Saturday, March 7, 2009

Fortress America

East Africa is a great place to meet interesting Americans. Whether they are on holiday or working, they usually have interesting perspectives and stories to tell. They also tend to be more educated about Canada than Rick Mercer would have you believe.  

I was thinking back to Christmas eve, 2003 which I spent in Zanzibar, Tanzania. That night, I had a heated conversation with some Americans about the next president of the United States. As I recall, we agreed that it would be Hilary Clinton, but disagreed about whether she would be successful in 2004 or 2008. 

The American President has been a popular topic of conversation between myself, the Ugandans, and Americans that I've met lately. Discussing the inauguration a few days after my arrival, a Ugandan man asked an American friend, "Why is it that you don't have rebels in your your country? I think it must be that you don't have any jungles. The rebels would have nowhere to hide!" 

Next door to where I stay is the American embassy, or as I like to call it, Fortress America. Following the 1998 bombings of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the US instituted new security requirements for its overseas missions. In many cases, this resulted in the construction of brand new embassies, and Kampala was no exception. Occupying several acres of land, Fortress America is a multi-structure complex surrounded by 10' concrete walls and dozens of armed guards. None of the other embassies in Kampala can compare to this place.

Despite its outward security, fear seems to radiate from the Fortress. I managed to get a photo of one of the signs posted along the perimeter, "no photography, no stopping, no parking." If one had a telephoto lens, the most ideal place from which to illegally photograph the embassy is Kibuli, Kampala's largest Muslim neighborhood. I wonder how the the residents of Kibuli feel about having Fortress America occupying the hill in their back yard. 

I feel sorry that the Americans have had to make such big changes in order to feel secure in their foreign missions. Once fences, concrete blocks, and "no photography" signs have been erected, it's hard to take them back down again, even with a new president in the White House.

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