Saturday, 28 February 2009

Who is the Slum Lord?

Barely a week into Lent, and we are witnessing a tragi-comedy of epic proportions playing out at Parkyard [Owino? St. Balikuddembe?] market in downtown Kampala that went up in smoke on what is sometimes called "Harsh Wednesday".

First, His Excellency pulls off a surprise visit to the site in what is now becoming the norm for the politicos when a disaster [especially a fire] occurs. Visit the place, 'sympathise' and promise to do something about it. H. E. goes through the routine but this time offers Shs. 1 bilion [slightly more than US$ 500,000 at current exchange rates] which the affected traders can access as loans. He however offers a few words of wisdom as reported by the government-owned New Vision:...[He] stressed that the inferno should be a lesson to traders and city residents. “We should learn from this incident. Poorly planned structures are dangerous. We should critically asses this situation. Luckily, no one died.” According to the President, the fire fighters could not put out the fire due to lack of access routes, which he demanded should be created in future. [He added] planning was critical to towns, if incidents like the Wednesday fire were to be avoided.

Next, within a space of one or two hours, His Majesty [or is Royal Highness, as in the colonial days] also tours the area to 'console' his "subjects" amidst the pomp and fanfare accorded to this monarch, when he comes out of seclusion. These "subjects" are unquestionably adoring of the man [which many times, I think, is often over board]. This is how The Daily Monitor reported:....[He] told the same vendors yesterday that his kingdom could not offer them much help because “the government had constrained the kingdom’s ability by denying it the federal form of governance”. However, his Prime Minister on a prior visit had offered Shs. 5 million [slightly more than US$ 2,500] for these traders to rebuild the same illegal and cramped wooden structures that should have been erased from the face of the city.

Finally, President-in-Waiting checks in a more pragmatic style; with a lorry of timber and other materials for the reconstruction of this wooden slum. He also promised that his party will carry out a parallel investigation into this "suspicious" incident. Since there are no answers to be expected from H.E. apart from hot air and empty words.

It is should be noted that His Worship had gone down to 'Parkyard' to assess the damage and go through the routine. He was sent packing by the angry traders and only saved from a lynching by his bodyguards and the Police.

Against the backdrop of all these visiting this place in their various capacities. One, is in charge of the country, the other stills feels owns this land by right of birth as handed down from his forefathers [which is preposterous considering that Kampala can no longer be considered part of Buganda Kingdom under a federal system of government], another acting like what he would do if voted into State House, and the other one by virtue of his occupancy of City Hall.

Meanwhile, just a stone's throw away, parts of a building under construction caved in and killed 15 workers. No visits to the place, no sympathies, no promises to get to the bottom of the matter....and no one billion shillings.

H. E. talked of planning, and has one of the 70 fatsos in his bloated cabinet directly in charge of urban planning, and has seen the capital grow into a confused unplanned mess in 23 years at the helm. His Worship wakes up everyday to go to City Hall to work on affairs on the city. His Majesty [or is it Royal Highness] only lamented and waved to the adoring subjects while President-in-Waiting brought material to rebuild the unplanned market with no access routes.

So, who is the lord of this slum?

Since this is Lent, let us reflect on the report by UN HABITAT State of the World's Cities 2008/2009 that was released this week. It states that the rate of change of the urban population in Africa is the highest in the world...the region is in the early stages of its urban transition, with an estimated 38% of its population classified as urban; urban growth rates in Africa are the highest in the world (3.3% per year between 2000 and 2005).

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Up in Smoke: An Opportunity in the Dark Cloud

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday when persons of the Christian persuasion go to church to have ash smeared on their foreheads as a symbol of the beginning of Lent. This is the start of fasting and reflection. Coincidentally, it was the time when we, the residents of Kampala, woke up to the grim reality of the time-bomb waiting to blow off downtown. Sections of one of the biggest and most crowded markets in this city [and by scale, in the country] was engulfed by an inferno that burned itself out into ashes.

