Let him go. Please! 1

James Mulwana: same dignity in death as in life.

James Mulwana: same dignity in death as in life.

In Uganda, there was once a man called James Mulwana. Easily one of the richest people in the country, you wouldn’t have known it, given the humility with which he carried himself and the embarrassment he could barely hide whenever attempts were made to put him up on a pedestal as someone very special.

When James Mulwana died, his wishes were carried out to the letter … well almost; no lengthy vigils, closed casket, no flowers except from the Kabaka of Buganda, the president, and the immediate family.  He had suggested that he should be buried the day he died if it was possible but that didn’t happen, and he was laid into the ground the next day instead.

A man who had almost single-handedly revived Uganda’s manufacturing and kept it fighting against tawdry foreign goods from India and China left behind what should be the most enduring legacy of hard work, thrift, getting on with it,  honesty and integrity – all qualities that you will not find in 95% of Ugandans today if you offer love or money –  went as as he had lived; without fuss.

Mandela as we have all known him (left) and as we shouldn't (right)

Mandela as we have all known him (left) and as we shouldn’t (right)

So it should be with Nelson Mandela around whose slow, inexorable, march towards death everyone seems to be jostling to feast upon. There is that cringe-inducing image of a barely lucid Mandela sitting at the head of the dinner table with his current wife, Gracia Machel, and ex, Winnie, sitting on both sides of him. Then Gracia takes a napkin and wipes Mandela’s mouth, perhaps to prevent him from drooling. All the time a smug-looking Winnie is looking on with barely concealed glee that she is part of this scene at all.

It is an undignified spectacle that the world shouldn’t have been allowed to witness. We can also guess that, given how Mandela once publicly vowed that he would never have “anything to do with that woman ever again,” Winnie is sitting at his side with the cameras rolling because Mandela had nothing to do with that decision.

South Africa is making the biggest cardinal sin of all; taking a man we have loved and admired over five decades and showing him to us in all his fallibility, thereby diminishing him and his stature needlessly.

Gracia ma’am, South Africa, Mandela’s family: if he survives this latest bout of illness (and one hopes he doesn’t), please don’t let him appear in public again. Don’t take any more pictures for the media with anyone, anyone. Let Mandela rest to wait out what must be a very limited time of what’s left of his exemplary life.


Western square pegs in African round holes 5

I don’t know if this has ever happened to anyone else. You feel you know what you want to say, it’s at the tip of your tongue, but then … you just can’t find the words.

That’s been my mental state for months, perhaps years regarding why a lot of monetary and intellectual “developmental aid” is wasted on Africa, why the West has precious little to show for the billions of dollars spent in cash and kind over the years, and why, despite our claims to be “developing,” African countries remain bogged down in a quagmire of corrupt, thieving leadership that we, however, continue to embrace repeatedly in election after election.

I would write all sorts of stuff, some of it merely critical and thus not very helpful, a lot of it meandering and so not very helpful either. Time and time again, I would end up asking myself … “but what are you really trying to say?”

Marslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

What I have been trying to say finally came to me during a conversation with a friend in London recently. As we chatted away merrily, he casually dropped Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs into the conversation whose subject now eludes me.

Of course! Good old Abraham Maslow from all those years ago in sociology class at university! It was like a light bulb had finally been switched on in my brain.

Taken at its most basic level, Maslow’s pyramid of needs encapsulates why gay marriage in America and Europe is on the march while Africa is still struggling to spell the word ‘sexuality.’

In societies where physiological, safety, belonging and esteem (see image above) needs have been met, there is nothing for it but to seek self-actualization or what one might crudely refer to as self-indulgences; stuff that makes us happy and which we come to eventually look upon as needs or rights but which we can actually do without. Examples that come to mind are: allowing yourself to go on television to sue a relative over $123.76; spending thousands of dollars on changing your appearance in a bid to look like a popular doll; buying a pump that enlarges your penis only long enough for you to take a photograph of it.

No wonder then that the great debates in the West have shifted to feminism, atheism, sportsmen coming out of the closet, gay marriage and adoption, political correctness, pre-emptive medical surgeries etc. Talking about and finding solutions to food security, adequate shelter, water, preventable childhood diseases was done generations ago and the focus has logically turned to self actualization.

