Political Tourism

I managed to visit two Parliament buildings while I was in Uganda: the National Parliament, and the Parliament of the Kingdom of Buganda. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see either in session, but I did get a private tour and an opportunity to nose around.

The ‘Royal Mile’ in Mengo has the King of Buganda’s Palace at one end and the Buganda Parliament at the other. The Parliament is appointed by the King and has no legislative powers, but there are representatives from every clan in the kingdom and the idea is that they discuss issues of concern and try to agree how to address them. The debating chamber is fairly plain and simple, but probably looks rather more grand when the King and his throne are in situ. When I visited, the only decoration was the paintings of past Kings hanging on the walls.

  The Speaker's Chair  

Mengo Palace is no longer a functioning residence but it is a grand old house worth looking at from the outside and I had a guided tour of the grounds. The most notable attraction, if you can call it that, was an underground torture chamber used by Idi Amin. It is only small, but apparently hundreds of people were crammed into the tiny cells at any one time. An electrified stream prevented escape, and many died by falling or being thrown into the water by soldiers. The graffiti scrawled on the walls – some desperate, some defiant – adds to the horribly creepy atmosphere, although my guide said that much of it has been added by relatives of the victims since it fell into disuse.

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You can imagine my surprise, then, to see Idi Amin Dada smiling down at me as I stood outside the debating chamber in the National Parliament a few weeks later. The portraits of all Uganda’s former presidents adorn the walls of that particular corridor, and Amin’s hangs proudly above the entrance door. I asked my guide if he found this inappropriate, and he was a little vague in his response. He said that Amin was a president and so deserved his place in the hall as much as any other, and while he acknowledged he was controversial he said that he had the support of many Ugandans. I must say, I didn’t have the opportunity to canvass the opinions of many people on this topic.

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The inside of the chamber is familiar in design, as it is based on the British House of Commons. One difference is that if you look at the picture you will see four “naughty chairs” in the middle. Apparently these are for a group of MPs who have fallen out with their parties and – at the time of my visit, at least – it hadn’t been decided what to do with them. The carved wooden wall is, as I understand it, a representation of all the clans in Uganda, each of which has its own symbol or ‘totem’.

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I also tried to have a look around the Kenyan Parliament when I was staying in Nairobi, but was told sternly that this was not possible. I was also informed that photography of the outside of the building is forbidden and that if I wanted a memento of my visit I should do a google image search (seriously). I found that genuinely baffling, so went around the corner to take a couple of discreet snaps, before being scolded and chased away by another security guard. You ain’t seen me, right?

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After Africa…

In the end, I ran out of time to finish this off. I concluded my voluntary work in Nansana at the end of June and bid farewell to my hosts to explore a little further afield. The time went quickly but I think I was ready to move on after three months. Living so far away from home both geographically and culturally was a fascinating experience and it gave me a new perspective on a number of things, but I always felt like a visitor in Uganda. I arrived back in London a couple of weeks ago and it is a relief to be able to wander around anonymously without being the centre of people’s attention. Although I have moved home and started a new job in the short time that I have been back, I have slipped easily back into London life and I am sorry to say that Africa seems like a distant memory already. I hope to stay in touch with my hosts and remain involved in the project to some degree, but only time will tell whether that is possible alongside daily life at home.

As I said at the beginning, this is not supposed to be a travel blog. However, I would like to add a few more updates as I find the time over the next few days or weeks. I visited some interesting places in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya before flying home. If you are interested, then stay tuned for a few extra pictures and comments on my experiences. I’ll try not to take too long…

The last of many border crossings in July 2014...

The last of many border crossings in July 2014…

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A lesson for British charities from Ugandan NGOs

I said a little while ago that working for an NGO in Uganda is not so different from working in the voluntary sector in Britain, and I think it’s time I elaborated. The notion that public services can be provided by charities and other organizations on behalf of the state is one that has occupied my mind ever since I first worked in the voluntary sector back in 2009, and my Ugandan experience has made me reflect on it some more. If you’re not interested in social policy, you might want to give this a post a miss, or at least skip to the end where I say what I think we can learn from Uganda.

