Wednesday July 22, 2009
I set my alarm for 7.30am and it goes off. I slowly stretch and get out of the bed. Again, I stick out my head, waiting for signs of migraine, but none is visible. This Tusker Lager thing seems harmless. After the bath I dash for breakfast and I am seated, waiting for our last presenter, Enoch-Ebeh, the Cameroonian country representative of AFSC in Burundi. He is a nice guy who has bailed me out. Realising how I was freezing during yesterday’s morning session, he offers me his jacket. We board the lift only to realise that he’s the guy in 305, the room next to mine.
His paper focuses on media as an instrument of peace building in Africa, asking what needs to be done differently. The greater debate is centered on how the media can be used as an early warning mechanism in the face of conflict. The big question is whether in attempting to pass a warning, media won’t be seen as actually instigating chaos or worse still being rubbished as trumpeters of doom where there is none. That is exactly what some of our Kenyan colleagues told us; reports of machetes being bought in large numbers were ignored, until the bloodshed began.
As the discussion draws to a close, we form a team to draw up a communiqué to be presented to the Information minister who will be chief guest at our dinner tonight. This document will also serve as our agenda going forwards. I am chosen a member and our facilitator, Rosemary Okello, chairs the discussion. We, in summary, agree that the media has not performed its peace-pushing duties to the maximum and we can do more. We also agree to form a forum that will unite journalists in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region in this cause; we call this the AMANI Media Forum. Amani is Kiswahili for peace. We zero on BBC Somali correspondent Daud Aweis as the chair and Kenya’s Jane Godia as secretary. I am picked to be Uganda country representative, basically tasked with setting up a chapter in Uganda.
The organisers give us some two hours to go to town and be back in time for the dinner. My bubbly friend Bob Wekesa, the president of the Kenya Journalists Association, opts that we go to the nearby Sagret Bar. Here we meet Karanja, one of the guys who has been translating during the workshop. I again settle for my Tusker Lager, Bob takes White Cap as Karanja orders for a concoction of spirits. We discuss the post-Moi Kenya and whether it is true the Kibaki regime has failed. One thing they agree on is that Kenya is freer and more democratic. Wekesa observes that never before have Kenyans enjoyed such freedom like they do now. They of course ask me for my take on the Museveni regime and I tell them it is a mixed set of fortunes; on one side appearing free but on closer examination having all signs of a dictatorship and obviously stinking corruption.
We are back in time for the dinner and like I feared, the information minister (Poghisio) doesn’t turn up. In his place is his deputy, Rtd. Maj. Godana. A young-looking fellow who tells us about his conflict experiences in Somalia and Yugoslavia. He reminds us about the role of responsible media and hands over certificates.
We are done and I opt to go sleep. I have to get up at 5.30am since the cab will be here at 6am. And our flight is scheduled for 8am.
Thursday July 23, 2009
I am up by 5pm. At 6am, the call from reception comes through. The cab is here. I find Hellen waiting for me at reception. Faesal is back to pick me, but his cab breaks down. He immediately calls back up and we have an elderly gentleman pick us. Along the way, he tells us a now familiar Kenyan story. His children studied in Uganda for their A’ levels at the St. Lawrence Schools. Because of the higher rates charged on East African students at Makerere, he opts they join Kenyatta University. But for the last three months his sons have been at home after the university was closed following a violent strike.
“That is the problem with Kenyan universities. Our children never finish courses in the stipulated time,” he laments. “I am sure instead of the three years; my son will finish eight years at university. I wish I had paid the high fees at Makerere and he finished in time.”
We are silent, since Hellen and I seem not to know how to respond. We are soon at the imposing Jomo Kenyatta airport and its check-in. The process is fast. I pass the duty-free to see if I can get a copy of President Paul Kagame’s recent biography, A Thousand Hills. I am told it has run out of stock, the same response I got in Entebbe. In fact I am told the publisher has run out of copies.
As we wait to board, I meet senior editor Odobo Bichachi of the Independent magazine. He is en-route from Sudan, Khartoum. Shortly, we are joined by Apollo Buregyeya, my former Mitchell Hall chairman at Makerere, who now lectures at the technology faculty at the same university. He is from Cairo, where he’s been doing some research. We are soon engrossed in the debate on race. These two guys tell me that racism is worse in the Arab world than it is in the West. Apollo tells us that the Arab lady who cleans his hotel room in Cairo, looks down upon him because he’s black. I find that hard to fathom but Bichachi re-emphasizes the point. He talks of how Arabs look at Black Africans as lesser beings; we discuss the Gadaffi turn-around to Africa after being snubbed by the Arab world and his crocodile attachment to black Africa.
We then board, the JKIA skyline is littered with Kenya Airways planes, once again making me shudder at the thought of Entebbe’s sight—50 minutes later. Again Capt. Corros pilots us, this time it is KQ411 flight. My seat 6F is next to the window and I am glued to the clouds. The guy next to me is in a striped suit, reading the UK’s Daily Telegraph. He holds a Kenyan passport; he could be one of the young budding entrepreneurs, running around the globe cutting and selling deals. Next to him is a lady, whom I can’t exactly place either in the upper youth bracket or late teens. She ignores calls for electronic gadgets to be switched off and continues listening to music from her i-Pod as the plane ascends.
Close to 10am, we land at Entebbe, Esu, this good driver, welcomes me and I hit the asphalt, dreamily, to Kampala.