One should never judge a book by its cover, but I chose to read V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River because I liked the photograph on the front of the man wearing a mask. I’ve always been interested in masks. Over the years I’ve collected quite a few and my favorites are the ones that I’ve bargained for on the street. The best one I have is an ancient looking piece carved out of the side of a tree trunk and painted with thick red and black stripes. I bought it from a man in Gisenyi, Rwanda. After a crude exchange of French I got the mask (and three hand rolled cigars thrown in) for $5. He pointed across the lake towards Bukavu, DRC and told me that it came from a spot of bush on the horizon. In A Bend in the River, masks symbolize the post-colonial tension between foreigners and Africans. Who controls the path of the continent? Is it determined by Africans acting under the mask of Europeanism? Or is it the Europeans who continue to lead under a mask of Africanism? What is the true face of African development? Characters like Father Huismans, Raymond, Ferdinand, and Salim add insight to these questions. Continue reading
Searching for Sustainability
Uganda, an East African country about the size of Oregon, has often been referred to as the poster child of Sub-Saharan development, but lately this title has been questioned. In the 1980s, its charismatic president, Yoweri Museveni, led the country out of civil war and created reforms that reduced poverty and disease. However, the leader has been in power for over 25 years and his rule has become increasingly authoritarian. Over the last decade, Uganda’s government has run off of a patronage scheme funded by foreign aid, but rising corruption has made donors withdraw. Museveni now looks for revenue in the early stages of a local oil industry and in partnering with the United States military in the war against terror. This may bring economic prosperity and security to the country, but how the Ugandan people will benefit must be critically examined. For quality of life in Uganda to improve, the current aid flows must be frankly assessed and a grassroots approach must be implemented.
A Success Story
At face value, Uganda is a success story of how, with the help of foreign assistance, a country can rise from the shambles of conflict and disease to develop into a modern state. Thirty years of brutal dictatorship and civil war followed after Uganda’s independence from Great Britain in 1961. On its heels came an HIV/AIDS epidemic and twenty more years of guerilla attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army. However, Uganda’s charismatic president Yoweri Museveni has done much to achieve stability in the tiny East African country. After leading his National Resistance Army and Movement to victory against Milton Obote in 1986, Museveni called for an end to tribalism and for the promotion of democracy (Mwenda, 2007). He embraced the structural adjustment programs of the World Bank and the IMF and quickly became the darling of the international community who guided him towards holding regular multi-party elections (IMF & IDA, 2010; Joseph, 1999). Museveni’s aggressive campaign against HIV/AIDS led to a 10% drop in the infection rate (AVERT, 2011). In 2009, his soldiers chased Joseph Kony’s LRA out of Uganda and refugees have begun to return to their homes in the North. An estimated 2.5 billion barrels of oil have been discovered in western Uganda that could further infuse revenue into the economy (Moro, 2011). The numbers certainly indicate that there has been progress. Uganda’s poverty rate dropped from 56% in 1993 to 25% in 2010, surpassing the Mlllenium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015. It has also moved forward in reducing food insecurity, providing universal primary education, and gender parity (World Bank, 2011).
Neopatrimonialism and Dominant Party Stability:
The 2011 Ugandan Elections
A video recently uploaded to youtube features the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, at a conference podium addressing an audience.
“I can even give you some rap myself nowadays,” Museveni says (DjDinTV, 2010). A samba-esque organ note cuts through xylophone beats and the president starts rapping, in Runyankole, the verses to a folk story that describes the methods for obtaining development.
The stick I cut strayed into Igara where Ntambiko reigns. Ntambiko gave me a knife which I gave to millet harvesters, who gave me millet, that I gave to a hen, which gave me an egg, that I gave to children who gave me a monkey that I gave to the king, who gave me a cow that I used to marry my wife. (DjDinTV)
Museveni is not really rapping the parable but the video is edited to look that way. The music has been added and cuts have been spliced into the film that makes the president look like he’s bobbing to the beat. As Museveni’s song progresses, the bartering sequence becomes rather unfair. A whole monkey is traded by the children to the narrator in return for one single egg. The president goes on to admit that he doesn’t really understand Uganda’s youth demographic.
“Today these young people have taught me about this rap,” Museveni says in between verses. “I was not following what they were saying.”
The chorus of the song is a jingly line edited over and over so that it takes on the tone of a broken record.
“You want another rap?” (x 4) the president asks. The video is cut in a way that Museveni says the line while repeatedly wiping his nose on the sleeve of his jacket.
“Yee sebbo!” The crowd cheers back in a call and response.
In earlier versions of the music video images of the distraught looking presidential opponent Kizza Besigye were intercut during the chorus between graphics reading. “Nedda Ssebo.” However in the official version, the song changes its tune. One reason might be the 2011 Ugandan elections. You Want Another Rap has become the official song for Museveni’s campaign against Besigye.
Most observers, domestically and internationally, believe that Yoweri Museveni will win the 2011 election. Museveni has remained the incumbent for the last three elections, amending the Ugandan constitution to ban term limits in the process. He has ruled the country for 24 years and has no intention of stepping down. The president has brought stability, development, and foreign investment to a small East African country plagued by years of ethnic violence and political turmoil since its 1962 independence from Great Britain. However, this has been at the expense of limited public participation in the creation and shaping of the government.
Will Museveni actually win the 2011 election? Understanding how he has obtained and sustained power can help to answer that question. Museveni transitioned from a guerilla rebel to a foreign donor favorite through electoral engineering. Despite the promotion of multiparty democracy, the president has remained classically neopatrimonial through a patronage scheme that puts foreign aid into the hands of Uganda’s elites. Weak opposition and dominant party stability has kept Museveni strong over the years. However, there are cracks in the system. The effects of corruption has created vulnerability in the regime and soured relations between international donors, ethnic groups and the youth population.
Rise of the Military Elite
Yoweri Museveni came to power in 1986 as the victor of a guerilla war that took place in the Luwero Triangle of Uganda.. The conflict started when Museveni claimed that the previous president, Milton Obote of the Uganda People’s Congress party, had rigged the 1980 election (Ngoga, 1997). While out in the bush, Museveni and his fellow soldiers drafted a 10 Point plan to serve as the governing rules of the new Uganda. These stressed a state governed by a democracy impartial to ethnicity (Museveni, 2000). Future Ugandan politics were intended to be based on what Benjamin Reilly has called a centripetal system that is focus competition at the moderate centre as a way to deal with tribal cleavages.
