Ugandan prof cites western roots of Africa’s anti-gay movement | 

Stella Nyanzi
Stella Nyanzi

Stella Nyanzi is an anthropologist who studies gender and sexuality issues in Uganda, at Makerere University in Kampala.

Talk about being at the eye of the storm.

Uganda has become ground zero for what some characterize as an explosion of homophobia and increased criminalization of homosexuality in Africa. Hostility toward gays is hardly new or confined to Africa, of course, as Humanosphere has noted. Nearly 80 countries worldwide consider homosexuality a crime, with some making it a death penalty crime.

“In Africa, I think it’s worth noting that the countries with the most severe laws are former British colonies,’ said Nyanzi, who will be the keynote speaker at a Seattle conference focused on sexuality, health and human rights. “You don’t see this so much in the former colonies of other countries.”

The conference, hosted and run by students at the University of Washington, is the 11th annual Western Regional International Health Conference, which opens with Nyanzi speaking on Friday and runs through the weekend.

The meeting will also screen a powerful documentary, Call Me Kuchu, that describes the plight of gays in Uganda – and the murder of a gay activist.

“This is happening in many places but I’m not sure everyone recognizes why, and how,” said Nyanzi. Continue reading

Infographic: How mobile money is faring in Africa | 

The story of mobile money in Africa is as much a one of success as it is one of failure. The rapid rise of M-PESA in Kenya and other competing ways to send money from cell phone to cell phone has been heralded for years. Today, nearly 70% of Kenyans who own a cell phone regularly send or receive money on their phones.

The growth has been staggering considering that M-PESA turned 7 years old this month. Estimates show that one-quarter of Kenya’s gross national product travels through mobile phones. As a result, it has helped to make it easier for people to send money home, pay for goods and services, and gain instant access to a savings account.

Due to the success in Kenya, the belief has been that mobile money can work elsewhere. Advocates are buoyed by the fact that the continent managed to leap past land-line phones for mobile technology. It means more people are connected by phones and as higher speed coverage expands, by the internet.

That is why USAID, the Gates Foundation and other funders have been making the bet to support the growth of mobile money elsewhere in the world. So, how are things faring in Africa?


It’s still early, but the results are not so great. As seen in the infographic of use across the continent, there is a steep decline from leading Kenya to Uganda to South Africa. There is reason for hope that mobile money will catch on elsewhere in the world, but it is evident that copying the success of Kenya is not enough. The trend also seems to be making its way north. T-Mobile is now letting its customers deposit checks in a mobile money account, which they can then access at ATMs.

“Some of the factors behind Kenya’s lead cannot be copied; but many of them can, which means it should eventually be possible for other countries to follow Kenya’s pioneering example,” said The Economist blog last year.

Witness Uganda gives aid the musical treatment, warts and all | 

Matthews (center) and the Witness Uganda cast perform at the American Repertory Theater.
Matthews (center) and the Witness Uganda cast perform at the American Repertory Theater.
Gretjen Helene, American Repertory Theater

“We are not trying to resurrect buildings, we are trying to resurrect people,” shouted Griffin Matthews.

The global financial crisis in 2008 hit the banks in his home city and his small organization, the Uganda Project. Donations dried up for the organization that supported ten students in southern Uganda. All of Matthews’s frustrations came to a head that night in the form of venting to his partner, Matt Gould.

“There was a moment when I thought we were going under,” admits Matthews. “I thought to myself, “I am not making a difference, it is just a couple of kids in Uganda and people that know me would understand if I walk away.”"

Unbeknownst to Matthews, everything he was saying was being recorded by Gould. He reworked the words and added some accompanying music, then played it for Matthews. He was immediately convinced that they should perform the story as a way to reach people and raise money for the organization. A moment of crisis gave way to a solution that utilized their careers in the arts.

Six years later, the idea that was borne out of tapping a rant is a full fledged musical. Matthews and Gould are in the midst of a run performing Witness Uganda at American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA through March 16. They collaborated with Diane Paulus to put on the production that tells a fictionalized version of Matthews’s trip to Uganda, the young people he met and his struggles to support their education.

Continue reading

New law makes harsher climate for gay Ugandans | 

Ugandan pupils from different schools take part in an event organised by born-again Christians to celebrate the signing of a new anti-gay bill that sets harsh penalties for homosexual sex, at the Omega Healing Center outside of Kampala, in Uganda Monday, Feb. 24, 2014.
Ugandan pupils from different schools take part in an event organised by born-again Christians to celebrate the signing of a new anti-gay bill.
AP Photo/Stephen Wandera

Boston, MA – Returning home to Uganda after two years makes James* feel uneasy. As a gay man from a country that penalizes homosexuality, James cannot even use his real name for fear of outing himself to the wrong people.

“I choose not to think about it,” he said to Humanosphere.

Only some friends and family know that that he James is gay. Being out has not necessarily changed the minds of the people close to him. The Boston-area student said that friends that do not know about his sexuality will freely share anti-homosexual sentiments on social media.

“The ones that know; I will post something on Facebook and they won’t say anything,” he said. “They choose not to engage in that, but they will comment on other things.”

