GV Uganda: Katine Project brings villagers to blogosphere

My next piece is up at Global Voices Online:
Uganda's Internet penetration rate is a little over six percent, a number that prevents large swaths of the population from joining Uganda's blogren or accessing the global blogosphere. For one village, the Guardian and Observer's Katine Project is working to change that.

Since October 2007, the Katine Project has tracked the impact of a dedicated £2.5 million ($4 million) AMREF development project in Katine, a rural sub-county in northeastern Uganda (virtual tour). In addition to providing general news about Uganda and tracking developments in five key project areas, the project has been training local residents to use video cameras to document their lives.

Read more »

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jackfruit of the week (05.27.09): opportunities for Ugandan journalists

Jackfruit comes to Kansas: I found this abomination in my parents' grocery store this week. I am horrified.
Just a quick note to let you know about two upcoming opportunities for Ugandan journalists:

Inter-ethnic & Conflict Workshop
Deadline: June 1, 2009
Mid-career practitioners from Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA) member organizations from Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique are invited to apply to attend a development journalism workshop titled "Interethnic and Conflict Reporting," to take place in Nairobi, Kenya from June 22-26, 2009.

Read more and download an application at the CBA web site.

Radio Fellowships
Deadline: August 18, 2009
Young journalists interested in covering children’s issues can apply for the Oscar van Leer Fellowship, which will offer professional training in journalism and children’s issues.

For more information, visit the Bernard van Leer Foundation web site or
contact Vera van der Grift at ovlf-info [at] bvleerf [dot] nl.

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The Honest Scrap Award

So much for the Ugandan Best of Blogs Awards. The blogren have jumped ship to the Honest Scrap Award, an informal, apparently international bloggers' honor-slash-meme that's been making the rounds in East Africa.

As far as I can tell, the award entered the Ugandan blogosphere through Ugandan Girl, who got it from Afronuts in Nigeria. Ugandan Girl passed it to Eizzy, Nevender, Mjay, SilverBow, among others.

Since then it's hit up Emi, Normzo, Jny, Samali, Carsozy, Yz and Wilde Yearnings, plus a bunch more, including Biche at Chick About Town.

Earlier this month, she passed it along to me.

I'm flattered, but I'll resist the immense urge to make a gratuitous, Sally Field-esque acceptance speech. Instead I'll just show you hers:

You like me! Right now...you like me!

The award stipulates that I:
  1. Brag about the award.
  2. Include the name of the blogger who bestowed the award on me and link back to the blogger.
  3. Choose a minimum of seven (7) blogs that I find brilliant in content or design.
  4. Show their names and links and leave a comment informing them that they were prized with Honest Weblog.
  5. List at least ten (10) honest things about myself.

To be honest, several of my top choices have been awarded already. I don't know if it's legal or not to re-award them, but I'm going to do it anyway. In no particular order, the seven East African bloggers whose blogs' content or design I find brilliant:
  1. Rev/Comrade at The Dying Communist, for constantly provoking me. Samali already named him, but I'm hoping the additional mention will put even more pressure on him to start blogging again.
  2. Angela Kintu, for constant thoughtful analysis.
  3. Rosebell, for bringing important things to my attention.
    Rosebell's acceptance post
  4. SebaSpace at AfroGay, for persistence in the face of disheartening adversity.
  5. Tamaku at Diary of a gay Kenyan (he's already accepted the award once), for courage and wit.
  6. Tumwi at Ugandan Insomniac, for unique insight and wry humor.
  7. Naughty Feeling at Queeattitude, for a recent post that broke my heart.

And for my ten honest things:
  1. I despise eggplant.
  2. I can't whistle.
  3. I like cupcakes in theory, but not in practice.
  4. A two-week trip to Uganda in January 2006 saved me from a year in Vladivostok and five to seven years' worth of studying 19th century Russian literature.
  5. Most of the things I "overhear" on Twitter are pulled from conversations I've had.
  6. I desperately need to move my blog to WordPress.
  7. But I'm resisting because I don't want to give up the ability to obsessively tweak my design through Blogger.
  8. I'm three degrees from Joseph Kony, two degrees from Wernher von Braun and one degree from Mikhail Gorbachev.
  9. I have a thing for giant storks.
  10. I claim to hate memes, but this is the third time I've participated in one on Jackfruity (here are the first and second).

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Blogging for a Cause: Global Voices Advocacy

ZemantaZemanta, a Firefox extension that automatically suggests related tags, links, photos and articles for your blog posts and e-mails, is running a competition to encourage blogging for worthwhile causes. The five blogs that get the most votes will each win $3,000.

