Wednesday, March 30, 2016

This kid's death and my most deliciously disgusting childhood memories

When we were kids, my village best friend… yes, monogamy is unnatural; I had a separate city best friend. My village best friend and I used to go digging for ant queens. An ant queen is a lobe of fat attached to an ant head. It is unbelievably tasty. Like most things that were unbelievably tasty when we were kids, it does look rather disgusting.  You sprinkle salt on it, wrap it in a bit of banana leaf, and bury it in warm to hot ash for a few minutes. It melts to a sort of salty mucus-like thing; like what we used to turn gummy bears into by rubbing them in the palm with the back of a bic pen. Yeah. Now imagine the gummy bear was cream in colour. Long story short: it looks like mucus. It tastes like mucus.  But, it is not mucus which meant we could eat it without getting slapped by the adults. I loved eating ant queens, also known as Namunswa The term later came to refer also to pedophiles specialising in incest. The ant queen is said to feed on ants; which technically are also its offspring. So somebody once had the bright idea of defending the fact that he defiled his own kids by pleading: Namunswa alya ku nswa zee.  Where am I going with all this? Nowhere. I just thought I would disgust you. 

But the thought came to me because of this story in the Daily Monitor reporting that a six year old accidentally killed his sister while hunting an edible rat. People eat rats? Yes, people even Instagram pictures of roasted rabbits. I have fond memories of eating namunswa, so I am not judging here, but let us admit it:  rabbits are rats. 

When my best friend and I went digging up anthills, we executed with a certain kind of division of labour. She, more handy with a hand hoe, because she lived in the village, used to do the digging. I used to provide the commentary that oiled the process. Leaning against the handle of my hoe, I would paint her scenarios of all the things that could go wrong while we are at it. “A huge hissing snake jumps out of the hole to your left!” “Becca finds us!” 

Becca is my big sister. She really hated that I ate namunswa and has incredible follow through on her convictions. She swore she would catch us digging for one and shove my hand into the anthill. An anthill, despite it’s name, is more permanently a home for termites. Ants live there for about two weeks a year. All year long, termites live there instead. Anthill termites are like a science experiment on ants, gone wrong. They are ugly, ferocious, little beasts that breed in the millions. Once a termite bites into an intruder, it will die before it lets go. Seriously. We used to trap
The big guy is the termite
termites too.  By throwing our skirts and blouses onto the anthill. Once the termites bite in, you can take the cloth home and snack on them for days. They will not let go. Even though to snack on one, is to separate the torso sticking out on one side of the cloth from the head on the other side, they will not let go. In fact, you will need to eat the torso first while you wait for the head to die. 

So in my imagination, the worst that could happen was Becca catching us and proceeding to use my hand as a termite trap. I never imagined my best friend accidentally killing me. This is so very sad. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Loodi Mayor's Maths On Census Data is Utter Bullshit

Lukwago, Lukwago, oh Eliyasiii! My Baganda ancestors chide the young and hungry with the saying, "ebbula ly'enkoko tulikuliisa mp'abaana." Loose translation:  Let not a scarcity of chicken lead you to eating some wild ugly bird. Alas, the scarcity of good opposition politicians has led us to; not only make do with, but love politi-cons like Lukwago.

Of course, Lukwago is relevant.  He never lets the state catch any kind of break. The democracy needs folks like him. He does it in English that fills the mouth. That is; Lukwago abnegates to approbate government any disjunction. It isn't 1944, whence natives went to white man's land, and returned determined to use their white man education to the fullest. But, I do like a guy who finds some use for all that colonial nonsense teachers forced down our throats.  I bet Lukwago would have Shakespeare himself shaking his head saying, "he speaks fancy, doesn't he?"  

Away from his entertainment value though, let's be honest. The Loodi Mayor is the original Donald Trump. He knows you are angry. He knows you can't be bothered to independently express said anger. He offers himself up as a vessel for that anger. While at it, he lies through his teeth, secure in the knowledge that you will not be bothered to look up the truth. You won't even pause your Facebook scrolling to think for a second about what he just said. No. With one eye on the new profile picture your internet stalkee has put up, you'll just like his post and with that simple act validate your anger while also being patriotic; refusing to be lied to by this dictatorship.

