TagUganda

Development for somebody else, by Alexander Öbom

Motorcycle-taxi driving: one of few new jobs in Kisoro district. Drivers often rent their vehicle from someone else, who can afford to buy it.

Alexander Öbom graduated from our international master program in cultural anthropology. His acrylic paintings presented here, inspired by local artistry, offers a unique way of representing and describing the field. His thesis is available online here

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Motorcycle-taxi drivers in the district of Kisoro, in southwestern Uganda, talk about “development” which takes place in their society, but which they do not perceive as their development. Rather, it is a development carried out by others, mainly for others, while these drivers and many other locals feel that they only get the leftovers from it all.

A small network of asphalt roads has been constructed in the district since 2007, and the place has become a tourist destination for a growing number of foreign visitors who travel to the area´s national parks to catch a glimpse of gorillas. Simultaneously, new service jobs, in hotels, shops and on motorcycles, have popped up.

During my fieldwork in the area, in 2017, many motorcycle drivers described how the new roads were constructed by foreigners, local businessmen or unspecified others. These roads were also sparsely trafficked, and mostly by trucks transporting goods and by tourists, rather than by locals. Evictions of local people from national parks and establishment of new hotels had benefited foreigners, while being largely disadvantageous to locals like these drivers themselves.

Motorcycles were imported from India on the new roads. The so-called ‘Boda Boda’ motorcycle-taxi system was often portrayed as one of all these leftovers – a poor job and a poor taxi service which had recently been established in the area instead of better jobs and transport alternatives, which were only available for people with lots of money. The purpose of my painted acrylic pictures is to illustrate these experiences visually without disclosing identities. These illustrations have given me the posibility of adding and combining issues from a large number of photos and also working with feelings that is rarely contained in a photo.

People in Kisoro had dreams and clear ideas about what they wanted, not seldom derived from information and inspiration reaching them through screens – on smartphones and TV:s – screens which made an external world which seemed to prosper very visible. But even if inspiration flowed into the area, opportunities did not follow. A real development should provide industrial jobs, replace subsistence farming, and eradicate poverty, in many Boda Boda drivers opinions, but this development had mostly brought economic inequality, and the relatively few and not very well paid informal jobs which it had provided for ordinary people, meant many households nonetheless depended on subsistence farming, as a complement to these jobs, with an ever-growing competition for the land, as a result. And most roads which locals used extensively, walking, or riding on a Boda Boda, between their farms and their jobs, were left unpaved and in poor condition. It all resembled scholarly descriptions of how various so-called developments in the global South have become very uneven in the era of economic neoliberalism (see, for example, Leys 2005:111-116).

Some people had worked as Boda Boda operators for about a decade, but when they started, they used bicycle-taxis, and motorcycles were rare. A few of them said the recent shift to motorcycles had had a negative effect on their personal economy, as motorcycles are more expensive to buy and to run. Their price implied that many operators instead had to rent their vehicles, and pay substantial weekly fees to the motorcycle owners. Although many saw the shift to motorcycles as a step toward modernity, and although most customers who I talked to portrayed it as a positive change, many drivers framed it as a bad one. Yet still as customers prefered motorcycles, drivers felt they had no choice but to use them. It has been contended that “the Boda Boda transportation system allows rural and remote populations to connect with a broader social and economic network” (Gamberini 2014), but many people in Kisoro district felt that these vehicles, as a result of economic restraints, had not provided them with much new mobility. Glorification of bicycle times was only one of many responses and examples of nostalgia which circulated. Other nostalgic stories were related to the recent shift from high quality mobile phones to low-quality budget phones, the district’s deteriorated fishing industry and the liquidation of the country’s public transport systems in favour of informal transportation. This resonates with anthropologist James Ferguson’s use of the term abjection, which refers to people feeling that they have lost something valuable in society which they had in the past (Ferguson 1999:237-238), and it resembles nostalgic feelings found in other African settings (Trovalla & Trovalla 2015).

It would be wrong to say that there existed only negative attitudes toward the transformations taking place – many people appreciated the recent changes – but ambivalence was common, and a feeling of being partially excluded from Kisoro’s development, partly included but in not so beneficial ways, were present among many. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be a very unique feature; as many scholars have pointed out, people in various places, not least in Africa, often feel somehow excluded from a modernity of others (Mains 2007, Utas 2003:151, 252). As Kisoro’s development seemed mostly focused on other people it was perceived as highly limited, but not only limited – in a sense that more of the same would be a solution – it was also perceived as a distorted form of development.

A lack of alternatives had brought many men to the motorcycle-taxi job, and as a result, drivers experienced evermore competition, which implied that they had to spend enormous amounts of time just waiting for customers, while simultaneously waiting for a development for them – which they hoped would come, eventually – rather than the development for somebody else, which they currently experienced.

Alexander Öbom has a background in journalism. He is currently a self-employed artist and a research assistant at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). He has traveled extensively in Uganda and neighboring Rwanda during the last seven years.