Jocelyn Wildenstein: all the self actualization that money can buy

Jocelyn Wildenstein: all the self actualization that money can buy

Even on the challenge of HIV/Aids which hasn’t been overcome yet, an acceptable safety point has been reached in the West because, for the most part, you can go to a hospital or clinic, pick up anti-retro-viral drugs and pop them daily to keep you alive. HIV/Aids is thus no longer such a  “pressing” concern  in the Netherlands or New York because of the perception that there is something those who catch the disease can do about it.

Segue backwards to sub-Saharan Africa where food, shelter, clothing, driving a car, even having sex are still considered luxuries by 90% of the population. “Sex?” I hear you asking. Yes, casual sex abounds in Africa of course but there are so many invisible vested interests in the sex lives of any two people in most African countries that the sexual freedom you might find in San Francisco’s Castro District, for instance, or in a gay sauna in London, would blow the minds of citizens in any African capital.

Despite it being 2013, Africans haven’t yet arrived at the stage where a married couple can tell the in-laws to mind their own business should they ask why they are childless two years after getting married. Yet in the West, that is an expression that is served up for breakfast, lunch and dinner by children to their parents, who are in turn expected to apologize if they don’t want to be ‘divorced’ by their offspring.

What has all this got to do with anything?

Whenever you have people who are living or have grown up at the apex of Marslow’s pyramid, to whom self-actualization has become a need, you are likely to have them advocating solutions that reflect what they know. So, because the “rights” being pushed in the West are about lack of prejudice, women’s liberation, being able to divorce your parents if you don’t like them, having a child by any means your money can pay for, gay marriage, it stands to reason that western donors will push for their money to support the same ideals in Africa, without taking into account the realities on ground.

It was that sort of overarching arrogance that prompted an American activist and blogger, Melanie Nathan, to bully a university in Uganda that educated and employed Ugandans, some of them gay, into closing because, in her view, it had to abide by her own Western gay rights ideals rather than those of a “tiny country”.  Her superciliousness aside, Melanie Nathan had a point: she was pushing for the only ideals she knows; those that espouse self-actualization as a human right.

Square western pegs trying to fit into round African holes

Square western pegs trying to fit into round African holes

Yet, it is to miss critical development stages to ask societies where putting food on the table is still a daily challenge to focus on, let alone respect, the feelings of intersexuals, albinos or fourth wives. In Africa just being alive at all is a luxury and you should forget your emotions and get on with it.

So, if you were raped by your uncle or the neighbor’s son, at least you lived to tell the tale.  If your husband dies, consider it a privilege if his sibling agrees to inherit you as his third wife. Sticks and stones don’t hurt a marriage, neither does serial philandering. If you lose a loved one due to verifiable medical negligence or neglect, you should thank the doctors for hastening God’s will. If you are a gay man, marry an unsuspecting woman! If you are a lesbian, how about a dose of corrective rape? If your married lover beats you to a pulp for looking at other men, why did you bring it upon yourself?

Those are the African minds human rights groups based in New York and the Hague are trying to lecture about homosexual loving and its logical consequence: gay marriage. Those are the people whose exposure international women’s groups want to broaden with stage showings of the Vagina Monologues. Those are the people Uganda’s parliamentarians were bribed with $2,000 to go and  ‘consult’ over the Marriage and Divorce Bill  that would have given Uganda’s women more rights over their bodies, marital property and self-esteem.

It is the story of  attempting to pull minds still grappling with physiological needs up to self-actualization when they haven’t yet figured out how to achieve safety, love/belonging or self-esteem.

It is like demanding that a baby run before it has learned how to crawl.

And, if yours truly, with his average mind, has finally figured it out … it is impossible that all those foreigners who daily exhort Africa to emulate this and that Western standard don’t already know this.

Teach a man to fish or give him the fish? 1

You know the age-old adage about how if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day and if you teach him how to fish he is fed for a lifetime?

The former is what aid agencies tell you they want to do when they set up development programs in Africa and elsewhere they have decided, usually unilaterally,  that their money, technical expertize and presence are needed.