Despite the efforts by the Uganda Police and private fire-fighters, there was little to salvage when the smoke cleared. The scene was dominated by wails and lamentations added to a myriad of conspiracy theories of what could have caused this. These ranged from the bizarre--like the Devil's hand [as usual this side of the Sahara], arsonists hired by owners of the buses with whom these market traders were rivaling for space, one of government's "dirty tricks", to mention just a few. There are however some unbelievable, but nevertheless unsurprising, accounts like this below:

"The fire destroyed property worth millions at the market, with some traders losing millions of cash, kept in the stalls"

Although the main fire station is only around the corner from the market, angry traders said it had taken fire fighters one-and-a-half hours to arrive at the scene. The fire was eventually put out after six hours.

“They came late at the scene and parked the fire tender claiming that they were waiting for an order from their bosses to extinguish the fire,” Mr Abubaker Mulinde, a local councillor who lost four stalls in the market, said. He said the fire-fighters continued to look on as the fire spread, until fire engines from Entebbe International Airport and from two private fire-fighting firms arrived and started battling the blaze.

The Inspector of Police, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, said his fire-fighters had arrived at the scene on time but could not gain entry to the market due to “crazy congestion”. “We have new cars but it was difficult to reach there,” Maj. Gen. Kayihura said. “There were no access roads to enable our fire tenders reach where the fire was. We tried to pass through St. Balikuddembe Market but it was the same case.”

While sympathies are expected, I think it is time to use this incident to seriously reflect about the state of Kampala, crowded streets, disorder, total absence of planning by the city authorities and related issues. Over the next forty days of Lent, instead of organising national prayers by the religious leaders over the tragedy, these same leaders should throw their energies in pressuring government and Kampala City Council to decongest the city and instill stern measures that will prevent such scenarios and worse from happening again and again and again and again and again.

There have been fires in schools, in markets, in factories, in homes and other places but over time this has been relegated to the private grief of the victims. While the rest of us, including the fatsos in government [especially ministers of disaster preparedness, urban planning, among others] and at City Hall, go back to grind until the next disaster.

PS: A point to ponder for those who deal with large sums of money. Why would someone keep millions of shillings in a stall yet there are banks across the street. I don't sympathise with such people at all....around that area, there is Pride Microfinance, Centenary Bank, Bank of Africa and two other microfinance institutions. Let us use this Lent period to learn some money sense...Now that cash is ash yet if this cash was in the bank and the bank was ash, you would still get cash back.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Same Pattern, Different Players...and We Don't Listen to the Victims

This is a story that keeps replaying itself in different is only the faces that change but the pattern of abuse is the same. Father starts to sexually abuse daughter...she suffers in silence for so long until somehow, either by default or design, she opens up to Mother or any other person. Instead of showing compassion and listening to the Victim, the response is usually to condemn her to the shadows of the dark silence from which she emerged.

Below is an excerpt from a book by the sister of world-famous former NBA superstar Michael Jordan--Deloris Jordan, who accused their father, James Jordan (now deceased) of rape in her memoir called "In My Family's Shadow".

"Ending eight years after it first began and five years after losing my virginity to my father, it scares me to think how much longer the abuse would have went on had I not spit out the dreadful truth to my mother during one of our many heated disagreements. Disagreements that were sometimes anything but pleasant and often featured no indication of love between the two of us.

So as she ranted and raved about how no slutty daughter of hers better get pregnant and bring any bastard children into her house. I finally heard myself saying: "If I am so much of a slut, why don't you keep your husband out of my bed?"

When I finally found the courage to let my father's deeds tumble from my lips, I did not know what to expect, but I never in a million years would have guessed that my mother would turn on me. Her words of betrayals did far more damage to me than my father's deeds. They spoke volumes to the fact that she really did not care about me, which my father obviously knew. It is because she was so expressive with her dislike for me that probably made my father know he could get away with violating me.
My father confessed his actions on the same day that I disclosed them to my mother. And on that frightful day of admission, I watched my mother, looking for a sign, any sign that she cared about me.

The memory of my father whispering in my ear during the wee hours of the night about the beauty of my body has played over and over in my head for many years. And as if that has not been incapacitating enough by itself, having to comprehend the fact that more often than not, he had just gotten out of the bed he shared with my mother to find his way to my bedroom has just added to the realization of the painful situation."

Monday, 9 February 2009

Are We All Prostitutes, Purveyors of Sex?

