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Plainly speaking

From Rome to Kampala with Love

Bah 2

Some of my friends are surprised at my attachment to Uganda. Indeed, this country has an important place in my heart for the efforts it has made to get out from difficult conditions in which it had been plunged by political instability, dictatorship, and war.

When I visit Kampala today, I recall my previous visits and admire the progress made. During my career as UNIDO staff member, I visited the city twice. The first time was in 1979 as a member of a joint United Nations Agencies mission to identify and assess the needs of the country for urgent assistance after the difficult period of dictatorship and civil war that led to the fall of Idi Amin Dada. Personally, I was in charge for the coordination of the industrial field.

Living conditions were so difficult that we had to bring bread and biscuits from Nairobi because there was nothing in Kampala. Key government officials were housed, like us, in the Continental hotel, if I remember correctly, which became nowadays the Sheraton Hotel. In the corridors, it was not uncommon to see children actually easing themselves. To get water for the toilet, we had to awake between 4:00 am and 6:00 am.

I returned to Kampala in 1990 still on a UNIDO mission to promote the Africa industrialization day, which had been proclaimed in Harare by the 9th Conference of African Ministers of Industry in 1989. The economic situation of the country had improved impressively. The hotel offered the same comfort as similar international class hotels, at significantly lower prices.

During my mission to Rwanda as part of the MINUAR2, I returned with my wife to celebrate 1995 New Year Eve in Kampala. What struck us was to see children in western clothes. The boys looked like men in miniature with their 3 pieces-suit and tie. As for girls, they wore bright clothes, too sophisticated for their age. All the dresses created an atmosphere of Carnival before time.

It was only during the successive visits in 2015/2016 I could appreciate fully the beauty of Kampala and Uganda in general. It is most striking to see from the exit of the airport in Entebbe to Kampala city the cleanliness that can be found everywhere. I didn’t notice immediately that people do not smoke in public places. It is only when I didn’t see cigarette butts nowhere on the ground that I become aware of this fact. Moreover, despite the complaints of Kampala drivers of traffic and manner of driving of other motorists, I found that a certain discipline on the roads, compared to other African main cities.

Then, what immediately draws the visitor’s attention is the rich biodiversity: greenery, butterflies and flowers. At Mbuya, where  lives my son’s family in a compound of several villas, I was surprised to see monkeys leaping in the trees or walking on roofs or playing at the poolside.

In mid-January 2016, visiting the conference center which hosted the meeting of Heads of Government of the Commonwealth in 2007 in Munyonyo, a suburb of Kampala, amazed by all the splendor of this lush vegetation offering a wide variety of green, flowers and butterflies, lulled by the waves of the omnipresent Lake Victoria, I asked my friend Pru, I affectionately call my daughter in Uganda, how many months all this splendor would last in the year. She calmly replied that it was like this all the year around.

Nature has been generous with this country. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) said it manages ten national parks offering the best in East Africa. Uganda, the “Pearl of Africa” exhibits over 1,000 species of birds – many of which are found nowhere else on the planet- 13 types of primates, including more than half of the mountain gorillas in the world. The Queen Elizabeth National Park only, which covers nearly 2,000 square kilometers, has 57 types of plants and different trees, 95 species of mammals and over 600 species of birds.

Tourism growth is real. Last year, it ranked  before remittances of emigrants and coffee exports, as leading foreign currency source for the country with $ 1.4 billion USD compared to 1.1 billion $ for the previous year.

Coming from Europe, where the influx of migrants is creating an unhealthy atmosphere, in particular for visible minorities, I have to include among the factors that make me love this country, the friendliness of Ugandans. One breathes an atmosphere of peace and security throughout the country. Wanting to walk from Mbuya to Village Mall, I asked three friends whether there was any risk, having my computer. All three assured me that I would not run any risk. Throughout the month of January 2016 I was in Kampala, I made the same trip without encountering any problems. Rather, out of the compound where I lived, while walking out of the compound without me asking for it that people who were passing in their cars stopped to offer me a lift and deflecting their path they accompany me to my destination.

Unfortunately, all this environmental wealth may be at risk of profound changes in the coming years. Indeed, major oil reserves discoveries were made, particularly in the Lake Albert. These are the third largest reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa, behind only Nigeria and Angola. These reserves may make Uganda a leading exporter, after meeting its domestic needs.

