Footnotes from the British Underground

This blog began as venue for my stories as I traveled in Africa. 18 months later, I return to it as I travel to study as a Marshall Scholar in the United Kingdom. My hope is that this blog can be a conduit for you - my family, friends and secret/strange admirers - to track my movements, see a photo or two and get a glimpse of my days in the UK. Apologies once again to Dostoevsky for the blog's name...

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Location: Bradford, United Kingdom

After graduating from Notre Dame, I'm off to England for graduate study. I'll be studying for a M.A. in International Politics and Security Studies. When not studying, I'm continuing to coordinate Uganda-CAN's efforts to end the 20-year war in northern Uganda!

19.2.05

Ending Week 3 - Small Victories and Constitutional Crisis

And so week three in Kampala draws to a close for this traveler-dreamer. In the classroom, I have been learning a great deal on the macro-level about Uganda - the education system, its constitution of 1995, the tension of federalism between a national government and more than 50 ethnic kingdoms, the healthcare challenges, development theories (modernization, dependency and now-popular neo-liberalism), the history of colonialism and more. Outside of the classroom, things have been on a much more micro level, and it really is these "small" moments and experiences that I will take away much more than any grand political or economic analysis. This week, there have been small victories - learning to enoy the pit latrine, taking an effective bath using just my hands and a bucket of water, getting better at handwashing my clothes, knowing the insane taxi system, actually looking forward to a dinner of matokye and beating my brothers in endless card games of Go-Fish when the power goes out. That is not to say these days are easy, for they are mentally exhausting, but to say that I am finding my place here in Uganda. At least sorta. I have a tendency to always "think big" (or as Jess tells me - I'm a macro person), so it is good to be present to these "little" moments and activities that are powerful learning experiences in themselves.

While my hands and back would beg to differ, I am really learning a lot from washing my own clothes. I am learning how disconnected I can be at home from basic things in life - food, clothing, shelter, electricity - things that we take for granted all the time. We eat, wash and do so many basic things without realizing the very intense processes and energy that provide these things for us. Here, without the luxuries of packaged foods, washing machines and showers, the Ugandan people have to put much more energy and time into these basic activities. Yet, there is something very humane and rewarding about seeing where things come from and not being "disconnected" from these basic necessities. In many parts of the world, people believe that food should be eaten with hands to savor and enjoy it more. I thought this was foolish when I first heard it, but I am now starting to believe there might be a truth there. Those of us who are from the privileged classes of the "developed" world can learn a lot from being more conscious of the very simple things that make up our lives.

Returning to the macro level, there is a raging debate here (called the kisanja debate) over a governmental White Paper that seeks to make certain constitutional changes, including allowing for presidents to serve more than two terms. President Youweri Museveni, president for 19 years now (two official terms after the 1995 constitution) is pushing for the "third term" change to happen. Yet, many are avidly against this because they believe such a change will hinder democracy and rule of law in a polity that is already deteriorating due to corruption and lack of transparency. Since the 1995 constitution, Uganda has yet to have a "transitional" moment with a peaceful change of power. Parliament is currently debating this White Paper, yet there are many pressures from the Executive Office for it to pass. As part of my research, I will be exploring this issue, so I will write about it more in depth soon. However, I wanted to note it here because it is the dominant issue in Ugandan news. It is also connected to the Northern conflict because Museveni seems to suggest that he is the only president that can bring peace to the north (that is certainly debatable given his failure over 19 years). Yet, others see his presidency as contributing to an ethnic divide that fuels the conflict. So, there is a long history and many intricacies here, but it seems to me that a Museveni third term would be a major defeat for constitutionalism, democracy and political development in Uganda. So, more to come on it.

Well, our group heads for Kigali, Rwanda tomorrow. I am sure I will have lots of reflections when I return from a week in Rwanda and western Uganda. Weraba!

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