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new news out of africa

January 6th, 2008 · 1 Comment · Paige

if you’ve been reading the news coming out of east africa these days, you’d think the region was in chaos. since early december: ebola outbreak in uganda (also outbreaks of cholera, plague, and yellow fever), usaid worker killed in sudan, riots in kenya. but, the important thing to remember is that only the bad news makes it out of africa.

the ebola was a little scary, especially when a confirmed case found his way to mulago (uganda’s main referral and teaching hospital, in kampala). otherwise the outbreak was very contained in western uganda - the ebola probably came into UG from DRC. we had a training scheduled in mubende, but the district health officer canceled it because of a mandate from the ministry of health banning all large public gatherings as a precaution against transmission. that sunday at frisbee, some of the players were refusing to shake hands or touch in greeting. i was surprised, but they were serious. we’re friends with the director of CDC uganda, and i’ve heard through his wife and the newspapers that the CDC was hopping those weeks, but i haven’t gotten any “war stories” directly from him yet. other than those few connections, the ebola didn’t affect us at all. we weren’t exactly running out to join in any traditional burial rituals.

the cholera, plague, and yellow fever outbreaks were all confined to the north, far from us. we’re both vaccinated against yellow fever, so safe there. cholera and plague, though. best bet is to avoid contaminated water and rats. like the burials, dirty water and rats aren’t on our daily list of things to do, so no worries.

the usaid worker being shot in khartoum was an interesting story. the fact that he was shot and killed is very sad and alarming, too. but, the story itself was…interesting. when they first reported it they said “a u.s. embassy diplomat” was shot just after midnight on new year’s eve. that description implies “ambassador” or similar. wow, the ambassador was shot?! then the story evolved to be more accurate - usaid is housed within the u.s. embassy (it is in UG, too) and as someone working in foreign service he qualified as a diplomat. once i understood who they were talking about, it really hit home. i know all sorts of “diplomats” who work at usaid. if i’d been working in sudan rather than uganda, chances are good i could’ve known him.

the reporting was also interesting in its subtle commentary on foreign diplomatic relations. the emphasis was on the fact that an american usaid worker had been shot (initially he was alive, although in critical condition); it was only an afterthought that oh yeah, and his sudanese national driver - presumably also a usaid worker - was dead from gunshot wounds. the story made it to the foreign press because of the injured american, not the dead sudanese.

and now, the riots in kenya. if you’ve been reading/watching the world news at all lately, you’re aware of what’s going on next door. although there has supposedly never been a peaceful democratic transition of power from ruling party to opposition in africa’s history, this current civil and tribal unrest is unexpected and sudden. kenya’s not supposed to be in turmoil, that’s reserved for sudan, DRC, somalia…and in the past, rwanda, uganda. kenya’s the shining example of eastern africa. growing economy, stable government, world-class tourism. the transition from on-the-up to implosion happens so fast in africa. okay, i wouldn’t say kenya’s imploding yet, but it’s on its way there if things don’t take a turn for the better soon. the problem is when the rioting and fighting move from political anger to tribal rivalry and revenge. i don’t think i need to describe the possible ramifications of that (think rwanda, darfur).

we ran into a friend this morning at rwenzori coffee shop while having breakfast. she’s an american married to a kenyan. they were spending the new year in nairobi visiting family. she wasn’t concerned about the election results, until she was at the store buying diapers and felt a tangible panic among other shoppers. then she noticed there was no bread or eggs, and knew something was wrong. they holed up in their house from then until they could get out of the country. she never felt physically threatened, she just wanted to be out of the “boiling pot” per se.

we were actually in nairobi the night the election results were announced. okay, the nairobi airport, but phil is convinced that being in the airport counts as being in the country. anyway, we watched the results announcement and kibaki’s hurried swearing-in on the news. i didn’t think too much of it – yep, another african president being sworn in for another term. we landed at EBB at 11:15pm that night, then woke up the next morning to riots in the news. it happened so fast.

