raise those hawkers respectfully to major economic heights


street-hawkers-in-kampala-ityafrica-net
Photo from http://www.emmasadventuresinuganda.wordpress.com/tag/icye/

SINCE I was much younger I have found engagements with street hawkers entertaining in many ways. Along the way I have graduated from comical time-wasting banter to what I hope is a more useful sort of interaction.

I distinctly recall one incident in about 1993 at a place called Hakuna Matata in Bukoto, when one of us – Gary Samuel, we called him, called a hawker over and asked: “Olina…bino?” (‘Do you have…these?’) and gestured with his palm held out flat and slicing into the air sharply.

The hawker, arms full of plastics and mostly light kitchen utensils, had no clue what Gary was asking about but tried guessing. Knives? No. Spoons? No. Brushes? No. Brooms? No.

Everything he was vending was in full view, in his hands and slung over his shoulder and back.

And with each guess, Gary insisted with more animation and sharper gestures shooting higher into he air: “Bino! Bino! (Luganda for ‘These’) Things that go like this (Shooting gesture high into the air). Bino!

We all joined in on the guessing game but none of us could get it right. I could see the hawker losing hope of making a sale, and felt sorry for him when I realized how much direct sunshine he was absorbing. If he had started his journey somewhere in Kikuubo and had his time wasted like this at every bar and pork joint he stopped at but in exchange for a small tip, he would be a millionaire.

He was still guessing in the hope that he would make a sale, while the rest of us who were seated in the shade and having a drink were already fed up with the game. We insisted that Gary put a stop to it and he finally stated what he was asking for:

Olina…amabaati (‘Do you have IRON ROOFING SHEETS?!’)”

Laughter ensued, and the crestfallen hawker sauntered off. Some of us felt bad about it, and I can’t lose the memory of that, and other times when hawkers got asked for DSTV dishes, tractor tyres and other such ridiculous items.

I have tried to make amends over the years in various ways, mostly by showing this cadre of Ugandan entrepreneur a lot more respect and courtesy than they usually receive; for instance, I don’t swat them off when they approach me at traffic lights or in heavy traffic. Instead, I politely smile and mouth a “No, thank you.”

Their stigma is hard to appreciate – imagine being a hawker and finding the sign “Hawkers Not Permitted Here” on every door you walk past even when you are not vending your wares.

Recently, my change of policy towards hawkers has led to interventions of a different kind.

I am keenly aware that the Kampala Capital City Authority Act (2010) Section 3 of Part A, gives KCCA the responsibility to “Prohibit, restrict, regulate or license (a) the sale or hawking of wares or the erection of stalls on any street…”

Because of that, I am rarely eager to exchange money for wares from hawkers, but there is some other support they can benefit from, as one Robert Mwesize reminded me last Friday.

He was vending soft cuddly toys, normally called Teddy Bears, in Ntinda. He hesitated at us because he didn’t think a random group of men fitted in his categorization of sure-deal clients.

We called him over anyway and quickly bought a couple of his second-hand Bears so we could have a conversation with him.

At first, he was reluctant to give us his second name, which gave us the opportunity to explain to him why he needed to do so to increase his sales over time. Then we told him that since he only sold Teddy Bears, as he confessed, he had chosen to specialise and now needed to brand himself as the Teddy Bear guy.

So we took his number (0751266921) and saved it as Robert Mwesize Teddy Bear. I offered him my number but he didn’t see the relevance till I explained that if he built up a customer database he could make regular sales to repeat clients by direct marketing.

All the men in the group, we told him, had wives, girlfriends, daughters and other female interactions that they needed Teddy Bears for. Besides, we explained, if you vended these wares and told these customers that they would make good gifts to hand in as they got home late that night…

His eyes lit up as the brief conversation developed. We even suggested to him that he should spend more time studying the soft, cuddly toys and figuring out a way of making some of his own.

Surely that is possible, isn’t it? Yes, he responded in a low tone of voice as he studied his wares more closely.

We left it there, but I have his number if you are in the market for a Teddy Bear, and high hopes that one day Robert Mwesize will be the owner of a factory manufacturing Teddy Bears somewhere in Kampala, or at least operating a slick distribution system of soft toys to a growing customer base.

Shiyaya Coupon Book Advert FINAL.001

uganda: time to open the national office of event planning and fill it wisely…but urgently


Museveni Selfie
Photo from http://www.matookerepublic.com

IF you were like me and found it surprising that there was a major Commonwealth event taking place in Kampala this week, then please accept my sympathies for missing yet more opportunities for this country.

According to the official website: “The Commonwealth brings together government ministers, senior officials, young leaders, and youth workers from across the globe for the 9th Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting.”

The meeting involves the Youth Minister’s meeting, the Youth Forum and the Youth Stakeholder’s Forum. This meeting, I have discovered, takes place every four years in a different country each time – and the one in Uganda this week is the 9th in the series.

There are 52 countries in the Commonwealth, so a basic mathematical analysis into this means that the next time Uganda might get a chance to host such an event will be the year 2181.

These thoughts came to me because during this week I also received news of the Tokyo Olympics 2020. This news was broken to me NOT by way of a sports publication but through an ICT magazine – www.computerweekly.com.

The article in this magazine was titled, ‘How Japan is gearing up to secure the Tokyo Olympics’, and explained a non-obvious link between computers and the world’s biggest sporting event.

The story told us that the ever-efficient Japanese, hosts of the 2020 Olympics, were focused on securing electricity and communication systems THREE YEARS ahead of the event, to ensure there are no cyber attacks or system failures in 2020.

Three years to go, and they are already planning for contingencies. Some articles even state things like, “The 2020 Olympics are around the corner…

The Japanese have planned their 2020 event to such levels of detail that even the possibility of cyber interruptions is being looked into.

When I remarked on this to a youthful colleague, on the day the event opened and a photograph circulated widely of the grey-haired Kirunda Kivenjinja at a podium opening the event, he laughed.

“Even you, “ he said, “You can’t claim to be good at planning, so don’t start that kaboozi…”

He was right about one part, but we really have to stop and think a little bit.

The Permanent Secretary for Youth, Gender and Culture, Pius Bigirimana, wrote an article about the Conference and concluded with: “Let me also mention that right now and in days to come, all Commonwealth focus will be on this important event and this will further showcase Uganda to the world.”

Right.

Another youth asked me, when I mentioned the Conference to her, whether it was really trending worldwide on the social media platforms that most youth spend their time on.

Luckily, the President himself stepped forward with a selfie stick and created at least one superb image that went viral for hours on end via digital media, starting with his half million Twitter followers.

The rest of the stats of impressions and views of the hashtag @9CYMM are pathetic.

Yet we knew FOUR YEARS AGO that we would be hosting this most important event in the country with the world’s youngest population. We knew FOUR YEARS AGO that this event would make Uganda the focus of at least 52 countries for a long period in the run-up to the Conference, then during the three days of the Conference and meetings, and thereafter when they return to their homes, and update their Facebook walls and photo albums. We had FOUR YEARS to plan our hashtags, and menus, and itineraries and millions of other opportunities.

I say millions of opportunities because there are millions of youth in Uganda alone who could each have been brought on board in some small way to take advantage of this event – not necessarily by attending it, but even by tweeting it or gramming (from Instagram) elements of the meetings, or using the hashtag to promote bits of Uganda that would be highlighted to the millions following @9CYMM in the 52 Commonwealth countries.

