Africans Talk about Sustainability

Earth Island News

City Talk

In 2001, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) rewarded the East African country of Uganda with a debt-relief package of $90 million - a two-thirds reduction of the country’s annual debt repayment. Uganda was granted this concession in recognition of President Yoweri Museveni’s success in returning the country to economic and political stability after former president Idi Amin’s reign of terror. Between 1971 and 1979, approximately 30,000 people died at the hands of Amin’s regime, while 70,000 Asians were forcibly expelled. Uganda today has a strong decentralized local government system and entertains a free press with critical and dissenting voices. The country is now broadly free of internal insurrection, except in the north near Gulu and on the western borders with Congo and Rwanda.

Despite much progress, Uganda was named the world’s third most corrupt country (after Nigeria and Bangladesh) in Transparency International’s 2001 Corruption Perception Index. Museveni and his revolutionary movement, in power for 15 years, still rule the country and political parties are banned.

As Africa has learned, political stability and security are crucial to sustainable development. Without law and order, planning for wise land use and sustainable use of resources is generally last on the agenda. During the Amin years, much of Uganda’s once-prolific wildlife was shot by soldiers for meat, ivory and skins.

City Talk
City Talk, a new Earth Island project, begins work in Uganda during this calm period of institution building. City Talk has been established to organize discussions on sustainable development issues through meetings, print and broadcast media, and most importantly, the Internet because it offers a relatively cheap way to connect people across vast distances and time zones. City Talk will invest considerable effort to help people get Internet access through existing connections, while ensuring that they receive adequate technical training and have the skills to express themselves successfully to foreigners.

Our debates are both local, within a city, and international, introducing outside voices to question what has been taken for granted and consider the impacts on the rest of the world (of greatest relevance to the US). City Talk gets the community talking about how people are living, what they truly want from life, and how they can make that happen without disastrous, unforeseen side-effects.

City Talk will operate in Uganda through a local NGO and a separate, affiliated organization, City Talk (Uganda). City Talk (Uganda), based in Entebbe, will be run by one paid staff member, Dan Fred Lutaya (assistant town clerk for Entebbe Municipal Council), who will be assisted by a multi-stakeholder advisory committee. Meanwhile, City Talk will match Entebbe with a sister city in the US, where it will organize a similar local program of discussions, joint Internet debates, and foster communication skills training.

Uganda City Talk selected Entebbe, situated on the equator on the northern shores of Lake Victoria, as the project’s pilot city because it is relatively small (population approximately 90,000), with an educated populace and good Internet connections. Formerly the administrative capital when Uganda was a British protectorate (1892-1962), Entebbe lies 25 miles south of the present-day capital, Kampala, and is the site of the international airport.

Entebbe plans to become a major tourist center. The question is whether the city’s highly-prized rural character, with its tall trees, tropical flower gardens, diverse assortment of migratory birds, lakeside beaches, fresh air and clean water - the very qualities that attract outsiders - can withstand the onslaught of this development.

During a three-week visit in October, 2001, City Talk was warmly welcomed at several formal meetings and at a dinner by senior members of Entebbe Municipal Council, hosted by Mayor Stephen Kabuye. Uganda’s Minister of Information, Basoga Nsadhu, assured us: “This is a welcome program. I’d like to ensure that you have all [national] government cooperation.”

Transparency International chair and the editor of the independent national newspaper, The Monitor, Wafula Ogutu, gave City Talk his blessing, as did the editor of the government-run daily, The New Vision. Representatives from the Panos Institute, a sustainable-development NGO, the sociology department at Makerere University and Ugandan television director, Proscovia Njuki, also offered support.

In Entebbe, City Talk visited several other NGOs, community-based organizations and educational centers, including: Lake Victoria Environmental Management Program, Nile Basin Initiative, Entebbe District Wildlife Association, The AIDS Support Organization, Single Mothers Association of Uganda, Nkumba University, Entebbe Secondary School and Kiwafu Primary School. Focus groups provided potential issues for City Talk’s discussion groups.

  • Population Pressure: The average Ugandan woman bears more than seven children. With Entebbe’s population growing at an annual rate of 6 percent, this places a strain on resources, such as fish and forests (as well as on the women). The swelling rural population is driving a stream of migrants toward cities, increasing demand for services such as clean water supply, garbage collection and sewage disposal, and exacerbating urban problems including water pollution and poverty.

  • Tribalism and Religious Sectarianism: Uganda is a hodge-podge of ethnic groups. Without visible representation of different tribes within government and civil society, resentment leads to national instability.

City Talk respects Ugandans’ desires to enjoy the fruits of development such as easier, longer lives with enriching opportunities for self-fulfillment. It recognizes the crucial role of private investment and free enterprise, but wants to promote the controls and safeguards that come from a democratic government backed by all sectors of society, a strong and respected legal system and, above all, a well-informed and actively participating civic society.

Nicola Swinburne, Ph.D. is City Talk’s project director. For more information on City Talk, see or email, phone (415) 788-3666 ext. 117, fax: 788-7324. City Talk, Earth Island Institute, 300 Broadway, Suite 28, San Francisco, CA 94133-3312.

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