Wednesday Links 3.28.07

In the Cambridge, Ethan Zuckerman writes about the strange case of Omar Mohamed Meshal, an American arrested by the Ethiopians after fleeing Somalia during the recent invasion.

In Arua, Pernille announces a Danish documentary on blogging in Uganda!

In Paris, Matt Yanchyshyn tells us about his recent trip to Cuba and the lack of opportunity he witnessed. He also links to some Angolan music laced with Cuban influence.

In Medford, Drew Bennett gives a brilliant critique of the recent New York Times Travel section dedicated to Africa and provides fresh insight into the misperceptions of the continent.


Grassroots Organizing

On Friday I had a great opportunity to speak to a group of student organizers at the Innovations in Student Leadership Conference at American University in Washington. After being a bit out of the loop of students in organizing mode for most of my time in Uganda, I remembered how much I enjoyed being in the midst of high energy students who were deep into figuring out the practical challenges they faced as early stage organizations.

One of the most impressive visionaries I met was a student named Charlie Cannon, who is currently launching the 'Initiative on Global Organ Trafficking,' an effort to document the trade in illegal human organs. Charlie is leading the charge to get this tough issue more recognized by the international health and human rights communities as a priority issue.


Why Didn’t Ugandan Bloggers Write About the Nation’s Biggest Story?

My latest Global Voices post, published here.

The Ugandan blogosphere was silent on the country’s biggest story over the last few weeks. On March 5th, the Ugandan judges and lawyers went on strike after presidential security agents raided the High Court to re-arrest six treason suspects who had been granted bail. The suspects were accused of representing the People’s Redemption Army (PRA), a shadowy rebel group that opposition candidate Dr. Kizza Besigye has been associated with.

On March 14th, several of the suspects were released after allegedly being beaten, and with the striking judiciary, marched around the High Court to cleanse it of the incident. President Museveni sent a letter to the judiciary and apologized for the incident. Why didn’t the blogosphere comment on this major story? Reasons could range from fear of reprisal from the government to this simply being business as usual for the Museveni regime.

In other news, The Diocese of northern Uganda shares the lesson he learned from noticing an early morning cock fight:


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This is a Criterion

photo via Richard Distand (Facebook)
Dear Uganda:

This is a road race criterion. Crazy young lads get dressed up in space alien suits and sprint around a short road course at 35 miles/hour right up on each other's back wheel. They make hairpin turns and occasionally crash violently. Their bikes are both devastatingly elegant and rather dainty; they are super fast, efficient, aerodynamic but unable to handle the smallest pot hole. The race was in a parking lot on a Sunday morning at the University of Maryland (go Terps!), so they didn't have to worry about running into matatus or boda bodas. In short, this is not the bike you would want to take on a trip from Kampala to Capetown.

Well, time to get my space alien suit on and go for a ride.

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Wednesday Links 3.22.07

In Washington, Michael Hirsch looks into the few clues we have available to understand Senator Obama's foreign policy positions (and potential).

In London, Paul Rogers predicts that American military restructuring in Africa foreshadows more policy dictated by the Pentagon instead of the State Department.

In College Park, Peter Levine shows, through a simple thought experiment involving curry, that there are concepts that cannot be defined in words but that can be commonly understood through experience.

In Washington, one of the best writers in the chattering class, Andrew Sullivan, smashes Dinesh D'Souza's new book on theoconservatives.


What Northern Uganda Peace Advocates Rarely Talk About

The United States, with very little effort, could drastically increase the possibility of a permanent resolution of the conflict in northern Uganda. Why Washington hasn't made an effort has been a matter of speculation in policy and development circles since the peace talks began in August 2006.

John Prendergast and Colin Thomas-Jansen, in their recent Foreign Affairs article 'Blowing the Horn,' explain why the answer becomes clear when one considers America's priorities in the greater Horn of Africa, and the interconnectedness of the conflicts in the region. Money quote:

"Stemming the spread of terrorism and extremist ideologies has become such an overwhelming strategic objective for Washington that it has overshadowed U.S. efforts to resolve conflicts and promote good governance; in everything but rhetoric, counterterrorism now consumes U.S. policy in the Greater Horn as totally as anticommunism did a generation ago."