The most common approach to the engineering of parties and party systems in conflict-prone societies is to introduce regulations which govern their formation, registration, and behaviour. Such regulations may ban ethnic parties outright; make it difficult for small or regionally-based parties to be registered; or require parties to demonstrate a cross-regional or cross-ethnic composition as a pre-condition for competing in elections. (Reilly, 2006)
Museveni came to power on the No-Party (or single party) ticket. Prior to this, politics in Uganda featured a complex inter-weaving of ethnic and party politics, with parties mobilizing votes on the basis of ethnicity, region, and religion. The instability that this created was widely seen as having led to the Idi Amin dictatorship in the 1970s (Reilly, 2006). Amin was an example of a personal dictator. His power was so concentrated that it became synonymous with the personal fate of the supreme leader (Bratton & Van de Walle, 1994). This created a neopatrimonial regime along ethnic cleavages that Amin would have ruled indefinitely if the Tanzanians hadn’t exiled him from his country in 1979. Museveni stressed the need for democracy when he became president in1986, but Uganda’s past haunted the structure of its politics. “Institutional characteristics of preexisting political regimes impart structure to the dynamics, and to a lesser extent the outcomes, of political transitions. Regime type provides the context in which contingent factors play themselves out” (Bratton & Van de Wall, 1994).
Despite their wishes to create a democracy, Museveni’s National Resistance Movement was a military oligarchy that come to power by force and thus undermined its legitimacy to democratically govern. Power shifted hands between the factions of Ugandan elites, but the underlining character of authoritarianism remained (Bratton & Van de Wall, 1994).
Yet Museveni stabilized the country and economic development quickly began to grow with help from the international community. Uganda had enthusiastically embraced foreign development through structural adjustment programs that opened up a symbiotic relationship of trade, aid, and strategy with the West. Foreign interests expressed enthusiasm for Uganda (Joseph, 1999), but claimed that its single party politics was not a real democracy. Museveni responded with reservations, fearing other parties would reopen scars of tribal conflict. However, “elections are, and meant to be, polarizing; they seek to highlight social choice” (Reynolds & Sisk, 1998 cited in Reilly & Reynolds, 2000). The international community urged Museveni to allow multiparty candidates into the next presidential election. Museveni hesitantly agreed.
Museveni’s worries were understandable. In the early nineties multiparty democracy led to violence along tribal cleavages amongst Uganda’s neighbors. When foreign donors withdrew $1 billion in foreign aid to make Daniel arap Moi agree to hold multiparty elections in Kenya, tribal violence erupted at the polls (Roessler, 2005). Likewise, calls for Rwanda to adopt democratic politics catalyzed the country’s genocide by creating a growing distrust amongst the ruling Hutus that eventually led to the deterioration of ethnic relations. However, in that case, foreign aid actually increased as Habyarimana’s paranoid grew. “In Rwanda the donor community played right into the hands of Habyarimana’s regime; the Rwandan government secured an increase in foreign assistance in the early 1990s as the donors feared that the ethnic violence might spill out of control and destabilize the region” (Roessler, 2005).
While donors have influenced East African politics in the past, they didn’t intervene much after Museveni allowed other candidates to run against him during the No Party elections of 1996. Afterwards, he retained his incumbency. No one contested that the President was reelected after serving ten consecutive years in office. Nor did anyone remember that when Museveni ushered in the new African guard in 1986 he declared that the “problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power.” (Tangri & Mwenda, 2010).
In 2005 Museveni agreed to the introduction of multiparty politics, but he managed to amend the constitution to allow presidents to stand for a third elected term. According to Roger Tangri and Andrew Mwenda, he sacked those in government who opposed the change and used political manipulation, bribery, and patronage to push the amendment through parliament in 2006. In the election that year Museveni, who was backed by state military and security services, defeated the rival candidate Kizza Besigye (Tangri & Mwenda, 2010).
Besigye cried foul on the grounds of vote rigging and took the matter to the Supreme Court. The Court agreed with Besigye that there was in fact tampering, but judged that it did not effect the overall results or validity of the election. Allegedly, top political leaders told judges that if they didn’t recognize the election results a military takeover would occur (Tangri & Mwenda, 2010). As the 2011 election approaches, Museveni is preparing to run again. He has used his military and executive power to stay in control for 24 years.
Despite, Museveni’s promises of term limits and the development of a parliamentary democracy, he is convinced that he cannot step down from his presidency. Like many African states, neopatrimonialism is a strong influence on Ugandan politics. In general, African political regimes are distinctly noncorporatist and “reflect their own peculiar histories, which even during the postcolonial period, may encompass shifts from one regime variant to another” (Bratton & Van de Walle, 1994).
In Western-styled democracy leaders of the United States are elected by individuals to serve as representatives of a federal nation. Museveni has always maintained, especially through his No-Party campaigns, that Uganda is a unified country. This is hardly the case. British colonialists arbitrarily carved up the country’s borders in the 1800s and today a population of eleven major tribes who speak 45 identifiable languages occupy a small swath of land the size of the state of Oregon (Lewis, 2009; CIA, 2010). Traditional African law is pluralistic in nature and during elections communities will tend to vote for a leader that will help their specific locale rather than promote the ideals of the overall nation (Hyden, 1999).
To reduce the potential for ethnic tension, Museveni claims to have subscribed to the centripetal democracy that keeps politics at the center (Reilly, 2006). However, this strategy has never been fully realized in practice. Ugandans have never really chosen their president because he came to power as a military oligarch. Despite the population’s particular tribal allegiances, they have no choice but to back the current Museveni. The traditional, pluralist tendencies are still present, but the president has become the sole patron who decides which communities get resources. Therefore, it is in every local community’s interest to join the NRM.
Museveni, like Amin, has become synonymous with Ugandan power. The identity politics that he embodies does not give him many incentives to step down. Museveni believes that his leadership was detrimental in bringing order and stability to Uganda and that only he possesses the guiding vision for the country’s continued growth. Personally, he has amassed great wealth and power in a region of Sub-Sahara Africa where resources are scarce. Finally he believes that his safety is at risk. If he were to relieve power, he would have to go into exile because he’d be vulnerable to the opponents that he has repressed over the last quarter century (Mwenda, 2007).
Museveni came to power through control of the military, but holds a grip on society through his patronage. For this to be sustained resources are needed. Museveni actively participates in development reform through foreign partnerships with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Western governments. They showcase Uganda as one of Africa’s most successful economic reformers. Mwenda believes that their funding just reinforces an authoritarian regime.
