Uganda Beat

As some of you may remember, I started the initial Uganda Beat blog when I was reporting in Uganda for Saturday Vision and based in Kampala.  I moved back to New York to start AfricaConnections, and moved the blog briefly to www.ugandabeat.com.  But for the sake of organization, I am moving my blog to the launchpad of my baby, Ugandans Abroad.

Journalist Becky Harshbarger writes blog Uganda Beat.

October 24, 2010.

Hey guys, hope you are doing well.  I came back from Uganda on Friday after a two-week trip to my home away from home.  The trip was excellent, though the transit time was draining.  First lesson: Never use United Airways! Every single flight I had with them was delayed, causing me to miss connections and stress out.  When I left New York, my father picked me up at my apartment in Bushwick (that’s Brooklyn for those in the know, a.k.a. the best borough) and I mistakenly told him I was heading to JFK.  Then I realized, whoops- LaGuardia.  My father grimaced, but it turns out I was right the first time.  I checked into LaGuardia very early, cleared security, had lunch, and then my flight hit delay after delay.  I quickly realized I was not going to make my connection to Belgium, so I saw a woman who was actually pretty kind for an airport employee, and told her about the problem.

I love Uganda!

The solution? I had to pick up my baggage from the carousel, go to JFK in a $40 cab in heavy traffic, clear security again, and then board Brussel Airways.  There were no individual TVs on the plane, but at least the staff were friendly and polite, and I was finally on my way around 8 pm, even though I had initially arrived at JFK around noon.  When I got to Brussel Airways, I panicked when I couldn’t find my baggage tags and Brussel Airways’ employees told me they needed them since I had switched planes and I needed to move my luggage onto the right path.  Luckily I found them, and was quickly on a plane heading to Entebbe! Hooray.

The second flight was a grueling 8 hours, and I sat next to a quiet Belgian man who was traveling to Uganda for the first time to volunteer with a charity in Mukono.  When we arrived in Entebbe, there were no lights or sign of the city.  Everything was pitch-black.  But I smiled– it was great to be home! I raced through customs (gotta love a visa’s that only $50), only to find that I had a long wait as my friends picking me up were well, on Uganda time.

I waited for hours in the Entebbe airport as they sorted themselves out through jam, stuck behind the presidential convoy.  I stayed mostly in Red Chili when I was in Kampala, a peaceful travel oasis that attracts a large number of expatriates due to its budget-friendly rates, very lazy dog, monkeys, goats, and miraculous green space in the dusty, hectic-nature of Kampala! I used to make fun of the place and its bazungu the last time I was there, but this time it won me over with its strong coffee and pancakes.  When I woke up for my first morning back in East Africa, it was Uganda’s 48th birthday.

The laziest dog in Uganda, at the Red Chili! Anders Wikström.

I had some more technical difficulties as well, with my ATM card not working for the first three days I was in Uganda, and Western Union closed for independence day.  Luckily, my ATM card started working, and my lovely friends from New Vision lent me cash and let me use their computers to get in touch with my mom, who works for Capital One, where I bank.

I stayed in Uganda for two weeks, catching up with friends, recruiting reporters and writers for Ugandans Abroad, meeting with companies/potential advertisers, and a lawyer to set up an operating license for Ugandans Abroad in Kampala.  Unfortunately, it was rainy season, and everyday around 2 pm a huge torrent of rain would drench Kampala.  The roads in Bugolobi were still craptastic (is that a small pond or a hole in the road?), you can’t believe they are tarmacked, but generally Kampala was very enjoyable.

The major changes were the new currency notes, which felt very crisp and looked quite colorful, and the fantastic airtime rates.  Just in time for my trip there, Warid delighted Ugandans by dropping its airtime rates to sh3 per second, or sh180 per minute (about 12 cents).  This was much better than when I was last in Uganda and on MTV, where it was  about sh360 per minute or even sh420, almost 20 cents a minute.  That’s pretty expensive when you consider that many Ugandans live on less than a $1.25 a day.  It’s also much higher than rates in the U.S. for most prepaid calling plans.  When Warid dropped their rates, it started a price war, with UTL and Zain also dropping to sh3 per second.  MTN lagged in the price-cutting, but still dropped to sh5.

What was in the news? Mike Ezra, a former Ugandan national sprinter and believed to be one of the wealthiest people on the African, continent, owes the Uganda Revenue Authority sh1.1 billion (about $500,000) in taxes, and was blocked from leaving the country until he pays the money back.  Last Tuesday, the police raided his home and office, but Ezra was nowhere to be found– and he told New Vision later in a phone interview that he was out of Uganda.  He’s wanted for allegedly issuing two fake checks that equaled $550,000, among other charges.

Last time i was in Uganda, everyone thought I was too skinny.

In September, Ezra called a press conference to show off a stack of $100 bills that he said amounted to $3 million, hoping to dispel rumors that he was broke.  The businessman’s wealth has never really been understood, even as he has bailed out numerous sports figures.

