“The nurse who injected a child with HIV blood”: Media propaganda in Uganda

10 02 2014

You have probably seen or heard the story of “the nurse who injected a child with blood”. Yes? Well the nurse’s name is Namubiru. I saw this story on NTV Akawungeezi – the Luganda version at seven in the evening. See the video clip below.

My first reaction was irritation and deep inside I was wondering, how could a nurse who is over 50 (judging from her looks) be so heartless? At the same time I was reflecting on a post I wrote on the recent World AIDS Day – Are we “Getting to Zero”?: The HIV/AIDS blame game in Uganda.

This story really bothered me, the thought that a nurse could do such (to a child), made me sick in the stomach. Since then, I have followed the developments on this story. Once in a while I could catch a news byte to update myself on the case.

As I continued to follow the story I learned that there were actually two different narratives and both of them were victimizing the nurse. One said that “the nurse used the same syringe she had used on her self to give a child a shot yet she was aware that she is HIV positive” while the other said that “the nurse had injected the child with HIV positive blood”.

Mid last week I was listening to Sanyu FM’s news and the nurse’s case was mentioned again “the trial of the HIV positive nurse who injected a child with blood is set for Friday this week….. After the incident, the child was tested and found HIV positive yet the parents of the child are both HIV negative..”

The other day I met some people who are following this nurse’s case. They mentioned that they were from court and that the nurse had been denied bail. They asked whether I knew anything about that case.

I told them what I knew – basically the narrative that the media was spreading wildly; that the nurse injected a child with blood and infected her with HIV. Little did I know that this was far from the truth.

This is how I learned the other story, one that is not known to many. According to the people who have interacted with the nurse and the parents of the child, the nurse did not actually inject the child with blood.

What happened is that the child was on treatment and this nurse was supposed to administer a shot. Of course the nurse had a syringe in her hand. But we all know how much children fear pricking. So the child tried to resist and in the process the nurse pricked her (index) finger.

The mistake the nurse did is going ahead to use the syringe that had pricked her on the child – why she didn’t do this, you and I will probably never know but she (the nurse) insists that she didn’t have any ill intentions against the child.

The other thing I learned is, even though the nurse is HIV positive, apparently the child has been tested for HIV at least twice since the incident and she has tested negative on both occasions. If this is true, why does the Urban TV report – “Baby infected with HIV“?

What does this kind of reporting mean for the child in question. If the child is HIV negative, how will the narrative be reversed? Of course normally the media will rush into reporting without thinking about the damage this could cause to this child, her family or even the nurse who now seems to be a public enemy.

The media has succeeded in telling us just what we want to hear. Human nature is characterized with complaining, victimizing and well, hypocrisy; the media uses those same characteristics to tell us a story that we can identify with, a story that will win our hearts. The New Vision picture below shows a picture of the nurse, Namubiru looking terrified.terrified-Namubiru

Once the media has set the ground with all their propaganda, the nurse story becomes of no relevance, even if she tells her story, how many people will be interested in listening to it? And this is where the danger of a single story comes in.

In the end, media houses have nothing to lose. People enjoy reading these unbalance because they are easier to understand and easy for the journalists to compile in a short time.

Here are some of the headlines from some of the most popular media houses in Uganda.

Nurse Who Injected Child With HIV Blood Denied Bail – Red Pepper

Woman arrested for injecting baby with HIV infected blood – New Vision

How a nurse injected baby with HIV blood – The Observer

Baby infected with HIV – Urban TV

Lack of professionalism  or Ignorance?

When I see stories like this in the media only one thing comes to my mind – that after many decades of reporting on HIV/AIDS, journalists and editors have learned nothing, nothing at all. Many journalists have failed to understand that they have a role to play in the fight against HIV/AIDS and that their role is not to spread the gospel of discrimination but to educate people through telling true and balanced stories.

“Our health reporting is really lacking, we need training to help us understand those scientific terms and jargon language….” I have seen journalists front this excuse on several occasions. Well, I am NOT buying that no more! We are talking about the basics here, if you cant tell a simple story as it is, without fabricating the facts, am afraid even training on health reporting won’t benefit you much.

Screen Shot 2014-02-10 at 10.18.06 AM

When I look at how the media has portrayed this nurse’s story, I feel hopeless. I learned that this nurse has a daughter. With this kind of reporting, the nurse becomes a public enemy even before the public knows verdict.