Papa Chavez

Papa Chavez

What brought this into sharp focus for me was the death of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez recently. The “poor” came out in numbers almost not seen since Jesus conjured two fishes and a loaf of bread into a feast that fed the 5,000. The jury is still out as to whether Chavez really gave his poor people a fish or taught them how to fish. And it is on that issue that it seems appropriate to segue to Uganda.

It is absolutely true that if you have money to give away, you will always have willing takers.

And so, it seems, it is the case for what passes for gay activism in Uganda. In just a matter of two or three years, the number of gay activists organizations in Uganda has mushroomed from around 5 to more than 30. All of them seek funding from have foreign constituencies in Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, Britain trying to … help. Most of the would-be helpers are Chavez-like paternalistic do-gooders with clear terms of reference to showcase their caring credentials.

Some of the donor organizations, however, don’t seem too interested in accountability for the money they disburse. The popular rationale for this tends to be that they can’t demand accountability from the oppressed and downtrodden who are operating in secrecy. The oppressed gays, lesbians, bisexuals (LGBTI) of Uganda would be putting themselves at risk if they so much as cast around for a part-time auditor to make sure that donations are being used for the reasons highlighted in their proposals, wouldn’t they?

Gay activism is the latest “sexy” bleeding heart bandwagon to roll into Uganda. on the back of a pro-gay worldwide wave that is sweeping everything in its path. So far so good; after all what caring soul would decry any efforts to help the downtrodden?

A typical example of a Ugandan LGBTI public begging bowl

An example of a Ugandan LGBTI public begging bowl set up on the internet a couple of months ago –  and eventually pulled down

This being Uganda, savvy people haven’t taken long to figure out that there is money to be made in gay activism. I have it on reliable authority that some donors are nonetheless disbursing to groups and individuals enough money to pay 10 teachers’ salaries in Uganda for 8 months –  even when they are cautioned that they might be funding little more than a jamboree of conspicuous consumption. I have received e-mails from people complaining that money sent to them for their “security” is being diverted to other purposes by their leaders.

Then there are the fictitious membership roll calls. My phone number and name appear on the members’ lists of two relatively new Ugandan LGBTI organizations. But I am not aware of when I signed up to be their member or attended any of their meetings.

Left-right dichotomy

Left-right dichotomy

Can the donors really be this gullible?

Yes and No.

Yes, some of the organizations going around cup in hand in the West ‘on behalf of ‘suffering Ugandans’ are run by naive young people,  barely out of school, who are out of their depth in dealing with crafty Ugandans. The internet campaigns that have sprung up in the last few months are good examples of this.

No, in 2013 the more experienced donors know that there is waste and misuse of resources going on but gay rights are highly sexy worldwide right now and it is good public relations to be seen to be doing something towards the LGBTI cause in Africa. So they simply turn a blind eye to the more egregious evidence of charlatanism.


I think it is part of a worldwide ideological war between left and right in the Americas (mostly) and Europe that leads to such disregard for standards of accountability that the donors demand of organizations in their own countries and mainstream NGOs in the developing world. If Scott Lively’s Defend the Family is using money to fight the ideological battle for minds in Africa, the argument tends to go, so can the left.

With the right-wing in retreat even in their last bastion, the United States of America, the liberal/left wing has an excellent opportunity to prove their caring credentials by wearing their bleeding hearts on their sleeves. If some of the funds are being wasted, so be it; the wider goal of changing mindsets globally justifies relaxing some of the oversight on the donated funds.

It is a disturbing trend but you will not see it change soon because that is how practically every crooked, thieving, lying, inept regime in Africa has managed to stay in power; with a lot of unconditional help from friends in America, Canada, Britain, and Europe and so on.

As someone told me when I asked her about why the demand for accountability seems more lax with some LGBTI donors than one would normally expect, “it’s the nature of the beast.”

Long may Maggie Thatcher’s legacy live! 2

When all is said and done there will be no doubt about this woman’s transformational impact on Britain and the world.

