Monday, October 29, 2012

Can the power of prayer stop this carnage?

HAVING survived a 500 kilometre round trip over this holiday weekend to Lake Mburo National Park, mainly thanks to excellent driver Tim, my attention was caught by these driving related stories from today’s papers.
In the Daily Monitor a follow-up story to an accident on Friday night confirmed that 16 people were dead and the driver of the truck involved “fled the scene and his whereabouts are still unknown”. It made just a single column on page 7, but did at least prompt an editorial comment “We must end the road massacres”.
Meanwhile, over in the Jinja district New Vision reports that “thousands of residents joined a campaign to cleanse the Jinja-Iganga highway of accidents”. The campaign took the form of a prayer walk and one of the organisers said they were launching a spiritual war against evil spirits responsible for the accidents.
One prayer walker told the paper: “Road accidents are masterminded by Satan. We cannot attack him using the power of the gun, but by spiritual power through prayer.”
Well, maybe, but I prefer the Monitor’s more pragmatic approach calling for a ban on importing cars more than 10 years old, having a tougher driving test and getting the police to tighten up on enforcing traffic laws.
The unholy trinity of poor condition vehicles, awful roads and terrible driving make this a city where staying in is the safest and sensible option. I saw some atrocious driving on the trip across country to the Park and travelling around is clearly a dangerous pursuit.
But, like so much here, there is little individual responsibility for the tragic state of affairs. It’s always a problem for ‘them’, but maybe not when you become one of the victims of the 22,000 accidents a year.
AND IN LATE NEWS…the New Vision website reports plans for an eight-lane highway to Kampala to Jinja. God help us all…

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Psst! Anyone seen our new 1,000 shilling coin?

BODA driver Patrick whipped the 5,000 shilling note out of my hand and sped off in a cloud of dust and exhaust fumes.
The motorcyclist’s mission, which he had duly decided to accept, was to find me the elusive 1,000 shilling coin which has been in circulation here in Uganda for two weeks but doesn’t seem to have found its way into many pockets.
The new coin, worth about 25p, was minted to commemorate the 50th Independence Anniversary of Uganda. It is an attractive two-tone gold and silver and circulates alongside the 1,000 shilling note, the country’s most popular and grubbiest note.
So how are the good people of Kampala receiving the latest addition to their currency? Our top team of investigative journalists from Victoria University took to the streets and found that just over a third of those questioned didn’t even know the coin existed.
The rest had known about it, but only half of them had used it and just a third had kept one mainly as a memento and didn’t intend spending it.
Our team also had to secure a coin for themselves, a quest that about half managed but sometimes not without an added ‘bonus’ of another 1,000 shillings to the provider.
So in just a couple of hours they made a story for themselves. Using the basic press release from the Bank of Uganda they developed a story that will resonate with most Ugandans. Along the way they talked to more than 100 people, practised their interviewing skills and proved that my mantra of ‘be cheerful, be confident’ really does work.
The media here does a good job of covering the basics of politics, crime and breaking news but there’s precious little that involves the reader and makes them feel like ‘this is for us’. In a few more years I hope these folk will be showing how it’s done.
And what of Patrick and my 5,000 shilling note? I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t think he’d come back. But he did, complete with shiny new coin and some change. I gave the spoils to reporter Olympia (above) who was struggling to find her own. 
Generous to the last....

Friday, October 19, 2012

Meet our street cleaners, who clear 20 tonnes a day

A MATHS lesson from Mr Achilles Byaruhanga, the big cheese at Nature Uganda:
If there are 10,000 marabou storks in Kampala eating up to 2kg of discarded food a day, how much rubbish do they collect from the streets?
It is, of course, drum roll….20 tonnes. Yes, 20 tonnes.
I’m always encouraging reporters and students to ‘draw the story’ to make sure they appreciate the scale of what they are writing about and ensure there is enough happening to make it interesting.
But even I’m struggling with what 20 tonnes of discarded food looks like. All I know is that it’s a lot.
The topic came up after an insightful question from one of our Victoria University students as we quizzed Mr Byaruhanga about Big Birding Day, which launches here in Kampala today.
The ungainly creatures, dubbed ‘Africa’s Ugliest Bird’ by wildlife writer Jon Blanc, flollop around Kampala building their giant nests in trees and scavenging at the many heaps of rubbish that decorate the city.
So rather than being a pest, like London’s pigeons, Mr Byaruhanga says we should view them as unofficial garbage collectors without which we’d all be a lot worse off.
Rubbish here is deemed by many citizens as a collective problem for someone else rather than an individual responsibility. Food, food wrappers, drinks containers, household rubbish, newspapers and even office materials are discarded without a care of where it will end up or who will deal with it.
So, I say thank-you Mr and Mrs Marabou and long may you stalk the highways and byways of Kampala.
They will no doubt be among the 1,000 or so species Nature Uganda hopes will be identified in tomorrow’s Big Birding Day, a 24-hour bird watching contest to see who can spot the most different sorts of birds.
Bird watching is a $20m a year business in Uganda and a series of events this week is designed to help promote to country as a serious birding destination. 

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Call in now – more cheaters exposed!

If there is anyone you know that plans to break your relationship or your pal’s bond by sleeping with them, send info to 0772760922
I KNOW you all like to imitate/steal a good idea so hold on tight and try this one for size.
The Red Pepper – Kampala’s most expensive newspaper at 2,000 Ugandan shillings, about 50p – runs a weekly spread called ‘Cheaters’. Readers follow the teaser above to phone in and expose friends, neighbours, colleagues doing what they shouldn’t oughtta.
Whether they are all genuine I doubt (some are signed Roberto Carlos and Prince Edward!) but my local informants tell me there are some real cheaters in here who are now heading for some serious discussions with ‘er indoors.
I’m not yet quite up to speed with Ugandan morality, but while polygamy – or at least having lots of children with different women – appears commonplace it seems ‘cheating’ is frowned upon.
And genuine or not they are full of the detail that I tell students and reporters everywhere that really makes a story sing. Last word with ‘Ben’:
He is a city engineer attached to one of the popular construction companies. He cheats on his wife with Mugaso who works with the President’s office. They happen at Steers along Kampala Road.
So now we know. A weekend African safari on me to the first editor who goes with this one…