Well, I have no idea where Mike Ezra is now, but if I see him walking around in New York City, I’ll give Mr. Kale Kayihura a call.

One new thing, by the way, really stood out for me– the high levels of security in Kampala. I am not sure how long it will last, but I got some serious pat-downs practically everywhere I went in Kampala, and went through an array of metal detectors.  Yes, you now need to have your bag checked and get a bit of a pat-down to get into most offices, shopping centers, etc.

Since I was last in Uganda, I’ve put on about eight pounds, and for some reason, this earned me a ton of respect.  Everyone was calling me madam instead of mzungu! Countless of my colleagues stopped me to tell me how genuinely happy they were that I had put on weight, and congratulated me.  ”You look so good!” many people told me.  ”Very grown-up!”

Now Ugandans think I am the right size.

The way back to New York was no easy feat– I went to Kampala to Entebbe, Entebbe to Brussels, Brussels to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to LaGuardia, then LaGuardia to Brooklyn.  Then I passed out and slept for ten hours, which seemed to go by in about five minutes.

Now I am glad to be back and excited about all the new writers that will be reporting for Ugandans Abroad, as well as new advertisers.  Hope you are all doing well, and wish me luck in the week ahead as I go back to city reporting!

September 24, 2010.

I got to meet Navio! What a tall guy. I'm 5'10, but he towered over me.

Hey all, I hope you had a great week and are looking forward to the weekend.  In New York, speculation has it that this may be the last genuinely warm weekend beforewinter, so to those in the tri-state area: use these bursts of sunshine wisely! Things have been hectic at my end, but I had the pleasure of attending two Ugandan conventions at the end of August and in September: the Banyakigezi Convention in Boston, and UNAA in Washington, D.C.

It was a great opportunity to meet the international Ugandan community, tell them about Ugandans Abroad, and talk with some of the most interesting people on the planet.  In a moment I was particularly excited about, I got to meet Navio, one of my favorite Ugandan artists.  Yes, I dropped the notepad post-interview and had to take a picture!

Here is a link to the story I wrote about his trip to the U.S. this fall.

Some exciting news: next month, I will be traveling to Uganda for fifteen days, leaving New York for about two weeks for the lovely motherland.  Yes, my family may be from California and Utah, I might have grown up in New York, but Uganda is always my special home away from home.

I am hoping to incorporate Ugandans Abroad in Kampala, meet with companies interested in advertising with Ugandans Abroad (thank you as always for supporting the work we are doing), work on the launch of our upcoming travel section, and do some reporting for one of my favorite news organizations, Women’s eNews.  I am also very interested in meeting with Ugandan women who are doing interesting work on women’s issues (security, finance, education, etc.), and would love to know of any women’s organizations that you really respect back home that I should get in touch with.

Much has been going on this week in New York with the U.N. General Assembly, and many top-level officials from Uganda are in town, including the Musevenis, Amama Mbabazi, and Sam Kutesa.  Although Ugandans Abroad is a non-partisan news site, I will be heading to the U.N. shortly this afternoon for an event organized by a new diaspora organization, Ugandans in the Diaspora, Inc.  They will protest human rights abuses in Uganda along first avenue, meeting at 3 p.m. on 49th street, around the same time that President Museveni is anticipated to address the General Assembly.

UDII particularly turned heads in Washington, D.C. by holding a conference at the same time of the UNAA Convention, not far from the Gaylord Hotel.  James Ssemakula, who handles communication for the group says that the convention was held to “raise awareness in the Western world about Uganda’s prevailing horrific political environment, the persistent and routine human rights violations, corruption and sectarianism of the Museveni regime– much of which can elude the casual visitor and observer.”

What do you think about the formation of the UDII? Do you belong to any diaspora organizations, and how have they had an impact on your life? What do you think of what some have described as the splintering of the diaspora into many different groups and organizations?

Saturday, August 14th: The Best & the Brightest, the Worst and the Dimmest…

a.k.a. Week in Review

Hey all, this is belated, but thought I’d give you the Week in Review regardless.  We’re not late, we’re just on Ugandan time! That’s how I am going to play it.

The Highs:

Mourners gathered in Nateete to say goodbye to former president Godfrey Binaisa. Daily Monitor.

-Hundreds of mourners braved the rain on Wednesday to bury late president Godfrey Binaisa at a state funeral, according to reporting by New Vision.  President Museveni told crowds that he had reconciled with Binaisa in the past ten years.  Binaisa moved to the U.S. during the Amin years, and practiced law in New York.  He returned to Uganda in 1979, and served as president for less than a year, between 1979 and 1980, before being removed by the Military Commission.  He practiced law in New York in the 1980s and 1990s, and then retired in Uganda.  He had a stroke earlier this year, and was 90 years old.  He resided in Makindye.

