arguing tragedy with a communist

Kelly, UBHH newbie Tim and I had a run-in with the ever-opinionated 27th Comrade over the Virginia Tech tragedy at this week's UBHH. Our passionate young communist argued that Americans deserve what they get and shouldn't make a big deal out of things like this because far more than 33 people die from violence, preventable illness or sheer neglect each day in Africa because of things America has done or failed to do. Kelly and Tim were ruffled, and I think the appropriate response to insensitivity and callousness isn't more of the same. Still, I get his point...sort of.

The VA Tech shootings earned far more American media coverage than any event in Africa last week, despite the fact that Nigeria had hotly contested elections, Somalia is exploding, the Ugandan peace talks resumed and Zimbabwe is always in trouble. What makes the fates of these students any more media-worthy than the fates of thousands of Africans?

Well, location, for one — Americans want to read news about other Americans, and papers need to sell. Ugandan coverage of Somalia is from the Ugandan peacekeeper angle, and neither the Monitor nor the New Vision talked at all about the unrest in Kirkuk last week, so you can't blame just the American media for being narrow-minded.

So let's talk about foreign policy. By now pretty much everyone admits that American involvement in the Horn of Africa in the 1990's was worse than worthless — approximately 85,624 books have been written about the terrible things we did there. I'd be one of the first to say that the HIV/AIDS programs we're pursuing aren't always the best course of action — supporting Martin Ssempa's public condom bonfires is probably contributing to, rather than stemming, unprotected sex among infected teenagers. But Janet Museveni's championing ineffective family planning methods just as hard, and the West isn't exactly rallying around Mugabe's latest antics or trying all that hard to keep Obasanjo in power.

Yes, America has been and continues to be stupid and occasionally harmful when it comes to Africa. But the majority of deaths on the continent aren't solely attributable to the U.S. any more than to colonialism or corruption or lack of media coverage or an environment hospitable to rapidly spreading fatal diseases, and the students who were murdered last week don't deserve to be used as part of a transatlantic morality scale that needs to be balanced.

Pointing fingers only goes so far, and that's where I start to butt heads with the 27th Comrade. Tragedy is tragedy wherever it happens, and I think you could have picked your argument — and your audience — a little better.

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Danes, blogquestions and pork: April UBHH

I showed up a little late to last night's Uganda Bloggers Happy Hour, but I didn't have much trouble finding our table — the four Danish girls with the video camera were a pretty good giveaway. It was great to meet Kirstine, Maria, Sara and Annette, and I hope they keep blogging when they get back to Copenhagen — I want to know what happens with the documentary.

Dante and I had an intriguing conversation about blogging, anonymity and the effect that UBHH is having on the Ugandan blogger community. He theorized earlier that posting drops off after the happy hours because we've talked about everything and don't have anything left to write about (I maintain that my slacking last month was parasite-related). This brought up a discussion about the plethora of blog types — personal, political, social commentary, topical, photography, design — and how people choose to reveal a certain level of information about themselves on their blogs, keeping different audiences in mind.

I'd be interested to know what other bloggers think about UBHH and what it's done to blogging in Uganda. Was the online community that existed before UBHH enough, or do you like meeting up in person? Do you hang out with people you've met at happy hour outside of UBHH? Do you blog differently — more, less, or about different things — now that you've seen some of the people who read what you write? For those of you who don't come (I'm specifically thinking of Iwaya and Minty), was your decision based solely on a desire for anonymity, or were there other factors? For those of you who blog under your real names (Baz, Pernille and Dennis come to mind), do you ever worry about the effect blogging may have on your personal life?

For those of you who like UBHH, good news: Ugandan bloggers are getting together twice this weekend, once for a trip to Jinja for whitewater rafting and bungee jumping (Carlo and Ivan are planning this and should have details) and once for pork.

Yeah, pork. A certain blogger who prefers to remain anonymous would like to invite you all to fraternize over roast pig this Sunday between 4:00 and 8:00 PM at Joglo's, a restaurant in Naalya, which is just past Ntinda. (S)he asks that you RSVP to 0752737377 and assures you that chicken and fish will be available for the non-pork-friendly.

I came home with twenty blogs on my list, but I counted around 25 people. Are the blogren picking up groupies?

Country Boyi
Dante No More
Dead Meat
Dennis Matanda
Dying Communist
I am Dante
I've Left copenhagen for Uganda
Pagan Gods
Saving a Generation
Uganda Blogumentary

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april UBHH this week

Don't miss this month's Uganda Bloggers Happy Hour. It's this week — Thursday at 6:30 PM at Mateo's in downtown Kampala. I'm counting on Carlo to bring the sign, the 27th Comrade to remind me to pick up the list of people who come, and heretofore-in-hiding blogger Nathan to bring his neighbor Hannah so we can properly initiate them into the blogren. Oh, and Dennis to buy me a drink, as promised. Are the Danes still in town? I hope so — I missed their whole thing when I was dead (see? the malaria excuse still totally works — though as of now I'm officially passing it over to Ivan, who needs it more than I do).

