Solar Lanterns and Emesco Development Foundation

Hajara, Saleswoman at Starlight Kagadi, offers customer advice after receiving product training

Noah, Renewable Sales Manager at Starlight Servces, updates the sales log

Emesco Development Foundation is bringing solar power to Kibaale District. This is a significant step. Emesco’s work has until now, been completely donor funded and has been confined to the fields of agriculture, water and sanitation, and healthcare. Confined is probably the wrong word since this is an extremely broad remit for a development organisation and represents the sharp edge of some pioneering work to kick-start the discredited ‘integrated development movement’ from the 80s.

Integrated Development basically involves organising development efforts regionally rather than by sector. So instead of specialising in health, or sanitation, or agriculture, an organisation concentrates efforts in all these variegated fields within a specifically chosen location. A problem with this approach in the 80s was that once the projects had been implemented the agencies moved on and any improvements stagnated or reversed. But these were foreign agencies in a time of arrogant policy making from Milton-inspired World Bank economists.

This error is unlikely to be repeated here in Karuguuza. The reason is the uniqueness of Emesco Devlepment Foundation. It is led by a business man and social worker, raised as a child within Karuguuza. Emely Kugonza defines his life by his success in achieving the economic and social development of Kibaale District. Emely Kugonza’s business interests and the interests of Kibaale District dovetail since all of his investments are within the area meaning that Kibaale District’s development raises the value of his own personal investments. As a consequence Emely Kugonza as the leader of Emesco Development Foundation and as a businessman has a great deal invested in continuing his work toward Kibaale District’s social and economic development. In other words, Emely and Emesco are here to stay.

Nonetheless, Emesco Development Foundation is entirely funded by international donors who allocate funds on the basis of specific policy platforms. Integrated Development does not currently feature highly in these platforms. Most donors specialise in one field or another within a constellation that includes: health, education, children, etc. Emesco must warp its fundraising efforts and project implementations to the requirements of the donors. It is a constant struggle to implement projects in the manner that Emesco and its constituents understand as best for Kibaale District. This is symbolic of the wider power relationship between donors and aid recipients; and further, between the western world and the developing world.

Emesco Development Foundation is a Ugandan organisation that has a profound impact on Kibaale District. It coordinates its activities with the District to avoid overlap of resource allocation and is the major social care provider after the government. Consisting of about 20 staff, it benefits 90,000 people annually with its training and infrastructure schemes. This is a very efficient use of resources. Working within this organisation, I serve a Ugandan leader of an organisation that is extremely important to Ugandans, working toward achieving the Emesco vision of Kibaale’s future.

The first part of my relationship with Emesco consisted of negotiating what exactly I had to offer to the organisation and to Kibaale District at large. This negotiation has now been resolved and it fits within the broader context of the preceding paragraphs. Emesco’s relationship with its international partners is very good. This is because it is extremely efficient at leveraging its funding to achieve maximum benefits to the rural communities with whom it works. However, this does not change the fact that Emesco and therefore its partner communities are reliant on international aid for continuance. How can Emesco bring sustainability to its own operations as well as to the manner in which its partner communities improve their circumstances? In a capitalist world, the answer lies in business.

Solar Lanterns

The cost of solar power has dramatically reduced over the past decade. In the past few years we have reached a point where solar lanterns together with a specifically designed solar panel can be manufactured at costs commensurate to retails prices reachable by subsistence farmers in Africa.

Extending the national grid to rural locations is as yet unfeasible without unaffordable government subsidies since the returns on the capital expenditure required to reach isolated communities are too small to warrant the investment. This is where solar lanterns become relevant. Rather than asking consumers to purchase electricity as a product, consumers can purchase products that function from their own source of electricity. Solar lanterns are an example of such a product.

Solar Lanterns and Integrated Community Development
Emesco seeks to bring improvements to its constituents in all areas of their lives. The provision of energy to the citizens of Kibaale District has not previously been included in Emesco’s agenda due to the costs involved and the special expertise required. With the advent of easy to use solar lanterns, energy provision has now become possible and Emesco has launched an entirely new segment to its 360 degree development agenda.

The Rationale of the Product
Lighting in rural Africa is predominantly provided by kerosene or paraffin lamps. The light produced by paraffin lamps is dim and they are a leading cause of household accidents due to breaking glass as well as fires due to the flammability of paraffin. The largest drawback to paraffin lamps is that their use represents a constant drain on a household’s economic resources. Use paraffin lamps for a few hours lighting every night costs a household between 1,500UGX and 4,000UGX in paraffin purchases per week. Where paraffin lamps are used, an additional cost to households is the payment of mobile phone charging stations for the recharge of mobile phones. It can cost an individual between 500UGX and 1,000UGX per recharge at a solar powered charging station.

Subsistence farming is the dominant form of sustenance in Kibaale District. 2,289UGX is the current exchange rate to US$1. Most of these farmers live on about US$1 per day. Therefore the costs of phone charging and paraffin purchases represent a significant drain on their economic resources.

After extensive research, consultation, consumer research, and product testing, Emesco Development Foundation has committed to supplying the citizens of Kibaale District with the Firefly 12 Mobile solar lantern, manufactured by Barefoot Power.

The Firefly 12 Mobile is an angle poise lantern with a very bright light suitable for reading or effectively lighting up a room. Additionally it is capable of charging mobile phones and the product arrives with 7 different mobile phone jacks to serve the wide range of mobile used in Uganda. Finally the product arrives with its own polycrystalline 1.5 Watt solar panel that charges the solar lantern during the daytime via a 4 meter cable.

