The Spanish text message that has Uganda up in arms

It's been three days since I first heard about the insulting sms message sent by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (shown above) to his finance minister: "Stand your ground, we're the number four power in Europe. Spain is not Uganda." Business Insider translated the statement as follows: "We're a major power, not some random IMF-case banana republic." (A friend and blogger, Rosebell Kagumire, first posted it on Facebook, where I saw the link to the article.)

It was an affront to me as a Ugandan. Indeed, a number of netizens -- both Ugandans and non-Ugandans -- took to Twitter with the hashtag #ugandaisnotspain to protest the remarks. Ms. Kagumire set up the hashtag on Twitter in order to prompt Ugandans and friends to comment about the article:

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera captured the early sentiments towards the now infamous text.

The Spanish minister's condescending text feeds into the pernicious stereotype of the Third World as a lost cause.

The country that he dismisses is not contemplating a bailout from a major power, nor is it teetering on the brink of expulsion from an economic union. To be sure, the global economic crisis that has taken its toll on countries like Spain has had ripple effects on countries like Uganda. But while Spain has its begging bowl out to the EU for money to keep its banks afloat, the small banking industry in Uganda is still intact. Despite the fluctuation of the Ugandan shilling last year that saw protests flare up around the country, the banks still managed to post profits. They don't need any bailouts.

When the world looks at emerging markets, it is the countries like Uganda that offer hope for the future of growth. It is therefore important to correct the perception that Uganda is a lost cause. That's a long way from the truth. Uganda is a resource-rich country with a vibrant culture. A couple of months ago I produced a photo essay for the Global Press Institute capturing the construction boom in Uganda. Over the last few weeks I've blogged about the different steps that Ugandan youth are taking in science and technology. While the only pictures Mr. Rajoy may see on his television in Europe are of a miserable Africa (and I doubt that he gets the real picture from his country's consulate in Uganda), there is another reality of a progressive Uganda that rarely makes it into the international media.

The fact is that most Ugandans live off their own land, which they own with no debt to any banking institutions at all. The current situation in Uganda is far from the current situation in Spain. When I blog this time, it's in the defense of my country.

Follow Jackee Batanda on Twitter at @jackeebatanda.



The spy who said 'really'

Oh. Dear. God.

That was my first reaction when I saw this new ad broadcast on a government satellite channel:

A young fellow walks into a cafe plastered with revolutionary slogans (including the epic rallying cry of the revolution "bread, freedom, and social justice") and zeroes in on three young people at a table. "I like you all very much," he says with a hint of an accent (think of an Arab Borat). They all chat, discussing inflation, transportation problems, and so on -- everything that you might see on the front page of every newspaper, basically.

"Really?" he says, in English. Then he proceeds to send a text message, supposedly with all the "intel" he has just gathered. The whole thing is accompanied by haunting music and a voiceover that warns against trusting people and endangering the country. (The voice seems to come from the same guy who tries to sell us yoghurt in the next commercial.) The camera fades out, and then we see the following slogan: "Every word has a price; a word can save a nation."

I replayed it, and quickly went from amusement to horror. This wouldn't be the first time the Egyptian government has resorted to stoking xenophobia for its own purposes.

During the revolution, foreign reporters -- in fact, all reporters -- were accused in no few words of being spies. A few months ago, the government attempted to prosecute a number of local and foreign democracy NGOs on unproved accusations of "serving foreign interests." (The foreign activists were allowed to fly home after hefty bail was paid by the U.S. government.)

This, however, was a new low. The ad is dumb and heavy-handed. The subliminal accusations it makes against the local activist community -- the revolutionary slogans on the wall, the Palestinian keffiyeh worn by one of the men -- are horrendous. And the ad is being aired just as the ruling military junta's preferred candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, is running on a platform of "restoring security."

Ihab Moussa, the president of the Coalition to Support Tourism, lambasted the commercial, describing it to the press as "scandal and a massive joke," adding that this "won't protect the country because it's a retarded ad."

Luckily, nearly all comments online are lambasting or making fun of the spot. The spy's only word in English -- "really?" -- is already becoming an online meme. And it's unlikely that Egyptians will be swayed by such cheap propaganda, given that they realize just how dependent on tourism their economy is.

But there's always the danger that some people might buy into it. And it's a pity some are willing to shoot the country in the foot just to gain a short-term electoral advantage for the establishment's candidate.