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Day #11: Corruption? No way.

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Today I read about some controversy around President Museveni’s “investments”.  I think Mr. Museveni is just a little misunderstood, and I’m here to defend him.

I feel you, dog

Come on.  Everybody knows that lobbying the other countries for debt forgiveness and foreign aid is a thankless job.  But hey, somebody’s gotta do it.  And President Museveni does it every day without ever asking for anything.*

*Note: Except the basics.

Strategy: Impress the pants off of ’em

Look, he is asking Britan for $1.07 billion in aid.  What better way to close the deal than to roll up in a brand new $36 million Gulfstream V jet. I mean, the British PM Gordie Brown goes commercial when he travels to Uganda – what a sucker.  Perhaps the Gulfstream actually could impress him into sending aid.

Ah ha!  You have the cunning of a jungle cat, Mr. Museveni.  I like it.  It makes total sense: spend lavishly to show them how much you really need the money.  You are a genius.


Faking it until he makes it

Which is why I also fully support other recent key investment initiatives like:

  • $121 million to host the Commonwealth Heads of Govt Meeting in 2007
  • $41 million to refurbish the Presidential Palace in 2007

Its only a $200 million request in total – just 0.3% of Uganda’s GDP (is that a lot?).

You are a visionary.  Its true that 1/3 of your country lives on less than $1/day.  But ya gotta spend money to make money in this high stakes game of international aid. Everybody knows that, right?

Good luck, sir.


Written by thetyson

October 18, 2008 at 6:37 am

Day #10: Catch up

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Taking a break today to catch up on some blogging.  More new stuff tomorrow.

Written by thetyson

October 17, 2008 at 6:35 am

Posted in Adventures, Uganda

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Day #9: Time to Cooperate

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I’ve spent the day working at Luxury Computers of Gulu and hanging out at Kope Cafe – talking to the random muzungus that cycle through.  After an hour of talking with different people about their organization, mission, next steps, blah, blah, I realized something.  Many of these groups are doing almost the same thing and they don’t cooperate at all.

If I’m starting a company, then I have to know my space.  Who’s in it, how am I different, can we partner.  If I don’t know this, then my company will likely fail.

NGOs don’t appear to have these motivations.

Why?  Why don’t they seek out everyone who’s doing similar activities, pool resources, and achieve a greater outcome?

  • Is it just too hard to keep up on what everyone else is doing?
  • Is there an information sharing product needed here?
  • Is it because of differing religious beliefs?

I need to look into this more, but it just seems a little weird to me.

Written by thetyson

October 16, 2008 at 1:36 am

Posted in Adventures, Uganda

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Day #8: IDP Camp Visit

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Juba Road

Today, my friend and I headed north on “Juba Road” to the Awer IDP (internally displaced people) Camp.  Sudan imports most of its products from Uganda and Juba Road is the primary international trade route between Uganda and Sudan.

The NAFTA treaty was signed between Canada, US, Mexico when I was a teenager living in Houston.  This kicked off billions of dollars of infrastructure investment in roads.  Since Houston would be a major stop on this international trade route, Hwy 59 would become 6 paved lanes in each direction and become Hwy 69 aka the NAFTA Freeway.

You could imagine my disbelief.  The pic below captures perfectly the Juba Road experience.

Yeah.  Imagine two trucks passing on this road...

Um, yeah. Trucks actually pass each other on this road...

Hollywood expectations

As we drove the bumpy 30 km to the camp, I began thinking about what I would see.  I thought it would be something out of the movies like the Constant Gardener or Blood Diamond.

  • several hundred huts housing the thousands in the camp
  • kids playing football in the field
  • parents farming the rich soil on the outskirts of the camp
  • NGOs driving though camp in nice white SUVs distributing food
  • people lined up for free shots from volunteers in white lab coats

Ah, not so much…

The outskirts of Awer

Next stop Awer IDP Camp - you can see the huts in the distance

Awer IDP Camp

I was wrong.  My expectations were mostly wrong.  I saw no farming activity, no SUVs, no NGOs.  I was struck by this and asked about the camp’s leadership.  There didn’t appear to be any camp leader(s).  It was crazy, just a bunch of people 30 km from the nearest town – the middle of nowhere – hanging out with no real leadership, no business, no infrastructure, nothing.  Hmm…

So what is Awer really like?  I need to get out, walk around the camp and see things for myself.

The photo commentary that follows is limited because many adults have a fear of being photographed because they feel it may cause them to be targeted for violence.  So, most of my pics are of kids.

The first people we encountered were a group of nice ladies who were preparing food.  They were friends of my friends and they were keen to talk (through a translator – my Acholi isn’t, well doesn’t exist) about their work and their situation.

The rice shows up on trucks, but it still needs to be processed

The rice may show up on trucks, but it still needs to be processed.

Of course I wanted to give it a try.  The women laughed and said that food preparation was woman’s work.  As if I couldn’t do it.  Well, my attempt was good for laugh and the quickest way to make new friends.

