that for many people around the world, Christmas is just another day of struggle.  And I don’t want to shake the melancholy.  I never want to forget that many people don’t have the luxury that I have of stepping out of life for a week or two and enjoying good meals and presents around the tree.

I don’t know if it helps at all, but part of what makes Christmas a “Holy Night” for me is dedicating some of my thoughts to remembering that not everybody is as lucky as me, and wishing for Peace on Earth for everyone in this season.

Merry Christmas

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala


Creative Approach to Saving Paper

15 12 2010

You know those people who just have to print out every e-mail they get, and every document that gets forwarded to them?  I have frequently found myself thinking hard about whether or not to include somebody on an e-mail with an attachment because I know they will print it out, even if they’ll never look at it again.  Entire forests get needlessly cut down for these people.

Well, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has come up with a solution.  They have developed a PDF-type format that can’t be printed out.  That’s right – if you send a party announcement, memo or other document to these folks, you can first save it as a WWF document and know that you have not been an accomplice to the early demise of a Douglas fir or western hemlock tree.

Will it catch on?  Who knows, but at least it is creative, and anyone who downloads the free software will probably give some though to whether they want to send their documents as PDFs or WWFs.

So far it is only available for Mac operating systems, but a Windows version should be coming soon.

For more information, go to Save as WWF, Save a Tree

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Conflict Over Conflict-Free Diamonds in Zimbabwe

14 12 2010

Are you a conscious shopper?  When you buy lumber or wood furniture, do you always buy it from a certified sustainable source?  When you buy clothes, do you check to make sure the company doesn’t use sweatshop labor?  Is your chocolate fair-trade?  Are your diamonds conflict-free?

Is there really any way to know?

Despite having the best intentions to use your consumer dollars to lobby for human rights and sustainable practices, and despite the hard work of NGOs with their certification schemes, it can be nearly impossible to know where your money is actually going.

Zimbabwe’s Blood Diamonds

Zimbabwe’s Chiadzwa region, near the border of Mozambique, is the source of a large percentage of the world’s diamonds.  In the last few years, Mugabe’s soldiers have been strafing independent miners with machine guns and forcing them to work in the mines as virtual slaves before smuggling the gems out of the country for sale.  The diamonds are often smuggled through Mozambique, which is not a party to the Kimberly Process, the primary international certifying scheme for diamonds.  The money from these diamonds has funded much of Mugabe’s brutal regime in Zimbabwe, which is why the diamonds have not been cleared for sale by the Kimberly Process.

It would make your buying decision easier if that was the end of the story.  The diamonds aren’t certified, so they shouldn’t show up on the market, right?  Wrong.  In the last few months, South Africa, Namibia and Angola have all said that they would allow Chiadzwa diamonds to be mixed in with their own certified diamonds for sale to international markets if the Chiadzwa diamonds are not approved.  They believe that the Government of Zimbabwe has met the demands of the Kimberly Process and should now be approved.   According to a news source in Zimbabwe, though, “the military has continued its brutal control of Chiadzwa and there have been continued reports of abuses at the military’s hands. This has included reports of intimidation of local villagers, forced labour and rampant smuggling.”

The Kimberly Process has been going back-and-forth on whether or not to certify the diamonds, feeling the pressure both from African nations that want them certified, and international human rights groups that are fighting the certification.  The United States still has sanctions in place that don’t allow U.S.-based diamond dealers to knowingly purchase diamonds from this region, and this ban is likely to stay in place regardless of the decision by Kimberly.  One way or another, the validity and authority of the Process will be questioned once the final decision is made.

Illegal Products Can Slip Through the Cracks of Any Certification Scheme

While “blood diamonds” have gotten a lot of attention in the media after the movie with DiCaprio came out, not every product has such a heavy-hitting spokesperson.  All certification schemes, be they fair trade coffee, sustainable forestry, non-DRC coltan, or conflict-free diamonds have chinks in their armor and can’t be perfect.  Wherever humans are involved, there are people who can be bought off.  Wherever borders are permeable, as they are in much of Africa, smuggling can take place, confusing the origin of any product.  You can buy illegally-cut mahogany from Uganda and poached Ivory from Zambia, all through legal channels, because of these weaknesses.

Certification schemes are an important part of our increasingly-globalized economy.  We need other people and organizations to watch out for us, because we simply can’t do enough research into every single product we use.  These watchdog groups also put pressure on oppressive regimes or industries and make it a lot harder for them to abuse their employees, their citizens or the environment.  They are a huge improvement over the free-for-all a few decades ago when nobody was watching, and it is much harder to hide anything in this connected world.  Buying products that are certified is, for the most part, much better for people and the planet.