Mind you, this opportunity is so massive that we are amazing in the way we have let it pass. From a tourism or investment point of view, for instance, the Commonwealth countries are english speaking and can communicate with us rather easily, and have certain other similarities that make it easier for them to send their nationals here to benefit us. Plus, many of them presumably don’t have stringent visa requirements and other prejudices that would keep other ordinary people from bringing their funds to Uganda.

I’m sure some segment of our millions of youth here would have appreciated the opportunity to make souvenirs for the people who came for the Conference to buy. Better still, they would have certainly been happy to take them round the country on tours, and sell them Rolexes and other home grown delicacies. Even just Re-Tweeting or Liking posts about Uganda so that the rest of the world’s seven billion people get a good impression of this country would be putting this resource to good use.

I checked the impressions of the hashtags and googled for the #CYMM and was disappointed at the numbers. Little of the above was done.

As usual, though, I took up hope. Since the Japanese are global experts at getting precision right and exact, should we not aspire to be like them? Perhaps we can take some lessons from their Tokyo 2020 Olympics planning and then apply some of them to our upcoming events. Maybe we can create an office in charge of events planning, whose first role would be to compile a list of all events coming up in future.

For instance, what are the Independence Celebrations on October 9 this year going to look like? What about the UMA Exhibition in the first week of October? These events are just two months away but try googling for the theme or other aspects around them and see. THAT is what the Office of Events Planning would concentrate on. Identify opportunities around events, publicize them so that the general public can work out more, and make them nationally profitable.

Since we have up to 2181 for the next @CYMM, we can even send a few people to Tokyo 2020 specifically to pick up ideas from the ground there, for use in 164 years’ time. We appear capable of waiting another three years, since we allow these opportunities to casually go by without batting an eye lid.

a little bit more about that colonial racism and Kampala…just a little bit


Benard Acema* whipped up quite the storm this week with his post The Racism Behind Kampala; most of the responses being the “What? How Could I Not Have Seen This Before?!” kind that satisfied the mind of a person who yearns for social change out of consciousness.

Some of the responses, though, ranged from those stating there could NOT have been racism in Uganda to others who claimed to have read all six thousand (6,000) words and taken away just one sentence in summary.

My favourite response came from Frank Morris Matovu, an Architect whose reaction was to calmly upload onto his Facebook wall more than ninety (90) pages of a 1955 book titled, ‘Town Planning In Uganda; A Brief Description Of The Efforts Made By Government To Control Development Of Urban Areas From 1915 to 1955‘, by Henry Kendall OBE, F.R.I.B.A., M.T.P.I, Director of Town Planning, Uganda.

Benard Acema’s intellectual and literary effort has proved̀ invaluable in many respects, including possibly causing a change to our education curriculum if the noises made by some of the people in charge are anything to go by.

Benard Acema tells me he had not read Kendall’s book by the time he wrote his thesis.

define-thesis

Those with literal minds and short fuses should go with the first dictionary definition of the word above, when dealing with Benard Acema’s work. The young man did what few others essay (no pun), linking his observations to thought and realisation and a little bit of research and then leading the rest of us to discovery.

Benard Acema’s thesis will be further dissected, proven or contested by various others in the worlds of social media, academia and even public administration, all of which will exclude me for now.

I only came here to share a few pages from Kendall’s book to aid your reading of Benard Acema, and to tell you to get a soft copy of the same directly from Frank Matovu. (He does not sell the book, but to aid his work compiling and storing such works, please feel free to make a modest contribution by way of Mobile Money to his number – 0758 483 934.)

But before you read the book, don’t be afraid of words like racism, colonialism and imperialism. Acknowledge the fact that they were a reality back then when the colonialists first took over Uganda. Nothing about that should be surprising. What we need to do, as many of the commenters said, is get rid of those ‘isms’ and their negative impacts where they may exist which includes dealing with both the big and the small items. 
define-racism

define-colonialism define-imperialism

Do all three ‘isms’ still exist in Kampala, or Uganda? Benard Acema had valid points to make in that regard, that led to all that debate.

And now, on to the historical facts about settlement in Kampala (and other urban centres), and the question of racism or otherwise:

the-development-of-kampala

Of course there was land reserved for Africans and other land for non-Africans.

the-development-of-kampala-kibuga

the-development-of-kampala-ii

🙂

the-development-of-kampala-iii

Read that one again, please?

And then take these:

the-development-of-kampala-iv

the-development-of-kampala-v

the-development-of-kampala-vi

Mind you, the mere mention of race might not necessarily prove that there was racism afoot, but again that was the reality of those times, as stated later on in the book from the actual Minutes of a meeting of the Central Town Planning Board:

the-principal-of-racial-segregation racial-segregation-again

Naguru, for instance, was reserved for Africans:

the-development-of-kampala-vii

And even if race was not the only consideration there was a way, for a while, of working the formulae out that kept zones racially distinct using economics – since certain professions or trades seemed to be restricted (I said ‘for a while’) to particular races. The restriction of construction styles in some residential areas meant that if you couldn’t afford to build a certain type of house you couldn’t live in a certain neighbourhood…

the-development-of-kampala-viii This planning was neither restricted to Kampala alone, nor Uganda as a country.

In Jinja:

jinja-residential-areas

45

And, again, economic reasons were part of the equation:

50

The same applied elsewhere, in many different ways, but as thousands of Ugandans have declared this week: It WASN’T OBVIOUS!

Which is why I still applaud for Benard Acema, because he tells me the thought occurred to him and kept niggling till he had put his thoughts down in writing – and they appear to be quite accurate. THIS is the stuff that academic study and problem solving is made of. The man clearly did not waste his education, and my hope is that he will continue with it at the same pace while the rest of us play catch up or raise younger children to be like him.

In the time being, all history, social studies and political science teachers, please make some small changes to your teaching texts?

*Benard Acema – Note that I use his name in full so as to ensure it is never forgotten, such that we all strive to educate our children to these heights so they are known for good work such as this.

the racism behind Kampala


A short while back I received a message from a young fellow called Benard Acema, requesting that I run an article here on this blog under my own pen name because the content suited me (or words to that effect).

I automatically thought, “Er…no!” but kept an open mind as decency would require, and encouraged him to email the content.

I was both flabbergasted and flattered, and by the time you are halfway you will understand why.

Here it is, by Benard Acema, with only a few mild alterations made since I first received it:

Kampala’s Racist Design and its Mental Effects on Ugandans Today

When politicians blame Uganda’s problems on Colonialism, most Ugandans especially the young people will inevitably (with immediacy and precision) sneer at such “old peoples” comments and say how these politicians simply have failed to move on and are blaming their failures on a “long ago” past.

But my question is…is it long ago though? Think about it, a 55 year old man is older than Uganda as we know it from Independence in 1962 to today as you read this.

So instead of dwelling on the “past”, I have decided to bring it forward to today, to the present to show you how this affects us today and how a lot of it is the reason many young people fail to succeed in Uganda or have to overcome incredible odds just to make it.

Let’s start with the inevitable question…Is Kampala’s design really racist, as the title suggests? And does this hard-wired design hold us back?

BUT…Aren’t we all black Ugandans now and does colonialism still really affect us today? If so, how?

Why don’t we just move forward and forget the past?