I love woman work

I won't make a sandwich in the US, but, in Uganda, I'll pound the heck out of some rice.


When you take a bunch of people who are used to living with several hundred meters between huts, and compress them into the density of the camps without proper sewage infrastructure, disease is ineveitable.  You can’t just walk out of your hut and pee on the ground anymore because that affects your neighbor who’s hut is 5 meters away.

Tight fit

Liiiiiike a glove -- Ace Ventura

The US sends some supplies in sturdy aluminum containers.  This aluminum is turned into everything from musical shakers to doors (below).

Hanging out.  These guys are only a little afraid of me.

Hanging out. These guys aren't really afraid of me.

Some of the kids aren’t used to interacting with white people.  I get it.  We’re weird.  Our skin is white and we have arm and leg hair (they don’t, really).  Can’t blame them for reacting that way.

This guy was really afraid of me

This guy was terrified of me.

There it was.  In the middle of the foot path.  A tombstone for a lost loved one.


Amon Ventornia. Born 1908. Died 2-11-06.

Farm this stuff

I finally reached the south end of the camp.  Just look at all that fertile land.  Why isn’t anyone farming it?  What’s the deal here?

Ripe for the taking.  This land should be farmed.

Should be acres of agriculture, as far as the eye can see.

The path back to camp

Groups of interested kids waiting for us on the path back to camp.

What a great visit.  I look forward to coming back again soon.  There was so much that I wasn’t able to document on this trip.  I really want to learn more about the camp social dynamics.  When I do, I’ll report back.

Written by thetyson

October 15, 2008 at 11:41 pm

Uganda, a brief history

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This is the story of Uganda the way I understand it to be.  If you have things to add, please leave comments and I’ll update it.

The British are coming, the British are coming!

Uganda was colonized by the British in the 1890’s.  The two dominate and largest tribes in the area were the Lugandans (source of the name Uganda) in the south and the Acholi in the north.  The Brits gave governing duties to the Lugandan tribe and set up the Acholi tribe as the military force.

A house divided

As you might imagine, this division has deeply impacted Uganda’s development.  Resources are disproportionately allocated with heavy favoritism to the southern parts of Uganda.  Current President Museveni is of Lugandan heritage and that doesn’t hurt.  Kampala is a bustling city while 66% of the Acholi in the north live on less than USD $1/day.

In the north, a witch who had mysterious visions and believed she could not be killed by gunfire began amassing a rebel following of Acholi in the north.  There are several accounts (from both sides) of her walking calmly through the battle field between opposing gunfire.  She passed power in the rebel army to a man named Joseph Kony.

Unconventional warfare

Kony, a total savage, invented a thing called “child solidiers” whereby he would steal young children from the villages of his own people in northern Uganda and force them into military service.  There are accounts of children being given guns and commanded to kill their parents.  Or, two brothers being forced to kill one or have the rebels kill both of them.  Little girls were abducted and used to carry supplies and raped.  All of the children are subjected to drugs, brainwashed and desenctized into killing machines.  Just horrible.

The villagers requested help from the Ugandan governement.  The government simply lacked the resources to defend the remote villages from Kony’s attacks, so they set up more concentrated camps in northern towns like Gulu.

Villagers had the option to leave their homes and stay in the camps for protection and over 1 million people did just this.  Once Kony’s rebel army was disbanded, they would simply return home.

Yeah, that was 22 years ago.  WTF!?

You now have an entire generation of young people who’ve grown up in what have come to be known as IDP (internally displaced people) camps.  Since land rights were part of an oral tradition shared between neighboring families, many no longer know where family’s land was let alone how to farm it leavning most with no skills whatsoever.  All they know is that rice shows up on a truck everyday.

Going back

The word on the street is that Kony is on the verge of signing a peace treaty with the Ugandan goverment.  Even if this is done, getting back to their villages would take years – assuming they could find their land.

They would need to send back a small group to plant.  Then, another to harvest.  Then, assuming a decent harvest, they could return with their families in the following year

Peace. Psych!

How do I know this process of return to the villages?  Easy.  Many have already attempted it 3 times.  You see over the last 22 years, Kony has signed and broken 3 peace agreements.  Each time it gets more difficult for people to believe the peace is going to last, so fewer people even attempt the move back.  Moving back to the villages is an extremely costly process for these families because many have no resources or savings.

NGOs to the resuce

Uganda’s story, which is lost on much of the main stream population, is known well by the NGOs (non-governmental organizations or non-profits).  In fact, Gulu, a town of only 20,000 residents is home to more than 120 international NGOs.  I’m told this is the most NGOs per capital of any town in the world.

Okay.  Now you’re up to date with everything I know about the situation.  Let’s see what else we can uncover in the coming days.

Written by thetyson

October 15, 2008 at 12:16 am

Day #7: Working in Gulu

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Luxury Computers of Gulu

In 30 minutes I found faster internet here, in the bush, than I could find in a week in Kampala.  Luxury Computers of Gulu is a great place to work.  The owner, Charles, is cool, everyone is quiet and productive – no distractions – its cheap and they take good care of me.