Even as the haters parade their ignorance, check out out this image of Leicester Square, London, in the 1970s, shortly before Maggie Thatcher took over Britain and wrested it back from the ruinous control of  Arthur Scargill and the trade unions:

Leicester Square London under the grip of the unions

Uncollected rubbish: Leicester Square London under the grip of the unions

And this is what Leicester Square looks like today, thanks almost entirely to Thatcher’s resolute refusal to kowtow to Arthur Scargill’s blackmail:

Leicester Square, London, today

Leicester Square, London, today

And of course, thanks to Maggie Thatcher the left wing haters can afford to toast her death with champagne in former council flats that they now own. If it had been before her time, they would have had to settle for stale ale drank through rotten teeth and stinking breath on soulless, drab council estates. But look how glamorous they look, thanks to the changes Maggie forced on Britain. The irony is totally lost on them.

The haters can now look glamorous and well fed

The haters now look glamorous and well fed

Don’t be surprised if these are the same people who keep awake at night wondering how Britain should give people in Africa an education. They need the education far more but this irony, too, would be totally lost on them.

This is Uganda! 3

I owe a lot of people an apology. But because I can’t reach them all, I am going to do a public mea culpa here.

I have just returned from the trading center near my home where I went specifically to apologize to a woman who sits in the Airtel sales center. You see, I went in there the other day, found her behind a desk that hid her completely because she was sitting on a footstool. So, until you walked up to the desk and craned over, you couldn’t tell if there was anyone behind the desk or not. The short of it is that she wasn’t ready to offer a service, showed no interest when I asked for service and rolled her eyes when I asked for service. So, I laid into her. She rolled her eyes some more, asked why I was getting worked up and then went back to whatever she’d been doing before I interrupted her day.

I left, frustrated and angry but keenly aware that the woman I’d left behind was totally unaffected by my anger.

What then has prompted me to apologize to her?

This morning I tried loading mobile money on the MTN network. The treatment I received was eerily similar to the Airtel experience – when the MTN mobile offices were open which most weren’t, an hour after they were meant to be.

Which got me to thinking … you are really living in cloud-cuckoo-land if you expect the service provision to live up to reasonable expectations in this country.

But before I came to that conclusion, I had also been woken up from my dream-like slumber by the cautionary advice of someone I feel I should take seriously because he has lived and worked abroad as well as in Uganda. In a nutshell, he told me that rather than crow about this or that failure in the activist world in Uganda, it’s best to live and let live, while you do the best you can where you can. Sound advice I assure you.

If you expect anything to run on time, find another country other than Uganda to live in. If you expect professionals to keep their word, start disabusing yourself before you deal with Ugandan ones.

If you think a government contract is worth the paper it is written on in Uganda, you need to have your head examined. If you expect enthusiastic and/or knowledgeale service in a  Ugandan restaurant, you are best advised to stay home and prepare your own meal.

As tends to be the case, our eyes are usually opened by those around us who are better at reading and articulating our frustrations. So it has been with my constant gripe about the abysmal customer service in Uganda, the mind-boggling levels of corruption even at the most basic levels, the endemic incompetence of ministers and toilet cleaners, the ease with which we misappropriate money that’s donated so that we can help those less fortunate than ourselves … and so on and so forth.

I am thus going to give a nod to the words of a friend from another forum who finally helped open my eyes to how forlorn my hopes are that anything in this country can ever be done right, that those who  represent the masses will ever pretend that they are in it for anything other than their own self-aggrandizement, that … you get the point.

Here is my friend’s sobering assessment of what Uganda is today:

I’m at that point that I think [most Ugandans who understand how to survive in their country] reached about 25 years ago; where one knows that “it” won’t work, if it works, it won’t last, if it works and lasts then I’m probably dreaming it in my sleep.

What is the “it”?

It is those things plumbers, permanent secretaries, ministers, MPs, mechanics, presidents, judges etc., try to do for us in the name of duty and service.

Trying to talk about how “it” should be done is useless because those I’m talking to sometimes understand the matter better than I do. Trying to talk to those in charge is also useless since they believe they know best. So where does that leave me? Well, exactly where [most Ugandans] arrived at 25 years ago; calm and unbothered.

So a thieving politician gets a slap on the wrist by the judicial system.  No big shock there! So the Northern bypass has serious flooding at Bwaise a few months after opening – hmm, no big shock there! That my mechanic replaced the wrong wheel bearing and in the process damaged my ABS – hmm no big shock there! That my experienced painter who was given a tin of paint, thinner and hardener to be mixed but put the thinner and hardener  to one side and used the undiluted paint on the floor. It took 2 days to scrape off the mess plus cost of wasted paint. Hmm – no big shock there!

