june UBHH: fighting with the communist, breakdancing with the blogren

Last week’s UBHH was smaller than usual — we were missing several of the usual suspects (Dennis, Kelly and Glenna) — but we had some new faces and a handful of intense conversations.

Revence and I got into another fight, this time about whether Uganda is more democratic than the United States. There are so many problems inherent with such a simplistic question: what is democracy? How do you define democratic? How do you rate the various aspects of democracy, and which ones weigh more than others? Are we talking about the current administrations, or each country’s history as a whole? Can you even count Uganda’s history as a coherent whole, politically speaking?

I’m not going to rehash our conversation, aside from pointing out that after declaring that he “hated all Americans,” Revence promptly granted all Americans present at UBHH honorary Ugandan citizenship to avoid the sticky question of whether or not we could still be friends. I’d just like to direct your attention to this article, which details the recent decision of the High Court in the UK to fine Museveni 60 billion shillings for illegally shutting down a Ugandan newspaper in 1986. It isn’t directly related to our discussion about democracy, but I think it’s funny.

Petty disagreements aside, I had a great time — so good, in fact, that Dee, Carlo and I decided we couldn’t wait until next month to see each other. We’re going breakdancing with Breakdance Project Uganda tomorrow afternoon at the Sharing Youth Center in Nsambya. Join us some time after 4:30 and before 8:00 to have my friend Abramz and his fellow breakdance geniuses teach you how to do this:


The June Uganda Bloggers Happy Hour will take place on Thursday, June 21 at 6:30 PM at Mateo’s. I have a fancy-schmancy new calendar on my computer, so no more mix-ups. Rumor has it there will be more Danes, and I’m looking forward to discussing Idi Amin and catching up on everything I missed while I was up north this week.

By the way, I found beans in Apac this time.

GVO: Self reflection and the search for meaning in the Ugandan Blogosphere

My first piece is up at Global Voices Online:

The Ugandan bloggers are having an existential crisis of sorts. The self-examination among the Blogren, as they’ve started calling each other, began in January when several bloggers objected to the establishment of Uganda Bloggers Happy Hour and the Uganda Best of Blog awards.

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may UBHH

uganda bloggers happy hourThe May Uganda Bloggers Happy Hour is coming up next week: Thursday, May 17, 6:30 PM at Mateo’s* on Kampala Road. Mark your calendars, enter it into your Blackberries and set your cell phone reminders.

In describing UBHH to the non-initiated, I’ve realized that “we hang out and talk” is perhaps not the most alluring way to portray who we are and what we do. This, in combination with suggestions from several UBHH regulars that we make things a little more formal, has led me to designate May as Generic Blog Question Month. I’m curious to what goes on in the Ugandan blogosphere besides posting and commenting.

Some things to think about:

  • What blogs do you read regularly?
  • What’s most likely to make you return to a blog (pictures, design, writing, a personal connection to the author)?
  • Do you use blogs more as a source of information about specific topics — politics, current events, pop culture, Turkish cooking — or as a way to stay in touch with your friends and family?

Get ready — I plan to go discussion-facilitator-mode on you guys, partly so that I can tell other people that we talk about specific things, but mostly because I just want to know. Who’s reading an awesome Estonian knitting blog or gets all of their political news from a handful of bloggers? Come on, spill: what intriguing, sparkly blogtreasures are you hiding?

Also, depending on how tired they are after 36 hours of travel, there’s a chance I’ll be bringing two very special guests with me: my mom and my aunt, who are jointly responsible for my current knowledge of English grammar, how to format a term paper and what happens when you jam a finger covered in Vick’s Vapo-Rub up someone’s nose.

*Sorry for the earlier confusion — I’m terrible with dates.

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.