Reporters on the job

HANGING OUT WITH MUSEVENI: "And what tribe are you?" Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni asked reporter Danna Harman, seeing her white face in a small crowd gathered at the rural high school where he had come to vote on Monday.

"Jewish?" Danna suggested meekly.

The rest of the foreign journalists covering Uganda's presidential elections had chartered a plane and flown off to Rukungiri - home of top opposition candidate Kizza Besigye, and the place where they expected to see violence. Danna had a feeling it would be calm, and decided - instead - to head up to Rwakitura, Museveni's home village (page 1).

"Not your religion. Your tribe," he shot back at Danna.

"Stop teasing her," the president's wife, Janet, chided, and promptly invited Danna to lunch back at the cattle ranch.

"So that is how I found myself, on the day of the elections, sitting with the first family of Uganda under a large Mvula tree, discussing religion, language, and a host of other weighty - and not so weighty - matters," says Danna.

"What do you call this in Hebrew?" challenged the president, pointing to his forehead. Danna answered. "And what about this?" he went on, touching the part of his face between the cheekbone and the bottom of his eye. "That's not a particular part of the face," she argued. "Well, we have a name for it in Bantu," he replied, pleased he had proved his point about the superiority of the African language.

"The rest of the afternoon was just as random," says Danna. "He told me about his son's humongous wedding party, which had taken place in the garden. ('When you get married you can come here as well,' he suggested). We talked about corruption, the Middle East peace process, the problems in Somalia, the Kennedy family, the difference between ankole and 'regular' cows.

"His elderly father came by later, wearing a wide-brimmed hat identical to the one atop his son's head. 'What is the maximum age for getting married in your country?' he asked me in his tribal language, a young grandson translating between sips of Coke. 'Don't worry,' piped in the president, napping on the sofa and talking with his eyes closed. 'We have already settled on the venue.' "

That evening, Danna told Museveni's wife that over dinner the night before, the foreign journalists had wagered on the outcome of the election. "What did you predict?" she asked Danna, who had guessed Museveni would win with 56 percent of the vote. "But suddenly I felt sheepish about my lowball guess. Ahh, 75 percent," I lied. "Yes, I would say about that," she replied. "Hmph," Museveni retorted,"At least."

(Early returns yesterday showed Museveni with 76 percent of the vote). Let us hear from you.

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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