Monday, May 21, 2007

Parliament


Each week just gets better and better. This last week sure started off with a bang. So I was planning on going up to Kampala (the capital) to attend Parliament meetings. We had to leave at 8:30 in the morning. Kindra, who I was going to go with wasn’t around for some reason, so at last minute I asked April to come with, and she did. We walked into Mukono, I stopped to pick up a couple samosas (one of my favorite foods here- it’s kind of a triangle pita with lots of beef and onions in the middle, and then deep fried..mmmm), but I left my wallet at home. So I borrowed money from April for the day. They let me take the cell phone, but we soon found out that there weren’t anymore minutes. So we went halfway and bought some minutes, then April was out of money, oh yeah, and it was raining the whole time. So we tried finding a bank, people told us it was a little down the street. We went and the ATM was closed and there was a huge line, so we asked where another ATM was. They said it was down the street, so we went and the ATM was broke! Ugh! Well, we called my contact, Hamis, and explained things to him, that we would be late for the committee meeting and all. He said that the meeting had been postponed til another day but we could still come. April then found she had enough money for us to go the rest of the way if we negotiated a little. So we finally made it to Parliament! Hamis met up with us and gave us a tour of the building, explained the flag and the national coat of arms. We went and chatted with a MP (Member of Parliament)- Honorable Okupah Elijiah. It’s proper to address all MP’s as Honorable blank and blank. He took us to the Local Government Accounts committee, where they were talking about an official in Jinja who embezzled money. The best part of the day though was just all the chatting we did with Hamis. So when I emailed a ton of MP’s from the Parliament website, Honorable Fred Nkayi was the only one who responded. So I started emailing his assistant, Mugendawala Hamis. After the meeting we chatted for about three hours with Hamis. He is so smart, we had so many questions about the economy, the war in the north, tribes, education, the role of the US in Uganda, etc. I left that day feeling really inspired about helping Uganda.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were very similar to Monday. I usually went each day with someone different, and each person just absolutely loved the whole experience. Every single time their most favorite part was talking with Hamis and learning about Uganda. Tuesday and Thursday I was able to go to the Economic Development meetings. The major topics of discussion were the privatizing the railroads and developing telecommunications throughout the country. Tuesday the Minister of Finance was there along with the Director Privatization facing the committee of MP’s. Uganda has about $300 million worth of rail assets. They are working out a deal by renting out their railroads to Rift Valley Railway (RVR), a Kenyan group that would mostly make it more accessible to Ugandan businesses to ship their goods from Uganda through Kenya to their ports so they can export goods to world markets. It’s a really good thing that can really help the country. One of Uganda’s disadvantages is that it is landlocked. The argument from the MP’s was on the percentage RVR would pay to the Ugandan government each year. It’s frustrating because this can really help and here they are arguing about numbers. The second meeting they had the Minister of Technology talk to the committee. China is willing to give a 20 year loan, for $20 at 2% interest. The loan would help Uganda develop more internet and cell phone coverage throughout the country. The MP’s had several concerns course, the first is that usually they receive loans at 0.075% interest, so why don’t they negotiate a cheaper loan, and the second is that would that interfere with their privatizing goals. They have some good concerns, cell phones are really expensive here, so it would help, but as one MP mentioned, the tariffs keep prices high, so they really should lower the tariffs to benefit the population. I agree, tariff and non-tariff barriers should be reduced, which lowers prices. It was fun to attend these meetings and read about them in the newspaper. On Wednesday I attended the Social Services committee meeting because the girls I was with really wanted to go. It was interesting, each district is allotted scholarships to give out to a number of student scholarships to attend university, but some students have been dishonest by saying they were from different districts.

So each day we attended committee meetings. On Tuesday, it was hilarious, me and Kindra were sitting there watching all the food and pop being brought to the MP’s and we were just starving. Kindra wrote in her journal and showed me where it said, “I would give anything to have a samosa right now.” Not even 5 minutes later the waiter asked us if we would like anything to drink…score! So we ate samosas and drank pop, it was great. The next two days they also gave us samosas and pop. The Parliament meetings were also really fun for me. The NRM Party sits on one side and the opposition parties sit on the other. They have a lot of British tradition in their meetings because the British colonized them. They talked about a few interesting things, many opposition members were upset with the Minister of Defense because 5 Uganda peace-keeping soldiers were killed in Somalia and they found out through CNN. They complained that the Minister is not keeping the MP’s informed about the happenings in Somalia. It is so funny though, cause every meeting started close to an hour after they were supposed to start. It really is a culture thing then. On my mission Africans were always late to appointments.

So after committee meeting we would go to Hamis’s office, chat, then Parliament, then back to Hamis, chat some more and then go back to Mukono and get chipatis on the way back. I love chipatis! They are kinda like pita bread with eggs, cabbage, and tomatoes on top. I get a couple of them each time, because they are really cheap (500 shillings, or 35 cents, approx.) and really filling. It’s funny, we always lend money out to each other and remind each other and stuff…most of the time it is like 1700 shillings, which is $1, or something. But that is a lot of money…but really it’s not.

