GV Uganda: Gay Rights Activist Found Murdered

This is heartbreaking. My thoughts are with David’s friends and family, and with the Ugandan GLBT community as a whole.

Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato was found murdered yesterday, just weeks after winning a court case against a local newspaper that had called for Ugandans to “hang” homosexuals.

Uganda has been in the news for gay rights issues since October 2009, when Member of Parliament David Bahati tabled a bill that would provide for life imprisonment or the death penalty for not only homosexuals but also anyone found to be supporting or promoting gay rights.

The proposed bill has stirred up considerable anti-gay sentiments in Uganda, including the publication by local newspaper Rolling Stone [no relation to Rolling Stone Magazine] of a list of 100 suspected homosexuals and their addresses. Kato was on the list, and his face was on the paper’s front page.

Read the full post on Global Voices Online »

GV Uganda: Bloggers react to bomb blasts

Yesterday, three bombs went off in Kampala, one at an Ethiopian restaurant and two at the Kyadondo Rugby Club. Both places were packed with people watching the final game of the World Cup.

More than three years ago, I wrote about why I opposed sending Ugandan troops to Somalia. At the time, I noted that “insurgents have ‘vowed to kill the incoming peacekeepers’ and have been launching almost daily attacks in Mogadishu, and Eritrea has warned that the presence of Ugandan forces could prompt a full-out war.”

Yesterday, three bombs went off in Kampala, one at an Ethiopian restaurant and two at the Kyadondo Rugby Club. Both places were packed with people watching the final game of the World Cup. Uganda police are blaming Somali militant group al-Shabab for the attacks. A leader of the group, which has ties to al-Qaeda, recently announced, “We urge our brothers from Chechnya, Pakistan, Afghanistan and from anywhere around the world to attack the diplomatic missions of Uganda and Burundi.”

Al-Shabab has not yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the police and the media seem to be taking their role as a given. If the bombs are indeed traceable to them, this would be the first time al-Shabab has operated outside of Somalia.

I heard about the bombings in Kampala on Twitter last night and have been reloading Google Reader since looking for more news. As far as I can tell, the blogren and my other friends in Kampala are all safe, though obviously shaken up. Baz pointed out that the location of the attacks has meant that Twitter and Facebook have played a huge role in spreading news:

Because of the location of the attacks, for once, it’s us, The Web 2.0 generation, that is affected, so we are watching our twitter and facebook feeds with trepidation, like any second now…

Thanks to those of you who’ve blogged and tweeted and commented, letting me know you’re safe. I’ve hastily pulled together the blog posts I could find for a post on Global Voices:

Soccer fans gathered in bars and restaurants around the globe to watch the final game of the World Cup last night. In Uganda, these celebrations were interrupted when bombs exploded at two popular nightlife spots in Kampala, the country’s capital.

Read more »

I’ll keep checking throughout the day in case there’s any more news. The Daily Nation is reporting that Uganda’s increasing, rather than decreasing, the number of troops it has in Somalia. Blogren, if you have anything to add, you know where to find me. My thoughts are with you and your families, and I’m praying that these are isolated incidents, rather than the precursor to the full-out war Eritrea predicted three years ago.

Also, in the course of writing the GV post I came across these photos by Trevor Snapp, a documentary photographer in Kampala. He understandably would prefer to be paid for his amazing work and has asked that I not replicate the photos on GV, but I highly recommend that you check them out.

UPDATE: Trevor has since decided to allow Global Voices to use one of his photos, free of charge, in the post. A million thanks to him for supporting nonprofit citizen media!

Citizen Media in Uganda

I'm Attending Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2010I’m headed to the 2010 Global Voices Citizen Media Summit in 10 days. Between now and then, I’ve been asked to put together a short overview of citizen media in Uganda, something I’ve had the opportunity to watch evolve from the pre-happy hour days to the citizen coverage of last September’s riots in Kampala and the burning of the Kasubi tombs.

Blogren, I hope I’ve fairly represented our community. If there’s anything you want me to add, let me know by May 4 and I’ll do my best to share it with those at the summit.


Stories about citizen media often focus on things gone wrong: disputed elections, natural disasters, or, on a smaller scale, neighborhood potholes. When I first began covering the Ugandan blogosphere for Global Voices, I wondered why the bloggers I knew weren’t writing about Parliament or peace talks with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army. I wasn’t alone: fellow expatriate Scarlett Lion asked where all of Uganda’s political bloggers were, and blogger Henry Owera berated his compatriots for not paying more attention to political events.

But when I started listening, really listening, to what Uganda’s bloggers were saying, I saw that the country’s citizen media are quite vibrant. They share stories about their childhoods. They take pains to define Ugandan slang for outsiders. They are creative writers. One is a communist; another is a reverend.

