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Category Archives: Issues

Andrew Mwenda is back in the country and with style! After having recently resigned from The Monitor citing the negative influence of the Aga Khan as a major reason, he has launched The Independent, a newspaper/magazine for ‘uncensored news, views & analysis’.

This is great news for the freedom of speech in Uganda and great news for all those who missed Mwenda’s Harakiri journalism (such as myself).

The first issue, released on 14th December, is a colour-printed 30-page A4 booklet which was published even though, according to Mwenda, the government attempted to stop the printer from publishing it ‘especially if it contains anything critical of the government’. Well, it most certainly does.

Here is my personal rating of the first issue, from double plus to double minus:

++
The project itself.
There certainly is space for a truly independent voice in Uganda’s media landscape. I love the format and hope it will not turn into a daily newspaper – rather become a weekly voice of analysis, opinion and provocation.

+
The mix of topics.
I was slightly scared that The Independent will serve as Mwenda’s personal diary or, even worse, as the forum for his private battle with the first family. And to a certain extent it does. However, overall there is a good mix of stories, including Ugandan politics, Kenyan elections, Ebola, telecommunications – and sex!

Kampala only gets mentioned briefly within the News Round-up section: The amendments to the Local Government Act which will put the Capital under the control of the central government have The Independent commenting that ‘…if past experience of the central government’s management of projects, parastatals and in fact the country is anything to go by, then many will be forgiven to wonder whether Kampala is not jumping from the frying pan into the fire!’.


The cover story. Rumour has it that The Independent is financed by former Health Minister and Museveni rival Jim Muhwezi (Mwenda’s response: ‘…that is nonsense. I have been working for more than 10 years, consulted for international organisations, etc. Don’t you think I have made enough money to begin a small newspaper?’). Whatever the facts may be, I doubt it was a smart decision to use the Museveni-Muhwezi saga as the title story of the first issue. Especially, if the story doesn’t reveal much and is full of insider information which the author can only have obtained from two sources: Muhwezi himself, and Faith Mwondha, the Inspector General of Government (he even cites a phone conversation between those two – was he standing next to them?). If for obvious reasons he can’t name his sources, he should at least describe them. Otherwise, a story risks being read as conspiracy or plain lugambo.

– –
The website.
An atrocious piece of work, even the New Vision site is better. Let’s hope it is temporary and not talk about it any further.

Forget about studying Medicine, Law and IT. Stop playing lottery. Don’t even join the NRM. If you wanna get rich, move to Kampala and become a Property Developer.

The land bonanza is in full swing. Schools with long traditions and attractive locations are being razed to the ground to make room for developments of Saudi royals who later loose interest and rather buy A380 superjumbos. And, more seriously, cemeteries are being ploughed over because we need some more apartments in the trenches of Lugogo Bypass.

At the same time, housing projects in and around Kampala are spreading like Ebola. If you are abroad for kyeyo, have a lot of money to invest and don’t trust your relatives, your options are endless:

You like the look of recently constructed buildings at Makerere? Go for Uganda’s One-stop Shop (also on offer: sugar, oil and soap). You prefer to join the race for land in Lubowa? If you fancy Lake Victoria in the background, these guys might be your choice; down in the valley, you can go Bauhaus. The same developer went all Ugandan further down South, in Kakungulu, where uninspired Architecture seems to be the rule of the game. By the way: This is also the place where Africa’s answer to Bangalore is under construction, offering Uganda’s academic fraternity the ultimate chance to end up as call centre agents. If you find Kakungulu too far away from Kabira’s fitness studio and you like sunsets, post-modernist Architecture and a lot of retaining walls, how about this.

Hey, and of course you can always become Rio Ferdinand’s neighbour.

So is all of this good news for Kampala?

Yes…
The housing boom points to a growing middle class and at the same time reflects local and foreign investor’s rising confidence in Uganda’s economic growth. It brings a lot of kyeyo money into the country. And it apparently answers the dream of many Ugandans to live in organized environments.

…and no
Some of the currently proposed developments (such as the US$ 300m Naguru-Nakawa Estate project of the Comer brothers) are so large in scale that they fatally remind of urban crimes committed by European cities in the 1960’s and 70’s. Some of them went so horribly wrong that they had to be demolished or totally refurbished in the 90’s. Key mistake: massive project, one developer, one Architect. Result: dead cities.

Since then a lot has happened and plenty of new concepts have been invented. A very interesting one is Amsterdam’s Java Eiland: massive project, one developer, many young Architects (and almost no design regulations). While each individual building certainly deserves a lot of criticism, the overall ‘urban image’ of this new city is diverse, colourful and interesting. That is more than most projects of this scale could ever claim.