However, I still have faith that when the media and journalism is dies (if its not dead already), there are still people who are willing to tell and hear the balanced story, not to victimize or discriminate but to seek justice and make the world a better place.

Anti-Pornography Bill – the hidden agenda: READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!

9 04 2013

The talk on social networks in Uganda is now focusing on the Mini-Skirt. Many of my friends both male and female have posed the question: “What is a mini skirt?” Or what makes a skirt “mini”?

I would be arrested for posting such a photo!

I would be arrested for posting this photo and you would be arrested for viewing it!

The talk about the mini-skirts bill followed Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister, who said that ‘Any attire which exposes intimate parts of the human body, especially areas that are of erotic function, are outlawed. Anything above the knee is outlawed. If a woman wears a miniskirt, we will arrest her.’

The minister’s statements are further emphasized in the proposed Anti-Pornography Bill. A hard copy of the bill continues to be circulated on the internet but not many people will read it. There are mixed reactions over the bill among Ugandans. According to the media, the bill seeks to ban mini-skirts which is unacceptable to majority of the young ladies and yet a recent radio-poll survey shows support from Northern Uganda supports the mini-skirt ban.

Yesterday night I had the opportunity to review and interpret the bill together with Rosebell (a journalist) and Peter (a lawyer). Our interest in reviewing the bill was to inform ourselves on the content of the bill in order to share with fellow Ugandans especially those using social media.

After reading the bill it was simple for the three of us to come to a common conclusion. That this bill is nothing but another tactic for the government to continue trolling on people’s human rights and most importantly access to information.

Even though the bill seeks to address key issues such as child pornography, the bill does not respect culture, the media and most importantly people’s freedom to conduct business and access information.

According to the bill, “a person shall now produce, or traffic in, publish, broadcast, procure, import, export or abet any form of pornography.” Any one who does this commits an offense and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding UGX 10,000,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or both.


RedPepper is a national tabloid that is known for printing and reporting on what some people would call sexually explicit content. Now, millions of people buy this paper from hundreds of vendors around the country. This means that the author, editor, vendor and reader of RedPepper could (and will) be among the victims of this bill.

Maybe RedPepper deserves that. The minister also said that, “television should not broadcast a sexy person”. If you like Iryn Namubiru’s music videos, Juliana, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and the like, if this bill is passed into a law you will never see such videos on your TV sets ever again!

And for you social media junkies who like to party and share your photos on Facebook, be aware that this bill seeks not only to regulate what you post or read on the internet. The bill seeks to install software that will monitor your internet activity. Internet service providers have been tasked to monitor every single user and report those who produce, share or view pornography.

Question remains, what is pornographic (content) to you? If a Muganda went to Karamoja I am sure they would be offended when they see the Karamajong walking with their behinds exposed. But this is part of the Karamajong culture, and part of how they dress, behave and dance defines who they are!
This afternoon Rosebell, Peter and I are hosting a tweetup to discuss the Anti-Pornography Bill. Details of the event – https://www.facebook.com/events/147949672045789/

Download the Bill here: – Anti Pornography bill 2011

Also follow #AntiPornBillUg, #SaveTheMiniSkirts and #SaveMiniSkirt on Twitter

The role of media in igniting or ending crisis: #KenyaDecides

4 03 2013

Yesterday I went to the cinema with my friend Rosebell hoping to catch a good action or comedy movie. As soon as we got there we realized we had to choose between watching Django Unrated and Ni Sisi, a Kenyan movie.

It had never crossed my mind that I would go to the cinema to watch a Kenyan movie! We decided to watch Ni Sisi because we were aware that Kenya was barely 20 hours away from the hotly contested presidential polls.

Ni Sisi is a Swahili word that means, “It is us”. The movie features three women – a pastor, a market vendor and a hairdresser. It revolves around the life of these women, their children and an aspiring member of parliament – Mzito.

Jabali, the main character is a son of Nene, the pastor. Mzito is used Jebali’s mother to spread rumours and hate, and together they almost destroyed the village community.

One night Jebali had a dream, in the dream the election romours caused unrest in the village. Men with machetes killed people and burned houses. Jebali’s own cousin Roxana and aunt Zippy were among the dozens of victims.

Like in many superhero movies, Jebali was frightened as he shared the dream with his mother and relatives. His family did not take his dream seriously but with Roxana’s support the duo excavated the dream to end the rumours and calm the situation.

Jebali confronted Mzito on one of his campaign rallies in Nene’s church and accused him of spreading false rumours. This inspired other people to speak up against this politician.