First of all, let me be clear what I mean by the voluntary sector. Those of you who don’t spend your spare time (or working life) reading about social policy could be forgiven for thinking that the voluntary sector is full of volunteers, or somehow doesn’t cost money. This is not the case. The best way I can define the voluntary sector is to say that it is distinct from the public sector, which is made up of state institutions, and the private sector, which comprises profit-making enterprises. It refers mostly to charities and social enterprises that provide services on behalf of local authorities. (Hopefully those of you who spend more of your working life or spare time reading about social policy than I do will forgive my imperfect definition.) Perhaps a better term to use is ‘the third sector’, as it avoids confusion with volunteering organizations.

To give an example of how this works, a local authority that has a legal duty to provide housing for homeless people can either provide and manage that housing itself or it can commission the service from the private or third sectors, meaning that it pays someone else to do it. This means that a contract is signed by the local authority commissioners and third sector provider agreeing the standards expected of the service and the amount that will be paid, which may vary according to whether certain targets are met. Typically, the service is monitored by collecting statistical information on a quarterly basis as well as periodic inspection or audit. After an agreed period, usually a few years, the service will go out to tender again so that other organizations can put in rival bids that compete on performance and/or cost. Although the providers are often charities, therefore, the services they provide are funded by public money from the local authority (or other state institution) while both staff and managers are professional people with normal contracts of employment.

That is probably more than enough background, so let me get to the point. I have worked in three charities in the British third sector and I have noticed a few common issues:

1)    The management of the organization always seem to be trying to restructure or alter employment terms so that the charity becomes or remains competitive, which frustrates staff because it means constantly having to defend their terms and conditions of employment. It is a common complaint from staff that the charity is committed in writing to being a caring and good-natured organization when it comes to service delivery, but it does not have the same caring attitude towards its staff.

2)    The charity struggles to have a strong and meaningful sense of identity. In order to be successful in a competitive market of services, it needs a brand. When it bids for new contracts, or to keep existing services, it is helpful if the commissioners recognize the brand and appreciate that the organization is competent, reliable, and committed to the right values. The thing is, most good staff in public services – be they social workers, health workers, advice workers or support staff – are committed to their profession and to serving the community, but it doesn’t much matter to them which logo appears on their stationery. This often leads to the blanket warning that “if we don’t win this contract we could all lose our jobs”, but this is only partly true. Many employees could be transferred over to the new service and simply managed by a different third sector organization, many are on temporary or agency contracts anyway, and some would be entitled to redundancy payments. What the ideology of competitive markets fails to recognize is that not everybody is motivated by competition. Charities can be forced to compete, but staff have a choice whether they want to be a part of that game.

3)    Monitoring is a mammoth task. Collecting the statistical data about every single person using a service requires full-time staff and often expensive IT systems, and they also take up the time of front-line staff who would rather be providing a front-line service.

4)    There can be a tension when organizations campaign and fundraise whilst also providing state-funded services. Personally, I am not always clear whether donors understand that many of the (often excellent) services provided by a charity are actually funded by public money, and the donations may be used for some other (perhaps equally worthwhile) purpose. If a council-funded supported housing charity is able to fund a bursary scheme for its residents through charitable donations, for example, that is fantastic for its residents. But do those individual donors know that their donations will be spent on bus fares and calculators rather than hot meals and shelter? Have they made the link between the government’s abolition of Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and the increasing need for teenage bursaries? The need to appease commissioners can also impact a charity’s ability to campaign. How much can you rock the boat when advocating for the legal rights of service users if you are challenging the same institutions on which you depend for funding?

5)    There is a shortage of trustees to provide good governance to third sector organizations. (Trustees are actually volunteers in most cases.)

6)    To me, it seems that sometimes providers become bigger than the commissioners, which challenges the basic arguments for the marketization of public services which are that it will increase competition and innovation and involve the community in service delivery. Small community groups (perhaps truly voluntary) will be unable to compete with national organizations that have public relations teams, dedicated monitoring officers, their own outsourced IT systems and ‘diverse funding streams’. The best way to succeed is to come up with a service and then sell it ‘off the shelf’ to as many local authorities as possible. Innovation is risky – better to play it safe.

None of that has stopped me from working in the third sector – I actually do enjoy the personal flexibility (although completely understand why someone with a mortgage and dependent children might feel differently) and in spite of the challenges I have outlined most people are still committed to providing the best services they can for their community. What surprised me was that when I flew over to the other side of the world and started working for a development NGO, it felt like I had been here before.