The lantern retails for 47,000UGX and once purchased it should nullify the costs of paraffin and mobile phone charging described earlier in this section. The average amortisation rate of the solar lantern’s costs stands at 19 weeks. After this point families should find themselves 2,500UGX richer per week. The expected life cycle o the Firefly 12 Mobile lantern is 2 years. If a family saves 2,500UGX per week through use of the solar lantern it will end up saving 210,000UGX over the lantern’s expected lifetime taking into account the costs of purchasing the lantern.

Solar Lanterns and Regulation
There have been troubles brought about by poor quality solar products being flogged to rural communities and this has undermined consumer trust of the technology in some parts of the world. However, a range of international NGOs such as Lighting Africa, Global Village Energy Partnership, GTZ and the Rural Energy Foundation have been implementing research exercises and conducting product competitions. These exercises have effectively served to regulate a highly unregulated international market, offering quality control and direction to entrepreneurs aiming to supply solar power to the rural poor.

Such exercises drive down the costs of starting up a solar business since entrepreneurs have an instant guide to the differences between the various products on the market as well as a trustworthy source of information for quality control.

Narrowing down the choice of products to supply to the citizens of Kibaale District was a tough call, until I came into contact with these NGOs.

The Model
Emesco essentially acts as a facilitator and regulator of the solar lantern market in Kibaale District. It’s entrail-like connections into the heart of rural poverty mean it is able to penetrate small isolated markets that would otherwise remain unapproachable to the average business.

Emesco’s size and purchasing power mean that it is able to drive down the costs of supplying solar lanterns to Kibaale District. It passes on these lanterns to those suppliers, non-profit and for-profit, who in turn develop a business model that works for them.

In this model you can view Emesco as a central hub of lantern supply and a regulator that does the ground-work regarding quality control and conducting research into consumer preference for the various products on offer. With this background investment done, retailers can now purchase a product with the peace of mind that it will be in demand and they won’t have to deal with the results of low quality manufacturing or unsuitability to the specific conditions of Kibaale District.

Emesco and the Kibaale Community Health Volunteers Association
Emesco is currently supplying solar lanterns to the Kibaale Community Health Volunteers Association (KCHVA). This is a local Savings and Credit Cooperative (SACCO) which was established a year ago as part of the sustainability angle to Emesco’s Gorta-funded Integrated Community Healthcare Programme. The KCHVA charges an annual membership fee to those Community Health Workers (CHWs) and Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) that have been trained by Emesco in the past 7 years of this programme.

The KCHVA has been struggling to find activities and relevance as an organisation. Solar Lanterns have radically altered this situation, simultaneously offering it a chance to increase the capital available to its members as loans as well as providing it with a means of generating benefits for isolated rural communities.

The KCHVA purchases lanterns from Emesco in bulk, selling them on at a margin to any Community Health Workers or Traditional Birth Attendants that want them. Hailing from some of the most isolated communities in Kibaale District, these CHWs and TBAs can embark on micro-franchises, selling on the lanterns at recommended retail price and generating a profit.

This model is particularly beautiful to me because at every level of the value chain Kibaale District benefits, except the necessary purchase from the supplier in Kampala. Emesco branches into sustainable project activities and generates a small return from the resale of lanterns to the KCHVA. This return can fund core activities and is a step in the right direction toward independence from international donors. The KCHVA gains relevance and increases its capital base which in turn is directly reinvested in local communities in the form of pro-poor micro-credit. The KCHVA’s members who become micro-franchisees generate income for themselves which can be spent in their local communities. Finally, the end users who purchase from the micro-franchisees enjoy the benefit of the product which includes the release of over US$1 per week as described above in the section: “Rationale of the Product”. This money will also circulate in the local economy as people use it to serve other needs.

An additional benefit is gained for the partners in this project: business and management skills. Since the project’s implementation I have had to work very closely with the board of the KCHVA to ensure accurate record-keeping and to minimise the risk that is introduced to the KCHVA’s funds through its lending practices to members who wish to embark on micro-franchise enterprises. This has not been easy and was not predicted. Nonetheless, once a system has been implemented, it will be invaluable to the Board (derived from CHWs and TBAs) in developing their business management skills. The same goes for micro-franchisees who will rapidly learn how to manage debt and supply and demand. Emesco Development Foundation will benefit from its first experience in managing a sustainable business development project. As its experience grows it will find further means of improving the lives of Kibaale District’s citizens without the necessity of relying on international donors.

Emesco Development Foundation and Starlight Services
The primary constraint to supply of lanterns from working with the KCHVA is a lack of capital. The KCHVA cannot purchase lanterns in huge quantities and does not have the remit to borrow funds to do so. With lanterns understood as a social good providing key benefits to the community, market saturation is crucial to maximising their positive impact in Kibaale District. Emesco has therefore partnered with a for-profit organisation named Starlight Services.

Starlight Services consists of a range of retail outlets in petrol stations dotted around Kibaale District. Focused mainly in the less rural areas of Kibaale, Starlight Services has been chosen to serve a different market to that of the KCHVA.

Starlight Services is able to invest in high quantities of products and radio advertising meaning that solar lanterns are currently flying off the shelves. In the first week of the Solar Lantern Project Launch, 100 lanterns were sold. An additional order has been put in to the supplier and the aim is to sell 1,000 lanterns by the end of December. It has been an auspicious start, and Emely Kugonza has proclaimed that solar lanterns are Emesco’s Ten Year project and will be celebrated as such on our Ten Year Anniversary Celebrations, held in Karuguuza on Friday 3rd December.


