The six days in Kampala have been great! Not only is Kampala a vibrant, colourful, chaotic city with a friendly atmosphere, I also had the chance to hold discussions with a number of great young people (Thanks to Ivan, Gerald and Isabella!). And these discussions have been refreshingly clear and open.
Uganda is a country reigned by the dictator Yoweri Museveni, who started 1986 as a quite committed reformer who wrote himself critical articles on power politics in the 80s and 90s, but by now is “so power-drunk that he is – like any drunkard – unable to realise when it’s time to stop” and “after Gaddafi the next one to enter the exit room”. At the same time, it’s a country with a very young population that seems to be more and more fed up with the existing rules of the game. Meeting some of the active young people here was a privilege:
I liked already the settings of the meetings. Two of them we held in the gardens of expensive hotels – without consuming anything despite the regular “friendly suggestions” by the waiters and the management intervening at some point (at the second hotel we were finally chased away).* The other ones we held at very nice “local” restaurants and the beautiful Makerere University. More importantly, they led to advancements in both major goals of this trip, the question of how to create a meaningful network to promote honesty in our societies, and the promotion of Studies Without Borders:
When I asked my usual question on the possible uses of global youth network against corruption, in in particular what they thought of GYAC and it’s relationship to the World Bank Institute, one young activist replied that the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO create together what he calls “the unholy trinity”. In Uganda, which had been heavily affected by Structural Adjustments Programmes that “destroyed the traditional economy and created a culture of ignorant individualism and dis-integrity”, youth activists seem generally very critical towards international donor institutions. Everybody I asked agreed that it would be a right step to develop low-cost approaches and alternative ways of funding to bypass the big “development” actors. In particular, because “it comes at very high costs that they tend to make people to vulnerable recipients”.
At the same time, the discussions led to constructive ideas on how to start collective actions across borders that bring added values to the local initiatives. More on this as soon as these ideas are settled into concrete concepts.
On the Studies Without Borders side, I was delighted to learn that there is already a similar initiative at the Ugandan Christian University: Under the very nice name “Save a Buddy” students collect and work for money to support fellow students who can’t afford the fees. Nice one! Moreover, I’m very happy to make a little pre-announcement that very soon an Ugandan chapter of SWB might be founded…
One last positive impression: Titus from Transparency International Zimbabwe had encouraged me also to include political party youth wing leaders in the list of people I try to meet. Jared in Kenya strongly agreed with this encouragement. I must say that I had and still have reservations towards discussing with politicians, simply because I share the stereotype that they (even more than others) are likely to talk what they think is strategically opportune, not what they honestly think. But as much as I like the idea of civil society pressure I had of course to agree that the political system cannot be ignored and that it is vital to also address those who do or will play active roles within it.
Thanks to well-connected Gerald I could meet here in Kampala my first youth wing leaders, this time from the major Ugandan opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change. And again, the meeting was refreshing. All three seemed very down to earth, very little into rhetorical bubbling and very critical of politics as a self-serving game. More importantly, they were actually keen and had suggestions on setting up practical systems to hold political leaders to account through civil society pressure. Of course, it still remains to be seen how much these positive ideas will be held up once one is on the power side of the system. But my personal impression of them was clearly positive and made me decide to go on with trying to meet young politicians also in other countries.
* Why did I like this “rebellious” attitude towards expensive, luxury hotels of the Ugandan activists so much?
First, because I always have an uneasy feeling when I enter this type of hotels. I find it absurd to spend for three nights sleeping a sum for which you could buy a laptop. This symbolises for me unnecessary waste of resources for the sake of status show-off.
Second, in developing countries these hotels are often owned by foreigners or foreign chains which ensures that the money the rich and powerful in that country steal from the people ends up somewhere else.
Third, and related to that, who stays in these kind of hotels in developing countries? I suggest mainly four types of people:
- The mentioned local elites who afford them from stealing from the population
- Foreign businessmen who in most cases come for some kind of doggy business profiting from the lack of enforced labour laws and environment protections in these countries (the “good” businessmen I met so far all stayed in more modest places)
- The staff of international NGOs and financial institutions who ensure that the first two groups have enough to extract
- Rich tourists (with this group I don’t have a problem, it’s up to everybody how to spend our holidays**)
** Still, what I don’t like about this is that expensive hotels are part of the local structures of luxury facilities, which ensure that the money of the visitors with the greatest spending power never trickles down to the majority of the population. One could call this the elite shadow economy, since the owners of these facilities are often well connected enough to not pay taxes.