Pedaling in Prague

I did two hours of spinning at a YMCA in Prague on Thursday. Nothing like pedaling your brains out listening to czech folk music with an electronic beat.

Afterwards, I wrote my most recent Global Voices Uganda Roundup.

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Ah, Europe!

5:25AM at the foot of a castle in Bled, Slovenia.

Ah, Europe! Whether I'm supposed to be there for study or work, there seems to be no limit to the adventures. Like the time Harry Belefonte lost his luggage, mon dieu, and I was in charge of going suit shopping with him on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. Then there was the time (see story below and picture above), where I rented a car in Llubjana, Slovenia, with a Hindu priest and a kid from Hong Kong who lacked a driver's license. We drove for 24 hours, heading down the Croatian coast, stopping for dinner in Venice, then droving up country to Bled, Slovenia to watch the sunrise at the base of a castle on top of a mountain. I could go on.

I'm leaving tomorrow for Amsterdam, indulging in a much needed 2 week break from Africa after five straight months. I'll be visiting my parents, seeing some old friends, and seeing what's up in some of my favorite cities: Prague, Budapest and Edinburgh.

The first week I won't have much Internet access, but the second week I will, so expect some stories.

An Absurd Tale from Slovenia, circa spring 2003:

Last week, we had to be in Vienna by Sunday night to spend the next five days on a field trip, attending briefings and meetings at different politics related groups in both Vienna and Budapest. So I decided, along with two buddies from the Geneva program to head east the weekend and see what Llubjana, Slovenia had to offer. I went with Adeetya, a Hindu priest (seriously) AND frat boy from Wake Forest, and Tak, a hilarious Chinese kid from Hong Kong who must have learned English at a bar room in Brooklyn. Every other word out of his mouth was foul. What’s funnier still is that he has a limp from three weeks ago when he fell down the stairs drunk in Geneva. So the China Man, the Indian and the Jew headed for Slovakia.

We got there on Friday morning, spent the day in Llubjana, which is actually an amazing city, surrounded by giant mountains and castles, which look a lot like the ones in Switzerland, except the Slovenians haven’t gotten around to stripping all of their trees down, so it is even more beautiful. Great kabob town too. There is a large University there, and we met a bunch of kids who took us to this club on the top of a building overlooking the Llubjanica River, as well as the big castle across the water. It was a quality Slovenian evening.

We woke up the next morning, went down to the lobby and decided to rent a car for the day. Slovenia is one of the countries joining the EU, so they are catching up, but for now everything there is cheap like WO. We rented an old Peugeot, a sweet French ride with an inline 4 cylinder that has less pick up that my bicycle. The lady from the car company delivered the car to us, and for some reason Tak was put down on the registration. Interestingly enough, when he got into the drivers seat after the lady left, the first thing he says in "I don’t fucking know how to drive." It’s been a while for Tak, so we had to switch it up and put Tak in the backseat like the kid in Road Trip who "kills a cheetah." We had no map, no plan, and no restraints except that we had to be back in town the next morning at 9:30 to catch a train to Vienna.

We started south, going through Slovenian countryside, which is amazingly beautiful and hardly developed at all. Slovenia didn’t even get the rough end of Communism, and there are very few industrial, communist ruined parts of the country. After a couple hours, we were in view of the Caspian Sea, and we made our way down a fairly large mountain range. We hit the southern most point of Slovenia, and decided to continue on to Croatia. Croatia has some ridiculous beaches on the Caspian Sea, and we drove south on a road that overlooked all of them. We decided to stop at one that said, “Nudist Beach, No Cameras!” Unfortunately, the beach was still closed for the winter. Fortunately, the China Man, the Indian and the Jew kept their clothes on. Croatia has a distinct Italian feel, and the countryside in Slovenia and the countryside in Croatia look drastically different. With rolled through a couple other towns, and thought about how insanely far away the Caspian Sea is from any other body of water we had ever set foot in. Early in the afternoon, we decided to head back as to avoid driving on curvy Slovenian mountain passes at night. Then we saw a sign for Trieste.

Trieste is a huge port city, which happens to be in Italy. When we drove into town we saw nothing but cranes, bus ports and factories for the first twenty minutes. Passing all this, you come to a real town, with a couple museums, a sweet cobblestone square and some ancient Roman ruins. After seeing the ruins and walking around two for an hour, it was approaching 4PM. We got back into the car and headed towards the highway. We started seeing signs, and one of them said “Venice 150KM.” None of us had been to Venice so we thought it would be a nice place to have dinner. Unfortunately, none of the Treistian girls we asked to dinner with us were into the idea, so we got on the highway towards Venice.

