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Out and about Uganda: Busika Extreme Adventure Park

Guest blogged on oleebranch.com

You’ve all heard about Ninja Warriors or at least watched the series on Television. Those ones that get you cracking up, at how easily someone can fail to overcome a ‘simple’ challenge and end up in a pool of water. Ninja Warriors are synonymous with Asia, Japan to be more specific.

Well, we have an epic version of Ninja warriors in Uganda. You’ve got to have ninja traits and be an adventurous kind to attempt it, else you fall in ‘Air’. There is no water below to waste on you. So you hang in air until someone comes to your rescue. I am not kidding, I mean it. You will be there hanging about fwaaa until Badru or another trainer comes for you. Read more

Uganda short of 3000 midwives

“I was inspired into midwifery when my cousin sister lost her first child during child delivery, she labored for so long and no one was there to help her. When she got pregnant again, I helped her deliver but got stranded when I had to get rid of the placenta. I had never delivered a mother before, but I was determined to save my cousin’s baby. These were the words of Joyce, a young Karamojong woman now training in Mid-wifery.

My inspiration came from a personal bad experience with a mid-wife, when I gave birth and out of carelessness, my baby dropped down and died. The mid-wife had been extremely rude to me. said Apio another young trainee.

Read more

Self-hate or peer pressure for Zambian Girls?

It is almost illegal to have a dark face and natural hair in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. They come in all shapes, colours, sizes, texture and length. These are the weaves worn by majority of Zambian female city dwellers who prefer to call them hair extensions. It was my third visit to Zambia and during the previous two trips, I had observed an interesting phenomenon of women bleaching only their faces. This last trip however revealed something new, that the bleached faces came with artificial ‘hair extensions’. There were moments when I totally looked out of place with my short natural hair and dark skin complexion. Read more

Why consider Women in Agriculture Education?

I was recently in Maputo, Mozambique
attending the 4th Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) biennial conference. RUFORUM is a
consortium of 42 Universities across Africa and a platform for catalyzing
change is African Universities.  I had
gone for a consultancy to train young social reporters and journalism students in Mozambique who had been tasked
to cover the proceedings of the event in real time via social media.  I have in the past conducted similar
trainings but this was a special one given the nature of the trainees. It was a
mixture of English, French and Portuguese speakers. After successfully
completing my trainings, I had an opportunity of attending some of the plenary
sessions as I monitored my ‘students’ do their work.
Conducting a training for social reporters and journalism students.
It was not a surprise that one of those
sessions that I chose to attend, focused on the role of women in Agriculture
and why they should not be ignored in institutions of higher
learning and specifically Agricultural education.
In her opening remarks, Her Excellence Dhlamini Nkosazana Zuma
the chairperson of the African Union commission mentioned that transforming
Agriculture in Africa required innovative scientific research, educational and
training approaches.  She added that
transformation demands a bold vision backed by bold actions.  Ms. Dhlamini said that Africans from all walks
of life must contribute to a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth, so
that Africa can take its rightful place in the world. By 2025, all young
persons under 25 in the world will be African. They must therefore be
intellectually empowered with relevant skills especially in science and technology.
she added. On the role of women in Africa’s
development, Ms. Dhlamini had this to say 

“Women not only make up half of Africa’s population but also produce the other half, they form 70% of African workforce.
We must empower them. We must have deliberate strategies to ensure girls’ access
to higher education and more women in the academia”

She challenged participants when she
mentioned that no country has ever developed on primary education alone and
emphasized the value and need to focus on Higher education. In her opinion,
Africa needs to have its own agenda and pursue it. “We do not need the UN to tell us to take our children to school”
she said.
H.E Dhlamini Zuma Chairperson AU commission
More often than not, we do what people
give us money for and not what we are supposed to do as Africans. No country
has ever developed only on donor money,we must put in a lot of our resources. 
We must look at new Technologies like
elearning to give us more access to education. Universities must be innovative
enough to adopt to new technologies and they must have both physical and
virtual learning spaces to give skills to more students. We should not miss the
opportunity that technology offers. Innovators must innovate to replace the
hand held hoe for Women.  She concluded.
Women remain invisible, in spite of their presence.