But we can’t just sit back and assume that these certification schemes will do all the work for us, because they can’t.  We still need to do at least some research, and then make our decisions.  If 80% of certified diamonds on the market truly are conflict-free, is that a high enough percentage to make it worth buying that ring and supporting that industry?  Only you can make that decision.


If you are inspired to do so, please put your answers in the comments section so that we can all benefit from your thoughts:

  1. Do you try to buy products that have been certified (ie. Fair Trade, Forest Stewardship Council, etc)?  If so, why?  If not, why not?
  2. Are there specific products that you try to do research on before making a purchase?
  3. What are the best resources you have come across for researching the origins of products?

Read More About Zimbabwe’s Chiadzwa Diamonds:

Africa plans to subvert Zim diamond ban

Conflict & Blood Diamonds: Zimbabwe

US$1 billion Marange diamonds looted

Critics step up call for Kimberley Process Reform

Mines Minister insists full diamonds sales will resume

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Leaked Uganda Cable

10 12 2010

Some pretty astute observations, if you ask me, and a good summary of the state of Uganda at this time.  Can’t imagine any of it comes as a big surprise to Museveni.  For more of the Uganda cables, go to The Guardian:

Monday, 19 October 2009, 11:29
EO 12958 DECL: 10/18/2019
Classified By: Ambassador Jerry Lanier for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1.(C) Summary: Under President Museveni‘s leadership, Uganda has become a confident and outspoken regional leader through its military role in Somalia (which up to now has preserved the TFG as a moderate alternative to Islamic extremism), its effective campaign against the LRA and its related commitment to rebuild northern Uganda. Yet the President’s autocratic tendencies, as well as Uganda’s pervasive corruption, sharpening ethnic divisions, and explosive population growth have eroding Uganda’s status as an African success story. Holding a credible and peaceful presidential election in February 2011 could restore Uganda’s image, while failing in that task could lead to domestic political violence and regional instability. It is too early to tell whether the deadly September 10-12 riots in Kampala are the beginning of a massive and open-ended effort for political change in Uganda, or will lead to a more productive internal dialogue and a stronger democracy. The path of Ugandan politics over the next eighteen months depends largely on the President’s vision and leadership. Your visit will be crucial in conveying US views and policy on Uganda and East Africa, and in raising the President’s awareness about how seriously Western governments will be following the course of democracy in Uganda in the coming months. End Summary.


Elections and Uganda’s Fading Democracy


2. (C) Uganda under President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) has made remarkable progress over the past 23 years. The country has gone from total economic collapse in the aftermath of Idi Amin’s despotism to being an African success story, building unprecedented domestic peace, economic growth, and making substantial progress towards democracy. Yet Museveni and the NRM have not fully embraced multiparty politics or allowed meaningful political alternatives. They are now more entrenched in government and state institutions than during the days of his “no-party” system. The NRM’s near total accumulation of power has led to poor governance, corruption, and rising ethnic tensions, a combination that threatens Ugandan “democracy” and stability.

3. (C) Opposition political parties, however, are fractured, politically immature, and greatly outnumbered in Parliament. They control no government ministries, and are not skillful using either press or protest, their primary political tools. Nor can the opposition provide a coherent and attractive platform of proposals to counter the NRM. And it is by no means clear the opposition would improve governance in Uganda in any way. Currently, a coalition of all but one of Uganda’s main opposition parties looks likely to nominate a joint opposition candidate for 2011, probably the leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Kizza Besigye, who lost to Museveni in 2001 and 2006. This coalition is demanding the dissolution of the partisan Electoral Commission constituted by Museveni, and the acceptance of specific electoral reforms. Since Museveni now appears unlikely to yield on either count, opposition parties and the government seem destined for another turbulent showdown as elections approach in early 2011.

4. (C) Although the press and civil society have enjoyed relative freedom under the NRM, harassment and intimidation of those critical of the Museveni regime has risen in recent years. Up to a dozen journalists and media outlets were charged with sedition and/or shut down by authorities for allegedly inciting recent riots that left up to 27 dead and more than 100 injured.

