Home » Blog » Africa » Stories I’m (not) following this week

Stories I’m (not) following this week

We’re nearing the end of our first week at home with a newborn, and he’s survived largely unscathed thus far. With a house full of extended family and nights spent sleeping in ninety minute intervals, it hasn’t exactly been the most restful or focused week in recent memory. Much as I’ve wanted to write a couple of long blog posts this week, the best I can do is offer a few links towards the pieces I’ve wanted to write about.

David Sasaki has an excellent post on MediaShift Idea Lab about the importance of mapping in marginalized communities. Referencing a number of projects designed to produce open source maps of favelas and slums, he quotes Mikel Maron, an evangelist of Open Street : “Without basic knowledge of the geography and resources of [a community] it is impossible to have an informed discussion on how to improve the lives of residents.”

Sasaki links to an excellent post from Mark Graham which raises another facet of geographic information – the amount of information available online about different communities and countries. Using geodata from Wikipedia, Graham makes a set of maps that display how many (English Wikipedia) articles about places are located in each of the world’s countries. Unsurprisingly, there’s much more content about North America and Western Europe than about sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia or Latin America. This isn’t a new issue – I wrote about attempts to address undercoverage in Wikipedia five years ago – but it’s extremely helpful to have Graham visualizing these disparities and challenging us to bridge some of these gaps. (Hanan Cohen was kind enough to point me towards Graham’s excellent post as well.)

I’ve been following proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda, largely through Haute Haiku’s excellent reporting on Global Voices. It’s an absurdly ugly bill – not only does it criminalize homosexuality (which is the case in several sub-Saharan African nations), but it creates a crime of “aggravated homosexuality” that’s punishable by death and broad enough to include anyone who’s both gay and HIV+.

I hadn’t seen much coverage of the Ugandan legislation outside gay-oriented media and my faith community, which tends to follow gay issues very closely. So I was thrilled – and somewhat stunned – to hear a discussion of the Ugandan legislation on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air. Gross was interviewing Jeff Sharlet, author of a book about a fundamentalist political movement in the US congress called The Family. According to Sharlet, The Family practices a strange branch of Christianity which celebrates strong, charismatic leadership (including that of reprehensible dictators) and recruits adherents from the corridors of power.

In his interview with Gross, Sharlet reports that there’s a Ugandan branch of The Family and that they appear to be the core organizers of the anti-gay legislation. This isn’t quite as strange as it might sound – Uganda’s been a battlefield for American religious politics in the past. The ABC (“Abstain, Be Faithful or Use a Condom”) approach to AIDS prevention, heavily favored by US religious conservatives, was celebrated as reducing Uganda’s HIV prevalence rate. In truth, a number of different approaches were used in Uganda, and reductions in HIV prevalence may have been linked to a reduction in coffee exports, not to any particular practices. But Yoweri Museveni – the Ugandan leader, who the Family has embraced (according to Sharlet) – is a committed evangelical Christian and gave advocates of a faith-rooted approach to HIV reduction a leader to embrace and a laboratory to experiment in.

Sharlet’s connection of The Family to the proposed Ugandan legislation raises the chances that we might see a coordinated push from activists in Uganda and the US against this ugly and discriminatory legislation – see change.org for some thoughts for what people in the US could do.