Monday, October 25, 2010

My first week the second time around

This being my second visit to Uganda, I thought everything would be a lot easier. Well, my first few days turned out to be not quite as easy as I expected.

It all started with the no-show of the driver who was supposed to pick me up at the Entebbe airport. Then there was a delay in travelling to Kasese, my final destination because the transport was not available. To top it all, while in Kampala, I had to go through the tedious and laborious task of selecting furniture, utensils and all other paraphanalia for my apartment in Kasese which had absolutely nothing for daily living.

On the positive side, in the extra time I had in Kampala, I went to the African Village. It houses dozens of shops featuring clothing, handicrafts, beads, art, musical instruments and other Ugandan and African products. Going to the Village on the back of a boda boda, a motorcycle, riding through the busy and congested and rough streets of Kampala without a helmet was an experience I do not recommend. But, I managed to complete my Christmas shopping more than two months in advance. An accomplishment!

My new dwelling in Kasese is not too far from where I lived earlier. It’s a two-bedroom apartment with a common living room. The place is completely bare except for the furniture and things brought by me and Rajamohan who shares it with me. He is an IT specialist from South India who has been here for over a month. This is a welcome change from my previous apartment where I had no company, no one to talk to. And, he also has a cable TV. He loves to watch news and other programs broadcast from India. Equally exciting, he has told me that he is a good cook. I can’t wait to enjoy some South Indian dishes.

Democracy thriving in Uganda

Elections to all levels of government in Uganda will take place in February and day by day, the political fever is rising. Front pages of newspapers and television coverage are dominated by election-related news and events. Everyday there are stories of political wheeling-and-dealing and charges and counter-charges. Yes, democracy is thriving in Uganda albeit in its unique Ugandan incarnation.

The country has been ruled by President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) since 1986 when he led the fight against and defeated rebellious forces. There have been pockets of violent insurgencies in the North and the West since then; but, overall, Museveni has stabilized the country politically and economically. Having been in power for 24 years, he has also consolidated his base enormously.

As can be expected, there are also those who severely criticize his regime for not delivering on its promises. For example, a national newspaper is running excerpts from a banned book which focuses on Museveni’s failures and machinations. The book also details inefficiencies and duplicity of the Uganda’s Electoral Commission, the body charged with the responsibility of ensuring fair and free elections.

There are other national political parties whose attempts at forming an opposition coalition have not succeeded. Even within these parties, there are frictions and in-fighting. There are some dissenting elements also in Museveni’s party supported by those who lost out during the primaries.

Under the Ugandan system, candidates chosen by political parties are called “flag bearers”. Selection of flag bearers took place last month through primaries, and, in the next few days, each flag bearer will be required to file his/her nomination papers. As the process moves on, some irregularities and disputed claims have been uncovered providing fuel for controversies.

Today is the nomination day for the position of President and six other candidates including a woman, are vying for the position occupied by Museveni. This will formally begin the campaign.

Uganda’s National Hero

Twenty-four years old Moses Kipsiro is Uganda’s new national hero. Two gold medals he won in 10,000 and 5,000 metre races at the recently-concluded Commonwealth Games in Delhi have catapulted him to national prominence. Uganda is not known for producing world-class athletes. So, Kipsiro’s achievements have provided the country with some bragging rights and international recognition. Every day since his return last Monday, this young man has been publicly honoured, lavished with gifts and superlative praises and recognized as a role model for young Ugandans. The government has also pledged greater assistance for the training of athletes.

Ugandans of all faiths, tribes, linguistic groups and political stripes came together to celebrate the achievements of young Moses Kipsiro. A welcome change in a highly politically chjarged climate!

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