I am in tune with this place now! I don’t [nitpick] too much, or ask probing questions. I pay my money and calmly put my packet under my armpit and walk off. I took 10 curtains to be dry cleaned at [the cleaners]. I picked them up, put them in the car, paid 180K and drove off. 18 months ago I would h have inspected the curtains before paying. But what’s the point?  If it’s a bad job, they will not make it better, so why invest in the aggravation?

No, this is Uganda – if it works thank God, if it doesn’t work don’t dwell on it, another failure is always looming round the corner!

Amen. Amen. Amen. That’s exactly why I went back to apologize to the Airtel sales woman.

My sincere apologies to all those Ugandans I can’t reach who I have nagged, harangued or embarrassed on account of what I perceived as their failure to deliver. I assure you it will not happen again.

This is Uganda – if it works thank God, if it doesn’t work don’t dwell on it, another failure is always looming round the corner! …

Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga responds to Father Musaala 14

Here is the Archbishop of Kampala’s press release. It’s not clear whether this was before or after Father Musaala was suspended from conducting his priestly duties ‘pending investigations.’


Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga

Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga


Dear people of God

“I deeply think of the immense suffering caused by the article produced in the media authored by Fr. Anthony Musaala, that seems to be casting a dark shadow of suspicion” over all priests.

Above all, the Church takes seriously the allegations in this article. On behalf of my fellow Catholic Bishops in Uganda I wish to assure the public that as leaders of the Catholic Church in Uganda; we are committed to the protection of the minors and rights of everyone. Investigations about these allegations are to begin immediately with of course cases that are proved.

It should however, be clear to everyone that the value of the choice of priestly celibacy according to the Catholic tradition still stands, and the need for solid human and Christian formation is underlined, both for seminarians and for those already ordained.
The Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law states the stand of the Catholic Church on celibacy in Canon 277, which mandates clerical celibacy that: “Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven and therefore are obliged to observe celibacy, which is a special gift of God, by which sacred ministers can adhere more easily to Christ with an undivided heart and can more freely dedicate themselves to the services of God and mankind.”

This Church law is embraced willingly as prescribed by Can.1037 which states that: “A candidate for the permanent diaconate who is not married, and likewise a candidate for the priesthood, is not to be admitted to the order of diaconate unless he has, in the prescribed rite, publically before God and the Church undertaken the obligation of celibacy, or unless he has taken perpetual vows in a religious institute”. This means therefore that no one is forced to embrace this discipline before or at ordination.

Everyone should once again remember that until Christ came along (Mt 19:12), and then Paul (1 Cor. 7:32-35), the only state of life known was marriage but when Christ came, He made it clear that some people would remain celibate (“eunuchs”) for the sake of the Kingdom of God (Mt 19:12). St. Paul further recommended it for those who would be dedicated to serving God in this world (1 Cor. 7:7, 17, 32-35), for the salvation of souls and it is totally a freedom of choice as the above biblical quotations suggest.
If one fails to comply with this discipline, he does it on his own and not on behalf of the Church. Consequently personal failure in this regard is not an offence sanctioned by the Church. However we as Bishops deeply regret such failures and seek forgiveness from those who have been victims.
I indeed applaud all the many religious men and women who have remained faithful to this promise and there is nothing we can offer but our prayers for them.

It is very unfortunate that the author of the published document stands to call for suspension of this discipline through his proposed forum that has no Church legitimacy and yet the Church’s legislation and practice is clear on this point. None-the-less we are going to investigate into the allegations in the article with people concerned together with certainty of the author of this document.

As per now, after the acceptance of Fr. Musaala that he authored this document, the law prescribed by the Church in can. 1369 takes its course. This law states that: “A person is to be punished with a just penalty, who, at a public event or assembly, or in a published writing, or by otherwise using the means of social communication, utters blasphemy, or gravely harms public morals, or rails at or excites hatred of or contempt for religion or the Church.”

This means therefore that Fr. Musaala because of the publication of his article in the public media which damages good morals of Catholic believers and further expresses a wrong teaching against the Catholic Church’s teaching and that this stirs up hatred and contempt against the Church, he incurs a Ferendae sententiae penalty as prescribed by Can.1314. This means that Father Anthony Musaala is suspended from celebrating sacraments and sacramentals, from the powers of governance in accordance to the law of the Church Can.1335 and1336§1n.1, 2and3 as investigations are being carried on.

