when the cat’s away…

Waking up for a glass of water the other night, I was shocked to find the most world’s MOST GIGANTIC cockroach strolling leisurely along my kitchen counter. The thing was so big it could have taken on a small dog. It certainly didn’t care about me, just kept on its slow, many-legged perambulation around the sink.

This was not only disgusting but galling. My apartment is not some smelly, unswept frat house! Where were all the geckos that I tolerate living in my apartment because they’re supposed to keep down the insects?!

And that’s when I leapt across the kitchen and turned the tap on full blast, sweeping the cockroach into the sink and leaving it caught against the mesh of the drain. But cockroaches are notoriously hard to kill; even ones that look properly smooshed may take days to die. This one certainly wasn’t expiring anytime soon: it almost seemed to enjoy the impromptu shower. Finally I opted for the spray can of Doom, which I absolutely hate the smell of but at least isn’t as cringe-worthy as a cockroach bathing in the same space where I wash my dishes. Doom did the trick: the lifeless body of the cockroach was there in my drain the next morning, looking like an overturned boat. I gave my sink a good scouring.

Since that fateful night, I have witnessed many large insects on nightly excursions around my apartment, usually cockroaches. My flatmate has woken up to massive columns of ants making some pilgrimage across the bathtub. But we count ourselves lucky: a friend living in a neighbouring flat has found a rat swimming in her toilet!


annular eclipse of the heart

For the first time in 62 years for Uganda – and for the first time in my life – there was a solar eclipse.

A rounded chunk was slowly being eaten out of the sun as I walked to work this morning. By the time I had checked my email, scanned the headlines and crossed two things off my to-do list, the brilliant Kampala morning had sunk back into a pre-dawn gray. I admit, I had grand visions of the city coming to a complete standstill as it was engulfed in darkness, but nothing quite so dramatic happened: turns out it was only an annular eclipse, not a total one.

Still, it was the longest eclipse of the millennium, lasting almost three hours in total. Supposedly the next annular eclipse of that length won’t cast its shadow until December 23rd 3043. And Uganda won’t see any kind of eclipse until 2125. In honour of that, I’ve compiled a list of songs that relate to eclipses:

Total eclipse of the heart, by Bonnie Tyler
Eclipse, by Pink Floyd

ok I’m out. please help!

Comment is free. and ruthless.

The smartest kind of investment

Young Ugandans fear being taken out of school because they’re poor. Sponsored scholarships can transform their lives

Katherine Manchester

guardian.co.uk, Sunday 13 December 2009 10.00 GMT

It’s a little-known fact that governments in sub-Saharan Africa spend proportionally more for every secondary student than any other region in the world: an average of 31.2% of national output per capita. That sounds like a phenomenal amount until you consider how low actual GDP is, and, in a country like Uganda, that the population is growing by a million new individuals every year.

Still, the Ugandan government is nothing if not committed to educating its young people. In 1997 the state took over the payment of school fees under its universal primary education policy, and 10 years later it began doing the same for the lower levels of secondary education. Over the 2009-10 fiscal year, education will consume 16% of Uganda’s national budget. But with school fees still needed to boost the government’s contributions, there remains a massive unmet demand for education: only 19% of Uganda’s secondary age population is enrolled in school at present.

In February 2009 Mvule Trust, a local scholarship program I have worked with for two years, called for A-level science students from rural areas to apply: hundreds of letters flooded in. One girl from the northern town of Gulu wrote: “When I lost the person who was paying my fees, I left school and stayed at home and I got my first child.” A boy in the eastern town of Mbale reported that his father sold “the only young bull of ours for this term’s fees”, while another wrote: “I used to lay bricks for fees, but it has turned to feed me and my two younger brothers.”

There are many ways to encourage education, but tackling the central obstacle of funding is addressed by a simple strategy that is used worldwide. Large-scale scholarship programs in sub-Saharan African and Asia, funded by development heavyweights like USAID and the World Bank, have had demonstrated success. In Bangladesh, the female stipend programme increased secondary girls’ enrolment to twice that of the national average. And undoubtedly British or American universities don’t see themselves as practicing “development” when they offer need-based scholarships to promising candidates, but that’s essentially what they’re doing.

Just the presence of a scholarship scheme can stimulate student achievement. A 2004 study in Kenya found that both boys and girls in schools with girls’ stipend programs actually scored higher than students in other schools. At Mvule Trust, we found that our beneficiaries – who do not fear being sent away from school because of fees and do not have to grow crops just to earn their tuition – are also more likely to perform better in class. Despite being from underprivileged, subsistence farming backgrounds, not one of the 168 trust students who sat their O-level exams in 2008 failed, compared to 5.5% who failed nationally.