Litterature

Ferguson, James 1999: Expectations of Modernity: Myths and Meanings of Urban Life on the Zambian Copperbelt. Berkeley: University of California Press

Gamberini, Gian Luca 2014. Boda Boda: The Impact of A Motorbike Taxi Service in Rural South Uganda. Helvedius Group of Columbia University.

Leys, Colin 2005 [1996]. The Rise and Fall of Development Theory. In Edelman, Marc & Haugerud, Angelique (eds.) 2005. The Anthropology of Development and Globalization: From Classical Political Economy to Contemporary Neoliberalism. Oxford: Blackwell.

Mains, Daniel 2007. Neoliberal Times: Progress, Boredom and Shame among Young Men in Urban Ethiopia. American Ethnologist 34:4, 659-673.

Trovalla, Eric & Trovalla, Ulrika 2015. Infrastructure as a divination tool: Whispers from the grids in a Nigerian city. City 19:2-3.

Utas, Mats 2003. Sweet Battlefields: Youth and the Liberian Civil War. Dissertations in Cultural Anthropology. Uppsala University.

Urban kinship: the micro-politics of proximity and relatedness in African cities, by Jesper Bjarnesen and Mats Utas

IMG_7873It is our pleasure and privilege to introduce a special issue of Africa, exploring the micro-politics of proximity and relatedness in six African cities. To understand how social and spatial proximity affects the dynamics of everyday sociality, we suggest the notion of urban kinship to capture how idioms of relatedness in the city build on more enduring socio-cultural legacies, often explicitly articulated in the language of family. Kinship ties are often thought to be naturally given, both in the sense of being biologically rooted in descent and in the sense of being inevitable as social ties. But kinship ties are indeed negotiable and require active work, in terms of their implications for the reproduction of relatedness as well as in their nominal orders. Continue reading

The Inner Beast released after Ugandan Elections 2016, Marianne Bach Mosebo

The Ugandan Presidential Election in 2016 left many Ugandans frustrated and angry at the election process and the announcement of the incumbent, President Yoweri Museveni, as the winner with approximately 60% of the votes. Unfortunately, rather than uniting the Ugandan people in a fight for a free and fair democratic environment in Uganda, social media is reap with statements blaming the result on the marginalised and already maligned Karimojong people in Uganda’s North-eastern corner. Karamoja is a remote region in Uganda, which has the highest poverty and illiteracy rates in the country. Ugandans are angry and frustrated and they are releasing the Inner Beast on those that are easy to blame rather than those who are actually to blame. Continue reading

The power of language: discourses and efficacious fussiness in the Ugandan elections, by Anna Baral

On February 15, 2016, three days before Ugandan general elections, the four-times presidential candidate (and never a winner) Kizza Besigye was stopped by anti-riot and military police with his convoy in Jinja Road, central Kampala. Following a script reenacted at each election, scuffles between the opposition candidate and police started, with heavy use of tear gas, stones thrown and bullets shot. Besigye was detained for few hours by police (that denied rumours of arrest, claiming that the candidate was instead just “being advised” on which route he should take for his campaign through the city). Escorted back to his home in Kasangati, a suburb on the city’s outskirts, Besigye came quickly back to town and was stopped again at the big crossroad that separates Makerere University from Wandegeya Police station, famously active in countering students’ strikes. A young man seeking refuge in a building near the crossroad lost his life, shot by police. Continue reading

“We Are With You” – Musicians and the 2016 general elections in Uganda, by Nanna Schneidermann

In Uganda, the campaigns for the 2016 elections are on. On the 16th of October president Yoweri K. Museveni was the guest of honor at a dinner party comprising of a dozen of the country’s most popular singers, as they revealed their song Tubonga Nawe (luganda for We Are With You) supporting the president and his party The National Resistance Movement (NRM) for another term. Amidst intense press coverage, the president also donated 400 million shillings to a fund to promote the development of the music industry.

The song has sparked passionate discussions about the proper relationship between politics and popular music among media elite, the aspiring urban cool, as well as on the streets of Kampala. Are popular musicians obligated to praise the political elite? Or do they have a special responsibility to protest injustice because of their popularity? Continue reading

Reading the International Crisis Group or why think tank reports have to be taken with a pinch of salt, by Berit Bliesemann de Guevara

Hillary Clinton at ICG Annual Award ceremony (Picture borrowed from glkcreative.com)

Hillary Clinton at ICG Annual Award ceremony (Picture borrowed from glkcreative.com)

Recently the New York Times caused turmoil among prestigious and influential US think tanks when it published an investigative article about concealed connections between these non-profit research organisations and a broad range of foreign countries, among them Norway, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar (NYT online, 6/9/2014). The article revealed that leading think tanks like the Center for Global Development, the Brookings Institution and the Atlantic Council are receiving funding from foreign governments in exchange for influence on the organisations’ recommendations to US policy-makers. The article criticized this practice for its lack of transparency and the supposed loss of intellectual freedom and objectivity. ‘The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington’, the authors cautioned. The attacked think tanks rejected the accusations, pointing to ‘credibility’ and ‘scholarly independence’ as their major ‘currency’, although one interviewee admitted that self-censorship could be a future problem because in times of dwindling funding sources, saving one’s job could well trump the urge to be critical.

