Thursday, January 24, 2008

Globalized Football

This morning I listened to an excellent BBC radio piece on African footballers who try to get to Europe to play. The whole phenomena sounds chillingly like a juncture between colonization methods of a hundred years ago and modern issues of a globalizing economy. Also throw in this mix the notion that a lot of what goes on is actually human trafficking and it's really enough to utterly disgust you. I want my players to hear the segment, so I'm going to try and download the podcast.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kawempe Boys

Before I forget, I should add that I've set up some of my players with their own blog, which I'm hoping they will be able to use as a learning tool and as a way of stayin in touch with me. Check it out, any support and signs up encouragement would go a long way in terms of keeping them interested:

Constructing Ugandan Modernity

Study #1: Mobile Phones

Uganda is a country where over half the population owns mobile phones. You can buy time by the second. It is customary for someone to call and then hang up, because it costs nothing to receive a call an they will expect you to call them back. Many people own phones and go weeks, even months without buying time. A man in the village my organization works in owns a phone but has never owned a SIM card, and therefore has never made a call. Says a lot about how social status transcends economic boundaries.

Study #2: Pop Culture

The homogeneousness of pop culture in Uganda is shocking, even for someone subject to the narrowness of contemporary American tastes. The variety of music on pop stations rivals mainstream clear channel stations in the US in terms of shortness of playlists. In terms of local music, the style vaguely mimics the repetitive and monotonous melodies of reggaetone with a bit of African gospel thrown in. Of course hip hop, usually Jamaican influenced, is prevalent. So much for the hipness of being different.
Clothing choices generally conform to whatever t-shirts and jumper sets have been shipped wholesale secondhand from the US. Any form of Arsenal or Man U jersey (see next section) are also a required component of any wardrobe.
Last month my organization hosted a youth talent show. The complete list of talents performed included: singing pop songs, "miming" (i.e. lipsyncing) pop songs, and dancing Usher-style to pop songs. A few also sang their own (poppy) songs and one boy, a player from my team, also juggled a soccer ball. Unfortunately, the show was performed by category, so that by the time the 20th poorly mimed song came on I was forced to excuse myself.

Study #3: Football

Perhaps more a sub-category of #2 (which itself could be put within another larger category, entitled "The Homogeneity of much of Ugandan Culture"), the viewing of professional football here is a stark example of the power an problems of globalized sport. As far as 90% of Ugandans are concerned, only two soccer teams, Arsenal and Man U are worth supporting. Another 5% root for Liverpool, though most can name at least a few of the other biggest clubs in Europe. However, the overwhelming dominance of the English Premier League attests to how the incredible reach Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has given us can simultaneously and seemingly paradoxically shrink the number of alternative choices presented to us.

Study #4: E-mail

The ultimate status symbol, people routinely ask for it even if they do not themselves own an email address or have access to a computer. I've had kids as young as six ask for mine. It is practically compulsory at the parting of a first meeting to exchange them. Yet the number or requests far exceeds the number of messages in my Inbox from these new friends. Email was the first thing that most of my students asked me to get for them. Of course, people who have rarely, if ever sat before a computer, let alone type a sentence or open a web browser, can hardly be expected to know even the basics of how to operate an email account. They think I'm beating around the bush when I demand that they at least learn correct typing methods before I show them how to sign up for email. Signing up for email addresses is like supporting soccer clubs here. Either you get your email from Yahoo or Google (although in reality the dominance of Yahoo in this respect mimics the dominance of the EPL much closer than the support for any given English club).

Study #5: Advertising

I love the Ugandan visual advertisements that are painted on building sides and storefronts. It seems better than littering surfaces with paper signs, not to mention cluttering up views with huge billboards (although there is a fair share of that as well). The names businesses choose are great as well, for a range of reasons. Shop Dot Com, a convenience store/gas station, uses its name to associate itself with the hip and modern Internet, although there isn't much beyond the name that the two share. The two local internet cafes I frequent use their names to connote superiority. Ultmate and Paramount, though not much about either could be called either. In many ways the names and advertisements of businesses here strive to put them on par with an imagined ideal that often doesn't fit with reality in any conceivable way. Perhaps its not so different from the US, but the change in perspective reveals more of the whimsical fantasy of advertising.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Power and Corruption in Ugandan Football

The past couple of days I've spent more time than I probably should wondering what to term my latest African charity expense. I've decided that the best politically correct title would be "extra-legal expenses." A harsher but potentially more truthful name would be "bribe money." I've even toyed with putting down the simple generalization "African fee." Whatever you want to call it, I've recently become intimately familiar with the underhandedness that plagues many aspects of society here. In my case it's been my dealings with FUFA, or the Federation of Ugandan Football Associations.

In my humble, inexpert and short-lived experience in the eastern part of this continent I would have to agree with the commonly held opinion that Africa's greatest problem is that of corruption. Not that the West doesn't have its own forms of extortion, bribery and nepotism. The difference is in the details however, and in the form in which such things take place. Perhaps this is my problem: that I am too familiar and comfortable with the formalized routines by which my native society cheats its members. Perhaps it is because I am one of those who more often benefit from this institutionalized unfairness that I have less of a problem with it. Still, I can't help but find the more informal, in-your-face underhandedness in this part of the world annoying and troublesome.