Fewer than one in ten Ugandans has access to the Internet. This puts a distinctly urban spin on the Ugandan blogosphere, which is made up primarily of students, journalists, and those who work in Uganda’s rapidly expanding tech sector. Most of Uganda’s rural bloggers are either expatriates or supported by external organizations, but there are a few exceptions, including aforementioned Reverend Willy Akena, who has been blogging since November 2006.

In 2007, a group of Danish filmmakers made a documentary about Uganda’s blogosphere as part of an MS Action Aid Denmark competition:

One of the video’s themes is that Ugandans feel relatively free to write what they want. Blogger 27th Comrade once declared, “Uganda is not one of them countries where bloggers are dissidents, telling the World what’s happening behind the stone curtain.” For the most part, this is true — despite occasional challenges to press freedom, Uganda’s media are largely free to criticize the government and to report unfettered. Bloggers, rather than being the sole source of uncensored news, provide additional nuance and depth to mainstream news. Last September, however, the situation changed.

On September 11, 2009, riots broke out in Kampala. The government instituted a media blackout, banning political programming and pulling radio stations off the air. In the absence of mainstream media coverage, Uganda’s bloggers became one of the only sources of information. Many of them were bewildered by the attention. During TEDxKampala last November, blogger Solomon King said, “One day I wake up and there’s an armored personnel carrier right outside my house. I tweet about it, and the next thing I know I’m a citizen journalist.”

The government has since eased restrictions on the media, but bloggers have continued to serve as citizen journalists, reporting on the burning of cultural heritage site Kasubi Tombs and the country’s impending anti-homosexuality bill. This doesn’t mean, however, that they have stopped writing poetry or discussing music. Uganda’s blogosphere is a rich and varied place, and there is room for both creative writing and, when the need arises, crisis coverage. As the Internet continues to spread more Ugandans are coming online, blogging about movies, telling jokes and wondering about the upcoming presidential elections. All of these things are equal parts of life in Uganda, and thanks to citizen media, we have the chance to read about them all.

Uganda: Will it last?

I just finished writing a paper on Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni for a class on African political economy. The starting point for the essay was an article by Harvard professor Robert Rotberg, in which he claims that “African leaders perform adequately during their early elected terms and then, in their second terms or beyond, become despots.”

Museveni’s currently serving his third elected term after an initial four ten-year “interim period” between 1986 and 1996. An examination of his 26 years in power shows that he’s done great things for Uganda’s economy while becoming increasingly authoritarian.

Kampala Road, 2006.
Photo courtesy of peprice on Flickr.

It just so happened that as I was in New York, paging through a mountain of books and articles, Never Man was on the streets of Kampala wondering about the same things:

I remember when nights in the city were dark because there were no neon signs commanding us to buy things, when there was nothing to buy and even if there was, there was no one to buy it. We were all broke.I remember when nights in the city were silent because no one in their right mind wanted to be outside their homes after sundown, when the nights in the city were silent except for the occasional gunshot.I never thought we would ever become this.

I walk pavements up to the zebra crossing and wait for rude and pompous drivers in luxury saloon cars to pass so that I can walk again, across the firm and permanent tarmac of Kampala Road. All around me there are people talking to each other in loud, boisterous voices, arguing, joking, haranguing, talking on cellular phones about how expensive life is these days, because it doesn’t occur to them to think how much better it is than the days when life was cheap.

I try to imagine that I am invisible, just watching and not being seen, and I let the gratefulness overwhelm me, allow myself to be surprised that out of mounds of smouldering earth, we made this: pizza, and multi-storeyed glass-walled towers, and modern cinemas, and phone booths and cocktail bars and satellite TV and GQ magazine vending stalls.

And I try to stifle the sense that this is a fragile beauty, that it cannot last. That one day something will happen, something will happen to bring it all crumbling down and we will be back to 1986, and that when it does I will shake my head and say, “Shit. It was just a matter of time. It couldn’t last.”

Celebrating the new year with GayUganda

How to celebrate the new year, from GayUganda: “I looked at the trans guy, and I decided that, even if dancing with him outs me fully, his feelings do matter.”

How to celebrate the new year, from GayUganda:

I looked at the trans guy, and I decided that, even if dancing with him outs me fully, his feelings do matter.

He wants to dress, flamboyant, flashy in Uganda. That is an expression of what he is, of what he feels. He might not fully understand himself. He might know less about what he is than I do know. Life is a journey, and he is still discovering what it is. In a place and hostile to gender role crossing like Uganda, his is a difficult journey. A very lonely journey even when he seems to be so confident and bright, a kingfisher bird amongst weaver birds.

I didn’t take pity on him.

I understood what he felt. And, I understood what I felt. And, we danced. Right there on the floor, with other guys around us, looking on.

The music flowed, life pulsed, the lights throbbed. And, we were in heaven.

Read the full post here.