The road to Venice was the most amazing drive I have ever done. There is a road that heads along the Caspian Sea for about 25 miles before heading inland. I have never been on California Rt. 1 along the Pacific, but there is no way that California is any better than this northern Italian coast. To our right were the foothills of the Italian Alps, and to the left was the Caspian Sea. For a couple minutes we forgot we were rockin it out in an inline-4 Peugeot. We could have been in a Ferrari.

The sunset was going down as we arrived in Venice. We had no idea where we were going to park the car, because we didn’t think Venice would be the most car friendly city. It turns out that there are virtually no cars aloud in the city at all. And to do their shopping and everything else, Venecians have to ride a Gondola on the main waterway out to one of a few giant car garages in the suburbs. So we rode in on Venice’s main highway, a river about 75 meters across, lined with 16th and 17th century buildings that go literally up to the waters edge. We grabbed a couple of slices of pizza for dinner, and walked around. Every other street was a thin waterway that only the small taxi gondolas could fit through. We grabbed some coffee in the main square, sang along to Piano Man with a bunch of euro-drunks until around 1AM, when we decided to head back towards Llubjana, where we had started.

You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Slovenian rest stop. No seriously, they are actually really nice. In that part of the world there is no such thing as take away coffee, so when you need a recharge in the middle of the night, you have to take a drink in this place that is half 7-11, half classy café, where you take shots of espresso in nice porcelain cups with truck drivers. We found the perfect thing to get us through the night. It is an idea that will make someone millions in the US. It is a box of bite size dark chocolates, each with a shot of straight espresso inside. It was the most amazing thing I have ever found at a road stop.

Approaching 4AM, slightly delirious, slightly crunked up on chocolate and caffeine, we arrived at the outskirts of Llubjana. In a fit of hysteria, where literally none of us stopped laughing for 10 minutes, we decided to head north to the Austrian boarder, where we heard we could catch a good sunrise. We looped around the beltway of Llubjana and headed to Bled, the second biggest city in Slovenia. We got there around 6 and found the Lake Bled, which looked promising for a sunrise. Unfortunately the casino in town had just closed half an hour before so we sat in a parking lot, waiting for the sunrise. We noticed a Bled police car that had passed by us a couple times. We got a little nervous when the Po Po approached, because we hadn’t heard the best things about Slovenian prisons. They passed us a third time, rolled down their window, and said something to us in Slovenian. They noticed we clearly didn’t know a word, so he said in perfect English, “are you alright?” They turned out to be more helpful and friendly that any cop we had found in the U.S. They didn’t have time to get breakfast with us, but when we asked them where was a good place to watch the sunrise, they pointed straight up. We looked up and saw Bled Castle on a cliff about 200 meters above the lake. We started driving up the path to this 14th century castle. We parked the car about 10 meters from the top the castle, and trekked our way up the rest, with Tak limping and cursing all along.

It turned out that we all fell asleep waiting for the sunrise, and when we woke up it was light out, with a thick fog draped across the Slovenian landscape. We thought we had better head back since our train was leaving around 9:30. We rolled back through mountains we hadn’t seen the first time we drove through them in the dark. We got back around 7 and got in the sauna in the basement gym of our hooked up hotel. It was the greatest 90 degree Celsius sweat I have ever had. I sweat out the grime from three countries, an ocean, a lake, and tons of canals that we had seen in the last 24 hours.

This was the most ridiculous of adventures that I had in the last ten days that also involved Turkish baths in Budapest, a girl named Maria that worked at a second hand clothing store in Bratislava, Slovakia (not Slovenia) and many more. Good times. Peace J.

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10.17.06 Links

In Chicago, Peter Levine gives his thoughts on the Campus Compact 20th Anniversary program. My paper at the conference, entitled 'New Communications Tools and Building Global Citizenship,' is available here.

In NYC, J.Slab goes in search for delicious Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches.

Returning from Cape Town, my Kampala compatriot Anna Phillips reflects on her experience as coach at the Homeless World Cup (HWC). Anna helped lead Team Gomo Tong: a team of footballers displaced from the conflict in northern Uganda.

One of the Gomo Tong players, Sara Angwech, was interview on BBC radio. Here are some photos of the Ugandan team at HWC in Cape Town.

