Category: Education


AMDG

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The Night Commuters in Gulu – escaping the evil of Joseph Kony & The LRA

It was very depressing to hear that the UK had voted to leave the EU …  it is one of those moments where you always remember ‘where I was when ‘ E.g Princess Diana dying….  So when we voted Brexit I am in Northern Uganda, in Gulu, where there is a great new Jesuit school which has already become famous countrywide for its excellent academic results. This is very impressive considering that just ten years ago Gulu was being terrorised by Joseph Kony and the LRA. Kids weren’t going to school – they were being forced into becoming child soldiers.  A beautiful part of the world, that is deeply traumatised, a generation of child soldiers who had the innocence of childhood ripped away from them. Many of the youngsters were called  ‘night commuters’ who would move into the city before sunfall so as to avoid the violent raids of the LRA.  It is a salutary reminder of what can happen when politics fails, and society descends into chaos.  The level of debate was at times wanting in the Brexit campaigning, but at least it was democratic – even if it was a very poor attempt of direct democracy , when representative democracy would have been more appropriate.  However the ability to hold such a referendum, with such a level of engagement we should not take for granted and shows a robust politics which is much more fragile here in East Africa, even if it has made great progress.

 

oppositionThe excellent weekly newspaper ‘The East African’ ran a disturbing report on the state of Opposition in East Africa in its latest weekly edition (June 18-24 2016). Published in Kenya, it also covers the news in the Great Lakes region (Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda). Under the headline Who would be an opposition politician in East Africa today? It highlights the plight of Kizza Besigwe (Uganda), Zitto Kabwe (Tanzania), Raila Odinga (Kenya) and Frank Habineza (Rwanda) all leaders of opposition parties in countries that have purportedly signed up to encouraging political pluralism. Many people in the UK have been bemoaning the lack of quality debate in the recent referendum, but no-one can doubt it was an act of direct democracy (even if it possibly would have been wiser to have been left to representation democracy as Frank Turner SJ points out in an excellent piece).

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Certainly here in East Africa there seems to be various crackdowns on ways of expressing opposition. We had just arrived in Arusha last Tuesday when we heard that someone called Emilly Isaac was handed down a three year sentence for a comment made on Facebook about the supporters of President Magafuli. His comment was mild to say the least, but he still had to pay a $3ooo fine or six months in jail. Magafuli is still wildy popular due to his anti-corruption stance, but some of the sheen is coming off with alarming evidence of a lack of thick skin. Kenya is presided over by Uhuru Kenyatta whose legacy has been seriously marred by the terrible violence that marked the elections of 2007 which claimed 1300 lives. In 2014 Kenyatta made history by becoming the first sitting head of state to come before the International Criminal Court to answer for ‘crimes against humanity’. The charges were withdrawn later that year, but the prosecution claimed that this was due to the Kenyan Governments noncompliance claiming they had evidence of witness intimidation and bribery. The conclusion was unsatisfactory to say the least with Kenyatta claiming to be vindicated, but really the ICC was shown to have an alarming lack of teeth. Finally in Uganda, President Musevini has just won a dubious election, decried by many independent observers as as being rigged, with undue pressure put on the opposition, his main rival Basingye is in prison.

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downloadThere is now an excellent way of monitoring governance in Africa – provided by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Ibrahim is a Sudanese/British Billionaire, telecommunications magnate – the founder of Cel Tel , set up the foundation when he sold the company in 2005. It awards scholarships and offers a prize for achievement in African Leadership. The Prize at $5m and $200k a year for life it is the biggest in the world, comfortably outstripping the Nobels $1.3m, and is an annual prize but not always awarded if the high standards are not met. Perhaps even more impressive is the Index that has provided an annual assessment on each countries governance. It assesses progress for each country on Safety and the Rule of Law, Participation & Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development. The East African Countries discussed here have never made it in the top ten of the 52 countries measured, with Tanzania 17th, Uganda 18th and Kenya 21st in 2013. What is brilliant about it is that you can spot trends in various areas of governance such as corruption, violence, participation, gender, infrastructure, education, health etc.

AMDG
cannonizationIt with a sad heart I leave Dodoma – but never before have I seen a city grow so fast. When the great independence president, Julius Nyerere, the father of Tanzania, designated Dodoma as the capital rather than the sprawling port of Dar Es Salaam, it raised a few eyebrows. Back then in 1973, it was a small town that the Germans had developed along with the railway. Right in the centre of the country, it was at times a semi-arid dust bowl…. you can see the previous Prime Minister Pinda remembering the whirlwinds when we interviewed him in 2011. However visiting on and off over the last 9 years it has grown beyond recognition.