The article argues that the false god of anti-terrorism has led America to take a myopic view of the region that not only increases the places where terrorism thrives, but also does little to resolve the conflicts in 8 countries that leave 16 million people to face chronic insecurity. The article provides concrete policy alternatives that place anti-terrorism within the context of statebuilding and broader security. This is a must read for anyone who wants to imagine how the next American administration could be better in Africa.

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Bless the Rains Down in Africa

It was 75 degrees when I woke up and decided to take the day off from work yesterday. I spent the morning with my friend Greg down on the Potomac River enjoying the weather. But the titanic battle between winter and spring had reared its ugly head by the afternoon, as a cold front blew in from the plain states, making the temperature drop 40 degrees in a few hours. Missing Africa as the cold set in, I thought we might need some peppy music.

If Talib Kweli is the new KRS-ONE, then Little Brother is the new Talib Kweli. Phonte, one of the members of Little Brother, can even sing. Check out their 'Africa' remix of the classic Toto song, with some djembe drums and soul.


Wednesday Links 3.14.07

In Kampala, registration opens for the Lake Victoria Triathlon!! The race is held in Entebbe. Contact the don of Kampala mountain biking, Fritz Behnson for more information at Behnsen (a t) ruwas dot co dot ug

In London, V.S. Naipaul writes about the complexities of being a fiction writer who wants to engage in history and the modern world.

In Washington, the Project for Excellence in Journalism 'State of the Media Project' ranks Global Voices as a top American media outlet. Good work!

In New York, the UNDP South-South Cooperation Unit launches a blog.

In Washington, sign up continues for American students interested in traveling to Cameroon and Uganda this summer to learn about international development and network with African youth leaders. For more, visit Global Youth Partnership for Africa.

In the Netherlands, ICT Update is published, a new journal that highlights in each issue 'highlights an aspect relevant for ICT's for agriculture and rural development in African, Carribean and Pacific countries."

36 Hours in Kampala

"Welcome to K'la City...where the food is delicious but the roads are shitty."
- Ugandan Hip Hop Proverb

The New York Times Travel section runs an occasional series on what to do with 36 hours in a city of their choosing. They forgot to cover Kampala, so I did.

2PM Bribe a fisherman at Munyonyo Fish Market
Lake Victoria is a defining feature of the region and an absolutely stunning site. What better way to experience the lake than on a fairly unreliable, hollowed out log that smells like Nile Perch? For $4 per day you can bribe a fisherman for his boat. Within 500 meters of shore there is an uninhabited island.

7PM Rehobot Ethiopian Restaurant
The best restaurant in Kampala is a hole in the wall Ethiopian place on Kabalagala Road called Rehobot. The restaurant is operated by the charming and lovely Momma and her daughter Tashfanish (Hope in Amharic). Go to Rehobot for the delicious, bountiful portions of vegetarian and meat dishes for under $2, and stay for the conversation with Ethiopian exiled journalists who sit around all afternoon chewing khat across the street.

10PM Evening in Kabalagala
Kabalagala is the Vegas of Uganda. Lively and low cost, with bars, restaurants and shops with influence from all over east and central Africa, all within a few blocks. Brilliant for spit-roasted local chicken and football matches.

10AM Cafe Pap
Modernity personified. Operated by the spiffy director of the Uganda Coffee Marketing Board, Pap has flat screens, wireless and a delicious buzz.

12PM Old Taxi Park
Some compare it to the gates of hell. Others find a subtle beauty in the collective sulfur belches of several hundred ill-repaired mini bus taxis crammed into a small, crater-like hole in the middle of Kampala. Read Moses Isegawa's Abbysinian Chronicles for a elegant description that is matched only by seeing the Park in person at high noon.