The worst obstacle to democratic development in Uganda has been the personalization of the state. Arms and money are essential to this malign process. The arms belong to the military and security services, which the regime deploys selectively in order to suppress dissent. The money sluices through a massive patronage machine that Museveni uses to recruit support, reward loyalty, and buy off actual and potential opponents. (Mwenda, 2007)
Museveni cooperates with the policies of Western interests and the donor community continues to give, focusing on his achievements rather than blemishes. The only time there has been a real cry of concern was when international institutions and governments called for Uganda’s transition from single-party to multiparty government shortly before the 2006 elections (Tangri & Mwenda, 2010). Foreign interests must have approved the legitimacy of the change because in 2007 Uganda was invited to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) presided over by Queen Elizabeth II.
Thus, Museveni has the resources of the industrial world at his disposal without much accountability to his own patrons from the West. When he makes a suggestion he is usually met with a consensus of agreement. As Uganda’s structural adjustment programs were being assessed, Museveni argued that the existing civil service was inept in moving development forward (Mwenda, 2007). The international community agreed. To reform this Museveni set up a semi-autonomous body called the Ugandan Revenue Authority. By 2003, donor support created 95 government agencies whose budget allocations grew 30 percent every year (Mwenda, 2007). This changed the district and municipal landscape of Uganda. Local governments rely on 95 percent of their budgets from national ministries in Kampala, the capital, that in turn receive half of their own budgets from foreign aid. To tap into the system, local municipalities subdivided the 33 Ugandan districts that were in place in 1990 into 81 autonomous new ones by 2003 (Mwenda, 2007).
In theory, the creation of new autonomous districts could create a more representational allocation of foreign aid to a broader range of groups. Civil servants at the local level write proposals to be awarded by ministries at the national level. However, they are set up in Uganda so that “the project’s main benefits go to the staffers in the form of salaries, allowances, cars, travel, and per-diems” (Mwenda, 2007). Leaders occupy bureaucratic offices less to perform public service than to acquire personal wealth and status. To maximize their earnings, the bureaucracy of the government is increased. The remaining foreign aid flows at a tiny trickle by the time it is received by the intended recipients of social welfare programs. This rational actor approach fits Bratton’s and Van de Walle’s definition of patronage.
The essence of neoptrimonialism is the award by public officials of personal favors, both within the state (notably public sector jobs) and in society (for instance, licenses, contracts, and projects). In return for material rewards, clients mobilize political support and refer all decisions upward as a mark of deference to patrons. (Bratton and Van de Walle, 1994)
Foreign aid has allowed Museveni to integrate huge sections of the elite class into the government’s patronage network. This redirection of funds requires even more foreign aid to get the job done (Mwenda, 2007). While the elite class has benefited and grown from aid money, most of the population, notably the middle and lower, agrarian classes, have not. Unable to fight back, they choose to exit the system. The middle class has sought exile in other countries. The agrarian class has moved towards subsistence agriculture and trade within the informal economy (Mwenda, 2007).
Dominant Party Stability
In Uganda, the NRM has remained the dominant party for 24 years. Single party rule is common in developing countries when there is weak mobilization during an independence movement. One party rises and dominates power, but still keeps the formalities and symbols of a democratic regime (Barnes, 2010). Oppositions can’t mobilize because the elites have oriented themselves to the party in power to survive.
When there is an opposition it usually comes from a de-facto within the dominant party as in the case of Kizza Besigye. As Museveni’s personal physician, Besigye was very close to the leader during the bush war. In the regime’s early days Besigye was a key player, as the secretary of state, but by the 2001 elections, Besigye had left his government post to run as the only realistic candidate in opposition to Museveni’s No Party politics (Tangri & Mwenda, 2010). Despite calls of a rigged election Museveni held onto the incumbency and had Besigye arrested on charges of treason. Besigye was forced into exile abroad until he returned to Uganda in 2005 to run in the 2006 elections. He was once again detained on counts of treason and charged with rape, but the charges did not stick and Besigye was quickly released from prison. However, the military continued to file appeals against Besigye’s freedom (Tangri & Mwenda, 2010). Most recently, the state has dismissed all charges against Besigye as he runs yet again against Museveni in the 2011 elections (BBC, 2010).
It could be inferred that the Ugandan government wants to be seen favorably by foreign election observers, but this is probably not their most pressing concern. Over the years Museveni has realized that oppositions can’t override the hegemony of the dominant party. Even when they act out of frustration and take extreme measures like violence, these disruptions are superficial (Barnes, 2010). Stability remains because Museveni has chosen a centripetal system of governance that keeps him in the center.
“The strategy of the dominant party vis-a-vis other parties in the system thus has two principal goals; to keep the party near the center where the action is, and to mobilize and rebuff segments of the population selectively in relation to the needs and absorptive capacity of the party. In the development of this strategy the party benefits from its symbiotic relationship with the society in that its dominance insures it a major role in determining where the center is. Moreover, its orientation toward power encourages it to move with long term shifts in public opinion regardless of its ideology.” (Barnes, 2010)
Dominant parties are constricted in their maneuvering by their historical, ideological, and organizational obligations, but overall the system works well for Museveni because these limitations are flexible. “Like the signs that say ‘Police Lines. Do not cross,’ the boundaries may be moved by authorities,” says Samuel Barnes (2010). If Museveni is ever gets in a pinch he can always change the rules of the game so that the outcome is in his favor.
In light of the recent developments of Besigye’s dropped charges and his reemergence into the political arena, Museveni could care less. His party personally appoints the members of the electoral commission. Already, the opposition has called foul play, but because of their weak political standing, they are forced to comply with the national rules and regulations (Assimwe, 2010). Political moves like these by Museveni are visibly clumsy, yet the international donors and a surprising number of constituents that benefit from the NRM’s patronage still align themselves with Museveni. “Yes, he’s a dictator,” they commonly chuckle. “But Uganda’s had worst.”
Most of Museveni supporters sympathize with what Samuel Barnes calls an “old woman’s party” approach to domination in politics. Barnes claims that this is not a pejorative description, although he continues by saying old women “can be difficult, and at times, their attention can be stifling.” However, he goes on to describe more positive aspects. An elderly woman can also be characterized by her motherly concern and tender loving care. In the political realm, these traits are depicted by years of stability, experience, and wisdom (Barnes, 2010). Authoritarianism is not participatory, but it can offer a security that a weak and emerging multiparty democracy cannot.