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Bunge2Nyerere, who became a Catholic at the age of 21, said that he was always a ‘schoolmaster by choice and a politician by accident’. He stands out amongst the ‘Fathers of Africa’ (that post-independence generation of African leaders) in two ways, the peaceful way he relinquished power after 20 years and the simplicity and asceticism with which he lived. He was a daily mass goer and fasted regularly and in 2005 the Catholic Diocese of Musoma opened his cause for beatification. His economic legacy, however, is controversial, but his legacy in social development and leaving behind a peaceful country is impressive. With regards to Dodoma, Nyerere wanted the capital city to be in the centre of the country so that it could have a unifying effect, being equally accessible to all, bringing the tribes together – rather than becoming a bubble for the political elite in Dar. The ‘Bunge’, the national assembly or parliament has been sitting in Dodoma since 1996. Although many offices remain in Dar, the politicians decamp every year to live in Dodoma, the ministers have built houses, and along with them comes the usual entourage of advisors, lobbyists, business people. We had a lovely dinner with one of the entrepreneurial families in the parish who have opened a hotel – and much of their business is reliant on this custom.

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slider-11It is wonderful to visit as a Jesuit as you are inserted into the heart of the community, even though you are a mzungu.  The impressive Jesuit Parish with 1600 at mass is warm and welcoming, with amazing choirs.
The Jewel in the crown for our visits to Dodoma is St Ignatius Prep & Primary school. It is a very special place, and a lot of that is down to Sister Euphrasia, who has thrown her whole heart into building up the community. Some of the best teachers in Dodoma have followed her, even taking pay cuts – because they prefer working in the loving atmosphere of the school than many other schools which are run more like a business, and they are micromanaged. I suppose the great challenge for Euphrasia is one that I have been pondering on myself recently, how do you set up something that doesn’t totally rely on your personality, i.e. that is apostolically resilient, and doesn’t fizzle out when you are gone.

AMDG

 

I chose Africa because itÕs the continent with the lowest cell-phone penetration but the fastest sales growth. By yearend, Africa will have 261 million cellular subscriptions, more than 10 times the number in 2001. The penetration rate is approaching 28%, according to market watcher Informa Telecoms & Media in London. Everyone knows AfricaÕs legion of problems: overpopulation, tribal conflict, AIDS, malaria, dreadful infrastructure, corruption--and much more. Yet growth for the continent as a whole may well hit a 25-year high of 7% this year. Could cell phones help Africa to finally emerge from poverty? The nearly unanimous answer from interviews with several dozen low-income Kenyans and Ugandans was: yes. Time and again, people eagerly told me stories of how ownership of a cell phone had helped them earn more money or eased the burden of existence in places where even short trips can be a time-consuming ordeal. Here are some of the people I met and the stories they told:

Having arrived in Dodoma and having not made the journey in about four years, it was great this year to be able to track my route using Google Maps. From Nairobi to Arusha and then Arusha to Dodoma are two long coach journeys, about eight hours each. We pass through some of the most interesting places on earth – very near the cradle of humanity – The Olduvai Gorge, where the oldest hominid skulls have been discovered, dating back 1.8 million years. Having Google Maps and Wikipedia to hand during the coach journey made it a fascinating journey. Mobile technology has certainly transformed the lives of many people in Africa, with phones more widely distributed than computers, and more people having mobiles than bank accounts. With the advent of the smart phone – even at the most basic level of capability, it is clear that having a phone now means more than just making phone calls or texting. I often point out to the students they carry around more processing power in their pocket than the Apollo Spacecraft.

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atelier-mobile-bankingIn reading up about how the mobile or cell phone has super-charged development I was very interested to find out that a Manchester based academic, Richard Heeks, Director of the Center for Development Informatics in Manchester, has done a lot of research on this and has identified some ways in which mobile technology is changing the lives off even the poorest communities. Firstly he identifies its ability to connect the excluded. It has already been noted how Kenyas M-Pesa is changing the way people save money , spend money and move money around. Circumventing the rather laborious process of setting up a bank account by transferring credit via phones – now it is easy to see the fruits of saving money, investing money, rather than the precarious way of living from hand to mouth etc. In India, A Little World, has invented a way of using a finger print scanner and mobile phone to set up bank accounts, they now how over 3 million users. Employees can now even cycle out to the most remote villages and set up ‘shop’ under a tree – allowing the most basic saving and investments in things such as fertilizer etc. Farmers can check competing prices in various local markets before making the decision of where to sell their goods… in fact an app developed here in Uganda, Farmers Friend, has been invented with that very purpose in mind. I have a fond memory of a cotton farmer in Rural India, sitting on his cart and bullock whilst pointing out to me his dual sim card phone, so he could have a business line and a private line. At once four hundred years behind UK farming technology, and more advanced mobile technology ( I hadn’t come across dual-sim phones in Britain then).

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downloadAnother thing that phones allow that the middle man can be cut out or at least be kept tabs on. Their are innovative ways all over the world sprouting up to report and log instances of local corruption, the Bhoomi project in Karnataka, India is a great example of this, stopping corrupt officials from demanding a bribe before they offer land registration certificates (which farmers need to get a loan). Thirdly crowdsourcing – I love the app I heard about in Nairobi, Ushahidi,  testimony in Swahili, which was developed after the terrible violence in the Kenyan elections of 2008. Text messages allowed them to map report about violence, and now it used to map natural disasters, or in Ghana mpedigree uses it to map where drugs are running out.

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One of the things I love about East Africa is how resourceful everyone is, they don’t expect to rely on hand outs, so there is this incredible network of tiny businesses, and the mobile phone has unlocked this great entrepreneurship.

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