Supporting education is an investment in people. Unlike roads that slowly deteriorate or water pipes that rust, the results of education last a lifetime. Without undermining the value of infrastructure or simplifying the complexity that is sustainable development, giving access to further education to young people who genuinely want to learn – and genuinely cannot afford it – is a sound and high-return investment.

In a country like Uganda, where just 4% of girls and 6% of boys who start primary school make it all the way through secondary, educating even one person can have huge ramifications for the rest of the family and community. This is especially true if that person is female. Besides earning a greater income, an educated woman is more likely to delay marriage and childbirth, to seek family planning and healthcare, to provide better nutrition for her family, and to send her own children to school: no small achievements, when you think about it.

In a world of Ponzi schemes and internet scams, staking your money in scholarships is one of the smartest investments you can make.

Comments in chronological order:

[1] MoveAnyMountain 13 Dec 2009, 10:21AM

Supporting education is an investment in people. Unlike roads that slowly deteriorate or water pipes that rust, the results of education last a lifetime.

I don’t want to object to the premise of this article, supporting education is a good thing and we ought to do more of it. But these are not reasons for preferring water pipes or roads over educating children (there may be other reasons, I accept).

After all, London is still using part of Bazalegette’s system. Paris is still using some of Baron Hausmann’s. Roads are even better. Britain still uses some Roman roads. Fosse Way, Ermine Street and Akeman Street are still used in part. The Italians also still use some Roman roads. There are probably very few roads in the UK that are not over 100 years old.

Because in the end while pipes rust and roads deteriorate, people also die.

·     [2] BrigateGrosse

13 Dec 2009, 10:37AM

@MoveAnyMountain I agree in principle. But education is not that kind of object. It does transmit through generations. My worry is what kind of education.. And who are the educators? Funding scholarships is all very well but it doesn’t change the underlying structural inequalities, Nor the relationship between Africa and the west. (I’m not saying don’t support education). And like many other articles this suggests that everyone lives in a remote village. No-one lives in Kampala. And another thing, we can do without the new labour language privileged by NGOs. “Need based” – we need to be more specific than that .

·     [3] fabiusmaximus

13 Dec 2009, 10:39AM

Perhaps you could ask for money from the climate tax? We are unfortunately unable to heat our homes or buy food as a result of overtaxation and paying bakers wages. Perhaps you could send us some of your oil in exchange for teachers.

·     [4] MoveAnyMountain

13 Dec 2009, 11:43AM


But education is not that kind of object. It does transmit through generations.

It can transmit through the generations but there is no guarantee it will.

My worry is what kind of education.And who are the educators? Funding scholarships is all very well but it doesn’t change the underlying structural inequalities, Nor the relationship between Africa and the west.

Yes, so much better that Africans get no education at all than they have to learn English and study Shakespeare, Milton and Byron. Damn you Cultural Imperialists! There is no such thing as a structural inequality. They are as fictional as unicorns, oh I am sorry, have I engaged in Eurocentrism? I mean Qilin of course. Why would anyone want to change the relationship between Africa and the West except by Africa joining the modern world and embracing the global marketplace?

The only game in town is the real world. In the real world English is an excellent language to teach children. Western culture is strong because people like it. The way out of poverty is not some re-hashed Third World liberation theology or even the cookie cutter pop-Maoism it relies on.

·     [5] BrigateGrosse

13 Dec 2009, 11:50AM

Cookie cutter? You must be from the US. I really can’t agree then.This is Peace Corp stuff.

·     [6] boristhescorpion

13 Dec 2009, 1:33PM

My God BrigateGrosse (sorry for the expletive) but smell the coffee man/woman! Education is one of the basics needed to raise a populations aspirations and prospects, surely. And any education is better than nothing. Once teh foundations are there, then the philosophical mumbo-jumbo can start about the merits of different cultures etc. You only have to look at Zimbabwe to see the effect of the ‘Africa for Africans’ type narrow engagement.

·     [7] Bochi

13 Dec 2009, 2:18PM

Katherine – You’ll have to weed out the gay students though, if the proposed legislation passes. You’re supposed to report those to the authorities so they can be locked up. If you don’t, you could be locked up instead. And the ones who come to US and UK universities had better not get involved in the gay rights activities so prominent at your own alma mater, Wesleyan University. Or they’ll be liable back home for that too.