Ni Sisi is just one of the hundreds of civic education campaigns and its aim is to promote peace and a unified Kenyan identity in preparation for the 2013 elections.

In 2007 when the results of the presidential elections were announced, there was a rumour that the vote was rigged. A few days later violence engulfed Kenya; over 1,100 people were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced. The biggest fear as the Kenyans went to vote today was that there would be a repeat of the 2007 events.

As the poll day drew closer tension started mounting again. The talk about the events that happened in 2007 started surfacing again. The New Vision’s cover page yesterday had a headline “Kenyans flee to Uganda ahead of the vote!”.

Today as the Kenyans went to vote there was a lot of uncertainty. The morning started off with sad news; men with machetes attacked and killed four police officers in the coastal town of Mombasa.

Kenyan citizens are using social media to tweet and retweet instant updates as the polls take course to keep the rest of the world updated. This morning I added my own voice to the millions of tweets to wish my Kenyan friends peace.

This is the major reason why some people urge that citizen journalism is killing traditional journalism. But the way new media works is it gives anyone freedom to take control of it and share their opinion fast and wide.

Media reports about the election process in Kenya can easily influence people’s reaction or even mislead them. I know that the media has the right to operate freely but it must operate in an ethical way. Understanding and respecting the aspect of culture is very important and it helps NOT to speak too fast.

Foreign media houses such as CNN have a record of making their stories “sexy” for their international audience. One of their stories in 2012 angered Kenyans when CNN interpreted grenade attacks in Nairobi as “Violence in Kenya”. Thanks to social media the Kenyans quickly hit back at CNN forcing CNN to take the story down and immediately apologize.

Ni Si Si got me thinking deeply about the people of Kenya, my friends who live and work there. It also got me thinking about what peace in Kenya means to countries like Uganda and Rwanda that depend on Kenya’s Mombasa port for most of their consignments.  In 2007 Uganda suffered the biggest fuel shortage ever. Fuel prices skyrocketed in a matter of hours and in a couple of days the transportation system was almost crippled.

My tweet of the day came from Calestous Juma ‏@calestous  “BREAKING NEWS: Foreign reporters clash in #Kenya amid growing scarcity of bad news. #kenyadecides

I believe that from the civic education campaigns Kenyans have learnt how to handle and validate information. One thing true, Kenyans have learnt how to use social media to tell their own stories. No wonder Nairobi is one of the fastest growing tech hubs in the world.

For now we do not know what will come out of the elections but we know that the election process has been by far too good. And I can tell you this because I know that in Uganda it doesn’t get better than this either.

I hope that the process ends peacefully and that the people of Kenya continue to stand together and pray for peace for their great nation.

Question remains, has the media learnt a lesson from the previous events?

The big shift in the flow of knowledge – From Developing Countries to the “Developed Countries”

11 04 2012

Pupils in Kitgum, Northern Uganda

Uganda before me

So Great Britain colonized Uganda for 66 years (from 1896 to 1962). In 1962 Uganda got her independence and since then Uganda has been led by Ugandan presidents. Somewhere in between 1962 and 1986 there were quite a number of civil wars and military coups in Uganda.

In 1987 I was born, was a few months after the end of the war which saw the incumbent president of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni over throw Idi Amin.  My mother told me a lot of stories about the 1986 coup and how my family had to move places running away from war.

The real story

But that is not the real story. The real story is that even though developing countries have over the years looked up to the so called “developed countries” as the sources of knowledge, pace and trend makers, in reality there has been a huge backward-shift in knowledge and information sharing patterns. Today we are witnessing more knowledge gaps in the developed countries. We are seeing outstanding personalities originally from the developing countries rising on to the international scene.


Unfortunately on many of my international trips people still ask me about Idi Amin – one of my recent encounters was in South Africa in 2010 when a stranger from Zimbabwe read off my conference tag that I was from Uganda. He posed a bit before he asked me – so, you are from Uganda? The land of Idi Amin.

Usually I want to tell people that I never even knew him (Idi Amin) – even though I learnt a lot about him in School. I was born a year after the fall of his regime and even though he was the president of Uganda at some point, his legacy doesn’t represent the Uganda/ Ugandans of today. But then again how much can you teach a person whose knowledge about your country is only until 1986?

