Celebrating ordinary Ugandans doing extraordinary things

Now that 2012 has come to a close, I can say that it has been an interesting year for Uganda, with the country experiencing some of the greatest highs and lows in its history. The country just buried a young woman member of parliament from the ruling party, Hon. Cerinah Nebandah from the Butaleja District in Eastern Uganda, who died under mysterious circumstances. Her suspected poisoning has strongly divided the nation. The official government autopsy report claims she died from a drug and alcohol overdose, but her family and legislators have rejected the findings. The debate, however, does bring to the fore the alcohol and drug problem in Uganda, which society has failed to acknowledge as a deeply entrenched problem among young people. What I see, above all, is the loss of one of Uganda's most vibrant young politicians. For many young people, the 24-year-old Nebanda represented a new political force that could potentially cleanse the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party from within.

The news of Nebanda's death of December 14 over-shadowed the wonderful story of 15-year-old Phiona Mutesi, a teenager from the Kampala slum of Katwe, who has become a national chess champion. Her amazing story is told in The Queen of Katwe, written by veteran sports journalist Tim Crothers, and is also being made into a film. This story, of a young girl and her mentor who started a chess group in the slums in order to keep children out of trouble, is only one of many examples of the amazing work done by Ugandans to improve their communities. It is a story of resilience and creativity in the midst of immense need.

This year has had more than its share of other positive stories. There's the little league baseball team from Uganda that was the first African team to play in the Little League World Series and even take home a win -- and the obscure police officer who broke Uganda's 40-year-wait to bring home the country's second-ever Olympic gold at the London 2012 games. Or take the Ugandan university students who created an electric car recently featured on CNN -- an example of what can be achieved by collaboration between universities, even from Uganda's historically antagonistic northern and southern regions. And then there are the tech-savvy university students who  are creating mobile applications relevant to the social needs of the community.

It is stories like these that give hope amidst the sad stories of corruption and a failing health and education system.

I pray that we can take the same ingenuity into 2013, and that we give coverage to these stories of ordinary Ugandans doing extraordinary things.

 Jackee's twitter handle is @jackeebatanda

Photo by MICHELE SIBILONI/AFP/Getty Images

Democracy Lab

Democracy Lab Weekly Brief, December 23, 2012

Joseph Allchin explains why the war crimes trials under way in Bangladesh show why transitional justice and party politics don't mix.

Christian Caryl argues that treating democracy as an inevitable outcome may actually hurt the cause of democracy.

Nazila Fathi looks at how Iranian leaders are responding to the deepening economic crisis created by sanctions.

Jon Temin praises Africans for their increasing efforts to find African solutions to their problems -- and the international community for giving them more space to do so.

Hilton J. Root examines the obstacles that face Turkey as it aims to lift its economy to the next level. (The image above shows Turks celebrating the presumed Mayan apocalypse.)

Kerry Cosby defends the use of the concept "civil society" even when it's applied to authoritarian countries.

Endy Bayuni explains why President Yudhoyono's anti-corruption drive is now rebounding against the ruling party.

Juan Nagel analyzes the results of last week's parliamentary elections in Venezuela -- and what they mean for opposition hopes as President Chávez confronts his declining health.

And Besar Likmeta reports on the surprising downfall of Serbia's leading oligarch.

And now for this week's recommended reads:

C.J. Chivers of The New York Times presents a must-read account of the dire situation in Aleppo, Syria's biggest city.

The International Monetary Fund publishes a working paper that takes a fresh look at "Lipset's Law," the hypothesis that democracy is more likely to take root in countries with higher incomes. (Spoiler alert: The paper's authors conclude that it might not be quite that simple.)

International Crisis Group offers a set of recommendations for the "cohabitation" of the two mutually antagonistic political parties that now control Georgia's government in the wake of the recent elections there.

The Project on Middle East Political Science presents a highly topical summary of competing views on the fate of the region's monarchies.

Iranian human rights activist Ladan Boroumand reflects on the passing of Vaclav Havel one year ago and what his example means for her compatriots.

Global Financial Integrity releases a report that introduces a new methodology for tracking illicit financial flows in the developing world.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reports on a fascinating online exchange between International Crisis Group's Andrew Strohlein and Uzbek First Daughter Gulnara Karimova. A must-read.

The Eurasia Foundation sums up the interview with Kyrgyzstan's ex-President Roza Otunbayeva conducted by DemLab editor Christian Caryl at the Foundation's Washington event last week.