A Bit Of A Rant…

There’s a huge amount of good, grass-roots work being done by AmahaWe Uganda, other NGOs and small groups of local community leaders around Uganda. Progress is slowly, but visibly being made in trying to raise rural communities out of poverty. 

Effective community programmes are about giving people a hand up, rather than a hand-out.

But what’s going on in the higher echelons of Uganda at the moment? Although I’m no razor-sharp political commentator, there seems to be a lot going on at the top of the food-chain, without much state-sponsored improvement reaching the local guy (or, more likely, woman) struggling to support a family. 
There’s an election next year. The President has been in office since 1986 and hopes to be re-elected next June. So…..
State-sponsored TV and newspapers are full of wonderful stories of The President cutting ribbons on major new road programmes. Unsurprisingly, none of the work will start till after the election though.
As a result of teachers going on strike for 10 days, they have been promised that (if he’s re-elected) The President will make sure that his ministers ‘make good their failure to deliver the pay rise that was promised 3 years ago‘. In the meantime, the striking (unpaid) teachers were advised that if they were short of money until the strike ends, their Union would be able to lend them money – at 24% interest:
Parliament has outlawed Homosexuality and anyone providing assistance to homosexuals can also be criminally prosecuted. As a consequence, substantial amounts of Aid from USA and Western Europe have been cancelled over the last 6 months in protest. That’s hit the grass-roots really hard.
As more villages get electricity, inevitably more people are getting television (The President has stated that his ambition is for 40% of the population to have electricity by 2040). The government controls most TV broadcast content and local channels show hour after hour of only four programme types:
– numerous conferences The President has attended ‘where world leaders sought him out for his considered advice‘; 
– South American soap operas: 

– Indian soaps with voice-overs in 3 languages (at the same time!); 

– and an endless stream of strutting, shouting, blood & thunder preachers. 

It’s pretty easy to differentiate one channel from the next – one is all national anthems, ribbon cutting ceremonies, cheering children waving presidential flags and hand shaking photo-opportunities; another is push-up bras, boob jobs, short skirts, flash cars and affairs with the gardener; the third is loud, dramatic, Bangla music, pantomime hard-stares, weeping daughters and men with outrageous moustaches; and the last is over-fed, over-manicured men in sharp suits, shouting at ecstatic audiences and encouraging them to phone in and ‘pledge financial support’.
Fashions are changing. When we were here 6 months ago, women would never be seen in skirts above the knee and trousers were particularly uncommon. In towns now (probably as a result of those South American soap operas) very occasionally a skirt can be seen that’s a couple of inches above the knee and at least a dozen times a day women can be seen in trousers. 
Helpfully, 5 months ago, in a bid to stop what he felt was the moral decline of the nation, a Government Minister announced that women in short skirts were ‘just asking to be raped‘. Funnily enough that’s exactly what happened. Over the subsequent 2 months alone, rapes (pretty rare under normal circumstances) increased 900% and were only brought back under control by a threatening, but laughably-worded, retraction issued by the Ministry of Health and the Commissioner of Police.
Birth control and family planning information is available through the churches and a number of Aid Organisations but the newspapers were still full of the life-story of a 27 year old local pop star who died a week or so ago – leaving 10 wives and 14 children.
Front-page news for at least 2 days was that, after 16 years as a Member of Parliament, The President’s wife would not be standing for re-election next year. ‘It’s what God intended‘ she told the desperately disappointed reporters and officials at her press conference, who praised the many great projects in which she has been involved. Although she’s very disappointed not to be able to continue serving the people, she confirmed later in the article that she would be able to return quickly to Kampala at any time by helicopter if her advice is needed.
It seems she has a new role, working in an advisory capacity to a consortium of local entrepreneurs and land owners in North Western Uganda. It will no doubt be interesting to see what happens in that region over the next few years. Particularly since it holds the world-famous Murchison Falls National Park (under which has just been discovered a huge reserve of oil). Maybe it’ll be a Chinese oil or construction company helicopter for those trips back to Kampala.
Back in the real world… 
 … we’re still continuing with our AmahaWe Uganda Fuel Briquette programme with the team in Kasese. They’ve also have started a Kitchen-Garden training programme among rural communities and their Good Samaritan Centre now has 30 unemployed people in its full-time Vocational Training Programme. 
In particular, women’s groups in the Rwenzori mountain villages have taken up these initiatives enthusiastically. They’re not likely to get electricity until after 2040. They’re unlikely to see much benefit from the oil discovered. They’re more likely to get a push-up bra from the government than a road. The need to do something positive about deforestation that is changing their environment and eroding their farmland is greater than ever. The projects they are involved in allow them to save every shilling possible on firewood and home-produced food. As a result they’re more able to send their children to school (even if only occasionally), put food on the table and buy medical treatment when they get sick.
More on those positive initiatives to come next time (now that I’ve got my rant out of my system).