-Ugandan military intelligence shared the alleged confessions of four suspects in the 7-11 bombing with the media.  The attacks killed 76 people, and Somali militant group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attacks in a rugby club and Ethiopian restaurant.  Suspect Issa Ahmed Luyima said, “I’m sorry.  My rage was with Americans whom I deemed responsible for the suffering of Muslism…that explains why one of the targets I chose was the Ethiopian restaurant.  It had whites.”  Edris Nsubuga said they surveyed Cheri’s in Kabalagala, but the security was too tight.  The suspects lived in a house in Namasuba, and bought food for the suicide bombers at a supermarket in Najjankumbi.  They took boda bodas to the attacks, and prayed beforehand.  You can read more from the Daily Monitor here.  New Vision also has a full list of the 72 suspects in custody if you are interested.

I wasn’t actually sure whether to say this is a high or a low, I guess it’s a high if the intelligence was able to gather a credible confession.  All of this makes my skin crawl, from the targeting of foreigners and reading the names of places they went to in Kampala, a relatively small, cozy city that I know well.

-Uganda’s state pension fund (worth about $620 million USD) plans to resume buying stocks on the country’s exchange, after a 2-year break, Bloomberg’s Fred Ojambo reported.

The Lows:

-Mulago Hospital’s Cancer Institute announced that 250 children have now died this year since it ran out of essential drugs, with most deaths occurring between April and now, according to health reporting by the Daily Monitor.  A dispute has broken out between the National Medical Scores and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets (PPDA) over the cause and solution of the shortage.

-Last week, Human Rights Watch and the Enough Project released reports that the Lords

This 10-year-old Congolese abductee managed to escape the LRA. Ida Sawyer, Human Rights Watch.

Resistance Army (LRA) has killed more than 2500 civilians in the past 18 months, and abducted almost 700 children.  The LRA left Uganda in 2005, and peace talks broke down in 2008.  I actually wrote a story on the impact of the LRA on female civilians for Women’s eNews last May- you can read the story here.  Here are some excerpts from the Human Rights Watch summary on the report:

The Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has abducted more than 697 adults and children in a largely unreported campaign in the Central African Republic and the neighboring Bas Uele district of northern Democratic Republic of Congo over the past 18 months, Human Rights Watch said today. Nearly one-third of those abducted have been children, many of whom are being forced to serve as soldiers or are being used for sex by the group’s fighters.

During the abduction campaign, the LRA has brutally killed adults and children who tried to escape, walked too slowly, or were unable to bear the heavy loads they were forced to carry, Human Rights Watch found in its investigations in the region. The LRA has killed at least 255 adults and children, often by crushing their skulls with clubs. In dozens of cases, the LRA forced captive children to kill other children and adults.

“The LRA continues its horrific campaign to replenish its ranks by brutally tearing children from their villages and forcing them to fight,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The evidence points to Joseph Kony, the LRA leader, as the author of this atrocious campaign.”

Thursday, August 5th: Sedition Charges Against Ugandan Editor

Hey all, I hope you’re doing great.  This week has flown by for me.  Thanks for all your birthday wishes on facebook! I am having a birthday party tomorrow in Brooklyn, and a special dinner with my father tonight in Manhattan.  I am so grateful to have you all in my life this past year.

I wanted to blog today about an issue close to my heart: press freedom in Uganda.  I don’t know if you’ll yawn or lean forward when it comes to that topic, but the subject is always an emotional pull for me.  About thirty of my friends work in Uganda as reporters, and I used to write for Saturday Vision while freelancing for Women’s eNews in Kampala.  Journalists face so many challenges in Uganda, even if their industry has a viable, sustainable business plan (unlike their counterparts in the U.S.).  However, reporters still frequently get badly paid, face censorship by the government, and are even attacked by individuals working in the private sector.  There are other ethical issues galore, like sources trying to pay impoverished writers for story placement, and local radio stations blocking opposition candidates from campaigning.  But I wanted to write about Timothy Kalegyira today.

Former New Vision journalist Lydia Namubiru wrote about Kalegyira on facebook today: “Me I think Timothy Kalyegira has now reached where he wanted to go. He will now become another symbol for independent but persecuted media in the developing world, get big conference invitations and perhaps some donor funds. It has worked for others before Should work for him.”

Maybe, but I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes.  Kalyegira is a former columnist for the Daily Monitor who is now the online editor for the Uganda Record.  This snazzy, fresh red and black Ugandan news site is a great source of fresh opinion and news.  Today’s top story is: “The U.N. Blocks Calls to Attack Al-Shabaab: Why?”

On Monday, August 2nd, police accused Kalyegira of sedition after he published two stories on whether the government was involved in the July 11 bomb attacks, interrogated him for ten hours and searched his home on Tuesday.  The police confiscated his laptop, modem, passport, notes, and cell phone, and he has been asked to return a police station in Bukoto on Friday. The Media Offence police department, headed by Simon Kuteesa, says Kalyegira violated the penal code (which dates back to British colonial times) by publishing seditious masterial.  Kalyegira’s defense says the law does not apply to the editor, since the stories were published virtually.