Ok, so here are some of the things I learned from Hamis: Colonialism really is the worst thing that happened to Africa. In 1848 Otto Von Bismarck called the European heads of state together and carved up Africa. Most of the time, borders were set according to latitude and longitude lines, not accounting for the people that they were affecting. Basically they made Africa one big mess. In Uganda there are 56 tribes. Most tribes are related to each other, in the south and west, most are related to the Buganda tribe. This tribe also goes into Rwanda and Congo. These areas in Uganda are the wealthiest and most industrialized. In the East, the people are related to the Kenyans, in the North most tribes are related to the Acholi, which is very similar to people in Sudan. For these reasons, Sudanese have supported the Acholi by supplying them with arms and refuge, and Uganda helped out the Tutsis in Rwanda. The Kanjoma (sp?) in the East believe that all cattle in the world belong to them. They don’t eat the cattle, but they drink the blood. The government has been fighting with them because they raid other tribes and steal their cattle. In Northern Uganda, war has existed for 20 years for a couple of reasons. Uganda got its independence in 1962. Dictators in the north ruled the country very ruthlessly and made their tribes more prosperous than the rest of the country. They two main dictators were Obote and then Amin. Amin overthrew Obote and then the current president, Museveni overthrew Amin and held elections. It’s interesting, Museveni went to school in Tanzania and was buddies with a couple of other guys. All of them overthrew their governments and are currently in power in South Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania, I think. Anyway, Museveni could have been a dictator, but he held free elections and disciplined his soldiers, and just did some really good things. Hamis says the two things that he has really done well with are education and infrastructure. Uganda has been the first African country to offer free universal primary education and are starting to offer free universal secondary education. He has also built roads connecting the major cities in the country. But he has helped his tribe and the Buganda-related tribes the most. That’s why the south and west are the most prosperous. Many of the ministers are from the west, along with the bureaucracy, police, and soldiers. He has built some state universities and moved industries to the west. Amin and Obote did the same things. For these reasons, the northern tribes do not support Museveni and have fought for independence against Uganda the past 20 some years. The leader of the resistence was Lukwena, a woman who said that if the soldiers put a certain ointment on them the bullets would not hurt them. Obviously they quickly learned that that wasn’t the case. Her cause was moved along through Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). After awhile the people in the north got tired of the war, Kony punished them by abducting their kids to fight in his army. He also placed mines all over the north. So there are refugees living in the UK that have been supporting Kony financially and giving him arms and been calling some of the shots. South Sudan was supporting Kony, but that government was overthrown and the new guy has not supported Kony and has kicked the LRA out of Sudan. Also interesting, in about 2010 South Sudan will vote whether they want to be an independent country, most likely they will become one. So Kony is stuck in the DRC (Congo). The Congolese government really doesn’t have power in East Congo, but Kony is being pressed by Uganda, Sudan, and the International Criminal Court (ICC), who is out to arrest him and his commanders. They have had cease fires, but no peace treaty yet. Hamis says that one reason they haven’t had any treaties because the people in the UK tell him what to do and sign. But the war is pretty much over, Kony will have a hard time getting out of this. The people in Northern Uganda are living in terrible conditions in Internal Displacement Camps. The wait to get clean water is two days. The US is helping by giving technology that helps detect mines and dismantle them. Hamis let us go through so many official government documents. I went through the Northern Uganda roadmap plan, that was sweet! Ha, I also went through these booklets, one from the UK about how to be a good committee member and one from the US about how to recover from a war. Wow, that was a lot of info…sorry. All this Parliament stuff has just been heaven for me. I have loved mingling with MP’s, listening in on important meetings, going through documents, etc. A couple MP’s from the East want to take me to their districts; unfortunately, I’m only here for 6 weeks, so won’t have enough time. I’ve kind of seen the President. We were driving on the road and a caravan of several military vehicles and limos drove by. The driver told us it was the president. A lot of people here just don’t know of the laws. Men in the villages beat their wives and don’t know it’s against the law. That’s one of the problems they face. I’m very ethnocentric when it comes to politics. I compare other country’s systems to the US and measure how well they’re doing to how close they are to the US, bad huh? There are big cranes everywhere! One of the times going up to Kampala this guy on the radio was speaking Lugandan and just laughing like crazy. Nobody else in the bus was laughing, but I was cracking up!

So Hamis is assistant to Honorable Fred Nkayi. This guy sounds impressive. I haven’t met him yet, he’s mostly been in his constituency, but he does not know anything about politics, he’s in it because he wants to help his people. He wants our group to come to Jinja, where he’s from, for a day and visit schools and see the source of the Nile. Hamis has been asking me how to get donors from the US, I’m really not sure. But we’re going Jinja next week. Hamis says what the students need most is to be inspired. I’m excited.

OK, this blog is very long, I have a lot to write still, I have to tell about my trip to Rwanda, hopefully I’ll get to it sometime this week. If you haven’t noticed this blog has kind of become my journal.

2 comments:

Russell said...

Yo fool,

I know the new mission president there fyi. President Call--he's from home stake, was my patriarch in fact.

Sounds like you're having a sweet time. Just don't join any mercenary groups. It won't look so sweet on the resume...:) j/k

Chelsea said...

Wow, Kasey...Wow. It sounds like this trip is turning out to be exactly what you'd hoped for. I'm glad for you.

Be sure to check out Becca's Blog