Visiting Italy without leaving Uganda

When I loaded up, Goog auto redirected me to (Italy).  No doubt the satellite signal was being bounced through an Italian IP address or something.  It took me 20 minutes to figure out how to switch it back to English.

Perhaps Google shouldn’t use geo targeting in the developing world where satellite internet is more common.  This is the primary reason why we don’t geo target at  Other reasons include: 1. we don’t know how to do it  and 2. we really wouldn’t know where to start.

Now that's a real startup office

Think your startup is scrappy, check out my office.

Luke I have gone to the Dark Side

The general store next door sells coke for USD 30¢.  Do you understand what that means for a Coke addict?  Its not good, man. The sugar, the caffiene, the power coursing through my veins.  Wait, what?  Haha nevermind.

Doing a woman’s job…

In Uganda, washing clothes is seen as the “woman’s job” (along with almost all other forms of work).  So, when I, a white man, set out to hand wash my clothes in a basin, it drew considerable interest from my female neighbors.

I bought some Omo – local degergent brand – from a general store (hut) and got to work.  After a while, I had a small gallery of fans — who quickly turned to friendly critics and helpers.

In no time, all the dirt and blood stains were gone.  Strangely, my hands were tingling and felt rubbery to the touch… Which begged the question: What the is Omo made of?  Krytonite?  Asbestos? Unicorn tears?  I don’t really want to know.

If this is my last post, then you’ll know the Omo got me 🙂

Written by thetyson

October 14, 2008 at 12:05 am

Day #6: Going off the Script

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I traveled to Uganda with a singular question: Are COUPONGOOD‘s microfinance loans working?

All of the loan recipients are in the south near Kampala, Mukono and Jinja because of its stability, infrastructure and proximity to Kampala, the seat of power.  So, logic says I should spend my time meeting loan recipients there.

One twist…I’ve heard so much about a northern town of Gulu and I’ve made some friends that live there.  One has offered to show me around if I’d like to come.  Hmm…

  • Not much microfinance going on up there
  • The State Department advises against traveling to Gulu
  • My father’s only request “Please don’t go to Gulu”

Yeah.  I think I’ll go to Gulu.  Let’s mix it up a bit.

Good luck to me.

We were late.  This wasn’t good.  The only option that could get us to the bus in time was boda boda.  Problem: My friend had several extremely large bags and a drum.  No matter, we piled on the back of two bodas and hung on for dear life as we zipped in and out of rush hour traffic in Kampala.

Post Bus

8:10 am: We arrived at the Post Office just in time.  The Post Bus is the preferred mode of transpo to Gulu because it leaves on time and the drivers don’t harass you as much as those at the Bus Park.  One-way to Gulu was around $8, a bargain for a 6 hour bus ride.

Quite Culture

I was struck by how quiet everyone was.  People weren’t talking, babies were silent.  Everyone was just sitting peacefully together.  My friend and I were the only people talking on the whole bus — leave it to the muzungus to break the silence – ha.


Very quickly we transitioned from the paved roads to dirt roads and the slums.  It was already very different from what I had seen in the other parts of town.

Slums only 5 minutes from downtown Kampala

Slums only 5 minutes from downtown Kampala


The country side was sprinkled with little curcular huts with thatch roofs.  So interesting, I didn’t expect to see huts this close to Kampala.  I figured they only existed in the bush.  Wish I had pics of it, but the camera died.

Street Vendors

Entpreneurial activity was in full swing at the bus stops en route.  Dozens of street vendors were hawking various foods and bottled water.  Their energy was amazing, I picked out 3 kids who could’ve been superstar salespeople in the US.  You can just see it — their delicate mix of drive, empathy and aggression.  Cool.

Pee time

We also stoped for a communal “short call”.  Everyone, men and women, pile out of the bus and pee in the bushes along side the road.  What’s a “long call”, you ask?  Ha.


I was just remarking about the high quality of the dirt roads when the driver hit a pot hole at what must have been 45 mph.  Being in the back of the bus, we were all launched into the ceiling.  Babies and children sitting in their mothers laps were catapulted forward into other seats and, since my armrest was broken, I gashed my arm on a piece of jagged metal.  That’s cool, just sitting there bleeding on a bus.  No big deal.  These people are tough, though.  None of the kids cried.  They just quietly walked back to their mothers.  In fact, nobody said anything about it at all.  Amazing.

It looks sterile, nothing to worry about, right?

It looks sterile, nothing to worry about, right?

Hotel Florida

We arrived in 5 1/2 hours — record time.  The Hotel Florida gave me the best room, called the St. John Paul (with whom I share a birthdate).  It was $20/night and it had a view of downtown Gulu.  Very nice indeed.

Hotel Florida balcony

Hotel Florida balcony


Bird's eye view of the Gulu market

Well, I’m here.  Tomorrow I’ll reignite my quest for fast internet 🙂

Written by thetyson

October 13, 2008 at 8:44 pm