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Next Steps in Northern Uganda

The roller coaster that is the Juba Peace Talks between the Government of Uganda (GOU) and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) carries on this week. Since the Peace Talks began in August, northern Uganda has become a battleground for discussion on different approaches to transitional justice and reconciliation. Last week, Refugee Law Project (RLP) published To Look Forward, We Must Look Back, the first position paper on the issue. The paper is an excellent starting point for the debate. RLP writes:

We believe that local reconciliation methods such as Mato Oput are important at a local level and should be validated, supported and strengthened. We also believe that the truth-telling elements embedded in Mato Oput and many other Ugandan cultural reconciliation mechanisms should be emulated and adapted into a wider process.

However, we recognize and stress that the current emphasis on local mechanisms cannot address the needs of the country as a whole, whether it be the north-south divide, or tensions between east and west. Equally, we recognize that international justice mechanisms- such as the ICC- are structurally incapable of handling anything more than the most visible perpetrators of abuses; while they address a particular dimension of impunity, they are not suited for dealing with the wider psychosocial and political consequences of decades of conflict.

Important points. Nearly everyone agrees that traditional justice practices and the ICC must be part of a larger transitional justice picture. Here is where divergent opinion begins:

In support of the efforts of other actors working on these issues, we therefore urge Government, Civil Society Actors, Religious Bodies and political parties, to fully investigate the multiple options for establishing a national truth and reconciliation process.

RLP is on target. Anyone with a sense of history recognizes that President Museveni has the opportunity to make one of the boldest and bravest moves in Uganda's short history. A national truth and reconciliation process that addresses the vast gulfs of mistrust and conflict that have separated the many nations that exist within the Ugandan state would do much to end the deeply ingrained culture of nepotism.

There are two very hard questions that RLP does not address.

(i) Is there political will to make national truth and reconciliation a reality?

The answer lies only with Museveni. There is reason to be hopeful. He is increasingly interested in his legacy, especially relating to East African unity. He must know that this cannot happen unless his own house is in order. There are also economic reasons. Stability of Southern Sudan, with Juba as its capital, makes for enormous economic opportunity. Anything material going to Juba will surely come from the Mombasa Port via Kampala and Gulu. Uganda loses much needed income if the north is unstable. Even political adversaries like Gulu LC V Chairman Norbert Mao have acknowledged that Museveni has become significantly more open-minded about resolving the northern question. However, it will take a heroic effort for him to transcend the political culture of neo-patrimonialism that has pervaded Uganda.

(ii) What would a national truth and reconciliation process look like?

The details of this plan are beyond the scope of this post, but the process should be served by the careful balancing of two disparate principles. First, all parties should recognize that the process of 'acknowledgement' is central to the Ugandan sense of justice. While punitive justice would be a Sisyphisean task considered the twenty-two armed conflicts in the last twenty years, public acknowledgement of wrongs would go a long way towards reconciliation.

Second is Rosiland Shaw's concept of 'social forgetting.' Shaw is a Tufts University anthropologist whose work in Sierra Leone showed that truth commissions, which are the international norm in transitional justice, are not always therapeutic. Shaw showed that religious or traditional based approaches to dealing with the past can often be more appropriate and effective.

Uganda must strike a careful balance between a national process that fosters unity and a series of local processes that encourage healing.

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Aga Who?

I've been rolling around town with Jackfruity and we began seeing pictures of a guy named Aga Khan everywhere. Her tersely cogent investigation is a must read.

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Dear Ugandan Blogosphere

The following letter was sent to members of the Ugandan blogosphere:

Hello! My name is Josh. I just started writing the Uganda Roundup for Global Voices Online (GVO). The idea behind GVO is to get the word out about stories from parts of the world that don't traditionally get alot of space in mainstream media. GVO is written by bloggers from around the world; it's a pretty spectacular award winning site. It also happens to be one of the top 150 blogs in the world in terms of number of hits, so if your work gets posted there, alot of people are going to read what you have to say.

GVO has never had a Uganda roundup until now, so its a cool oppurtunity to give more exposure for the growing, but still small, Ugandan blogosphere. I like covering posts that shed light on life in Uganda. I try to find a balance in my GVO posts amongst book reviews, quirky stories about your morning matatu ride, and news analysis and opinion. I'd personally like to see more news related posts, but I think this will develop in time. The rule is: Do ur thang. The only criterium I have are (i) snappy writing and (ii) content that the global public might find interesting.

Also, I think a Happy Hour is in order, and I think Ernest Bazanye should give some remarks because he is endlessly full of mirth hilarious self deprecation. I'll be out of the country for a few weeks, but stay tuned for a Ugandan Blogosphere Happy Hour in late November.