Once more I feel sorry of the inconveniences caused by this article and let us entrust the whole matter to our Lord the most chaste, for the conversion of hearts to do good.

Yours Sincerely in Christ,

+Cyprian K. Lwanga

Women to blame if they are raped by their spouses? 3

Money quote from the comment section of Uganda’s New Vision (Moses Nuwagaba, March 5, 2013):

“On the question of rape in marriage, the solution is in sensitizing spouses, especially women, about their conjugal responsibilities.”

Huh? I found myself doing a double take.

Is Mr. Nuwagaba really suggesting that it is the wives’ responsibility to ensure that they fulfill their sexual obligations in order to avoid being raped by their husbands?

Yes, he is.

Such outlandish opinions -espoused by men and women – are legion in Uganda.

Take this advice in the same paper that was given to a woman who complained that her husband of six years was an unapologetic adulterer who left her to fend for the home and her two children. After it got too much, she left the marriage bed, no doubt afraid of what sexually transmitted diseases she might catch:

Opinion A (a woman): … Have you considered that despite your husband having flaws, you might also have some? … When you are hurt by your husband, turn to your first love, Jesus, not to another man …”

Opinion B (a  man): Instead of abandoning your husband, keep talking to him. He will reform when the time comes. …

Opinion C (a man): If your husband has declined to change, talk to his confidant to influence him. If you unknowingly wronged him, examine yourself.

And so on and so forth.

So, there, it is clear: in Uganda women must put up with deadbeats, compulsive philandering, neglect once they make marriage vows.

Yes, I hear you wondering whether these opinions are really from adults living in 2013. They are and are reflective of how Ugandans generally reason. The general expectation is that men will sleep around, and that women should understand and be patient with them when they do. There is little point in arguing against it – it is what it is.

Which makes me wonder … if such thinking is still par for the course in Uganda in 2013, what does it say for the mountain we have to climb to convince this country to understand same-sex relations?


Illiterate African Americans: go back to school!

Forced by political correct to apologize: Mitzi Miller (left). Right is Fantasia

Forced by political correct to apologize: Mitzi Miller (left). Right is Fantasia

Check out this uplifting story from Kenya:

Money quote:

Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge, 88, is the oldest man in Kenya to attend primary school. At the time of his enrollment four years ago, the Guinness Book of World Records listed him as being the oldest person in the world to start primary school. A Great Grandfather who have (sic) a great dreams. … .

And now check out the comments when the [educated] editor of America’s Jet magazine,  Mitzi Miller, launched a diatribe against 29-year-old Fantasia Barino, a fairly successful R&B singer who apparently still can’t read or write properly. In a nutshell, the comments, no doubt from other African (black?) Americans, heap contumely on the editor for calling Fantasia’s illiteracy out, even going as far as saying that they will boycott Jet magazine.

Utter rubbish. A woman brought up in America is illiterate and that is Jet Magazine’s editor’s fault?

It's not as though books in America are always terribly expensive

It’s not as though books in America are always terribly expensive

A friend from another forum argues that  “I agree that it’s time for Fantasia to refine herself and embrace some sort of reconciliation with the challenges of her illiteracy. However,  JET magazine editors should NOT be putting down this woman because this wannabe bourgeoisie editor who had a more fortunate life, in her head thinks she is better than Fantasia.”

To which I say … The Jet magazine editor should say what she pleases about Barino’s illiteracy if America wants to continue calling itself the land of free speech.

Actually, the editor is doing Barino and the entire unread black American corps a service by making illiteracy in America an object of derision. In the richest country in the world, if we are harder on people without book learning, that would be the first step towards stigmatizing illiteracy. It’s not the editor’s fault that Fantasia slipped through the cracks. Yes, it was unkind of Miller to point out her “sista’s” shortcomings but that is life – sometimes it is unkind.

Fantasia has been entertaining us for almost 10 years now, yes? In that time, she has sold albums, acted on Broadway and wrecked someone’s marriage. Can you imagine what we would be saying now had she used some of that time to learn to read and write? Instead, you now read that Barino still relies on her daughter to read stuff. She admits she can’t make head or tail of documents put in front of her – and doesn’t seem intelligent enough to hire someone to decipher them for her.

