Returning home changed to an unchanging Shire

Sabbaticals bring many benefits. One is obviously time for reflection: on the past, present and future; on what matters; on what has made us who we are. And I can say without hesitation that, for good and sometimes perhaps for ill, our Uganda years made a far greater impact on me than any other four-year period as an adult. Of course, one never realises it at the time. Life goes on, you blithely persevere from one thing to the next, you never stop to think.

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Bishop Zac, the Black Monday campaign in Uganda and putting yourself in harm’s way

This is important. Bishop Zac Niringiye used to be my sort-of boss for the 4 years we worked in Uganda. He was the secretary of the trustees of the college I taught in and had actually been someone I consulted about life there before we moved in 2004. His advice to me was simple then. "Don't try to be a Ugandan, Mark. You're not. You're a Brit." Superb - of course cultural sensitivity is essential - but it is only works if it is accompanied by authenticity and integrity. Zac is a strong character with strong passions and a good mind (he was a Langham scholar, doing his theology PhD in Scotland). He's not always easy! But he's someone with real integrity and gospel concern.

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The British Empire was never quite what you thought: John Darwin’s Unfinished Empire

Nearly 10 years ago, a dear friend of mine was addressing a gathering of Ugandan MPs in the Parliament building in Kampala (around the 40th anniversary of independence). It included those from all shades on the political spectrum, including not a few post-colonial firebrands. My friend is certainly no great apologist for imperialism, but he posed two simple questions.

  • "Which Ugandan regions (of those that the British failed to develop) have we since developed?"
  • "What aspects of public life, government and rule of law have we improved on or done better in than the colonial regime?"

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Friday Fun 28: Aural Nostalgia for an African Day

This is a random Friday Fun. It's not especially funny, although some will probably think this makes me seem very funny, putting me in the same bracket as collectors of birdsong CDs. Too bad. It just so happened that I was searching for some old files on my computer and came across these - I'd completely forgotten I'd made them. But in the few days before we left Uganda in the summer of 2005, I took my rudimentary digital recorder out into the garden and just let it listen.

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The Saigon School of Missiology and Graham Greene’s QUIET AMERICAN

It is not just the victims of imperialism who easily identify its sins and blindspots. Those who have wielded and then lost empires are quick to spot the parallels in others'. Perhaps that was partly why Graham Greene was such a caustic critic of what he perceived as the twentieth century's new imperialist incarnation: the United States. Of course Greene had strong left-wing sympathies and was openly anti-American, which provided  convenient filters by which the right could ignore his perspectives. It's no surprise that he was under FBI surveillance from the 1955 publishing of The Quiet American until his death in 1991.

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Hackgate, Corruption and African perceptions of the West

During the 4 years we worked in Uganda, I would have this conversation with students all too often. They would despairingly deprecate African states for their oh-so predictable corruption, nepotism and despotism. It would be shrugged off and perhaps accompanied by a green-eyed comment about western political systems. And indeed, when chatting with friends back home, they would often enquire whether X or Y countries were doing 'worse or better these days' - shorthand for whether their respective rulers were now more, or less, openly corrupt and oppressive. Such is the caricature many outsiders have of Africa - and of course, there's no smoke without fire, etc etc.

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The joys of Ugandan English

Not quite sure how I came across this wonderful Wiki page - but for any who have ever lived or visited Uganda, or East Africa generally for that matter, it is a treasure trove. Definitely worth printing out as a precautionary measure to keep in your back pocket. Which reminded me of some things we wrote in our monthly newsletter when we were living there... exactly 7 years ago  - simply can't believe it was that long ago now.

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