Finally, check out this list of Ugandan blogs that I think reach the above criteria. Make a comment if I've missed any.

Peace. Josh

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My First GVO post

Here is my first Global Voices Online Uganda Roundup. Enjoy.

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Global Voices: Uganda

Global Voices: Uganda

I've been asked by Global Voices Sub-Saharan Africa Editor Ndesanjo Macha to start doing a regular roundup of the Ugandan blogosphere. Uganda's blogosphere isn't quite as vibrant as others in the region (specifically Kenya), but there are a growing number of coherent voices discussing the country's issues. A few prominent journalists have blogs, and there are several excellent student blogs coming out of Makerere University. Here is the preliminary list of Ugandan blogs. The only criteria I used to pick these blogs is (i) clear and strong writing, (ii) content that the world wants to hear! I'm sure there are many I've left out, so leave a comment if you have a suggestion!

Here is a preliminary list:

Basawad's Safari Notes
BBC-My Africa-Uganda
Dear Mr. McCourt
El Espacio De Juana
Ernest Bazanye
Global Youth Partnership for Africa
Jay's Idle Notes
The X-Poser
Velvet Ink

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Rowing Lake Vic: Part II

For the second time this month, I went down to the fish market at Munyonyo and hustled a fisherman into letting me take out his canoe for a few hours. This time I was alone, so my strategy was to choose a small boat that would allow easier paddling and more maneuverability.

Last time I explored a small marina where families car camped and race small Sunfish boats in the morning. Today, I head just west of the marina, to a small island that looked full of potential. There was no sign of life on the island last time, and today was the same. I pulled into a dry landing spot which broke through the marshy weeds that surrounded the island.

I found myself in a small tropical paradise. Small bright flowers and enormous green banana leaves covered the landscape. However, as I walked up a small path, I began to hear voices. I turned a corner at the top of the hill and saw a group of local women, sitting in the shade, picking beans off large clumps of branches. One of the women had just opened a papaya with a small knife. After spending an hour in the blinding sunlight, the orange at the center of the papaya looked especially rich to me.

One of the women told me that no one lived on the island, but it was a place that fisherman came to take a break from the harsh mid-day sun, and where a few women from the mainland came to do some subsistence farming. I thanked the women for the information and asked if one of the women, who had a small child, wanted to finish the bottle of water I had brought along. She gladly accepted, and in return, to my surprise, I was given a strange looking gourd. The gourd resembled an odd shaped pumpkin, and was like nothing I had seen on the mainland.

With gourd in hand, I returned to my sturdy ship. Unfortunately, after I pushed off the shore, I realized that my ship was not so sturdy. I had noticed earlier that the boat was old, with the metal rivets rusting and wood slightly deteriorating. However, now I began to see that I had a pinhole leak was very slowly filling my boat with water. Luckily, at that point, I was close to shore, and I pulled in before the leak had done any damage. Now I understand why my fisherman friend Charles had warned me against taking out used boats.

All in all, another beautiful morning on Lake Vic!

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In A Delicious Ethiopian Minute

This post is officially J. Slab inspired. Slab and I have had quite a number of food adventures, walking 54 blocks for a cheese steak in Greenwich Village, and scouting Vietnamese goodies in deep Brooklyn. But Slab has never made it to Rehobot, a restaurant beautiful in its simplicity in Kampala's Kabalagala neighborhood. Now, I've heard Kabalagala called the Vegas of Uganda. If this is true, then the Strip is a 500m long road packed with street meat vendors, peanut slingers, bars and their prostitutes, corner preachers, bums and restaurants bringing fare from Congo, Eritrea, Kenya and Tanzania.

My favorite 'ex-pat' population in Kabalagala is the Ethiopians. Maybe it's because I'm from DC (which hosts a Little Ethiopia), because they count Bob Marley and the Queen of Sheeba among their icons, or because any afternoon of the week you can find a table of Ethiopian dissident exiled journalist with eyes glazed over from chewing too much quat. Regardless, Ethiopians get the edge up because of the delicious eats at Rehobot.

The hierarchy of Ethiopian restaurants in Kabalagala goes like this: If you want to impress a girl or have a taste for swank, you go to Fasika Up the road is Ethiopian Village, a moderately priced restaurant and bar. Few venture beyond luminaries on the Kabalagala scene. However, down the road, nestled between two local dive bars, lies, as J. Slab would say, the epicenter of delicious.