1PM Pilau place in Wandegeya- Makerere University
Eating Pilau makes me think of Zanzibar and the Swahili Coast. For $1, you can get a massive and delicious portion of this spicy rice dish in Wandegeya, the student hangout neighborhood near the entrance of Makerere University. Digest over a game of pool at Club Five on campus.

8PM Breakdance Uganda practice
Abramz Tekya, the founder of Breakdance Uganda is one of the most visionary and creative young Ugandans I have met. He managed to create a project that harnessed the power of breakdance to teach positive living and give kids in tough situations throughout the country an outlet for their art. Watch wild kids breakdance and connect with the local hip-hop scene.

10PM Mexican Food at Fat Boyz
Fat Boyz plays Reaggeaton music and serves Mexican food. Who can mess with that?

1AM Rouge
If you want to stay out until 6AM like the rest of Kampala's crazy kids, this nightclub is the spot. Hopefully they will have a website soon.

10AM Owino Market
Markets are where the action is in Kampala. Even though Owino is tame compared to the Old Taxi Park, you will still find your share of energetic hawkers selling everything from sandals to mangoes. Sunday is meat delivery day, so try to avoid getting sideswiped with a cow shank being unloaded off the back of a pickup truck. Make sure you try the fried grasshoppers; they taste like potato chips.

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How Should Universities Utilize Social Networking Tools to Promote Civic Engagement?

Students should leave college prepared not only well trained for jobs but also for being good citizens. This has been the mantra of university presidents around the country over the past few years as the shocking events of the outside world helped them recall that higher education should not just be about job training, but also about preparing students to contribute to a great good.

With a Senior Scholar at the University of Maryland, I'm helping to design a website that will be the center of a major campus wide initiative (starting in fall '07) to help students be more informed about the civic engagement options available at this dynamic and massive public research institution. However, the project goes beyond a database; its about utilizing social tools to target the majority of university students, whom we believe would like to be more active citizens but simply don't know that they can engage in appealing and non-traditional ways.

Our message is that civic engagement is more than Student Government Associations and Habitat for Humanity; the concept goes beyond volunteering. We want to portray the varied opportunities for citizenship through a medium that students already recognize as activities that make their lives richer. Some examples are travel, music or their major.

To do this, we are utilizing another medium that they already connect with: social networking tools. None of these tools are cutting edge by themselves, but I argue that just as companies and non-profits are beginning to recognize the power of these tools, universities have yet to do so. I have yet to find a university that has utilized social networking tools to reach out to students on any major initiatives. On the website itself and the marketing campaign surrounding the launch, we are considering several tools to reach students.

the blog
I've never seen a blog interface on any university website. The proposal calls for a university student who speaks to several broad campus sub-cultures to write informal reflections on everything from opportunities that are available, programs and events that took place, and untraditional perspectives on serving the community. It will take careful searching to find the correct student for this job. To help illustrate this concept for the steering committee in charge of this effort, I illustrated a few possible post titles:
Graduates Report Civic Engagement Helps Them Get Jobs
Prominent Hip Hop Artists Search for Fraternities to Host Fundraiser Performances
Students Spend Winter Break in Zanzibar Serving Communities in Need
Engineering Class Applies Skills to Real World Community Challenge

Happily, the committee of academics steering this project welcomed this idea with open arms.

facebook identity to target campus groups
I've always believed that one way students would be more willing to get out in the community is if there was an opportunity based around their major or another established interest. Facebook is a tool that has presorted student interests, allows targeting of specific groups with links to the website with opportunities they may find appealing.

you tube video
I predict that all the big student movements in the next few years will succeed with viral videos like this. They are short, pithy and cool. We are considering taking on some other students to create a video promoting our website.

Utilizing social tools for promoting big university goals is going to be a huge issue in the next few years. There will be many big questions to answer. Recognizing this, the MacAurthur Foundation has already pledged $50 million over the next five years to create the Center for Digital Learning and Media. There are some snappy PhD candidates down at UNC working in this field as well. Finally, I've proposed the title of this post as a discussion topic at Harvard's Conference on Internet and Society, whose theme this year is 'What is the Role of the University in Cyberspace?"


