Internet connectivity & Landlocked Countries: Counting on Marine Cables

26 02 2012

Saturday morning, I am all in my working mood, I plug my 3G modem into my computer and booom – internet is NOT working!! Usually when my internet fails I trying to fix it. I try to fix my own internet because I don’t like wasting my time calling customer support – who often doesn’t even know how to help! After over 14hours of trying my service provider sends me a text message:

Over 36 hours of limited internet connectivity and I must say that these have been some of the longest hours of my life. You know one of those days when you badly need to read your email but you can’t because the internet is down – Why is the internet down? You basically do not know. And just when you are about to go to the internet café you learn that the internet is down because apparently the marine cables which are supposed to be delivering a link of fast internet connectivity to your country are broken. The Marine cables are undersea optic fibre cables which were installed to deliver a link of fast internet connectivity to different corners of the world.

3G Vs Broadband Vs Dialup

At times like this I am very pissed at MTN (my internet service provider) and at the same time thinking, life was so much easier when we used to have broadband or that little dial-up connection. It is for that reason why I keep Orange as my other internet service provider on standby – this time Orange didn’t do any better. Back in the days dial-up and broadband internet was much slower than the 3G but much more reliable in terms of uptime.

The completion of the installation of the marine cables is the best thing that has happened to the internet speeds in Uganda as this was very much anticipated. Hoping that the fibre optic cables would bring fast internet to Uganda – I couldnt wait! Yes, to a certain extent the long wait was worth it; with 3G+ internet speeds in Uganda have greatly improved. But people like me are already seeing the cost that the failure of these marine cables will impose on our work/ businesses and economy at large.

Uganda like many other landlocked countries in East Africa are currently investing huge amounts of money to ensure that 3G internet connectivity is widely distributed but I must remind you all that we need to have backup plans for times like this when the marine cables are broken or malfunctioning. Many districts in Uganda don’t have access to broadband which means that when 3G is down, they are (almost) completely unplugged.

Recommendations to service providers about Customer Care

Oh and I probably forgot to remind MTN – I know that your services suck so much but can please send the SMS much earlier next time so I don’t waste a lot of my time “trying to chase the wind”? Thank You!

And to Orange Uganda – my other service provider, what happened to those timely SMS notifications? I used to be so proud of you but I now I am thinking that you have been in Uganda too long that you are already forgetting that Customer Care is key!

And again, broadband and dialup internet connections should still be considered as very strong substitutes to our “beloved” 3G!

Life in the URBAN SLUM: Kisenyi

21 02 2012

“I was born in Masajja – a Kampala surburb. My mother worked in Owino market, when I was young she used to carry me on her back every morning and bring me along to the market. Eventually I got used to Owino and found my way to the Kisenyi area. One day I walked out of the market and I didn’t return. This is how I found my way out of the market onto these streets. My mom’s workplace was no place for kids – it was boring.” a fifteen year old street kid said to me.

Often I see young boys and girls on the streets of Kampala looking shabby, starved, lost and puzzled and I wonder – where do they come from? Do they have parents? How do they end up on the streets like homeless cats or stray birds? It breaks my heart to see teens on the streets eating from the garbage, doing drugs, chasing around people; begging for UGX100 (barely a penny!) Monday through Friday when in actual sense they should be in school or their parents’ homes. Many times I have witnessed Kampala City Council Authority “enforcement officers” and Uganda Police roughing them up like wild animals – and only one question comes in my mind: Whose responsibility are these children?

Three weeks ago I found some vague answers to the above questions. I say “vague” because there is very many complicated answers to those questions!

I walked to Kisenyi – the biggest slum in Kampala with friends to do a photo shoot. The idea of the Kisenyi Photo Shoot was born by Andy Kristian (a professional photographer): to go to Kisenyi, take portraits of the people who live and/ work there, print them and then give them a copy to keep. Photos are always beautiful to take, see and keep. Together with a couple of friends (Andy Kristian, Rosebell Kagumire, Edward Echwalu, Ruth Aine, Evelyn Namara, Patricia Twino, Patricia Kahill, Joan Nagujja, Ford Tumwesigye) we went to Kisenyi – the biggest slum downtown Kampala.

