Global Voices Uganda: #walk2work Arrests Spur Hunger Strike, Future Protests

Twitter’s abuzz with news of the #walk2work protests staged by Ugandan opposition leaders Kizza Besigye and Norbert Mao on Monday. Ndesanjo Macha’s round up of tweets provides an excellent overview; my latest Global Voices post continues the story:

Rather than backing down after the arrest of two Ugandan opposition leaders for staging a “Walk to Work” protest against high fuel and food prices on Monday, Ugandan activists have responded by announcing a hunger strike and planning more demonstrations.

Read the full post: Uganda: #walk2work Arrests Spur Hunger Strike, Future Protests

Getting Lost in Boston (Alternative Title: Why I Need an iPhone)

I’m spending the summer in Cambridge, interning for the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Today I went to the office for the first time, met the 30-something other interns and started putting faces with names.

That was all good, and I’m excited about starting more concrete projects with the OpenNet Initiative and the Internet & Democracy Project tomorrow.

But then I tried to walk home.

(Note: I am terrible with directions. Sometimes things work out, and I end up finding a metro station that can get me back home (see: St. Petersburg, New York). Other times, I end up fending off the persistent attentions of a motorcycle taxi driver named Edward.)

The walk from my apartment to Berkman is simple:

Apartment to Berkman: the easy way

But in the interest of exploring the area, I decided to hit up Porter Square (the closest metro stop) on the way home:

Berkman to apartment: exploring

I made it to Porter Square, but then I failed. Miserably:

#fail, or: How I got home

Conway Playground is when I finally stopped and called someone for directions.

Until now, I’ve been vehemently opposed to getting an iPhone: they’re pretty, yes, but something about the clunky, wifi-devoid simplicity of my basic Samsung (or, may it rest in peace, my beloved Nokia 3310) appeals to me: I’m not constantly tied to my e-mail, it’s not expensive to replace, and it does — or at least did, until today — everything I need it to do.

But now that I live in a city that’s not laid out in a beautifully designed grid (barring Broadway and everything below 14th Street), I’m reconsidering. Internet: I think I want an iPhone.

(Related: Ethan Zuckerman’s ode to the retro mobile phone, including the Nokia 1100 (which I use when I’m in Uganda) and its “integrated sewer avoidance system.”)

Taxi drivers riot in Kampala

I got an e-mail this morning from my friend Kate, a student at Makerere, with the subject line “Kampala Riots.”

The Monitor and the New Vision both say that over 50 people were arrested on Friday after a riot sparked by a strike to protest a recent police crackdown on taxi drivers who operate without permits or whose vehicles are in poor condition. Princess writes that it may also have to do with a new law restricting taxi stops along Kampala road to City Square.

The strike, organized by the Uganda Taxi Operators and Drivers Association (UTODA) committee, seems to have started with taxi drivers and conductors and spread to boda-boda drivers via intimidation. Can anyone confirm this? Are boda-boda drivers part of UTODA?

Also, the New Vision says the crackdown started on March 31, but I can’t find a source that says if the strike started at the same time or if it started on Friday and immediately turned into a riot. Bloggers in Kampala, help.

Both Kate and Princess got caught in the riots.

Princess writes:

I get into another taxi a couple of hours later and brave the town. I say brave because the taxi drivers are on strike over this new law that demands that taxis should only stop at City Square along the Kampala-Jinja road.
Any taxi seen with passengers is immediately stoned at. Bricks, stones, sticks.
The mob are angry. Typically, Ugandans will NOT accept change. And these taxi touts are the most conservative, violent and idle of the lot.
I escape certain death by a brick by a hair’s breadth.

Soon, our taxi driver quits acting like a commando and drops us off in the middle of town. He’s scared. Doesn’t think he can outrun the mob anymore. (Did I mention he tripled our fare and then some?)

We are disgorged into the swarming mass of Kampala’s car-less; the pavements are full of people striding wearily. Kampala looks like all its inhabitants signed up for the Great Trek. I spotted a couple of people with mattresses on their heads. Rude awakening that: to disembark from a long journey from the village and find you have to WALK the rest of the way…

And just then, the police swing by.
With Kayihura’s famed tear-gas (silencer) in stark evidence.

Even the bodas are being stoned at because their owners are making a packet out of this debacle.