Earlier I watched this “A Dam Relief begins in May 2012 – Uganda’s Truth will follow” video and at some point a bunch of Americans are asked what they know about Uganda or even whether they have considered coming to Uganda on holiday – the lady in the video says “Uganda has never actually appeared to me as a place for holiday”!

The Uganda I live in

This is when I want to scream that Uganda is actually the Pearl of Africa, home to the Source of the Nile, the famous snow capped Mountain Rwenzori, Lake Bunyonyi the second deepest lake in Africa, home of various and unique cultures. That Uganda flourishes with wild life..holds the most potential in uncovered wild life.. That Uganda is a peaceful country and full of life.

More Knowledge gaps

It is quite interesting and rather DEPRESSING every time I learn that people in the so called developed countries know so little about Uganda and other developing countries at large. I watched the above video just a few minutes ago and all I see is a huge imbalance in knowledge.

On my international travels people ask me “where did you learn to speak English? Its quite interesting to hear that you can speak so well!” So I explain how English is my official language extra. Apart from speaking English so well, I also know a lot about North America, parts of Europe, Asia and of course lots about Africa – the cultures, economic activities or geography of these regions. This is because my (Uganda’s) education system makes it mandatory for me to learn about the world at different levels through my education.

When I reflect on all this ignorance I appreciate that my education system opens boarders and teaches me about the parts of the world which as a child or student I never even imagined I would visit in my life. As I speak, I have been blessed to see different countries across Africa, parts of North America, Asia and spent a couple of hours in Middle East.

However, I am very much concerned and disappointed when I learn that the rest of the world learns almost nothing about my country, culture extra.

The new era of human interaction

Thank God for the social media and interactive social networks! People can now share information and learn about cultures in very interactive ways. But then again, this opportunity is a take or leave for many of the young teenagers who should learn about as much about the world they live in.

Question remains: Is this shift in the knowledge sharing patterns going to be effective if the countries in the west do not make it mandatory for the children to learn about the east the same way my education system does?


My take on KONY2012 Campaign and Lessons learnt

8 03 2012

Disclaimer: Even though I write from an informed perspective, my comments do not represent the voices of millions of survivors or victims of the war in Northern Uganda and Central Africa at large. I have seen some people on twitter being rude about my opinions on KONY2012. If you are interested – READ below else hold your peace forever! Again, dont ask me why I havent stopped Kony or whether I intend to stop him and how. I am a civilian and I have my own ways of promoting social change, peace and reconciliation in Uganda – through promoting and sharing skills on use of technology to enhance access information and advocating for human right. That I have done!

I can’t certainly remember the first time I saw Kony’s photo in Uganda’s newspaper. What I certainly remember is that his picture has been stuck in my mind since then. I cant forget his famous picture with dreadlocks, wearing the army uniform – he sure looked “bad”. Since then every other day I learnt that Kony was and is a bad guy. There were more horrible stories of his crimes against humanity as I grew up in the newspapers, on radio and television. Stories such as: how Kony abducted children and turned them into child soldiers, how he rapped women, burnt them alive or even ripped off their lips! Of course there were some controversial stories where Kony denied some of the reported crimes claiming that they were committed by the Uganda People’s Defense Force to tarnish his image. This was very hard to believe because if Kony had an image, he had tarnished it himself.

Now that you are reading this you have probably already seen the KONY2012 video or heard about it somewhere. The KONY2012 campaign video which started going viral just 2days ago has been viewed over 32 million YouTube (also available on Vimeo).  The topics #StopKony and #KONY2012 are trending on twitter.

The Campaign is aimed at making Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his capture – according to Invisible Children’s co-founder Jason Russell.

If you have seen the video and you think that KONY2012 is a brilliant campaign, you should read on.

Fact about Joseph Kony:

  1. He is a war lord and together with his Lord’s Resistance Army, he has committed terrible crimes against humanity
  2. Kony was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005
  3. For over 26years Kony abducted children and turned them into child soldiers in Northern Uganda
  4. Kony fled Uganda with the LRA in 2008 following Operation Lightening Thunder in which the US provided financial support and equipment to Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF). Kony is expected to be somewhere in Central Africa jungle – probably Congo or South Sudan.

My basis of criticism:

I despise Joseph Kony and the LRA but I have no confidence in Invisible Children. Rebuilding Northern Uganda should be through promoting peace and reconciliation NOT through endorsing war – (I wonder whether you have seen the picture of Jason Russell (of Invisible Children) posing with weapons and SPLA -http://bit.ly/9R8bDd). Human Rights Activists don’t show off with guns like this – I know this because I am an activist myself! A picture like this actually declares war. There is a difference between an armed civilian or “human rights activist” and a soldier.