5. (C) Ethnic tensions, always present in Uganda in varying degrees, have also sharpened as Museveni and politicians on all sides have cultivated ethnic-based support. Tensions among groups residing along the oil-rich shores of Lake Albert flared in August after Museveni suggested restricting elective offices there to one specific ethnic group. The September riots were sparked in part by Museveni’s decision to support a small ethnic group’s bid for autonomy within the Buganda Kingdom. The underlying conflict derives from Buganda’s persistent attempt for a greater political role, with the ultimate goal of establishing a Bugandan monarchy within the Ugandan state, which Museveni has repeatedly stated he will not allow. The President’s view is that

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“Kings” are unelected and would lack political accountability. Indeed a semi-autonomous internal state would not only be a political threat to him but could also ultimately threaten Uganda as a unified nation-state. The stalemate over this issue continues, with no resolution in sight.

6. (C) Museveni’s heavy-handedness and the corruption of senior leaders have sparked dissent within the NRM. A group of NRM “rebels” consisting of about 15 younger, mostly back-bencher MPs supports opposition demands for an impartial Electoral Commission and is critical of Museveni’s unwillingness to hold senior NRM leaders – such as Security Minister Mbabazi, Foreign Minister Kutesa, and Trade Minister Otafiire among others – accountable for corruption allegations. Museveni also faces a challenge from some older party stalwarts – generally the same senior NRM leaders accused of corruption – who fought with him in the “bush war” and want to succeed him as President. Press reports and anecdotal evidence suggest the President is increasingly isolated and unaware of the depth of resentment both within the NRM and among society as a whole.

7. (SBU) Our message: Conducting free, fair and peaceful elections in February 2011 would reinforce Uganda’s image as an African success story. Failure in this area could relegate Uganda to the list of unstable African nations, seriously jeopardize its future stability, and make it more difficult for the U.S. to continue as a strong security partner. To hold credible elections, Museveni must address the perceived partisanship of the Electoral Commission and make meaningful electoral reform within the next four months.

8. (C) Even if the President begins now to make good faith efforts to hold free and fair elections, he still may be unable to prevent serious, even stability threatening violence around the 2011 elections. The opposition is privately threatening violence and it is difficult to discern what the President could do now that would satisfy the political desires of so many who have been excluded from politics for so long.


Other Challenges: Human Rights and Corruption


9. (SBU) Uganda has made great strides in protecting human rights since the disasters of the 1970s and 1980s, yet the government’s recent record is poor, particularly with respect to arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and lengthy pre-trial detention. One encouraging sign is the eagerness of the Ugandan Human Rights Commission and senior leaders of the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and police to divulge, investigate, and prosecute human rights abuses. The UPDF and police have clearly improved their efforts to hold personnel accountable for abuses. However, there remains numerous, credible allegations of unlawful detention and torture by the Joint Ant-Terrorism Taskforce (JATT), the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), the police’s Rapid Response Unit (RRU), and other para-military outfits. These allegations severely undermine progress in other areas. Overall it is clear that neither the law enforcement institutions nor the judiciary are capable of restraining government excesses in either corruption or abuse of human rights.

10. (SBU) Uganda’s anti-corruption record is not impressive. In 2007, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) initiated a threshold program to combat corruption. Implemented by USAID, the program worked with the Auditor General, the Inspectorate General of Government, the Public Procurement and Disposal Authority, the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Department of Criminal Investigations, and the newly created Anti-Corruption Court to improve oversight and increase the number of corruption related prosecutions. Although the program dramatically increased the capacity of Uganda’s corruption fighting agencies, MCC canceled it for 2010 due to lack of political will at the highest levels of the government. Impunity at high levels of government continues, diminishing trust in the regime and the public’s faith in democracy.

11. (SBU) Our message: While the UPDF and the Police have made progress in professionalizing their forces and in establishing systems to prevent, investigate, and prosecute human rights abuses, the GOU needs to extend this effort to paramilitary organizations that are accused of abuses.

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Continued abuses by these agencies severely damage the credibility and reputation of Uganda’s political leadership. On corruption: The President must lead from the top and hold senior leaders accountable when there is credible evidence of corruption. Despite Uganda’s economic success, GDP growth could be much higher by reducing corruption.


Peace and Security Part I: Somalia


12. (SBU) President Museveni believes a stable Somalia is necessary for peace and stability in East Africa. As head of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in 2005-2006, Museveni oversaw the birth of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and its institutions, and lived up to his commitment to support it with the initial deployment to Mogadishu of a 1,700-man UPDF Battle Group in March 2007. As the vanguard of an African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the Battle Group deployed alone, albeit with USG assistance. The UPDF deployed an additional “augmentation” battalion in early 2009 to bring its total peacekeepers on the ground to 2,750, with plans to add a fourth battalion in late 2009.

