current state: mourning...

...the theft of my laptop, phone, camera, money, ID, bank card, journal (of the "response to Trial Justice" kind, not the "dear diary" kind), clothes and shoes. Oh, and a friend's copy of Orwell's Homage to Catalonia (to that friend, who doesn't yet know about his loss: my apologies).

The loss of my beloved iBaby will set back the blogging a bit, but I'll do my best to keep posting fairly regularly...I'm working on a couple of pieces that I hope to have up soon.

Lots of love, and remember to lock your doors.


divestment: your thoughts

In college I worked on a divestment campaign to get my university to withdraw its investments from companies that do business in Sudan. The (highly simplifed) reasoning behind divestment is that withdrawing money from companies that are directly or indirectly helping the Sudanese government perpetuate genocide will put pressure on them to stop working in Sudan. The resulting loss of money will help stop the atrocities in Darfur, both by pressuring Khartoum to change its actions and by removing the funding for the genocide.

The International Crisis Group recommends divestment as an effective way to work towards long-term peace and security in Darfur. Six U.S. states and a number of universities have already taken steps to divest. On Tuesday U.S. Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) sent letters to the governors of the remaining 44 states, urging them to "[divest] their states' public pension funds from companies that assist or do business with the Sudanese regime."

When I worked on the university campaign, I ran up against a number of vehement protests from other usually like-minded activists. They were concerned that divestment would hurt both Sudanese citizens and the organizations doing the divesting and that it wouldn't prove effective. The Sudan Divestment Task Force argues against these claims, but I'm still interested in what you think.

Is divestment a viable course of action to stop human rights abuses in Darfur? Do its benefits outweigh its possible negative consequences? Will it work?

College activists, conflict experts, Sudanese citizens, economists, people who happened to stumble across Jackfruity today: leave your comments in the box — I look forward to the discussion.

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aga khan is watching you, part II

Several weeks ago I was discussing my interest in Aga Khan with a friend of mine over a couple of rounds of waragi-and-tonic. This friend works for the Daily Monitor, the more independent of Uganda's two main newspapers. He informed me, somewhat conspiratorially, that Aga Khan owns the paper.

I filed this piece of information away somewhere in the back of my brain with the waragi and let it sit there until yesterday, when I decided to see if it was true.

First resort: Google, the Omniscient God of Search Engines. I typed in "aga khan daily monitor" and was shocked/thrilled/somewhat disappointed to see that, aside from a couple of news articles about Aggie's recent publicity stunts, the first result listed was none other than yours truly.

Hello, I'm Jackfruity, and I'm an Aga Khanoholic.

Even more determined to demystify the connection between Aggie and the Monitor, I did a little more research. It turns out the paper is part of the Nation Media Group, a conglomerate that owns a variety of newspapers, magazines and radio and television stations throughout East Africa. It was founded in 1960 by (surprise!) our friend, the Aga Khan Foundation for Economic Development, and His Highness the Aga Khan now owns 43% of the company's share.

This knowledge forces a choice between Museveni's biases and Aga Khan's. There's really only one way to make such a monumental decision. Allow me to present the Official Jackfruity Aga Khan/Museveni Comparison:

CategoryMuseveniAga KhanWinner
Parentagecattle herderShia playboyAga Khan
Public endorsementJoseph KonyKurmanbek BakievAga Khan
(lesser of two evils)

Aga Khan it is. Glad that's settled.

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Cavities and broken records: Africa's lack of self-confidence

I quit my job this week (not the one with the peanut butter life saver — no worries, my life is still in good hands). I left for several reasons, but the last straw was a conversation that went something like this:

Me: You can't rely solely on international volunteers to make this work. You need to recruit Ugandan volunteers as well, or even more heavily.

Director: But Ugandan volunteers are not as good as international volunteers.

Me: Why not? None of the international volunteers here right now have teaching degrees, but you've turned down three Ugandans who wanted to work here who all have teaching experience.

Director: But Ugandan volunteers are not as good as international volunteers.

