Museveni will NOT leave power, even if he loses.

18 02 2016

Ugandans went to polls this morning to decide who takes the country’s top job. There are 8 candidates in the race but the two dominant contenders are; Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (who is trying to extend his 30 year old regime) and Forum for Democratic Change’s, Dr. Kizza Besigye (who is contending for the forth time).

Yahoo Photo. A Ugandan casting a ballot earlier today.

Yahoo Photo. A Ugandan casting a ballot earlier today.

In Kampala, the capital, voting started between 2 to 7 hours late at most of the polling stations. Voters who turned up at 6am to queue up, anticipating of start casting their votes at 7am were disappointed when they learned that the Electoral Commission (EC) had NOT delivered the ballots and other supplies on time. The voters braved the hot sun for hours waiting for the commission to deliver ballot papers and boxes. Some of the polling stations received the ballot papers 45 minutes before the 4pm, when the voting exercise was set to end. Kampala and neighboring Wakiso are believed to be opposition strongholds and the delay to deliver voting material has been viewed as a deliberate act to deny the opposition the much-anticipated victory.

Live television coverage and social media updates from various parts of the country reveal that the process was mostly peaceful but with many inexcusable glitches caused by the EC. Cases of people found in possession of pre-ticked ballot papers have been reported around Kampala and Ntungamo. In fact, one polling officer allegedly issued two pre-ticked ballots in favour of Museveni to one of the voters – this caused some tension at the polling station.

This morning, the Uganda Communications Commission issued a directive to internet and mobile money service providers to block access to Twitter, Facebook and the mobile money transfer services. The ingenious citizens were one step a head of the technologically inept commission. They resorted to VPNs and Proxies to stay connected. Some of the incidents that happened at the polling stations were exposed on social media – with video and photo evidence.

The incidents Ugandans witnessed today show the problem with “Uganda’s democracy”, it is hooked to Museveni’s influence on the entire electoral process. These incidents assert fears expressed by Museveni’s contender that the vote was rigged long before the election day.

Museveni’s regime has mastered the art of not only keeping the opposition in check but also tightened its grip on the media making it impossible for journalists to report freely and openly about issues of service delivery, let alone election irregularities. The ruling NRM party has used the loopholes in the government’s institutionalized corruption to continue tightening its grip on power. The police and the army have on several occasions made controversial stands and remarks siding with the regime.

During the campaign period, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development have shown their support to Museveni through using public funds to sponsor TV commercials that are partisan. The adverts show how the government has focused on building and equipping hospitals, and creating opportunities for the youth in the past 30 years.

Museveni’s has used national television to openly intimidate people using the rhetoric that quite frankly suggests that if Ugandans vote him out of office, there will be no peace. Infact, the Secretary General of NRM, Justine Kasule Lumumba warned “the state will kill your children” if they try to disorganize stability and she added that “the government of NRM is NOT going anywhere”.

But Uganda’s problem is far beyond voting one man, Museveni, out of power. The problem is more about getting rid of a regime that has infested every public office, media house, corporate company with its own ideals and priorities at the expense of the needs and freedom of Ugandans.

Uganda has a very painful past and many quite frankly agree that let Museveni rule until he is tired. Ugandans just want peace and a peaceful transfer of power. This does not mean that many or even majority of Ugandans do not want change, but every time this discussion comes up the big question remains:

“At what cost?”

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:

Climate change – an “abstract theory”?: A regular African’s Perspective

20 11 2011

Like the rest of the world, African countries continue to silently-struggle with the impacts of climate change on life every single day. But what is “Climate Change” to majority of the African populations? I talked to a couple of farmers 4 months ago and to them “Climate Change is just a huge abstract theory”. Many people still find it hard to believe that “Climate Change” is real.

In Uganda, over 80 percent of the total population depends on agriculture as the sole source of livelihood. However, the changes in seasons have greatly affected food and crop yields in the country. Prolonged droughts, pests and diseases have made agriculture barely reliable to majority of the peasant/ rural farmers. As a result farmers have resorted to engaging in other economic activities such they don’t have to totally rely on agricultural produce.