That was before the east African nation’s President Yoweri Museveni signed into law legislation that now imposes harsher penalties on homosexuality. People can now go to jail for life if convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.” Such a punishment would be dealt to those having gay sex with a minor, having sex if infected with HIV and with a vulnerable victim. It adds onto existing laws that carried punishments from 14 years to life in prison.

The law makes for a more tense situation in a country that has witnessed hostility towards gay Ugandans. Activist David Kato was among some 100 Ugandans outed by the tabloid magazine Rolling Stone in 2010. A year later he was brutally attacked in his home. He died on the way to the hospital. A public outcry galvanized the issue of gay rights in Uganda to slow down anti-gay legislation, but the law finally passed.

Such tactics were undertaken only a day after the bill was signed.The headline on today’s Ugandan tabloid magazine Red Pepper, touted exposing “Uganda’s 200 Top Homos.” International leaders reacted strongly to the signing.

“We will continue to urge the Ugandan government to repeal this abhorrent law and to advocate for the protection of the universal human rights of LGBT persons in Uganda and around the world,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. Continue reading

A different take on the unraveling of South Sudan | 

 A South Sudanese government soldier inspects the body of a dead woman lying the street in Bor, Jonglei State, South Sudan.
A South Sudanese government soldier inspects the body of a dead woman lying the street in Bor, Jonglei State, South Sudan.

South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, may be unraveling and one of the few journalists actually on the ground there says the media’s characterization of the conflict – usually done remotely, by telephone – is bit one-sided, if not off-target completely.

Robert Young Pelton
Robert Young Pelton
Machot Lat Thiep
Machot Lat Thiep

“We’ve spent the last few days with Riek Machar and the so-called rebel forces,” journalist and author Robert Young Pelton said to Humanosphere by telephone today.

As we reported in late January, Pelton and a Seattle man, a Costco supervisor and former Sudan Lost Boy named Machot Thiep, are in South Sudan partly to truth-check the standard narrative. “What we’re seeing and learning is very contradictory to the official line.” Continue reading

Surprising growth of savings and loans groups in Uganda | 

Map of CRS and CARE programs.

A savings-and-loan initiative in Uganda sought to create groups where people could increase their personal finances. The hope was that agents would then help form new groups to reach more people. It succeeded, but not in a way that was expected.

A survey of savings-and-loan groups across Uganda in 2013 found that many of the new groups were self-formed.

A group of researchers went back to the villages that once participated in savings-and-loan programs. The Datu Research team found that villagers learned from the other groups and went on to start their own. The new groups are performing just as well as the ones assisted by CARE and Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

“At first people were overlooking our group. They would keep on moving. But at the time of sharing out, these people would see members of our group improving their standard of living. Many people were encouraged by our growth and wanted to join,” explained a group member from Bundibugyo, to the researchers.

The findings, published in the report Post-Project Replication of Savings Groups in Uganda, give evidence to the argument that programs can succeed when control is in the hands of the people, rather than the aid organization. The majority of members of the self-created groups say they were motivated to pay off recurring costs, mainly their children’s education. Fewer cited the desire to meet future financial needs and gain access to savings and loans.

Continue reading

Microfinance works! Loans better than fad of just giving poor money | 

International AIDS Vaccine Initiative

The idea is simple, test what is the best way to grow microenterprise in Uganda: straight cash, loans, skills training or a combination of the three.

What happened? The results were, please forgive the overused Upworthy adjective, unexpected.

Just giving people money was not as good as giving them loans. Training combined with the loans did even better, but training alone and loans alone did not help. However the improvements were only in men-run businesses, not women-run ones. Finally, the people who got training and just cash actually witnessed a fall in profits.

Nathan Fiala, of the German Institute for Economic Research, published his paper earlier this month based on his research in Uganda. The just give people cash advocates scored a big win with the stellar results from the recent GiveDirectly study, but microfinance is making a comeback.

“The results suggest that highly motivated and skilled male-owned microenterprises can grow through fi nance, but the current fi nance model does not work for female-owned enterprises,” writes Fiala in the abstract.
Continue reading

Invisible Children was a fiasco. Is Expedition Kony the real deal? | 

Robert Young Pelton
Robert Young Pelton

This week we covered Expedition Kony, a crowdsourced project by swashbuckling adventurer/author/journalist Robert Young Pelton to find warlord Joseph Kony in northern Uganda. “This is a project that seeks to shine a light on this hunt, on the hunters as well as the hunted,” we concluded.

But there are still questions to be answered – who is Pelton and why does he think he’s qualified to find Kony? What will he do if he meets him? And what about critics who say this belongs in the “#Bullsh*t Files,” like Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 project, which ended with Jason Russell, the founder of the organization, naked in the streets of San Diego?

Well, we had an extended chat with the guy so you can judge for yourself. Despite his bravado, Pelton doesn’t seem as cartoonish as Russell or evoke the same sort of messianic zeal. In a similar vein, his analysis complicates reductive, simplistic portraits of Kony himself. This “media event” he’s trying to put together seeks to uncover the governments, wealthy actors, and nonprofits (he calls Africa’s NGO sector a “self-licking lollipop”) implicated in why a two-bit rebel leader like Kony, of all people, is a household name.

Before all that, Tom and I discuss the top Humanosphere headlines this week: why one major charity head is calling for a shift in focus from disasters to politics, and the less savory side of “the golden age of philanthropy.”

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