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Jun-14-2011 00:31printcomments

Kudos to Timothy Kalyegira who Speaks Truth to any Power

A lesson on Google's fat envelopes for poor souls from the Sub-Saharan Africa.

Journalist Timothy Kalyegira
Journalist Timothy Kalyegira is with the Daily Monitor and his own Website, the Uganda Record.

(JOHANNESBURG ) - George Orwell condemned the sending of poor children from downtrodden parentage to a school for rich kids from affluent family.

The legendary George Orwell

If memory serves me right, he dubbed it as the worst crime that can be inflicted on a child.

Well, Orwell’s insightful remark resurfaced during my recent sojourn in Johannesburg and remained uppermost in my mind.

What I experienced in my four days stay in the “Post-Aparthied” South Africa forced me to reflect as to whether mixing adults from diverse background with a difference between them as day and night might not generate the same feeling supposed to be detrimental on children’s psychology, especially on those from poor background.

Let me stop speaking in riddles and get down to the point. Upon recommendation from an online journal to whom I contribute my articles, Google South Africa invited me to attend a workshop on Online Freedom of Expression/FoE/ in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Commitee to Protect Journalists (CPJ.org) and GlobalVoices too collaborated with Google to conduct the workshop.

Thus, when I got the invitation from Google along with the E-ticket, insurance coverage and booking to a five star hotel, I proceeded as instructed by the invitation to process my visa to SA at the High Commission in Kampala.However, it was with a nagging thought that I went to the High Commission since no money was forwarded to enable me pay for the visa.

I had my doubts too that the High Commission might turn down my request due to the nature of my passport or rather travel document which invariably marks the bearer to subtle discrimination/more on this in the near future.

Luckily or miraculously, I was granted the visa not only for four days as I requested but multiple visa that would last for the next three months.Hence,my worry evaporated on how I would secure a refund for the money I went to a great deal of trouble to get it in the first place. I said to myself, Google that sponsored the workshop knows very well that a request for visa made under its auspices cannot be rejected.

Accordingly, I also concluded that reimbursements will surely be made once I arrived at the venue. This had been affirmed by friends with better experience by way of dispelling my doubts. Some of them said “you should consider yourself the luckiest person to receive an invitation from Google!”

They added “go with peace and you will receive a fat envelope on arrival.”

Despite my inability to be reassured fully, courtesy of my refugee status that exposed me to the lip service given by all sorts of international actors such as NGOs and corporate alike in occasional philanthropy for publicity stunt, I went expecting no more than the exposure of travelling and deriving some few techniques from the workshop. I convinced myself that I should be content so long as I get a refund for the payment I made for visa. Unlike other participants this view protected me from further disappointment.

Who is Timothy Kalyegira?

Tim is a Ugandan journalist who works for the Daily Monitor as well as managing his own website called The Uganda Record. I came to know about him in 2007 after I sought refuge in Uganda. Through my favorite pastime of poring over newspapers, I stumbled upon his column titled the “Riddle” on Saturday Monitor. Citing a “seer” he claimed to have consulted, he made numerous predictions on the unfolding events from the Horn of Africa to the Great Lakes Regions. He buttressed all his articles with a cool analysis of history.

Ironically, my compatriots including the majority of those with little reading culture knew Tim way before me. Apparently, he irked a substantial number of them through his typical candid and incisive write-ups in 2001. It was titled “Why Ethiopia stayed behind.”

I read it much later after I came to Uganda, and I agreed with most of his thesis about us Ethiopians. For instance, what he observed about the Ethiopian community in Uganda is as true today as it was yesterday. Just in case someone accuses me of having a blind admiration for him, I refer to my article written in December 2007 under the title “It’s not only Africans, stupid.”

It was scribbled as a rejoinder to one of Tim’s article. Having cleared that, it’s imperative to point out that even his detractors like Daniel Kalinaki acknowledge his intelligence and industriousness shown on his “well informed, insightful, extensive research and scholarship.”

Others who don’t agree with his “dooms day prediction” expressed admiration for “his coolness in pointing out all these scientifically unprovable things.” They also admitted that through his metaphoric seer, Tim sought to “build scenarios” for those readers with the ability to discern.

Tim as my travel companion

Entebbe airport photo: Wikipedia

Coming back to the topic of the trip to Johannesburg, I proceeded to the next step. Accordingly, I availed myself in the wee hours of the 7th of June at Entebbe International Airport.

Since I was going to Joburg, one of the “richest cities” in Africa, the immigration officer had to do a lot of “mind boggling research” on my travel document by asking me all manners of stupid questions. This didn’t happen when I travelled to Banjul, the “poorest” city in West Africa over a month ago. Unlike South Africa, I didn’t even have visa to The Gambia then.

Anyway, while I was told to stand aside until my document gets Xeroxed, I decided to relax by scanning the activities of the airport which usually heightens with the influx of travelers. So the moment I turned for this purpose, I caught sight of Tim queuing among South African Airways/SAA/passengers. I nearly yelled out his name with excitement.

I didn’t need to be told that we’re going to the same workshop. On top of being pleased to have him as my companion on the flight, I was overjoyed that he succeeded to retrieve his passport from the security goons albeit at the expense of his freedom by spending overnight in jail.

However, both of us, especially him had to pass two more hurdles. I reached at the last counter ahead of him to be fingerprinted before being allowed to proceed to the boarding gate. So I waited for him curiously watching in case he will be prevented from flying.

Thankfully, no such thing happened. As I thought it would be fun travelling with him, he dropped his first sarcastic bombshell at the security check where one had to take out his belt, kick off his shoes, surrender his cell phone, coins, keys and other knick knacks. He said “the man who subjected us to all these had died but his legacy lives on.”