13. (SBU) According to the UPDF, 45 Ugandan soldiers have died due to roadside bombs, suicide attacks, and non-combat related illness while serving in Somalia. The most recent deaths occurred on September 17 when Al Qaeda-affiliated Al Shabaab extremists successfully attacked the AMISOM HQ building, killing five Ugandans among others. However, the UPDF’s and Government of Uganda’s commitment to the mission remains unshaken.

14. (SBU) Our message: Uganda’s commitment to AMISOM and the professionalism of the UPDF has made Uganda one of our primary partners in the fight against terrorism. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with AMISOM and will continue to support the UPDF’s deployment in Mogadishu. We encourage the GOU to deploy its augmentation battalion shortly and wish to discuss specifically how we can support and equip this and future deployments.


Peace and Security Part II: LRA and Karamoja


15. (SBU) Uganda’s long-term stability is linked to the resolution of the 22-year-old LRA insurgency, finding viable solutions to other regional conflicts, and preventing the spread of extremism. In December 2008, a joint military operation code named Operation Lightning Thunder destroyed the LRA base camp in Garamba Park in the DRC and scattered the LRA across the DRC, Sudan, and CAR. It failed in capturing or killing LRA leaders, including Joseph Kony, although UPDF follow-up has eliminated most of the LRA’s fighting capacity. While LRA elements still attack civilian populations and raid supplies in the tri-border area between DRC, CAR, and Sudan, the LRA and Kony are under severe pressure and greatly weakened.

16. (SBU) Northern Uganda has been at peace for three years and continues to recover and rebuild from the LRA’s abduction of over 40,000 children and displacement of an estimated 1.8 million people in the Acholi, Lango, Teso, and West-Nile sub-regions. Improved security in the north, the GOU’s pursuit of a formal peace agreement, and government’s national Peace, Recovery and Development Plan (PRDP) have led to an estimated 80 percent of internally-displaced persons (IDPs) to return or move closer to their homes. The return of IDPs highlights the need to support programs that provide for reconciliation, social and economic development, and security.

17. (SBU) Karamoja is Uganda’s most insecure region due to conflicts between local nomadic groups with a history of cattle-rustling. Conflict is also fueled by an influx of small arms, largely from southern Sudan and Kenya. At its peak, conflict in the region displaced an estimated 125,000 Karamojong people. The Government increased its military presence in Karamoja, engaged local leaders, and in 2008 launched the Karamoja Integrated Disarmament and Development Plan (KIDDP) to promote security and recovery. These actions have improved security. Nonetheless, large areas of Karamoja are under-policed and violence resulting for cattle raids persists.

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18. (SBU) Our message: We commend the GOU’s efforts to bring about a resolution to the 22-year old conflict with the LRA, and will continue to support GOU efforts to defeat the LRA and rebuild northern Uganda. The U.S. supports the PRDP and in 2008 provided $163 million in assistance to the north. We are providing a similar amount this year. We strongly encourage the GOU to make good on its pledge to fund the PRDP and to take the lead in developing northern Uganda. We encourage Uganda to continue talking with its neighbors, particularly the DRC and southern Sudan, to resolve regional security problems.


HIV/AIDS and Population Growth


19. (U) The long war against the HIV/AIDS epidemic is at a crossroads. Under Museveni’s leadership, Uganda was a pioneer in recognizing and taking action against HIV/AIDS in the 1990s. Prevalence rates plunged from nearly 20 percent then to under seven percent today. But incidence is rising again in the context of a rapidly expanding population and complacency from both the GOU and the population at large. Much of Uganda’s success since 2004 is the success of PEPFAR, which began to ramp up that year. But Ugandan complacency is also partly a legacy of PEPFAR, which, by scaling up so rapidly and often bypassing GOU entities, created donor dependence and diminished incentives for GOU leadership, which had existed pre-PEPFAR.

20. (SBU) Population trends in Uganda are a demographic time bomb that will destroy the country’s economic and social gains. Few countries in the world are growing as fast as Uganda. At current trends, Uganda’s population will double (from 30 to 60 million) in 20 years and reach 130 million by 2050. If unabated, this surge in population will stress the natural environment and exceed the government’s ability to provide basic health and education services, resulting in chronic and extreme political instability and social unrest As PEPFAR policy transitions from care and use of anti-retrovirals to focusing on prevention, government leadership will be even more important.

21. (SBU) Our message: We recognize and commend President Museveni’s previous commitment to combating the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, infection rates are once again rising. Uganda urgently needs to renew its effort to fight HIV/AIDS and simultaneously address the nation’s runaway population growth.


