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Uganda in November 2005

Still there, still hanging on . . . just.



The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands held its 9th meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (against most expectations) at the Speke Resort in Munyonyo, about five miles outside of Kampala, Uganda, on Lake Victoria. We moved in in considerable force on 4 November and evaporated like the pre-dawn mist on the lake on the 18th. During that pleasant fortnight we got to work like the dickens on the Parties' fairly futile negotiations on the Draft Resolutions, and produce the final versions in the end, and in the meantime spend a little time in the bar downing Bell lager and discussing the state of the world with some of our favorite delegates over the years. And got off for a little birdwatcher-watching at Mabamba Bay at the end of it all. Here's a meagre sample.

The Speke Resort "cottages", between the hotel and the conference centre, served as the Secretariat's offices and performed very well when the power wasn't out.

That's the cottage of the Documentation Team, i.e. me and my officemate Sandra downstairs, and Tim the rapporteur and Nick the chief negotiator upstairs. Our translation teams for French and Spanish were in the adjoining cottage and linked on a WiFi network, so that's all right, when the network was working.

Commodious digs, built around a central spiral staircase

The view over Lake Victoria from the cottages, fairly pleasant even at 85° F. at midday. (Evenings were blissfully cool and breezy, but the humid daytimes could be a saturated bitch.)

The bar and restaurant of the conference centre, seen across the little equestrian facility. The plenary hall was off to the left, not bad at all. And the bar, well, the bar . . . with CNN, BBC, and ESPN, all with the sound turned off, wonderful.

The hotel by the lakeside. The staff and delegates housed here were the lucky ones. The delegates who were domiciled in hotels in Kampala had a rougher go of it, as the police escorts bringing their buses out of the city for early morning sessions killed at least one bicyclist on the way, and the rioting in the city following the President's arrest of his main opposition leader kept many of them indoors at night. (Out here at the resort, we couldn't even hear the gunfire.) (That's what resorts are for.)

Nonetheless, we had security awkwardly at several levels. To reach the plenary hall (and the bar), everyone had to pass through the metal detectors in the photo below. You passed your bag and metal objects to the guard (if there was one) and walked through the detector. If you did not ring the bell, you picked up your stuff and walked on in. If you DID ring the bell, you picked up your stuff and walked on in anyway. Nobody seemed willing to challenge you on that point. Ugandans seem to be very polite.

When the President came to give his welcoming speech, about four days late, 1000 delegates had to march out and check their laptops, cellphones, and cameras at the security stations (very disgruntled). This narrator has for many years been an extremely emotional fan of President Museveni, who has not only a more sophisticated notion than the Bushies do about the role of democracy in semi-formed states but also a vigorous sense of the 18th century ideal of the Enlightened Despot, with superb policies on HIV/AIDS, wetlands, industry, agriculture, environment, you name it. All the best African states emulate Uganda! Yoweri Museveni was my IDOL!

Ohmigod! His speech was perfect Mugabe ranting! What an embarrassment! He strode in with a brass band (literally! red uniforms, above) and squads of troops in Toyota pick-up trucks, and informed 1000 delegates to an environmental convention, including many from some of the most important NGOs in the world, that the chief enemy to development was the pesky NGOs, always challenging his hydroelectric dam projects in the courts. He thought that it might have something to do with colonialism.

Meanwhile, as his Excellent Presidentship relaxed for photo opportunities at the cottage his Toyota Boys had commandeered next to our work cottage, and as I gazed out at him admiringly, someone ran into our cottage to tell us that the President's lads had arrested the chief opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, on treason charges, and that downtown Kampala was significantly unresty.

Well, that set the cat amongst the pigeons, as many of our delegates were in hotels in the rioty side of town and had to peek out with the curtains drawn, and scurry along to the police-escorted bus in the morning without breakfast.

But most of them got here on time, and this is an unmemorable view of the plenary hall during the proceedings. Just to prove that it happened.

Delegates "networking"

The tent for exhibits from the Parties and NGOs. The grass floor quickly turned to mud, and when everyone complained bitterly, the government offered to put a fly over the top of the tent to prevent any more rain from seeping in. It was pointed out that the water wasn't coming from the sky, it was coming up out of the ground -- the resort was, after all, built on a "reclaimed" swamp.

Exhibits sinking slowly into the mud

Staff of the Secretariat looking distinctly unhappy about the way things have been going so far.

Spectators at our Documentation Centre -- every afternoon about 3 p.m.

Colleague Sandra covering one of the two desks of the Documentation Centre in a midnight session. The other desk, with the beer bottle on it, was mine.

Ramsar's exceptional registration and document distribution coordinators, who spent two weeks overseeing six registration computers, a squad of volunteers, and hundreds of pigeonholes for the Rev.1s and Rev.2s of the precious documents in another giant air-conditioned tent out on the former swamp.

The narrator with many of the French and Spanish translations team. From left (not counting the oversized narrator) translators Christiane, Marta, and Danièle, and assistants Amalia and Catherine. Missing are translator Juan Carlos and assistant Andrès, who went shopping in Kampala, and translator Javier who took this photo.

The view from the resort out onto Lake Victoria. It was not a little embarrassing for the authorities that the venue, the Speke Resort, has recently been built on a "reclaimed" swamp, and the lake kept seeping up beneath our feet.

Local folks entering the barrier from the lake into the resort. Those are growths of the dreaded invasive species water hyacinth in clumps around the gateway.

Dwight and Sandra stalking a stork at the resort. (Photo by Nick)

A Mongolian stir-fry for the secretariat staff in Kampala, after the COP.

Finally a cause for celebration: Tim the rapporteur, Sandra, Dwight, Montse, Amalia (Photo by Denis)

Way too early in the morning! Dwight, Tobias, and Sandra await their guide for a day of birdwatching at Mabamba Bay. (Photo by Nick)

Uganda 2005


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 12 December 2005, revised 4 April 2008, 20 July 2013.


Kampala, Uganda, in 2005