Dominant Power Instability
Most of the literature agrees with Barnes that dominant parties like the NRM are ironclad and few foresee regime collapse. Mwenda’s analysis hints at a possibility, but he doesn’t believe it is a strong one. One obvious weakness in Museveni’s regime, however, is its dependence on foreign aid. Money that is earmarked for social welfare is redistributed to private elites who in turn reinforce a neopatrimonial machine. Over the last few years Uganda has become sloppy. Donors are aware of the levels of corruption “at the highest levels such as a government audit showing that some 60% of CHOGM expenditure could not be accounted for” (Tangri & Mwenda, 2010).
Foreign organizations have maintained a cordial relationship with Ugandan institutions for their own interests in the region, but some see their contributions as futile and are beginning to pull out. The Presidential Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program run by the American government has reduced funding this year for the distribution of ARV medication to Ugandan HIV/AIDS patients citing corruption as a major reason (McNeil, 2010, May 9). This will have a devastating effect on a huge population of mostly subsistence farmers who depend on the drugs to stay alive. This loss of foreign aid may not seem so detrimental in light of recent oil discoveries in the North. Museveni’s relatives have been using the state’s military to guard the exploratory area (Mugerwa, 2010, November 11), but petroleum has been known to be a resource curse in developing countries (Ross, 2003).
Also overlooked are ethnic dynamics. Museveni has been quite successful in trivializing the legacies of Obote’s and Amin’s tribal homes in the North first through the guerilla war of 1986 and then the ongoing campaign against the elusive Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) (Berhand, 1997). As he has stayed in power his alliance with the more formidable Baganda tribal majority in the South has also weakened. Museveni began his presidency on good terms with the ethnic group by reinstating the traditional, albeit mostly ceremonial, authority of the Baganda king the Kabaka.
Parliament and heads of state govern from Kampala, the center of the Baganda Kingdom. The Baganda play important roles within the government, but most of the top lieutenants and all of the military elite come from Museveni’s Runyankole homeland in the Southwest (Tangri & Mwenda, 2010). As the years have passed, there has been a falling out between the Kabaka and Museveni who have disputed over the ownership of Baganda tribal land (Tangri & Mwenda, 2010). Tensions reached their threshold in September 2009 when the Kabaka was blocked from attending a government sponsored national youth empowerment day in the newly formed Kayunga district on the border of the Baganda kingdom. This sparked riots between the Baganda and the military (BBC, 2009, September 10).
It’s no coincidence that violence erupted over an event that focused on youth. The country has the second highest population growth in the world and over 50% of Ugandans are under the age of 14 (CIA, 2010). Most aren’t old enough to remember a time when Museveni wasn’t in power and feel disenfranchised. Museveni has created reforms to provide universal primary and secondary education in the country, but the public money allocated has been diverted away from these social welfare programs and into the elite neopatrimonial network. The country’s youngest generations continue to grow up without options for gainful employment, income, or civic participation. The youth population has nothing to lose and little alternative but to resort to violence. Child soldiers have always been a staple in Uganda (Ngoga, 1997). The most recent example is the LRA’s recruitment of children from the marginalized populations of the Acholi in the North (Berhand, 1997). Whatever happens in the 2011 elections, the dominant party’s neopatrimonial structure can weather the storm, but the majority of Ugandans are disillusioned enough with the current leadership to put up a fight.
Museveni will stay put where he has remained for the last 24 years: stubbornly in power. “You don’t just tell the freedom fighter to go like you are chasing a chicken thief out of the house,” he has said (Tangri & Mwenda, 2010). Museveni reminds Ugandans that it was he who liberated them from the draconian regimes of previous leaders like Idi Amin and Milton Obote. In the unstable conditions of the time, power could only be obtained by brute force and it was Museveni’s military oligarchy that thought high enough of its subjects to initiate the social reforms that have brought relative stability to the country. The president believes that he has done Ugandans a favor by amending the constitution to extend his term limits. This is only one indication of an illegitimate regime robed in the façade of democracy. Museveni’s No Party elections are another. Ugandans have had no real choice but to vote for him. As time has past, multiparty elections have been introduced, but only to please international observers, and not in the interest of domestic politics.
Even as he symbolized hope for a democratic Uganda, Museveni has relied on the neopatrimonial system that has characterized most post-colonial African rulers. He has personalized his power and created a machine that increases the bureaucracy of the government to divert funds from international aid into the coffers of his elite supporters. The international community for the most part looks the other way because Museveni entertains the economic and political interests of soft imperialism. The money intended to jump start social welfare programs and alleviate poverty gets eaten up as it trickles down from Kampala. Public goods are not distributed equally and most Ugandans are still stuck in subsistence agriculture. In many parts of the country, Ugandan democracy is indistinguishable from feudalism.
This disempowerment of the masses impedes them from mobilizing against the president. They don’t have the resources to organize themselves efficiently. Museveni has also been wise in keeping his politics moderate. The elites who have the opportunity to overthrow him don’t have much of a reason. If Museveni were disposed the foreign aid that the country has become so dependent on would stop. Even if there were an attempted coup, Museveni’s close relationship with the military would quickly put a stop to the rebellion. Inside Uganda and out, Museveni is affectionately called a dictator; but as far as most people are concerned he’s a relatively benign one.
Yet there are flaws in the current regime that could lead to rupture. International donors have become upset that corruption blocks real progress and some are starting to pull out. Tribal alliances, especially with the Baganda majority, have become compromised over the years. The average Ugandan is young, uneducated, unemployed and frustrated. In the past Ugandans have made their voices heard through violence. Museveni has an impressive military, but Ugandan youth have nothing to lose, but to sacrifice themselves to the cause for change. Even if they don’t actively initiate the revolution themselves, they are vulnerable enough to be recruited by rebels, like Joseph Kony, who can use the effects of Uganda’s backwater development schemes to their advantage.
The issue of what will come of the 2011 election can be seen from two angles. One comes from policymakers and the other from those who live with those policies in practice. “Museveni’s really the only choice,” said, Andrew Chritton, Charge d’ Affaires of the American Embassy when asked about the 2011 election. He went on to say that candidates like Besigye and other parties run only on a one-issue ticket to oust Museveni. The entire scope of their politics is a reaction to the current regime. They have few original opinions on other issues of governance such as the management of the economy or international relations (Chritton, 2009, 23, January). Museveni holds the monopoly on experience and knowledge.
On the other side of the social sphere are the majority of Ugandans who might not be much different from the rioters in 2007’s Kenyan election crisis observed by Japhet Okello, a Luo in his 20s, who lives in Mombasa.
