A chat with Ugandan journalist Sam Mwaka Karama

Veteran journalist and writer Sam Mwaka-Karama’s book The Water Trap concerns the attempts of local government in Uganda and other bodies, such as European engineering firms and contractors, to deliver basic running water resources to the people of Gulu Province and elsewhere. The book is over a decade old, but Sam has re-issued it occasionally with updates. 

I consider Sam a good friend whom I hope to meet one day, and a valuable and erudite contact whose views on literature and culture sometimes surprise me and always enlighten.
Here are some of Sam’s thoughts on where things stand today since he published his exposé.

Nearly all the book’s suggested solutions have become areas of national policy shifts – for example, parliamentary and local government electoral seats were MULTIPLIED by government’s creation of several smaller districts throughout the various regions of Uganda.

That is to say that where previously, only one Member of Parliament represented a wide area of locality and population, these were fragmentized so that four or six Members of Parliament emerged under the Government’s Parliamentary and Councillor restructuring strategy. This therefore solves the problems by narrowing geographic outreach factors to manageable chunks.

Not only that, the Lake Victoria Basin problems among largely disagreeable country beneficiary referral members have become easier to handle. Ordinarily, people can now pull water from the lake and therefore, the Nile River without being dressed-down by observer organisations who [usually] view the waters as shared international resources and are watchdogging the Basin.

Mwaka-Karama had highlighted not only bureaucratic ineptitude, but issues such as water diversion projects which inadvertently resulted in drought in one area that rarely suffered drought, and a new route for what had been a natural waterway being unsuitable, resulting in stagnant oxbows, changed ecosystems and a lack of infrastructure to capitalise on these same new water routes in the way that had been anticipated and planned, before the new waterways dried up to nothing. It’s an interesting read, and Sam sometimes writes like a Ugandan Michael Moore in highlighting ridiculous red tape or stalled projects.

The Water Trap features images, for instance, that show up the construction of treatment facilities and irrigation systems that now sit entirely fallow, waiting for water that has disappeared.

The entire book has had such impact on Uganda Government, to the point it triggered the expanding of the major districts like Gulu as fragmentized to become a subregion with numerous municipalities.

It serves as a nice template for what not to do in terms of international collaboration with government too – whether NGO or private industry.
I was like, if we highlighted this factor… it then should interest researchers – to find out how Uganda Government responded to the points of contention critically discussed in the book.
However Africa is perrenially a study area for a whole lot of students and researchers abroad… my type of non-fiction has that basic information they need.
The Water Trap also covers other subjects of concern, such as the poor hygiene standards in Uganda’s public hospitals and health centres. 

Today – although available to write, consult and chat – Sam has pulled back from active journalism and urban life, returning to his home village to build a retirement nest.

A few months ago, he apologised for his inability to contact me more frequently from an Internet café, as he was in the process of constructing his home with his bare hands alongside construction workers, making a tech-friendly home in the most sustainable of ways. He admits too that speaking truth to power through his journalism has caused some problems for him. But he is keen to return to a life of reading and academia.
It is only that I am now living in the village and I just moved into my house – I am in the bedroom while I work on the living room – after that I think solar paneling and gadgets will place me back on net from the village – I am getting there..
Public life in as far as politics is concerned was not so good for me beyond mild writing – power is a nasty business. I discovered that a spirituality flew me around and often dropped me in very uncomfortable places and, now I think my life is worth something – having traveled a bit and also gotten involved in some adventures and escapades. If I stick to books I am ok… I also want to find a tunnel into campus, better there I think than anywhere else too.

You can find Sam on LinkedIn and Twitter. His book, The Water Trap, is available on Amazon.

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