Sunday, May 2, 2010

An Upset Member of Parliament, Thugs, and the Nightly News

As you may or may not know, I am currently engaged in conducting workshops throughout the county (of Ugandan). In these workshops we present our assessment of each constituency's Member of Parliament (MP). Needles to say, if the MP performed well, he/she is very welcoming of us and our workshop, but if the MP performed poorly he/she is usually quite hostile. One MP took it to a new level.

Honorable Isaac Musumba was furious when my colleague Gerald called to invite him to our workshop in his constituency in which we would discuss his performance with the voters (he received two D's for his grades). He yelled and screamed and said we aren't allowed to do that. He said that since he is a Minister of State he can get the police to stop us! Gerald went ahead and continued with the workshop as planned. When Gerald and his team arrived (I was not there because I was with the other team at a different workshop) to meet with the local leaders on the morning of the workshop, the local leaders kept getting phone calls to which the would respond "Yes, he is here now." and "Yes, I am meeting with him now." Then a bunch of drunken men showed up and started trying to stop the workshop. Nothing got violent but it got really intense. Gerald tried to call the police but they would not come because they were afraid of the MP. So, the called off the workshop.

The people were furious and said that we must come back because the MP cannot do that, he doesn't own the constituency!

We always take a guy with us to every workshop who films the workshop so that we can show our donors that we are conducting workshops. So, our guy filmed the confrontation between the thugs and the local leaders and AFLI (my organization) staff. And Gerald took this to a national news station: NTV. NTV aired a report on the Saturday night news.

In the NTV report, they showed the confrontation footage and an interview with Gerald. They also interviewed Honorable Musumba. Musumba sounded like a complete idiot! In the interview he was screaming and shouting and saying the we had no right to conduct a workshop, that we must clear it with him because it is "my constituency, mine, mine, my constituency!". Of course we don't have to clear anything with him. Musumba was basically saying that "If anyone wants to have any public meeting in my constituency, then they must first ask me because I am in control!" That would be like a US Representative (from the US House) saying that if anyone wants to have a public meeting in his/her district, they must first clear it with him or her; ridiculous!

We are planning to go back and have a workshop in his constituency! We will not be intimidated!

Things like this remind me once again that democracy is still very new here and that a free and open society is still something that Uganda must work for and that one obstacle to a free and open Ugandan society is Uganda's leaders!

$0.20 vrs Theft

I love living in Kampala, but sometimes it is really frustrating, and sometimes you lose your cool and just punch somebody . . .

So, the other day, my friend Phoebe and I were going to meet some friends for lunch. We left the office for a place called Kisementi. We decided we would take a Matatu (the mini-bus taxis) there. Now, I have taken this route many times. In fact, I living in Kisementi for my first 3 weeks in Kampala and took that exact taxi route everyday to the office (and many times since) and I KNOW that the price is 300 shilllings ($0.15). So, we are getting off at our stop and I hand the conductor 600 shillings to pay for both of us (the conductor is the guy that shouts out the window so people know where the taxi is going and the one you pay). We begin to walk away, and the conductor follows us and says "No! Muzungu (white person), you pay 500 ($0.25) for each!" I then said that we paid the right price. He kept demanding more money, so I explained that we take this route all the time and we know the price. He kept pressing . . .

A little more background: Matatu conductors are always ripping everyone off, even Ugandans, but muzungus are particularly easy to rip off because they usually don't know the prices. However, I have lived here for 10 months now and I know the prices. So whenever you get on a taxi you know you are going to have a bit of hassle when you pay but usually they stop at some point because they realize you know the right price.

. . . back to the story . . .

When the conductor realizes that I am not going to pay more than 600 shillings, he reaches over and grabs the envelope of pictures that Phoebe is holding, and then runs back into the matatu. I was like "Hell no!" and followed him and got up in his face and asked for the pictures, he demanded money. I said I wouldn't pay and demanded the pictures. He wouldn't give them so I grabbed for them and he wouldn't let go. By this time I was fed up with dealing with this guy and my rage got the better of me . . . I then smacked the guy upside the head and pushed his head away and down into his lap which made him loosen his grip on the pictures and I took them form him. it then registered in my mind what I had just done: these matatu conductors are usually pretty rough/tough guys and this particular one had a tattoo on his face, so I thought "Holy crap, I am going to get my ass kicked!". So then I instinctively ran, but then stopped and turned around and saw that he had just come out of the taxi after me but had stopped. I yelled "Don't rip me off! Phoebe lets go!" And we left :)

Now, the good things about this is that there was no way he would have fought back because he knew he was in the wrong and people know that conductors rip people off because they have all been ripped off by them, so people would have come to my aid even if he did decide to fight me. Also, mod justice is pretty much the norm here, and he was in the wrong so once again people would have come after him if he came after me.

The most awesome part though was the 2 guys chilling on the street who were dying laughing as they watched this scene unfold. It must have been pretty hilarious!

Now at lunch, I told my friends this story and Phil said "So, you punched a guy for $0.20?", then Avner responds "No, he punched a guy because he stole." I subscribe to the latter explanation :)

It began with me defended the principle of equal pay regardless of race or nationality and the principle of I-hate-getting-ripped-off! Then I was pushed over the edge by his attitude and theft!

Conclusion = Adam needs to calm down! I have been a bit high strung lately and am in need of a vacation. Good thing I am heading to Zanzibar this week for a 10 day vacation.