Some of the staff meetings here were almost identical to those I had experienced in London:

“We need to improve the way we capture information on our services.”

“Can someone come up with a spreadsheet for that?”

“We don’t have time to do all our home visits because of all the reports due in by the end of the month!”

“There is another organization that has just started providing a similar service nearby.”

“Staff need to be more flexible if we are to meet our targets.”

“The families we support aren’t getting their legal entitlements.”

“We need our board of trustees to take more interest in our strategic direction.”

“Can anyone help me with this funding application?”

Rather than charities, Uganda is populated by community-based Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that are commissioned by foreign governments or international NGOs to provide services to the vulnerable. Foreign aid is generally channelled directly to these local NGOs rather than through the government for political reasons (both due to a fear of wastage or corruption and due to disagreements over human rights). These NGOs are staffed by people who want to do good in their community, but they may struggle to get behind a brand identity that makes them competitive. They find it difficult to capture the statistical information required by funders and don’t have the infrastructure for fancy computer systems. Same challenges, different continent.

However, I do think I have learned one valuable lesson from Uganda that I can take back with me to the UK. In London, my various employers have tended to talk about their ‘competitors’, but here people tend to talk about ‘partners’. Organizations appear much more willing to work in partnership to deliver services, to specialize in certain areas and work alongside others without feeling threatened. It really feels like NGOs are working together towards a common cause rather than competing in a marketplace, and community forums and network meetings are common. I am not a fan of all aspects of the organizational culture here in Uganda, but I think that this idea of partnership over competition is a shining example to third sector organizations struggling with their own little identity crises over in the UK.

I’m sure it happens already in some cases, but I hope that in future British third sector service providers can meet together formally, both to agree how they can support one another and to use their collective weight to lobby public institutions for the benefit of their communities.

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“There is no story that is not true” ~ Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

I haven’t written anything for a while, but I haven’t only been distracted by football. As I was short of reading material, I turned to Shakespeare’s Hamlet on my Kindle. Although I was familiar with the story, I had not read or seen the play before and I was surprised at just how many famous lines and expressions originate therein. After that, I went to the Aristoc Booklex in Kampala and bought the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. It is apparently an African classic that is read by schoolchildren in Uganda despite being set in tribal Nigeria around the time of early colonization. I found the story interesting but more significantly it also provided me with a number of cultural reference points for life in modern Uganda. Apart from various theoretical texts when I was studying postcolonialism at university, I don’t think I had read any African books before. Reading this one led me to reflect on how much of our cultural understanding is based on literature.

It seems that almost every common expression that British people use can be traced back to one of Shakespeare’s works. Things Fall Apart did a good job of explaining how certain ways of speaking and what I might call ‘tribal’ terms and customs have their roots in traditions that predate colonization and have now evolved into modern usage in a Christian country.  If you want to put on a political hat (which I often do) you could also read it as an account of the evolution of patriarchy, or of community, or a starting point to understanding the processes of colonization itself. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in colonization or in understanding African culture.

It is a shame that I didn’t read more books like this in school, or at least earlier in life. I also wonder what the Asian and South American equivalents would be. (I’d welcome suggestions from anyone who knows!) I remember reading Wuthering Heights not so long ago and it gave me an interesting insight into the history of the concept of marriage in Britain (and put me off, if I’m honest) but I didn’t appreciate that literature can be such a useful route to understanding similar issues in African culture. For example, the neighbours dropping in on each other for no reason in particular; the love of pocket philosophy that often seems superfluous to my foreign ears; the love of dancing and creative storytelling. Of course, this book is only one version of events and one of many possible perspectives. However, as one village elder says in Things Fall Apart: “There is no story that is not true.” I think this is a useful position to take when considering different interpretations of something that one doesn’t immediately understand. There is bound to be some truth in every possibility, and you can learn something from every account. Of course, we can only make sense of anything by constructing our own story that makes sense in our own mind.

It sounds obvious with hindsight that reading will aid learning, but somehow it did not occur to me in this context. The good thing is that I can read books from another part of the world whilst sitting in a café in London. So… why don’t I?