But the risks are serious, especially when I think of the consequences of the reckless behavior of the oil companies in other parts of Africa, particularly in the Niger Delta.

Nonetheless, immediately, after the elections, I will be back for 4 months.

Bah 1

Bah 3

Bah 4

Guest Blog by Dr. Abdoulaye Bah



Plainly speaking

Uganda isn’t Kony, Idi Amin or Ebola

You have any non-African friends, right? Ask them what they think of Uganda. The answers you may receive will be related to poverty, AIDS, Ebola, hunger, tribalism or animals. Their faces will turn sorrowful and sympathy might linger in their eyes. They may give an example of how they helped to “Save Gulu” by donating to the “Kony 2012” campaign or dreamed of adopting a “Ugandan orphan”.

Most likely the view of the continent is that it is not a continent at all, but one large country, where everyone speaks the same language, eats the same food, wears the same type of clothing, and creates the same type of art. Yes, in their eyes, “Africa” is a homogeneous place of simple people with simple activities.

Mainstream media and educational system constantly feed our minds with this type of negative information on Africa. As a consequence, the average white person has a very narrow-minded image of the continent, filled with lions, malnourished children, corrupt officials and rebels. We rarely see or hear anything different and therefore see such images as the truth. But, for someone who has never been to the continent, can they be blamed for this ignorance?

There are mainly two sorts of Africa that appear on the media, the human Africa riven with poverty and violence, and the Africa of wildlife documentaries where humans hardly appear. There are the occasional travel documentaries but even here there seems a lot of emphasis on poverty and the primitive nature of just about everything.

The effect of the above perceptions, is that it leaves the world thinking that Africa is a dark continent already lost in the jungles of primitivism and barbarism. It makes Africa at the center of stereo-typing and it also makes us to be branded as an inferior race in the world thereby even affecting our self-esteem.

Because of such, we wonder whether  we should be annoyed with non-African journalists who broadcast embarrassing images of poverty in Africa, or at the African governments who tolerate and often create such misery in the first place? Much criticism has been leveled at western media for negative coverage of Africa. They have been accused by some of ignorance and racism. In many cases, this criticism is justified.

But why do many Africans, feel so strongly about how Africa is portrayed in western media? After all, the average Brit or German doesn’t give two hoots how their country is covered in say, Nigerian or Kenyan media. Europeans are not emigrating to Africa in large numbers so they simply don’t need to care how Africans view them.

Photocredit- KCCA

Photocredit- KCCA

Perhaps we should ask you, Does the whole of Africa have this demographic problem? Why do you focus on the slums and not on the positive stories? Why search out the most miserable environments to film in and continue propagating negative stereotypes of Africa as a nest of poverty and problems?
But as proud Ugandans,  we also know news media in general (African included), tends to focus on the negative and not the positive. Bad news sells well. People feel better about their lives when they hear others have bigger problems than them. A European who’s unhappy he can’t get a mortgage, will, however unwittingly, likely see his life in brighter lights after watching footage of people with no electricity, no running water and little food to eat.

It’s important to challenge the negative images and the perceptions circulated by the media particularly; whether in films, books, news and academic reports. It is vital to report, complain, blog about it. Challenge and object to it with whatever means you have. A pen or a keyboard are the most powerful tools. We are not just rebels or victims awaiting international aid or assistance for our children to be adopted by wealthy celebrity who will parade them. We are – just like every human being – complex characters journeying on this planet who deserve dignity and respect.

Of course there are many different and often positive stories to be told from Africa’s 54 diverse countries. But the continent currently has no microphone of its own on the global stage, no loudspeaker with which to tell its stories the way it wants them told. It has to wait in line hoping others lend it theirs from time to time. That won’t do.
Al Jazeera has succeeded in giving Arabs a voice on the global stage the same way BBC and CNN have succeded in giving a voice to the British and Americans respectively. Where is Africa’s answer to Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN?

More programmes about Africa, made by Africans, is the voice that is missing in this world. We need programmes which will not portray only wildlife, but the beautiful cultures of my country Uganda told by a Ugandan. We need new programmes which will not call Africa a country, but will appreciate that Africa has states like Uganda which are not at war but a pearl of hard working people.
This is Uganda they never show you. This is Uganda of people with dignity and stories changing our society. This is the Uganda the land gifted by nature and not conflict, poverty and diseases. This is Uganda of lovers, beautiful people and not people dying of hunger. This is Uganda they never show you that we want to tell the world about and be the voice of the voiceless.