With all the above working for him; the Loodi Mayor got nearly 1,000 likes for this post. 

Some mind boggling questions about the recently released National Population and Housing Census Report; 1) The...
Posted by Erias Lukwago on Friday, 25 March 2016

Here is why that post is utter bullshit:
1. "The provisional statistical data released a couple of years ago indicated that our population stood at 34.9 million people yet the final report gives a different figure of 34.6 million people. That discrepancy has not been explained away! !!"
Stop wasting exclamation marks, Ugandans. Provisional results are a first count. They are going to have errors. The first count is useful for accountability and to give planners something to work with in the meantime but a census is a load of work. So, UBOS takes the time to correct it for all the things that could have gone wrong: under counts & over counts, data entry errors, any number of things. A lot of you complained on social media that nobody came to your door to tap your head and hence count you. In the provisional results report, UBOS reported that 7.3 million households with 34.4 million members were counted. So, initially, they corrected for the undercount with an extra half a million Ugandans. Upon closer look, they have corrected that adjustment to just 200,000. Flagging that as a major irregularity is stirring a storm in a tea cup.

2. "The report highlights a drastic increase in the population growth by 10.4 million people from 2002, yet, according to the same report, the country registered an unprecedented decline in the fertility rate during the same period, from 7.1 children per woman to 5.8!!

Those poor exclamation marks. Look, even if Uganda's fertility rate fell to 1, the population would grow. It just does, when new people are born.  Especially since, already existing people don't die nearly as much. The population just grows. When it is 5.8 babies a woman, it most certainly is going to grow like crazy.  There are about 9.5 million Ugandan women over the age of 18. Even if we were being very simplistic and said all those 10.4 million were babies that adult Ugandan women gave birth to, that increase would mean that about 800,000 adult women gave birth each year and probably didn't have a second child in the 12 year cycle. Of course it isn't that simple. People emigrate into Uganda. People die. Children under 18 give birth.  At 5.8 lifetime fertility, Ugandan women obviously have many births in a 12 year cycle. Some of those children die also. It isn't as simple as looking at a number and deciding, "I refuse to believe this." 

3. "That during that same period, the average life expectancy miraculously shot up from 50.4 years to 63.3 with no comesurate improvement in the standard of living or provision of quality health facilities."
He also makes some GDP comparisons that are neither here nor there. To stick with his initial thought; let us admit banange; standards of living have improved since 2002. Even by the most mundane indicators: like number of cars on the road, bars in town, people complaining about wi-fi. Life is not what it was in 2002. More seriously though; 50 was an abnormally low life expectancy brought on by modern calamities like the HIV epidemic, war in the north, etc. As we move further away from the brunt of those anomalies, our life expectancy will return closer and closer to normal. So, this isn't a miraculous increase. It is more like a recovery.

4. "That our population stands at 34.6 Million people yet the biometric data captured by the Electoral Commission indicates that we have 15.2 million registered voters in a country that boasts of the youngest population in the world! !!" 

A minority (44%) of our population is adult. We have the youngest population in the world. There isn't any contradiction in that, even if we take his statement at face value.

5. "The report shows that Kampala has got a population of 1.5 million people yet the National Voters Register posts roughly 1.1.million voters, implying that Kampala returns almost 90% voter eligibility!!!!" 

The above is just a lie. The population of Kampala is 1.56 million. If the Loodi Mayor wanted to round off, it would be 1.6. The number of registered voters in Kampala was 1.04 million. Again, if he wanted to round off, it would be 1.0. Going with the official numbers, 67% of people in Kampala are adults. It doesn't seem wholly surprising to me considering it is an urban centre but what do I know?
Until I have better data however, I am not going to dismiss this with just an opinion especially knowing UBOS as one of few Ugandan institutions that actually try to do a decent job.