Graca Machel the keynote speaker of this
conference started her address with a reminder that every one of us had to have a responsibility of how we change Africa.  It
should no longer be about “Reducing the percentage of people dying of hunger”
but rather totally eradicating it from Africa. Graca firmly asserted.
We get comfortable talking about numbers
but what impact do we have on the lives of the people we represent? 43% of
African Children are stunted, that means that they can never attain their intellectual
capacity. To Ms. Graca, poverty for African is no longer the issue of hunger
but rather the intellectual nourishment.
As a way of walking the talk, Ms. Graca,
with the support of African Development bank has established an African women
Network focusing on Women in Finance with a plan to establish networks of Women in Agriculture especially woman in Business. She was concerned that women are not well
represented in Agricultural services yet it is important to improve women’s representation
in policy decision making processes. There is very little attention given to
the roles women play in agriculture and their specific needs and priorities. To
realize the potential of Agriculture as a source of livelihood for many
Africans, We must recognize the roles women can play in Agriculture.
Why
Women?
The AfricanDevelopment Bank estimates that 90 per
cent of Africa’s food is produced by women in spite of the fact that few women
hold titles to the land they work. Because of this, rural women’s contribution
to Africa’s agriculture is important for the persistence and success of their
families, communities and local and national economies, and to poverty
reduction and sustainable development.

Ms. Graca Machel gave a keynote address & focused on
the role of women in Africa

According to a research conducted by
RUFORUM in 2010, Women play a vital role in Agriculture yet are poorly
represented in higher education with 28% of student in universities Agriculture
programs, less than a quarter in agriculture faculties and 20% women
researchers.
An MOU between RUFORUM and AWARD was signed to encourage Women’s
Participation in Agricultural Research and Higher Education

The big question remains, what must be done to
address the gender gaps and concerns in Agriculture and science in Africa?

For more details about this conference, please visit:

Flickr to see some of the pictures 
Blogs: Over 43 were written by the social reporters

Barriers to mHealth adoption in Sub-Saharan Africa

In Uganda, and Africa at large, the
populace face many challenges with regard to health including but not limited
to; poor facilities, poor social infrastructure, energy shortage especially
electricity and limited access to education. Despite Government’s effort to improve
on the health system, very few individuals, companies and organizations are
tapping into the potential of mobile Technologies for health, even when the
benefits are obvious to populations whose most accessible tool for communication
is a phone. Below are some of the reasons that I personally think contribute to
the little uptake of mhealth.
 
Photo Credit: Edward Echwalu
1.     
Content
The absence of
readily available mobile health related content on specific thematic areas is a
big barrier. Most organizations that implement mhealth projects have to develop
their own content based on the area of focus. eg HIV, Malaria, maternal health
etc. There is also no central database where this content is put for future
reference or to avoid duplication of already implemented mhealth issues. This
leaves room for data redundancy and duplication to target groups.
 
2.     Skills
Because of the
tremendous growth in phone penetration especially in sub-Saharan Africa, there
is a great demand for training in mhealth education. One cannot simply rely on
the assumption that because every at least many people own phones, they can
ably use them for mhealth campaigns. They need to be trained on how to operate
the phones, say for health related surveys or how to respond to health quizzes.
This is still lacking. Unless the mhealth campaigns are inform of interactive
Voice Responses (IVRs), the adoption will still remain slow with the use of
interactive SMS messages especially among the elderly populations.

3.     Gender
Although this
is an issue that is often under looked, it plays a key role in either the
success or failure of mhelath project. It’s obvious that the biggest percentage of those who bear
the burden caused by conflict ,disaster are women and children and they are the
key stakeholders in promoting good health and building stable, self-reliant
communities. Also most mhealth related campaigns target mainly women on issues
like maternal health, child mortality, HIV/AIDs, abortions etc. but ownership
of phones is predominantly male who control what kind of information comes
through the phone, whose mobility is not restricted and who are better economically
empowered to afford maintaining the phones especially in rural areas. Therefore,
Making these projects gender sensitive and involving men right from the onset
of the projects will reduce the barriers.
 
4.     Access/Affordability
This could be viewed in terms of
access to the actual handset especially for the rural folks in rural Africa and
affordability in terms of maintenance such as paying to have the phone charged.
Many people cannot afford a 30USD handset yet most mhealth implementing organizations/companies
only want to work with folks that already own phones. It’s a barrier because
you reach fewer people.

5.     Infrastructure
A lot of mhelath projects in Africa
depend so much on Telecom companies which are responsible for the general
telephony infrastructure eg masts for access to network, distribution of short codes
for those that intend to use SMS etc. In the event that an area does not have
access to a mast, then it is obvious that even if there is a genuine health
need to be addressed through the use of mobile phones, it does not get
attention simply because there are issues of network connectivity. This is one
of the biggest barriers for rural Africa. Also the issuing of short codes by
the Telecoms through communications regulators is bureaucratic.

6.     Attitude
Traditionally
especially in Africa, mobile phones are known for verbal communication. But
with mhealth projects comes a new paradigm shift to the use and application of
phones for accessing health information through SMS. Accepting this change and
adjusting accordingly can be a barrier to SMS based mhealth project. IVR
related mhealth campaigns could be more successful than SMS because voice
messages cut across literacy levels.