“The fact that I wasted an hour of my workday writing a press release to address an issue created by a person who cannot even read it is just… (Mitzi Miller on Fantasia)

In sub-Saharan Africa men and women go back to finish 7th grade in their 60s. What excuse does a woman who now has some money in the bank have for not hiring a tutor and learning to read and write?.

Mitzi Miller dear … you live in America so you have to think carefully about your choice of words and style of addressing controversial issues. But you have done Fantasia and all the drop-outs of America a favor by pointing out that no adult American citizen has any excuse for being illiterate in 2013.

Illiterate black America, go back and complete your schooling. Please.

Pope Benedict XVI: India Knight Voices My Very Thoughts 3

India Knight had a great piece, three years ago on why she had let her Catholicism lapse:

Money quote:

Vague because it’s hard to pay lip-service to a faith that you feel hates you; a faith that would rather let you die in childbirth than have an abortion, won’t let you take the contraception necessary to prevent said abortion, hates gay people despite having many homosexual priests; a faith that talks ignorant nonsense about HIV and Aids, that would rather watch people die in Africa than let them use a condom; a faith that is unbelievably slow to say sorry about the fact that some of its members are habitual rapists of children.

I mean, you know, at some point you just give up. Not one of these things is defensible taken individually. Collectively, they are beyond comprehension.

My thoughts exactly. This Pope has been an unmitigated failure, with his reign characterized by cover-ups, even rewarding, of priestly pedophilia, foolish resistance to contraception by a Pope who has never raised a child or had to worry about where his next meal would come from, publicly inveighing against homosexuals while continuing to secretly hire them into the priestly ranks … one could go on.

The only positively radical thing Benedict XVI has done in his entire Papacy is to resign. Time for a Pope ready to live in the 21st Century.

To a gay man living in 201013, the Catholic Church Vatican I see and read about is an abomination.

Related reading:

.1. Pedophilia, celibacy and the priestly vocation
2. Is the notion of a sexually active gay clergy tenable?
3. If Biblical teaching is unquestionable …
4. Stephen Fry on the Catholic Church

Are Uganda’s telecom companies screwing their customers? 2

2744/= ! I was on the phone for barely 5 minutes

Charged 2744/= ! I was on the phone for barely 5 minutes

Among the breathtaking things I have come to appreciate about Uganda is the power that telecom companies wield in this country. Economic power is of course not a bad thing but Uganda is the only country I have lived in where telecom companies engage in price-fixing, banking, usury (lending you 2,000/= in airtime you don’t have and charging you 800/= for the loan), gambling and, of course telecommunications almost at will.

I will focus on Airtel which is what I know best but the other communications companies (MTN, Warid, Uganda Telecom, Orange) are not that different since they operate as a cartel of sorts. A little more on that later.

Airtel used to be called Celtel. Then it became Zain which it was when it flew in R Kelly and Akon, at astronomical cost, for what turned out to be extremely disappointing concerts.

Now it is called Airtel, having been acquired by Bharti Airtel, an Indian company.

Airtel charges a tariff of  4/= per second for pre-paid phone calls. That means that you should pay 240/= if you make a one minute phone call, yes? Not necessarily.  The other day I was on the phone to an MTN number for 11 seconds and I was charged 576/= (52.36/= per minute).  Then I made a second call to the same number a couple of minutes later which lasted 10 seconds. I was charged 240/= (24/= per second). The third call I made, this time to a different number lasted 1.02 minutes and cost 504/= (8/= per second).

It’s confusing to the customer and, with the level of financial sophistication in Uganda not exactly helped by a so-so education offering, it is easy to see how most customers will not be able to figure out what exactly they are being charged on each phone call they make.

Airtel Arsenal "offer" seems more like a gambling package

Airtel Arsenal “offer” seems designed specifically to encourage gambling

If I was expecting to pay 44/= for an 11-second phone call that I paid 240/= for, where did the 196/= go?  If that were to be replicated a million times a day (Airtel boasts way more than one million customers),  what would that mean to Airtel’s bottom line? Could they possibly make more than 196,000,000/= ($73,400)  if this happened to one million customers in one day?