Look, I am quite partial to the opposition. The poor underdogs against whom all the odds are stuck. But I think we need to ask better of them too,  even as we dream of the day they will help us change the presidential portrait. We can't have them thinking we love them just the way they are. This is not high school romance, and even if it were, we are too old for it. That's why we get to vote. Because we are too old for unconditional love. If opposition politicians want to be cheap popularity seeking liars as big as the one we already have, then, what's the point of even dreaming of change?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Stop encouraging URA to tax private schools

My parents run a private school in Makindye. It’s been 22 years. The school has never turned a profit of more than sh1 million in any given term. What happens more often is that it runs out of cash before the term is out and my dad, poor Baba, digs into his pocket to sail it through. It always manages to pay him back but it also always needs to come back for more sooner or later. When the school needs to make big investments, my dad, poor Baba, takes out loans for it, because small business loan rates in Uganda are so high they would sink the school. The canteen that my parents run at the school turns a far higher margin than the school itself. I suspect the canteen is why they have kept that school open to this day. That, and the fact that it is a community institution now. If they closed it, all my brothers and their peers would probably never speak to them again. Like me, they would not have a primary school to name as their old school. The one I went to was, a few years ago, turned into a more profitable venture — a bar and car washing bay. 

Why does my parents’ and other less known private schools turn so little in profit? Providing education is frustratingly expensive, and for all that talk about how much Ugandans value education, they will only pay so much in school fees. In fact, as the school administrators who manage to charge a decent amount will tell you, once Ugandan parents pay over 400k for a three months term, they become unreasonably demanding. They then want the school to provide a pool table for their kids, the headteacher to participate in the sac race on sports day and free lunch be provided. 

Photo via @mumakeith on twitter 
Of course not every Ugandan parent is cheap like that. Some of you are willingly paying sh1.5m a term to Kampala Parents School, no? So, a school term is about 60 days. You are spending 25k a day to educate your child and it is killing you? So much that you want URA to go in there and get some of it back for you? Try keeping your child at home on that budget —hire someone to teach them something, entertain them, include a meal and tell me about it. Now, because schools collect so many of our children, they manage some economies of scale. But what is saved is often swallowed up again by the next year’s need for a new classroom block, buying off the neighbour who opened a bar right in front of the school gate, repainting the classrooms, and to drain the septic tanks or latrines. Armies of little humans are incredibly hard on infrastructure. If you look at this year’s financial books, you might see some profit, single digit millions. Before the next year opens, the school really needs you to pay school fees on the very first day because any and possibly all the above offline expenses mean they probably couldn’t even provide lunch through the first week if you didn’t pay up.   

When you drop a child off at St Lawrence next year, you will see a new classroom block and think, “ha, kyoka Mukiibi has made money out of us!” The truth maybe that Mukiibi probably would not have been able to admit your child if he hadn’t chosen to plough last year’s surplus into that new classroom block.

Providing education really is frustratingly expensive. I think that’s why it is left to government in most parts of the world. Unfortunately for Uganda, government falls far short of that responsibility. There are well over 30 primary schools in my part of Makindye but only one of them, and the poorest of them is government owned — Kibuye Primary School. If we all had to try and get our kids into Kibuye Primary, a) I would quit my job and home school mine because aint no way she’s getting that kind of education b) there would be riots as parents queue for miles outside the school gate. But we have private schools and it is quite easy to be petty and deploy URA to go get some of our money back without remembering the service gap they fill. 

If you are unhappy about the amount of money you are paying at the private school you took your child to, find another one. Take them to my mama’s school. We pay sh280k a term and our kids count and read just as fine as yours (Trust me, my nine year old is reading Charles Dickens). You don’t need a government tax regime to settle your vendetta with Sudhir. What that would do instead is allow government to profit from the fact that it isn’t providing adequate education in the first place. And, to the regular parent in Bwaise, URA skimming off schools' surplus income will mean that, their neighborhood school will a) hike fees to make it up, b) not accept fees in installments anymore because it can’t afford to. 