“They have no legal mandate for this since the Uganda Record is not a newspaper,” said Ladisleus Rwakafuuzi, the lawyer, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.  Kalyegira holds the dubious distinction of being the first interactive journalist in Ugandan history to be prosecuted for sedition, but more than 12 other reporters are also being investigated.  The Independent’s managing editor Andrew Mwenda still has a case pending on the constitutionality of the sedition laws.

This is what the Uganda Record printed about the investigation:

The Uganda Police yesterday summoned the editor of the Uganda Record to the CID over the news reports the paper has been publishing on the July 11, 2010 bomb blasts in Kampala.

The editor of the Uganda Record, Timothy Kalyegira, is expected at the CID headquarters at Kibuli in Kampala today, Friday July 30, to record a statement. He was phoned by Simon Kaweesa, the officer in charge of monitoring media crimes in the Uganda Police force.

Since the bomb blasts, the Uganda Record has consistently questioned the common belief that the attacks were by the Somali militants, the Al-Shabab and has strongly suggested that these were masterminded from within the Ugandan state. At the CID offices, the Uganda Record expects to explain why it took the position it did.

The latest information is that the U..S FBI has failed to find a link between the Kampala bombings and Al-Shabaab.

It will also challenge the Uganda Police to investigate various mysterious bomb and grenade attacks in Kampala dating back to 1998, as well as other mysterious and high profile murders and disappearances over the last 30 years.

Many of these mysterious crimes, the Uganda Record will argue, are directly traceable to President Yoweri Museveni as a guerrilla leader and as a head of state.”

What do you think, readers? Do you think the Record went too far? Here is the July 12th story, “Panic Grips Ugandan Government Over Kampala Bomb Blasts.”

“Sources close to the top layer of the Ugandan military and intelligence establishment say that the bomb blasts in Kampala have taken on a dimension that potentially could spin out of control.

When the bombings were planned, it had not been anticipated that there would be several western casualties, particularly Americans.

Now that Americans were injured and one died, it has brought in the might of the U.S. federal investigative machinery.

Unlike the Ugandan police that claims to investigate major incidents like this only for the reports to disappear, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is going to work to completion. What the FBI will uncover will dismay the Museveni regime.

A top source in the Ugandan army speculates that the bombs were set off in order to justify seeking more money and equipment from the United Sattes.

For example, it had originally been planned that the Ange Noir discotheque near Kampala’s Industrial Area would be bombed. Howerver, the idea was dropped, according to leaked intelligence information, because many ministers, army officers and their children frequent this night club.

That was when it was decided to claim that the suicide bomber jacket had been found in a night club in Makindye, a Kampala suburb.

Yesterday, Tuesday July 13, the Uganda police claimed it had arrested four suspects whom it implicated in the bomb attacks. When the media asked who these men might be and their nationalities, the Ugandan police could only be evasive.

Even the usually gullible BBC World Service East Africa correspondent Will Ross found this suspicious. In a report in the BBC world news, Ross said even after he pressed the Inspector-General of Police, Maj. Gen. Edward Kale Kayihura, to give at least basic details of the arrested suspects, Kayihura was evasive.

According to military sources, the Ugandan intelligence hastily got four Somali prisoners of war taken from Mogadishu and being held in Kampala army barracks, and is not using them to claim they could have been part of the so-called Al-Shabab attack on Kampala.

Official statements on the bombings changing

Within a few hours of the July 11 bombings, the first Ugandan government official to suggest this could have been the work of the Somali militants Al-Shabab, was Kale Kayihura. It is he who set the stage for the general pointing of fingers by most of the world media at Al-Shabab.

However, once American casualties were discovered and FBI agents started to come into Uganda from Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa, Kayihura started to change his statement.

He urged Ugandans not to point the finger at anybody, not necessarily at Al-Shabab and that the public should await investigations.

On Tuesday evening, July 13, the Minister of State for International Coperation, Henry Okello Oryem, appeared as a guest on the KFM programme, the Hot Seat hosted by Charles Mwanguhya-Mpagi.

Okello Oryem suggested that it was not categorical that this could have been Al-Shabab and that another group might have set off the bombs.

Since Al-Shabab had threatened action against Uganda several months ago, said Oryem, another group could have taken advantage of this and attacked Uganda, knowing all fingers would inevitably point at Al-Shabab.

Thus, from being almost definite that it was Al-Shabab, both from Kayihura and the army spokesman, Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye, the stage was being set for a gradual shift of accusing finger by the Uganda government from Al-Shabab to some other group.

Kayihura later started to speak with some emphasis about the Uganda rebel group, the ADF, which in the past had been accused of planting bombs in and around Kampala.

Unable to explain how he had suddenly stopped blaming Al-Shabab and now seemed to be blaming the ADF, Kayihura pointed out that the ADF and Al-Shabab have a working relationship.

