Thursday, 22 November 2007

Are you ready for CHOGM?

Jay Says: A little different type of blog for you this week, all due to ‘major’ events happening over here in UG. Sorry if it’s a bit cynical..i am still a bit ecited to see all the special issues of the newspapers and photos...

This week finally sees Uganda hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting - more commonly know as CHOGM. Basically every two years the head of government of the Commonwealth countries, along with the Queen, get together for a bit of a meaningless meeting to discuss all things of common interest to the Commonwealth. Excuse my cynicism but with the commonwealth being a miss-mash of very poor old African colonies, Caribbean tourist islands and Australia and NZ there isn’t huge amounts of common ground as far as I can see.

Anyhow Uganda was chosen to host the 2007 meeting and for them it’s a very big deal. The Queen, 50 odd heads of state and 5,000 delegates means potential for a lot of money to be pumped into the economy. And whilst the meeting is unlikely to attract huge amounts of media interest Uganda will get far more positive press coverage than usual. Something vitally needed for the post Admin tourist industry.

So far, so good…but now for the bad news. The government, and our good friend Mr President of 27years-I’m-going-to-change-the-constitution-so-I-can-stay-for-as-long-as-I-want-and no-ones-going-to-stop-me-as-we’ve-just-found-Oil-in-Uganda-so-suddenly-get-a-random-invite-to-and-pat-on-the-back-from-the-white-house-Museveni, and his chums seem to have blown the meeting’s significance out of all proportion. For the last three months the papers and radio stations have been filled with talk of CHOGM. You cant go anywhere in Kampala without huge billboards proclaiming ‘Lets Embrace CHOGM, Lets Embrace the World’ and ‘Ugandan is Ready for CHOGM, Are You?’. This has led to the now infamous ‘Are you ready for CHOGM?’ greeting.

But that’s the problem, whilst its happening this weekend, last I saw of Kampala a few weeks ago it was far from ready...and everyone knows it – bar the politicians who continually insist all will be fine. Pot holes still line the roads of the capital, hotels are half finished and exactly how the queen is going to navigate Kampala gridlock has yet to be worked out.

The biggest concern however is the amount of money the government has invested for a meeting lasting just 3 days. Billions of Shillings have been spent on improving dozens of hotels (far more than will be needed for the meetings themselves), roads have been re-laid, rubbish trucks have been bought, and then bought again as the original order wouldn’t of been ready in time, armies of workers have been hired to clean streets, and re-paint buildings and roads, hoteliers and chefs have been sent on training courses in Nairobi and, best of all, all the leading politicians of Uganda have been bought Blackberrys to use during the meetings. The fact mobile signal will be blocked off during the meeting as a security measure against terrorism clearly evaded the government official responsible for that idea.

A school in central Kampala has been demolished to build a hotel, only for the investor to pull out, leaving a building site. The road from the Airport to the capital has been ‘beautified’ – also know as forcefully removing the hundreds of people who lived there, demolishing their iron sheet houses and stalls and leaving them no where to go - but planting nice trees and grass instead, just so the Queen doesn’t see the real Uganda, the real poverty, on her way from the airport.

Hotels have been given 30 year tax holidays to encourage investment and upgrading, Uganda now has far more 5 and 4* hotels than they will ever fill. But it doesn’t matter to the hoteliers, as they’ve imported TVs, Beds, Telephones and Bottles of Alcohol, all tax free, in their thousands, when only needing hundreds for the actual hotel. There’s a saying that it doesn’t matter if these hotels lie empty, the investors have made enough money selling tax free imports on the markets that they can go on holiday for ten years.

And all for a 3 day meeting.

CHOGM could have been great news for Uganda. But, in my opinion, and that of many intelligent Ugandans, the government has exaggerated the benefits (often because they are the ones gaining from those tax free sales) and spent huge sums of money that could of been invested in health care, infrastructure and education – providing much better long term returns for the country.

And if your not living in Kampala, what does it mean to you? It means Primary Education is still not wholly free, as schools still demand money for upkeep and maintance while the government proclaims internationally that it has Universal Primary Education. Someone needs shaking, a that someone always seems to be wearing a hat.

Anyway sorry for the cycncism. As i say it is a good thing for Uganda and quite an exciting time - just such a shame that it could of been so much more.