His monomaniacal, unsubstantiated claim that the qualified Ugandans who have been clamoring to work for the organization are "not as good" as inexperienced college students from the U.S. was, shall we say, mildly unsettling. Earlier this month, Angelo Izama wrote on the sub-Saharan African roundtable about what he calls modern shamba boys. He laments what he considers to be the prevailing attitude among Africans, and especially African leaders, that they are inferior to the West:

"The shamba boy mentality is built on a conspiracy of history and circumstances that make it acceptable for our leaders to play second fiddle to their white masters and others whiter than them including Asians and Chinese nowadays. This complacency replaces their responsibility to become their own masters...."
Wendy Glauser also claims that "many Africans embrace a collective inferiority complex. Their governments are backward, corrupt and care only about power. Their people are tribalist, selfish, war-loving. This perception, like Canada’s public perception of itself, is one-sided and simple-minded, devoid of the complex current and historical international forces that determine the behaviour of a society and its government."

Vividly illustrating the claims of these two authors is Dennis Matanda, who states that "Africans are not inferior to whites" but also writes that "Africa is not a cursed continent and neither is it ravaged by disease and poverty. The poverty you have is at the top [in the heads of the leaders so to speak] and the only rampant diseases are dental ones where the leaders have large holes in the back of their teeth." He goes on to say that all African leaders are "mad" and that Africans are, as a whole, "lazy."

Izama argues that the only way out of this attitude is for Africans to take charge of their own problems — "to find that desire to stop serving others and begin serving ourselves." Glauser seconds this opinion, suggesting more indigenous lobbies and better African investigative journalism. Matanda offers no solution.

My two cents? The impending failure of the organization I just left is directly proportional to its leader's reliance upon Western volunteers to swoop down and save it. I would argue that the persistence of many "African problems" is related to a belief that, eventually, donor money or foreign troops will come. This belief in the supremacy of Western aid, I think, makes many Africans less likely to take the steps needed to pull themselves out of poverty, disease and war. It's an endless, self-perpetuating cycle of dependency: I want the West to save me, so I do nothing. I do nothing, so the West sends help. The West sends help, so I believe I am incapable of solving my own problems. I believe I am incapable of solving my own problems, so I want the West to save me.

Breaking out of this cycle is possibly the single most difficult challenge Africa faces today. Unfortunately for those of us who work in the realm of "humanitarian aid," there's not much we can do to help (kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?) except stand by and encourage those we meet to take charge of their own futures.

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feeling guilty...

...for (most of) the frustration I've felt since I came to Uganda, re: what I've called the "absolute lack of literature in this country."

There have been times when I would have killed (well...maimed, perhaps. Or at least complained, loudly and prolongedly) for a single good novel that wasn't airmailed from the States. A good, browseable bookstore? In a city of 1.5 million people, there's only one. I had almost come to the conclusion that, for most Ugandans, reading anything but the newspaper was anathema.

As is becoming the pattern this week, I was sorely mistaken.

My immense thanks to Baz for pointing me to mataachi inc. The writing on this blog is beyond exceptional — as Baz says, it's incandescent. An even bigger plus? Mataachi's profile lists both Yeats and Gogol among his favorite authors.

Long, happy, contented sigh.

Dear Deborah Scroggins: Ouch.

I spent the weekend and part of my week curled up on a couch, drinking litres of citrus juice and eating the peculiar things one eats when one is too sick to assemble reasonable sustenance for oneself: a fifth of a canister of Belgian-made "Texas Barbecue" Pringles, an apple, week-old bread. To occupy myself as I recover from this cold (a strangely titled affliction, given that it's 85 degrees (29 Celsius) outside), I've been noveling and reading Emma's War, the true story of a young, passionate British aid worker who married Sudanese warlord Riek Machar in 1991.

I admit that I know very little about Africa -- I've spent a combined total of less than three months on the continent, all within five hours of Kampala. Other than the content of the handful of books I've read and a couple of courses I took in college, the little I do know comes from discussions with other students and activists, my own research and interactions with Ugandans. Most of this knowledge is limited to the Great Lakes region and filtered through the lens of the LRA conflict in northern Uganda.

I've spent the last eighteen months seeing the Sudan People's Liberation Army as a single, unified movement in southern Sudan, fighting against the cruel, genocidal Islamic government and battling LRA rebels who cross the border to obtain supplies from Khartoum. I've heard that "Museveni backs the SPLA and al-Bashir backs the LRA" and accepted the alarmingly prevalent (among college-aged activists) logic that because the LRA are obviously the "bad rebels," the SPLA must be the "good rebels." The recent peace talks in Juba, coordinated by Machar himself, have served as even further proof that the SPLA is "on our side."


