Monday, April 6, 2009

Our Friends at the Bank

Uganda in the mid-1990s is the setting for Thursday's documentary, Our Friends at the Bank, which shows some aspects of the tripartite negotiations within and between the government of Uganda, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

I had several teaching goals in mind when I first decided to show Our Friends at the Bank, but watching the film again yesterday, while I was also thinking about the interviewing exercises you have been working on, one more course-related question emerged: Who is the client?

The adjunct faculty and I have been discussing this issue, and I plan on devoting some class time to it when we review the Fourth of July footage together. In addition to the 10 questions that I have prepared for you (see the focus-and-feedback sheet posted on TWEN) here is another set of questions: Which relationships in the film are analogous to the attorney-client relationship, and within those relationships what are the factors that make them different from the attorney-client relationship? Please mull this over while you watch.

Responsibility to and for clients is something else for us to think about. In the 2006 film The Last King of Scotland, starring Forest Whitaker as the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, I noticed a motif that came back to me when I first watched Our Friends at the Bank.* Several times during The Last King of Scotland the camera focuses on a mosquito. I can't be certain what the filmmaker intended the mosquito scenes to convey, but what I took from the images were messages of blood-extraction and disease.

Those messages are consistent with the role of the anti-hero, the Scottish physician Nicholas Garrigan who, even while his patient (Idi Amin) despoils the whole country, enjoys the kind of celebrity lifestyle that an uncharitable observer would describe as parasitical.

The mosquito motif does not lead me to pose any further concrete questions of my own for you at this point. I am just asking you to ponder it and, if it triggers questions in your mind around the subjects of interviewing, counseling, ad negotiating, please share them with the rest of us.

* Just to help orient you temporally, Idi Amin fell from power in 1979, approximately 15 years before the events that Our Friends at the Bank covers.


  1. While reading "From Color Line to Color Chart", I found it interesting to take a look at the US Census Bureau's report on American Demographics:

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  3. Something I was going to share in class, but did not have the opportunity to:
    Though I am cautious of relying on anthropological generalizations about particular cultures, culture lists some aspects about the style of Ugandan communication that might add to our most recent class discussion.
    *Ugandans tend to communicate more indirectly than directly.
    *Stories, proverbs, and the like are common means of expressing a point indirectly and require the implicit knowledge of the listener.
    *Greetings and a good amount of small talk almost always occur before talking about business.
    *Feelings tend to not be accurately expressed between adults and sometimes one can get the feeling of being fawned upon with false happiness, or being lectured by a false sternness.
    *Humor plays a big role in communicating and most Ugandans enjoy a good joke. However, it is best to avoid sarcasm as it may not translate well, if at all.


  4. I think Terry's point is important to note.

    We often think that everyone communicates the way we do, and we interpet an individual's communication through the filter of our own style of communication. It is important to remember that not everyone communicates the same, not only on an individual basis, but a cultural one as well.

    Imagine how badly a sarcastic comment meant as humor could be misinterpreted, if sarcasm does not translate well in the Ugandan culture of communication.

  5. That's a really good comment about the cultural differences that's important to keep in mind when we meet with people from other cultural backgrounds. It would be harmful to a relationship to not recognize and respect potential cultural differences, but we have to make sure that those differences actually exist and we're not just stereotyping and generalizing too much.

  6. Hi Everyone,

    Sorry I am a little late to the party; but I just wanted to make a comment that I have thought about since seeing the video. Was it me, or did many of the scenes focus on the not only the diplomats, but also wealthy dignitaries being constantly waited on by the Ugandan workers?

    I cannot believe this to be a coincident that they continued to focus on these shots in order to illustrate just how great the "separation of power" and wealth there is between those dealing with the situation from the Bank's side and the "locals."

    Just some food for thought (sorry for the bad pun)