The Challenge:

On the African continent majority of the population is illiterate and not aware of impacts of climate change on social and economical development. So, how do you ensure that the communities get ready to take on a challenge that they are not even aware of?

Majority of the Africans live in failed states which means that civil societies have very little/ no influence on government policies. For example, recently the government of Uganda under the influence of President Museveni’s directive tried to give away part of Mabira Forest to Mehta Group an investor who owns the Sugar Cooperation of Uganda Limited. The civil society in Uganda openly challenged this directive and vowed to protect Mabira Forest. Under such circumstances, the smaller communities have very limited room for negotiation with the governments to influence government policy.

Outside Africa:

Javie Ssozi (left), with Teddy Ruge of Connect4Climate at the World Bank in D.C

Two months ago I had the opportunity to meet the Connect4Climate team in Washington D.C – Connect4 Climate is a World Bank project, the goal of C4C is to raise awareness about climate change issues around the world, with an initial focus on Africa. The team is looking to engage the youth through use of new media. Connect4Climate is already engaging the African youth on climate change through social media and a photo/ video competition.

After meeting with the Connect4Climate team, I took the pleasure to meet Dr. Vernon R. Morris, the Director, Principal Investigator at The NOAA Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Howard University ( Dr. Morris has conducted various researches on Climate Change across the Sub-Saharan Africa and he agrees that Africa is a very special case when it comes to climate change.

A word with Dr. Morris, the Atmospheric Science expert:

In my conversation with Dr. Morris he pointed out one of the findings of his research from the Sub-Saharan Africa which basically shows that global warming can expose dangerous bacterium which can cause diseases like blindness. He added that the recent research in the western Sub-Saharan African shows that blindness is becoming a common disease in parts of northern Mali. “We followed the track of this bacterium and the findings show that due to the direction of the wind, the bacteria is moving west towards the Atlantic ocean.”

“In Chad, we used the satellite data to analyze the issues of climate change in the region. We found that Lake Chad is shrinking. When we talked to the people who live just along the shores of Lake Chad, they said that they had not noticed any significant changes in the size of the lake!” says Dr. Morris.

What this means is, even though the African communities are willing to understand and make sense out of climate change, there is limited awareness and limited access to aggregated data to help the ordinary people understand issues of climate change better.

A Projection on Africa:

As you already know, most of the countries inside Africa are low developed which means that they have limited access to resources which would come in handy in the efforts of climate change mitigation. And by resources I not only refer to money; I am talking about (skilled) human resource (specifically on climate change issues), research, information facilities/ programs and infrastructure.

I must recognize the role of the various civil society groups and local NGOs in Africa which are activating action on climate change.

While developed countries like the United States, Germany, China and Japan have highly invested in research, training experts, building infrastructure and in raising awareness on global warming and climate change, African countries remain too corrupt and irresponsible to consider the effects of climate change as a major threat to life.

Quick Way forward:

Even though the developing countries have conducted extensive research on climate change in and outside Africa, it’s very important that we (Africans) consider revisiting those almost abandoned banks/ techniques of indigenous knowledge that our ancestors used centuries/ decades ago. Those should be our climbing stones towards finding sustainable solutions to reduce on the effects of climate change on lives.

The developed countries have a huge role to play in terms of giving African countries access to visual data from the research conducted on the African continent and perhaps relate this data to other continents of the world. As such, African countries will have access to information which will help the wider communities digest the meaning, implications and effects of climate change and global warming.

Individual African countries will perhaps find the cost of access to satellite resources very high but forming if African countries through the European Union collectively invest in climate monitoring networks and regional climate models for Africa.

International organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations, “African Union” and many others understand their role in influencing government policies in developing countries. They should take advantage of that same influence for the better good to ensure that governments in African integrate issues of “climate” in their policies.

African governments should also understand and recognise the role of civil society, scientists and NGOs in climate change mitigation. From my experience in Uganda, the government of Uganda has oppressed civil society groups like the “Save Mabira Activist”.