Kony fled Uganda because of the pressure from Uganda People’s Defense Forces, this is evidence that Uganda has made some remarkable progress in fighting the LRA. Why is Invisible Children not pressuring the Uganda Government to collaborate with regional forces in Central Africa – South Sudan and Congo to capture Kony? This is a gap that this campaign leaves uncovered. Such a gap continues to create an impression that Africa cannot bring the desired change without western support.

The approach this campaign takes is aimed at deriving support from the United States and other western countries to intervene. It’s about time that the whole world realised that Africa appreciates the support (foreign aid and donations) but we – Africans want to be more involved in solving our own problems. Over the years Africans have tried to prove to the world that we can contribute sustainable solutions not just to Africa’s problems but also to some of the world’s biggest challenges. The problem is that, often Africa’s opinions are disregarded. I must acknowledge that it’s partly an African problem – that some lazy Africans like to be provided for – or spoon-fed.

@RosebellK reckons here “my major problem with this video is that it simplifies the story of millions of people in Northern Uganda and makes out a narrative that is often heard about Africa – about how hopeless people are in terms of conflict the only people off this continent can help and yet that is not entirely true: there are local initiatives to end this war…”

In the video Invisible Children claims that they pressured the US government to intervene. “After 8 years of work, the government finally heard us, and in october of 2011 100 American advisers were sent in to Central Africa to assist the Ugandan Army in arresting Kony and Stopping the LRA. It was the first time in History that the United Stated took that kind of action because the People demanded it. Not for self defense but because it was right.” Says Jason Russell.  This is not necessarily true because as a Ugandan I know that the United States has provided a lot of financial support to the Uganda government to fight Kony since 2008’s Operation Lightening Thunder. This is one example of the many flaws in the video. And I must say that KONY2012 is a misrepresentation of the voices of Ugandans and Central Africans who have been victims of this war.

“I find this strange… The Ugandan military together with some local militias fought for 20 years to uproot Kony from Northern Uganda, Most of these service men died in this war. Without any state of the art technology nor weapons, they were able to defeat Kony…. But to date, no one gives them credit for that! No one… When the US sends 100 “military advisors”, then all of a sudden, 15million people share one “video” showing that they really care! Where were they all this time???? With or without these so called military advisors, Kony will be brought to justice by the men and women in the Ugandan Armed forces!!!! For they are our true heroes! We don’t need to make this crook famous for he ain’t anything…” comment from a Facebook Friend

The message this campaign brings to me is based on mostly events which happened in Northern Uganda in 2003 – since Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fled Uganda, the strategy of this “war” must change. People of Northern Uganda are in the process of rebuilding their communities based on peace and reconciliation. It is evident that people are already settling back in their abandoned homes.

“We will fight war”  “We will stop at nothing” – as stated by the action group in the video. The issue is messages or slogans like this are very provocative.  Daring Kony in a mocking way like this could cause more pain to the people in Central Africa. Such statements could either make Kony weaker or stronger – the later is more likely to happen. I wonder whether Jason thought through the consequences of using such words before he used them! I want Kony captured but not through use of provocative statements which could cause more harm than good!

Just like Invisible Children many non-profit organizations continue to market their work in the name of “helping Africans” the only difference is that, some campaigns collapse even before they start.

Lessons learnt from #KONY2012: For Western Countries

  • People in America, UK and other countries spend more time paying attention to events in their own little bubbles that they know so little about the world. When such people encounter a campaign like #KONY2012 they will think that it’s actually going to change the world in a snap.
  • If you are seeking to solve a problem outside your own country involve the people who are being affected/ local people. The magnitude of some problems is much bigger than you would anticipate and some of your approaches will not necessarily work.
  • It’s a western syndrome to think about Africans as a bunch of helpless goons. That we are not. And again if you think this way, this is another reason for you to get out of your deadlocked-bubble
  • It’s important to think about the consequences of your campaign before you make it go viral

Lesson Learnt from #KONY2012: For Ugandans and Africans at large

  • Like the saying goes “if you don’t speak for yourself, someone will speak for you”. This is exactly what Jason Russell is doing – speaking for a bunch of “voiceless Ugandans”. But even as a storyteller I will tell you that there is a multiplicity of stories. And no one can ever tell my story for me!
  • Foreign aid and support has greatly contributed to our economies but has also made corruption rampant in our governments because of lack of transparency and accountability. Our economies have now grown to be sustainable and it’s about time we quenched the “begging syndrome”.
  • Be careful when you deal with the international media and other international organizations they can take away your dignity in the name of “social good”. From my travels I have had several encounters where people ask me about Idi Amin. Branding Uganda based on Idi Amin’s actions and Kony’s atrocities is unacceptable – this doesn’t make our international image, it makes it worse! Actually there is more to Uganda than that. There is a part of Uganda’s history which is PAST and that doesn’t determine who we are now.

