Citizen Uganda: Smart and very, very pretty

Rebekah Heacock
Global Voices

To scroll down the main page of Citizen Uganda is to indulge in a visual symphony: carefully selected photos align harmoniously with well-crafted blocks of text.

Thick lines in complementary colors separate commentary from current events. Trios of links gracefully rotate, gliding from entertainment tips to featured blogs to Africa-focused videos and back again with the ease of a concert harpist trailing her fingers over the strings.

In short: Citizen Uganda is the best new online source of information about Uganda, and it’s also very, very pretty.

Paschal Ssemaganda, the site’s founder and editor, is pursuing a Master’s degree in publishing. It shows. The site looks and feels like a glossy magazine, with columns on technology, the Ugandan economy and the arts interspersed with slick RSS feeds from Uganda’s major newspapers and what Ssemaganda calls “chai” (tea): bits and pieces of the African blogosphere that offer readers a break from the tedium of Kampala office work.

“I want the site to be a fun, entertaining, alternative news source” Ssemaganda told Global Voices in a phone interview. “I want to stay away from left wing and right wing, but there is a core liberal philosophy.” So far the political commentary has been fairly balanced: a recent article condemned Uganda’s opposition party for its response to the ongoing crisis in Kenya:

Speaking on behalf of the opposition, the shadow Foreign Affairs minister called for the isolation of Kibaki and for sanctions on his government…. This strategy might win some media attention and a couple of points for the opposition among NGOs and humanitarian agencies but ultimately it tells us more about their judgement. Okumu and Latigo seem to assume that Ugandans will not see through this attempt to manipulate a real humanitarian crisis into a political advantage for opposition. It also demonstrates their inability to prioritize. It is true that Uganda benefits from democracy in Kenya, but any sanctions on Kenya will cripple Uganda’s economy as well.

An earlier post, however, questions the government’s judgment in handling Uganda’s microfinance industry:

…the government created a post for the Minister of State for Micro-Finance, thereby taking regulatory responsibility for microfinance institutions away from the Central Bank. It was not the wisest decision in retrospect, and was probably made so that the government would be well positioned to take credit for the positive developments that microfinance can bring to Uganda’s economy. Now though the government has a potential catastrophe on hand. The lack of regulation for microfinance institutions threatens to undermine the confidence that many have in the practice and expose the NRM as bad managers.

Citizen Uganda’s political commentary is engaging, but the site’s real strength is in its focus on technology and digital communities. Since the site’s inception last November, Ssemaganda has reviewed a local web hosting company, discussed iPhone possibilities in Uganda, debated the use of web standards in Africa and shared his thoughts on web design in Uganda. Readers are invited to contribute articles, events and photos, and the site has its own Facebook page to keep its fans informed.

According to its About Page, Citizen Uganda “is an amalgamation of a variety of opinions on current affairs, technology, the economy, and social development.” Part current events, part tech talk, part trendsetter, Citizen Uganda raises an exciting, beautiful bar for Uganda’s digital things to come.