Politics, Development, Democracy

So, I got told off, well warned or cautioned to be more precise, by my aunty who has a long standing familiarity and interest in African affairs. “What about”? I hear you ask. Or perchance this is just wishful thinking on my part, with my dear readers’ askance in fact pointed at the fact that someone who constructs sentences like a “coked up chimpanzee” (I quote a much loved critic) actually has the nerve to subject them to further bombardments of tortuous prose…. And so it begins…

Yes well, cautioned I was, by my well-meaning aunty. The reason for this was my involvement in and literary description of Ugandan politics. Apparently off the cuff comments about “one-party states” and the like are liable to get me trussed up on fish hooks in Entebbe Airport… or do you have to shag a dictator’s wife for that? Well, funnily enough, I do feel like a local James MacAvoy in the situation that I’m in. I must say that since this warning I have discussed the matter with a number of people and I feel that perhaps the dangers are being exaggerated. There exists out here quite a healthy openness to criticism of the government from individuals and the press. Ideally, I would avoid politics (as I do in the UK) but I have no choice but to be involved in the political situation here in Kibaale District. My very presence is political. Let me explain, expound, propound.

Development out here is really BIG. What does that mean? It means that, other than the state, development agencies are pretty much the biggest employer out here in rural Uganda. Wherever you go you will see NGOs. Mostly they are small homegrown numbers advertising who funds them on the label. But you’ve also got the likes of World Vision which does masses of work out here. At the national level it employs many Ugandans to implement projects and manage the organisation. Emesco Development Foundation is a little different. It receives grants from the likes of Aidlink (Irish Aid) to implement hugely necessary water and sanitation infrastructure as well as conduct training in hygiene and basic birthing and healthcare techniques. It’s vital work. It’s best done by a Ugandan organisation that is imbued with the social and cultural knowledge to effectively listen to communities and help them understand the benefits of the proposed reforms in a non-patronising and equitable manner. In essence, Emesco represents the growing movement in international aid toward outsourcing project management; devolution.

In the name of Budda – what is political about this arrangement? Well, politics enters the equation where social advantage in the form of money can be garnered. In England the ruthless, the avaricious, the power hungry, the status-oriented, generally enter the world of business (civil society) since this is where the money is to be made. They may follow different courses: banking, entrepreneurship, corporate ladder clambering etc. Nonetheless, in one way shape or form such people populate specific spheres and attempt to wield as much influence over shaping these spheres as they can. In England, you enter politics if you wish to change society for what you believe to be the better; in fact, most politicians are sacrificing pecuniary income for the sake of their political career. In Uganda, virtually the only means of clambering out of poverty is to enter the National Resistance Movement and work your way up through the political ranks, accruing financial advantage through the connections you make as you do this. Otherwise, you can get a job with an NGO.

Emesco Development Foundation has a turnover of some hundreds of thousands of dollars. It employs 18 field staff who are highly active in training our constituents (the rural communities of Kibaale District) in agricultural techniques, improvements in sanitation practices, safely managing water resources, and primary healthcare. In fact, Emesco builds more village wells in this district than the government itself. In effect, the international aid flowing into Kibaale District through Emesco creates a sort of mini state whereby an NGO conducts the social care work that is traditionally expected of the state. Is this good or bad?

Answering is difficult. The UK’s main international aid organisation, Department for International Development, has been pursuing a strategy whereby it provides developing country governments with a kind of sink-fund of money designated for specific causes. After providing the money, DFID then plays a kind of supervisory and consultative role. Every six months, the use of the money is assessed in consultation meetings with advice provided on how best to improve processes to target the money more effectively. The problem with this approach is that it relies for its effectiveness on those people who have climbed to the very top of the political ladder, often demonstrating the most ruthlessness, self-regard, and a propensity to manage affairs to their own best interest.

I have traditionally shied away from blaming all the ills of the developing world on corruption. However, the massive cheating that took place in the recent NRM Primaries was an eye-opener for me. I can empathise with where the politicians who cheated are coming from. Especially if they started at the bottom earning $5 per month as a village chairperson, winning the electoral mandate to pursue one’s career would seem far more than in the UK, a matter of life and death. The problem is that in undertaking to win political positions in such a manner, these politicians are undermining the very system that enabled them to lever their way into a better lifestyle. That aside, the malpractice demonstrated to me that a significant proportion of the political stakeholders in Ugandan politics are not above undermining best practice for their own individual ends. Many Ugandans that I meet mention that much of the money directed via government projects for grass-roots development aid never reaches them. Such anecdotal evidence can be backed up by briefly reviewing the histories of the National Forestry Authority and the National Agricultural Advisory Services programme. Both have been marred by corruption allegations.

To counter this alternative international aid strategies exist whereby the recipient country’s government is bypassed. Aid is channelled directly into projects conducted by NGOs on the ground. Gorta (Ireland) and Simavi (Holland) are pursuing this strategy with Emesco Development foundation. You can read about the results of the Simavi funded Integrated Community Healthcare Programme on the case studies section of this blog. The result of this strategy is that Emesco Development Foundation has assumed an extremely important role in Kibaale District’s social and economic development. The organisation constructs more water storage tanks and village wells than Kibaale’s District Government. In other words, due to the bypassing of government structures by international aid agencies, an NGO in the form of Emesco now rivals the Ugandan government in Kibaale District when it comes to delivering basic sanitation and healthcare. Government work has been outsourced.

Due to this situation, Emesco Development Foundation is highly respected in the district. It is a unique organisation in that it is led by a man, Emely Kugonza, who is driven by a love for the local area where he grew up, an entrepreneurial spirit, a desire to serve his community, and an interest in living a good life and providing for his family. As a business man he owns many concerns in the region, vast tracts of land, and always invests his profits in Kibaale District. This is very unusual in the developing world, where most rich business men relocate profits to the metropoles and enjoy the high life where they can really indulge in all the luxuries that come with wealth. As the Executive Director of Emesco Development Foundation, Emely Kugonza works to source more funding, to deliver further services to the rural poor in the surrounding counties and to expand the range of services offered by Emesco to its constituents. Both as a business man and as Emesco’s Executive Director, Emely is an influential man in Kibaale District. I bore witness to this during the recent NRM primaries where the battle to become NRM’s MP for Buyanja County in the forthcoming general election was fought out between Baguma Isoke and Matia Kasaija.

I joined Emely on the campaign trail as he campaigned to have Matia Kasaija re-elected as the NRM MP for Buyanja County. Matia Kasaija has been the MP for Buyanja county for one parliamentary term. Prior to this Baguma Isoke was the MP. From Emely’s description of the situation prior to Kasaija’s election, it is clear that Emely and Baguma stood at odds with each other. Emely’s understanding of the situation is that Baguma saw him as a rival to the position of MP for Buyanja County and he therefore did everything he could to hinder Emesco’s development work. I have only heard Emely’s side of the story so I cannot really make a judgement on this. But it is clear that Emely considers that by obstructing Emesco’s work to improve the lives of Buyanja’s rural community, Baguma Isoke was demonstrating himself to be of the self-interested breed of politician and not someone who works in the interests of his constituents. Hence, when Baguma Isoke tried to regain his parliamentary seat by standing against Matia Kasaija in the recent NRM primaries, Emely threw his weight behind Kasaija’s campaign.

In the run up to the election, I had only recently arrived and was barely aware that anything interesting was going on. But every so often a van would rock up to Emesco’s offices and sheets of corrugated iron would be loaded onto the back to be trucked off again. At these times, Emely would enter my office and inform me that the sheets of iron were going to some school or another out in the countryside and that they were being donated by himself as a business man. I wondered why he even bothered. Advertising his generosity was not a character trait I had encountered in Emely previously and I wondered at it before getting back to my work. Then, as I joined him on the campaign trail, it dawned on me that he was in fact explaining to me that he was using his own funds as a business man to contribute towards community projects in order to win votes. He wanted to make sure that I understood that Emesco funds were not being used for this purpose. From what I know of Emely, I am happy to take him at his word. He’s a complex character but ultimately he really is driven to work toward his community and states that the reason he does not want to entertain a political career is because it would take him away from serving his community. I’m sure there’s an irony here.

So the point of all this is that here we have a convergence of development work, politics, and business in the form of an internationally funded Emesco, political campaigning, and Emely’s personal financial power. Matia Kasaija was duly re-elected to be the NRM candidate for Buyanja County and I have no doubt that the support of Emely was of massive benefit to achieving this result. Emely’s investments in the region and his business success meant that he was able to contribute financially to community projects with the aim of winning votes. And like it or not, his creation and leadership of Emesco Development Foundation over the past 10 years leant great weight to his support of Matia Kasaija. This is a cursory description of the political economy of an election campaign in a rural constituency of a developing country.

My joining Emely on the campaign trail was criticised by my aunty. She is one of the wiser people I have encountered during my life, but I will go no further in her praise since she evidently reads this blog and I don’t want her getting a giant ego. I was rather aware that I was caught up in events that were larger than I could understand and that my being there may be considered to have ramifications. Some people actually said to me afterwards that by joining Emely I lent credibility to his campaigning. This was my worry. On the other hand, joining Emely gave me the chance to see grass roots Ugandan politics first hand. So as you can no doubt see, Emesco’s work is highly politicised. There is no other choice out here where civil society is minimal. Politics and development and business work hand in hand and decisions (as in the UK) are often made by friends over coffee in a living room. My joining Emesco will be interpreted by people in a political manner.

I asked whether or not the convergence of development, politics and business was a good thing here in Uganda. I will not answer the question, though I am very interested in what you lot think now that I have provided you with a brief(ish) description. Let me end by saying that I was massively impressed by the passion and energy of the Buyanjan electorate. In every community we visited they turned out, they debated, they asked questions, they demonstrated interest, they cheered. They were energetic and engaged in the democratic process. At these moments, Emely was answerable to some of the poorest people on the planet. He was beholden to their needs and they had the chance to claim promises and pledges from a powerful man in exchange for their electoral support. Toward the end of one long day of campaigning, we arrived at a small town. The crowd had been waiting and drinking and they were eager to hear Emely’s speech. Toward the end, Baguma Isoke also arrived in the very same town and a rival crowd of supporters formed an orbit around him and his aides. In Cicada two groups of rival supporters claimed one high street, chanting and shouting and singing. They campaigned for their electoral choice. I mingled with both crowds to ask the reasons for their choice of candidate and at no point did I feel threatened and at no point did I notice any aggression directed by one group toward the other. What I did notice was a healthy respect for the ideals of democracy: debate, freedom of choice, political passion, freedom of expression. I hope that the political leaders of Uganda can learn to recognize this in their people and live up to it in their own electoral behaviour during next year’s general election.

Life and Death

I’ve just held the head of a dying man in my hands. He was lying face down in the dust, in the dusk, surrounded by the stony hills of Kibaale District. Blood dripped into his eye and covered his head. It peppered the torn shirt on his back. His eyes rolling, unable to comprehend more than the struggle to live – there was no fear, just the will to persevere. In his plight, the man’s gaze pierced the prejudices that form a carapace around my own humanity.

Fred, my driver, and I were rushing through the dusk in our 4×4, bouncing around the vehicle like two hornets in a violently shaking jam jar. We had turned off the tarmac at Mubende Town and had entered the hills and the dirt tracks some 45 minutes previously. The villages along this tiny track are relatively wealthy. Many of the small houses are made of brick, and most of them are smeared with mud rendering. Little fields and carefully tended gardens surround the roadside dwellings. I say relatively wealthy – because running water and electricity, and other basic healthcare services are virtually non-existent… as would become all too apparent.

We’d overtaken quite a few bodabodas along this quite prosperous stretch of the rural countryside. Bodabodas are scooters that act as little taxis. You frequently see them loaded with up to 3 or 4 people – driver included – and the drivers are nutters. I’d taken a few rides with them during the course of Friday as I zoomed around Kampala to keep my engagements. This resulted in several hair raising incidents that nearly induced spontaneous incontinence – not ideal for my meetings. These guys are crazy, they weave in and out of traffic with centimetres to spare; when no room exists on the tarmac, they mount the pavement; they bump over the separation between traffic lanes to make U-turns and weave down the wrong side of the road against oncoming traffic to make turns without having to wait. Stopping is not an option for a bodaboda rider. Out in the countryside, they behave much the same, driving as fast as their struggling little engines will take them, relying on their knowledge of the intricate map of bumps, dips, and ravines that pockmark the maram road surfaces.

We too were heading home pretty quick and we’d overtaken a number of these bodabodas who were obviously taking people back from a day out in Mubende, the last major town we pass before hitting the hills on our way to Kauruguuza. We’d been chasing one bodaboda for a little while. Always it seemed to be just one turn ahead of us, flitting through the trees and the dust and the hills, a ghost in the gloaming. As we rose over the crest of a hillock, bums barely touching our seats with the momentum, we were confronted with a horrific picture. The bodaboda, on its side in the dust with a lump next to it. A woman crying a few meters away and a few people gathered around eyeing the lump fearfully. 

As we passed, I saw the lump was a man lying face down in the dust, limbs askew. Fred pulled up, and we got out. The small crowd were keeping their distance, as if fearful of the prone figure. I too kept my distance. I felt somehow repulsed by the sight. Someone prodded the figure with their foot. It did not respond. Everyone evidently felt that he was dead. I felt that he was dead; his limbs were unnaturally bent and I saw no movement. Fred took him by one shoulder and unceremoniously pulled him over. Where the man’s shirt was torn to expose his midriff, I saw a fast beating pulse just below his solar plexus. The man was alive.

I got annoyed at myself then. It was clear that no help was to be offered from the people standing around, and there was very little I could do. Nonetheless I approached and crouched down beside him, putting him in the recovery position. His head and face were smeared with oozing blood. The corner of his left eye, between cornea and nose had one great droplet glistening, as if he were crying bloody tears. At this point, he opened his eyes and I saw the man’s soul fighting. There was struggle going on. He was barely conscious of what was happening, but I could feel his fight to live.

Amongst the small gathering, a young man with a bleeding head wound clung onto a massive horned bull. We had run over and a flattened a particularly stupid pig on the way to Kampala the previous day. At this point Fred had informed me that if the pig had damaged our vehicle the rules of Uganda stated that the owner of the pig would have been beholden to pay for damages. I then guessed that the young man holding onto the cow was the bodaboda rider, protecting his investment. At one point the cow tried to make a dash for it up the grass embankment as if trying to protect its own owner from the imminent litigation threatened by the bodaboda rider. The kids that lined the bank looking down at the crash scene scattered away from the maddened bull in frenzied delight and fear. But the bull was quickly recaptured by a desperate looking bodaboda driver, blood pouring out of a wound to the temple.

In England, the first inclination in such a situation would be to call 999 and await professional help. In rural Uganda, there are barely any cars, let alone ambulances, let alone hospitals. We had met no other cars since leaving Mubende an hour ago. The back of our 4×4 was loaded with building materials. I got up from the prone man and walked over toward Fred who was standing at the truck. He said, “come on, we should go”. I paused for a second. In that second, I was aware of an inclination to accept Fred’s suggestion. This really was not my problem after all. It is not my country and these are not my people. They were not offering the man help. Rather, they were looking on witnessing a spectacle. What should be expected of me? I wonder now, as I write this, if at any point this inclination would have emerged under similar circumstances in England. With an english  man lying on tarmac in need of warmth and help, blue eyes looking up at me from beneath brown wavy hair, dressed in expensive modern clothes, would I have even momentarily felt that same temptation to leave all and be done with the situation? You know, my honest answer is that this inclination, this momentary temptation to get on with my own business would not have occurred. It makes me wonder at my own humanity. The theory is that a life is a life is a life after all. Evidently theory and practice at that moment were not equal. I was at that moment tempted to leave a man in dire need of assistance lying face down in the dust.

Thinking back, I remember reading ‘Half a Yellow Sun” by Adichie. It is one of the most wonderful books I have read. In this novel set before, during and after the Nigerian – Biafran war of the 60s, Adichie’s list of characters includes one white ex-patriot. She clearly does not like this character. He is weak and skinny and although he wishes to work on an equal rights basis, he is too weak to stand up for his beliefs. At the very end of the novel, he questions whether a Nigerian has “put his filthy black hands” all over his late wife’s body. I remember being shocked by this portrayal of the white expatriot as funadmentally unable to escape from racial and cultural prejudice. I felt a little accused and hard done by as a white, english reader of her novel. I wonder how relevant Adichie’s writing is to the moment last night when I had to make a decision over whether or not to leave the injured man. Other interpretations abound. Perhaps my inexperience of how things work in Uganda meant that I was uncertain of the path to be taken. With Fred’s insistence that we should move on I was perhaps being swayed by the greater wisdom of a native Ugandan. Perhaps it was just an example of the very British tendency to let all alone, being too embarrassed to get stuck in for fear of causing offence.

However, interpretation is the place for debate. This is the time for the story. What I do know is that we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions. I felt the temptation for that second to accept Fred’s decision to leave the scene and abandon the suffering man lying pathetic and struggling, blood-covered face in the dirt. I know for certain that I would not have felt that temptation in England. I feel ashamed by this.

I responded to Fred: “we can’t just leave him lying here”. I looked around at the scene and a couple of people began to try and pick the man up. The man was flopping all over the place and the people picking him up obviously had no plan. I ran back to the man and told them to leave him alone before they did more damage to him. I was worried that any back injury he may have would be exacerbated by these people hauling him around like luggage. I knelt back down by the man. The bodaboda owner tried to pick up his motorcycle that lay close by. I saw that it was so close that the action would shove the injured man over and that the rider was unbothered by the fact. I shouted at the bodaboda cyclist to leave it alone. I suddenly felt awful for the desperate guy lying in the dirt at my feet. I put his head in my arm and laid my other hand on his side and looked down at him. His eyes rolled at me. I tried to sooth him but was aware he was unlikely to understand me. He struggled feebly to get up, but his legs weren’t moving and he collapsed. I told him to relax and gently rubbed his arm. I wanted him to know that he was being looked after. He closed his eyes again. Then I got scared remembering that you shouldn’t let badly injured people go to sleep. I looked up at Fred and said again: “we’ve got to help him. We’ve got to get him to some help.”

Fred protested by saying that our truck was full and asked me where we would put him and said that we need to get home. Fred was right, the back of the truck was full, but I wondered how it could be that the man’s life was being weighed up against the cost of some tires, some paint, glass panes, and other building materials. I shouted at Fred this time: “we are not going to leave this man here. We have to help him.” I was committed now to my course of action. Fred and I were the only line of defence for this flimsiest of lives struggling in the dust. The bodaboda cyclist whose crazy driving had caused the man’s ruin was only interested in obtaining compensation from the farmer who owned the cow and of retrieving his bike. The rest of the villagers had nothing to offer and were mulling about uncertain and interested in the spectacle. Fred and I had a truck to offer: a means of transportation to some form of help. I wasn’t sure if I had convinced Fred to take him and started struggling with the gear in the back of the truck to make space for the prone man. Luckily Fred had been convinced. He opened the back of the truck so that a little lip of metal became available as a shelf. A couple of people hauled the injured man off the dirt, lugged him over and dumped the man onto this lip so that he was precariously balanced on a thin metal shelf. We convinced two people to ride with him and make sure he did not fall off the back as we transported him to a health centre.

Fred and I got into the vehicle. I was smeared with blood and dust. Fred said I may have contracted aids – I had worried about this also, but then ridded myself of the prejudice: blood has to mix with blood for this to occur. I had no open wounds to worry about. Fred explained to me that the government healthcare centre would be closed at this time so we would have to go to where there was a private healthcare centre. We put on the hazard lights and crawled along the road. Fred explained his reluctance to take the man. He explained that people will assume that it was us that knocked him over and that this could be dangerous for us when we reach our destination. I now remember Emely saying something similar in one of our car journeys. Witnessing death, and assuming it is caused by rich and foreign people, careless of the human life around them can be quite an incendiary mix.

The darkness was nearly complete as we arrived at the next village. Concrete structures about twice the size of Brighton beach huts lined the mud on either side of the road. They were on a raised concrete acropolis. The two men riding with our patient hauled him off the truck and dumped him onto the concrete platform in front of the dark opening one of the huts. A woman sitting close shifted back, looking repulsed by injury and death, fearful of attracting it to her. No light came from the hut that the man had been taken to. There was no indication that help was approaching. I looked around uncertainly and asked Fred if this was the place. He assured me that it was.

A crowd quickly gathered around the scene. I was at its centre. Fred and Emely’s words came back to me. A tall man in his twenties approached me. He looked down at me, his chest heaving in my face. I smelled his alcoholic breath. In English he asked me what happened. I told him that the man was on a bodaboda which had collided with a cow. He self importantly thanked me and shook my hand with a very tight grip. Then he asked me if I knew who he was, alcohol piercing through the dark and the smell of the bodies that pressed in close. I replied in the negative. He produced his passport and showed me a visa for a stay in Iraq. He told me he was in ‘intelligence’. I responded with an ‘OK’. I became aware that out here in the night, not only were health services non-existent, police and other forms of law and order were absent. I suddenly felt vulnerable and this guy was inebriated, puffing out his chest and swaggering self-importantly. I had nothing more to say to him and didn’t want to engage any further and give him room to begin exerting his self importance. There was no more help to be offered to the injured man. I walked back to the truck and got in.

The injured man lay at the centre of the crowd, in front of the dark, curtained doorway of a small concrete room that passed for the only available health facilities in the area. Nobody had emerged to give him medical care. He was not moving. Fred said that someone would come that could help him. I was aware that whoever came was unlikely to know more than basic first aid. We drove off into the night.

Cabbage, Elections, and Irritable Gums

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This week, I have mostly been eating cabbage. Boiled cabbage and cabbage salad. Cabbage is surprisingly tasty. Especially when any form of vegetable is hard to come by. I had to go to the doctor on Friday due to the fact that my gums looked like I’d been snogging a vampire. Initially I had tried self diagnosis and entered into the delights of wikipedia, random US medical sites and, OH YES: NHS Direct.

When NHS direct found out that I was male, age 29, and had mouth problems, it told me to “Visit your nearest dentist”. Well, thank you for that NHS. The unashamedly obvious nature of this advice left me dumbstruck for an instant – those who know me will appreciate that such moments are rare. That instant was followed by consternation, to be swiftly superseded by a warm glow of affection. I suddenly loved the fact that just in case I was the supreme embodiment of idiocy who had somehow by a lucky fluke of button clicks and keyboard presses managed to get through to the right page for my mouth problem, it stipulated that I should go to ‘my nearest’ dentist rather than to some dentist that it would be really inconvenient for me to reach. Just in case I was an imbecilic freak, it wanted to make sure my life would be saved from any unnecessary inconvenience. I think they call that equal opportunities.

Well, since my nearest dentist is likely to be 189Km away in Kampala, I decided it was time for a little self-diagnosis. After a bit of Wiki and the US medical sites, I felt certain that the painful lump that had developed right in the top part of my cheek was in fact the first manifestation a special kind of disease whose name I forget. It is a benign, yet aggressive, tumour that rapidly develops until without treatment, one’s whole face will be swallowed in bulbous lumpy matter oozing with supine puss. The cure involves cutting out large amounts of one’s jaw to be sure that no tumorous cells remain to begin the whole process again. By this time I was a little concerned and had broken out into a light sweat and gone over the small print of my travel insurance. That lunchtime, I got the company driver, Michael, to help take a table back to my place and told him about my symptoms. He responded:

“That’s malaria” and my response to this was:

“Oh thank god for that.” I really was genuinely relieved that I had malaria. Anyhow, I later went to the Emesco Health Clinic doctor and he told me I had a small infection and gave me some vitamin C tablets suggesting that my diet needed balancing out a little. This is difficult because cabbage is about the only vegetable, and pineapple the only fruit, available. The story’s moral: DO NOT SELF DIAGNOSE.

In other news, it’s been the National Resistance Movement (NRM) primary elections during the last week. I say the last week because the NRM’s electoral commission was meant to hold thee elections nationwide last Monday. Due to attempts to cheat, and disorganisation on a shameful scale, the elections have been held in Uganda’s various constituencies in a haphazard manner during the course of this week. My constituency, Buyanja County, has only today managed to hold the elections – that is 5 days late.

Now a problem exists for any who are remotely interested in Ugandan politics. Well, of my contacts that would be nobody. Well, none of you lot have to read this. I’m happy to regale the cybertronic ether with my views so please feel free to go back to your juicy burgers, nachos, pizzas, roast chickens, succulent lamb, oranges, melons, yoghurt, milk, strawberries, raspberries, carrots, peppers, oregano, basil, spinach, Chinese, thai, Italian, brie cheese, cheddar cheese, edam, cream, steak, parsnips. Oh God I miss the food. We may be destroying the planet to transport it all to the UK but by god am I happy I lived in a time and place where I can sample all the culinary delights the earth has to offer.

Yes, well, anyway, the problem is that Uganda is basically a one-party state. The NRM won power militarily as the political wing of the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and very successfully created unity and stability where there was discord and volatility by implementing NRM political bodies from the village level all the way up to national government. The NRM is basically the civil service, so people have to join the NRM in order to become mayor or village chairperson or to have any real chance in politics… and very importantly it is one of the only routes out of poverty or at the minimum ensuring you have a (very minimal) welfare safety net. I have read this situation termed as ‘movement politics’. The upshot is that very little political, social and economic room exists for opposition parties to become popular. But this isn’t the problem for those trying to understand Ugandan politics. The problem is that we in the West are so focused on national elections and multi-party systems that these primaries have not received a mention. Not a single article exists on the huge fiasco that has been the NRM elections in the BBC Website or in the Guardian Website. However, the elected MPs will basically be the ones to represent their constituencies in parliament for the next five years since no opposition worth speaking of will emerge at the general election in February.

The policy platforms of the contestants therefore, offer the route to understanding Uganda’s pulse at grass roots level; and believe me a pulse exists. I have been astonished at the passions excited by these elections. People are highly involved in politics and feel very strongly about their candidates even though both hail from within the NRM. And it is clear that these individuals have a significant impact on the lives of the people they represent. We are so caught up in replicating our own system elsewhere, and analysing other systems from the perspective of our own that we are missing the nuances of the politics here in Uganda. I will summarise two prime points that we should be aware of now:

Firstly, when the general elections are messy or disorganised or both it will be held by the international press to be an example of the NRM attempting to cheat the polls. I would suggest that the NRM primaries that have been ongoing this week demonstrate that it is how Ugandan politics is ‘done’ at the moment and that a more fruitful path of study would be to enquire why. I will address this point in a future post.

Secondly, since real power is fought for in the primaries western advocates and influencers could effect far greater change in the directions they wished if the press was present during the elections. I’m not so sure that this would be Democratic though since not a single person I spoke to (out of many) considered multi-party democracy to be a good thing. Stability is key for these people, they lived through civil war, death, and starvation in the politically fraught years of the late 70s ad early 80s. They never want it again. I will also address this issue in a future post.

Of Goats and Aquarians

What would thoughts on Uganda consist of? What could they possibly consist of except the random musings on the small world occupied by Mr to Fathom. A blog on such a subject could only really consist of a kind of blogite solipsism. Nonetheless, I will attempt to indulge the request and embark.

Firstly, I wish to prequalify all my subsequent comments with the very important proviso that Emesco Development Foundation would appear to be doing some incredibly important work here in Kibaale District.

A District here in Uganda is not defined by its being ‘lakey’. Rather it is the largest administrative unit after the state proper. Uganda has 39 Districts in all. In the same way that the UK is sometimes considered the 51st state, Rwanda is sometimes known as the 40th District of Uganda. Interestingly (or not depending on your lifestyle persuasion) someone was actually thrown in prison for publishing such comments – the only person to be prosecuted under the Sedition Act. It was proved under the Sedition Act that he was making false statements. The sedition act has actually just been repealed for being undemocratic because someone may be thrown in jail for inciting hatred against the president. In Uganda, the president = Mr Museveni… so far anyway.

My day today consisted mostly of writing up the process of yesterday’s interviews. I jumped on the back of Sulaiti’s motorbike and we sped along the dirt tracks up into the stony hills to the village of Kidukuule. Here I interviewed a farmer named Anatole (an-a-toh-lay) and a Community Health Worker named Pouline. A Community Health Worker is someone that Emesco Development Foundation has trained in the arts and skills of basic primary healthcare, building dish racks, improved and reduced smoke stoves, wall rendering, pig pen building, sanitary techniques etc.

Kidukuule was first approached by Emesco in 2006. Pouline was selected to be the Community Health Worker and she has since then been galvanising the village community to live well. The homes I saw were all made out of mud, but they were beautifully clean, decorated with murals, looked-after… Loved, is the word I would use. I have been to villages where Emesco has not been working so long. The difference is remarkable. The dwellings just don’t feel like homes. The communal areas are untidy. It is not really about economic circumstances, it is just about teaching people how to ensure their health. Diarrhea, cholera, malaria, all sorts of diseases are rampant in the natural, pre-Emesco world out here. ‘Sensitizing’ a village to habits such as washing of hands and digging of latrines is relatively cheap and has a massive impact on the lives of our constituents. All it requires is education. Emesco provides it, and it does so in a humble manner enabling the communities it works with to use the information themselves for their own betterment…

Oh shizerkopf. That just sounded earnest. Oh well, shit like that happens when a chap goes all ‘middle class, white, guilt ridden’ and runs over to Africa for a few months to justify his previous yuppified, consumerist lifestyle. I wonder if I could divert one of those cows that us English buy off the Action Aid catalogue for Christmas into my own front yard. I’d love to see The Sun’s headlines on that one: Corrupt White in Black Country Embezzles Cow – with a picture of a horned Failure slipping a black and white cow into his pocket. You know, I really do miss that newspaper. Sorry mum… and lovelylezzer.

I’m gonna post up the interviews when they have taken better shape on this blog. They’ll be worth reading since they’re basically someone else’s life. Though I did manage a couple of good shots so I’ll whack them in for good measure, for your viewing pleasure.

I was just visited by Veronique and Emannuelle. They are the two middle kids of the four children in the house next door. 12 and 10 years old respectively. I helped the two of them fill up their jerry cans with water from the local well last Saturday. I then attempted to put one on my head and walk back to the house with it in this way. Walking blithely back to their house letting the little blighters struggle with the jerry cans didn’t sit with my sense of honour – yeah right I just wanted to have a go. And a right idiot I made. I think I spilt most of it, but I did feel like a stand-up comic for short while: their snickers accompanied my panting, soaking frame all the way back to the house.

I also helped Emmannuelle to move his goats to a new bit of pasture. That was fun. What a Saturday that was. I carried water (a true aquarian I might add) and herded goats. In the evening I enjoyed Manchester United fail to beat Fulham hahahahaahahahahahaha SUFFER. Man, they are Premier League mad out here. Most support Arsenal or Man U.

I’m being boring. I’ll go to bed.

A Tuesday Morning’s Musings

Tuesday 24th August Sweet potato and extremely sweet pumpkin constituted the carbohydrate content of the Emesco Development Foundation lunch today. I mixed it up with my usual been stew. Three weeks in and I’m already craving a J Sainsbury’s pre-packaged soggy chicken sandwich… with Walker’s Cheese and Onion crisps and the consequent halitosis.

Well, enough griping and moaning. Time to embark on a blog about Ugandans; my experiences in Uganda; development; governance; political economy; stupidity; and most importantly: earnest people. They do irritate me.

Well, this morning I awoke following my first Monday in the English tradition of Mondays. I was not a happy bunny. Last night though, I made up for my lack of sleep with a juicy dream-fest in which a snap general election was called in the UK which left the vote count as follows: Tories: 7% Labour: 9% Lib Dem: 70% I wondered briefly if Freud would say this implies my sex life is liberal and democratic. Then even more briefly wondered of what democratic sex would involve. And rapidly drew the conclusion that virtual celibacy would result through sexual hung parliaments when no majority direction could be decided on in our traditional couple-based sexual practices. Then even more briefly considered that consequently democratic sex would in fact result in the rapid uptake of orgy based sexual practices in society with the consequent breakdown of the nuclear family as a privileged social form. I decided to stop thinking at this point and start brushing my teeth. Having said that, I personally rather like the concept. I never really believed in societal bias toward the nuclear family. Though, my overblown sense of romanticism occasionally results in indulgent fantasies of 2.4 children and a perfect wife. Ex-grilfriends: you are not to pipe up at this point. I just kept such fantasies to myself.

So anyway, Uganda is relatively relieved to find a fresh-faced, nonchalant Failure breezing his way around Karuguuza town toward the Emesco Development Foundation office. This is as oppose to a puffy-faced, non-intellectually stimulated Failure breezing his way around Karuguuza town toward the Emesco Development Foundation office. I really rather enjoy my commute to work. A stroll along the maram roads through central Karuguuza and then out the other side, dodging the occasional car as it hurtles onward, billowing clouds of orange dust in its wake. It is generally rather gratifying to have every single little child (and there are many here) I pass enquire after my health with the syllables: “Hi” or “Howareyou” ? I really am a bit of a celebrity out here. Ahhh yes – I shall come clean. My morning’s pleasure was derived also by a sneaky glance at my emails prior to leaving the house and being greeted with a good 3,000 worder from my lovelylezzer. I quickly scanned it and will provide myself with additional time for a more in-depth study this evening after I have finished making a curry.

Hello world!

I have encountered the human version of a troll today. My wheelchair-bound colleague occasionally makes an appearance to the office in order to package marketing leaflets. This task seems to require snorting of inhumane proportions, slurping and gulping of saliva, and the odd ‘hock’ once the snorting has achieved its end, fully imbibing the upper larynx with gelatinous mucous. The ‘hock’ will be conducted with far less leisure than the slurping and snorting; rather an air of urgent desparation seems to take hold as my colleague’s personal mucous tribulations appear to reach dramatic poportions and a swift exit of gelatinous, alien-like substance becomes a life or death situation.

The office particians mean that the semi-liquid mechanics of this highly organic and sticky operation cast firmly into the realm of my imagination. I thought it would only be fair for everyone else to experience this too.