Let’s look at the actual design, the brick and mortar, the physical landmarks left behind, and we’ll begin to see the motive for the design and that still permeates through to this day.

Kampala City was designed by a German man named Ernst May who lived here between 1934-1954 (right in the middle of colonialism) and to think that our parents and grandparents were already born during and before this time in the 20’s, 30’s 40’s and 50’s.

We can speculate why the British used this German man to design Kampala, having been at war with Germany in the Second World War at this exact same time period. Was he a Nazi racist designer who understood how to do this or was he on the oppressed side of the war, which would make it a pity that he would undertake this? Either way, the design is here so lets look at it.

First of all Kampala was designed with a boundary “Ring Road” that encompasses only two hills of the city – Kololo Hill and Nakasero Hill. This ring road goes around this area only.

From Kira Road Police Station up towards Kamwokya straight to Mulago roundabout to Wandegeya onto Bombo road joining Kampala road and runs all the way down to Uganda House from where it joins Jinja Road and runs all the way along Jinja Road up to the Lugogo Indoor Stadium (now the MTN Arena) from where it turns left onto Lugogo Bypass Road (Rotary Avenue) past Kololo Secondary School and back up to Kira Road Police Station.

That is the ring road around Kampala that I will be talking about in this article.

map-001-ring-road-around-kampala

In the image above, the Green zone is the “White Area” in the ‘centre’ and the Asian Buffer of Three Streets on the Perimeter is the “Red Boundary”.

Now, the way that this design was put together ensured that the British (and any other white people) would have to live inside the ring huddled up on the inside. And naturally of course, not wanting any contact with the black natives (that would be you the Ugandans now reading this), they “insulated” this “Ring” with a “Three-street” line boundary of Asians. I’ll show you how…just follow along.

Lets go back to Kira Road Police Station; all along the boundary of this ring (everywhere) you have an “insulated” perimeter wall of precisely “Three streets-in” of Asians before you get to the inner “White Communities”.

Look at it like this, you have Kira Road from the Police Station going up towards Kamwokya (which is the actual dividing tarmac), then you have Bukoto Street on the “inside” and again further in you have Kanjokya Street. These three “layers of streets” are what would be considered an “Asian Insulation” that the British put between themselves and Ugandan black people – and even to this day this “insulation” still stands (even with Ugandans living on both sides of it now).

Notice how the majority of Kira Road, Bukoto Street and Kanjokya Street buildings are Asian owned as you move along heading towards Kamwokya stage and onwards slowly towards Kisementi and the present-day Acacia Mall?

This Asian community still stands to this day.

As you stand at the Kamwokya taxi stage on your way towards Kisementi, on your left all the property is Asian owned (where Kololo Polyclinic is, then a DTB Bank Branch, a Mahindra Distribution Office, Bank of Baroda, Cavendish University…all this, Ugandans by pass this everyday without ever noticing and putting this together). To your right, on the other side of the road just foot steps away is the largest slum area in the country, Kamwokya slum, there is even a stage across the road called Kasasiro stage (garbage stage) right by the road side where all the waste from the Asian houses used to be dumped across on the Kamwokya side.

Now any Asian (specifically Indian) reading this article in Uganda will immediately get nervous and apprehensive but you need not be, this is about the Ugandans just being aware of the colonial British past and how it affects them today so they can move on with some understanding.

Ugandan Businessman Andrew Rugasira of Good African Coffee dedicates an entire Chapter in his book “A Good African Story” to addressing the issues of race and colonialism in Uganda’s past and how these things affected him indirectly and directly “today” in getting into the coffee business not only in Uganda but in the United Kingdom as he tried to export this coffee. (This book is a MUST read for all Ugandans – “A Good African Story” by Andrew Rugasira).

We as Ugandans are not going to be successful in moving forward before we address head-on the demons of the past. There will be finger pointing to supposed “Dictators” like Idi Amin who sent the Asians away in the 1970’s but as we can see today some Ugandans have given the Chinese “businessmen” the same 90days or just a few months to leave the country.

This shows you that Idi Amin was not the problem per se but this deep rooted psychology of a city designed to oppress the Ugandan and to put the Asians in a precarious position in the middle of all this; this pain and oppression that Ugandans feel and whose origins they do not realise but react to every so often.

The British know this. They designed it. The same British are the ones who trained Idi Amin. Amin saw this and now the British call Amin a Ugandan Dictator. Were the British, in all this, really “innocent”?

When the British uprooted themselves and left, the Asians were left between two groups of very upset Ugandans. The elite political class who took over everything the white people owned, and the downtrodden citizens who lived outside the ring which sandwiched the Asian community in the middle of a very precarious position (physically and mentally).

So, the rise of someone like Idi Amin was an inevitability that was going to happen for sure. For the British to lie that it surprised them, is for them (the British) to be hypocrites (they knew it was coming). For the Asians to say they were “shocked” at what Idi Amin did to them is also for them (the Asians) to be living in complete denial as to what was on the ground. They were accomplices to the British crimes against Ugandans and should instead have put the British to task for using them and abandoning them inside a Lions Den of angry, oppressed Africans.

The inevitability of the return of that boomerang thrown by the British could be seen coming a mile away.

So for this never to happen again, not only should Ugandans be aware of this history and its implications today, but the Asians (Indians, Chinese businessmen in Kampala today included) should be aware of this pain and oppression that exists (mostly mentally today).

We all (whether it’s the Asian community or the clustered white community in Kansanga, Kabalagala and Muyenga) need to find out how we can best understand this instead of just dismissing it. When you hear phrases like ‘Asians are rude’ or ‘working for Asians is horrible’, you need to address this attitude with utmost seriousness so that the bubble never rises to the surface again.

I was at Tuskys in Ntinda just the other day and an Indian man cut the line to the checkout and this one lady behind me just lost it…its like a switch just went off as she started to fire a barrage of insults at this man. “Is that how you do things in your country?” she charged.

Looking him dead in the face. “I am tired of these people, they’ve done this to me every time and I am now tired!” speaking about his cutting the line in front of her. I am not sure this would have been the same reaction had a black Ugandan been the one to cut the line.

Nothing an Indian does in Uganda is isolated, it’s always “them”. If one is rude to an employee, its not just that employer, it become “Indian employers” and this is an issue the Indian community must be honest about. It makes the good guys get lumped in with the bad apples.

A simple example of the physicality of this is…stand at the Mahindra building or DTB or Cavendish or Baroda in Kamwokya and walk up to the first floor of these buildings. From there, look down at the vast slum of Kamwokya barely 30 steps from the door, across the road. That slum has stood like that for the last 50 plus years, and at some point you have to begin to wonder what those people in that slum looking up at you are really starting to think.

The Ugandans living on Kololo Hill won’t feel this way because of course they don’t have to, they have a better end of the deal. Again just like in Colonial times, this leaves Indians sandwiched in the middle. Maybe you should take a stroll down there and look up at your building and see what you think the message that is being sent down is.

Can DTB, Baroda, Mahindra, Cavendish and the Asian business community reach out to that community in some way? I don’t know. Sponsor a clinic in the slums, perhaps? Maybe  a maternity centre, or a sanitation project? Should the Asian community work with the KCCA on this?

When a movie like Queen of Katwe is telling an inspirational story of the struggle of one girl growing up in one of the worst ghettos in Kampala but no one bothers to find out how all these people ended up in Katwe in the first place right next to a well built Old Kampala occupied by the Asian community back then…then we have a problem.

