Confession: when I am not drinking the “Arabian spiced” 1000 Cups coffee carried from Kampala (or the Stanford polisci brew – thanks Judy!), I sometimes stop by my neighborhood Starbucks on the way to the office. Today I found Uganda in my local Starbucks – not in the beans, but on the wall. And in the paper.
First, there is a huge map of East Africa on the wall, with “Kenya”, “Uganda”, “Rwanda”, and “Tanzania” labeled (I should have taken a photo…will do that next time). I have only ever seen Kenyan and Rwandan coffee marketed in Starbucks, although I suppose Ugandan beans make it into the (STARBUCKS)RED East Africa blend. Some proceeds, of course, go “back to our communities”. That is, to the Global Fund.
Second, I found the image below splashed on the front page of the New York Times, prominently displayed in line.
Source here. Photos by Michele Sibiloni.
The full photo series can be found here. It took me a minute to get my head around the angle of the photo, since at first it seemed as if the man pictured were falling in a ditch (which could obviously not be the case – who would work that way?). In print it looks even greyer and gloomier than online, a sort of Mordor-like underworld. It is an image that stays with you, for better or for worse.
And so today, as usual when Uganda turns up in the NYT, I find myself struggling between fighting the doom and gloom stereotypical portrayal of Uganda (leaving aside for a moment the fair-trade feel-good world-peace one), and acknowledging the need for urban poverty to be brought to the forefront of public discussion. It is a critical issue, in Kampala and elsewhere, that deserves far more attention than it has received – at least domestically.
It is an important story – of the sputtering economy and its effect on ordinary people – and the photos share what text never could. And I am thrilled there is a “Kampala Journal” in the New York Times. But somehow photos like these still make me cringe a little. Maybe because they represent the only image that many people see (especially Starbucks going Americans), even on the brightest of days.
But I like to hope that is changing.