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Lost Art

I went in search of a couple more art galleries the other day. I got a bit lost, but found them in the end.

First up, the in-house gallery at Makarere University. The campus was green and pleasant, but my photography was wonky. The main university building was closed at the time of visiting but looked pretty from the outside. The library looked substantial but I didn’t try to get in as it was pretty full with students and I didn’t have a lot of time in any case. There was a lot of green space, buildings from various periods, and a pleasing amount of campaign posters and rebellious graffiti about the place. It reminded me of the Birmingham University campus that I frequented once upon a time.

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The art gallery itself was rather small and housed a temporary photography exhibition. It was alright, but it didn’t move me particularly. I was happy to find, however, that I could just wander unhindered into various art school buildings. I’m not sure I was supposed to do this, but nobody objected, and I saw some intriguing works in progress as well as some forgotten sculptures that were being cannibalized. The table of pottery pictured was perhaps not so remarkable but all very well finished, and I liked the mural on the adjacent building.

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Next, I headed over to MishMash, which I failed to locate on my previous attempt. I found it a bit further up the road than I had expected, but the security guard informed me that it was closed for relocation. He couldn’t tell me the new location, nor when it would open, so I will have to wait and see whether it reappears before I leave the area. It’s a shame, as it sounds like an interesting place.

As a substitute, I walked up to the new shopping mall at the top of the street and treated myself to a pretty slice of cake.

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The health of nations

A friend of mine had problems with asthma this morning, so off we went with travel insurance certificate in hand to the hospital for foreigners. It wasn’t extravagant, and it reminded me of an NHS walk-in centre, except there was a cash desk in the foyer. We waited about half an hour before my friend was seen by a doctor, who ran some tests and dispensed a sizeable bag of tricks from the on-site pharmacy. It wasn’t as expensive as I had imagined, but still unaffordable to the average Ugandan.

On the way there, we passed a government hospital. If we were Ugandan then we probably would have had to join one of the queues of patients that wound out of the main doors and around the car park. I’ve seen the facilities in smaller government clinics and the buildings are basic to say the least, although there is of course a fair amount of modern kit. Drugs are less readily available.

Now, I’m no expert on health policy and I don’t know much about the system or the outcomes in Uganda. I do know from interviewing people living with HIV in Wakiso District that getting ill here is usually a costly business and even if you are treated for free you are still likely to be faced with logistical problems and struggle to cover your transport costs.

If I get ill while I am in Uganda then I will have to pay for treatment (albeit via an insurance company) wherever I go, so it wouldn’t make sense to go anywhere other than the best clinic available to me. I would, however, feel quite guilty using a facility beyond the reach of the general population.

But when I need healthcare in Britain, I receive good quality care and I don’t feel guilty, just fortunate. Ugandans don’t require an affordable private healthcare system, they deserve a good quality health service that is free to everyone according to need.

Every now and then, someone writes a comment piece saying that the NHS should be a safety net for the poorest and the general population would receive better care via private health insurance. Government policy is driven by a need for private involvement and competition. Today’s brief adventure reminded me how wrong that is. If you have a free service for the poor, the service will be poor. The private clinic we attended was better than the alternative, but it was no better than a public facility in London. Patients pay for a level of service they could receive for free from the state in a properly structured and funded system.

We in Britain should never forget how important it is to protect our National Health Service from whichever government of the day would like to mess it up.

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A tale of two cities

It’s been a while since I wrote anything, so this next post is too long.

I’ve decided that suburban Uganda does not really float my boat but, on reflection, suburban Britain isn’t my natural habitat either. I moved to London seven years ago and made the capital my home by trying to make the most of what the city has to offer. With that in mind, I’ve spent more of my free time in Kampala these past couple of weeks, generally looking around to try and find equivalents to the things I love in London. Here are a few points for comparison.

Book-worming

Two of my years in London were spent as a student, and a sizeable portion of that time was spent in libraries. I’ve grown to love the British Library, and often spent time at the weekend doing life admin in its café or public galleries. I never bothered to register for a pass to use the various reading rooms, but the building is so large, light and airy that I enjoy just hanging around. I’ve also tried out a few of London’s university libraries and some are bigger and better than others. The National Library in Kampala, imprisoned behind a barbed wire fence and housed in a dilapidated building from the 1930s, is smaller than any of these. There seemed to be more to the building than the public reading room, but all I could see was about a dozen tables crammed into the space between four walls of shelves. The selection of books was quite out-of-date, although it did cover an impressive range of subjects. I wouldn’t choose to do my online banking here on a Saturday morning, but a handful of people clearly found it a useful place to do some studying. I’ve heard that Makarere University has a better library and I will try to pay it a visit in the coming weeks.

