A challenge to change a ‘wonderful thing’

There are two big challenges for any of my trainings. The first is to get a quick overview on the socio-political context of the country I am training in. Ideally you have time to do this in advance, but reality seldom offers enough time to do this. So the minute I enter a country I basically start asking questions, read newspapers and ask the partner organisation any relevant documents they can come up with. In this case my taxi driver was the first ‘victim’. Taxi drivers are usually good, in a habit of talking anyway, they usually spill quite a bit of information. So by the end of the ride I knew there were upcoming elections, the clientelism and treating the country as their personal property of the president and friends was something most people were fed up with, and in the area between the airport and Kampala there were many brick factories, because of the excellent clay. The driver did not even need to prove his point on the President and friends. Just before we arrived at the hotel, we were summoned to stop. The road was blocked by military cars and we had to wait until some kind of important person passed by – of course with all the necessary flashing light and black coloured windows.

Grafiti in the streets of Kampala
Grafiti in the streets of Kampala

The delivery of documents at 8 o’clock in the morning also was useful. Reading the much debated anti-homosexual bill was not very uplifting, but at least the death penalty was taken out. Moreover a friend send an article from a Dutch newspaper stating that after the elections this bill will probably fade away and this is just a way to ‘mobilize’ the people in favour of the ruling party of the President. In the meantime though lesbian and gays fear for their lives, as a newspaper this week published names of suspected ‘offenders’ and called upon the public to hang them.

The governments expenditure track record until now also provided insight in the incredible amount of money that Uganda is putting towards its outer appearance (lots of money towards Embassies, UN mission etc), the Prime Minister and own parliamentarians (a new bill for their particular pension scheme), and relatively very little towards the essentials such as health and education, but maybe that is included in money for the districts. Let’s just hope that for now.

I found out many more things (including visiting the newest mall and favourite hangout of young people and foreigners, the Ugandan soccer team are called the Cranes, you have to invite at least 300 guests to your wedding and in the run up to the weddings you hold weekly meetings where you collect money from friends to actually pay for it), but I think the bottom line on the socio-political front unfortunately for many Ugandans is still this:

‘Poverty is a wonderful thing, it sticks with you long after all your friends have left.’

This Hebrew proverb was quoted in an article in the newspaper I was reading. I can cynically state that the Ugandan government should take it up as their new motto, as a challenge to prove it wrong. However, this brings me to my second challenge, to learn about the socio-political context and not get depressed about it. Nevertheless, the organisations that I will be working with the coming days are certainly trying not to and will do so for many years to come. In order to make sure I can actually offer a useful training I will share their optimism and look for the opportunities that do lie ahead in this context i.e. the new domestic violence and female genital mutilation bills. For the simple reason that they can definitely use some friends to continue to do so and make sure their government will be held accountable.

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