New Domain for Wild Thoughts!

13 01 2011

New Site

With growth comes change.  Wild Thoughts from Uganda has reached two milestones – it just passed 15,000 hits today, and the 18th of January will be its one-year birthday.  This seems like a perfect time to make some changes.

I feel good about its growth, and want it to keep growing, so I am switching to a different platform that will give me more flexibility to develop the site the way I want it to be over time.

But I don’t want you to be left behind!

I will be setting up a redirect tomorrow that “should” forward all links to the new site.  I am hoping this will work for subscriptions, too.  The reality, however, is that things don’t always work exactly as they should.  If you have an e-mail subscription to Wild Thoughts from Uganda, it is possible that you will need to go directly to the new site and subscribe again.  You can be expecting a new post from the new site in the next couple of days.  If you don’t get one e-mailed to you by the end of the day Monday, it probably means the redirect didn’t work for subscriptions.  You can go to and sign up again.

If you aren’t signed up by e-mail yet, now’s a great time to do that!  Each e-mail you receive comes with a link to unsubscribe, so you always have the option of bailing out if I annoy you.

I really hope you like the new look, and I really hope this change doesn’t make Wild Thoughts drop off the face of the ePlanet.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala


Stalking Lioness

12 01 2011

Watch how carefully this lioness places her huge paws…

Video by Mark Jordahl

Cut a Forest and Put a Man on the Moon

11 01 2011
Illegally cut mahogany log

Illegal sawpit logging in Uganda

Yesterday a Ugandan man and I were planning an environmental education training for teachers.  He was lamenting the poor state of the environment in Uganda and said that he wished Ugandans had the same sense of responsibility towards the environment that Americans have.  He said “why can’t we Ugandans see the value of the environment and the forests?”

I pointed out to him that the United States has actually cut down 98% of our original forests, and that we aren’t exactly model citizens from an environmental perspective.

His response was “Yes, but you have something to show for it.  We cut down our forests and have nothing – you cut down your forests and put a man on the moon.”

He has a certain point.  The rampant resource extraction of the 1800s in the United States made us a very rich country, and until recently that wealth was spread much more evenly across society than it is in many other parts of the world.

So here’s my question to you:  Why was the United States able to create national wealth from our resources when Uganda’s resources are just making a few people very rich?

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

South Sudan Peaceful so Far

10 01 2011
Sudan Geography

Sudan as Seen from Space

The news out of South Sudan has been very positive for the last couple of weeks, and continues to be after the first day of polling (polls will be open until January 15).  Turnout and enthusiasm have been staggeringly high.

Even up to a month ago, many people believed northern Sudan would never allow the south to secede.  However, recently, Bashir, the ICC-indicted president of Sudan, made public statements that he would recognize the legitimacy of south Sudan if (when) voters approved secession and that he would not take military action to prevent south Sudan becoming independent.

So now the fears are not so much about what the north will do, but what the southerners might do to themselves.  Already on Saturday, a southern militia led by Gatluak Gai staged an attack to disrupt the referendum vote.  It was quickly put down by the South Sudanese army, but it shows that there are still elements in the south of the country that want to keep things destabilized.  There are also tribal rifts that will not be mended by a referendum and a new identity as “South Sudanese.”

The issue of identity is interesting on a continent where national boundaries were drawn by Europeans with no regard to existing realities and where families were split and enemies merged.  The secession of South Sudan is one step towards rectifying this, as north and south Sudan really are two different worlds – Arab/African, Muslim/Christian.  It is unrealistic, however, to redraw the map to recognize the thousands of traditional kingdoms, clans and tribal boundaries that existed a few hundred years ago.

I recently read an article in The Monitor, called South Sudan: Countdown to Freedom, that got me thinking.  It refers to a South Sudanese politician talking about “Suganda.”  Basically, that South Sudan and Uganda have more in common than north and south Sudan, and that they could form a unified state.  This got me thinking about a single country comprised of South Sudan and Northern Uganda.

It could make a lot of sense.  Northern Uganda already feels disenfranchised from control and power in Uganda, and culturally there as many, if not more, similarities with South Sudan than with central Uganda.  Intermarriage and cross-border trade already make the boundary fuzzy.  The oil wealth in southern Sudan and the agricultural potential in northern Uganda could combine to create a formidable economy.  Once Uganda builds an oil refinery, a pipeline could even be built to that facility, making the current one through northern Sudan obsolete.  This would further cement the independence of the African south from the Arab north, and also justify a larger refining facility in Uganda.  It could also make it easier to manage for the wildlife that migrates across the current border.

Obviously there are challenges to this.  Part of the reason why northern Sudan is allowing this referendum to go forward is because the oil currently must go through the north, enabling them to continue sharing in the oil revenues.  A reroute of the oil would reduce this willingness.   The power center in central Uganda would also not take secession lightly, leaving Suganda landlocked and surrounded by uncooperative neighbors.