“The politicians weren’t the ones who started fighting out here. It was those boys across over there,” Okello said pointing to a group of teenagers idling on their motorcycles and chewing qat. To Okello, the violence started when unemployed young men saw their country’s loss of faith in the legitimacy of the elections as an opportunity to act out in frustration against the squalor of their living conditions. From Okello’s view the tensions mushroomed from the bottom of society on up.
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Tangri, R., & Mwenda, A. (2010). President Museveni and the politics of presidential tenure in Uganda. Journal of Contemporary African Studies 28(1), 31-49.
I told Robinah I’d help her out. She was in a desperate situation. Robinah is a single parent of four children who also supports her HIV infected mother and a crippled orphan. For the past ten years Robinah had been a teacher at the school where I worked. Then she got fired without notice on the first day of the new semester.
At that point the school owed her three months of back wages and it was easier for them just to let her go. The headmaster replaced her with the very students she had been teaching. The new high school graduates were hired not for their experience, but because they could work for practically free. In Uganda there are no enforceable labor laws. Robinah will probably have to start digging full time in the fields to provide food for her family. Without money for school fees her children, ages 4 to 12, will have to join her. Her mother will have to find a way to purchase her antiretroviral medication.
You’re probably gearing up for me to start pleading with you for a donation for Robinah. “GIVE! GIVE! GIVE!” I should be saying. “For the price of a gourmet cup of coffee this family can have a new lease on life!” At the time I gave Robinah $50. That was enough to get her family through the month. Future assistance remains uncertain. She has no bank account to wire money. I can’t even contact her because she doesn’t even own a phone, let alone e-mail. What do I do, put my faith in a charity to get the money to the right place?
As individuals we give millions of dollars to help those suffering in the developing world survive. Does all of it reach people below the poverty line, the people like Robinah, who truly need it?
I knew that the school fired Robinah because they didn’t want to pay her, not because they didn’t have the means. I worked in rural Uganda as a community development consultant for two years and followed the money trail from start to finish. I was brought on to a local organization to help with its visibility and give it some publicity. We targeted European trust fund kids on their gap year and others with cash to burn and little afterthought of accountability. We recruited teen voluntourists to come out and workation with us for a few weeks. It was a summer camp that you could put on your résumé. The cash was flowing. In fact, the headmaster couldn’t fire Robinah in person because he was flying to Europe for his annual “fundraising trip”.
You seal up your donation in an envelope and send it to your favorite philanthropic fund. A large portion of that gift goes towards the organization’s administrative costs. That includes stuff like the office rental, phone lines, land rover purchases, and employee salaries. Then what’s left over is distributed over a large population of the organization’s target demographic. Just how much depends on the efficiency and honesty of the organization.
Briefcase organizations focus entirely on fundraising. They run non-profits with a for-profit business strategy. The headmaster I worked for had a pretty good scheme going. He was building a lecture hall, but it had taken him over seven years and it never seemed to get done. Charity groups would come work on it for a week and then give the headmaster completion funds which he pocketed. A new charity would show up in the village oblivious of the last group and the cycle would repeat itself. “The money was eaten” is a popular saying in Uganda.
The founders of my organization were upper-middle class, highly educated, and charismatic. They’d go after overseas money like sharks. I should know: they targeted my friends and family. They’d hustle me on a daily basis. First they’d appeal to my sympathy for the poor, then to my guilt, and if that didn’t work they’d threaten me.
I was asked to sponsor children, buy food and animals, bribe government school officials and traffic cops. My girlfriend was robbed of $400 and her passport at my supervisor’s house while she was taking a shower. My supervisor refused to call the police. Another time, I was on a bus full of senior citizens coming back from The UN’s International Older Persons’ Day festivities when the supervisor demanded a large sum of money for gasoline. When I refused he told the driver to pull over to the nearest ATM and waited until I made a withdrawal. The next year the same bus of older persons followed me down the street to my house and parked there until I yelled at them to go away.
One day my supervisor got a hold of my home address and decided to visit my parents on his “fundraising” trip to the U.S. He and his wife blew most of their money in Vegas and by the time they got to my home in New Mexico they were broke. They wouldn’t leave until my parents bought them airline tickets to Chicago.
I got suckered in too. A team of social workers and I conducted a needs assessment of the child-headed households in the area. In my village there were many. We found that the biggest problem was not just that these children’s parents had died from AIDS, but that they suffered from malnutrition. I raised money from my friends and relatives back home in the States to build a one-acre school farm. Corn, beans, cassava, and pumpkins were planted in anticipation of 850 vocational students working the land and eating what they grew. The students harvested the crops. However, instead of turning the 200 kilos of corn into school lunches, the school threw the sacks on trucks and sold them at the market. I demanded to know how the money was spent. I was told it was paying teacher salaries. I knew that Robinah never got that cash and that her young replacements were working in a simple exchange for room and board. The only one left was the European-bound headmaster. That’s when I got the feeling that I had inadvertently invested in child labor.
When all the money falls into the hands of the middlemen strange power relationships start to occur. The headmaster used to call the neighboring villagers peasants. He wasn’t too far from the truth. As he received more donations he acquired more assets and bought more land. The poor, many of them orphaned, students worked that land in a sharecropping deal for substandard education. The community had progressed little past feudalism. Foreign aid seemed to reinforce this way of life.
What’s the solution? I’ve heard many critics say that we should just stop aid all together. Although my brush with corruption was especially malevolent, I disagree. The community I lived in has been suffering from the HIV/AIDS epidemic for almost thirty years. It is under no fault of their own that they live with affliction. Empathy is a uniquely human trait. To turn our backs on them is the same as turning our backs on ourselves. You’ll notice that I haven’t directly named names in my whistle blowing. Corrupt as they are, to incriminate the guilty parties would cut off the marginalized populations they serve entirely from outside relief efforts. We must continue to help, but seriously deliberate on how we give assistance.
There are often better contributions of aid than money. One of the best gifts I gave was seed. Seed and Light International donated 18 lbs of seed to the village and we distributed it amongst 25 families. The seedlings grown ended up in the home gardens of seven villages. Seed isn’t a handout, but an opportunity for farmers to invest their own time and energy to create food. Most community members survived at a subsistence level. Our small gardens provided nourishment to the people who needed it most. Surplus produce was even sold at market to generated income. Most valuable of all, the farmers grew more self-reliant.