The bottom line is the people in Northern Uganda have seen enough weapons, wars and been oppressed enough. They just want to live a new (normal) life – without war. Plus, the child soldiers are not total strangers; they are relatives of the survivors or victims – brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews of the same oppressed people. The children were used and now, they are caught up in a war which was never theirs. I would really appreciate this campaign if Invisible Children really worked with people in (Northern) Uganda and the regional governments to bring this desired change as opposed to mobilising people who technically have no influence in this region.

I have been to different parts of Northern Uganda where Kony’s army committed most of these crimes and I have talked to people. Even though the memories of this terror is still fresh in their minds, they are ready to start a new life and indeed this is already happening.

Now we all know that NGOs need donations to remain in “business” but then again what happened to ethics? From my point of view, Invisible Children is using the story of KONY to solicit more money from their supporters. And this is NOT okay because it is misrepresentation of the people of Uganda who endured many years of pain and now settling back in their homes.

Other Important Opinions about KONY2012:

Reflecting on 2011 – Uganda: Pictures of the year by Edward Echwalu

20 12 2011

2011 has been a great year with lots of remarkable achievements but on issues of governance I must say that, 2011 has been a very disappointing year! If you asked me, 2011 has been a year of the civil society in Uganda. The civil society has continued to show their influence and strength amidst pressure and oppression from the Uganda government. Citizen took to the streets to protest high food and commodity prices – “the Walk to Work campaign”, Civil society also protested against the government’s directive to give away part of Mabira Forest to the Sugar Cooperation of Uganda Limited. Social and Digital Media were key tools in mobilizing.

Walking a lone street, downtown Kampala. - Photo by Edward Echwalu

For many Ugandans 2011 has been full of tonnes of sad moments and memories. Memories that will probably not go away in a short time. The year started off with a lot of energy as Ugandan went to polls; to vote for the president (February, 2011). There was a big wave of anticipation – wishing that this would be the time of “change”. A time for Uganda to vote “right” and have a new president.

Question was, if Uganda voted for a new president, what would be next?

Anyways, this was was all wishful thinking – Museveni who has been president since 1986 won with a landslide victory (as usual).

Edward Echwalu a professional Ugandan photo journalist followed all of these events and his blog post gives you a comprehensive summary of the events with pictures. PICTURES OF THE YEAR 2011.

DISCONNECTED: The Digital Divide in Apac District Exposed!

24 08 2010

When the local Television channels will not broadcast without a DSTV connection, no Broadband, and no radio – except for one Community Radio! What would do you do?

Exposing the Digital Divide - Local TV NOT working, No Broadband, Just one Community Radio and Mobile Phones!

This week I am in Apac District – Northern Uganda facilitating a Website training at Kubere Information Centre (KIC) a project of Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET).

Apac town is one of the disconnected towns in Uganda. People here; need DSTV (Dish Television) to watch local TV channels. There are no telephone lines – which means you cannot access broadband internet. They only have one community Radio (Radio Apac – 92.9) – this means that the rest of the local and international radio stations wont broadcast here.

During the lunch break, we went to one of the local restaurants, the TV set is playing in DVD Move – we are watching a Nigerian movie (they are very famous here). Do you have a TV set at your house? – I asked one of my friends.  “No”, she replied. “I don’t need it, TV is only good when you can watch local TV channels. TV works very well in Lira (a neighboring district) but here, it won’t broadcast!”

Another friend I talked to said, “when I want to watch the news, I will just go to any of the local bars where they have DSTV.”

Life is very cheap and expensive here at the same time! Personally, I cannot imagine life without TV – I want to be able to watch the news on local Television when I can, I want to be able t listen to radio – both local and international (like BBC).

Information and communication technology continues to become popular in many corners of the world, even in the developing countries. Now, the Digital Divide is wider and more visible than ever!