Wednesday Links 03.07.07

In New York, my old mentor Benjamin Barber recounts Interdependence Day in Fez, Morocco on the Tavis Smiley Show. This is a little insight into some of the projects I was working on in my pre-Africa life. This life had some blessed summers in New York, and taking Harry Belefonte suit shopping in Paris when he lost his luggage (story for another day)!

In Washington, Jeremy Goldberg writes about why donor agencies, development practitioners and sports fans should embrace the 'Sports for Change' model.

In Asmara, Edward Denison reminds us that the recent abduction of tourists in northern Ethiopia is but one embodiment of the long standing Ethiopia-Eritrea border conflict.

In Washington, David Shinn evaluates the new Somali government's potential for success.

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On Dr. Stockley

Since I referenced Last King of Scotland in my Global Voices piece that was published over the weekend, I thought I better go and finally see the film myself. My first reaction? Yea Dr. Stockley! This is no secret to the Kampala community by now, but the famous Dick Stockley, British doctor (and distance runner) made a cameo in the film as the Times Journalist who had been reporting on the disappearances of several of Amin’s opponents. Stockley deserves the role; he has been living in Uganda for over 30 years.

Dr. Stockley played more than a bit role in my own Ugandan drama in 2006. The first thing he did when I first met was make fun of me for lacking trousers (I was wearing shorts). On that day I told him in passing that I had arrived in Entebbe from Tel Aviv, and for the next eighth months he would spend months telling me his outlandish theories on war and terrorism. My allegiance to Stockley was cemented when, after seeing three other doctors, he finally diagnosed my malarial mystery. Further, he was also the one who diagnosed the spitting Niarobi Eye that attempted and failed to keep me from going to Zanzibar.

After being away from Uganda for a month, it was strange and beautiful to see a film with such high production value portray the country’s rich countryside, the madness of Kampala’s city streets, and the music of our beloved Ndere Dance Troupe.

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Uganda: The Last King of Scotland, Cessation of Hostilities Agreement Expires, and Hummers in Kampala

My latest Global Voices post is here, inspired by seeing Forrest Whitaker in the Academy Awards.

On Sunday Evening at the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, an emotionally shaken Forrest Whitaker accepted an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in The Last King of Scotland, a film set in the frightful times of the Ugandan despot Idi Amin.

In February, the grand opening of the film took place in Kampala. The New York Times sent an outside correspondent to cover the event, and wrote in a front page article calling Uganda “one of the safest and most stable countries in Africa.” This week, the Times published this response from Patty in Nairobi:

"In 'A Film Star in Kampala, Conjuring Amin’s Ghost' (front page, Feb. 18), you note that Uganda is now “one of the safest and most stable countries in Africa.” That may be true in southern Uganda, but it is a very different reality for the Acholi people in the marginalized north. In Uganda, only half the population lives in a part of the country where it’s secure enough to film a Hollywood picture. We should not forget the other half."

In Kampala, Moses Odokonyero, a journalist at the independent Uganda Daily Monitor and blogger at sub-Saharan African Roundtable, describes a first hand encounter with Amin’s machinery of torture, as told by an Anglican Archbishop who was condemned for speaking out against the regime. Odokonyero then goes on to draw parallels between the Amin regime and the Museveni’s behavior in suppressing Kizza Besigye, his main opponent in the last presidential election:

Museveni, like Amin, shot his way to power after a five-year guerilla struggle that he and his supporters call a revolution. One of his favorite topics, besides the media, is past leaders whom he baptized “swines” several years ago. But how different is he from the “swines?” Uganda has greatly changed since the Amin days: people don’t disappear as often and crudely from the streets, and there has been an improvement in press freedom and freedom of speech which is commendable. But stories of illegal detentions, people being tortured in the most gruesome of ways, including allegedly tying stones on their testicles, are still heard of, only this time they take place in “safe houses.”


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