Assistance works best when it is given in direct response to a community generated need. Unfortunately, most of us in the West don’t have the luxury to travel to Africa and follow the relief efforts through on the ground level. Thousands of miles away, those starving for aid don’t have the means to communicate with their donors. I’ve done my best in my blog posts to bring awareness to the plight of the Ugandan people I worked with and lived alongside. Now it’s time to help them build up enough capacity to remedy their situation. Technology has made the globe a more intimate place and given us the advantage to work together to improve the state of aid. I welcome any comments or suggestions on how we can make a lasting positive impact on people like Robinah and their livelihoods.
As long as the Third World is reliant on foreign aid, we as donors are reliant on third party charities and NGOs. We must demand accountability and transparency in their operations. Here’s a few things you can do:
- If you give to a group, invest yourself in a long-term relationship.
- Research the organizations beforehand and talk to other donors. A lot of the big name charities don’t use their earnings as efficiently as you might think.
- Follow up on how your money is spent and become outraged if it isn’t used correctly.
- The best way to know where your donation goes is to make contact with the individuals already working in the field.
Peace Corps volunteers, missionaries, doctors, and students are fixtures in the development world. As individuals they make a long-term commitment to live with the local people, learn their language, and their way of life. They are often more helpful than dealing with larger NGOs who take a substantial cut of the contribution or partner with corrupt local leaders to gain access into a community.
The current economic development paradigm in the Third World is flawed. Although it has originated from post-colonial reparations, the method still forces those in developing nations to be subservient to richer, Western powers. For development to work foreign aid must be finite. Assistance alleviates immediate suffering, but over the long-term it creates a culture of dependency. This weakens the human condition just as much as AIDS weakens the human immune system. If development goals are to be achieved, the people they target must meet them on their own terms and in their own capacity. As an American I can go no further to solve Uganda’s socio-economic problems. To fix them the solution must be distinctly Ugandan. Only a native Ugandan can provide that.
I wanted to give the garden scene a little character so I added some flowers and a monkey. A Dutch carpenter named Wilfred did the primate sound effects. I saw two monkeys in Kiwangala. One was stealing a banana from a plantation. The other time was when I got lost riding my bike in the deep village. I passed a pet monkey tied with a rope to a dead tree.
Other areas of Uganda are more plentiful. There are big primates like chimps, baboons, and mountain gorillas in the West, but the country is awash with vervet monkeys even in some of the suburbs. This monkey was photographed at the Entebbe Botanical Gardens. They have a big troupe there and not all appreciate snapshots. This monkey had a swipe at me. The botanical gardens were a savage place. I went on Easter weekend and watched a family enter the park and slaughter a goat.
Laws in rural Uganda are on par with the wild American West of the 1800s. Anything goes. Laws that are broken are difficult to enforce. Police are poorly paid and this makes them corrupt. Cash can pay off any offense. There are times in Uganda that call for vigilante mob justice. I was in a taxi from Luweero when a tractor trailer from the D.R.C. hit a road construction worker further up. I witnessed the workers torched the truck as we passed them on the road. The driver and his teenage passenger made a run for it. The kid was captured and beaten to a pulp. The driver was being prepared to be lynched when the police caught up with him. My friend was in another matatu behind me and tells me that one of the workers threw a pickaxe at their back window.
On the nights that I didn’t want to mess with cooking under candlelight and a flashlight, I’d walk into the trading center for a rolex. Far from being a luxury item, a rolex is an omelet rolled up in chipatti, a greasy Indian flatbread, with shredded cabbage and tomatoes. My pal Junior cooked me up many a rolex and we got to be friends. I used to bring him jalapenos and avocados that I grew to throw in the mix.
One day Junior was gone. The night before he was accused of stealing a cell phone. A mob of townspeople grew up out of nowhere, beat him beyond recognition, and then drove him out of town. I never saw him again.
The soldiers who flog Jesus all the way to the authorities are acting out of what they’ve seen from experience. Justice comes swiftly and harshly in the village. It’s at this point that the energy of the audience at the play’s performance perks up and a crowd grows more excitable as Jesus completes each station of the cross.
The Revealed Truth Blog Series
This post is the seventh of a nine part series that takes an in-depth look at the The Revealed Truth and how rural Ugandan culture influenced the making of the film. The movie is about an hour long but I’ve broken it down into 5 to 10 minute blog-size episodes. The next post will feature the crucifixion.
The previous post was The Revealed Truth Part 5: The Last Supper.
All of the actors in the Lazarus scene come from families that have been directly affected by the AIDS virus. In fact, no family has been able to escape the disease in Kiwangala. Funerals are held in the village on a weekly basis. It sounds grim, but Ugandans have told me time and again that they are making progress in fighting the disease and thing are getting better. In the past someone infected would be dead in a month. Nowadays, antiretroviral drugs, or ARVs, can keep someone alive for years. The phenomenon is called the Lazarus effect. I met one woman who had been HIV positive for 15 years and still led a healthy and productive life.
The problem of the epidemic now is the false sense of security individuals get from believing that the disease has become benign. Young people think that if they get infected they can just take ARVs. This has led to an increase in risky sexual behaviors and infection rates are now back on the rise. On top of that, HIV/AIDS therapy is heavily subsidized by foreign aid. One of the biggest players in Uganda has been the American government’s P.E.P.F.A.R. The President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief is a $63 billion worldwide initiative started by President Bush. However, while the epidemic is still growing in Uganda, a cap has been put on P.E.P.F.A.R. funds and doctor’s are now forced to send away patients. This is compounded by the hesitancy of private donors to give more in the economic recession and local corruption. If things continue this way the battle against AIDS in Uganda could become one step forward and two steps back.
On a lighter note, we come to the most exotic element in The Revealed Truth: the donkeys. The entire time I was in Uganda I saw just one horse. I’ve never figured out why there are so few there. It could be that there were never any wild horses in Africa, but they weren’t in North America either and here they’ve flourished. I thought for sure that the British would bring some equines along with them to build their colonies. Maybe it has something to do with the equatorial tropical environment or that Uganda’s such a small country that there’s no need to travel long distances. Who knows. They’re just not here.
The play’s were striving for authenticity and imported these donkeys from Kampala. They became a spectacle in the village and drew a crowd even before the play started. People would gather around and shriek in awe at the sight of the beasts. It’s was like when we go to the zoo in America and see the elephants for the first time. One woman asked if I feared the animals. I told her no. Then she asked me if I eat them in my country. I played the part of a good ambassador and replied in the negative. I didn’t want to go into what goes on at the Jello factory. I do know that they eat donkey in other parts of Africa. I discovered that at an all you can eat Ethiopian restaurant in Kampala when I asked the waiter about the mystery meat at the buffet. Fish and grasshoppers aside, I don’t care to eat meat so I can’t give a review on the taste of donkey, but I can tell you that it looked a lot like ground beef.