I was slightly distressed to learn that my favourite bookshop, Foyles on Charing Cross Road, closes its doors this month before re-opening in a neighbouring building. In search of a Ugandan equivalent, I wandered the streets in the centre and close to the library. The nearest thing I could find was a “book and media centre” staffed mainly by nuns, selling religious and philosophical texts with a side-line in quackery. After enlisting the help of a Ugandan friend, I located the pleasingly large Aristoc Booklex. Unfortunately, the fiction section was rather over-stocked with Jackie Collins and Jeffrey Archer. Perhaps I’ll stick to my Kindle for the duration of my stay.

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Cultural Capital

First fixture, British Museum vs Uganda Museum. Britain wins on size by a considerable margin, and Uganda’s offering felt more like an exhibition in a university department or local authority building. However, there was a pleasing and sometimes surprising mix of artefacts in the Uganda Museum and it was well worth the visit. The exhibits gave a good cultural and natural history of Uganda from as far back as anyone can go right up to the present day. There was a small selection of musical instruments that the public could (attempt to) play, a room dedicated to Olympic memorabilia (which reminded me that a Ugandan won the men’s marathon in London 2012, a race which I attended), a model T Ford, and an interesting selection of traditional tribal huts at the back, some of which you could look around. Disappointingly, there were no picture postcards in the gift shop to send home.

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I attend most exhibitions at the two Tate galleries in London, and Tate Modern is probably my favourite place to kill a weekend. When I asked Ugandan friends where I could find an art gallery, they replied that there is no such thing in Uganda. Thankfully, they were wrong.

Art galleries in Kampala don’t compare in terms of size, and they are generally showrooms for local artists rather than public or private collections, but I enjoyed looking around the couple that I could find. The afriart gallery is a charming little house with four rooms dedicated to a monthly exhibition and two upstairs rooms stacked high with various canvasses to leaf through. The art was affordable, too, with most pieces costing a few hundred dollars. A smaller gallery, UMOJA, had some interesting sculptures, and I was unable to locate MishMash, which sounds promising as a sort of arty-farty café space. I’ll look for it again, and wonder if it will be a South Bank pop-up or a Shoreditch grotto.

I’m not a prolific theatre-goer, and my one visit to Kampala’s National Theatre proved fruitless as the only thing on was a TV recording for a talk show. However, I wandered on to Hotel Africana where I inadvertently discovered a tribal dance demonstration. It was better than Morris Dancing. I wondered why there was so much armed security until my Ugandan companion noticed that the Prime Minister was in attendance. That reminds me that I must go for a look around the Parliament building and see how it compares to Westminster.

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Pub?

I’ve not found anything approaching a traditional British pub, with most suburban bars being small sheds with a fridge and a patio area, but there are certainly some attractive bars in Kampala. London is infamous for its dearth of decent beer gardens, and that is where Kampala has the upper hand. Hotel Serena has a wonderful oasis of greenery by the side of a swimming pool, and it serves proper cake! I was delighted to track down some fish & chips in an “Irish” bar called Bubbles O’Leary’s, which actually looks nothing like an Irish bar (except for the faux-Celtic font used in the signage) and has a nice decked area away from the main road.  A handful of others I’ve visited follow the same format of a small indoor bar area surrounded by outdoor tables and benches with exotic plants providing much necessary shade.

There also seems to be a sensible reluctance among Ugandans to stand in an uncomfortably packed bar to watch football. I watched the first half of the FA Cup final in Just Kicking, a bar popular with white sports fans that was absolutely heaving. My Ugandan friends took me next door to Fat Boyz to watch the second half, where I think I was the only white person in attendance, but everyone had a seat and the atmosphere was just as lively. I’d never thought about it before, but really it’s just a case of providing enough chairs, isn’t it?