7.      Language
This is a barrier because of the fact that the commonly used
language for SMS is English yet sub-Saharan Africa is so diverse. However, this
barrier can be solved through voice messages and using community radios along side the mobile phones.

8.     Political
Will
The success of any project depends on the
positive political will and government support. Often times, mhealth initiatives
by NGOs are meant to compliment already existing government health services and
therefore they must work closely with Government. However, many initiatives
have been destroyed because the Government has not played its role. A case in
point is the moratorium that was issued in Uganda from the Ministry of Health
halting the implementation of all electronic and Mobile Health projects that
were not approved by the Director General. While this was a great initiative to
reduce on duplication of projects and to encourage wider coverage and eliminate
unnecessary pilots, the Ministry did not make the vetting process smooth. It
would take months to have the technical working group at the ministry meet and
approve the projects. This is a source of frustration for projects that have
defined timelines.

“CLIMATE SMART” AGRICULTURE INITIATIVES WILL SAVE AFRICA

Is
Africa not fulfilling her Agricultural Potential? Will Africa ever be food
secure? What role can the youth play in the agricultural value chain? And what’s
this CLIMATE CHANGE ALL ABOUT? 

The questions are endless yet there seem to be
no answers to them.
When the CLIMATE changes, does
that mean anything to you? Does it affect food production, security and yields?
I think it’s high time AFICAN adapted to Climate change.

At the recent Food Agriculture and
Natural resources policy analysis Network (FARNPAN) annual conference that I
attended in Swaziland , Dr Sepo Hachigonta the FANRPAN climate Change
Coordinator said that, Climate change possess a real risk to the future of
farming and food security in Africa, thus all stakeholders including policy
makers, researchers, scientists and farmers should engage to find solutions.
Climate change impacts are much
localised and hence some areas are more vulnerable than others. Therefore
African Governments need to spearhead initiatives of climate proofing
Agriculture with all partners involved in climate change adaptation strategies.
The capacity of policy analysts, scientists and Journalists must be enhanced in
the fields of Agriculture, Climate and socio-economics to collectively build a
strong base of evidence on cropping systems to inform adaptation policies and
investment decisions. It’s also important to build the capacity of young
researchers on climate issues and on how the environment interacts with social,
human and economic sectors.
“A
key strategy of managing risk and vulnerability associated with Climate change
is developing and implementing evidence based policies and programs that
respond to local realities and priorities”
For a country like Uganda who’s
economy is dominated by the agricultural sector, which accounts for 41.6% of
the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 85% of the export earnings and 80% of
employment opportunities with the youngest population yet highest youth
unemployment in the world,  (World Bank
report on Africa Development Indicators (ADI) 2008/2009. Fifty six (56%).This is an indicator that in order to achieve
meaningful development programms and projects, there is need to involve the
youth and have the programs youth oriented. Is there any role that the youth in
Uganda are playing to achieve climate smart agriculture and initiatives that
will assist farmers to climate proof agriculture? 
This is what bloggers and Journos ought to understand about
reporting on climate change. 
,

Can AFRICANS tell their own story through Social Media?