Since the bomb blasts, the ADF has not issued a single statement and has not claimed any part in the attacks.

Why would the Ugandan authorities start to quietly stress the ADF and no longer emphasise Al-Shabab, even after Al-Shabab had publicly assumed responsibility for the bombings?

The answer to this goes back to who it was that actually planned and carried out the bomb attacks.

The Ugandan state knows that with the FBI now carrying out their on-site forensic investigations and detectives from Britain’s Scotland Yard police division set to fly into Uganda today, Wednesday July 14, the investigations have gone out of Ugandan government control.

As the Uganda Record has insisted from the beginning, the investigations are very likely going to uncover the fact that it was not Al-Shabab that carried out the attacks and very likely bomb splinters and other pieces of evidence will point to the same kind of ammunition used by the Ugandan army.

The quiet retraction of the accusations against Al-Shabab could be a first step in preparing Ugandans and the world for the fact that it was not, after all, Al-Shabab that carried out the attacks.

President Yoweri Museveni and his son at the scenes of crime

In all the post-bombing media coverage by the Ugandan newspapers and television stations, something glared at the public but no commentator was able to notice the significance of this.

When landslides struck the eastern Ugandan district of Bududa earlier this year, President Yoweri Museveni accompanied by his bodyguards went to the area to assess the damage.

Museveni that day wore military uniform and, unusually for a head of state or retired army general, personally carried an AK-47 assault rifle. Most who saw that front page photograph wondered what landslides had to do with the need to wear uniform and carry a gun on the part of Museveni.

If an act of nature such as a landslide had necessitated the president to appear at the scene in military uniform and with a rifle strapped over his shoulder, much more so would it have seemed understandable if he arrived at the scenes of the Al-Shabab bombings in Kampala in full battle fatigues.

However, Museveni on Monday morning appeared at the Ethiopian Village Restaurant and the Kyadondo Rugby Club in a blue suit, with lightly armed bodyguards and an averagely-sized escort vehicle convoy.

Considering that this was said to have been the battle-hardened Al-Shabab and was the biggest bomb attack in Uganda’s history, the casual air around Museveni, his calm, unbothered tone as he addressed onlookers, and the lack of extra security,  should have raised some questions in the Ugandan and world media, but they did not.

How come Museveni and his entourage did not seem fearful of another attack at Kabalagala or Lugogo by Al-Shabab, this time possibly targeting him?

All through the morning of Monday July 12, three people were prominent at the scenes of the bombings: President Yoweri Museveni, his son Lt. Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, and police boss Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura.

As was to be expected, the Ugandan television and print media that day and in print the following day played up Museveni’s visit. He was photographed touring the two bomb scenes, addressing the public, visiting Mulago Hospital to check on the injured.

The imagery was of a head of state showing concern, being in charge, reassuring the public, being resolute and defiant toward Al-Shabab.

His son and political heir-apparent, Kainerugaba, the commanding officer of the army’s Special Forces, was also portrayed as being at the scene, looking tough and in charge, every inch a professional soldier, just like his father.

Once again, the Ugandan and international public did not notice this. Here had just occurred a major national and international tragedy, involving scores of Ugandans and the nationals of Ireland, Eritrea, Ethiopia and the United States.

If it was a terror attack by Al-Shabab, the implications were global. The response would have been a total Ugandan government show of force.

And yet, there was something amiss. The Vice President, Gilbert Bukenya, was absent. The Prime Minister, Apolo Nsibambi, was not there.

The Minister of Defence, Crispus Kiyonga, the Minister of Security, Amama Mbabazi, the Chief of Defence Forces, Gen. Aronda Nyakirima, the Commander of the army’s Land Forces, Lt. Gen. Edward Katumba Wamala, the Coordinator of the intelligence services, Gen. David Tinyefuza, the Director-General of the Internal Security Organisation, Dr. Amos Mukumbi, the Director-General of the External Security Organisation, Robert Masolo, the Chief of Military Intelligence, Brig. James Mugira, and many other cabinet and top military and security officials were not at the scenes of crime accompanying President Museveni.

The Kampala newspapers portrayed it as father and son shouldering the responsibility of assessing the damage and looking like men in charge.

When the president visited Mulago Hospital, the Minister of Health, Dr. Stephen Malinga did not feature. It was Museveni alone, promising the victims in hospital that he, not the Ugandan government, would compensate them.

All this begs the question: who planned these bomb attacks? Who stood to gain politically? Who was it that received maximum Ugandan media coverage as apparing in charge and displaying leader-like qualities?

Why was it done in such a way that the entire Ugandan government at such a critical hour of national danger was portrayed as absent and only Museveni and his son on duty, looking or talking tough?

Why was a Lt. Col. in the army portrayed by the Ugandan media as taking charge of the situation and questions not asked where his superiors in rank and office in the army were?