I vote for Global Voices Advocacy because of the phenomenal work its bloggers do to protect freedom of expression and free access to information online. GV Advocacy (or Advox, as it's also known) is connected to Global Voices Online, a project for which I've been writing about the blogren for two years.

Global Voices Advocacy - Defending free speech online

In addition to reporting on issues like blogger arrests and Internet censorship, Advox works on a number of projects to help bloggers and other online activists — definitely worth my vote.

Interested in supporting Advox? The deadline for the competition is June 6, 2009, and you must include the following sentence in your post:

This blog post is part of Zemanta's "Blogging For a Cause" campaign to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes that bloggers care about.

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I'm doing some spring cleaning, one part of which is a much-needed reorganization of the files on my hard drive. In the process I found some notes from my trip to the Balkans last summer.

Besim hurried out to us from under the awning of one of the countless tiny cafes lining Baščaršija Square. "Ladies," he called, "you need a room, maybe?" We were the worst sort of travelers, trudging through the old part of the city under the weight of trendy hiking backpacks designed for treks at much higher altitudes. Besim's advance spared us the embarrassment of winding our way through an endless maze of narrow cobblestone streets in search of a hostel that had once managed to impress the writer of our guidebook, and after a moment of whispered debate we agreed to see the room.

Besim + Coffee
We followed him up a slick twist of stony stairs to his apartment, a two-floor collection of rooms filled with Persian rugs and hundreds of postcards from around the world. "From my tourists," he said, beaming. "They send postcard to me from their home." A field of sunflowers caught my eye; someone else from Kansas had liked her stay enough to write Besim and thank him.

He led us upstairs to the room, a breezy, open space with a terrace overlooking the city. He pointed to the hills across from us. "The war," he started, then faltered, unable to find the English words for what he wanted to say. "Snipers. Broke all the glass." We found out later that the room had been destroyed by Serbian mortar fire.

The morning we left, Besim made us Bosnian coffee and sat with us on the couch, sipping and smoking alternately. "You send me postcard," he reminded us. "Drink from the fountain. You come back, you stay with me."

I spent hours on the train between Sarajevo and Budapest scribbling in my notebook about how I would make it back to Bosnia before I'd finished grad school. I'm halfway done, and it hasn't happened yet. I did manage to send Besim his postcard, though.


the legend of didi's world

Long-time readers of this blog may remember my ill-fated trip to the creepy wonderland known as Didi's World. Now, from the Atherstones in Uganda, the true story of Kampala's most famous amusement park:
The legend of Didi's World begins over ten years ago, when these same rides and structures resided in Italy. Evidently, someone was killed on one ride, so the generous Italians donated all the equipment to Africa.

In other words: IT'S HAUNTED. I'd like to point out that I totally called this one.

Didi's World decor

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“This can only get better”: gay rights bloggers in East Africa

For a class this semester, I wrote an article on gay rights bloggers in (mostly East) Africa. Since so many of them are blogren or connected to the blogren, I thought I'd share it with you. If you know of other gay rights bloggers in the area (or if you happen to be one yourself), especially women, please let me know in the comments — I'm putting together a new Google Reader list.

Dr. James Nsaba Buturo
Uganda is the only country in the world whose cabinet includes a Minister of Ethics and Integrity. The position is currently held by Dr. James Nsaba Buturo, who has been charged with developing and coordinating the implementation of a national anti-corruption policy. Instead, Dr. Buturo has chosen to focus his political career on what he considers a much greater threat: homosexuality.

Dr. Buturo responded to a recent United Nations statement on sexual orientation and gender identity by accusing the UN, UNICEF, Amnesty International and a host of other international organizations of promoting an “abnormal, unhealthy, unnatural” lifestyle in Uganda. Sadly, he is not alone: in the last five years, a number of African governments have become more vocal against homosexuality, with many enacting harsher punishments for gays and lesbians. However, a group of Africans is fighting back.

Using nothing more than a computer and an Internet connection as their weapons, Africa’s gay and lesbian bloggers have begun to speak out against the discrimination they face. Spread throughout the continent and connecting online, they provide a safe, anonymous community for African homosexuals, as well as a forum for criticizing draconian government policies against homosexuality.

Gay Nairobi Man, a Kenyan who uses a pseudonym to avoid having his sexuality discovered by his family and employers, has been blogging about gay rights issues in Africa since March 2006. In that time his blog, Rants and Raves of a Gay Kenyan Man, has received over 30,000 visitors from 170 countries.

“I had a very tough time dealing with my sexuality and only came out to myself in my late twenties,” he writes in an e-mail. “I felt that I should demystify the Kenyan gay man and show another side of a gay person who loves life, is successful and is in a monogamous loving relationship. I also wanted to retain my anonymity, and blogging was the only way I could do that.”