I quite understand why you wouldn’t want to mention all that in your article. NGO workers in Uganda are also threatened with imprisonment if they take up advocacy positions on behalf of gay rights. But I’d like to know just how your scholarships are supposed to work if you are supposed to denounce any recipients who turn out to be gay.

·     [8] Batleymuslim

13 Dec 2009, 4:06PM

Help me here; Brown has pledged £8 billion over the next 10 years in which to pay for African children to receive an education. Last week he pledged £1.5 billion to help the third world fight Climate change, the other month the UK pledged £1 billion to help the third world research drought resistant crops meanwhile Uganda has been found to hold the largest stocks of Oil in Africa.
Sudan which is the largest recipient of UN food Aid spends vast of tis Oil wealth on weapons. WHO is been criticized for allowing warlords in Somalia to hand out Food Aid by letting them sell it. Ethopia which suffered a famine 20 years ago has seen it population jump by 20 million and its now demanding more food Aid for a larger population.

Even the help the Guardian is offering has been stolen.

And you would like us to hand over more by thinking of the children.

Sorry call me an old cynic but I now ensure I give only to British only charities, Blue cross/ PDSA etc..

13 Dec 2009, 7:33PM

until you consider how low actual GDP is, and, in a country like Uganda, that the population is growing by a million new individuals every year.

There you go, there’s your problem!

·     [9] stevehill

13 Dec 2009, 8:27PM

Katherine: read my lips.

I am not investing in, sponsoring, giving money to or otherwise supporting the homophobic state known as Uganda unless and until they abandon unreservedly their current proposals to execute gays. In favour of legislating to give them wholly equal rights before the law.

Anything else would just encourage the bastards.

And that’s what Rowan Williams should be saying too.

·     [10] RichardChickenHeart

13 Dec 2009, 8:49PM

Projects of this kind do have a big and positive impact.

The problem is that involvement in this kind of thing tends to make one progressively more cynical and fatalistic. If you get involved you will start reading about or visiting Uganda. And what will you learn? That the persons who have the primary responsibility for educating these children have other priorities.

You may learn, for instance

-that the payrolls of schools and govt departments are loaded with “ghost employees” whose pay is pocketed by whoever is in charge.

-that the % allocated to education in the budget is a fable. The finance Ministry routinely sends money “where it is needed”, buying luxury cars for a Commonwealth conference being an example.

-that the country has the world’s biggest cabinet and , per capita, the world’s bigges parliament. MPs regularly vote themselves ever larger salaries and allowances.

-That the top leadership live in luxury. The President has two personal jets. On a visit to the Carribean for a recent Commonwealth conference his conscience probably smote him. He and his entourage, to show their solidarity with their suffering countrymen, flew back home in British Airways, economy class. The presidential jet was flown home empty.

If you can live with this kind of stuff good luck in your enterprise.

·     [11] RavingDave

13 Dec 2009, 11:54PM

Er, hang on just a minute! I had to do a double take. Is this really the same Uganda that is now threatening to execute homosexuals if they’re caught having sex??

And you seriously want us to give money to Uganda???

Girl, get real.

·     [12] MoveAnyMountain

14 Dec 2009, 3:04AM

It’s a little-known fact that governments in sub-Saharan Africa spend proportionally more for every secondary student than any other region in the world: an average of 31.2% of national output per capita.

I have just had another glance at this article and this leapt out at me again. A third of their GDP is spent on secondary education? WTF?

I bet it isn’t. I wonder if the author has any references.

·     [13] MoveAnyMountain

14 Dec 2009, 3:05AM


I am not investing in, sponsoring, giving money to or otherwise supporting the homophobic state known as Uganda unless and until they abandon unreservedly their current proposals to execute gays. In favour of legislating to give them wholly equal rights before the law.

There is a time and a place for sanctions. Some countries need them. Some problems cannot be solved any other way. They are better than war.

But as stupid as this policy is, you really want to blight the lives of hundreds of school children because their Government is so asinine?


From interviewing hundreds of students in remote Ugandan villages; to the glass-fronted Guardian offices in bustling London; a quick jaunt over to wintry Holland; then two amazing weeks with my family exploring the beaches, mountains and vineyards of Capetown; and now back to Uganda, to my apartment and little, purple Mvule Trust office. It’s been a wonderful whirlwind but today I finally had to sit down and remind myself where I was. So. Once again I’m going to let photos do the talking. Voila. And Happy New Year!

Hiking the dunes at De Hoop

Sad times for civil rights in Uganda

Two dangerous new bills are currently floating around the Ugandan parliament.

