the importance of blogging in Uganda

Earlier this week, White African featured an interview with Neville Newey, creator of the Reddit-esque African social bookmarking site Muti. I think Newey, in addition to having an awesome name, is doing great things, and I agreed with every point he made in his interview until he answered the last question: What are your thoughts on the impact of blogging in Africa?

Newey claims blogging in Africa isn’t as influential as blogging in North America because news here is less frequently corporately owned, and therefore more independent, than it is there. I would argue that media in Africa is heavily censored — if not by corporations, then definitely by governments.* In Uganda, the New Vision is clearly Museveni’s plaything, and Blake Lambert (a Canadian journalist who was expelled from Uganda last year) has an excellent piece up at the Sub-Saharan African Roundtable about the numerous instances of media repression by African governments over the past year.

Blogs in Africa give their authors an opportunity to express views that aren’t being covered in the regular media. Sokari Ekine at Pambazuka News agrees: “African blogs have been able to challenge governments on issues such as corruption, human rights, economic policy and social justice in their respective countries (often anonymously) in ways that could not have been possible without risking arrest or harassment in the past.”

My thoughts on the impact of blogging in Africa? Many of the blogs that do exist are shaping the way people think and contributing to major debates in their countries — just look at Sub-Saharan African Roundtable or Weichegud. In 2006 the number of blogs on the continent doubled, and the number of blogs written by women quadrupled. The reason blogging isn’t as popular as it is in North America is simple — on a continent where fewer than 2% of the population has access to internet and only 70% is literate, creating and sustaining a thriving blogosphere is difficult. Still, I’m happy with the rate at which the African blogging community is growing, and I believe that as technology becomes more widely available, we’ll see bloggers influencing their societies just as much as their North American counterparts are.

*Paranoia (and the urge to mention his name) compels me to restate that the Daily Monitor and East African, the other two major English-language newspapers in Uganda, both belong to Aga Khan.

EDIT: Speaking of emerging blogging technology, I just found this post by Revence at Communist Socks and Boots. He blogged from the January UBHH using his cell phone. Way cool.

plastic beads as birth control? how Janet missed the mark

Last week Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni introduced a system of birth control called Moon Beads. Designed to help women track their menstrual cycles and, by doing so, avoid sex when fertile, the beads are part of a five-year family planning program sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development. Museveni encourages women to “work selflessly” to use the beads.

The Ugandan birth control system desperately needs a revision. Uganda is currently the fastest-growing country in the world, with a population that could exceed that of Russia or Japan by 2050. This population explosion threatens to permanently mire the nation in poverty, increasing conflicts over land and resources in an already unstable environment. One half of all pregnancies in Uganda are unintended, and one in four results in an abortion — almost twice the abortion rate in East Africa as a whole.

Over one third of all women have expressed their desire for contraception, but only one in five married women actually has access to it. Oral contraceptives cost approximately 8 cents per month — a price affordable for much of the Uganda population — but clinics are few and generally inaccessible, making this option unavailable to most women. Condoms are theoretically free — to men only — in clinics, but they are often poorly stored, causing them to expire before they can be distributed. In 2004 the government recalled all free health clinic condoms, citing concerns about their quality. The condoms were checked and determined to be fine, but the government did not redistribute them, causing a shortage that has raised prices for the remaining stock to nearly 20 cents per condom.

Though Mrs. Museveni’s plan recognizes the need for better family planning in Uganda, it is sorely misguided. The natural family planning method is intended for monogamous couples and requires the women to carefully observe her periods for three to six months before implementing the system (the Moon Beads are intended to be used immediately and do not account for varying menstrual cycles). Even then, the method is only 75-90% effective, as compared to 95-99% for oral contraceptives and 86-98% for condoms.

Furthermore, the reality is that over 25% of men and 13% of women in Uganda admit to having sex with more than one partner (this does not include rape statistics, which are especially high in the north). Moon Beads and other methods of natural family planning do nothing to prevent the spread of HIV and other STDs. What Uganda needs if it is to avoid unwanted pregnancies, further lower the prevalence of AIDS, curb its wild population growth and prevent the medical complications that over 80,000 women face each year as a result of abortions is not a string of colored beads but better access to both information about birth control methods and to the methods themselves. Instead of encouraging women to use a method that is often ineffective and can contribute to the spread of disease, Mrs. Museveni should campaign to open more clinics throughout the country and to make both condoms and oral contraceptives widely and easily available to women.

helping women succeed: the legalization of prostitution in Uganda

Following Ugandan Parliament Deputy Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s announcement in August that Uganda is considering legalizing prostitution, last week a group of sex workers increased the pressure on Parliament by petitioning to have their profession legally recognized. Students at Makerere University immediately responded with a counter-petition opposing the legalization of prostitution on the grounds that it would “corrupt moral and cultural values.”

Writing for the Rwandan New Times, Henry Lule claims that in addition to corrupting Ugandan society, the legalization of prostitution would encourage homosexuality, discourage population growth and lead to the legalization of “sex no matter what age.”

Those advocating for the legalization of prostitution argue that current laws do little to prevent prostitution and that establishing a system of regulation would serve to protect both sex workers and their clients. Legally recognizing prostitution would give sex workers who currently lack legal protections a recourse in case of rape or abuse (1) and pave the way for increased social services for these women; mandated health checkups and condom use would help prevent the spread of HIV and other STDs.

Though many women are forced into prostitution by extreme poverty (often caused by violent conflict and/or displacement), the truth is that for many women sex work is simply the most economically and socially viable career choice. Compared to most other jobs available to women, prostitution is lucrative, and working hours are conducive to caring for children.

Legalizing sex work does not equate to legalizing the exploitation of children or to expressing approval of unprotected sex or the spread of STDs. Rather, making prostitution a legal career would improve the status of sex workers in Uganda and help prevent disease. Instead of punishing women who often have few other economic options, the Government of Uganda should establish protections for them and enable them to live as securely and healthily as possible while working towards a future that provides more career choices for women.

(1) Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University. “Prostitution.”