I know that no single book should be taken as a definitive source for information, but to author Deborah Scroggins I say: wow. I'm ashamed that, despite recognizing the complexity of the conflict(s) in Uganda and having worked for organizations that acknowledge and are wrestling with the problem of developing a comprehensive, holistic approach to national reconciliation and rebuilding in such a fractured social, political and economic environment, I have been so persistently, unquestioningly, ridiculously naïve.

I won't attempt to explain the multiple political, religious, ethnic and economic conflicts that have been torturing Sudan over the last several decades here, nor will I try to describe the influence of international actors ranging from Chevron to the UN to Osama bin-Laden — such an effort would require much more space than I have and is beyond my capacity and authority. I will say that this weekend has been an invaluable lesson in the need to constantly re-evaluate my perceptions of what's going on in the world around me and to strive to seek out and examine the complexities of not only the particular issue on which I focus but of the surrounding conflicts and regions and of both local and international actors. I realize I may be preaching to the choir, and for those of you who started with Texas Barbecue Pringles and ended here and feel like that's seven minutes of your life you'll never get back, I apologize. Still, I wanted to offer up what I've learned, if only to remind myself that there is still so much about this place I don't know.

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maybe nothing's the matter with kansas after all

I admit it: I haven't been paying much attention to U.S. politics since I left the States (I even had to steal this entry's title from my friend Jack; the other choice was "Fade to Purple" from my local paper). That said, I'm exceedingly proud that Kansas (my staunchly conservative, heart-of-the-heartland home state) voted resoundingly Democrat in this week's midterm elections. In celebration of this and of the Dem takeover of both the House and the Senate, I thought I'd avoid any sort of political commentary and post a series of romantically compromising pictures of George Bush instead. Isn't he just loveable?

Bush and Condi

Bush and Kofi

Bush and Pelosi

Bush and Putin

Bush and Al (Sharpton, not case you're in need of clarification)


IDP camp closings: update

On Tuesday I wrote about the upcoming closing of IDP camps in northern Uganda. The Uganda Conflict Action Network has since reported that "leaving the camps by the end of the year will be encouraged, but 'voluntary.'"

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Guardian: America now seen as threat to world peace

Oh, well, that's just fabulous.


do you want an orphan with that?

It's a horrifically crass thing to joke about, but here at Jackfruity we're all about crassness (not to mention ending clauses with dangling prepositions), so I'll go ahead and say it: if I had 100 shillings for every time I've been asked to take a Ugandan child back to the States with me, I'd be able to...well, I'd be able to take a Ugandan child back to the States with me.

It's a request that makes me even more squirmy and uncomfortable than Jay-Z dressed up as a Maasai warrior, and each time I hear it I retreat a little further into my shell of paranoid mzungu-ness, wanting desperately for my skin color not to scream look at me, I'm a FOREIGNER!

Madonna, as you already know if you've peeked out from your hermit cave once in the last month, seems to have no qualms about it. Her adoption of a Malawi "orphan" is one of the most-discussed celebrity events of October. Of all the comments I've read about this much-debated attempt at charity, Mad Kenyan Woman's is by far the funniest:

This is a new form of tourism. Visit us! We have teeming wildlife, colourful natives and unspoiled vistas. Further, in your guest suites you will find our complimentary fruit basket, bottle of champagne, box of assorted chocolates, complimentary tickets allowing you to enter the lottery to buy the African country of your choice, your personal slave and of, course, an adoptable infant guaranteed to be cute, black, lovable and incapable of speech and thus at your complete mercy. Should you decide that you wish to adopt, please fill out the form conveniently placed in your bathroom next to our complimentary bottle of Chanel, and drop it off at the reception desk anytime before checkout. Should you be in any way dissatisfied with your infant, we would be happy to make an exchange and to customize an infant for you according to your specifications of age, sex, tint, height and hair growth. (Additional charges may apply if we have to wrest your desired baby away from its parents, but you have our quality guarantee that these charges will NEVER exceed fifty dollars U.S.)

While I don't come down as harshly on Madonna as she does (the pop star's also contributing $4 million to a Child Center and other development projects in the country), I do think her criticism of the adoption is worth a read just for the writing. Another good piece on the same topic, written from the point of view of a Malawian, is at Afrika-Aphurika (via Global Voices).