Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Uganda and its excuse of expatriates.


It is agreed that Uganda, arguably has the highest number of NGOs (both local and international) in relation to its population. Many of these are engaged (at least on paper) in helping vulnerable sections of society, protecting the environment and many with the war in the north. There was a crude joke doing the rounds sometime back- apparently, there were more NGOs operating in Gulu than the people they intended to serve. However, these NGOs are not restricted to the conflict affected northern Uganda, or upcountry at that, we have quite a number in our CHOGM city dealing with all sorts of issues from freedom of sex workers, gay rights, plight of street kids, preservation of Lake Victoria to fostering democracy in local councils. These NGOs are never short of a cause or program to implement. With the flourishing of the NGOs, we have equally had an increasing class in society- expatriates. For every ten foreigners of European or American descent that you meet on a Kampala street, or coffee café or Entebbe Wildlife Centre on a weekend – seven of them will most likely be expatriates working with an international NGO or working on a forest conservation program with NEMA, Makerere university or a municipality organ. They come in all kinds- from the former marine of the American Navy, retired sports instructor in a Boston Day-Care center to the former construction worker on a bridge project in France. They will find some expatriate work in Uganda.

Contrary to common belief that they have expert knowledge on what they are supposed to do, most times, they are completely clueless about what program or work they are supposed to oversee. You will have a Project Manager on a United Nations- funded resettlement program in Northern Uganda who is completely clueless on how to gather information, analyze data, consult and coordinate with existing local structures etc. If they had a choice, they would just load whatever they want to provide as resettlement packages unto a 50-tonne trailer and head to the villages to distribute these items, take good snap shots to share with the donors and their facebook friends before they head off to the comfort of their air-conditioned office, or posh hotel lounge to write a cosmetic report on the success of the project and thus need for more funding to fill the gaps. But thank God, they usually run into our robust local council authorities who are at the helm of checking NGOs or else they would be roaming peoples with all kinds of programs and incentives. (If it werent for our local leaders, we would officially be an NGO state.)Whether they do it out of competence or just an attempt to squeeze bribes and benefits from these NGOs, I don’t know. The Hornsleth project in eastern Uganda a few years ago comes to mind.

However, what interests me is their life outside the workplace.

They are wise. They will adopt the safest way around. Hire or surround yourself with some good local guys that will get you a good job well done. So you have this local guy as the field officer or program assistant, who is always running up and down to make sure all the project activities namely the local leaders are involved in the planning process, communities are well organized and scheduled for program activities and the donors are given the juicy updates. Everyone is happy, well life is good. On the weekend for just under 100 dollars, hour expatriate friend will visit some magnificent waterfalls in the outskirts of some upcountry town, or go on a guided tour in the game parks, and engage in their favourite pastime -photography, (African wild game, birds, flowers and plants will offer excellent shots that are perfect for a post card in a European Coffee shop).

Soon or later, they feel so at home, cut communication with their wife or girlfriend back home and they just find our ladies irresistible. Now in this age, where all our young ladies want and or prefer a white boyfriend, our expatriates will be spoilt of choice. But don’t be mistaken, they are quite selective on their partners. Whereas our African sisters are usually well endowed with sizeable butts, breasts and completely well built but well shaped physique, our expatriates prefer them thin or portable in Kampala speak. So, a month into his Ugandan experience, you will meet your expatriate friend in a night club or popular hang-out with a club beer in one hand and a Ugandan version of Harry Belly on the other. The dude will look like he has been in Uganda since the Obote days and probably is celebrating 20 years of undeterred NRM rule. Life is a complete bliss.

The next time you have a light chat with him, he will be asking whether non-Ugandans can own land here. His plan is to start flower business or start up a cosy restaurant to give Kampalans a slice of New York or London here in our dusty CHOGM 2007 City. Further chats will you get to know, how his Makerere University 3rd year student fiancé or struggling-model- fiancé, is pregnant and they planning to put up a house or build a home if you like. He is torn between the lady owning the land/house and running away from his lucrative NGO job, so the best thing to do is feel at home and enjoy what the pearl of Africa has to offer.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

General Kazini- The Lesson

General Kazini’s demise-The lesson.