Speaking of strange dinners, we’ve finally come upon one of the strangest Last Suppers I’ve seen. It’s also one of my favorites because of it’s unintended humbleness. Like Veronese’s Feast in the House of Levi mentioned in the introductory post of this series, this Last Supper has a carnival atmosphere. Jesus can hardly be heard over the whirr of the generator, squaking of the intercom, and snickering of the crowd. The disciples dig into a bag of bread. Bland Ugandan bread probably has the same consistency of the unleavened bread that was broken at the original Last Supper.
Instead of a chalice of wine, Jesus passes around an old plastic bottle of Rwenzori brand drinking water. This could be a message of temperance. The Born Again churches that I worked with didn’t drink alcohol. Maybe the director of the play was trying to downplay an mention of wine whatsoever. The reason for this prohibition also might have something to do with Uganda being the number one consumer of alcohol per capita in the world. Bars are open twenty four hours and local brew is potent and plentiful. Vodka is served doubleshot size in a plastic baggie and costs about a 30 cents each. I’ve seen old men drunk in the street at 8AM and a two year old throwing a tantrum until his mother soothed him with a bottle of waragie. There’s reason to be afraid of liquor. I once asked a girl from the church out to a neighborhood housewarming party. She declined telling me that she doesn’t go to discos. There would be drinking and even dancing there. It was the equivalent of “Sorry, I’m washing my hair tonight”.
The Revealed Truth Blog Series
This post is the sixth of a nine part series that takes an in-depth look at the The Revealed Truth and how rural Ugandan culture influenced the making of the film. The movie is about an hour long but I’ve broken it down into 5 to 10 minute blog-size episodes. The next post will feature Jesus’s arrest.
The previous post was The Revealed Truth Part 4: Let The Little Children Come to Me.
This chapter of The Revealed Truth opens up with some classic bargaining by Judas. Ugandans love to make a deal. Judas may seem overacting here, but I would get just as expressive trying to buy passion fruit from the neighborhood bodega or setting the price for a taxi. When you’re in the mood, you can get some really great deals. If you’re tired and just want to make the sale, the vendors will rip you to shreds. Most commodities don’t come with a set price. The vendor will begin by sizing up the consumer. As I was a Muzungu (white man) the seller immediately inferred that I was also an Omugagga (rich man). Prices start on the astronomically high side. I’d counter with something ridiculously low and hopefully we’d meet somewhere in the middle. If all else fails, turning your back in the middle of the transaction can get you a dramatic discount. Bargaining is true capitalism because each transaction reevaluates the product’s supply and demand. Switching to English during a deal will automatically chalk up a muzungu tax.
As Jesus figures out how He’s going to feed the masses with two loaves of bread there is a disturbance in the background. One of the shepherds chases the neighborhood kids around and swats at them with a stick. The shepherd also doubled as the play’s enforcer of crowd control. If a child got too close to Jesus or the disciples he would beat them. It provides some real life foreshadowing of Jesus’s Let the Little Children Come to Me sermon, but nobody watching the performance seemed concerned about the violence.
While Uganda’s youth empowerment agenda looks very progressive on the books, it’s not practiced. Corporal punishment is illegal, but I saw students at the school caned many times. When I ran into a teacher flogging a kid I’d go into shock and just stand there. The teacher usually would look up, see me, get embarrassed,and take a break until I left. Most headmasters will publicly acknowledge that child abuse is wrong and bad for donor relations. However, when faced with the choice to stop they don’t know an alternative. The issue runs deeper than discipline. In one study 98% of the Ugandan children interviewed experienced physical or emotional violence at home. In the hierarchy of society children are one peg above animals because they have better motor skills. It’s a utilitarian mindset. Children are valued because they can work. There are no microwaves or washing machines, but there are lots of kids. Many students attending my school were from child-headed households and had no parents to advocate on their behalf. The education was free, but many days out of the week their classes took place out in the fields where they were “learning” to dig trenches or clear brush.
America is on the other end of the spectrum. We put our children on a pedestal. We spoil kids and make them whine from overindulgence. The youth culture fuels our economy with the music, movies, and media that makes our country famous. Yet, all expenses are paid with a parent’s credit card. Most American children under 12 years aren’t their family’s breadwinners. We have child labor laws against that. In Uganda, if a child doesn’t bring home the bacon, then they don’t eat.
Perseverance of families in this environment is amazing. Despite the prevalence of abuse, strong family bonds are the key to survival. Take Julius, the actor who plays the prodigal son. He was in his mid twenties and living with his parents. He wasn’t a deadbeat sleeping on the couch, but working side by side with his parents and sister on the farm. During the month of the play’s performance his family’s home collapsed. Subsistence farmers don’t have home insurance but Julius helped his aging father salvage what he could and they built the structure over again. There is a loyalty to family, clan, and tribe in Uganda that is not found in the West. In such an impoverished country there are very few street gangs. The communal nature of the village doesn’t allow them to form. Even if a child’s parents weren’t in the picture, their aunts, uncles, and grand parents were around to provide a support system.
The Revealed Truth Blog Series
This post is the fifth of a nine part series that takes an in-depth look at the The Revealed Truth and how rural Ugandan culture influenced the making of the film. The movie is about an hour long but I’ve broken it down into 5 to 10 minute blog-size episodes. The next post will feature the Last Supper.
The previous post was The Revealed Truth Part 3: Good Samaritans.
The crowd gathers as the play gets going. Not many people can afford cars, but many have bicycles. This is a parking lot for them and the kid in the suit on the left is the valet. The bags slung over the bikes are for collecting corn, bananas, or firewood. After the show, the audience will peddle back into the fields to harvest their crops as the sun goes down and it’s not so hot. The generator in the foreground powers the sound system. The speakers were so loud that the play could be heard from miles around. This was not unusual for the village. Ugandans love blasting music, public service announcements, and sermons over their P.A. systems at all times of the day and night.
Part 2 of The Revealed Truth opens up with a shot of the Kiwangala playground. That’s my neighbor Vieney and his sister clowning around. The playground plays host to soccer matches, concerts, religious services, and once on Christmas there was a motocross rally. On slow days cattle graze the field.
One thing that I’ve never understood is why Jesus speaks into a microphone. It’s not plugged in. A CD of the audio I recorded is playing on the speakers. The actor playing Jesus is just mouthing the words. Nevertheless, he carries the microphone all the way up to the cross, stopping like a talk show host to to interview saints and sinners along the way.