And also not forgetting the irony of having the movie directed by an Asian-Ugandan (without taking anything away from Director Mira Nair’s incredible talent). But the effects of this era are everywhere around us and this movie almost feels like it has a ring around it…with the “inside” white people at Disney not wanting to associate “Directly” with the black Ugandans so they had to put an Asian Director to be the final contact with the “blacks” (I am obviously stretching it here…maybe not that much…since Tendo Nagenda was the production head but you do see my point and the very real similarities of this situation).

Anyway moving on with the design, as you leave Mawanda road (which is entirely an Asian community) and head on down towards the British High Commission you’ll notice all the Asian buildings on the right side of you towards the “Uganda Museum”. I put that in quotes because the “Uganda Museum” is not Ugandan, it was a museum meant for the amusement of the British ruling class, built in the compound of a primary school (think about that…a primary school) – Kitante Primary School – a school built for the children of the British.

What still bothers me to this day is the elitist mentality still permeating from Kitante Primary School pupils and former students (and this is where I get to the part about how colonialism affects us today).

We have these “Blankets and Wine” wannabe picnics at the very Museum grounds built by the colonialists and do exactly what they (the Colonialists) did at these grounds…which is have picnics with their families there and have dates with ‘blankets and wine’. Oh, the irony! Any kids who grew up in the 80’s and early 90’s in Kampala will remember this “picnic craze” (someone needs to break out the real history here and tell the truth).

kitante-primary-school(British Kids attending Kitante Primary School with the Golf Course stretching to the Background behind the school without any fencing separating the two…notice the basket the mom is holding, Ugandan kids still carried these baskets to this very school in the 80’s and 90’s, completely mimicking what the British did).

All this reminds me of something I read about.

When studying rapes and kidnapping victims, authorities would often realize that if there was a more prolonged time in captivity, the victims of those kidnappings and rapes after an extended period of time began to get closer to their captors and even started to develop intimate feelings towards them and obsess over them. Sometimes, when they were finally rescued the victims did not want to accuse their captors of any wrong doing and instead defended them vehemently to the authorities, excusing and trying to explain away the horrible events of rape and kidnappings.

This is a lot like Uganda and many ex-colonial countries being obsessed with British life, wanting to be just like your captor, the one who raped you. You laugh at anyone who doesn’t speak the “Queens Language” well. You make sure to have your “High Tea” and “Evening Tea” promptly everyday.

This can be seen globally, from the Americans being obsessed with British Royalty and British Pageantry as though these were not the same British who colonised and ruled over them. Think of Nigerians completely obsessed with anything British, making all that wealth in Nigeria and going to invest it  buying a street of buildings in London instead of back home. It is beyond me. Again like I said, the obsession with your rapist and your captor. To this day, one of the best selling movies out of Nollywood is a movie titled “Osuofia in London”.

So, why does a Kid from Kitante Primary School somehow feel a little more superior to a Kid from say City Primary School (which is now Arya Primary School near Kisementi) and why does another from Nakasero Primary feel the same way towards one from Buganda Road?

This can all be traced back to colonial times where the white children attended Kitante Primary School while the Asian children attended Arya Primary School or City Primary School. After independence, the politicians in power wanted all their children to attend Kitante Primary School and not Arya or City Primary because they somehow wanted to feel the sense of superiority over the Asians by attending a “white school”.

It’s pathetic, I know, but also true, that even as Ugandans we needed to get some sort of self-esteem boosting from doing something “white people” did just to feel good about our selves, but the real question is…would you blame these parents and most importantly, would you blame a kid who had nothing to with where they ended up for primary and it has somehow helped with their self-esteem today?

Just as you would not blame an Asian Kid for feeling 100% Ugandan because he was born here even when others saw him otherwise. He still calls Uganda home and feels every bit Ugandan as you and me.

What we have to keep from is having to make that kid feel superior to other Ugandans kids which then perpetuates that historical cycle and vice versa with the Ugandan black kids. That’s why the historical perspective is so important.

So onwards we proceed towards Wandegeya (with a large hospital on your right ’Mulago’ ready to cater to these communities) all the way to the Wandegeya Police Station. I’ll pause here for a second and allow you to visualize the placement of all the police stations along this perimeter. You have Kira Road Police station, Wandegeya Station, Central Police Station, Jinja Road Police Station and back to Kira Road Police Station.

These police stations were not designed and placed there at this perimeter line for community law and order, they were designed by their very placement to protect the “Ring” from the outside or from having Ugandans crossing over into the white neighborhoods, let alone the Asian ones.

From Wandegeya onwards towards Norvik Hospital and Bat Valley, Buganda Road…again we find the “three-street-perimeter Asian buffer” with Bat Valley on the other side of the road, Norvik Hospital on the upper side, Buganda Road Primary School, which still has the names of the Asian owners on the wall of the school to this day (Norman Gordhino is the name.)

Moving along Bombo Road where Asian owned properties line both sides of the road with few Ugandans inserting building like ’Sure House’ in there. The owner, Sebaana Kizito, was only able to do that because he was the Mayor of the City then until much later when the likes of Nalubega Plaza found their way there too.

Then you have Watoto Church, which was not a Church back then but rather an Asian-owned Cinema that Canadian Missionaries headed by Pastor Gary Skinner helped buy from the Asian owners for the Church premises that is now Watoto Church. The whole of Buganda Road is Asian from the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) building all the way to the Central Police Station on both sides of the road, including the Buganda Road Flats.

Back to Kampala Road and 80% of the building lining both sides of Kampala Road are Asian owned starting from Odeon Cinema or Fido Dido building on both sides to Shell Capital –  a few Ugandans like Mabirizi fixed buildings in there only recently.

On to City Square with the Centenary Bank building (Mapeera House) there (which is new) then Crane Bank House, Kampala Boulevard House, Amber House, Bank of Baroda, Tropical Bank, Former Steers Fast-food House, Diamond Trust Bank House, Charm Towers, the vast majority of the prime real estate along Kampala Road is all Asian owned.

And as we head on to Jinja Road you still see that “three-street-Asian-buffer” with Nasser Road, Nkurumah Road, Kampala Road and Parliamentary Avenue. (The Government decided to house its Ministries along the Asian owned properties that now make up the Parliamentary Avenue.) Again between Kampala Road and Parliamentary Avenue you have all Asian buildings all the way down via Esso corner with Victoria University and up to the entire Dewinton Road all the way down to Shell Jinja Road and only broken by Wavah’s Spear House and Nema House.

Then we reach an interesting round about, which is the roundabout older Kampalans know as “The Yard” where “Centenary Park” is, just below Airtel house. Next to Airtel House you will notice the only Cemetery that is “Dead Centre” (pun intended) in the middle of the city and that is…you guessed it…the “white cemetery”. The white people cemetery had more prime real-estate than actual living Ugandans!

Onwards up towards Jinja Road Police Station and to the Cricket Oval in Lugogo. Very few Ugandans even stop to ask what two cultures are most obsessed with cricket (That would be the British and the Asians, so we can be sure that Oval was never designed to cater to any Ugandans.)

And with that we find our way back onto the Lugogo By Pass (Rotary Avenue) and as you approach the outside of the perimeter opposite City High School, you will now find the Asian Cemetery and Cremation center.