Children collecting water at a bore hole in Amuru district, Northern Uganda

GlobalGiving workshop – Kampala, Thursday March 3rd, 2011

28 02 2011

When: March 3rd, 2011 –  from 9:30am to 1:30pm.
Where: Calendar Hotel Makindye (in Kampala)-

Please Call Kizito Malumba (of Youth Aid Uganda, our hosting partner)to confirm participation and regarding the venue 0782323191, or 0704323191.
In summary, the four parts of the workshop will be:
1. About GlobalGiving (what is it, how to join)
2. Fundraising strategies (both online and local tips)
3. How social media is part of your fundraising
4. Introducing the Storytelling project — helps with evaluation and raising awareness about issues.

The following will be:

#1Expanding your FUNDRAISING. We will cover both local and international online strategies. (Note: You’ve already heard this part of the workshop, sorry for the redundancy as this will be new to most attendees. Part #2 and #3 are NEW to you.)

#2 – GlobalGiving tools for:

  • donor management,
  • corporate relations,
  • volunteer recruiting,
  • recurring donors,
  • integrating with social media,
  • beneficiary feedback as part of your evaluation strategy, and
  • how we can make your a stronger candidate for external grants

#3 – Introducing our Storytelling project. We’ll explain how thousands of brief narratives from East Africa can transform your understanding of your work and improve your monitoring and evaluation.

Please respond to reserve a spot. You are encouraged to invite members from other organizations your work with. Please have them email me to reserve a spot as well.

Please alert any of your partners that are not already on GlobalGiving that the deadline to self-nominate and submit Due Diligence for the next (April) open challenge is March 1st, 2011. Refer them to for what is required.

Note that we will provide drinks and a lunch, but we will NOT REIMBURSE your travel or lodging expenses. This training is free and open to any organization that wishes to attend, as long as they RSVP in advance.
About Storytelling: GlobalGiving has launched a storytelling effort that should provide you (and all organizations in your community) with timely information about the complex issues, needs, and efforts that affect your work.

Results of our 2010 storytelling pilot  project are online:

Looking forward to meeting you in person!

Made in the Village: Rural Innovations

8 01 2011

When people can barely afford the minimum standards of living, they often forget about the “basic” needs and all they work for is survival. This is one of the famous stories that people always tell about developing countries and “villages” particularly. And indeed this is true, imagine a village where the nearest health centre is more than 3 kilometer away from the people, with only one primary school and limited access to clean/ safe water!

A few weeks ago I was one of the panelists at the “Villages in Action” conference in Kikuube village located in Masindi, Uganda. This “first” ever village conference, was organized by Teddy Ruge of Project Diaspora.

Almost 50% of all the conferences organized world-wide have the agenda of rural development. However, most of these conferences are hosted in big cities, 5-Star hotels and most of the participants (including panelists) are people who have very limited insight of rural livelihood. This means that the rural people are always under represented.

It is against the above (specific) reasons that I think the “Villages in Action” conference was a very relevant conference to the people of Kikuube village and Uganda at large. This conference took the microphones closer to the rural people (for their voices to be heard) and the cameras closer to their faces (for them to show the world the part of the villages like they have never seen). Orange Uganda (one of the Telecoms) generously sponsored the conference with a dedicated 17Mbs fast internet connection to enable a live video stream of the conference (first of the kind in Uganda).

The young people of Kikuube village show-cased some of their technological innovations: * Radio made out of scrap radio part, * a woofer made out of a calabash and speakers cased in old jerry cans/ boxes and * a motorcycle made out of old plastic parts (and wood) tied together with banana fibers.

At this conference I learnt very many things, but most importantly, I learnt the reasons why many villages have remained backward even though they have a lot of potential to develop. Reasons include:

  • the rural people don’t have access to media,
  • they don’t have access to resources (information and capital) and
  • no mentors

So, without the above (among others) all their potential, good ideas and innovations always go unnoticed.

This festive season I spent 7 days in my home village visiting family and monitor the work done by rural farmers under the Rural Farming for Development project. During my stay in the village, I got a chance to see some of the innovations in my villages. And this time, I took each one of them very seriously.