I remember going out one night in Masaka, the city closest to Kiwangala, to watch some karaoke. In Uganda you don’t get up to sing something embarrassing, you let the professional entertainers handle that. The music came on and performers gave it all they got with choreographed dance moves. It was high energy, but it was also Milly Vanilli. The singers lip-sync into turned-off microphones. False advertising or not that was their style. The microphone is an aesthetic prop that makes The Revealed Truth just a long karaoke number.
Something else that perplexes me in this bit is when the disciples gather fruit from the trees on the Sabbath. The actors reach up into the branches and pull out a loaf of bread. Why not fruit? Uganda is a garden of Eden for tropical fruit. It grows everywhere in abundance. Ugandan bread, on the other hand, is nothing to write home about. It’s bland and, because the nearest bakery is 40 km away, often stale. However, while most fruit is cheap or even free, you’ve got to have cash to buy a loaf of bread. In some circles of village society it’s a sign of wealth. When a guest comes over for morning tea the hospitable thing to do is offer them a few slices of bread spread with Blueband margarine. While the first appearance of bread is odd, it’s a theme that naturally weaves itself throughout the play up to the Last Supper. It’s just bizarre watching it from a Western perspective where the value system is reversed. If you walked into an American supermarket and bought a pineapple it’d be twice the cost of a loaf of Wonderbread.
Another surprising sight in the movie are the two men walking into the bushes holding hands. Like many agricultural societies, Uganda is conservative in its behaviors. PDA between couples raises eyebrows. Outside of Kampala, kissing and hugging are never seen. A man and a woman holding hands insinuates that they have carnal knowledge of each other. Hand holding between members of the same sex however is acceptable and common. It’s a show of fraternal goodwill, but it would make me do a double take when I passed by two burly biker dudes or a couple of coeds on their way to campus. Often when I’d meet a man and shake his hand a game would start to see how long we could hold onto each other. This makes introductions long and leaves you with sweaty palms, but also builds trust and rapport.
Nobody sees this behavior as gay because in Uganda homosexuality is illegal. Earlier this year the parliament attempted to pass a bill that would give convicted homosexuals the death penalty. It has been said that American evangelists lobbied parliament to put the bill into place. Luckily, it caught the attention of the international community who threatened to withdraw humanitarian aid if the law was passed. The MPs have since backed down, but the homophobic sentiment remains. It’s ironic that the camera captured Jesus and the two men in the same frame.
The Revealed Truth Blog Series
This post is the third of a nine part series that takes an in-depth look at the The Revealed Truth and how rural Ugandan culture influenced the making of the film. The movie is about an hour long but I’ve broken it down into 5 to 10 minute blog-size episodes. The next post will feature Nicodemus.
The previous post was The Revealed Truth Part 1: Shepherds and Fishermen.
The Archangel Gabriel rouses the shepherds awake, but the cows in the background are not part of the scene. A herdsman decided to graze them in the field while he watched the performance. During filming, the Biblical world of the play often blurred with the rural life of the village where it was performed. More examples can be found in the nativity and fishermen scenes in the video below.
Most of the nativity scenes that I’ve seen usually substitute a doll for Jesus, but in Kiwangala it’s not so hard to strive for authenticity in this department. Seven of us in the cast and crew got in a saloon car and drove a few kilometers out of the trading center. The road quickly turned from a potholed monstrosity into a single-lane, dirt path. This is no problem for Ugandans who drive small sedans. They tackle terrain that soccer moms with 4×4 SUVs in the U.S. would never dream of attempting. Twenty minutes later and deep in a banana plantation we parked in front of a small shamba. A farmer and his wife were drying coffee beans out front. A newborn baby was napping in the shade. Around the back were cows, sheep, and a manger. Naturally, things fell into place quickly. It was just a matter of putting the baby in the trough.
The Music and Animation
As the shepherds visit Jesus they sing a traditional Christian folk song. As I was recording the dialogue for this scene, the cast spontaneously burst into this song. When you’re recording something in a language you don’t fully understand you tend to zone out and focus on the technicalities of the mixing. When the actors started singing I immediately became alert and got goosebumps.
The reprise plays over a fish animation. I bought a whole tilapia on market day for $1.50 from a man selling them out of a basket on the back of his bicycle. After photographing the fish for the movie I wrapped it in banana leaves and cooked it over hot coals. It was delicious.
The fishing village where we filmed is one of many landing sites in the Rakai district. They dot down the coast of Lake Victoria to the border of Tanzania. While they are little more than shantytowns these villages have an infamous reputation. As early as 1982, entire communities in the area had become sick with a mysterious illness called silimu, or in English “slim”. Perfectly healthy people would get really skinny and drop dead. At first witchdoctor juju was blamed, but eventually scientists arrived from the west, backtracking Patient 0, and diagnosed the disease as HIV. Landing sites like Kasensero became the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa. Over the last twenty eight years there has been a marked improvement and drops in infection rates, but the toll the disease has taken is still visible. As a result, people live a primitive existence in mud walled homes and depend on the lake for their subsistence.
The video footage is a little shaky. I was shooting from a fishing boat that kept tipping precariously from side to side. I had to wade through the lake to board the vessel and as a result contracted schistosomiasis. Yet, in retrospect it was worth it. Shooting this scene was a special moment for me as a filmmaker.
The lack of economic development at the landing-site reinforces the literalness of the passion play. The fishermen know what the apostles went through. They’ve experienced the same anxieties of not coming home with a full catch. If they caught as many fish as the apostles do in the movie, it would be the equivalent of winning the lottery.
However much the landing-site is in harmony with the life of Jesus, the real world still creeps into the film. Jesus performs his miracle from a boat with an outboard motor and modern technology breaks our suspension of disbelief.
Likewise, filming unintentionally captured the sordid moments of the people in the village. Near the end of the scene, a man and a woman can be seen quarreling in the background. The woman runs into the field as Jesus comes ashore. The man, who seems to be holding a knife, chases her down and drags her out of the frame. The preaching of Christian values juxtaposed against the backdrop of domestic violence is a theme that will repeat itself later in the movie.
The Revealed Truth Blog Series
This post is the second of a nine part series that takes an in-depth look at the The Revealed Truth and how rural Ugandan culture influenced the making of the film. The movie is about an hour long but I’ve broken it down into 5 to 10 minute blog-size episodes. The next post will feature the teachings of Jesus.
The previous post was The Revealed Truth: An Introduction.