Why did Museveni not publicly ask his ministers to join him to show a common government response? Why has Museveni since Monday not complained or criticised his cabinet ministers and top security officials over not appearing at the bomb scenes?

Why did Museveni seem satisfied that only he and his son should receive the limelight of media coverage and benefit from the imagery of them as the only two men concerned enough about the situation at a time of national calamity?

What, in other words, was the political goal of the July 11, 2010 bomb attacks in Kampala?”

Friday, July 30th: Week in Review.

Hey everyone, hope your week treated you okay.  The weather has been magnificent in New York, in the seventies, cool, with little humidity.  A far cry from earlier this month, when the weather soared into the nineties and 100+, while choking with humidity.  Since it’s Friday, I thought I would take a look at the past week in Ugandan news– the high, lows, and noteworthy.

The Ups….

The Elizabeth Glaser Foundation will support people living with HIV and tuberculosis in southwestern Uganda.

Support for People Living with HIV & T.B. In Southwest Uganda: The Washington, D.C.-based Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric Aids Foundation announced that it will use $38 million from USAID in the next five years to expand HIV and tuberculosis services in southwestern Uganda.  The foundation will partner with the Ministry of Health and USAID to cover nine districts with low services for the two overlapping diseases.  The districts include Bushenyi, Ibanda, and Kabale.

Tullow Makes Progress on Capital Gains Tax: Tullow Oil finally acquired Heritage Oil’s stakes in western Uganda, after making some progress on its tax problems with the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) over a capital gains tax of $404 million USD.  Tullow Oil deposited $121.4 million with the URA, and the remainder will most likely be dealt with in a court of arbitration or in a private deal between the Ugandan government and Tullow Oil.  Is this really an up? We’ll have to see.  I hope Uganda will ultimately get the full capital gains tax from Tullow Oil, and use the money for infrastructure, public health, etc.  Tullow’s deals with Uganda so far have been too sweet so far.

The Lows:

Death Toll Rises from Bomb Blasts: Revised figures now show 85 people (up from earlier estimates of  76) died in the bombings in Kampala during the World Cup, after nine people in critical condition ultimately passed away, according to the Daily Monitor’s reporting at hospitals in the capital.  Police spokeswoman, Judith Nabakooba, said she was only aware of 78 deaths.  The latest death was Julius Tibenda, who died on Tuesday at the International Hospital, a father and husband who worked at the Toro Royal Cottages.

Bomb Scares Continue, Post World Cup: As recently as Thursday, bomb scares continued to haunt the city.  A taxi operator abandoned his vehicle Thursday morning after discovering a battery with some loose wires, and rumors spread the same day of a bomb being planted in the Crested Towers.  This insecurity makes it difficult for the Ugandan public to begin to move on after the attacks earlier this month.

Noteworthy:

Johnnie Carson in Kampala: Top U.S. diplomat for the African continent, Johnnie Carson, traveled to Uganda this week.  On Tuesday, he held a press conference where he outlined the U.S.’ strategies in Africa.  Carson spoke of the importance of stabilizing Somalia, due to the number of people the conflict continues to displace, the threat of piracy, and that its collapsed government creates an environment friendly to extremists and smugglers.  Carson called the bombings in Kampala a “wake-up call,” and said that four other African states are now considering sending troops to Somalia.

U.S. top diplomat for Africa, Johnnie Carson, was in Kampala last week.

UPDF Attacks Cattle Rustlers in Karamoja: After heavy rains in the region, the UPDF attacked and killed 16 alleged cattle rustlers in Karamoja this week, described as the most lethal raid this year.  The UPDF said 200 Karamojong warriors attacked a kraal in Nadungetut, and tried to steal over 6,000 cattle.  The UPDF says all of the cattle were recovered.  The UPDF has been accused of human rights violations in the region, by both parliamentarians and Human Rights Watch.

Some call for Uganda to leave Somalia: Popular commentator and journalist Andrew Mwenda argued that Uganda should leave Somalia, stating that a surge in African Union troops would lead to a greater fragmentation of the Somali state, while increasing the financial and human toll for Uganda.

Thursday, July 29th: Back in New York, Still Stunned Over 7-11 Attacks in Kampala.

Hey guys, how are you all doing? Everything is going well on my end, just got back from a long trip in the Western United States.  First, my mom and I traveled to Alaska, a lengthy plane ride from New York.  We landed in Anchorage, and met up with my Uncle Wayne & Aunt Susan.  We did a five-day road trip through Alaska that wore me out, but I did see a lot of sights.  Alaska was insane– I never saw the sun go down.  Even at 2 or 3 am, the sun was up– that’s how summers in Alaska are.  After leaving New York, I did not see the sun go down until I arrived in California.

Mount McKinley, or Denali-- the largest mountain in North America.