The first, a bill on the criminalization of HIV, seeks to punish individuals who knowingly infect others with the virus. While the basic premise appears sound – why shouldn’t people suffer repercussions for consciously passing on a disease that has no cure? – the reality is far more complex. Women generally have very little power in their relationships regarding the use of contraception, and are often blamed for bringing HIV into a family, even while it is far more common and accepted for men to engage in extra-marital relationships. Incidence of HIV/AIDS is increasing faster among married couples than in any other demographic group in Uganda. Moreover, it isn’t always easy to ascertain when exactly an individual became aware of being HIV-positive.

The second, an anti-homosexuality bill, has aroused fury from governments, media and individuals across the world, and with good reason. MP David Bahati is proposing that all citizens are required to report homosexual activity to the police; any person “promoting” homosexuality should be jailed; and the rape of a minor by a person of the same sex deserves nothing less than the death penalty. Considering that heterosexual “defilement” of minors is a massive problem in Uganda – 43,000 girls between the ages of 12 and 17 were raped by their teachers in 2008 – homosexual rape is clearly not one of nation’s biggest problems. Homosexuality is recurrently cited as a “western” vile, infiltrating and destroying traditional values. (Of course, embracing right-wing American evangelists and their messages of homophobia is alright – we get to pick and choose our western infiltrations!)

In The Indpendent, a weekly, Ugandan politics magazine,  Bahati wrote, “This battle is about our children who are being lured into this vile and our moral stand as a country. Indeed it true that this bill was driven by our deep fear of God and the zeal act according to his will but also the need to defend the age old traditional  heterosexual family which is rooted in our  culture as  Ugandans. The vile evil is spreading in schools, churches and NGOs and if we don’t take action now we shall reach a stage whereby it is the homosexuals who shall be tabling bills to criminalize all morals and legalise all manners of perversion.”

He adds that “homosexuality as we have discovered is funded by rich ill intentioned perverts whose sole intention is to spread this  abominable  behavior.”

The British, Canadian and American governments, among others, have strongly condemned the bill, while Sweden has threatened to pull out the not insignificant development aid it gives to Uganda.

There is a good deal of dissent within Uganda too. Even Ugandans who may not necessarily be waving the rainbow flag see the bill for what it is: blatant discrimination and an abuse of human rights; a detraction from Uganda’s many other social and economic problems; a political ploy that will be somehow be twisted to the president’s advantage in the 2011 election.

Calvin in Uganda’s The Daily Monitor writes, “It isn’t okay to pass stupid legislation in the name of defending culture.” John writes, “We have a corrupt system that has robbed this country and instead of the lawmakers catching the thieves, they are targeting wrong groups.” (11/12/09)

The anti-homosexuality bill could not have come at a worse time for Mvule Trust, the little education program I work with in Uganda, which recently partnered with The Guardian in the UK to raise money for scholarships. When I wrote a short piece on why scholarships make for smart development, half of the comments were from people outraged at the proposed anti-gay legislation and decrying anything to do with Uganda. One blogger asked whether we would be screening our scholarship applicants to determine their sexual orientation. I finally chose not to respond. I’m sure these are liberal, socially aware, newspaper-reading individuals with whom I could have a very engaging conversation in person; I just wish they hadn’t vented their frustration on our very valid attempts to send Ugandan children back to school.

Protesters outside the Ugandan High Commission in London (picture by Outrage! from http://www.ukgaynews.org.uk/Archive/2006sept/2604.htm)

If you can’t say it to my face, don’t say it on your blog

When The Guardian teamed up with Barclay’s Bank and the NGO AMREF to support a Millenium-Village-type project in Katine, in eastern Uganda, it was with an understanding of full disclosure.  Barclay’s contributed financial advice and oodles of money, AMREF would implement the project, and The Guardian would be there to report on the project’s developments – whether good or bad.  Similarly, they encouraged the online community to voice their comments and concerns, all in the spirit of improving the programme.  The Guardian had anticipated a certain level of disagreement, but they did not expect the overwhelming amount of cynicism and outright viciousness that the site elicited. The Katine site editors found themselves constantly on the defensive.  One blogger’s comments to a feature on a Katine family created such a barrage of criticism that the family began to receive accusations from neighbours that they were not, in fact, as completely destitute as they claimed to be.  The Guardian finally had to remove the feature from their website.

So when Mvule Trust partnered with The Guardian to raise money for scholarships, I was rather relieved to learn that the newspaper does not normally allow comments on its Christmas Appeal items: it’s meant to be about good will, after all, not a forum for debate. And anyway, potential donors could direct all serious concerns to the customer service line or even to me, if it came to that.

