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About the Author

Wouter Dijkstra
ICT4Development researcher (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

Personal: Wouter Dijkstra is a Social Scientist, interested in the use of new and old media to strengthen public debate and mechanisms of accountability in Africa. With degrees in both Anthropology and New Media and an extensive background in Africa he is based firmly in contemporary theory but even more in practical reality. In 2009 he went to Uganda together with the ICT4Uganda research group, guided by Dr Geert Lovink. He finished research on the power of talk-radio and the emergence of mobile telephony in Uganda. Based on this research he coined the term ICT4Accountability. This is still an ongoing research. At this moment he is working for TRAC to set up platforms for public debate in east-Africa, through the use of mobile telephony and FM radio. This organization is currently in a startup phase.

Post

Should there be a Toilet-Car in the President’s Motorcade?

Published 14th July 2010 - 10 comments - 4503 views -

Transcript from Ekimeeza fieldnotes:

In today’s Ekimeeza, one incident that stood out was the president, who addressed the people on labor-day through television and said that Uganda has not made a lot of progress economically because the people have a luxurious lifestyle. The big discussion that followed was whether the private toilet driving along the president’s 24-car convoy could be considered too luxurious.  

The example of the toilet car certainly gives an idea of the waste and over- luxurious lifestyle of the president, yet, people at the Ekimeeza pulled the toilet-car topic out of context by discussing which of the 24 cars was the toilet-car, what could be other irrelevant cars in the convoy and if the toilet car always drove along with the convoy. More half the participants touched upon the topic of the toilet car, all with their opinion about the appropriateness of the vehicle. The ruling party supporters present at the debate started accusing some other participants of having cars and thus being luxurious and the whole discussion turned into a row about minor issues.

When instead of a disapproval or support of the single ‘toilet car’ issue, a more objective and statistically sound claim had been made, like the actual amount of money spent on the president’s personal luxury, there would have been less confusion and less subjective debating possible. Numbers and facts give people the ability to build an argument and puts the personal opinion of the speaker along the sidelines.

In my last TH!NK post I started analyzing the discourse used during the radio-talkshow Ekimeeza, where citizens meet in Kampala to engage in an open debate about social and political issues. Lose accusations are common and juicy stories seem to be used much more than concrete facts. This can be attributed to both the availability of numbers and statistics and civilians’ ability to interpret numerical data. The lack of basic mathematical knowledge can have far reaching implications for a society. In Uganda this lack of basic math skills among the population shows with most money transactions, where calculators are used as soon as counting to 10 does not suffice. As a test I now and then ask people to estimate the amount of chicken in a pen or the amount of bottles of coke in a fridge, most of the times they are either way off or will just tell me that they really do not know.

Another explanation for the large amount of subjective and unfunded arguments in the political discourse at Ekimeeza is the sheer absence of statistical figures. During my interviews with radio stations and politicians this was a recurrent issue. There are very few numbers available, so arguments in a discussion tend to refer to incidents and memorable events. It is not the amount of money the convoy of the president costs a day and what percentage of the national budget this constitutes in a year, but the topic of discussion is the incident that there is a toilet car driving along with the convoy. Although both arguments indicate that the president may be spending excessive amounts of money for personal luxury and comfort, the numerical argument cannot be as easily contested, forgotten or mixed up with other arguments.

In a survey I did among 33 participants of the Ekimeeza I asked what sources they used to prepare for the discussion at the Ekimeeza. The great majority answered their main sources were Friends, Newspapers and Radio shows. TV was to a much lesser extent used as a source and internet, books or other sources were hardly mentioned. I also asked how they could access independent statistical data. There were four people who mentioned parliament as a source of statistical data. Some sittings of parliament are screened on TV and the general public is sometimes allowed to attend at the sittings. Three people came up with the internet and the rest could not name an independent data source which could provide statistics. It must be said that a lot of people that filled in the questionnaire did not seem to understand what ‘independent statistical data’ was. Some of the answers were: ‘by talking to friends’ or ‘by observing people’. Yet there was nobody who could mention an agency or publication that could supply them with statistical data.

The fact of the matter is that not only the general public and the Ekimeeza speakers seem to rely on newspapers and radio as basic source of information; even politicians use excessive amounts of unfunded arguments to state their claims. Not only does this become evident at the Ekimeeza where MP’s and sometimes ministers come to speak, also in the television program that broadcasts live from parliament it shows that politicians are not required to have expert knowledge on the matters they are responsible for. A typical speech seems to revolve around the tactical posturing of the individual speaker, where in one monologue alliances are established, affiliations are confirmed, the personality of the speaker is promoted, the chairman is appreciated and a personal opinion is given. Some speakers are very skilled in this sort of speech, but in the meantime, very few people benefit from this kind of discourse.

This is part of president Museveni's motorcade, the toilet car is the sixth vehicle..


Category: Politics | Tags: africa, africa, uganda, radio,


Comments

  • Johan Knols on 15th July 2010:

    Hello Wouter,

    Nice post with lots of memories. Especially the inability to count. I remember many national parks officials asking me if I was a doctor because I could do 5x250 + 125 + 10x30 without a calculator. Before they had reached their calculator I would have given them my figure. If they came to a different conclusion (sometimes way off) I had to beg them to punch in the numbers again because they made a mistake.
    For many in Africa the digits appearing on a calculator are the truth and I wonder how many are ripped off.

    One important question I am asking myself. How can we ourselves be sure that we are receiving independent and reliable data from our ‘independent’ agencies?


  • Johan Knols on 15th July 2010:

    @ Marlies,

    Interesting are the Michigan researches. And I think they make a lot of sense.
    I agree 100% with you on the Wilders & Co theory. Create fear regarding Morrocans and you win the elections. Create fear of nuclear installations (Iraq): not true, yet there is war. That is why I don’t completely agree with Wouter that all independent organizations supply us with accurate stats.


  • Luan Galani on 16th July 2010:

    Hi Wouter,

    A mighty post. Thanks for delivering it. In fact, you all.
    I couldn’t agree more with Johan over this. I strongly believe that data we receive from most organizations and media outlets are not fully independent, reliable and accurate. We have to be watchful.


  • Clare Herbert on 16th July 2010:

    That post title certainly caught my attention smile


  • Johan Knols on 16th July 2010:

    @Marlies.

    Sorry, I should have put my sentences a bit more accurate together. What you conclude is not what I meant, but that is my mistake.
    I was referring to the war in Iraq. How many ‘independent’ data did we get that told us that the Iraqis have weapons of mass destruction. This created fear and public support for the invasion. Afterwards nothing was found.


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