We traveled to Denali National Park, a massive national park that despite its scale is only the third largest park in Alaska.  More than 9,000 square miles and larger than the state of Massachusetts, Denali is home to Mount McKinley (also called Denali), which is the highest mountain in North America.  The park was pristine, delicately managed, and most of it unaccessible to humans.  My family also traveled as north as the commercial North Pole, a big draw for my mother and auntie who are huge Christmas lovers.  My mother was in heaven when she saw a North Pole senior center, and told me she hoped to retire there, if she’s not too old to remember where it is.

The culture in Alaska is like nothing I’ve experienced.  It’s the largest state in the U.S., but not even a million people live there.  In 2009, it was estimated to have almost 700,000 people, and almost 20 percent are Native American.  To put things in perspective, Brooklyn (a borough of New York City, where I live) has 2.5 million residents! At some point, my family passed through Wasilla– yes, Sarah Palin’s hometown.  At first, I couldn’t help but marvel at the tininess of Wasilla– it has only about ten thousand people now, and didn’t even have 6,000 people in 2000, according to the U.S. Census.  But it’s the fourth largest city in Alaska.  To my friends who inquired, you cannot see Russia from Wasilla– but Alaska is at some points as close as 64 miles to Russia, and Alaska was initially colonized by Russia.  Russian Orthodox Churches fan be found in different parts of the state, and some Native Americans are still Russian Orthodox.

The climate was startling- the temperature was in the 50s, but I never saw the sun go down the entire time I was in Alaska.  Even at 2 or 3 am, when I would wake up in the middle of the night, it was still pretty light outside.  My adventurous uncle, who wanted to see as much of Alaska as possible, kept joking to me,” Don’t worry, Becky– we’ll get to the motel before the sun goes down.”  I kept wondering why Alaska could be so underpopulated when the scenery was just incredible (glaciers, wildlife, clean air and water, massive forests and cliffs, beautiful coastlines), then would quickly remember that during the winter in Alaska, there is as little as none to less than an hour of sunlight a day.  The lack of sunlight has been linked to depression and alcoholism in Alaska, so many people get sun lamps that simulate real sunlight.

Beautiful Alaskan life.

Other highlights and observations:

-The mosquitoes in Alaska are no joke! They made the mosquitoes that bit me in Uganda look like petty flies.  Bring repellent if you come for a visit! Mosquitoes drain on average a pint of blood from Alaska’s caribou daily– a huge nuisance, causing many caribou to migrate to colder parts of the state during the summer.  Also, I ate reindeer for the first time! Sorry Christmas fans, I ate reindeer sausage on the way back to Anchorage from Seward.  It was delicious!

-Unfortunately, I was in Alaska when al-Shabaab attacked Kampala on 7-11, killing an estimated 76 people.  I had little cell phone reception and no internet at the time, but Ugandans Abroad reporter Lakshmi Gandhi texted me.  I was traveling on the road with my family, and when I would get patches of internet I would call people in Uganda using Local Phone (similar to a calling card), and read whatever local Ugandan news I could get on my blackberry.  At some point, the Daily Monitor servers went down, probably from all of the traffic.  I was shocked to learn that one of my favorite hangouts in Kampala, Kyadongo Rugby Club, had been bombed– and worse, at a World Cup event organized by my former employers, New Vision.  I worked for the daily newspaper for six months, the last time I was in Uganda, and could always be found drinking banana gin or fanta and eating pork with reporters near the office.  When Igor, a classmate from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, was interning with New Vision’s Sunday paper (Sunday Vision), we would frequently hang out at the rugby club, swapping stories and plotting new adventures.  An Ethiopian restaurant was also bombed in Kampala.

My former colleague Steve Tinka from New Vision was killed during the al-Shabaab bombings in Kampala, at a favorite hangout of mine during the World Cup.

My colleague Steve Tinka from New Vision was killed that night, during the World Cup.  A warm, friendly journalist who worked in radio, he was known for his lively personality and kind demeanor.  His funeral was held at a Catholic church in Kamwokya, a neighborhood in Kampala.

Disturbing in a personal way, an American al-Shabaab supporter from Virginia, Zachary Adam Chesser, was caught at JFK airport in New York, attempting to fly to Entebbe on July 10th.  He had hoped to link up with al-Shabaab in the terrorist attack planned the next day.  I’ve flown from JFK to Entebbe four times, which made the news feel a little too close to home.  Home in both senses– whether I am traveling to New York or Uganda, it always feels like I’m going home in either direction.

As you probably know, Uganda and Burundi run an African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, earning them the threats- and ultimately the attacks- of al-Shabaab.  Al-Shabaab is an Islamist insurgency in Somalia, which controls significant parts of southern and central Somalia, including parts of Mogadishu.  The group hopes to fight the enemies of Islam, which they believe include the transitional federal government in Somalia, the U.N., the African Union, and charities operating in Somalia.  The group is believed to have ties in al-Qaeda, and has roots in the Islamic Court’s militant youth movement.  The group argues for a harsh enforcement of Sharia law, even stoning girls to death after accusing them of adultery.