This is not my first time in Apac but this time I have learned something new and rather very inconveniencing. But life here continues. Through out the day, I see people walking in and out of this information to read the daily newspaper, agriculture information material and to access the internet.

Its times like this that I get to appreciate the power of a mobile phone. My cellphone is working very well, and thats why I can use my Mobile Internet Dongle to access the internet via GPRS. The internet is pretty slow and unstable but at least thats the reason I am still connected  with my friends in Kampala and all around the world.

And Radio Apac ( the community radio) is really doing wonders here. Its the only working/ broadcasting FM radio station in this town. Everybody tunes into it. Last night, I tuned in to Radio Apac using my radio-enables mobile-phone. They use a mix of English and Luo (the native language here), playing some decent music and actually download a couple of podcast from Voice of America radio (VOA) and play them back for the listeners here in Apac!

Our stake holders should do better than this. The government should invest more funds in development of community radios, information centres (Telecentres) and infrastructure to facilitate communication not just in “big cities” – but also down to the grassroots.

Youth, Rural Development and ICT: ARDYIS Essay Contest Extended to 15 August 2010!

26 07 2010

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), in collaboration with FARA, Yam-Pukri, CAFAN, AYF, ANAFE, PAFPNET, has recently launched an essay writing contest on “Youth and ICTs in Agriculture and Rural Development”.

Youth finding solutions to challenges in agriculture and rural development using ICT !

The deadline to submit is extended to 15 August 2010.
The essay contest is open to young people aged 18 – 25 years old, from urban or rural areas of Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific countries. Win up to 1,500 Euros, make your voice heard and improve your capacity by submitting your essay today!

Interested? : Read Details here:- http://ardyis.cta.int/en/activities/awards/item/48-awards/48-awards

Lake Katwe – The Salt “Gardens” in Uganda!

2 03 2010

On a small lake – Lake Katwe located in Western Uganda, Kasese district-located in the East African rift valley region. The water in this lake is 60% salty. The region is semi-arid and the soil doesn’t favour agricultural activities. Therefore the major economic activity here is salt mining.

Salt has been extracted from this lake since the 13th Century. It’s mined from small plot. When I saw the plots I got surprised. They are not the common plots of land like the ones you will find in central, Eastern or other parts of Western Uganda. These “plots” are ponds 10 by 12 feet or so wide and 3 to 5 feet deep. They are demarcated on the shores of the lake, owned by private individuals or families and inherited. Mining in the center of the lake is only done by licensed individuals. The association for Rock Salt Extraction issues the licenses for extraction of rock salt from the middle of the lake. This type of arrangement was made to ensure that the salt is extracted in an orderly process without causing extinction.

"Plots" on  the shores of lake Katwe

"Plots" on the shores of lake Katwe

There are three major types of salt mined from this lake:

  1. Crude salt for animal leak
  2. Edible salt (sodium chloride)
  3. Unwashed salt

Two types of activities take place in this region and the roles are specified for the women and men.

  • Salt winning (winning salt from the plots – done by the women).
  • Rock salt extraction is done by the men – 3 days a week.

The women scrap the bottom of the garden to scoop the salt. They use their feet to crash the salt to form small/fine crystals and then wash the crystals forming edible salt (washed salt/ sodium chloride).

Some of the ladies who work in the salt mines.

“In this village mention rain and people will curse you to death! We don’t like rain at all. Last night it rained that’s why people are all relaxed now and not working. Our major source of power is the sun. When it rains the gardens flood and the salt takes longer to form. The sun on the other hand makes the process of salt formation faster”, said Nicholas as he was taking us around the lake.

Health implications:

The smell of hydrogen sulphide is all over the place (smells like rotten eggs).

There are health complications in this job however. For the women when the female reproductive organs get in contact with this salty water more often, they develop uterus complications.

On average one man extructs up to 1,000kgs of salt per day and he earns Ugx3,000 (USD1.50). On the side of the path are the plots (ponds) where the salt is mined.

The men on the other hand are also affected. When the male organs get in contact with this salty water, they itch. This makes them scratch their male organs causing wounds.

The men enter the water at 8am and work up to 5pm. They work for three days a week and each man extracts more than 1000kgs per day.

“We are lucky that in this village we have never had any health complications caused by lack of iodine in the body say goiter”, said Nicholas as he was taking us around the lake.