Also interestingly as you move along Lugogo By Pass Road past Tata House you come across the New Kensington Housing Estate which ironically was the City Dump and Landfill for all the garbage generated from the Hill of Kololo by the British all the way down. Again old Kampalans also know this Kensington place as Kasasiro or Garbage dump (scavenged daily by the slum dwellers of Naguru go-down), en route to the Kira Road Police Station.

All these racist markers are hard wired onto our streets, actual physical landmarks you can’t ignore and it doesn’t take long for a foreigner to walk into Uganda and know all the “White Areas” of the past (with the Victorian architecture on houses in Kololo and Nakasero Hill) and all the Indian Architecture lining the Asian “boundary areas”.

White people come into Uganda and are automatically inclined to want to live within this perimeter because of the hardwired names of these places. They are attracted to living in Kololo and having their tea at Acacia.

Now let’s look at some of the naming of the streets in the City and how this affects the everyday mindset of the Ugandan.

Again we’ll start from Kira Road Police Station. The road is called Kira Road (an indigenous name), the second street in is Bukoto Street and the third street in is Kanjokya street but something very strange begins to happen to the names of the streets after this “Asian three-street buffer” is done. After that you get to the fourth street and all the street names become British names.

For example the very next street after Kanjokya street is…’Prince Charles Drive’…and that is when you know you’ve entered what used to be a white community area.

As you head on further inside towards Kololo Hill. You’ll see McKenzie Vale, Baskerville Avenue, Roscoe Road, Elizabeth Avenue, Hesketh Bell Road, York Terrace, Philip Road, Ridgeway Drive, Windsor Crescent (along which you find none other than the British High Commission even today as you read this).

But as you get back out to the perimeter towards the Asian buffer the Ugandan names start sounding again, like Buganda Road, Nakasero Road, Kampala Road. One minute you’re on Baskerville Road but as soon as you cross the road to the other side, you’re on Naguru Rd.

That is the psychological mindset I said was holding Ugandans back, is it any surprise today that to feel “important” one has to try to live within these areas or at least have some association there?

Here is now where you find Uganda’s top judges living alongside the top politicians, military leaders, and even the State House (or Lodge) in Nakasero, the place the President of Uganda lives in, is nestled between three roads named Ternan Avenue, Princess Avenue and Victoria Avenue. This is where the State House of the Nation is located. Rather telling, right?!

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(Streets in Kololo with British Names…also the entire green space is the Independence Grounds, and the Uganda Golf Course. The Golf Course is a total waste of the city’s prime real estate and the independence ground was an airfield to evacuate white people quickly in case of emergencies)

So…Are we independent?

Physically we are but mentally there are a lot of Ugandans who still need to deal with it as it now presents subliminally. One has to actively search it out. The way it manifests every day is in small things like saying, (and the reason I am talking about this area specifically is because this area affects the entire country), “Top politicians live here, the President lives here, Supreme Court Justices live here, the Governor Bank of Uganda lives here…”

If this mindset enslaves them too what do you expect the rest of the Ugandans to do? What happens when your Supreme Court Judge wants to live on Queen Elizabeth Avenue and not want to be associated with living on Naguru Road? It’s subliminal but that’s where the most mental power is derived from.

So, onto things Ugandans will say that shows you this mental enslavement:

Saying, “Me, I only take my children to Kololo Hospital or to Nakasero Hospital when they get sick.”

Saying “My favourite ‘pass-time’ is golf,” played between two “previously white communities” on prime real-estate that would build incredible housing and facilities for Ugandans on the lawns of the Golf Course Fairway. Instead, we hang on to it (the golf course) as our pride and joy, depriving hundreds of thousands of jobs that would be created if an entire satellite city were built and tucked into the golf course land (with schools, Churches, houses, hotels, shopping centers and play grounds with parks for the kids living in Kampala that need open safe playgrounds.

Just imagine how much business Centenary Park, Oasis Mall, Garden City and Golf Course Hotel alone generate every single day…now Imagine that this was stretching all the way across the entire golf course land, the development to the city would be mind blowing, but here we are barring anyone except the “exclusive members” of the “club” from going onto the golf course grounds.

Then we make our way to go and relax at “Fairway” Hotel sipping on a Johnny Walker (because it makes us “feel” important).

We still call that spot along Entebbe Road…”Queensway” as we refuse to raze it down and remove “Her Majesty’s” Clock Tower and yet it impedes traffic flow along Entebbe Road and causes a massive bottleneck for road users everyday. (Who are we serving here…Ugandans or former colonial masters?)

We build all our Houses today with a “Boy’s Quarter” without even realizing that the “Boy’s Quarter” is where the Black Ugandan Servants to the White People lived because as you may be aware the word “boy” is one used only by racists towards black people. Young or Old doesn’t matter…as their rooms where called “Master’s Bedrooms” or “Master Bedroom” which was the room or rooms in the “main house” where the “master” lived.

Today we have Ugandans building houses with “Boy’s Quarters” and “Master’s Bedrooms” without even thinking about it (I am sure they’re some white people “Bazungu” who see this going on in Uganda but won’t say anything and just look at Ugandans doing this like…WTF are they doing)…build a guest house not a “boy’s quarters”.

We think we are better because we attended Lohana Academy, Kitante Primary School, Nakasero Primary School and anything inside that Ring, we give the Queen guided tours of Kitante Primary School 50 years later just because its where the “white people” used to study.

We still sing songs about “London Bridge” and “My Fair Lady” and the “General McNamara” in our primary schools. We teach more European History and Geography in our High Schools than African History and Geography. Students know more about Napoleon than they know about Lumumba and yet they live in a Hall named after this very Lumumba at the University.

We can’t wait for our functions to be held at the Sheraton Hotel or the Serena Hotel, we feel good when our offices are located at the Crested Towers or our house is located along Elizabeth Avenue or Prince Charles Drive.

We refuse to give due respect to the “John Babiiha Road” as it was appropriately renamed by the City and instead insist on calling it by its colonial name “Acacia Avenue” because it sounds cooler and more westernized, not “local” like Babiiha. Is it a wonder then that the two most prominent racially charged incidents in Uganda’s bustling night life happened on this “Acacia Avenue” with one such racial incident at the Irish Pub O’leary’s where Ugandans where being turned away if they did not show up with a “white friend” and another at the now defunct “Mish Mash” where the proprietor yelled at Ugandans that they were ruining her place that was meant to cater to only “white tourists” and “white people” living in Kampala?

Maybe if the place was named ‘John Babiiha Road’ these “Bazungu” may finally get the message that this is Uganda. But as long as we keep pandering to their egos that is what we should expect. Name changes change attitudes. Just ask the former members of Northcote Hall in Makerere University, a simple name change to Nsibirwa Hall erased a volatile and rebellious past from the hall and pacified it almost immediately to one of the most serene and docile halls at the campus.

We want to do our shopping at “Acacia Mall” and not Kamwokya market across the road because we think it demeans us and makes us “local” and lastly we equate the word “local” with all things bad and evil and backward and shameful all because we are mentally enslaved and find it hard (impossible even) to move on and never support anything ‘Local’.

The “learned people” then go and “protest” at a “National Theatre” that was built by a colonial governor for the entertainment of white Parliamentarians (without realising the National Theatre was part of the compound of the Parliament with no fences or separation, just like it was with Kitante Primary School, the Museum and the Golf Course which where all essentially within one large compound inside of the “white area”.