Continue reading

The Uganda anti-homosexuality bill: beyond monocausal explanations, by Kristof Titeca

Last Friday, the 28th of February, a wealthier primary school in the suburbs of Kampala had a special occasion during their Friday Assembly (in which students hold performances):  the P2 class reenacted the signing of the anti-homosexuality bill by President Museveni. One kid was dressed as President Museveni, wearing his distinctive hat, and a smart jacket – he was surrounded by his classmates who were acting as MP’s, and one dressed as a military. After signing the bill, ‘Museveni Junior’ told the other kids “Fellow Ugandans, this is our country. We should not accept cultures and values imposed on us. Am, therefore, signing this bill into law to stop all immorality.”

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Ivory beyond the LRA: why a broader focus is needed in studying poaching – By Kristof Titeca

Recently, a lot of attention has been paid to the LRA’s involvement in ivory trade. This was sparked off by the Enough report ‘Kony’s ivory’ released in June, which described the LRA’s ivory activities in Garamba Park, North-Eastern DRC. The report was followed by a range of articles highlighting how ‘tusks fund terror’; and further elaborated in other reports. All of these highlight how the LRA “gains vital resources through its participation in the illegal ivory trade” – as the Enough report summarized (p.11). Yet, narrowing down the ivory problem in and around Garamba Park to the LRA is problematic for several reasons. Most importantly, in order to effectively address the ivory issue, it is crucial to understand the functioning of the commodity chain in and around Garamba Park. Below I discuss a few basic points about this commodity chain, based on ongoing field research, in order to contextualize the LRA’s engagement in ivory.

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The (LRA) conflict: Beyond the LRA lobby & the hunt for Kony… and towards civilian protection – By Kristof Titeca

On the 28th of February this year, an unfortunate incident happened in Garamba National Park, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)-affected area in North-Eastern Congo. A group of Congolese soldiers went on patrol, in order to track LRA-elements; while at the same time a group of (armed) park rangers was patrolling the park. In an area where civilians were present, both groups noticed each other, and both groups considered the other group to be the LRA. The shooting between the two groups, left one Congolese soldier and one civilian dead, and three soldiers and one civilian wounded. The following day, the park rangers were actually attacked by the LRA in the same area, but managed to push them away after heavy fighting. A park ranger later died of his injuries.  At least, all of this was the official version of the events, which was communicated by the Congolese soldiers involved.  Reports from local civil society groups and international military actors revealed that the above group of soldiers was poaching in the park: they had killed 2 hippopotamus, and had asked civilians to help them cutting and transporting the animals. The park rangers had noticed them, and fighting erupted, which resulted in the above injuries and killings. In retaliation, the soldiers had attacked the park rangers the next day. They also threatened to attack any park ranger leaving the park, or passing through their area. This tense situation also had a strong effect on civilian life: not only were civilians wounded through the above attacks; civil society actors complained that markets could no longer take place, as civilians feared more violence and attacks by the soldiers, who were blaming civilians for the park rangers’ attacks.

Continue reading

The (LRA) conflict: Beyond the LRA lobby & the hunt for Kony… and towards civilian protection – By Kristof Titeca

On the 28th of February this year, an unfortunate incident happened in Garamba National Park, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)-affected area in North-Eastern Congo. A group of Congolese soldiers went on patrol, in order to track LRA-elements; while at the same time a group of (armed) park rangers was patrolling the park. In an area where civilians were present, both groups noticed each other, and both groups considered the other group to be the LRA. The shooting between the two groups, left one Congolese soldier and one civilian dead, and three soldiers and one civilian wounded. The following day, the park rangers were actually attacked by the LRA in the same area, but managed to push them away after heavy fighting. A park ranger later died of his injuries.  At least, all of this was the official version of the events, which was communicated by the Congolese soldiers involved.  Reports from local civil society groups and international military actors revealed that the above group of soldiers was poaching in the park: they had killed 2 hippopotamus, and had asked civilians to help them cutting and transporting the animals. The park rangers had noticed them, and fighting erupted, which resulted in the above injuries and killings. In retaliation, the soldiers had attacked the park rangers the next day. They also threatened to attack any park ranger leaving the park, or passing through their area. This tense situation also had a strong effect on civilian life: not only were civilians wounded through the above attacks; civil society actors complained that markets could no longer take place, as civilians feared more violence and attacks by the soldiers, who were blaming civilians for the park rangers’ attacks.

Continue reading

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