“At the moment we don’t have a permanent solution to these problems. However we have tried to improvise temporally solutions to both the male and female problems in regard to the health implications”, says Nicholas a tour guide. “The

Stacks of unwashed salt

women have been advised to use pad before they enter the water. This helps to reduce on the amount of “salt water” entering their reproductive organs.”

“For the men, we are using the wrong tool (condom)”. We call it the wrong tool because it’s meant for a totally different purpose. But under the circumstances we have nothing to do about it. The men fit the condom with a rubber-band on the upper end to make it firm” explains Nicholas. This prevents salt water from getting in contact with the male organs.

Apparently a company called International Power Foundation is designing a more permanent solution for them in form of “protective suites”.

I took the liberty of talking to a few locals both men and women. When I asked about the major problems in this area they said that they still have problems accessing medical care. Malaria remains a very big threat to both the adult and children. They have a small health centre which they feel is not

plots - locally known as "ebibanja"

enough. The nearest governmental hospital (Kagando Hospital) is 14 kilometers away and in case of an emergency transport to the hospital is a big challenge. Kilembe hospital (another big hospital) is located 30 or so kilometers away.

The environment is dirty, plus the luck of pit latrines, cholera outbreaks are also very common around the lake/ mines.

The total population in this area is over 20,000 people of whom 10,000 benefit directly or work on the 4,000 plots around the lake in this salt mine.

internet governance in Uganda

20 09 2009

The idea of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) recently hosted in Kampala is to popularize IG issues and to galvanize critical regional issues, which are then elevated to the global internet governance forum.

Status of the internet in Uganda

According to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the regulator, an increasing number of Ugandans are accessing the internet. In a recent market update, the regulator reported the there was continued growth in mobile (wireless) internet access, with a total of 214,293 active accounts reported by the end of December 2008 compared to the 166,621 in September 2008. Fixed line internet connection was estimated at 22,000; while the total number of internet users was estimated to be 2.5 million.

Internet users in the country continue to suffer low speeds and high costs. However, with SEACOM in progress, consumers highly anticipate improved services and speeds at lower costs.

Following issues that emerged at the National face-to-face consultation (NIGF) held in Uganda and the EAIGF in Nairobi – Kenya last year, the Uganda online IG discussions were initiated. The discussions were also aware of the developments and discussions which had been held by the internet/ ICT fraternity in the months preceding the discussions.

Discussions held during April and May 2009 partly lead-up to the 2009 Uganda National Internet Governance Forum. The discussions were primarily held on the i-Network discussion group.  A key objective of this year’s IG discussions was to focus on consolidation the understanding of the priority issued and to state positions that may have been previously ambiguously defined.

Recap of the 2008 Discussions

The main issues identified in included improving access and affordability , control of the national code top-level domain ccTLD (.UG), interception of communication and its implications on freedom of expression and on the “public good”, control of spam and pornography, the need for cyber law, and promotion of local content/ Ugandan languages on the web.

Fast forward

From the 2009 discussions, the following emerged as some of the major issues in Uganda:

*need to contribute to the national IGF debate. This was partly to establish whether the Ugandan ICT community considered it a useful exercise to continue such discussions, or felt enough had been said on the issue.

*promoting access. Discussants wanted to know what is being done by the government, the private sector and NGOs to promote the effective utilization of the bandwidth once it becomes available.

*affordability. It was observed that while the implementation of the RCDF policy has generally improved rural access and it is praised worldwide, there were limitations which needed to be revisited to expand and guarantee access for the majority. The poor are not yet reached because the RCDF policy follows a market model which does not maximize social returns and benefits. The rural electrification program also remains a big challenge because of its deficiency.

*critical internet resources. Management of the dot UG (.UG) domain and IPv6 transition in Uganda were identified as the most critical internet resources.

*cyber security and trust. With the internet being accessed on mobile phones, protection of children from pornography has become a more critical issue. Under the proposed computer Misuse Bill, Clause 20 concerns concern child pornography. However, it’s not clear whose role it should be.

*IG and gender. Discussions went further to explore the gender issues in Internet Governance and how these could be addressed. Apparently, men still have better access to telecentres and internet cafes as compared to women.

Uganda is a landlocked country so the current internet connections are based on Satellite which is very expensive. The best way to afford this type of connection is using less bandwith (shared 64Kbps in  most cases which costs USD90 per month). Many internet users in Uganda today are counting days till the marine fiber starts to work in the country. It is anticipated that the link will become faster and the bandwith will become cheaper. The work on the fiber is in progress.


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