Dear journalists, instead of fanning the fire between URA and schools with antagonistic quotes and anecdotes, why don’t you actually look at the financial books of a good sample of private schools and tell us how much they are actually making vis-à-vis the proprietors' investment. How does that compare to say a bar and washing bay business? Maybe we can make more school proprietors see the light and go into bars for themselves, like my old teachers did. 

Related fact: I am attending a private university in the US that collects $63,000 a year from each student (in my program anyway) and raises three times its tuition revenue from donors & its endowment. It is tax exempt. In fact, it is registered as a non-profit. Maybe that is what we need to do for our private schools. Donate generously to them and lobby for them to be made non-profits so that we feel better about our money. Many private schools would jump at being publicly subsidized even if that meant they were going to be legally non-profit. They are practically non-profit. Many are. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Love is my Myth

Most atheists have little empathy for people who believe in deities. Not I. I empathize. I can relate. You see, I have a well loved myth of my own. I believe in love. Against repetitious evidence to the contrary in my own life, I believe that two adults can meet, truly see, love, accept, and choose to forever watch over each other in truth and with the best of intentions.  I believe it can just be. I believe it should just be. 

I can’t say I have actually ever known the kind of love I believe in. Don’t get me wrong, I have been loved. Severally.  But in the less profound meaning of the word. You know; the I-love-you-to-the-extent-this-works, kind of way? I do not feel shortchanged about that. I appreciated and still appreciate that love for what it was. And to be fair, I probably didn’t love much better than I was loved. But I always believed that even if it didn't happen for me, to me, love, that isn’t based on convenience nor limited by compromise, exists. Even though I am very prone to extrapolating my own experiences to the universal, in this case, I resisted it. 

Maybe I believe in love because we all need a story to keep us from despair, but I like to think it is because love is essential. To throw your lot in with another person may be your only chance. Because we are very small. Because we are inconsequential. Because the universe is random and doesn’t care. Because our size relative to the universe means that we will lose and be forgotten but our specie evolved a brain too large to sit easy with the real extent of our inconsequence. If we don’t believe in something that distracts us from our lack of consequence, we are done for, as soon as tomorrow. Some chose to believe in nation state. Some in gods. Others in their own power to self determine. I choose love. Love is my myth. Knowing that nothing I do with my life will ever amount to anything consequential in the grand scheme of things, I live for the chance to make another person’s inconsequence seem less so. And for my own sake, I hold out hope that someone will see it fit to throw their whole lot at my inconsequence. It seems possible to me that two rational human beings can agree that it is in their interest to throw everything they have at loving each other. 

But then again, for love to be essential, you have to buy my thesis that we are inconsequential. And that, I guess, is the major flaw in my myth. We don’t believe we are inconsequential. Our ancestors subdued the earth. We inherited consequence. We each have our own story of overcoming. We deserve consequence. For good reason, the people who raised us, or the messiahs we met along the way, told us we are wonderfully made. We are entitled to consequence. Each day, through grit and hard work, we win ourselves tiny territory in the arena against fellow men. We earn consequence. In the immediate lived world, for better or worse, we are consequential. 

Trouble is; we conflate the immediate lived world with the metaphysical. When love comes to us, we wonder: have we earned it? Do we deserve it? It is what we are entitled to? When the answer is no, and it will inevitably be no because none of it can be earned, we run from it. Worse still, we may take it, throw some time, some money, some sexing at it and correct our assessment to: yes, we have earned it. Then, like we do with the things we have earned, we start to deplete it. We toy with it.  We tear it apart just to see if we can put it back. We ruin it and go from being little but happy to sad and little. If we are humble, we will know what we did. If we aren’t, we will tell ourselves some other story. One that allows us to still feel entitled to the next loving heart that comes through the trenches.

So where does that leave me & my myth? Sigh… I need time off to reweave the theology of my myth. I am losing my faith. But just a tiny bit. Because what else have I to do with my time, but tell myself stories while I await death?