Its not hard for me to imagine that many African countries are run somewhat like FUFA. The organization is populated by people that own or represent teams that fall under FUFA's jurisdiction, creating conflicts of interest that are impossible to ignore. It's hard to believe that the bureaucracy of the organization hasn’t been created for any reason aside from making money for a select few in positions of power. My induction into the legalities of the league confirmed this observation, as rule upon rule, real or imagined (I'm not sure as I have yet to receive a copy of the legal guidelines, despite several requests), has served no identifiable purpose other than creating more red tape, which a pay-off can often and conveniently resolve.

My dealings with FUFA officials have sharpened the unfortunate conclusion I have begun to make about the influence of people like me on African societies: I can only hope to leave this place no worse than I found it. As my time here carries on, I wonder more and more whether the impact I have on this society is or can ever be a positive one. The case and point of this is the example of bribery. In order to accomplish our goals here we inevitably run into situations where our complicity in bribery makes us accomplice to the engine that tears at the fabric of civil society. Refusing to participate in it results in the progress towards whatever your goal is grinding to a halt. Ok its a cynical, pessimistic conclusion, but I believe it actually helps me to prioritize my goals here. It's not meant to absolve myself from my ethical principles, but rather humble myself before a society devastated by colonialist theories of "improvement" and "progress." I shouldn't kid myself about altruistic motives; in the end, no matter how generous my actions are, I can't avoid the selfish reasons behind them. It's not a zero-sum game, we both can benefit, but missionary zeal is what I'd like to avoid.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Case of the Mystery Malaria

My general perspective on healthcare in Uganda this past week can be summed up in a few of the following inner-dialogue thoughts I've had recently (though I won't limit myself to just them):

"Is this treatment going to hurt more than the illness?"
"That's not what the last physician/nurse told me"
"I may be going crazy right now, but I'm pretty sure you are too"

Allow me to provide a chronology of medical trips this week:

Trip #1 (Kawempe clinic, Sunday): Feel terrible, get tested for malaria; told results are (extremely) positive, get anti-malarial drugs

Trip #2 (International Hospital Kampala, Wednesday): After feeling worse, get tested for malaria; find that I no longer have (never had??) malaria; told that medication I have been taking is either no longer effective against malaria or does not treat malaria at all; get proscribed new anti-malarials "just in case."

Trip #3 (The Surgery, Kampala, following Sunday): After some symptoms have persisted, seek another opinion; told that its not even worth getting tested again, since its obvious I was misdiagnosed before and don't have malaria (told, in fact, that no one has EVER gotten malaria in Africa while on Larium, which I am currently taking).

It's really hard to know what to believe anymore. Although this week has been a great study in the confusion that is healthcare in Uganda, it's been made less fun by the fact that I've been quite ill, and still am feeling symptoms. Do I have malaria? Did I ever? If not, then what do/did I have? No one can give me a strait answer that jives with my experiences, and because I'm a visitor I don't have a great sense about who or what to trust. It's been made easier by being with fellow foriegners, some of whom are also ill (although at times that also makes things a whole lot scarier), but it still doesn't help me feel comfortable with the decisions I have to make about my health. Add to this the sneaking suspicion that your weekly anti-malarials may actually be affecting your mental health, and you get one rather rough week.

No one freak out, I really am feeling much better.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Trouble in Kenya

Kampala's Daily Monitor has front page coverage of the violence going on in Kenya in the aftermath of the recent presidential elections there. Apparently local Kenyan media is reporting 124 deaths so far. Police have swarmed the country's city streets after the Kenyan election committee announced that incumbent Mwai Kibaki had won the election by some 200,000 votes. Opposition candidate Raila Odinga, along with a number of civil society organizations, has denounced the ballot count as rigged and claimed that at least 300,000 votes have been stolen from him. Kibaki was sworn into office hours after the results were announced, but Odinga has vowed to hold his own inauguration event in Nairobi on Thursday.

Violence has been reported to be the worse in the slums of Nairobi and in the western part of the country, where Odinga's supporters are based. In Mathare just outside of Nairobi police have been reported as announcing that they will shoot on sight and shoot to kill. Violence in western Kenya has forced people to flee into Uganda, where some have had to seek refuge out-doors under trees or with local churches.

The impact of the violence in Kenya on the Ugandan economy is already being felt, with gas prices rising and expected to rise even higher. About 78% of Uganda's exports and 90% of its imports go through Kenya, which means that continued violence could have a much deeper impact on the region. Already the Ugandan government and businesses are working to secure alternative trade lines through the Tanzanian-Ugandan border, both overland and by ship across Lake Victoria

All this has forced us to rethink our plans for traveling through Kenya to Tanzania at the end of the month. Tanzania by boat seems to me the most appealing, especially if violence in the DRC continues to strain the Ugandan-DRC border.