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?