The anonymity of the Internet is a major draw for African gay rights activists. Consensual homosexual conduct is punishable by up to 14 years in prison in Kenya; in Uganda, convicted gays and lesbians can spend life in prison. In other countries, punishments are even more harsh. Last May, the president of Gambia gave gays and lesbians 24 hours to leave the country or face “serious consequences.” And in the 12 states of Nigeria subject to Sharia law, homosexuality is punishable by death.

“I guard my anonymity. Very jealously,” says a Kampala-based blogger known as Gay Uganda. “My anonymity is the biggest and best shield protecting me in Uganda,” where last week two men were followed home and arrested after several people saw them kissing in a bar and reported them to the local police.

Gays and lesbians in much of Africa live in constant fear of being outed. Tamaku, who blogs at Diary of a Gay Kenyan, writes, “Kenya has a past of being a brutal police state…and due to corruption you don't know who to trust.” In September 2007, the Red Pepper, a daily Ugandan newspaper, published a list of suspected homosexuals, along with their workplaces and home addresses. Many of those on the list suffered threats, discrimination and even physical attacks after the list was printed.

The source of such pervasive homophobia is difficult to pin down, but many Africans who are opposed to homosexuality claim that same-sex relationships are a Western invention. This idea is often supported by governments: multiple African leaders, including the former presidents of both Kenya and Namibia, have labeled homosexuality “against African tradition” and “alien to African culture.” Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, has gone so far as to call it a “white disease.”

While these views are often widely supported by the public, they are not necessarily accurate. Decades- and even centuries-old traditions involving same-sex relationships have been documented in multiple cultures and ethnic groups throughout the continent, including the Meru of Kenya, the Maale of Ethiopia and the Mossi of Burkina Faso.

“I went to school in Europe, and I have tried to explain to people that I always knew I was gay long before my sojourn into the west,” says Gay Nairobi Man. Still, he and other gay bloggers often receive e-mails or comments on their blogs accusing them of receiving funding from Western organizations in exchange for promoting a gay agenda in Africa.

Demonstrator at August 2007 anti-gay rally in Kampala
While thousands of dollars are indeed pouring into Africa from Western organizations focused on homosexuality, the majority of this money is funding anti-gay rights activities. Earlier this year Uganda held a four day “anti-homosexuality seminar” sponsored by Defend the Family International, an American organization devoted to “gay recovery.” Representatives from Defend the Family spoke to over 10,000 people at school and churches in Kampala. They also visited Parliament, where they met with nearly 100 senior government officials.

In contrast, when Uganda’s largest gay rights organization, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), held a press conference in August 2007 demanding recognition from the government, participants wore masks. “I do wish we gay people had the money and the ability to organize like these guys have accused us of being. I mean, it would just be fair, you know!” writes Gay Uganda on his blog.

Supakoja, a gay man who blogs under a pseudonym at AfroGay, compares SMUG’s funding to the money Ugandan anti-homosexual activist Martin Ssempa receives from a conservative American organization: “While SMUG is a local Ugandan organization with only peripheral foreign support from gay individuals and organizations, Martin Ssempa's entire anti-homosexual…campaign is funded from Denver, Colorado,” he writes.

Despite the inequities in funding, Africa’s gay bloggers are doing what they can to promote gay rights offline as well as through their writing. Tamaku regularly petitions European Union officials, asking them to work with Kenyan authorities to increase protections for Kenyan gays and lesbians, and Gay Nairobi Man has collaborated with several people he met through his blog to sponsor the education of two Kenyan boys who were abandoned by their families after coming out as gay.

This kind of action – a blend of online and offline activism – is what makes bloggers such a strong force for gay rights in Africa. The ability to express their thoughts freely on the Internet, where the threat of being outed is considerably less intense, is enabling gay Africans to be more vocal about the oppression they face and making it easier connect with like-minded individuals.

To be sure, the recent government crackdowns on the gay community are worrying. Still, African gay rights bloggers believe there is light at the end of the tunnel. “The very act of writing about how I feel makes me feel a bit of the freedom,” says Gay Uganda.

“We are seeing a strong generation of gay men in their teens and early twenties who are not afraid to come out and demand their rights to be recognized,” writes Gay Nairobi Man in a recent e-mail. “This can only get better.”

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Mamdani vs. Prendergast: the video

Last month I attended The Darfur Debate, a conversation between African political expert Mahmood Mamdani and Darfur advocate John Prendergast. In case my arbitrary points-laden round-up wasn't enough, you can now watch the video yourself, courtesy of Columbia's YouTube account:

Let me know if you agree with my assessments of Prendergast's sartorial choices.

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