Recently, as I was moving on the streets of Kampala, I came across old copies of a weekly tabloid newspaper called The Onion. This enterprising guy had collected all old copies was selling them for a fifth (Shs. 300) of the cover price (Shs. 1,500). The Onion mostly covers the sex, scandals and local celebrities....and also features several pages of photographs of different young attractive girls as models.

I bought this particular edition of Friday, December 12-18, 2008 because of the cover story on a famous singer/songwriter Sylver who has hitherto been known as Mr Clean. It was about how this recently married musician had been nabbed by his wife Jalia in bed with another female singer Prisca. For the love of a story of the ‘holy’ falling to the temptations of the flesh, I couldn’t resist. I devoured this with relish...another story that caught my imagination was an interview with a prostitute.

Below is an excerpt reproduced verbatim. It was an interesting one but the question that jumped at me is—are we all prostitutes (especially women) or purveyors of sex (especially men) in one way or another? My comments are in parentheses. Read on...

“I don’t regard myself as someone of a low level just because I sell myself; all women sell themselves at one time in life. Some detooth [obtaining favours from men with promise of sex and not delivering on it]; others sell their bodies to their boyfriends to get money from them. It is very difficult for a man to give you money if you don’t give him sex. Other women sell sex to get jobs in offices, while others offer sex to men to get things like phones, clothes, cars etc.

Even most women who go abroad to Dubai, Japan, America, go to sell their bodies and they make a lot of money which they come and invest here in Uganda. For instance, most successful business women in Kikuubo, Katwe and Kisekka market
[these are some of the busiest business centres in Kampala] are expensive prostitutes who have benefitted from the lucrative sex business.

I also hope to invest my savings from this business someday such that when I grow old and have to retire from the business, I shall have something else to earn from. My dream is to have my own business like a bar or lodge”
[Ultimately, this is what we dream of irrespective of the professions and occupations from which we make our livelihoods].

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Success Story: I Have Made Him Rich

As a person who loves a good success story, of ideas that originate from young people and go on to catch a fire...I am truly pleased. As a user of Facebook, I know that in a small way I have contributed to making this guy a billionaire. Read on...

Billionaires are getting younger. Forbes magazine released its list of the world's mega-rich Wednesday and said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, 23, became the youngest ever self-made billionaire.

Zuckerberg, born during the Ronald Reagan presidency, is worth $1.5 billion four years after launching the social-networking site and the third-youngest to crack the billionaire list since Forbes began tracking ages a decade ago. The other two inherited their money. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

The Forbes list often reflects the times. Bill Gates was once himself like Zuckerberg and dropped out of Harvard to launch a technology upstart. Gates is now 52 and slipped from first place in the rankings after being the richest person in the world for 13 straight years. In 1995, Gates replaced Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, a Japanese real estate investor who subsequently fell on hard times and was removed from the Forbes list in 2007.

Gates is worth $58 billion, $2 billion more than last year, but he is now third on the list. He was dislodged by Warren Buffett ($62 billion) and Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim Helu ($60 billion). Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway stock climbed $10 billion; Slim's fortune rose $11 billion.

Buffett is 77 and Slim is 68, but there are now 50 billionaires younger than 40, and 34 of them are self-made. The average age of all billionaires has dropped to 61 from 64 in 2004, partly because of the growth of young, self-made Russian and Chinese billionaires. Mainland China's richest person is 26-year-old real estate heiress Yang Huiyan (No. 125), worth $7.4 billion.

Forbes says that billionaires sometimes slip beneath its radar, but it now counts 1,125 worldwide, worth $4.4 trillion. That's an increase of 179 billionaires from a year ago. Two-thirds of the 1,125 are self-made.

Of the 1,125 billionaires, 469 (42%) are from the USA. But the average U.S. billionaire is worth $3.4 billion vs. $4.3 billion for the average foreign billionaire. The biggest gainer over the last year is 48-year-old Indian businessman Anil Ambani. His wealth jumped $24 billion, or nearly $3 million an hour.

There have been two billionaires who made the Forbes list at a younger age than Zuckerberg. One was Albert II, prince of Thurn and Taxis, who is a German heir of postmasters dating to the Holy Roman Empire. He inherited his wealth at age 7, when his father died in 1990, although he did not gain access to his fortune until he turned 18.

The other was Hind Hariri, youngest of the Lebanese heirs of a banking, real estate, oil and telecommunications fortune that she inherited at 22.