A walk in the park

Kampala is lacking in green spaces, the only serious one I’ve found being the Centenary Gardens, which is full of bars. I also think that any decent city should really have a river, and the dusty highway that bisects Kampala’s city centre is no substitute. However, if you head out towards the airport then you arrive in the former capital city, Entebbe, which has beautiful Botanical Gardens. This brings to mind an interesting comparison: Regent’s Park has carefully tended gardens, a lovely boating lake, and you can see the camels of London Zoo from the footpaths; these Botanical Gardens are on the shores of Lake Victoria, contain a mix of green pasture and beaches with palm trees, and the monkeys jump down from the forest area to run across the footpaths. Both are lovely places to run, stroll or sit, depending on your inclination.

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This little exercise hasn’t told me how much I like living in Uganda, but it has confirmed how much I like capital cities.

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A lender or a borrower be?

In the course of my voluntary work, I have been to visit some Village Savings & Loans Associations (VSLAs). These are groups of 20-30 people in a particular neighbourhood who come together to save a little money each week and then take out loans from the collective pot, either for personal expenses or to start or improve a business. At the end of the year-long cycle, the savings and profits are shared out among all members in proportion to the amount they saved.

Some of the practicalities are quite surprising – all the funds and record books, for example, are stored in a metal box with three padlocks, and the three keys are held by different members of the group to prevent anyone having unsupervised access. The interest rates on loans are quite high, but this means that the profits are higher when they are shared out among members at the end. The community based trainers who set up and recruit to these associations also provide training to members on procedures, financial literacy and business skills.

When I first read about the VSLA model, the Marxist in me piped up that this is less community development and more capitalist indoctrination, funded by the US Government’s foreign aid programme. The method of saving is the purchase of shares at weekly meetings, and the profit is down to the increase in share value. Although all shares are equal in value, the difference in the number of shares purchased by each individual (with the poorest probably borrowing more and paying more in interest as well) means that, at the end of the cycle, some people’s share will be more equal than others’. Follow-up work is done to link members with mainstream financial services once they are acquainted with the technicalities of saving and borrowing, and some of the same big players are present in Uganda as are present on British high streets.

However, when I attended the meetings I was genuinely impressed. Most people in these groups are excluded from mainstream finance either by poverty or lack of local infrastructure, and this sort of financial cooperation is opening up opportunities that simply would not normally be available to them. Saving and managing access to funds is very difficult to do as an individual or small family, but the idea of pooling resources is pleasingly collectivist. One of the groups I visited was composed entirely of women – largely by accident, rather than design – and it was fascinating to hear some of the stories of how an independent income had transformed their lives. Furthermore, the meetings were some of the most calm, friendly, efficient and orderly that I have attended. (In the UK, I have participated in many political and community meetings that had none of those characteristics.) They are well-attended, too, with very few people dropping out before the end of a fixed cycle.

The thing that struck me as I watched the members calculate balances and fill out their passbooks was that these aren’t the people who are supposed to make money out of this global economic system. They look like they are taking on the world at its own game and, if not winning, certainly giving it a run for its money. I want to learn more about these groups before I pass final judgement, and part of my role is to conduct an evaluation exercise, but my experience so far has really got me wondering: can capitalism be subversive?

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Match Day

On Saturday, I listened resignedly to the BBC World Service as Fulham were relegated from the English Premier League. On Sunday, when I should have been trying to follow the Cambridge score (they made it to the Conference play-off final again) I instead went to watch a live football match at Uganda’s Mandela National Stadium.

The Mandela National Stadium (Main Gate)

The Mandela National Stadium (Main Gate)

The stadium itself is an impressive sight as you approach along the main road from central Kampala, elevated above the city. It is shaped like many modern sports grounds: an oval structure resembling a grounded flying saucer, but instead of the more common metal frame it is cast in an earthy concrete that looks almost gold in the sunshine and dusty like an African road up-close.

There weren’t actually any turnstiles in place at the entrance, but the narrow ticket gates gave that impression. The queue to pay the 5,000 shilling entrance fee (just over a pound) was short, and the only difficulty was in trying to find out what would be the benefit of buying a 10,000 shilling “executive” ticket (I may never know). Only two sections of the ground were open, and the rest of the stadium contained layers of bare concrete benches that probably look more appealing than rows of empty plastic seats. The toilet facilities had fallen into disrepair, though the loos at Craven Cottage are hardly luxurious, I suppose. Refreshments on offer included cold soft drinks, nuts, bananas, and popcorn.