Highlights of a brief conversation:
Nova Scotian: Hello, Where do you come from? Or Hello, Are you from Africa?
Me: Africa/ yes
Nova Scotian: Oh, which part of Africa
Me: East Africa
Nova Scotian: Which Country
Me: Uganda
Nova Scotian: UGANDA!!!(With a smile)…….Idi Amin and LRA. That’s what it’s known for. Right?
Me: Because that’s what the media portrays. Right?
Nova Scotian: But that’s what we all we know about Uganda.
Me: Really? Never heard of the Rwenzori Mountains or Inzikuru in the Olympics?
Nova Scotian: No
And the conversation goes on and on and on depending on how much the individual knows or is willing to know about Uganda!!
Not one, not two and not even three but many people have asked me that question(Where do you come from/ Are you from Africa?) for the 3 months I have so far spent in Nova Scotia, Canada.  It’s amazing that they ask with lots of enthusiasm and when you mention that you come from Africa, they are quick to ask which part/Country.  I used to take this so lightly but after I noticed a similar response from all those I interacted with and talked to about Africa, I began noticing something funny.
Thirty two (32) years after Idi Amin stopped ruling Uganda, and about seven (7) years after his death, he is remembered and known more than all the presidents who ruled after him. The funniest thing is that he is known for the Tyranny and bloodshed. Second to Idi Amin is the Lord’s Resistance Army (a.k.a LRA) known for abduction, rape as well as cutting off lips and Noses of their victims? When I ask a question like; Is there anything good and positive that you know of, or have ever heard about Uganda? They innocently say no. Some are even quick to add that another bad thing they have heard that is so recent, is that Uganda is a homophobic country. 
The Media: They have the Power to influence and change perception.
I usually get so inquisitive and ask; How do you get to know all these details about Idi Amin, LRA etc yet you have never been to Uganda?, most people say through News. What do you mean by news? I ask. “We watch all that stuff on CNN and BBC is the response I get. Of course they are right and it’s true but what keeps me wondering, is that even after all this time with no Amin and LRA in Uganda, people think that it’s still the case even in 2011. Why is too much emphasis put on such issues? Can’t the news be balanced such that equal emphasis is put on both the good and bad? Just a handful of people know about our beautiful Muchision falls, our conducive weather, our Olympics heros and the fact that we are the ‘pearl of Africa’.  What exactly do professional journalists report about? Or what are they supposed to report? Are there journalists who write positive stories? I would love to meet them.
Can Africans tell their story though social Media to change negative perception?
Ivorycoast, then Tunisia, followed by Egypt then Libya took  over the news headlines despite the fact that Yemen, and Morrocco were in similar situations, A week later Japan  made news headlines with the earthquake that has claimed approximately 10,000 lives…..and the stories go on to celebrities like Lady Gaga visiting Google offices and Taylor Elizabeth passing on. That is main stream media for you! So what am I supposed to watch or listen to and follow with all this news coming up?
And who alerts the media houses about the situation? It’s the citizen Journalists through social sites like twitter, youtube and facebook which are now accessible on many mobile phones.  With more citizens owning phones and accessing internet, can Africans now tell their own story to the world? Can we have more African Journalists (both professional and citizen) reporting good things about Africa like the Americans and Europeans do about America and Europe? Can African Journalist produce documentaries featuring African Icons and heros that we can watch and feel proud of?  What about Africans in the diaspora who are contributing so much to these already developed countries socially, economically and politically, what are their stories?  I seem to have more questions. What do you think?
AFRICA= POVERTY? HUNGER? DISEASE?(Watch this!)

Cervical cancer: A threat to Women’s life expectancy

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer affecting women worldwide and the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in developing countries. According to the Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), global statistics show that nearly nearly half a million new cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed each year. And more than a quarter million women die of this disease annually, with the highest incidence and mortality rates being in sub-saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia. Cervical cancer is the most common female cancer in Uganda. At Mulago hospital alone, 80 percent of women diagnosed or referred with cervical cancer, have the disease in it’s advanced stage.
The causes of cervical cancer have been attributed to early engagement in sexual activities, multiple sexual partners and multiple marriages. Cecil Helman in her book Culture, Health and Illness, identifies that the disease is rare in nuns and common in prostitutes. And while in recent years, there has been a growing understanding of how people’s gender identity determines the nature of their ill health, their vulnerability to disease, their ability to prevent disease and their access to healthcare.  The dimension of feminist theory and females experience puts males’ hostile sexuality at the biopsychological core of men’s subjugation of women. In most situations, a woman’s risk of getting cervical cancer will depend less on her sexual behavior but more on that of her husband or male partner since the disease can be transmitted from woman to another, with men acting as carriers. This mostly applies in communities with cultures that expect men to have many premarital and extra marital affairs as proof of their masculinity, while barring women and looking at them as eminently available and seducible.
Usually women contract the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) between their late teenage years and their early 30’s. But most often cervical cancer is found much later, usually after age 40, with a peak incidence around 45. There is a long delay between infection and invasive cancer, hence killing many annually often because it goes undiagnosed for many years. And yet the disease is preventable and can be detected and treated at an early stage when the cure rate is virtually 100 percent. Ignorance of the disease of the disease might not be the only threat, but limited access to screening and therapy for precancerous lesions and the low acceptability of pelvic examinations are also contributing factors towards the high prevalence of cervical cancer. Women might also have no control over possible disease transmission if they fail to decide when and where to seek medical attention or when and how they have sex. The imbalance of power between women and men in gender relations curtails women’s sexual autonomy and expands male sexual freedom, thereby increasing women’s vulnerability.
According to PATH, prevention of cervical cancer can be done in two ways; Preventing infection initially or detecting the precursors to cervical cancer and providing treatment. The former can be accomplished by avoiding exposure to the virus through abstinence from sexual activity or through mutual monogamy(when both partners were not previously infected). Condoms only offer 70 percent protection against HPV when used all the time. Vaccination is the other preventive method. PATH is working on incorporating HPV vaccination into a comprehensive cervical cancer prevention programme, through developing a vaccine delivery strategy, a communications strategy for out reach to communities, and an advocacy strategy for outreach to policy makers. Vaccination can be combined with screening. Every woman deserves the right to the highest attainable standard of health, especially the many millions of women who confront illiteracy, poverty, poor sanitation, and medical facilities that are inadequate and physically/ economically inaccessible.