Northern Uganda has also not been abused by the central government of Uganda nearly as much as South Sudan has been by the north, so the political will is not there at this point.  However, if South Sudan becomes strong in the next ten years, and the trade relationship grows even more, who knows?  With national identity being tenuous in many African countries, success in South Sudan could cause many people to take a new look at old boundaries.

This referendum is momentous.  It is a victory after a hard-fought battle that raged for years and took many lives.  There are still challenges ahead, such as establishing the boundary between north and south, and getting control of the many militias still operating throughout the south.  Hopefully the visionary leadership that got South Sudan to this point, and who captured the world’s attention, will create a new country that can represent all of its citizens and make them proud to be South Sudanese.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala

New Vision Online : Yellow fever kills 45 in Northern Uganda

29 12 2010

Yellow fever kills 45 in Northern Uganda

By Anne Mugisa

AT least 2.5 million people will be vaccinated in northern Uganda against yellow fever that has so far killed 45 people and infected 178.

According to the Ministry of Health, 2.5 million vials of the the yellow fever vaccine will be urgently imported to protect the people from the deadly viral disease, which is spread by mosquitoes.

The disease has been reported in nine northern Uganda districts of Abim, Agago, Lamwo, Kitgum, Pader, Gulu, Arua, Kaabong and Lira.

The deadly disease, which doctors say can kill in one week, is recurring in Uganda after almost 40 years. It was last in Uganda in 1972, according to officials from the health ministry.

A statement from the Ministry of Health said they had instituted measures to fight the disease in collaboration with the World Health Organisation and the Centres for Disease Control.

Read the Rest:  New Vision Online : Yellow fever kills 45 in Northern Uganda.

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

WikiLeaks Hurts the Good Guys, Too

6 12 2010

Let me paint you a picture.

You are a dissident in a country with a violently oppressive regime.  For years you have been fighting for your own rights and those of your people, but you have been doing it secretly since otherwise, you know you and your family would be killed.

Wanting advice, protection, or support, you take the risk of reaching out for help.  Despite its faults, the United States is still the country that you are likely to go to, believing that at the very least, you will not be turned over to your own government, and that they might even help you in your democracy-building efforts.  You have a secret conversation with a U.S. diplomat, who promises to check with the home office to find out what they can do for you.  You return home and breathe a sigh of relief that you don’t seem to have been followed after the meeting.

The next morning you get on your computer to check the news.  In the first link, you see your name on a cable sent from the embassy in your country to the State Department in the U.S. – the follow-up to your meeting.  Then you hear a knock on your door…

WikiLeaks Benefits Oppressive Regimes

This sounds like something out of a bad Tom Clancy novel, but there are people all over the world who are alone and vulnerable and who take great risks to try to make change happen in their own countries.  These secret meetings really do take place, and the only reason the individuals are willing to take the risks to ask for help is that they believe they will be protected.  Governments that terrorize their own citizens will now have access to whole lists of names of people that will suddenly “disappear” in the middle of the night.

WikiLeaks is not “Freedom of Information”

I am a big fan of the Freedom of Information Act.  When you have a specific wrong you are trying to right, I believe you should be able (and required) to make a case for why you need access to specific confidential information, just as our government should be required to show a specific need for gathering information about us.

WikiLeaks is a sledgehammer.  It comes from the idea that nothing the government does should ever be confidential.  But what about the scenario I created above?  What about information relating to covert operations against al-Quaida that could put people’s lives at risk and could prevent agents from stopping the next attack?

Some people believe that since the government works for us, we should have access to all of their communications.  How would you feel if that applied to your workplace?  Haven’t you ever written an e-mail at work that you would really rather your boss didn’t see?  Something that was harmless but a little embarrassing?  Or something related to you trying to make real, positive change happen in your company?

You Don’t Have to Support WikiLeaks to be a Liberal

I am sure I am losing some of my lefty street-cred with this post.  I still believe our government does a lot of bad things (although not as many as we did under the last administration).  I am virulently opposed to the Patriot Act or anything that gives the government access to information about citizens without just cause, and I believe that concerned citizens should be able to gain access to government records IF they have a good reason for it, or if there is an investigation of government officials happening.

However, WikiLeaks hits too broadly at freedom of information.  It hurts too many good people in its efforts to attack the government.  It also allows anybody with a decent scanner to fake “leaked documents” and target anybody they don’t like.

I really couldn’t care less about the documents that highlight insults between one government leader and another.  The people running countries are all grown-ups with thick skin, and they know how the game is played.  Hearing that Hillary Clinton thinks you are a weenie isn’t going to change the global dynamic much.  There are a lot of people that really could get hurt or even killed by this, though.  Even here in Uganda, which is a fairly open society, people do “go missing,” unexplained “accidents” happen, and a few car trunks have been graced by people who oppose the government.

WikiLeaks will make these people – little people who need help – afraid to seek out that help.  When I was growing up during the tail end of the Cold War, there was a whole slate of movies dedicated to the Americans helping Russians to defect.  I believe that is still one of the higher aspects of who we try to be, or who we wish we were – the country that oppressed people can go to for help.

WikiLeaks sends a strong message that those people are on their own.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala