Friday, December 21, 2012

Arbitrage: My movie of the year

In a year where I am hard pressed to pick worthy Oscar contenders and where Ben Affleck 'Argo'is a shoo in for an award, I nominate 'Arbitrage' for movie of the year.

Give Richard Gere, the Oscar for best Actor already.

Who knew Richard Gere had stuff still in him for a movie turn like that he has put out  in for 'Arbitrage'?.

I will make it simple. The movie is about a hedge fund investor, who is adored by the American public and is on the cover of Forbes. However this is all a facade.

Trouble is he has made one major bad judgement by betting on a Russian copper mine and as search has stretched himself thin  financially enough to need a friend to pitch in $400 million to plug the hole in the books till he can sell his firm to a bank and pay back the loan.

That seems the least of his worries when his mistress is accidentally killed in an accident in which he is the driver. He desperately toils to keep the strings that bind his life together from unraveling. Eager to keep this news from flowing out as he is on the eve of a multi-million dollar sale of his company. He treads the path of a financial philanderer,criminal fugitive and family outcast. Its utterly amazing how the Richard Gere character manages to keep all the  various parts of his world together under the most intense pressures.

Given the enduring global financial crisis and the 2008 meltdown, the movie clearly takes a dig at Wall street excesses, financial impropriety, 'cooking the books' in the investment world and the facade that is the public image of ultra success. This is  clearly a morality tale in the frame of 'Changing Lanes',and 'Wallstreet'.

Without torturing you with financial and investment- world jargon, 'Arbitrage' is very accessible to the ordinary viewer.

It is hard to believe the movie is directed by a first-time director.

For me, 'Arbitrage' is the best movie I have seen this year and I have seen a couple of them this year.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Francis Imbuga is dead

I met him when I was hardly 15.  The man was a genius.
He really could tell the story of the disillusionment of post-independence Africa like no dramatist I knew.
And I was a young, skinny secondary school student but could still read into his play 'Betrayal in the City' way beyond my years.
I only learnt later that Francis Imbuga was Kenyan.
The fictionalized country of Kafira seemed more akin to  1960s Nigeria or some other hard-knock African tragedy. Kenya seemed a little more distant from his world of Kafira.
And the soliloquies of his protagonist (Mulili) were steeped in high-grade philosophy.
I actually didnt meet Francis Imbuga in real life. I met him through his works.
'Betrayal in the City' was a set play in O' level literature in English but I fell in love instantly.
We memorized those lines long after we had to pass O' level literature.
The year was 1990 and I was an impressionable student of literature in English at Mbarara High School.
It is these kinds of works of literature that set me on the path to liberal arts even when I vaguely wanted to be an engineer- a childhood answer to 'what do you be when you grow up?'.
As a student of literature, our task was clear in making a 'literary appreciation' of a play such as 'Betrayal in the City'.
Oh I still remember, the themes and ideas, dramatization, character and characterization,  use of language and choice of words...
I could very well do a damn national exam in that play if I was required to like I was in those grey days in 1992.
'Betrayal in the City' is a play set in a fictional country of Kafira but it could well be post independent Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia.. name it.
It is a story of dashed hopes of post independence Africa. The British Colonialists are replaced by African elite who actually  end up being 'an enemy of the people'to paraphrase another illustrious work of literature.
I still recall a line in the play 'the fruits of Independence, we get them second hand'.
Some say we were better off under the British. A little extreme there but look at all the corruption, mal administration, political thuggery, mass poverty, dilapidated hospitals and Schools and yet look at the top of the range Mercedes Benzes,Swiss bank accounts, the latest private jets..the sheer opulence of African elite amidst the crushing poverty and hopelessness of the African people.
'When the troubles of an entire nation disturbs a solitary mind, it is not enough to say the man is mad'.
Fare thee well, Francis Imbuga. I was blind and you began to open my eyes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The coming armageddon:HIV funding cuts amidst Uganda's escalating infection rates

On 1st December 2012,  the world will commemorate the annual World AIDS day.

For Ugandans, December 1st should offer a sobering reminder of what has gone wrong with Uganda's once touted HIV success story.

For the past  twenty years, Uganda has had reason to look forward to every first of December with glee. You see, Uganda for many years was a global leader in taming run way HIV infection rates from an all-time high prevalence rate of 30% in the  80s to single digits in a matter of years.
HIV epidemiologists and country HIV control teams  from all over the world shuttled in and out of Kampala for many years. Uganda was an HIV prevention mecca of sorts. But that was then.

Earlier this year, Health Minister, Christine Ondoa announced results from a large national survey that show that Uganda's HIV prevalence rate has risen to 7.3% in 2012 from 6.4% in 2005.

''We feel embarrassed when we attend international HIV meetings and are terrified to announce we are from Uganda. Everyone wants to know what happened to Uganda's HIV success story?'' a Health Ministry official who didn't want to be identified intimated to me.

Unless one hasn't been keenly paying attention, it is not hard to seen where the train run off the rails.
Dr  Charles Watiti, a renown HIV treatment columnist(who is himself is living with HIV) acknowledged in his Monday, 26th November 2012 New Vision column that antiretroviral treatment (ART) ironically, has bred a tragic complacency.Uganda's mixed HIV prevention messages and strategies have also been cited as have an increase in concurrent multiple sexual partnerships especially among supposedly monogamous couples.

A few days ago, UNAids announced an astonishing decrease in HIV infections in Sub Saharan Africa. Malawi registered a 73% decrease,Botswana 71%,Namibia 68 and Zambia 58.
 As for Uganda, it was among the 69 countries which have not registered a decline in HIV infections between 2005 and 2011.

Last year, AIDS Information Centre's Dr Byarugaba announced that Uganda's annual HIV infection rate have reason to 150,000 cases continuing a trend for the past four years.

Uganda is headed for an Armageddon unless current HIV infection rates are reversed. Over 85% of HIV treatment costs are met the American tax payer through PEPFAR with the Global Fund running a close second.

In a joint report, WHO,UNAids and Unicef in 2011 revealed that international funding for HIV programmes fell from $8.7bn to $7.6bn in 2010. Contrast this with a recent World Bank study which projects that Uganda's annual HIV treatment costs will rise from a current $ 250 million to$ 1.5 billion in 2025.

Uganda's dependence on the US and the Global fund for HIV treatment remains threatened by the enduring global financial crisis and changing political climates in the Western Europe and US( the Obama administration was initially keen on switching from PEPFAR to child and maternal health causes).

The Global fund last year deferred  the next round of funding for HIV/AIDS,TB and Malaria till 2014 due to declining contributions from the mainly western donor countries.

As I write, several of those who are becoming clinically eligible for enrollment on antiretroviral therapy (ART) are being turned away at ART treatment centres who citing funding caps dont allow for enrollment of new patients. TASO earlier this year closed several of its outreach centres.

Can we treat our way out of the HIV epidemic? A study published in the Lancet last year suggested that, yes we can with $ 63 bn, the world could eradicate HIV in a couple of years by testing and treating all with HIV.

Global HIV funding trends however suggest that this may fiscally be a tall order for as long as the funders of HIV treatment remain the rich western world and the epicenter of the epidemic remains a needy SubSaharan Africa.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What Obama's second term says about the new America

The American grand old party(GOP) needs a major overhaul of its political direction and demographic support base re-think in the wake of Obama's razor thin triumph  over Mitt Romney.

It has been suggested that Obama won because of he won among women, African Americans and Hispanics (and other minorities), younger Americans and the traditional democratic states.

The Republican Party model of a core of  white-christian- male support base is no longer enough to earn a win.

The United States has undergone a major population and demographic changes since Ronald Reagan.
Ideologically, most Americans are moving away from the extremes of conservatism or even liberalism to the centre or middle. Indeed the past presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W Bush were pandering towards a middle ground which is how terms like ‘compassionate conservatism’ came into play.
Americans seem to slip into two ideologies and the country is dangerously divided into two almost equal parts. The  winning parties will be those that govern from the middle and diversify away from their traditional base.

Many republicans and democrats are increasingly uncomfortable in their own parties indeed Americans seem to have outgrown the bi-party model of their fathers into a more European model of needing coalition governments given the grey areas in political affliations.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is Uganda walking the talk on tobacco control?

Uganda ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in June 2007. Uganda is currently in the process of domesticating the FCTC through a comprehensive tobacco control bill that is projected to be enacted by the Ugandan parliament in December 2012. There exist, however, regulations enacted in 2004 banning smoking in public places and a ministerial directive of 1995 banning Tobacco advertising.

This 2012 Shadow report by Civil Society, on Uganda’s compliance with the FCTC with specific regard to two articles of the FCTC; Article 8 on protection from exposure to second-hand smoke and Article 13 on Tobacco Advertising Promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) suggests that there are glaring gaps in enforcement of the standards in Tobacco control that Uganda committed itself to in June 2007.

Despite the passing in 2004 of the (Control of Public smoking)regulations, the regulations largely remain on paper, with no known enforcement practice by the agencies mandated to bring them to bear. There is low awareness among the general Ugandan public of the existence of these regulations but even more worryingly, among the judiciary and the Ugandan Police force. Many owners of public places do place ‘no smoking’ signs on their premises but this is only as much as they are willing to go.

The tobacco industry in Uganda continues to advertise, promote and sponsor activities aimed at increasing demand for tobacco products in contravention of the ministerial directive of 1995 with no known regulatory regime to bring them to account. There have been some gains registered as tobacco advertising is less explicit than it was in years past, for instance, there are virtually no billboards advertising tobacco products. Point of sale (POS) violations do however stand out prominently.

For this report, field visit were extensively done in Kampala, Mbarara and Gulu using FCA observation methodologies in the second quarter of 2012. A data collection workshop with Tobacco control CSOs was conducted in August 2012 with additional secondary data.

We wish to thank the Framework Convention Alliance(FCA) for the research grant that made this report possible and look forward to the Uganda Tobacco Control Act (2012) to bring the Uganda tobacco industry to account for the contraventions compiled in this report.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The futile politics of more public universities in Uganda

I have recently returned from a regional universities’ conference at Nairobi’s Kenyatta University supported by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Besides noticing the superb multiple-lane, Chinese-built Thika highway in Nairobi that would find a home in any western capital and which Jennifer Musisi should interest her self in, I observed an untold story.

Kenya is undergoing a quiet revolution in its university education which has far reaching consequences extending to Uganda.

Until recently, Kenya had seven public universities that included; Nairobi, Moi, Egerton, Kenyatta, Maseno and Masinde Muliro Universities. Many Kenyans unable to afford Kenyan private student tuition fees flocked to Uganda.

Since 2007 (election year, you recall?), Kenya has through legal notices, embarked on an ambitious drive of establishing a university college in each county with 25 new university colleges already established across the country, a move partly driven by electoral politics.

With new public universities expected in Uganda in West Nile and Teso regions and Kabale University set to benefit from public funding, Uganda is backing the trend.

The principle difference is that the newly established universities in Kenya are constituent colleges of the already existing public universities whereas in Uganda we are setting up entirely new public universities.

The dangers of hastily set up public universities are obvious.

African governments have scarcely been able to support the existing public universities characterized by persistent declines in funding and chronic strikes.

We have a small pool of qualified university lecturers that we are spreading too thin with declining research output owing to punishing teaching loads and overflowing classes. What quality of graduates are we producing? And aren't we churning out more business and computing degrees than we need?

Many lecturers at Kenya’s public universities have found themselves Vice Chancellors and Principals at the newly established university colleges in their home districts- a further example of the unfortunate ‘ethnicisation’ of public universities.

In Uganda’s case, setting up completely new public universities without established infrastructure (the proposed West Nile university initially didn’t even have electricity supply), human resources, university administrative structures, curriculum development resources etc make the Kenyan model seem even preferable.

The major Kenyan public universities have been mandated to nurture the constituent university colleges in Kenya whereas in Uganda, the new public universities are on their own except for two or four administrators seconded from the existing public universities.

Undeniably, there is an unquenched demand for university education in both countries if you imagine the number of Ugandans who earn two principles pass and actually qualify for university education but never make it to university.

But are thousands of more university degrees what poor African countries actually need? Why can't I get a qualified plumber to fix my pipes or a qualified electrician to fix my power or a qualified builder to put up a perimeter wall?

The multiplication of public universities in Kenya should be of interest to Ugandan universities especially private ones which have depended on the Kenyan market for many years now. From where I sit, I already see a decline in the number of enrolling Kenyan students.

In our national development plans and East African community strategy, it is assumed rather than known that Uganda has a comparative advantage over other East African countries with regard to the education sector. My visit to Kenyatta University has left me unsure.

To be fair, mushrooming public universities are not exceptional to Kenya and Uganda and a common to most of Sub Saharan Africa.

From the sole University of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia has set up an astonishing new 30 universities in less than five years for its 80 million-strong population -part of the Meles Zenawi legacy. Malawi is setting up three more public universities in addition to its two existing universities of Malawi and Bunda.

Clearly, Sub Saharan African countries face a common challenge of rising young populations with no viable economies to engage them but setting up multiple public universities is the wrong answer to the right question.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Why the delay in reforming a critical bill in parliament may render AIDS drugs in Uganda illegal

“We no longer fear Aids. Eddagala gyeriri e Mulago,” (drugs are available at Mulago Hospital) says Ssenkindu Moses, 32 who tells me he has had three sexual partners in the last one month and did not use condoms with any of them.

Many Ugandans take Aids treatment for granted. This ‘ARV complacency’ has been partly blamed for the recent spike in new HIV infections. Uganda’s HIV prevalence rates have risen from 6.7 per cent in 2005 to the current 7.3 per cent.

Because most antiretroviral treatment (Art) in Uganda has been funded by the American tax payer, with Pepfar paying for as much 85 per cent of all Aids treatment costs in Uganda, you would regard financial sustainability as the challenge to continued access to treatment in Uganda.
But you would be mistaken.

According to Dennis Kibira, Medicines Advisor at Heps, a local NGO, 90 per cent of Aids drugs in Uganda are generic drugs.

A generic drug is an identical copy of a branded one that is usually developed and manufactured by innovator pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and Norvatis.

Pharmaceutical giants invest millions of dollars in developing and marketing new drugs, costs which generic drug manufacturers don’t incur and hence branded drugs are many times the cost of generics.
 “Unless the Ugandan Parliament revises and re-introduces the Industrial Properties Bill (2009), the permission to manufacture cheap generic ARV drugs will cease in 2016 with thousands affected since Quality Chemicals manufactures generic Aids drug,’’ said Moses Mulumba, Executive Director of CEHURD, a health rights advocacy NGO.

India which supplies most of Uganda’s Aids drugs, has developed a thriving generics industry, leading to it being dubbed, “the pharmacy of the developed world” for the low cost of its generic drugs, especially antiretrovirals, some of which cost as little as a tenth of the brand price.

For developing countries such as India, the ban on manufacture of generic Aids drugs came into force in 2005 under the TRIPS agreement of the WTO whereas a similar ban on poorer developing countries such as Uganda will take effect in 2016 unless the Ugandan Parliament revises the Industrial Properties Bill (2009) which would, inter alia provide for extension of this deadline.

According to the WHO, Developing countries are failing to make full use of flexibilities built into the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to overcome patent barriers and, in turn, allow them to acquire the medicines they need for high priority diseases, in particular, HIV/Aids.

With the expiry of the TRIPS grace period, the alternative in Uganda would be to buy these drugs much more expensively from the original western manufacturers

At the moment, passing the Industrial Properties Bill (2009) in Uganda, after amending it to take full advantage of the “flexibilities” in the TRIPS agreement would, inter alia, extend the grace period for manufacturing generic Aids drugs remains the best hope for the thousands on Aids treatment in Uganda.
In November last year, a consortium of NGOs led by CEHURD took out a half page newspaper appeal to Kahinda Otafiire, the Justice Minister to seek his support in revising the bill before it is passed by Parliament.
“The Bill left our desk. We did our part. It is now before Parliament, specifically before the legal affairs committee’’ sources within the Ministry of Justice have said.

However, the Bill which was brought before the committee in 2009 has not been enacted since and the Bill lapsed with the 8th Parliament. The Industrial properties bill (2009) has now been inherited by the current parliament. The Ministry of Justice however indicated that a bill should not spend more than 45 days before a committee of Parliament.

As stakeholders, we are waiting for the public hearing on this bill. However, since April this year when the Expert Report on this bill was released by Ministry of Trade, there have been no engagements on this Bill by the 9th Parliament’’ says Mariam Akiror of HEPS-Uganda.

“Laws take time to enact as you have to follow so many procedures including the draft being presented before cabinet and even formulating policy and objectives and parliament has many priorities,” says a Uganda Law Reform Commission official. However, ‘big pharma’ interests are always a part of the story.

Mariam Akiror of HEPS Uganda, insists that the Bill as it is would do more harm than good and even suggests that the status quo is preferable as ‘big pharma’ would be hard-pressed to enforce their patents in the current legal regime. In the current Bill, government would need the consent of a patent holder before making a generic drug yet the TRIPS flexibilities permit poor countries to make a copy without permission on account of a public health emergency.

Charles Birungi of UNDP (Uganda) insists that the current Bill is about “enforcement of certain types of intellectual property rights” which are private rights enjoyed mainly by western pharmaceutical giants. Revising the bill would be a boost for Ugandan pharmaceutical industries such as Quality chemicals as it would legalise their production of generics.

“There are few priorities before Parliament which should take precedence over our very lives as Ugandans. If I was an MP, this bill would be the most important item on the agenda because it affects millions of Ugandans. Look at how many Ugandans are getting infected everyday and how many will need these drugs?’’ Asks a dejected Gertrude Namusisi, 42 who is living positively with HIV/Aids.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The untold story behing Uganda's maternal deaths court case

'' Hurry up. I think my water just broke'' cries out 24 year old Kiconco Joan.

In this mud and wattle house, with a leaking banana-fibre roof top, the husband summons a handful of neighbours to carry his wife on a bicycle 'ambulance'.

Nyabikungu village is 21 kilometres from the nearest health centre with no running commercial transport  on its murram road except for motor cycle taxis which Kiconco Joan's husband's 8,000 shillings(abou 4 US dollars) can't afford.

'' I think I am going to die. I am going to die'' Kiconco Joan cries out as she is lifted to the makeshift wooden improvisation on a old rickety bicycle.

'' The mid-wife is not here. I need some money to  call  her to come here on my mobile phone'' a nursing attendant belts out after the Kiconco-carrying party makes the 21 miles to Rwakishakyizi health centre IV.

After a long one hour filled with unbearable cries from a mother in an agonizingly prolonged labour, the mid wife arrives and in haste lays down Kiconco for a quick manual examination. With the aid of the nursing assistant, they pull out a motionless baby who promptly switches to wailing after a little prick on the cheek.

'' There seems to be a retained twin in her. She has twins. I cant out the remaining baby. You have to go to Mbarara town.'' Kiconco Joan has not been attending ante natal care and has relied on a village 'traditional birth attendant for the past three months.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Ugandan Tobacco industry frustrating government’s proposed Tobacco control law

Any avid follower of the Ugandan print media in the past few months will have noticed by now a sustained media campaign against the proposed Tobacco control bill 2011 perpetrated by the Ugandan tobacco industry.

The Uganda Tobacco Control Bill 2011 was initially presented before parliament in December 2011, moved under private members bill, by Dr Chris Baryomunsi. Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah referred the bill back for re-drafting.

BAT Uganda has made unsolicited comments about the proposed Tobacco control bill through press reports in Daily Monitor ( 31st May 2012 and 9th July 2012) and the Independent (12th July 2012) ,The New Vision (2nd April 2012).  These articles bear the hallmarks of BAT since they carry the same carefully choreographed message, no matter who is being interviewed.
The press reports in question fail the balance test for any Journalist worth their name and the Ugandan public is being fed with a grossly imbalanced picture on the need for a Tobacco control law. 

These articles are quick to promote the BAT angle of how they are economically indispensable to Uganda through government tax revenue and tobacco farmers’ livelihoods which the proposed bill will purportedly curtail. What the articles fail to report is the following:

Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the world today. Tobacco use claims more lives globally than HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria combined. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unless urgent action is taken, tobacco could kill one billion people during this century. 

“Tobacco use is the only risk factor associated with all major non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as lung cancer, diabetes and  heart diseases. It is a risk factor for six out of eight leading causes of death, globally” said Dr Douglas Bettcher, Head of WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative. 

Although the Uganda tobacco industry is keen to highlight their economic importance to Uganda they are not telling Ugandans the whole story.

Despite their self-reported contribution of 60 billion in annual tax revenue, the Uganda Cancer Institute recently made a request of over 100 billion to treat cancers, including Tobacco-use associated cancers.

A World Bank study shows that for every dollar earned as tax revenue on tobacco products, three dollars are spent on treating tobacco-related illnesses.

Another study conducted at Mulago Hospital, 75% of patients with oral cancer had a history of smoking, with the number of years of smoking ranging from 2-33 years, according to a 2008 study report by Fredrick Musoke of Makerere University.

In a research we are conducting, preliminary results show that a significant percentage of patients attending the Uganda Heart Institute at Mulago Hospital have a history of Tobacco use. And that story on tax revenue on tobacco products?

‘’It is not the tobacco companies which pay tobacco taxes, it is the smokers’’ counters Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, who argues that taxes on tobacco are simply passed on to consumers.

Tobacco growing farmers in the districts of Arua, Kanungu and Hoima are some of the poorest people in Uganda. President Museveni, while visiting Arua District recently, was astonished at the poverty levels among tobacco growing farmers there and publicly  commented so. MPs from Tobacco-growing districts are ironically some of the most passionate Tobacco control advocates pushing for alternative livelihoods for their constituents.

Uganda ratified the Framework convention on  Tobacco Control (FCTC) in June 2007, which is a set of internationally-agreed strategies for tobacco control that has force of international law. The FCTC calls for a ban on advertising of tobacco products, the display of graphic warnings on cigarette packs, an increase in tobacco taxes and alternatives to tobacco farming.
According to Rachel Kitonyo, a Kenyan working with the Africa Tobacco Control Consortium,  Uganda is out of step with other East African countries such Tanzania and (Kenya which  passed a Tobacco control law in 2007).

The drafting process of the Tobacco Control Bill 2011 is now almost complete with Dr Chris Baryomunsi expected to table it before parliament in the coming weeks.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Political Economy of the Tobacco industry in Uganda

We are told that the tobacco industry is a major contributor to government tax revenue in Uganda.

We are also told that  there are 600,000 tobacco farmers in Uganda  in the five major Tobacco growing districts which include Arua, Nebbi,Kanungu and Hoima.

We also know that BATU, which has an estimated 90% market share runs several 'corporate social responsibility' projects in Uganda.

And we also know that BAT in 2011 announced an increase in Cigarette sales of 29% as compared to 2010.

And we are told BATU shares on the Uganda Stock Exchange have one of the highest share prices in Uganda.

Make no mistake. BATU is a multi-billion shilling industry that will do all within its power to protect its turf. And they are doing that well. They have appointed renown Businessman James Mulwana as their Board Chairman and ( Senior Presidential Advisor,John Nagenda before him).

The main stream press in Uganda has been infiltrated as we seen in our dailies' reporting. You see BAT is a major advertiser in the Ugandan print media.

And Politicians? Oh, those love campaign contributions and lobby gifts.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Why multiple sexual partners are driving up new HIV infections and a national emergency in Uganda

Ugandans are still reeling from last week’s bombshell of a revelation by Health Minister Dr Christine Ondoa that HIV/AIDS prevalence in Uganda has risen from 6.4% in 2005 to the current 7.3% in Uganda primarily driven by an increase in multiple sexual partnerships.

The findings are from a 2011 Uganda AIDS indicators survey conducted between February and September 2011 which interviewed an astonishing 11,340 households.

Concurrent sexual partnerships or a situation where an individual is having more than one sexual partner at the same time is the leading driver of new HIV infections in Uganda- according to the Uganda AIDS Commission.

 ‘'Have you ever seen a man who does not cheat? Tell me if yours doesn't cheat .All men cheat. But we make sure we do not have kids with those women we sleep with'’ celebrated Ugandan musician, Bebe Cool, was quoted in a Sunday Vision interview with journalist Carol Kasujja, in the May 6th 2012 edition, when asked to comment on rumours that his wife had left him over alleged infidelity.

The non-regular sexual partners are often called names: 'spare tire', 'side dish', 'away match', 'side mirror.’.etc.

The very choice of names betrays Ugandans' social acceptance of casual sex. It is only in Uganda that you will hear people refer to sexual intercourse as 'playing sex’. It is like a simple, casual game. Some kind of harmless fun. But it isn't fun.

Ironically, it is married couples or people in stable relationships who are driving up new HIV infections but also who are at a higher risk of HIV infection in Uganda because of reckless sexual behaviour. Married couples in Uganda have more unprotected sex than younger, single people. Married couples' aversion to condoms is legendary. ’'condoms don't belong in a marital bed' ‘one couple says defiantly.

A few weeks ago I listened in to a lively Saturday morning health talk show on Radio One where this was the topic of debate. Why are Ugandans partial to 'side dishes' to use the tongue-in-chick reference to extra marital sex?

And the panelists were not short of answers. '’Women lose sexual appetite as they grow older, yet mens' libido's don't wane with age so a man has to look out for it'’ a middle aged male caller volunteers.

‘’sometimes we women are in our periods and during such times; men should not be made to wait'’ a female caller volunteers. Ugandans are clearly socially accepting of marital infidelity. Although that is usually skewed in favour of the male gender.

In many Ugandan traditional societies, a man can be culturally granted divorce on account of a wife's infidelity although the reverse is not as easily accepted.

Cheating used to be a preserve for men. But not anymore. 'We now also have the money. When I know my man has a 'side dish', I also revenge and get a young man to satisfy my needs. These days we don't depend on men for money. We have our own money'’ says Namukasa Jane, 43(Not real name).

Statistics from Uganda AIDS Commission shows that males still cheat more than females although the latter are catching up fast.

Last year ,Dr Raymond Byarugaba,Head of the AIDS Information Centre (AIC)announced that new annual HIV  infection rates are set to reach 150,000 new cases compared to 120,000 the  year before up from 100,000 cases in years previous.

Uganda’s rising new HIV infections are out of step with declining global trends even in countries such as worse-hit countries such as South Africa and Botswana registering a 25% reduction in new HIV infection rates according to UNAIDS.

Ironically, Uganda was renowned for taming run away HIV infections in the 1990s making the recent spike in new HIV infections a  national emergency.

With donors scaling down funding for the HIV/AIDS treatment and new patients being turned away at AIDS treatment centres because of donor funding caps, increasing new HIV infections mean that  HIV treatment efforts are being hopelessly outpaced by new infections.

Michel Sidibe, the UNAIDS boss blames the rise in new HIV infections on ‘complacency’. It now seems that Uganda has to revert to the aggressive prevention programming favoured in the 1990s with Ugandans waking up to drums and hearing the messages of ‘love carefully’ .

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Uganda at 50: A disillusioned ruling elite in Kampala?

In the early 80's, many joined the armed struggle against the Milton Obote regime, literally hours after sitting their last university exam at Makerere.

Many were in their 20's, eager to rid their country of  semi-illiterate Mal-administration of Idi Amin and Milton Obote and restore their country to the hope it was in the 60's. (a higher GDP than South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore).

They were charismatic, hopeful, confident, that they would restore Uganda back from its wrong turn. Many with a leftist brand of optimism.

They fought a protracted guerrilla struggle in the jungles of Luwero in central Uganda against a entrenched African state, initially with a handful of rifles. With more hope and conviction than might.

After a five-year struggle, they finally stormed the streets of Kampala, the Ugandan capital with a rag-tag army.

'' It is not a mere change of guards but a fundamental change'' they declared.

But  no body said turning guerrilla fighters into polished statesmen and sophisticated government bureaucrats  would be a walk in the park.

The state coffers were literally empty with a  virtually broken down state-structure.

What they lacked at the Central Bank they made up for governance chutzpah and political will.

The ministers drove Toyotas and lived a frugal life, from their most per-eminent leader to the half-dressed teenage kadogo  soldier, clutching an AK-47.

They  genuinely wanted  a fairer deal for the people of Uganda. And they believed.

But  a quarter of a century is a awfully long time.

With their dream of transforming Uganda a little more than a pipe dream, disillusionment set in.

'I give up on project Uganda. May be I can save myself and family instead'.

Ex-guerrilla fighters became capitalists over night. Of the crony kind of course. And many were transformed into consummate politicians per-occupied with winning the next election.

'Fundamental change'? It's more like regime survival. Political survival. Project Uganda? No, its project me myself and I.

The irony of Marxists turning into capitalists is not lost on Ugandans.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Uganda at 50: Have we graduated from dependence on foreign capital?

One of Uganda's biggest indigenous banks, Centenary Bank, opened one of the tallest structures in Uganda-the 11-storey Mapeera House in the very centre of Kampala's central business district.

International banks in Uganda own real estate and indeed, Barclays Bank and Standard Chartered own many of their own premises. So, what is the big deal with Mapeera house?

It was built with  US $40 million of the banks own funds with out external finance or even borrowing. Put another way, it was built with purely Ugandan money, teased out of the Ugandan economy.

Centenary Bank is a local bank with majority ownership by the Ugandan Catholic church and has been, for the most part, run by Ugandan management.  And that is debunking some myths: Ugandans can actually run a multi-million dollar  banking enterprise. With Teefe, Greenland and Uganda Cooperative Banks in the dust bin of history, we need to be reminded.

The Ugandan government announced recently it was going to borrow one trillion Uganda shillings from National Social Security Fund (NSSF) for infrastructure financing. Again, these are purely Ugandan monies, savings from salaried Ugandans to be exact.

At Watoto Church (formerly KPC) during one of the services, the pastor announced, what at the time seemed a hare-brained ambition, to raise a million US dollars from Ugandan church goers to help churches in Israel, Burundi and South Sudan. The irony was not lost on me especially with regard to the Israeli church.

This last sunday, the church announced that US $ 800,000 US dollars had been raised in shorter than a month-from Ugandan pockets. And the church is not done. They want to raise the balance of US $ 200,000 to make good on their million dollar milestone.

With the Ugandan government and businesses always looking out side our borders for financing, the trends above seem to suggest the domestic equity seems an option, it once wasn't.

Here is why  Ugandan local equity is such an issue.

According to  The Eastafrican, Tanzania currently holds a $ 1.2 billion loan for China's Exim Bank for the Mtwara- Dar es Salaam gas pipeline.

In 2011,Tanzania signed  off on a $ 320 million loan with Standard Bank of South Africa to pay international road contractors. And in this year's budget, the Tanzanian Finance Minister announced plans to borrow $ 822 million from international debt markets.

As Uganda marks 50 years of independence and with all the doom and gloom that analysts are dishing put on our jubilee, may be a shimmer of hope coming out of local capacity for financing million-dollar projects is some cause, however small, to toast to another fifty years.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tobacco industry killing efforts to cut smoking deaths

Every year on May 31, the world stops and reflects on the millions who have lost their lives to tobacco use and the one billion others who are set to lose their lives to tobacco this century, if current trends are not reversed. Tobacco remains the largest preventable cause of death in the world. 

Every year it kills more people than AIDS, malaria and Tuberculosis (TB) combined. On average, smokers die 15 years earlier than non-smokers.

Tobacco use is set to become the leading cause of death in low and middle income countries by 2030. This vice causes 15 cancers, particularly lung cancer, and is the only common denominator in the non communicable diseases (NCD) epidemic which involves diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases.

This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) has selected tobacco industry interference in tobacco control efforts as the theme of the World No Tobacco Day.

The tobacco industry has been defined as ‘those persons and companies engaged in the growth, preparation for sale, shipment, advertisement, and distribution of tobacco and tobacco-related products’.
The leading tobacco companies in the world include Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco International. In Uganda, British American Tobacco Uganda (BATU) and Mastermind are the leading ones.

The tobacco industry is one of the most lucrative in the world. The Tobacco Atlas last year estimated that revenues from the global tobacco industry were likely to reach half a trillion US dollars, a year. Many tobacco companies are actually wealthier than many developing countries.

“The tobacco industry has historically employed a multitude of tactics to shape and influence tobacco control policy. It has used its economic power, lobbying and marketing machinery, and manipulation of the media to discredit scientific research and influence governments in order to propagate the sale and distribution of its deadly product. Furthermore, the tobacco industry continues to inject large philanthropic contributions into social programmes worldwide to create a positive public image under the guise of corporate social responsibility,” reads a WHO statement.

Because of the economic muscle tobacco companies wield, they hold sway over poor African governments and frustrate national efforts to cut tobacco deaths.

“The entry point for the tobacco industry in Uganda is the overly hyped economic importance of the industry in government tax revenue and tobacco farmers’ livelihoods,” says Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, the Tobacco Control focal person in the ministry of Health.

But the disease burden and the costs of treating tobacco-related diseases far outweigh the reported economic importance and are not worth any life. The Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa (CTCA), a regional project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is pioneering alternatives to tobacco farming through pilot projects in the tobacco-growing districts of Arua and Kanungu.

According to information from Uganda Tobacco or Health Forum, the tobacco industry reportedly put Uganda government under pressure not to increase excise duty on cigarettes in the 2008/2009 national budget, yet globally, taxes on tobacco products are said to be one of the most effective deterrents to tobacco use.

Tobacco companies all over the world are known to frustrate national anti-tobacco legislation through instituting stalling lawsuits and sustained media campaigns against proposed legislation.
John Amanya, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Uganda National Tobacco Control Association, observes that in Uganda we have already seen the tobacco industry sponsor press articles to try and punch holes in the proposed tobacco control bill which had its first reading before Parliament recently.
Despite the ban on tobacco advertising in Uganda, tobacco companies still stealthily advertise under the guise of corporate social responsibility sponsorships or indirect advertising, such as glossy job adverts in the print media.

Jackie Tumwine, a tobacco control advocate, recalls that despite the law banning tobacco advertising and promotion, BATU sponsored and chaired the Commonwealth Business Forum in 2007.

“The global tobacco industry kills six million people every year. It does this in a deliberate, systematic manner, complete with business plans, lobbying, political contributions and favours, and cash bonuses to its executives who kill the most people by successfully selling them their deadly cigarettes and other tobacco products,’’ says Dr Thomas Glynn of the American Cancer Society.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Kenya generic AIDS drugs court ruling sets East African precedent

Thousands of people living with HIV and AIDS in East Africa were given new hope last week (25 April 2012), when a High Court judge in Nairobi ruled that Kenya’s anti counterfeit law is unconstitutional in its interpretation of generic HIV drugs as illegal counterfeits.

A generic drug is an identical copy of a brand name, the latter of which are usually manufactured by pharmaceutical giants. Brand drugs such as those manufactured by Pfizer and Norvatis go for prices tailored to Western markets and thus are unaffordable for the majority of patients in sub Saharan Africa. However, many can afford Indian generics, which cost as little as a tenth of the brand price.

Generic drug manufacturers such as CIPLA of India imitate the exact formulas used in brand antiretrovirals (ARVs) drugs through a process called ‘reverse engineering’. The drugs are understood to be as effective as the brand names.

Justice Mumbi Ngugi ruled that intellectual property rights do not override the right to life and health. She found the definition of a ‘counterfeit’ in the Kenya Anti-Counterfeit Act of 2008 to be too broad leading to generic HIV drugs being bundled together with other counterfeits. Justice Mumbi said this vagueness is posing a grave threat to the right to life and health for thousands of Kenyans who depend on life-saving generic ARVs.

The High Court judge has now instructed the Kenyan parliament to review the Anti Counterfeit Act of 2008 and amend the offending articles, which can lead to arbitrary seizures of generic HIV drugs under the pretext that they are ‘counterfeits’, as happened at a Dutch port last year.

Under common law, a high court ruling in Kenya sets a precedent for countries such as Uganda and it is now thought that human rights activists in Uganda and the rest of East Africa will invoke the ruling in any potential suits.

The news will also comes as a welcome development for Ugandan pharmaceutical companies such as the Quality Chemicals Plant in Luzira, most of whose products are generic drugs

While testifying before a Ugandan parliamentary committee last month, Moses Mulumba, a human rights lawyer and intellectual property rights expert, revealed that the Uganda Counterfeit Bill 2010 regards generic AIDS drugs as ‘counterfeits’ and would render 90 % of HIV drugs in Uganda illegal should the bill be passed by parliament and assented to by President Museveni.

With efforts to deepen East African regional integration taking centre stage, the Kenya High Court ruling becomes even more instructive for Uganda and the rest of members of the East African community (EAC).

“A vast majority of people in Kenya rely on quality generic drugs for their daily survival. Through this important ruling, the High Court of Kenya has upheld a fundamental element of the right to health,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel SidibĂ©.
“This decision will set an important precedent for ensuring access to life-saving drugs around the world.”

“The court has correctly interpreted the Constitution and guaranteed the right to health. This ruling speaks against any ambiguity that serves to undermine access to generic medicines and puts the lives of people before profit”, Patricia Asero, one of the three petitioners, was quoted as saying.

Last week also marked the successful passage of the East Africa HIV/AIDS Prevention and Management Bill 2012 by the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), a timely milestone as the assembly’s term of office expires in June this year.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Is the world economy a patient that has developed drug resistance?

The news is gloomy. The United Kingdom's economy contracted by 0.2% in the past quarter of 2012. Today, the BBC announced that the US economy has had a negative economic growth of 2.3% which is worse than many analysts that predicted. Spain announced that it was officially back in recession with 25% of its population official designated as unemployed.

Since 2008, western economies have adopted fiscal stimulus packages one after the other but the economies cant still turn the corner. Its like a patient in intensive care who doesn't show signs of real recovery but only allows a few flashes of hope.

To be fair, Obama's stimulus packages saved the US auto industry and the auto giants have now turned a profit and paid off US government loans but still...

No matter what strategies economists devise to revive western economies, the results are still feeble.

And the political repercussions are clear. Ruling parties in  Greece,Netherlands,  and recently in France are feeling the wrath of main-street. And had Obama had a more formidable opponent, the economy would have done him in at the next elections

The IMF has come up with a rescue package fund of over $ 400 billion to bail out countries in need- a sure certainty.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kampala engulfed in secondhand tobacco smoke epidemic

You enter a Kampala bar, late in the evening and the entire place is engulfed in smoke - the whole atmosphere is colored with the grey of cigarette smoke. You venture out of the bar momentarily and you smell your clothes and hair and the scent of tobacco pollutes your nose. Now, imagine how absorbent your lungs are, compared to the cotton fabric of your cloth.

Secondhand smoke, also known as passive smoking or environmental tobacco smoke, is a mixture of sidestream smoke from the burning tip of the cigarette and mainstream smoke exhaled by a smoker.

Secondhand smoke is a complex mixture of some 4,000 chemical compounds, including almost 70 known or probable human carcinogens (cancer-causing agents).

Second hand smoke kills children and adults who don’t smoke. It causes lung cancer and heart disease in people who have never smoked. Even brief exposure can damage cells in ways that set the cancer process in motion. According to the WHO, nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work increase their heart disease risk by 26% to 30% and lung cancer risk by 20 to 30 percent.

“The evidence is now indisputable that secondhand smoke is an alarming public health hazard, responsible for thousands of premature deaths among nonsmokers each year”

Richard Carmona, the US Surgeon General said in 2006.

Uganda banned smoking in public places through regulations passed in 2004 by then Environment Minister Kahinda Otafire called the National Environment (control of smoking in public places) regulations.

The regulations were passed as an off shoot of a Uganda High ruling in December 2002 which declared that smoking in public places was a violation of non-smokers’ constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment.

The High court instructed NEMA to formulate a law against public smoking which was enacted in 2004 and states that: “No person shall smoke a tobacco product or a lighted cigarette in an enclosed, indoor area of a public place.”

Public places here include bars, restaurants, shopping centres and public transportation .But we all know that Ugandans make some of the best laws in the world but trail in enforcing the same very laws.

A study I recently conducted on Uganda’s compliance with the regulations on control of public smoking in in bars and restaurants in Kampala, in the wake of the ban on smoking in public, however tells a tragic public health story of thousands of people in Kampala unwittingly involved in involuntary smoking.

The majority of bars in Kampala blatantly break the law by allowing public smoking on their premises contrary to Ugandan law. In fact, of the 23 bars I sampled in Kampala, only four enforce the ban on public smoking. Ironically, even in bars and restaurants where the ‘no smoking sign’ was prominently displayed, smoking continued unabated at the premises.

The study was conducted in five areas of Kampala including in Kisementi, Kabalagala and the sampled bars including the most popular bars frequented by middle class Ugandans.

The study, made possible by the US-based Campaign for Tobacco Free-Kids, shows that the law against public smoking in Kampala remains on the books with no enforcement to speak of. With the passing out of environmental police, by the Uganda police last year one can only hope the situation will be ameliorated.

Even with the proposed 2010 Tobacco control bill having had its first reading in parliament and a Tobacco Control policy awaiting cabinet consideration, enforcement of the tobacco control law will remain critical to the health of millions of Ugandans.

Respiratory symptoms among bar workers in Scotland decreased by 26 percent after

Smoke-free legislation was implemented in 2006 and asthmatic bar workers experienced

reduced airway inflammation and reported an improved quality of life.

In Uruguay, the enforcement of a 100% some-free law has reduced hospital admissions for heart attacks by 22 percent.

Many think that as long as they don’t smoke they will escape the now scientifically proven 15 cancers associated with cigarette smoking. But sadly, it is not enough not to smoke.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why Jeffrey Sachs should be next World Bank President

Going by an op-ed article authored by Prof Jeffrey Sachs last week, he is interested in taking the reins at the World Bank.

For people in the west, the World Bank is no sacred cow and it is another of the myriad of US concerns, which is why then US president,George W Bush, chose Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as World Bank President -which ended in disaster.

Robert Zoellick has been a more agreeable President but he was only a safe' substitute' drafted in after the Wolfowitz shipwreck. He was formerly a US trade negotiator. Clearly, the US's quality of choices of World Bank Presidents in the last ten years betrays an attention deficit disorder.

It so happens that by virtue of being the majority shareholder at the Bank and by virtue of an old pact, it gets to pick the President.

The World Bank could really change the poor world. Although it was set up after the second world war to help a battered Europe, in the last decades it has set its sights on the 'bottom billion' to borrow a Paul Collier term.

There are few candidates in the world who are better suited to be World Bank President ahead of Prof Jeffrey Sachs- a man with a true passion and heart for eradicating world poverty and disease.

I actually took to him belatedly-after reading his Bestseller 'The End of Poverty' in 2005, a book I borrowed from the US Embassy Library in Kampala.

Jeff Sachs is an authentic development economist who is unflinching in his belief that the basket countries of the world can rise up with western aid and support. Another illustrious economist,William Easterly, famously doesn't agree( on the role of Aid) but you cant fault Jeff Sachs for putting forth a feeble case.

Jeff Sachs, President of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Advisor to the UN Secretary General on the Millennium development goals(MDGs) has been a persistent critic of the World Bank for its misguided policies in Sub Saharan Africa and at one accused the World Bank of intellectual dishonesty in its prescriptions for the 'Bottom Billion' countries. His writings partly inspired me to write an article in Kampala's leading daily 'The World Bank/IMF have failed poor nations' which was published literally the next day after I emailed it to the Editor.

I argued in the article that the World Bank's one model fits all approach was disingenuous and an economic tragedy for the intellectually lazy African economic policy authorities. Jeff Sachs in his book 'The End of Poverty' proposes a fascinating approach called 'clinical economics' an antithesis of traditional development economics.

Jeff Sachs is a man with the most eminent of qualifications. He is a highly published academic with real-life economic management experience serving as Economic Advisor to developing countries ranging from post-soviet Poland to Kenya and has written several Best sellers since 'The End of Poverty'.

He has been one of the brains behind the MDGs and the model millennium villages including one near my home district. I had the rare opportunity of meeting Jeff Sachs at a Public Debate when he rolled into town in Kampala about two years ago during the tenure of Dr Ezra Suruma as Uganda's Finance Minister.

The World Bank faces many challenges including its relevance and the need to 'get it right' in Sub Saharan Africa; the emergence of new players in Africa such as China which is now widely reputed to lend more money to the continent, some say three-times as much.

President Obama can do one good thing for Africa before the end of his first term-nominate Jeff Sachs as the US government's choice for World Bank President.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why ‘Made in China’ is a problem for Uganda

Over the last festive holidays I strolled through my home town of Mbarara and was astonished at the number of Chinese immigrants in retail outlets selling commodities such as Chinese mobile phones in outfits which in Kampala-speak would be called emidaala.

I know it is not unusual in today’s Uganda to find Chinese immigrants in retail businesses as we have seen in Kikuubo in Kampala and I occasionally shop at a Chinese-run supermarket in the suburb of Wandegeya. But Mbarara was new for me.

Now, this is no homophobic treatise but I was struck me by what these developments say about the changing character of Ugandan commerce and how Chinese industry in Uganda has truly come full circle by completing the supply chain.

Products are made in China, imported by Chinese traders in Uganda, through an efficient export machine and are now directly sold in Uganda by Chinese retailers.

If you have shopped at any local supermarket in any town in Uganda, you will be forgiven for thinking that everything is ‘made in China’ these days. Chinese products have an irresistible lure. They are cheap.

They typically cost less than any other similar product (including Ugandan- made ones). But there is a catch.

Chinese industry has made many products seem cheap and affordable and many Ugandans have bought their first TV set or electric fan because of cheap Chinese products but this may come at the expense of the local manufacturing sector.

It now seems few Ugandan manufacturers can produce goods locally at prices that rival Chinese products. And this is why.

The cost of doing business in Uganda is not terribly competitive. Commercial bank loans interest rates in Uganda are as high as 30%. The cost of energy is prohibitive and recently, a 40% hike in electricity tariffs was announced. Many businesses have to do with expensive thermal generators during regular and prolonged power cuts. Uganda can’t even compete with China on labour cost.

Chinese engineers and construction companies typically bid lower than Ugandan construction forms for civil works and deliver that project faster than Ugandan contractors.

But there are some exogenous variables working in favour of Chinese businesses in Uganda and elsewhere.

The Chinese government subsidizes Chinese businesses in Africa and in many cases offers very low interest loans to businesses willing to set up shop in Africa. You have heard the Americans perennially complain that the value of Chinese currency is kept artificially low, making Chinese products seem cheap to importers.

Then Senator Barack Obama while visiting Kenya in 2007 pitted Kenyans for thinking that they would compete with Chinese industry saying even the Europeans and Americans had given up. When ever I return from Europe, I am amazed at how many souvenirs and Items I bring in from ‘Europe’ that are actually ‘made in China’.

Statistics show that in 2008, Ugandan exports to China that include cotton, coffee, leather and fish amounted to $20m while imports such as mechanical and electrical appliances stood at $202m.

Uganda’s trade deficit with China has more profound effects on the economy. Besides turning Uganda into a net importer of Chinese products and rendering local manufacturing uncompetitive with losses in manufacturing jobs, the repercussions extend to the value of the Ugandan shilling and imported inflation from China, among many ills.

An economic report shows that Chinese textile imports have caused 80% of Nigerian factories to shut down, resulting in 250,000 workers losing their jobs.

In response to these challenges, South Africa has introduced a quota system for Chinese textiles that limits entry of Chinese textiles. Joint ventures between Chinese and Ugandan entrepreneurs is another alternative middle round.

But the Chinese have built us a football stadium, a city hospital, a twin-tower president’s office and our foreign affairs ministry office block. Should we then be surprised at their benevolence?

And I am typing this on a lap top made in China, while wearing my made in China slippers, drinking coffee out of a mug made from China.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

African NGOs petition US government over Cape Town IP summit

Over one hundred human rights NGOs, including some from Uganda, have petitioned the US government to stop a three-day Intellectual property summit set to take place in Cape Town, South Africa in April 2012.

The summit has been called to discuss intellectual property enforcement on the continent and could be a critical meeting affecting millions of poor Africans.

Intellectual property touches on issues such as banning Indian generic AIDS drugs by enforcing patents for western pharmaceutical giants, outlawing extensive photocopying of educational materials published by western multinationals, limiting access to newly developed disease-resistant agricultural seeds for poor farmers or cracking down on counterfeit Microsoft computer programmes.

Intellectual property refers to exclusive rights held by inventors and innovators of new drugs, books, plant seeds, software developers etc. These rights are enforced by international law and unlawful access to them attracts penalties.

The Cape Town summit , billed as ‘ Africa Intellectual Property Forum: Intellectual Property, Regional Integration and Economic Growth in Africa’ is organised by the US Department of Commerce. It has been hyped as the first Africa-wide ministerial-level event of its kind. The summit is jointly organized by World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and several US multinational companies including PfIzer, Dolby,Caterpillar and Microsoft.

The summit has drawn the ire of human rights NGOs in Africa , partly because of a disturbing conflict of interest, it is sponsored by US multinationals in collaboration with western governments such as US,France and Japan who own most of the intellectual property rights and seek to enforce them in African countries where the majority of people live on less than a dollar.

''It’s a shame that the Africa IP Forum is putting emphasis on IP enforcement agenda. One would expect the continent to be discussing the Development Agenda in light of its social economic challenges in the areas of health, education and agriculture. Over emphasis on IP enforcement is iniquitous of the continent's population that still badly needs to utilise the policy space provided for by the TRIPS Agreement" said Mulumba Moses of the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development, a Ugandan human rights NGO.

The summit is being castigated by human rights activists because it appears to reverse gains made by African governments in securing exemptions from enforcing intellectual property rights of multinationals in poor countries,such as the 2006 TRIPS agreement in Doha which granted poor countries a grace period until 2016 to consume cheap generic AIDS drugs manufactured in India.

It is feared that the summit may trigger new intellectual property legislation in African countries in a compliance move that my curtail access to products, in some cases, life-saving drugs such as AIDS or Tuberculosis (TB) drugs.

The irony of the South African government playing host to a summit ,on African soil, seeking to perpetuate western multinational interests by curtailing access to life-saving drugs or educational materials to poor African students is not lost on African and global human rights NGOs.

The sentiments of the petitioning African NGOs are aptly captured by Sangeeta Shasikant, Legal Advisor of the Third World Network: '' The US is well known for pressuring developing countries to adopt TRIPS plus standards. The Africa IP Summit is another attempt by the US to advance its aggressive agenda on IP protection and enforcement such as Anti-Counterfeit Agreement (ACTA), that favours the interests of certain powerful multinational companies. The US concept paper and programme totally disregards the numerous developmental and socio-economic challenges facing Africa. Issues of access to affordable medicines, access to knowledge, misappropriation of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, farmers' rights are totally disregarded''.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

'Get off the sexual network': Uganda's widespread concurrent sexual partnerships

 'Have you ever seen a man who who does not cheat? Tell me if yours doesn't cheat.All men cheat. But we make sure we do not have kids with those women we sleep with' celebrated Ugandan musician, Bebe Cool, was quoted in a Sunday Vision interview with journalist Carol Kasujja, in the May 6th 2012 edition, when asked to comment on rumours that his wife had left him over alleged infidelity.

The non-regular sexual partners are often called names: 'spare tire', 'side dish', 'away match', 'side mirror..etc.

The very choice of names betrays Ugandans' social acceptance of casual sex. It is in Uganda that you will hear people call sexual intercourse as 'playing sex' . It is like a simple, casual game. Some kind of harmless fun. But it isn't fun.

Concurrent sexual partnerships or a situation where an individual is having more than one sexual partner at the same time is the leading driver of new HIV infections in Uganda- according to the Uganda AIDS Commission.

Ironically,it is married couples or people in stable relationships who are driving up new infections but also who are at a higher risk of HIV infection in Uganda because of reckless sexual behaviour. Married couples in Uganda have more unprotected sex than younger,single people. Married couples' aversion to condoms is legendary.'condoms don't belong in a marital bed' one couple says defiantly.

Today I listened to a lively Saturday morning health talk show on Radio One where this was the topic of debate. Why are Ugandans partial to 'side dishes' to use the tongue-in-chick reference to extra marital sex?

And the panelists were not short of answers. 'Women lose sexual appetite when they grow older,yet mens' libido's doesn't wane with age so a man has to look out for it' a middle aged male caller volunteers.

'Sometimes we women are in our periods and during such times, men should not be made to wait' a female caller volunteers. Ugandans are clearly socially accepting of marital infidelity. Although that is usually skewed in favour of the male gender.

In many Ugandan traditional societies, a man can be culturally granted divorce on account of a wife's infidelity although the reverse is not as easily accepted.

Cheating used to be a preserve for men. But not anymore. 'We now also have the money. When I know my man has a 'side dish', I also revenge and get a young man to satisfy my needs. These days we don't depend on men for money. We have our own money' says Namukasa Jane, 43(Not real name).

Statistics from Uganda AIDS Commission show that males still cheat more than females although the latter are catching up fast.

Uganda which was renown for taming new HIV infection rates in the early 1990s, for the first time, is on the wrong side of global trends which show that that new HIV infections are on a downward spiral even in the most affected countries like South Africa.

Uganda's new annual infection rates are set to reach 150,000 new cases compared to 120,000 cases last year and 100,000 cases in the previous years.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Castle under fiery skies: A Japanese movie review

By Henry Zakumumpa

The Embassy of Japan in Uganda runs an annual Japanese movie film festival in Kampala, to which I have been a faithfully attendee since 2004.

'Castle under fiery skies' is a remarkable Japanese film. It is an affecting and truly engaging film with appealing multiple themes that mesh together nicely. It gets off to a slow start but gains the pace gradually while slowly drawing you in.

I underestimated it within the first few minutes of viewing but my assessment of it earned a five-star review progressively and by the time the credits rolled on I was sold.

The plot is actually an uncomplicated one but the director makes the most out of it.

The film centres around the ambition of a young Japanese emperor to build a four-storey giant of a castle to make a point to rival principalities but also to help unite the rival groupings that make up 1850s Japan.

The Japanese emperor calls for a competition from architects within his kingdom' to build the 'greatest' castle in Japan with in an unprecedented three years. Japan at the time was an ununited island country made of small rival 'kingdoms'.

The race to build the 'greatest castle' with three years is also part of the political power play by a young and ambitious leader to woo other sub groupings that make up Japan.

After the competition for building the castle is called, leading architects of the time make presentations before the emperor who is to make the final pick of the winner. This involves making miniature models of the proposed castle to house the emperor.

Astonishingly, a lowly carpenter wins the competition after dramatically showing the flaws of his rival designs. He is then handed the 'impossible mission' of building an unprecedented castle using materials which are not available (and construction staff) and yet within an ambitious time frame of three years.

'Castle under fiery skies' is also an intensely human film from the perspective of the protagonist the 'master carpenter' whose all-consuming desire to accomplish a task comes at a very high price and tests his abilities beyond mere technical know how. On one level it is a story of the indomitable human spirit.

The depiction of wifely servitude from a Japanese cultural point of view(not very dissimilar to Ugandan traditional culture) is explored through the 'master carpenter's wife.

In a word 'Castle under fiery skies' is a film about Japanese cultural values of thrift,duty,honor,personal sacrifice,excellence,hard work, family and even romantic love.

It's a visual feast and.. you are invited.

Friday, January 13, 2012

50 years of independence in Uganda: A tale of dashed hopes and an aborted recovery

Uganda will mark fifty years of 'independence' from Britain in October this year.

On 9th October 1962, the union jack was lowered in favour of the black,yellow,red national flag. Post independence Prime Minister Milton Obote hoped ,with the millions watching as he received the instruments of power, that this marked the beginning of new hopes and aspirations for a newly born people.

But things quickly went terribly wrong. In 1996, the Executive Prime Minister, stormed the palace of the Executive President, the King of the native Baganda ethnic group at the height of bitter power struggle for supremacy.

You could say Uganda took a wrong turn from then on and, in many ways, Uganda has never fully recovered from then on.

At the time of Independence,in the 1960s, Uganda's Gross Domestic Product(GDP) super-ceded that of South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. But there was a cruel twist of history. South Korea is one of the top-ten richest countries in the world while Uganda languishes at the bottom of league of nations development indicators. So, after the euphoria of independence celebrations what happened?

At the time of independence, many African countries aspired to provide western-style welfare state social provisions by providing free medical care and free university education and other social services to their citizens.

The prevailing political currents of socialist ideology around the globe in the 1960s occasioned by the cold war brought to birth the idea of ‘African socialism’ which in its crudest forms emphasized the sense of ‘African community’ and therefore the concept that ‘everybody’s welfare was everybody’s business’. In East Africa, Ugandan Prime Minister Milton Obote unveiled the ‘common man’s charter’ a socialist manifesto for newly independent Uganda. In Tanzania, President Julius Nyerere gave credence to ‘ujaama’ villages or communal villages that provided an all embracing community.

Social services were freely provided and medical services at government hospitals were free as were other social provisions.

However in the early 1980s the idea of an ‘African’ welfare state came under serious threat as being unsustainable owing to failing economies under hardship due to falling international prices of the cash crops on which many African countries depended coupled with chronic political turmoil and ethnic tensions ubiquitous in post independence Africa.

African countries, and Uganda in particular, sought budget deficit financing from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The Breton Woods institutions prescribed the hugely unpopular Structural Adjustment programmes (SAPs) that called for radically reduced social spending in the social sectors of health and education by the introduction of ‘user fees’ and ‘cost sharing’ in social service provision as well as the full-scale 'marketization' of social provisioning.

The introduction of market liberalization reforms, including privatization of the social sector, has turned citizens into client-consumers rather than social provision beneficiaries with many falling through the cracks. The state’s diminishing importance in the social sector In Uganda has called into question its own legitimacy and sovereignty as a nation state in light of the increasing importance of the market and transnational-NGOs.

The prolonged diminished fiscal ability of the Ugandan state to provide social welfare has seen an increasing importance of non -governmental agency providers of health care. In sectors such as HIV/AIDS health care and treatment in Uganda, non governmental and civil societal organizations dominate

Hence the failure of the state and the market in Uganda has seen the emergence of new service providers and the expansion of space for alternate players. The central question would therefore be that has the ‘pluralism’ of social welfare providers in Uganda called into question the need for a paradigm shift to a tri-model of state, market and NGOs and therefore the need to re-conceptualize the role of the state?