Why else would we be ashamed? This mentality unfortunately has tricked down to tribalism in the Country where giving you a house for rent or a job may come down to how your name sounds.

And most are willing even today to give you a Job if you’re named “Acacia Avenue” and not to a name like say “John Babiiha” just because ‘Babiiha’ doesn’t sound cool enough or like someone I like to associate with. Just listen to how people in Kampala (maybe you included) talk about a place like Karamoja with the same elitist nose up in the air attitude that the entire Africa would be talked about in the halls of the House of Lords in London. They are backward, uncivilized, barbarians…completely oblivious to how full of themselves they are just because they made it to Makerere University and got a Masters Degree in English and Literature and don’t care about a single vernacular African proverb.

But we can change, just like the conscious leaders of Kampala today who will name a road in Nakasero ‘Lumumba Avenue’ or ‘John Akii Bua Road’ and another in Kololo named ‘Malcom X Avenue’ right next to Elizabeth Avenue (who knew the Queen of England’s neighbour would be Malcom X?) in solidarity with what was and is going on around the world and acknowledging this past as well.

I say we should rename the roads at the British Embassy Idi Amin Road and where the American Embassy is at Nsambya to Martin Luther King Jr. Road just so we can get that psychological message across, otherwise what point is there in me growing up and having a childhood along Elizabeth Avenue, my former colonial oppressors name, if not to torment me everyday with the past?

The British Embassy’s Physical Address in Kampala should read…Plot 1, Idi Amin Road. Kamwokya, Kampala instead of one on “Windsor Crescent”. (That should put some hair in their nostrils) Just like the President of Uganda leaves the State House in his motorcade and drives onto a road named Victoria Avenue (shame).

Without understanding this past and what it does to the psyche, we as Ugandans cannot embrace a bright future from this 2017 moving forward and we will never be truly independent in our minds.

Fifty years plus down the road and it finally took the guts of a one Jeniffer Musisi to break the barrier of this design and finally upgrade and expand the city, and where did she start…you guessed it…From Kira Road Police Station going up towards Bukoto – a road which remained only double-laned along the perimeter and as soon as you started going up to Bukoto it was single-laned which caused night mares in traffic for years.

And for it to finally be double-laned now in 2016-2017 (which seamlessly connects to Lugogo Bypass double-lane by the way is testament to the fact) all the way to Kira Town completing the actual Kira Road that hasn’t been completed all the way to Kira Town for almost seventy (70) years.

Most young people think Kira Road ends at the Police Station and that is because of that psychological shift when moving from the double lane Kira Road or Lugogo Bypass road on to what was a single land road going up to Bukoto.

She has also had to take it outward using Jinja Rd to Nakawa and now to Ntinda and slowly expanding it and hopefully these past boundaries will be truly blurred helping Ugandans, especially Kampalans, finally move on from the past.

She went down to Kamwokya Ghetto and upgraded the roads, went into Kisenyi and Katwe and upgraded the roads…she went into the very ghettos that were designed to hold Ugandans back and upgraded those roads and in so doing begun to free a lot of minds and got many to believe in themselves again.

People are starting to feel good walking inside Kisenyi albeit for all the problems that still exist on that upgraded road or in Kamwokya and in Katwe, property prices in these ghettos are going up daily, new businesses are springing up every week and true development and hope with it is finally in sight.

People now feel good owning property in Kisaasi and Kyanja because of upgraded infrastructure with roads, water and power lines, improvement of sanitary conditions and so on. This KCCA finally seems to get it as the “new Kololo” now shifts to these areas whose “local names” sound sweeter everyday.

Just like we changed the “Airstrip” which was a real airstrip to cater to the white Kololo residents was changed to ‘Independence Grounds’ and redesigned by the UPDF so should every road in Kololo be renamed beginning with Elizabeth Avenue and Prince Charles Drive as we truly become Independent from the British…in our minds.

(Just so you know…this is how racism is designed in cities around the world. Paris is “ringed-in” too with the blacks living outside the ring in designed ghettos, so is London, so is New York with its five Boroughs, no one has to tell you in which Borough the Black people live, and so is Los Angeles…do you think the Los Angeles riots in 1994 just so happened to have Black people clash Directly with Asians?…this was no coincidence as Asians are also placed between the Black and the White communities in the U.S. as well. An Asian buffer ring is being placed around every black community in the U.S as well. Imagine, that we feel it here fifty years on and the white people are not even here, now imagine what the Black community in the U.S feels right now…unbelievable…with railroads and highways slicing and dividing white from black communities everyday)

Lastly I would like to name the ghettos designed around the ring in Kampala (many think it’s a mistake, coincidence even, that Katanga is where it is or that Bwaise just happened by accident).

Kamwokya Ghetto is just footsteps on the other side of the road from the ring and we can see this all around the ring in Kampala with Mulago-Katanga Ghetto opposite Nakasero Hill, and along Bombo Road (look behind City Oil on Bombo Road and you’ll see one of the Biggest Ghettos in the Middle of the City).

As you get to the city everything from Kampala road to Old Kampala is Asian owned buildings mostly (now dotted with many Ugandan “plazas” and as you can see it in the city with Ugandans relegated in the past to areas of Kikuubo, Old Taxi park, Nakivubo, Katwe and as we move along Kampala Rd we see on that side of the hill the Ghettos of Kibuli and Nsambya, Railway grounds. As you go up towards Jinja Road and Lugogo Bypass, you have what used to be the infamous Naguru go-down Ghetto which is still there right opposite the plush Kololo suburb. Even the Naguru Hill itself with all the “new money” building up the hill (which just started in the 90’s from land that was left to fallow) is still no match to the Kololo hill that looks down upon it because no one was allowed to build on the “Hill” across from Kololo Hill. Ugandans could only live in the valleys like Naguru not the hills.

I have finally come to the conclusion that these places are not just hard designs on the streets of Kampala but mental barriers that prevent us from moving forward while still comfortable in our own skins…“feeling white or feeling British” on the inside which unfortunately many kids growing up in areas such as Baskerville and Elizabeth Avenue begin to feel like…when their inner “white mentality” (due to all that western television and wannabe imitation life) begins to get ashamed of their “actual black physical body and skin” and then you have a real conflict on your hands.

Actress Lupita Ny’ongo (Queen of Katwe) alluded to this, she found herself in this precarious situation growing up…she sounded British, felt British, is the daughter of a former Kenyan Ambassador and Senator in Kenya but looked very Kenyan and African and that is where the real battle began for her as she has explained numerous times in interviews…

She also said at an Essence Magazine event, “As a young girl I prayed to God to make me white or light skinned as I slept in the night but I would wake up in the morning and still find myself black.” And until Lupita dealt with this “complex” did she FINALLY break free and begin to truly succeed, something you thought should have been obvious growing up in the elite upper mid-class family that she did in Kenya.

And this is happening all across Africa with many Nigerians preferring to give their children two British names or two English sounding names instead of having any indigenous sounding Nigerian names.

This is the mindset that Africans and Ugandans finally have to break from. We need more names like Rukahana Rugunda or Odongo Otto if we are to truly be mentally free. Why would a Ugandan kid be named Charles Cooper Jr?

So the next time you walk into “Acacia Mall” or should I say “John Babiiha Mall” to buy your little girl a small white barbie doll…think about this very carefully or the next thing she will be asking for is a blond wig, blue contact lenses and skin bleaching cream and kneeling by her bed side at night praying to God to make her white by morning.