Rehobot is a humble spot. It hosts 4 tables and a pool table, and is presided over by Mamma, with her two deputies, her 9-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. Mama makes beef and vegetarian miracles with the fundamental elements of Ethiopian cuisine: injara (spongy sourdough flatbread), berbere (strong red chili powder) and niter kebbeh (light butter spiced with ginger and garlic).

I'm at Rehobot usually 4/5 times per week, but two dishes are central to arsenal. The vegetarian Mixed Plate is savory sauté of potatoes, cabbage, and my favorite, misr, a brown lentil stew, all served on a plate of injara. The other dish is kitfo, ground beef marinated in spicy mitmita. Also served on injara, this dish is akin to the tastiest hamburger I've ever had.

After eating, I usually stick around to have a cup of coffee or tea and chat with the colorful and friendly clientele from all over the Horn of Africa. The coffee is espresso style: brewed strong. Their black tea is perfectly steeped with cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom and sugar.

I've pursued Ethiopian delicious on at least three continents, and Rehobot is amongst the best I've tasted. But here is the chart topper: the price. The meat dishes are 4000 shillings ($2) and the vegetarian is ($1). The coffee and tea each amount to about 12 cents per cup. You can't stop.

For more photos from Rehobot and my other adventures this month, click here.

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l'importance du passé

"La voie la plus courte vers l'avenir est qui passe par l'approfondissement du passé."

The deeper you look into the past, the shorter your way to the future.

Via BHLasen, I came across an elegant quote from Aimé Césaire. The quote is sage advice for leaders of developing countries who are struggling to unite territories with several unique identities. Specifically, I'm thinking of the big challenge the Government of Uganda faces when trying to connect the country at the close of the LRA conflict. Uganda has made incredible progress following the first 30 nightmarish years of independence. However, the fact that the last 20 years has only been a nightmare for the northern half of the country points to the face that Uganda's deep fissures are far from healed.

My daily work will hopefully amount to a contribution to a closing of these fissures, but one central question continues to stand out in my mind: If the government is responsible for setting the scene for reconciliation, what can compel them to do so? Geo-political realities? Economic opportunity? Museveni's legitimate desire for a positive legacy?

Are these motivations strong enough to push Uganda beyond its deeply ingrained culture of sectarianism?

I've written before, in response to Fukuyama, about the role of building political institutions within specific cultural contexts.

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Kenny and Phil

Benn Loxo has a brilliant post on the ridiculous popularity of Kenny Rogers and Phil Collins in Africa.

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These Bantu Jews

The synagouge on Nabugoye Hill. Home to the Abayudaya Jews of eastern Uganda

The Days of Awe are made more awesome in this hill country, away from the lights of the city, where these solemn and humble folk practice faith in its truest form, wrapped in fear and awe, unencumbered by generations of doubt that has consumed us in the West. Strangely, as I gaze at the towering mountain overlooking this pastoral synagogue, I hear the prayer of my faith no different than if I never left home.

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Join Us in Uganda in January

Global Youth Partnership for Africa is ready to announce our winter break trips to Uganda and Sierra Leone in January 2007! Applications are available for Ugandans and Americans at Here is an overview of the Uganda program, which I am proud to help lead:

Global Kimeeza II: The Role of Youth in Post-Conflict Reconstruction

January 2nd-17th

This fall, peace talks have brought a cessation of hostilities to the 20-year civil war in Northern Uganda; now is a critical time to examine the political situation and engage in the practice of reconstruction and reconciliation. The goal of the Kimeeza is to provide a platform for Americans and Ugandans to explore the important role that youth play in post-conflict reconstruction by sharing ideas, approaches, and strategies.

The Second Global Kimeeza will focus on three important domains that are necessary to rebuilding a thriving northern Uganda:
1. Youth as Peacebuilders;
2. Justice and Forgiveness; and
3. Poverty Relief and Economic Development.

This historic initiative will help establish a stronger relationship between the youth of the United States and Uganda. Ultimately, it is our goal to build bridges of greater understanding and inspire an ongoing dialogue between today’s young American and Ugandan leaders – tomorrow’s global decision makers.

The application should be online this morning, but if you are in a hurry, send an email to to recieve one

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Thanks Blogger!

Wow. Needless to say I'm a little giddy. To come back from Mbale and see that I got over 5800 3,000 hits in the last few hours thats to Blogger's 'Blog of Note' mention on their main page. Thanks for all the kind comments and stay tuned this week for posts on Bantu Jews, Ethiopian exiles who run restaurants in Kampala, and updates on real world (and Net facilitated) reconciliation in Uganda.

Just back in the office, so have to get started!