It was a very hot Saturday and I got sweatier as we entered the slum. On a hot day like this you need to drink a minimum of 2 liters of water to avoid dehydration. Just like any typical slum, Kisenyi fills up the air soon as you enter the slum; smoke from burning plastic bottles, rubbish littered all over, uncensored language from the youth standing along the road side, shabby young boys and girls, sewage and groups of young men doing drugs openly.

As we entered the slum, my mind wandered 12years back; I used to walk through this slum frequently. In the year 2000 I lived on the outskirts of Kisenyi about 5 minutes walk from this slum; at the time I was only 12. Kisenyi is not just a place for street children, it’s a very commercial slum – maize millers set up their machines here. Kisenyi is the source of most of the maize flour on Kampala’s market, metal works extra. As a child I had to be careful when I walked through this slum. It was always a filthy environment to walk; also the boys and men on the streets were always aggressive. The crime rate in the slum was always high.

My recent visit to the slum (12 years later) was not very different. I could recognize most of the buildings and shortcuts. The young people (I am talking about boys and girls between the age of 4 and 25) in this slum are still doing the drugs in pubic, they don’t have access to clean water, sanitation is still very poor, they all look sweaty and dirty. How or whether they get food at all is not a question because most of them look starved.

Quick forward:

Unlike me, most of my friends had never walked through this slum. And they were all terrified by the kind of environment these young people live in. We walked into the slum carrying smart phones, expensive professional cameras, laptops, iPads and other valuables. Again, you can’t feel safe with this expensive equipment in an environment where people are starving, when young people are doing drugs around you.

Joan Nagujja a volunteer at Peace for Children in Africa together with her colleague helped us to mobile these young for the photo shoot. Peace for Children Africa is a local NGO which is helping rehabilitate and educate the street children in Uganda. One of their projects is focused on rehabilitating the street children in Kisenyi.

After about 30 minutes of mobilizing, we finally got a chance to interact with the young boys and girls who immediately put their demands before the photo shoot. Some of them said that they wanted sugar cane, money, food, water while others were bothered by the heavy presence of camera. When all that was sorted Joan’s colleague talked to a handful of strong looking boys. He told them to maintain order and that he would give them some money after the photo shoot. I was actually hoping that we could get some “big boys” to maintain some order.

Andy Kristian and Edward Echwalu did the actual shooting while I walked around taking random photos. Rosebell and Ruth recorded some of the stories. These young people told different stories on how they ended up in this place, the difficulties they were experiencing and shared some of their dreams. Some of the boys said that their step mothers mistreated/ bewitched them, while some of the young ones were born here – the slum is their home!

Even though some of the youth looked desperate and of course they had higher expectation from us; thinking that we would pay them to take their photos. Others only wanted to smile at the camera, take a few shots and leave.

Edward Echwalu (Left) and Andy Kristian (Right)

As we recorded the stories a woman who was watching from the veranda of her house asked loudly – “why aren’t you taking photos of the girls?” We would very much want to take photos of the girls, but we can’t find any big girls – we responded collectively. She immediately asked a young lady and woman to join the photo shoot. The old woman had scars on her arms she said that they were a result of domestic violence – he husband battered her.

survivor of domestic violence

The myth about slums:

Almost everybody thinks that everyone in the slums is a thief, sex worker, does drugs or has some kind of ill habits. When you go to the slum, the story is different. Well, the myth is partly true but there is more to the myth. The little beautiful children; born in the slum. Women and men work to earn a living to feed/ support their families. I remember the woman who sells sugarcane and I saw a couple of young people sorting rusty pieces of scrap to find reusable parts.

Earning a living in a slum

We can blame the government and Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) all we want but, by now we should know that the government has failed to create a better environment for the children. Let’s stop judging these children or treating them like hooligans and instead help make them better people. It’s about time we all returned to our rightful senses as human beings and find a way of help!

To these cute little children, the slum is their home!

Yes, Spiderman once lived in Kisenyi or some how a little version of his constume ended up here!

The Rest of the photos are available in my Facebook Photo Set:

Nodding Victim: Tormented 12-year-old girl lives like pigs

19 02 2012

Edward Echwalu – a professional photographer documents the life of a 12 year old girl who has been tormented by the Nodding Disease. It is a very touching and sad story. Click the link to read the full story.

Nodding Victim: Tormented 12-year-old girl lives like pigs.