The slain former army commander of UPDF (the national army) has since been laid to rest at his ancestral home in Sanga, Kiruhura district in western Uganda. Like many other stories that involve big government shots or huge sums of money, conspiracy theorists have since gone in overdrive over the General’s murder. For me, I can’t claim to know the man, later on the issues surrounding his death, but I have learnt a few things from the late General in the wake of his gruesome murder.

The media keeps portraying General Kazini as a fearless and brave soldier. But sadly that is as far as they take it. What do they mean fearless soldier? Aren’t Mugisha Muntu, Otema, Nyakairima, Katumba, Kayanja etc all fearless fighters? It puzzles me but in more ways than one, it confirms a rumour I got on Kampala’s rumour mill a few years ago. Apparently, in one of the clashes between UPDF and RPA in Congo, Kazini sent his troops to battle and then went ahead to call the Rwandan commanders to tell them he had sent his boys and they would finish off the Rwandan guys. This was inspired by extreme arrogance and pride. I mean how dare you tell your enemy that you are on your way to crush him? That is either too much confidence or fearless charisma that our media seems to attach to the fallen General.

On women/mistresses and alcoholism, Kazini isn’t an exception. It is the story of many men in many a community here in Uganda. While working with an international NGO in Gulu a year or so ago, I remember coming across many men drunk by 9am in the morning or lousing about the bar or drinking joints n he local trading centres/ towns all day long, leaving the women to fend for the family. There are no industries or construction projects to offer the men jobs to engage in productive work. Subsistence farming doesn’t offer much surplus produce to sell in the local market so they end up drowning their frustrations in the alcohol bottle.
The few months they get some gainful employment or short term job, they will put their income to marrying another woman since their wife was becoming quarrelsome over their drinking and “uselessness”. Usually, he will have met this woman at one of the drinking joints he frequents. Alcoholism and womanizing always define many frustrated men-from the casual worker who has lost his job with the construction firm working on the district road, or a corporate fellow laid off because his employer is downsizing in the wake of the global economic recession, to the Kikuubo trader who cant the tax guys and Loan sharks off his back. They will all find solace in the bottle and wicked women –it seems to be Uganda’s number one therapy for stress and worry.

At the late General’s requiem service in Kampala, The president H.E LT Gen Yoweri Kaguta, expressed his disappointment at Kazini’s lifestyle (Drinking and womanizing) and further mentioned how he had lost comrades, battalion commanders and colleagues to this reckless lifestyle. But for this, I want to forgive Kazini. Imagine you are just 26 yrs or 30 yrs, you and your friends have just come to power after toppling a dictatorial government through a tough guerrilla war. From the harsh terrain, bad weather, disease, stress and trauma that the war offers, suddenly you have the world at your feet- international companies want to do business with you, foreign governments want to treat you well, rich personalities want to be in your good books and women (man’s bane since time immemorial) are literally throwing themselves at you. Talk of moving from one extreme to another just overnight. You just need to be too somber and astute to keep your head level, take all this new found fame, money, partners etc in stride and tread the right path. It is easy to race down the fast lane of destruction. I mean you have seen young university graduates” get crazy” after landing a first job with a huge corporate entity-complete with a “big salary” and all the corporate perks that come with it. They rush to the nearest car bond, get a fuel guzzling machine, proceed to live a life of endless partying punctuated with alcohol consumption, excessive consumerism, poor financial management, multiple sexual partners etc. and before you know it, they collapse like a pack of cards. The guy who seemed to have it all, now can’t even get himself a decent meal later on get his hands of a crude waragi (local gin) sachet. That is the puzzle of life.