again, though, no need to worry about us. we are far removed from the action. some kenyans in western kenya – the location of a lot of the fighting – are seeking refuge across the border in eastern uganda, but that’s a 4-6 hour drive east of kampala. i was at the bank the other day and watched CNN coverage of the rioting. the ugandans at the bank watched intently just shaking their heads flummoxed by the events, and dismayed to see the situation getting out of control. i talked to our good friend, albert about it tonight. he was genuinely sad about what’s transpiring. ugandans are compassionate that way. when the mpls bridge collapsed, ugandan friends called me to say how sorry they were and to ask after my family. most of them only knew that a bridge collapsed in the u.s., they had no idea how close to home it really was…

museveni (affectionately known as M7), uganda’s president, is being criticized in uganda newspapers for being the only african president to publicly support kibaki’s re-election. i suppose he’s not one to criticize considering he himself was re-elected under questionable circumstances. he ran for presidency under the campaign that he would serve for the allowed two terms, then step down in favor of growth and change. but, when his two terms were up, what did he do? he rewrote (maybe, just amended, i’m not sure) the constitution to allow a third term. his third term started march, 2006. he’ll be up for re-election in 2011; people are already campaigning for his fourth term. by the time he was re-elected in 2006, he’d been in power for 20 years. how’s that for growth and change?

personally, the only way we’ve been directly affected by kenya’s riots is the fuel shortages. as a landlocked country, uganda really suffers when there are issues in our coastal suppliers. tanker trucks couldn’t make it across kenya from mombasa, so uganda ran out of petrol. the little that was around was going for as much as $22.50 per gallon. our same friend at the coffee shop, her husband just filled up his tank for $300. gah. people lined up for hours to get a chance to fill their jerrycans (phil’s got good pictures here and here). lucky for us we have a diesel truck and we had a ¾ tank when the shortage hit. supposedly, the government gave a green light for 30 tankers to cross the border and we’ll have petrol soon. good signs are ahead: the fuel station – the one shown in phil’s photos – was looking normal this morning.

if you’re a dedicated reader of the blog, then you’ll recall that a similar fuel shortage happened less than a year ago. then it was cross-border disagreements about the pipelines, an issue resolved amongst ourselves. this one is requiring diplomatic intervention from the international community, and if not resolved soon could continue to put a strain on uganda. i heard on BBC that WFP (UN’s world food program) is finally able to get its trucks through with relief food going to the refugees and internally displaced people living in the north and west of uganda. i’m not saying the WFP is a good thing (i have lots of opinions on food relief programs), but it’s good to know the transport of goods (food, fuel, etc) is progressing.

the title of this post is stolen from a book of the same name. (annbarry, thanks again for the wedding present!) africa has a lot of positives; we live in a very beautiful, safe city; we’ve traveled a lot in east africa and never felt to be in an unsafe situation. unfortunately, the news about africa that hits the global airwaves tends to be only the bad stuff. of course, none of it is false, but it is misleading. when you only hear the bad, you forget (or don’t even know) that the good exists. it’s not all gloom and doom here; africa is not the dark continent. it’s also important to remember that we don’t live in africa the country we live in africa the continent, and africa is a huge continent. the economic crisis in zimbabwe – they just issued a Z$750,000 note worth pennies – doesn’t affect us in uganda anymore than it affects indonesia. both darfur and somalia are a multi-hour plane flight away. even northern uganda - site of internal conflict in uganda for 20+ years - is an 8-hour drive from kampala. the riots and unrest in kenya is on our radar not because of a threat to us, but because of its effect on the region and the disappointment in seeing a progressing country and its people suffer.

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    • 1 Katie Sasser // Apr 15, 2008 at 7:02 pm

      Thank you so much the update. Of course the articale I just read is from Jan. We are palnning on moving to Uganda in Jan 09. We are working with a nonprofit called Global Support Mission. Reading your comment on relief org I would have to say you would probably love this org. You should check it I think I am going to send this bog to my mother because sheis always freaking out by what she hears on the news and is worried about us. We are moving to a village called kaihura. We will be working along side a org called Bringing Hope to the Family. Thanks for news again

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