Economic Opportunities and Oil


22. (SBU) President Museveni is dedicated to an enlarged East African Community, to liberalizing the Ugandan economy, to containing inflation, and to promoting economic growth and foreign investment. Foreign debt has dropped from over $6 billion in 2004 to less than $1 billion through debt relief programs and prudent borrowing habits. The pace of economic growth has remained consistent over the last 21 years with annual GDP growth rates between five and eight percent. Museveni’s commitment to the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) is unwavering. Unreliable power, inadequate transport infrastructure, and corruption, however, need immediate attention, as they seriously limit economic development and investor confidence in Uganda.

23. (SBU) In October 2006, Canadian firm Heritage Oil announced the first oil discovery on the shores of Lake Albert. The British firm Tullow Oil, has made major discoveries both around and under Lake Albert, and has plans to begin producing and exporting crude oil by mid-2010. Libya’s TamOil is the primary investor in a proposed pipeline from Uganda to Kenya to import fuel, and possibly export crude. Chinese firms are also interested in expanding investments in Uganda’s oil. The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) is funding a feasibility study for a refinery in Uganda. Exxon/Mobile is considering a visit to Uganda later this year.

24. (SBU) Our message: Uganda’s oil resources could and should be a boon for economic development and make the country less dependent on foreign assistance. We wish to support transparent management and prudent investment of oil wealth in the years ahead. LANIER

Okay, NOW I’m a Fan of WikiLeaks…

10 12 2010

Palin the latest target as ‘all-out cyber war’ breaks out over WikiLeaks

Sarah Palin is the latest target of “Operation Payback,” the group of hacktivists who have been launching cyber-attacks against organizations and people working against WikiLeaks.

Palin drew attention last week when she said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be “pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.”

ABC News reports:

The website and personal credit card information of former Gov. Sarah Palin were cyber-attacked today by Wikileaks supporters, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate tells ABC News in an email.

Hackers in London apparently affiliated with “Operation Payback” – a group of supporters of Julian Assange and Wikileaks – have tried to shut down SarahPac and have disrupted Sarah and Todd Palin’s personal credit card accounts.

According to ABC’s Jake Tapper, the website associated with Operation Payback — anonops.net — had listed Palin’s website as a potential target.

“This is what happens when you exercise the First Amendment and speak against his sick, un-American espionage efforts,” Palin said in an email.

As the old proverb goes, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  Not that I give enough thought to Sarah Palin to consider her an enemy, but that could change if she becomes our next president.  (Have you heard the one that I just made up? – When they said you need character to run for office, Palin thought they said they needed a caricature to run, so she entered politics.  Ugh.  Sorry.). For now, though, despite my sentiments in my earlier post WikiLeaks Hurts the Good Guys, Too, I am less than proud of the way our country is dealing with the leak of all this information.  Sarah Palin’s rantings, as usual, show just how juvenile we have become.

Wouldn’t it be great if the world still had real leaders?  Leaders who were willing to stand up and say “ok – now that all of this information is out on the table, what can we do to mend these relationships?”

Even though I wish the leak hadn’t happened, it seems to me that WikiLeaks hasn’t done anything illegal (although I’m not a lawyer).  If it is true that Assange is a pervert and committed sex crimes, then please do lock him up.  But, it seems like the U.S. is wasting a lot of time, money and goodwill to lock the cage after the lion escaped as far as these documents are concerned.

One of my favorite quotes in the dialogue around this is from Phil Ebersole’s blog:

“The purpose of a classified information system is to deny information to enemies of the United States, even at the price of keeping ourselves ignorant.  The Obama administration turns this on its head.  Its policy is to keep Americans ignorant of things our enemies already know.”

Now that’s just dumb.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

Changing Domains – Please be Patient!

9 12 2010

Over the next few days, I will be migrating this blog to a different domain to increase functionality and hopefully to make it easier for search engines to find it.  I have never done this before, so please bear with me!

I think that the old address will automatically redirect you to the new address, and I hope that any RSS feeds or e-mail alerts will also transfer to the new address.

Just in case, though, by the middle of next week, especially if you haven’t gotten a new welcome message from me, head on over to http://wildugandablog.com and find me.  You should be able to sign up there directly on the new site and avoid any redirect issues.

Thanks, and I hope you find that this change enhances your experience with Wild Thoughts from Uganda!


Signs of Uganda #7

7 12 2010

No Drivers in CarsNOW I understand why the traffic is so bad in Kampala!

Many thanks to Jocelyn Baker for this sign from Centenary Park!