Saturday, October 2, 2010

Lake Bunyonyi: As spectacular as it is deserted

Recently returned from Lake Bunyonyi in southwestern Uganda. (Click here for photo album). I wasn't surprised at its beauty, but I was surprised at how isloated and deserted it seemed. A lake this beautiful anywhere in America would be swarming with vacationers.

On Independence Day, Assassinated Goats, Religion, and Potholes

From the Parkville Luminary

Time to tie up some loose ends, clean out the attic, and, apparently, trot out the clichés as we open up the “I want to mention it but it’s not enough for a full, long column” file.

UGANDAN INDEPENDENCE DAY—Ugandans are celebrating the country’s 48th birthday on Oct. 9 with the usual speeches, parties, and so on. Not to rain on their parade (another cliché!), but given Uganda’s intractable problems, there must be many mixed feelings this Independence Day. Life expectancy here is 53 years, and the fertility rate (7 children per woman) is the world’s second highest. (CIA World Factbook). Corruption is rampant, and the health and education systems are crippled. Uganda is in the cross hairs of Somali terrorists, who killed 80 in July bombings in Kampala. Despite the misery, I believe Uganda has a world of potential, beginning with a cadre of educated, motivated young people. Maybe this potential is reason enough to celebrate on October 9th.

PEACE JOURNALISM SEMINARS BY THE NUMBERS—Through Oct. 8, I have taught nine peace and electoral journalism seminars in Uganda. So far, 150 radio journalists and announcers and 22 radio owners/managers have been trained on how to report in a way that discourages violence and encourages reconciliation and cooperation. We have traveled 2,455 miles going to and from these first nine seminars.

BLOGGING BY THE NUMBERS—One of the most interesting facets of my tour in Uganda has been working on and monitoring this blog about my experiences. What’s most fascinating is who is reading the blog (822 total last month). More than half of you are from the U.S. and Uganda. However, the rest live in (in order) Russia, the Netherlands, Finland, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Australia, Switzerland, and Spain. Why would a Finn or Saudi or Korean visit my site? How did they even find this blog? (If you're from one of these countries, please email me and share how you discovered this site). Maybe this modest blog is just further evidence that the Internet is bringing the world together in ways that we could never anticipate—like Thomas Friedman’s flat world.

GOAT ASSASSINATION—Police in Kabale, Uganda recently arrested a man who allegedly killed his neighbor’s goat. The reason for the goat-icide? His neighbor defeated the suspect’s wife in a political party primary. (Daily Monitor, Oct. 1). I’m recommending a Warren Commission-style investigation. I doubt there’s any video of the assassination, which is too baaaaad. (Sorry--I couldn't resist).

RELIGION IN U.S. AND UGANDA—The most fascinating news story of the last two weeks was undoubtedly the Pew survey that showed how ignorant many Americans are about religion. An interesting tidbit coming out of the survey was the fact that atheists and agnostics scored the highest on the survey of religious knowledge. You have to admire this gloating, inflammatory quote from an atheist leader about the survey. “I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people,” said Dan Silverman, president of American Atheists. “Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.” (NY Times, Sept. 28) Talk about throwing a buzzing hornet’s nest into a crowded church!

Here in Uganda, I haven’t been able to find the results of any survey on religious knowledge, but I’d bet that there are similar gaps. Uganda is a deeply religious country. Only 1% of Ugandans (according to the 2002 census) answered “none” when asked to name their religion. I have yet to meet a Ugandan atheist or agnostic, or at least someone who would admit it. 85% of Ugandans identify themselves as Christians, while 12% are Muslims. In a 2002 Pew survey, 85% of Ugandans said that religion plays a very important role in their lives, about the same number as in Kenya and South Africa.

UGANDAN JOKE—First, the set up: Kampala’s roads are awful, and filled with wide, deep potholes (craters?). Unless you want to destroy your car, you have to constantly zigzag around these obstacles. Observing the traffic weave all around the road is like watching a slalom race in skiing. Now, the joke--Q: How can you tell if a Kampala driver is drunk? A: If he is driving in a straight line.


  1. Hi Steven,

    Just happened to chance upon your very interesting blog.

    I am a native Ugandan and I'm an atheist. There are actually quite a number of us. However, as you noted, the overwhelming majority of Ugandans are indeed religious.

    I happen to also be a member of a local freethought group here in Kampala, and we are actually quite active:

    I just thought you might be interested to know.

    Cheers, and enjoy your stay in Uganda!

    James Onen

    (P.S. I agree with you about the potholes! Urrrgggh!!!)

  2. James--

    Thanks for the fascinating comment. I never knew there was a freethought group here! I'd be very interested in attending one of your meetings...Please let me know when/where. My email is:
    Thanks, Steven