If we Ugandans do not stand up to tell our own stories and positive stories about Africa as a whole, then we will forever remain misunderstood, misinterpreted and not respected. We will not only be untrue to ourselves but putting the future of our country at risk as the late Bob Marley once said… “ Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery because none but ourselves can free our minds!”



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Poetry as an instrument in Ugandan society
Murray Shiraz aka "Black Poet" performing one of his poems at open mic Uganda- a re-known spoken word poetry platform in Kampala.

Poetry must not be used for social change but CAN be used for social change.

Poetry is the best words arranged in the order to clearly define the poet’s heart based on inspiration, whether hidden or open. Poetry to some has been known as a means to preserving daily life experiences in society. Its  like a day to day diary of a writer though not so many people have the talent and passion to scribble down beautiful words in poetic ink.

Writers should have the liberty to express themselves in the best words possible to define their heart, but should welcome criticism of their work.

Lantern Meet cast during a recent poetry recital dubbed "moving on"

Lantern Meet cast during a recent poetry recital dubbed “moving on”

Poetry is everywhere in every  tradition and culture, and is not considered for elites alone. Ugandans just need to work hard like Shakespeare in spreading it and making it something phenomenal by each person regardless of who they are or where they come from.

The lessons for the poets

Poets need to learn the tools of the trade before they go out to claim that they are poets.

Ugandan poets need to know that they are vital people in our society and help us reflect who we are as Ugandans besides helping us to creatively preserve unique societal experiences in living words frozen in ink that speaks.

As Ugandan poets, we need to market poetry to our neighboring countries to kill the monotony of having the same faces at every poetry event, and having  a few foreign faces every now and then.

The societies and platforms

There are local poets who have graced Uganda like Paul Kafero, Henry Barlow, Okot P’Bitek, and we who have come after feel that we are on the right track on carrying this torch.

We just need to support the poetry societies that groom writers such as the Lantern Meet of Poets, Femrite, Luminous Sorrels, Bonfire Uganda.

And the poetry performance platforms that give poets a monthly opportunity to showcase their spoken word like Open Mic Uganda, Poetry in Session, Kwivuga and Poetry Shrine.

Let’s support the Ugandan poetry platforms in whatever way possible now that its one of the avenues left to preserve our culture and make Ugandan history to be read by the future generations.



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Plainly speaking

Meet Uber’s first female Ugandan driver, Fiona Kiberu

The long wait is over, Uber is now in Kampala. Today UberX officially launched its ride sharing service in the city of Kampala during a press briefing at the Kampala Serena Hotel. Fortunately, there is a lady driver part of the Uber team now.

Fiona Kiberu Photo: Tech Jaja

Fiona Kiberu
Photo: Tech Jaja

Fiona Kiberu is a simple and down to earth lady who has been in the taxi business for almost eight years. She stays in Kawempe and works at Lugogo Shopping mall. Those that have used a cab from Lugogo shopping mall before know her quite well, he generosity, kindness and politeness. She drives a Noah.

Salvador Idringi celebrating the launch of Uber. Fiona Kiberu in her driver's sit. Photo: Twitter

Salvador Idringi celebrating the launch of Uber. Fiona Kiberu in her driver’s sit.
Photo: Twitter

In an interview by Tech Jaja, Fiona Kiberu declared that she will drive Uber for life, she also added a smile to her new recruitment into Uber.

Uber is a service that enables a person/client to get a ride at the tap of a button, it eliminates flagging hands so as to stop a taxi or entering an unfamiliar car which is totally insecure. It’s also the most convenient way to get a safe, reliable, and affordable ride to work, to a party, or back to home. The Uber app detects your location, tells you in advance about your driver, and you can choose to pay with a credit card or cash so it is easy and safer for both riders/clients and drivers.

“Uganda’s famous “Happy City” is well-know for several attractions – its bustling streets, exotic nightlife and dynamic skyline. These are just a few of the many reasons why Uber loves Kampala, and we’re excited to announce that YOU can now request a ride at the tap of a button.”- Uber

With the launch of Uber in Uganda, one can only hope for the best in the transport sector and system which hasn’t been performing to expected standards in the past. To celebrate their launching, Uber is giving all riders the opportunity to enjoy FOUR days of free rides in Kampala.




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