Is that how Airtel can afford to “give away” 5m/= ($1870) a day on television game shows as well as make all sorts of seemingly great offers to their customers? Why does it seem to me as though the customers themselves are already paying for all those ‘offers’ in inscrutable, confusing, opaque tariffs?

Airtel also has all sorts of enticing packages such as 20,000/= for “free” Airtel to Airtel  for an entire month. Exciting deal? Seems so until you apply it in practice.

If you load 20,000/= of the Airtel to Airtel package, you can make those calls for 30 days without paying anything extra. So, if you run out of Airtel-to-other-networks airtime, you can still make Airtel-Airtel calls. So far so good.

Now, if you load 10,000/= of Airtel-to-other-networks airtime, you might get a bonus of 5,000/=. But if you still have the Airtel-Airtel package, something interesting happens: the Airtel-Airtel free calls stop being free and their cost will be deducted from the bonus you received when you bought Airtel-to-other-networks airtime! Until the bonus runs out, your free Airtel-Airtel package is basically suspended. In other words, Airtel raids your Airtel-to-other-networks bonus for Airtel-Airtel calls that you have already paid 20,000/= for!

How the bonus airtime tariffs are calculated is a mystery, too. Suffice it to say that they are charged as haphazardly as the non-bonus tariffs.

Huh? What is that again?

Huh? What’s that again? No, they never took me off the bonus scheme and so they never responded

Now, try asking Airtel personnel why your bonus is being used for Airtel-Airtel calls when you have already paid for them. First you have to run the gauntlet of their disorganized customer service centers where they can’t even get right the queuing system. If you persist, you will speak with polite, empathetic Airtel officials who, however, don’t deliver on their commitments.

I persisted for about a month until I gave up when it became clear that, despite their fine words, they weren’t interested in resolving the issue. Take it or leave it was the tone of  the last e-mail the Airtel official sent me. So, I decided to leave it, and now longer subscribe to the Airtel-Airtel scheme since it seems like a swindle to me.

Their e-mails are either deliberately written to obfuscate, or someone at Airtel needs to figure out how to communicate with customers in a simpler style.

Yet another promise not fulfilled

Yet another promise not fulfilled

Some months ago, I sought out a radio talk show host I know, asking that I go on his show to talk about the telecom companies’ incomprehensible charges to customers. He didn’t mince his words. Telecom companies are so powerful, and radio stations are so beholden to them for advertizing shillings that they couldn’t say or bring on anyone to so much as question their business practices, he told me. That makes MTN more powerful than the president of Uganda – quite a feat for a company that is so divested in Uganda that it could shut down in exactly a day and return to South Africa.

MTN, too has its share of tariff complaints

MTN, too has its share of public complaints

So, how can you prove whether the tariffs you are being charged are as advertised? If you are a prepaid (pay as you go) customer, you can’t.  The simplest way would be to ask for a transcript of your phone calls but in Uganda the telecom companies don’t have to give you anything unless you get a court order.

What’s left is what I resorted to: made phone calls over a time and monitored the duration and cost. What I gleaned seems damning but it would be totally useless anywhere beyond this blog as I cannot back it up with any verifiable record. That seems to suit Airtel and the other data and voice service providers just fine.After all, if you can’t get a verifiable record, how can you question their business practices?

Why bother with barrier lines if your customers can mill around idly?

Why bother with barrier ropes and proper lines if you can make your customers mill around idly?

It is nonetheless curious that it is now much cheaper for Airtel customers to call India, Bangladesh, Canada or the United Kingdom than it is for them to call within Uganda. That sounds suspiciously as though the Ugandan customer calling his mother across town is subsidizing those who make international calls (what some might call preferential treatment) but, again, I can’t prove it.

Finally, did you know that, like the OPEC cartel, the big Ugandan telecom executives regularly meet to discuss tariffs and what they can do about them so that their respective companies all stay profitable?  Next time you wonder why they all charge about the same calling rates even though their customer base and numbers vary widely, do remember that.

PS. I sent an e-mail to Airtel, asking them whether they had any comment/clarification before I posted this. They sent me an e-mail that their “PRO” would get back to me. S/he hadn’t by the time I went to print.