Lastly, the irony of having to write this entire article in “English” is not lost on me. So just like me, I suggest we simply eat the chicken and leave the bones. (I would throw a watermelon reference in there just to make everyone uncomfortable but you get my point).

 

Again, this is by Benard Acema.

All I can say is:

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my uber uber uganda driver is a national leader – one way or another


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Photo by Simon Kaheru – taken in the back seat of a Land Rover Discovery…
THE day a Land Rover Discovery came to fetch me as a taxi was an Uber day – in more senses than one.
I occasionally do things like this to test out systems and scenarios so that when I am asked questions I have answers that make sense to a visitor (see, I use www.shiyaya.travel so I need to be knowledgeable).
For some reason I had this nagging need to set off three hours early for a radio programme, and as I like being on time for things I didn’t need too much encouragement even though I did feel a little strange about being a little too early this one time.
So I decided to get an Uber to a point where I knew my favourite snack to be sold, at the bottom of Eighth Street, from whence I would take a short, leisurely stroll to my final destination. Plus, I needed to see how the Uber map would react to my command – but it didn’t let me choose my random spot, so I had to select a marked location close by.
For a couple of weeks I’ve been discovering that not many Uber drivers in Kampala trust or use the digital maps and pins that come with them, and I had raised a complaint about it before.
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It irritates the hell out of people who don’t like: a) Using the phone to talk b) Giving those endless directions during which neither you nor the person you are talking to are clear about the reference you are making – if the guy doesn’t know left from right and you don’t know kkono from ddyo, okikola otya?
On stepping out of Endiro Coffee I ordered for the Uber, because that is a location where one is likely to have a car show up within a matter of seconds, so before clicking the Uber button you don’t have to factor in the time it takes to pay the bill, shut down the computer and walk through the gauntlets of “Let’s have a coffee some time” and “Hey! You also come here?”
Seconds later, my phone rang and the number on screen was uber organised in a way that made me pause – should I take the phone call then miss the Uber guy’s call?
A number with 444 444 was likely to be…what? An MP? Sudhir’s other PA? Google?
I answered, planning to make it quick, and as I did so I noticed a dapper looking chap not too far away from me in a nice-looking jacket and speaking into a phone.
“Hello, Simon…?”
“Yes – Simon speaking.”
“Hi. This is Charles – Uber. Your pin said you were at Kisementi but you know the parking here is bad. Where will you be, exactly?”
“Right at the entrance of Endiro.”
“Is that on the main road itself?”
I thought so, and replied in the affirmative.
I then saw a flash of brown as someone dove into a silver Land Rover Discovery II – like the one I owned till quite recently.
What would life be like, really, if there was a Land Rover Discovery on Uber?
I shook my head to clear out the fantasies, then waited for the Uber.
Even thinking that the fellow I had seen on the phone was an Uber driver was off-centre.
Uber was supposed to be disruptive, and had presumably introduced newer, neater cars and drivers into the taxi eco-system. Even campus kids were driving taxis, apparently.
The average Special Hire taxi driver in Kampala was an annoying, irritating muyaye-type fellow. The average one, not all of them.
The first Uber guy I used this morning, for instance, was definitely a Special Hire taxi driver who had slipped through whatever filter Uber uses to get us uber-neat chaps and cars.
His car, a Platz, was not only filthy but had its paint peeling off. He found it difficult to follow directions, even in Luganda, and when he eventually arrived and I opened the door I was confronted with a dirty pinkish-brown rag at the foot of the back seat, and an empty mineral water bottle.
He seemed to think this was normal but I refused to let it pass even though I did feel a little awkward knowing we were going to do a trip for which I would pay a third what I used to pay just weeks ago.
He cleaned up the two offending items, and left the dust intact, then proceeded to drive gladiator style through traffic while insisting on a conversation over which route to use. His gold-coloured Samsung looked very high end but he only looked at it to answer a phone call and then check the fare at the end of the trip.
“You decide, boss. I need to listen to this podcast,” I said, of our route, before succumbing to a coughing fit as the Air Conditioning kicked in with a movie-style special effects dust storm.
When we got to my destination I had to give the guy a lecture and told him I was “with Uber” (technically, true, being a customer with the app) and that we were doing random sample rides to test whether drivers were following all the rules.
He was visibly scared and promised to drive better, but my faith in the entire service was uber-low by the time I was rating him (they don’t have a ‘0’ for ‘Fire this guy’, so I had to go with “terrible”).
The disruption that Uber brings to Kampala’s ‘special hire’ taxi system is therefore very welcome when we have the right type of Uber chaps zipping around in those cars – for various reasons, not least of which is promoting our tourism sector and making life comfortable for travellers.
The Silver Discovery, meanwhile, went past smoothly and I wistfully remembered the good days in my own, as I watched it sail past and go towards Lohana Academy.
And two minutes later, it was back…
THE SILVER LAND ROVER DISCOVERY II WAS MY UBER!
“Really? YOU are my Uber?”
“Yes, sir!” the fellow responded brightly.
I hopped in, sliding perilously along the shiny clean leather (maybe faux) seats as he punched buttons on his iPad screen in its holder, and kicked off the journey. None of that “Where are we going?” stuff.
“But you guy!”
I had to ask.
“What engine do you have in this thing?”
It was a 3.9Litre V8 engine, which is really a four-litre engine. Those are the engines where they say the moment you start up the car a litre of fuel goes out the exhaust pipe.
I owned a car like this for many years, and made very acquaintances with many fuel pump attendants along the way. They even got to know my children, I spent so much time there.
“I just love Land Rovers!” he said, with an enthusiasm that made me suspect he was doing Uber just so he could drive this thing around bila profit or even logic.
“I used to drive a Range Rover, but I sold that one and now I have this. It’s a great car!”
Encouraging him to join Land Rover Uganda, he told me he had tried doing so and even wanted to attend our event back in May but had missed it.
I promised to help and he handed me his business card – that said he was a “Verkstallande Direktor”, as I interrogated HOW this arrangement made sense. WHO does a taxi service in the city while driving a car with THIS engine? Disruption was one thing, but this was just madness.
Even before I bought my own V8 I did a lot of mathematics to justify the purchase to myself, and consistently operated in a manner that ensured it was profitable – which is why I still know how to avoid traffic jam scenarios by simply avoiding certain engagements at certain hours.
He told me it made sense, and explained how – including how he only makes himself available for specific jobs and whatnot.
And what is a “Verkstallande Direktor” anyway? What witchcraft is this Uber engaging us in, where people casually charge less than Ushs10k for a trip that I used to bargain DOWN to Ushs30k? Where the drivers are on campus and have degrees?
Last week a chap told me he owned the Premio he was cruising, having inherited it from his mother, and that even though he was earning less that week than he had when Uber had just come in, he was okay because the rental income from the apartments…
What is this jadu? And seriously, what is a  “Verkstallande Direktor”?
It’s Swedish for Chief Executive Officer. See, we have taxi drivers operating in Swedish now and yet they charge far less than those ’special hire’ taxi drivers did.
Uber is not (really) jadu – it is this guy who is even more different, as I see when I flip the business card and find that he runs a company that does Electronic Security System Installations in Sweden and Uganda.
“I have done many things, and I am yet to do more. After I left the army I went into private business and I found myself in Sweden and Finland, but I had to come back to Uganda to do things here,” he said.
