Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hitting the ground running

I arrived in Entebbe on Tuesday night around 8:30pm. When I stepped off the plane I was hit with that powerful smell associated with tropical developing countries. That slightly offensive yet wholly comforting mix of roadside bonfires and humid equatorial air. I don’t know why, but it always makes me happy. The plane landed about a 100 feet away from the gate so I savored the Ugandan night on the walk to the terminal. Once inside I joined the very long “queue” to get my single entry visa. I am always struck by how many missionaries are in East Africa and this time was no exception. Of the few hundred people on my flight I would say 75% were with a church group or mission sponsored trip. It really does add an interesting dynamic to the already diverse planeful of people.

After I got my bag, a driver picked me up and we headed the 40 minutes into Kampala where I am staying with my country director. By the time I got in it was around 10 pm and I was ready to crash. I stayed up talking with my director for a while and finally got to sleep around 12:30 or 1. The next morning I got up at 7:30am, got ready and headed into work…no rest for the weary! The first day was jam packed. Around 10am we headed to Parliament to meet with Members of Parliament (MPs) on the FDC (opposition party) parliamentary caucus rules and procedures committee. Since Uganda was a one party state until 2005, political parties are still incredibly new and weak. The ruling NRM is the party that held control for the 30 years following Idi Amin’s fall and has held the presidency and majority in Parliament since. The opposition parties are all currently trying to create structures, rules, and platforms, and decide what they stand for…all monumental tasks.

A part of our program is working with these parties’ members in parliament (making up a parliamentary caucus) to create some of these documents and policies. A caucus code of conduct states the expectations the party has of its members in parliament and delineates who communicates for the group, how decisions are made, how they make deals with other groups, and the consequences of breaking the rules or not showing up for work. We had worked with them to draft an initial document and during this meeting went over some of the practicalities to determine what additional clauses would be needed to accomplish their vision. In the end only the chairman and one staffer showed but it was still a very interesting meeting. It took us 3 hours however because every few minutes someone’s cell phone would ring, and in East Africa people always answer.

After the meeting we headed back to our office to prepare some materials for the staff retreat that was starting that evening. Later in the afternoon we met with a very young NRM MP (looked like he was my age) from the central district. He held a leadership position in the NRM caucus and came to speak with us about assistance we are going to provide on communications strategies. We settled on a working meeting in late September and then he had to get back to Parliament for session. An hour or so later, the NRM chief whip’s staffer came by to discuss constituency outreach assistance we will also be providing. Again, we discussed when we would be able to discuss the training (so typical). Around 7pm we left the office and headed 40 minutes towards lake Victoria to start our retreat. By the time we all got there, ate our dinner, and had a few beers we were too tired to do much of anything and headed to bed.

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