The context to all of this was the African Union summit that happened in Kampala earlier this month.  The theme had initially been maternal, infant and children’s health, but security issues largely overshadowed this, though the Union did agree to establish a working group on these health issues.  At the summit, President Museveni called for African leaders to unite against terrorism.  However, some of those arrested after the attacks were Somalis who most likely just had the bad luck of being in Kampala at that time, such as Bille Abdullahi, a former reporter for an independent Somali radio station, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’s East African correspondent Tom Rhodes.  Somalis, Ethiopians, and Eritreans have also faced persecution in Kampala since the attacks.

A few days after the bombing, the Ugandan parliament used the crisis to pass a controversial phone-tapping bill, called the Interceptions and Communications Bill, which will monitor SIM cards for security purposes.  You can read more about this from Independent writer Isaac Mufumba here.

Rebecca Harshbarger is a journalist living in New York.  She reports for the New York Post’s city desk, and also freelances for Women’s eNews.  She runs AfricaConnections, a news site that helps African immigrants access news and information from their homelands and communities abroad.  She launched Ugandans Abroad this year, a pilot project of AfricaConnections, which is based in Times Square.  She used to report abroad in Uganda, and is planning on going back this fall to chase some stories.  You can follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/rebeccaugust, or email her at rebecca.jane.harshbarger@gmail.com.

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18 Responses to “Uganda Beat”

  1. [...] Uganda Beat [...]

    #3829
  2. [...] Uganda Beat [...]

    #3849
  3. Dear Becky,

    I know we have not heard from each other lately but I do appreciate the work you are doing to keep us informed about Uganda and Africa. Thank you for your spirit and I do wish you well. Stay blessed.

    Pius

    #3955
  4. Pius, I keep trying to get in touch with you, hope you’re great.

    #3995
  5. [...] Uganda Beat [...]

    #4044
  6. musafiri

    there’s no smoke without a fire….I think I am one of those prepared to consider our government guilty until proven innocent…we dare not give them the benefit of the doubt any more. we have been down that road before and got our fingers burnt

    #4234
  7. [...] Uganda Beat [...]

    #4393
  8. [...] Uganda Beat [...]

    #4913
  9. [...] Uganda Beat [...]

    #6361
  10. Hello Becky
    I just read your pledge/note to President Obama on the Resolve site. just after posting my own. Could you go back and read my note so I don’t have to repeat myself too much.
    I’d love to talk to you about the possibility of having youand your contacts join me in the sale of the paper bead mecklaces and bracelets made by the orphan’s caregivers in the Children of Hope Uganda project that i support. I’m just off to Toronto’s GuluWal;k right now to sell…splitting proceeds 50/50 between my Ugandan Orphans Fund and GuluWalk. I’d love to send you pics of the jewellry and other pics of the new school and the 8 IGA’s. You and I share the same passion so it would be great to work together to help these children. I’d love to hear from you by email or 416-934-0969.

    #8938
  11. [...] Uganda Beat [...]

    #9048
  12. Iam a fan of many a forum including news,business reporting,investment,travel and lately music.
    You can always find me at

    #10136
  13. Thanks for give quite excellent informations. You’re amazing. It exhibits how very well you realize this subject.

    #11468
  14. Hello Becky I have been talking w/a youg boy that lives in Uganda/Kampala , I have been trying to find a way to help him . His name is Yasin Semakula I belive he is about 16 yr.old he has no 1 his parents are passed away,Yasin has been on his own for a very long time ,& he is so very smart & wants 2 learn,go to collage, Yasin has made it thew the regular school there but is unable to go any further on his own , I live in S.C & just dont no what to do with this matter my heart say I need to do something ,I have wrote him letters & try to keep up w/him on face book this is just not enough I am worried something bad will happen to Yasin ,he does odd jobs & keeps to him self always ! There is a older lady he speeks w/ Mrs.Mukasa Mary & her address he uses to get mail from me ! I am hopeing you will reply & give some good advice & let me tell you more about Yasi Semakula , thank you for your time Debbie L. Craine

    #20955
  15. Joan

    hi guys hope you are doing well i like also working abrod,how i wish i be thier one time God bless you all

    #39463
  16. to the comment poster above, you are absolutely right

    #72350
  17. Charles Makayi

    Hi Becky, Elated to discover this content, I’m Ugandan and married to an American college professor in Tucson (although she’e from Capecod, Mass) we would very much love to get in touch and get new updates, thanks lots.
    Charles

    #83587
  18. Christene Gustave

    I’m a huge Truex fan, and I would actually like to see him at MWR. I know DEI, gave him his big break, but DEI is no more, and EGR is sliding downhill fast. They are just not competitive. By going to MWR, he will have an owner that cares and is passionate about racing, not just operaration a museum, manufacturer support, and a team that is on the rise. So Martin, get out of EGR ASAP!! It will be good for you.

    #123375

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