Mr. Bugembe John is a local folk who has always blown people’s minds since I was a little boy because he is always trying to make something cool out of his ideas and scrap. When I visited my village a few years ago he was developing a Wind turbine which he used to generate some power to light his house for a while. This time I took the liberty to visit him and we had a very short but very momentous chat about locally-made technology and rural development.

“The challenge here (in the village) is, I develop gadgets but I don’t have capital! So, usually it’s a very huge sacrifice for me to keep investing my small finances into all these ideas that I have to implement them”, Mr. Bugembe said with an unhappy face.

“Recently I made a low-cost water pump; over here, let me show you”, he said with a happy face while walking me towards his little pig-sty where he keeps the water pump.

He showed me a demo of how the water pump works – see you Tube Video. When I talked to one of the local farmers about the water pump, he said “yes, Bugembe made a water pump – and its indeed powerful.”

Mr. Bugembe is just one of the many African-Innovators who have the ability to develop technologies that are localized for the African communities, at cheap costs. But these innovators have a challenge of limited access to resources – both in terms of funds and information.

I don’t know about everybody else, but I think Africa is at the point where we can make our own stuff, use it and share it with the world. The major advantage in this is people will get more localized technologies, easy to maintain and at cheap prices because things are made locally. The first step towards achieving this is to promote the rural innovations (and ideas) through the available media, provide mentorship to local innovators and make capital available to those who need it.

SMS vs. Mobile Internet: Scaling the mobilephone

15 11 2010

Would you trade your cell phone’s  Short Message Service (SMS) functionality for the Mobile Internet (GPRS/EDGE/3G+) functionality?

Even though I prefer mobile internet to SMS, I am not sure whether I would trade my SMS functionality for the mobile internet functionality – even though I can still keep both!

Of course some people would frankly say “YES”, because of the well known SMS limitations:–

  • Each message is limited to 160 Character,
  • SMS is more expensive as opposed to data (if you think about it, literally),
  • SMS is getting outdated (a concept that I don’t agree with!).
  • Some people don’t know how the SMS functionality on their phones works

The other obvious reasons as to why one would choose mobile internet over SMS in a country like Uganda (and/ Africa) today:

  • Phone calls are becoming cheaper and cheaper with the current competition among telecoms
  • The growth of mobile internet in Africa and Uganda to be more specific

That being said, what are the advantaged of SMS over Mobile Internet?

As Mobile Internet continues to rollout in Uganda, SMS remains a useful extension of online services. SMS marketing and advertizing is becoming a major trend in Uganda because it is cheap when sent out in bulk. “Often I receive advertizing SMS messages from different short codes (not to mention my carrier) either advertising products, events or even services.”

Most importantly other people/organisations are using SMS more innovatively to disseminate relevant information to the wider communities. For example, over the past 2 years I have provided technical support on Women of Uganda Network’s SMS campaigns aimed at raising awareness of Violence Against Women. Text To change – “uses state of the art mobile phone technology to collect and disseminate health information”. The Kuyu Project is developing “StorySpaces”  – an application which aims at using the tools that the end users are most familiar with, which in this case is the mobile phone, and turning it into a tool for participating in global conversations. Its such innovations that

Every other year gives me assurance on the relevance of SMS as a tool for extending online services and breaking the barrier of the “digital divide”.

And there is no doubt SMS is technically cheaper than data in the long run because once an SMS is stored in your inbox, you can read the message as many times as you want with NO extra charges. But lets look at data (mobile internet for example) – even though the cost is shared between the sender and the receiver, that is, the sender pays for uploading the data and the receiver pays for downloading the data; the receiver will be charged every time he/she revisits the same data. This makes data quite expensive.

SMS cannot work as a substitute to the (mobile) internet in any case and often the cost of SMS to me can never go unrealized (because its post paid) as opposed to the postpaid mobile internet charges.

Question remains, how badly is the mobile internet revolution in Africa likely to affect the SMS based applications, usage and innovations?