However, an online comments option somehow made its way onto last sunday’s Observer, The Guardian’s sister paper.  A few responses slipped in before the mistake was noticed, and two of them were not nice.

Here they are (and since these individuals had no problem with posting them on the Observer’s site, I have no problem re-posting them here!)

Sean Thorp: Yesterdays articles about the appeal seemed to give the impression that the help was going to go to girls to teach them science based subjects. iirc only 4% of girls and 6% of boys complete a secondary education in the area in question. What is the reasoning behind just favouring one gender in a place where most girls are housewives by the time they’re 20?

Haldir: And yet, in 2005, Simon’s government spent an estimated 193 million dollars on the military. What kind of country buys helicopters while children starve?  Sorry Simon, I’m not going to contribute. Your government has more than enough money to feed, clothe and educate you and your unfortunate family. They choose to buy armaments instead in the reasonable expectation that foreign charities will make up some of the shortfall in their abysmal governance of the country.

Lollybig2: and you want me as a gay man to contribute to this country – I don’t think so – why don’t you ask the evil right wing Christians that control the country to hand over their money?

Below is how I responded before we closed the comments page:

“It is precisely because so few women achieve a complete education in Uganda that Mvule Trust chooses to award more scholarships to girls. There are certainly many ambitious and deserving young men, but because education for girls is typically seen as less of a priority in Uganda, Mvule Trust believes that a policy in favour of girls will help to change attitudes and encourage girls to continue schooling. The proceeds from The Guardian’s Christmas Appeal will be broken down 75% for girls’ scholarships and 25% for boys.”

But this is what I WANTED to say, and I WOULD say it to their face, if I ever crossed paths with Lollybig2 and the like:

You people are complete reactionaries without any powers of logic or common sense.

To Sean – Don’t you think that education could be a solution to getting women out of the kitchen and fields and into income-earning jobs?

To Haldir – Many, many countries in this world spend more on their military than on education – including the UK. Is this any reason to accuse charity organisations?  If you knew anything about Uganda you might consider that it is surrounded by politically volatile states and that maybe, as much as I distrust the military, such armament might be somewhat necessary? And how can you hold our tiny NGO responsible for every policy enacted by the Ugandan government?

To Lollybig2 – I understand your resentment about Uganda criminalizing homosexuality, but again, Mvule Trust is in no way responsible for these policies. And do you honestly think that denying children an education is a strategy to changing people’s views on gay rights?

My verdict: people feel so unrestrained by the anonymity and vastness of the cyberworld that they no longer self-censor at all.  This is not freedom of expression, this is irresponsibility.

Kavuyo in Kampala – and beyond

I have been terribly remiss in my blog-keeping these past two, three, ok more like four months. Lo siento! so here, in a pathetic attempt to recount lost time, is my rundown of events past:

10 – 13 September: Violent riots rock downtown Kampala as protesters dispute President Museveini’s decision to forbid the Kabaka (traditional ruler of the Baganda people) from attending a rally in Kayunga, a territory disputed between two ethnic kingdoms.  To make a long story short, the president fears that traditional rulers, whom he reinstalled in 1993 as a re-election ploy, are going to extend their power from strictly “cultural” to political.  Conspiracy theories also accuse Libyan President Gaddafi – a former supporter of Museveni’s – of encouraging the protesters in order to get back at Museveini, who was not too eager to back Gaddafi’s ambitions as first ruler of a “United States of Africa.” Some 20 people were killed in the riots, and hundreds were arrested in the aftermath. As for me, I heard gunshots for the first time and came to despise Twitter for the frantic checking of updates that it elicits.

October: The Guardian, one of the UK’s biggest newspapers, decide to pick up my little organisation, Mvule Trust, for their Christmas Appeal.

8 – 21 November: The Guardian sends a team of journalists to Uganda.  We spent two weeks in Teso, in Eastern Uganda, interviewing almost 500 students and following a few to their homes to get the inside scoop on their lives. Lack of cell phone reception, horrendous roads and going without lunch doesn’t stop us!

22 November: Katherine runs a very slow, painful 10km race. The event not only begins on time, it begins EARLY.  This is the first time, in your humble writer’s recollection, that anything in Uganda has ever begun before the appointed time.

25 November: Katherine flies to London in preparation to for the launch of The Guardian’s Christmas Appeal.  Read more about it at http://www.guardian.co.uk/christmasappeal2009/interactive/christmas-appeal-2009. And I’ll keep writing here as well. (really!)

[Kavuyo: Luganda word for chaos. very apt for the moment!]