27 June 2007

Uganda: CHOGM Preparedness Needs Fine Tuning

Munyonyo — Last week, Uganda hosted the Eighth Women's Affairs' Ministers Meeting (8WAMM) at the Munyonyo Resort and Conference Centre. The event attracted more than 400 participants including ministers, civil society members and government officials from various Commonwealth countries. 8WAMM is one of the various meetings that precede the much-awaited big event- the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) that takes place in Uganda this November.

The meeting was used as testing ground for Uganda's ability to manage such big gatherings involving many high level dignitaries from all over the world.

Among what was being tested was security, ICT facilities, accreditation, hotel facilities, protocol and hospitality. All may have been thrown into the success of this event but that could not stop a few hitches from surfacing time and again.

Probably the biggest bone of contention featured in the accreditation of delegates and participants both local and foreign. It didn't help either that the exercise was started very late a few days to the big event. Though officials said accreditation was done at the Ministry two weeks before, there was no public notice issued about the activity. No outsider knew anything about it except the ministry officials. .

This was an obvious lack of foresight considering that everyone who was to appear in the venue had to be cleared. These included the police, exhibitors, journalists, protocol officers, and delegates among others.

The machines were so unreliable that by the peak of the exercise only one camera was functional and many participants had to go through the exercise more than once. At one point, an accreditation official was forced to use a hand held digital camera to compliment the exercise. As if that was not enough, many delegates were not happy as most of their photographs looked grotesque.

The Media Centre, which was supposed to be the link, let journalists down, due to poor coordination. For some it took trips to and fro before they were finally cleared. Besides, there seemed to be different lists of journalists who were expected on the occasion, leading to some being barred from attending the opening ceremony officiated by the President Museveni.

The rainy week, left most of the ground in the gardens very soggy, reminiscent of a swamp. Some places had to be abandoned, as the grounds were unbearable. For instance the exhibition tent was so messy that it had to be carpeted with thick polythene.

During the partner's forum the food tent was used but was an inconvenience due to the wet grass and black mad that stuck visibly on their shoes. Some delegates at one point complained that they never had water and electricity in their rooms.

The food was lacking, and its quality started deteriorating by the day and some delegates were heard complaining, "This was not the best Ugandan food," Those who couldn't access parking inside the venue parked outside, yet their vehicles were left with no security.

At least, not everyone faced it rough as some people had smiling faces all the way due to the considerable amounts of money they were making. Reliable sources revealed that officials and participants were earning 100 dollars (Shs170, 000) per day on top of free accommodation, meals and transport.

Protocol and liaison officers were also earning 100 dollars each while the local participants representing governments and ministers earned 350 dollars (Shs 577,000), which they say is according to Commonwealth standards.

The ushers that were dressed in the Uganda flag colours, black, yellow and red took home Shs150, 000 at the end of each day. However, the majority of the ushers came from one family and one official had four sisters ushering. They all seemed to be from one ethnic group and were in the least a representation of Uganda's cultural diversity.

Despite the large protocol that seemed abstract in their responsibilities, the Gender, Labour and Social Development Minister, Syda Bbumba who was also the chairperson of the meeting was seen to step in some occasions.

Despite all these glitches, the opening ceremony left a lasting impression on the delegation. Everything seemed to have worked as planned with outstanding presentations from both the entertainers and emcees.

The Watoto Children's Choir, and women musicians led by veteran Joanita Kawalya of Afrigo Band were spectacular. The receptions and parties that occurred daily after the meetings gave the delegates a taste of Ugandan culture through the Ndere Troupe and other groups.

This seemed to attract most of the delegates who also took their turns with the music. Given the time frame and limited funding for the ministry, it turned out to be a successful meeting.

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