And so in this fashion, we arrived at Oliver Thambo Airport after four hours of flight. In our journey, I saw how shutterbug Tim is. And no wonder, he always manages to come up with the right picture for every article he publishes on Uganda Record. He never stopped taking pictures since he set foot at his own national airport. Envying him, I said “if Google throws us some money, I will buy a gadget like yours.” He replied something like “Google makes $250 per second so no worries to take good care of poor souls like us from the Sub-Saharan Africa.”

A fat envelope for poor souls from the Sub-Saharan Africa?

During check-in time at the Radisson Blu Hotel, all of us journalists and “citizen” journalists alike and other activists from the Horn and East Africa received two envelopes. One from the hotel; the other from Google. As the envelope from the hotel contains no more than the electronic key to our respective rooms, it generated no anticipation like the envelope from Google. Almost everybody, as it transpired later, expected some little money in the form of per diem.

Instead, all found a brochure and a letter indicating schedule of the workshop and a master/gift/card that contains Rand 200/$33/. It was to be used or spent only in the rich suburb called Sandton city where the five star hotel is located. Unfortunately, all shops in the neighborhood get closed by 6:00 p.m making it impossible to use the master card for all of us participants after the session which ends after 5:30 p.m.

As most participants had previous experiences of taking part in a similar workshop or conferences sponsored by lesser organizations in poorer cities with little or chaotic infrastructure, they were somewhat nonplussed by what they experienced with Google in Joburg.

Does this mean that they expected naively for Google to shower them with dollars?


But since Google leads in the information business by earning huge sums of profit that is simply mind boggling to the imagination of most participants who came from a region known for its perennial abject poverty, a certain degree of sensitivity was expected.

Some went to great lengths of trouble to catch their flight from one province to their respective capital city where airports are situated. Some paid extra money from their meager resources by hiring charter taxis to take them to the airport since their flight leaves at ungodly hours.

Worse, there were some participants who engaged in activism for the cause they believe in with no known means of income.

Thus, despite the valuable information given at the workshop on how to carry out ones activism online in a secure and efficient manner, most cannot even afford to buy the cheapest flash disk. Also in spite of their courage to speak truth to dictatorial regimes to the point of sacrificing themselves, they invariably fall short to do the same including this writer on the corporate world that does business by hobnobbing with dictators or by manipulating their greed.

At times, they even let themselves be shortchanged by this emerging predatory world lest they lose another opportunity of freebies that may involve partying, sightseeing or fat check or all. In short, almost all participants expressed their disappointments at Google between themselves. But the only one who had the guts to bring it forward was Timothy Kalyegira!

When we were given the chance to comment on the closing of the workshop, we all chose to continue living in our genteel poverty by hiding our real feelings.

Tim, on the other hand, told it like it was. He began by expressing why he would do away with the mandatory words of appreciation and political correctness and told the sponsor to “come down to earth” and appreciate the ugly reality in the Sub-Saharan Africa.


Google along with CPJ and GlobalVoices had done a commendable job on the whole by sponsoring the FoE.

On top of acquiring valuable lesson about safe online activism; the workshop enabled me to meet wonderful people from all over the world. Also personally, I don’t complain much since the money I paid for visa was reimbursed.

Yet we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that those who stand against free expression are too powerful with unlimited or unaccountable financial resources against those of us who struggle for human rights and all democratic values.

As aptly demonstrated by the various presenters, some of our oppressors have changed tack from the crude form of repression to that of using the internet technology to stifle free expression. They do so by throwing in their financial weight. They buy latest technology with it; they employ IT geeks with fat salary, so on and so forth.

In countries like Ethiopia, this may not even be necessary since the regime owns the telecommunication business. Thus, anyone who wants to change this imbalance for the sake of free expression has to get his priority right and support those in the areas where they need it most.

After all, Google has a culture that is committed to innovation on the basis of “everyone being comfortable sharing ideas and opinions.” Accordingly, Google can augment its culture by listening to personalities like Tim who dare to speak truth to any power at anytime and anywhere.

Google even ought to have arranged for us to see the two extreme worlds that exist in SA by taking us out from Sandton city to places like Soweto. What Tim expressed during the Joburg workshop represents the silent majority’s voice. I hope so too that Google is engaged in this sort of endeavor not for public relations exercise but out of a commitment to the promotion of free expression. One cannot help but doubt.

Especially, when one sees how the popular online video site called YouTube which was acquired by Google in 2006 is engaged in the stifling of free expression by pulling out videos from YouTube accounts of webs such as Salem-News.com that featured more than 500 videos. For more info see “Pilger’s Iraq Film cancelled; "Where is Santa Fe New Mexico’ Soul?”, on www.Salem-News.com.

An Ethiopian Human Rights Defender based in Uganda

Kiflu Hussain is an attorney based in Uganda. He says his passion for writing came from reading, and that it’s inevitable that the more one reads, the more one develops the urge to write. Kiflu has published articles in Ethiopia on the English Reporter, then a weekly newspaper along with a few Amharic articles on the defunct Addis Zena. It was after he and his family found refuge in Uganda, that he began contributing writings to the local papers and various websites such as Daily Monitor, Uganda Record, The New Vision, Ethioquestnews, Garowe Online, WardheerNews etc.

The reason for this is clear. Ethiopia, despite being a seat of the African Union had never produced a regime that allows even the minimum space for dialogue that other people in Africa enjoy so naturally. So Kiflu's ending up as a refugee in Uganda is a blessing in disguise for it accorded him with the opportunity to write. He says at the same time he learned, unfortunately, that his refugee status would be what showed how deep the hypocrisy of the “international community” goes. We at Salem-News.com are honored to carry this gentleman's work and we hope that in the process, western people may come to appreciate the struggle of refugees throughout the world.

You can write to Kiflu at this address: E-mail;kiflukam@yahoo.com

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.

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