Please keep an eye out for CHOGM in the media, i'd love to know how much coverage we get over there in England

Rant Over

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Another Photoscape For Your Pleasure

So our Holiday: Two and half days were spent at the 'Hairy Lemon'. Random name but a beautiful island on the middle of the Nile where you can swim, eat lush food and do not much else! Brilliant!

Char playing about in the Nile

Jay washing his clothes in the Nile - he's a true African now - never mind the t shirt sun tan. oh dear

Then we went back to Kampala to meet some freinds, including Ally (candada), Grace (UK) and Ronald (Uganda). We went for a GORGOEUS Ethopian meal! Yum...

With the best coffee i have ever had - literally roasted in front of me!

This week, exactly half way through our volunteering, we finally moved from our host family to the project. Here's the home we left behind...

The pigs named Jonathan (L) and Charlotte (R) we left behind

OUr bed was out on the back of a boda boda and taken the 10 mins up the hill. Those things carry anythig from beds, to tables to coffins..!

Char gave Enoke, one of our host brothers, a quick goodbye song on her guitar!

And we're in the new place! Jay had promised Sseguya (one of the workers at the prject) the day we moved in he would buy him a chicken - this was because Sseguya is Charlotte's 'Sister' and so Jay being his brother-in-law its tradition to compensate for the loss of a sister (loss via marriage that is) through buying a chicken! Anyway it meant we eat well on our first night at Kiyumbakimu

And here's our plush new room with the Ugandan flag flying over head, and check out the well made bed, you can tell Char's been around!
And our plush new living room with sofa and floors and everything

We're making a Kiyumbakimu Christmas Card - more details to follow soon - hold off buying your cards just yet - but we took some photos of the kids to aid this. Heres just a couple.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

A Well Deserved Break

Char says: After three hectic months we decided to use some of our four weeks holiday – we needed it! Last Saturday, after a brief shopping trip for the project in Masaka, we set off to Kampala. Unsure exactly what to do (especially because it is supposed to be the rainy season) we decided to just ‘go with the flow’.

On Sunday we met up with fellow volunteers who live in Kampala, Grace (UK) and Ally (Canada). Ally had made a discovery in the area of Kampala she lives – a place called the American Recreation Association. The place is like a white-person’s hidden haven in the city. It felt a little colonial but sometimes we do needed to accept that we are in fact westerners and need a little luxury! So we spent the day swimming in the pool and drinking tea. In the evening there was a free movie on a big screen – it wasn’t such a good film but it was still a lovely relaxing day.

We spent Monday exploring Kampala at a relaxed pace which we usually don’t have time to indulge. I found that I like the city much better when we are not in such a rush and visiting places to please other people accompanying us. It is still the most busy city I have ever visited but on Monday I found a new appreciation for it! That evening we met up with Ally and Grace again. First we had supper at Kampala’s very own Irish pub – Bubbles O’Leary- a rather delicious Irish stew! After that we headed to the National Theatre which plays host to a musician’s Jam Session every Monday evening. It took a couple of hours to warm up, but soon we were hearing some of the finest young musicians in Uganda. A rather unexpected treat came when it was announced that Jose Chameleon was going to perform. Chameleon is pretty much the biggest popular musician Uganda has ever produced and so it was a major treat to see him perform up-close, for free!

Tuesday saw us visit Entebbe for the night. Although we didn’t get to spend much time in the town, it seems like a really super urban centre – very clean and organized. We spent the day at the beach – totally relaxing before heading back to a rather quirky backpackers hostel in what seems like a very smart and affluent area of the country.

On Wednesday we made the long and interesting trip (waiting an hour to leave, getting another minibus with 24 people rather than the 14 that it can officially fit and taking a 25 min bodaboda down roads where the driver didn’t know where he was going) to a place called Hairy Lemon near Jinja. The place is simply an island retreat in the middle of the Nile and it took seven hours to reach but upon setting foot in the island, we knew instantly the long journey had been worthwhile. The setting is stunning, the food was delicious and it was the perfect way to relax. We spent two nights there, swimming and bathing in the Nile, reading, sleeping, playing cards, eating and drinking beer. Exactly what we needed!

So now we are back in Kampala and met the guys again last night for a meal at a delicious Ethiopian restaurant. The food was outstanding and the coffee was roasted in front of you literally seconds before it was served to you. The freshest and most delicious coffee any of us had every drunk. We have to head back to the village today which is going to be quite hard after having such a lovely holiday. But we should be able to move in to Kiyumbakimu this week! Watch this space…

Photos to follow when we get to a decent internet café where the USB ports actually work!