Can't wait to see you all!

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northern uganda: what no one's saying

I haven't talked at all about the Mabira riots, despite the fact that half of every newspaper printed in Uganda in the last two weeks has been dedicated to them. Sorry, 27th Comrade. Didn't mean to disappoint.

I want to write instead about what no one — absolutely no one — has been talking about: the latest spate of attacks and raids in northern Uganda.

Yesterday a friend from Gulu asked if I'd heard about what happened this month in Attiak: an ambush that left 8 dead and 45 injured. Nope, hadn't heard about that.

What about the abductions in Paicho? Nope. The attack on a camp in Kitgum? No. Awac? Palaro? No and no.

So I got online today to see what had happened. Turns out, according to both Ugandan and international media, nothing. None of these were reported anywhere. The only thing I could find was a blog entry from a team of Dutch documentary filmmakers that corroborated some of what I'd heard.

I get it, sort of. Negotiations between the government and the LRA are scheduled to resume tomorrow, and reporting increased instability in northern Uganda isn't the best way to instill faith in the peace process. Still — I'm surprised that no one has picked up on this.

In other news: Somalia's gone to hell. Oh. And Boris Yeltsin's dead.

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no beans for you

The general consensus (general meaning my doctor, my vegetarian friend who also got sick and is also named Rebecca, only she spells it differently, and me) is that I contracted malaria in Apac. I was up there for work, checking out a sports program that GYPA runs in conjunction with The Kids League.

You get to Apac by shared taxi from Lira. "Shared" is used here in the most liberal sense of the word: our driver packed eight people and a baby, plus him, into his four-door sedan. The trip takes about 90 minutes on a surprisingly smooth dirt road, and the taxi dumps you out in the center of town — a pleasant little roundabout surrounded by a bank, a couple of guys selling washtubs in a wide variety of bright colors, and a DVD store.

Howard, the GYPA program coordinator who runs things in Apac, spent a couple of hours running us through the activities there, and then he helped us find a hotel near the center of town. This took us all the way until 1:00 or so, at which point we assured the worried Howard he could leave us and go back to work — we were perfectly capable of feeding and entertaining ourselves for the rest of the day.

Thus it began: the most epic search for food I have ever experienced. We didn’t ask for much: beans, rice, maybe chapatti — something simple and easy, common Ugandan staple food. Our quest took us all over town, onto two bicycles and to six different restaurants, all of which were staffed by women who told us the exact same thing:

"Smoked meat. Fresh meat. No beans. No rice. No chapatti."

It was an anti-vegetarian conspiracy, developed and manned by a gang of sisters who ran Apac’s food distribution behind the backs of the LC5. An entire city — a district seat, no less — and no beans to be found. Rebecca and I sat in our hotel room for a minute, wondering what we would do.

"Cassava!" Rebecca shouted suddenly. We looked at each other. Of course! It was so simple!

We trekked back to the main road, where we had seen three women selling roasted cassava during our search for sustenance. We acquired two of the tasteless, tubular roots, and then stood for a minute, slightly unsure of how to proceed.

"...and Top-Up?" Rebecca suggested timidly.

"And Top-Up!" I yelled with enthusiasm. The supermarket across from our hotel, which was the only supermarket in town, sold a number of condiments, children's clothing and drinks (powdered and bottled) but no actual food. Two bottles of Top-Up (one regular, one spicy) and two bottles of water later, we settled into the hotel lobby for lunch.

The matron came by and gave us a long stare. "You like cassava?" she inquired, almost condescendingly. "With Top-Up?" We nodded, mouths full. "I make you something to eat," she offered. It wasn’t exactly a question. "Smoked meat. Fresh meat." We shook our heads no, and she walked off, muttering to herself.

The next morning we found our way to the taxi park, which consisted of a single van waiting for passengers to take back to Lira. At some point during the wait, Rebecca tugged at my sleeve.

"Look," she whispered, pointing out the window.

It was the Apac market.

Note: we experienced an equally difficult search for cabbage in Gulu, until we figured out where they'd all been hiding: in the bed of a truck nestled a few blocks off the main road, just sitting there. Not for sale.

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return from the undead

Hi, everyone. I've been dead had malaria.

I'm back now.

Huge thanks to Ivan, who announced the fourth Uganda Bloggers' Happy Hour in my absence: April 26th, 6:30 PM, Mateo's, downtown Kampala.

Josh told me I had to be exceptionally witty in this, my first post post-absence. At this point it still takes considerable effort to get out of bed, so I'm going to pull out the excuse I've been using on everyone, for everything, since I got sick two weeks ago:

Sorry, I can't. I HAVE MALARIA.

I expect that to be good at least through the end of the month.

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