There were probably a couple of hundred supporters in attendance, and I would say that there was a more even gender mix than you would find at the average match in the English leagues. Rival supporters were not separated and there was no obvious stewarding. Consequently, there was a small group of people at the front of the stand who were loudly shouting and gesticulating at each other throughout proceedings. I counted two vuvuzelas, which were mercifully silent except at kick-off and in the approach to the final whistle. The overall atmosphere was like that of a county cricket match, with clapping and the odd bit of shouted advice rather than sustained chants or songs. The substitutes sat on a row of plastic patio chairs in the middle of the athletics track that surrounds the pitch. This track got quite dirty as the ball often landed in the sandpit, making something of a mess when retrieved. West Ham can look forward to that if they ever move into the Olympic Stadium.

Relaxing at half-time

Relaxing at half-time

The match was between Kira Young FC and Kampala Capital City Authority FC. I was nominally supporting Kampala, who were the better team and I believe are top of the league. The standard of football wasn’t great, and I say that having watched my fair share of Conference matches at the Abbey. Almost every home attack was cut short by a blatant offside, and the visiting strikers failed to connect with a number of crosses that just bounced across the penalty area and out into touch. It was an interesting experience, though, and the Kampala keeper made one blinding save, tipping a powerful shot over the bar. It finished 0-0.

A corner kick that was easily cleared by a defender

A corner kick that was easily cleared by a defender

I was glad to see that some Ugandans enjoy the experience of live football while so many are watching European matches on the telly. It was a familiar, communal experience, especially as we filed out of the exit at the end towards parked cars and waiting buses. The chaos of Kampala’s traffic seemed appropriate in the aftermath of a football match, even if in truth the two were unrelated.

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Second Impressions

A few people have asked me to post some pictures, so this update will be a disappointment. I haven’t taken pictures because:

1)    I don’t want to look like a tourist.

2)    As I said in my previous post, the most striking thing about my surroundings is the scale, and you don’t get that from a photograph. I have taken the odd snap of a hillside or highway but they just look tame and boring on a puny screen.

3)    The more interesting buildings in Kampala are surrounded by traffic and crowds of people, so finding a vantage point from which to frame a photograph is quite tricky.

4)     I’ve been quite busy.

That said, I will do my best to take some interesting pictures in the next week in order to brighten things up a bit. I also plan to write some proper reflections, rather than a list of scattered thoughts. In the meantime, here are some scattered thoughts:

1)    Mobile internet is quite reliable now that I have a 3G dongle, although speed is variable.

2)    Electricity is not so reliable, with several power cuts per week. Some last for more than a day. However, they are quite localized so it is easy enough to walk to a neighbouring suburb to pick up street food and a cold beer.

3)    Beer is always bottled, never draught. I’ve sampled three Ugandan lagers and rate them as follows: Club tastes like Carling, Bell is drinkable, Nile is actually quite nice. The price ranges from about 70p to £2 per 500ml bottle, depending on the bar. You can also buy Guinness, but have to drink it from the bottle. No sign of any real ale.

4)    One good way to kill an evening is to go out and watch European football, although the time difference means it often starts quite late. At first glance, everyone seemed to support Arsenal, but I have since observed people cheering for Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Real Madrid. I’ve yet to meet a fellow Fulham fan (or Cambridge United fan, for that matter). Enthusiasm for domestic football is not evident.

5)    Washing all your clothes by hand is annoying. Bed sheets, even more so. I do not recommend it.

6)    The weather here is often spectacular, with heavy rain storms and baking sunshine both crammed into most days. I’ve encountered the loudest thunder I have ever heard. This can make it difficult to dry your clothes after washing them, however. You have to time it right.

7)    Working for an NGO in Uganda is not so very different from working for a charity providing public services in the UK. They face many of the same challenges and operate in a similar organizational context. I’ll write more on this at some point. (More interesting than it sounds, I think.)

8)    Cake is not the same in Uganda. I miss British cake.

Hope you enjoy the long weekend – we had our public holiday yesterday…

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