And Kate says:

Apparently the boda drivers and taxi drivers are striking due to some new government regulations against them, something about permits and third-part insurance, etc. I didn’t get all that he was saying (language barrier) but I understood very clearly that the drivers who were going ahead and transporting people were having rocks and sticks thrown at them by other drivers who were striking.

Francis also informed me that there were police and military troops deployed all over the city, and that there was actually military up by the Kasubi Tombs (less than a mile from my house).

Later she writes:

I look up and see about 10-15 men and women in uniform arrive to the intersection causing the situation to intensify even more, and to my left two civilian men are dragging another (possibly who set the fire) over to the police while beating him in the head. Two police take him and start dragging him up the hill to where I assume the paddy wagon was stationed. A moment later I see another civilian across the street grab this other man, throw him on the ground and proceed to stomp on his head and chest yelling for the police/military to come. A group of civilians keep beating this man as he’s laying on the ground screaming and the authorities come, cuff him and continue beating him with their billy clubs. They’re dragging the man off in the same direction as the previous man all while various people in the community are punching him in the face and the back of the head. I felt sick. Helpless and sick. I had my camera and wanted to take photos of all of these occurrences but knew better.

Reports like these worry me for the safety of my friends. They make me angry, both at those who think a riot is the only way to solve problems and at the government officials who make it so that a riot is the only way to solve problems.

They also make me wonder how much is hiding behind the scenes. The New Vision’s coverage of the riot included this:

Among the suspects were three men accused of masterminding the chaos. The Police nabbed them in Bweyogerere, another suburb.

I confess to not understanding how, exactly, chaos is masterminded, but I would think that to incite a riot one must be present at said riot.

If anyone hears anything about these three masterminds, hit me up in the comments. If no one hears anything about these three masterminds, that’s also something I’d like to know.

a study in comparisons

I’ve been trying for weeks to come up with something snarky to say about this, but I think the following speaks for itself.

Exhibit A, Kampala, Uganda:

Exhibit B, London, England:

Virgin Atlantic Limobikes

What is Virgin Limobike?
It’s a passenger motorbike. Based in London, it provides the quickest and one of the most glamorous ways to get from A to B. Celebrities use it, business people use it, in fact people from all walks of life use it, whether it be to get to the airport quickly regardless of how bad the traffic is or to glide from one end of London to the other.

modes of transportation

When I was three years old, I had this long-sleeved shirt covered in pictures of planes, trains, boats and automobiles. I called it my “modes of transportation” shirt (did I mention I spent a lot of my free time at that age practicing the differences between adverbs and adjectives and count and non-count nouns? Guess whose mom was an English teacher?). I loved that shirt, and in honor of it, I’ve started a new label on Jackfruity.

The modes of transportation category currently includes such Jackfruity favorites as:

I doubt this category will receive too many more Uganda-focused entries. However, almost as if it could sense I was leaving, the country decided to give me a parting shot.

About thirty minutes in to my flight from Entebbe to Dubai, the Ethiopian woman next to me tugged on my sleeve. She didn’t speak any English (and my Amharic consists largely of words like injera and kitfo), which made understanding her concerned expression as she pointed to the ceiling somewhat difficult.

I tried to reassure her, assuming she was jittery about the flight, but as I reached my hand up to mimic a safe landing, something dripped on it.

I looked up. There, on the crack between two overhead bins, was a leak. Now I was worried. Together, my Ethiopian Buddy and I rang for a flight attendant. By the time he reached us, the dripping had gotten so bad, and was accompanied by so peculiar a smell, that EB had wrapped a shawl around her head and was considerably more disgruntled than frightened.

“There seems to be something dripping on her head,” I told the flight attendant. “Is the plane leaking?”

The flight attendant scoffed, as if to say, “How dare you suggest that the airplanes of this reputable airline are anything less than superb?” What he actually said was, “The woman behind you has a pineapple in her carry-on.”

“Could we perhaps take her bag out of the overhead bin?” I asked. “She’s getting…dripped on.”

EB nodded and pulled her shawl more tightly around her head.

“Why don’t we move you to another seat?” he suggested, drawing EB away by her elbow and leaving me with the pineapple juice.

And that was it. He never came back, the woman behind me was utterly unperturbed when I asked her to take the bag down (“It will hurt my feet,” was the explanation for her refusal), and I got to spend the next seven hours next to a growing puddle of pineapple juice.

Today I flew from New York to DC. We hit turbulence right as the woman next to me was about to take a sip of water, and she ended up spilling some of it on her tray table. The flight attendant came and wiped it up for her.