This is where I started to make an appointment to buy him a coffee on Friday morning. By the time I was handing him the Ushs8k for the trip and tipping him an extra Ushs2k out of some irrational guilt – which he thanked me for – he was telling me of his plans to introduce cable cars in Mbale. I had to make him stop, confirm the Friday morning coffee, then check my bags to make sure that he really didn’t have some jadu to make my laptop turn into a stone or something.
And I had to take another photo of the car – just in case, because, now cable cars?
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Photo by Simon Kaheru
We agreed that I would call him Friday morning to work out that coffee.
***
Which is why he tried to call me on Thursday evening (using his secondary number that has 44 444) then sent me an SMS saying I had neglected to set the appointment.
Seriously, what energy did this guy have?
Friday morning I called him up, he eventually made it to where I was, and immediately launched into his story.
Charles Lwanga Bbale, but in the army, he said, he was listed as Lwanga Emmanuel ’Speed’.
He wasn’t as neat as he was inside the Discovery, but still had an impressive presence in spite of his being small-bodied. His loud voice helped, and I really wished he had kept it down a lot of the time.
The tone of his voice caused the waiters and waitresses some visible consternation and occasional alarm, and some of his stories were so hair raising that at one point a young waitress said, “Eh! Wano ‘kanveewo!” and fled.
That was when he was telling me about the time he walked 256 kilometres in six days. As a communications technician with the UPDF he got deployed into the Democratic Republic of Congo during the Kisangani tours, and once got into a disagreement with a superior that could only be resolved in one of two ways.
He chose the one that didn’t involve dying at that young age, and set off on foot from a location called Ango, near the Central African Republic border on May 5, 1998.
“I had my rifle, sixty rounds (of ammunition), six tins of beans, two tins of beef, some medicines, mosquito repellant, and some coffee. In the mornings I would find a place where to warm water, then mix coffee. People don’t know but coffee helps you fight off sickness and also keeps you alert!”
Clad in his military fatigues, a pair of jeans (it was the DRC) and a waterproof jacket, he put a dangerous tail off his tracks by taking a fake route for 5 kilometres before cutting through a forest to pick up his actual route all the way to Buta.
No – he had no map and no compass. No – of course there was no Google Maps.
The medicine came in handy because it was currency. Life was so hard in the DRC that people would do ANYTHING for a pill to treat ANYTHING.
When he got to a river called Uele he found the crossing to be 500m. He exchanged the mosquito repellant for a boat ride and enough goodwill to stop the people there killing him either on the spot, or as they crossed the river, or when they got to the other side. Apparently the majority of them suffered from serious skin diseases because of nairobi fly bites or something, so his tube of mosquito repellant was priceless.
After that he met a band of chimpanzees that blocked his path and seemed to be planning to rip him apart. The confrontation ended by him firing off two rounds to scatter them.
Then he met a band of pygmies with hunting dogs, which they seemed to be setting upon him.
“Those ones wanted to eat me, and I knew I was in serious trouble.”
He fired off another two rounds.
That was when the waitress fled.
I had to cut the story short, his fluency in Lingala and Swahili be damned, because we had about 100 kilometres more to go and this could easily have been just day two of his trip. If only they had Uber in the DRC back then, oba?
In the army, his number was RA23470, and when he was promoted to Second Lieutenant (one of only five Non Commissioned Officers to get promotions then) while in Kisangani in November 1999, he was given RO8480. But that lasted only two months because someone in the records office did a switch and he found himself dropped back to Sergeant.
It was annoying – especially since his promotion had been communicated by no less than the State Minister for Defence at the time, Steven Kavuma (now Deputy Chief Justice).
“Afande Kazini was not amused. He said, ‘Who is this Lwanga that the Minister is the one telling us about his promotion?’”
So there was no help in getting the promised promotion effected, even though there were some awkward phone calls and radio messages to and from Kampala – stuff he arranged quite easily since he was in the communications section of the tactical unit.
But after all his trials and tribulations, this was the final straw, and Emmanuel Lwanga ‘Speed’ (his name in the Army) applied to leave the army.
That ended a journey that had began in 1988, when he joined the army as a ‘kadogo’ (child soldier) at a tender age.
He said he was born on February 2, 1978, at Ndejje in Kampala off Entebbe Road, which would make him ten at the time he joined up – first as a cadre at one of the training schools, before being regularised as a soldier.
“I admired soldiers a lot. I had an uncle in the Uganda Army who was just a sergeant but he was very smart and very disciplined. You would see him in his car and leading troops and you would just say, ‘Yeah!’. I had to join. But later on I would see soldiers and wonder where the professionalism went. In Congo I even saw a Captain slapping a Major in front of a Colonel and nothing happened!”
(He named all three officers involved – two are still alive and one is still serving. A man needs to verify such stories before writing out the names.)
His admiration for soldiers was somewhat helped along by his father, who he says was a trailer driver plying routes from Mombasa to as far off as Burundi and even Zambia, being a collaborator with the NRA/M rebels.
“There is a time he disappeared for three years and we just knew he was in the Bush but we didn’t know what he was doing,” Lwanga says.
That’s why Lwanga spent time with his uncle, a sergeant instructor at the kadogo units in Mbarara and Bombo.
Along the way he wen to various schools – one in Iganga because it was along his father’s route, and there he became one of the big boys in the school.
“We were with the sons of Oyite Ojok, and Kalule Setala’s son. We used to have guns in school, man! But I was always the first in every class!” To be fair, I was sometimes sceptical as a child whenever my own father told me about being the first in class, but I proved that to be true in various ways. Here I just had to allow – and the man is the first in the class of Uber Uganda drivers, as far as I am concerned.
Eventually he was sent to St. Elizabeth Namasuba Primary School where he says he was such a superb student he scored the school’s first ever first grade in Primary Seven.
“I scored 12 and got a Grade One – their first ever. The headmaster, Vincent Kayima, was so happy; and begged me to repeat so that I get an even better grade. I was even Head Boy. But I had gotten a place at Lubiri High School through my uncle, who was on the Board there, so I had to go to Senior One,” Lwanga narrates.
But to do his headmaster a favour, Lwanga ALSO did Primary Seven again – while studying in Senior One. And just because he could, he also tutored his classmates so that they would do better as well.
And he scored a Grade 11 in his second round of Primary Seven – while passing Senior One well enough to go on with school. The story gets garbled but it involves more military training, the cadre identification programme that got him trained and deployed as a technician even though he did various other pieces like a Marine course in Yugoslavia, he says.
His stories of army life piece together somewhat, and it is clear he has some interesting heroes even though he doesn’t say so himself.
“Like Sekandi? Vice President Sekandi? People think that man is just there a civilian, but they don’t know what he has done in his life. That man was a fugitive here in Kampala, and the government was looking for him because of being a rebel! For six months he was hiding at our home in Ndejje, in the boys’ quarters! I was there, and I saw him for all those six months,” he says.
Sekandi, it turns out, is his maternal uncle – brother of his mother – the same one that got him the place in Lubiri.
“People don’t understand why Museveni cannot let Sekandi go but that man is very loyal. When he says he is going to do something he does it. He is serious. He was with Museveni in Sekandi – you ask him what he was doing there. People don’t know Sekandi!”
I certainly didn’t. I looked away a little, and focused my eyes on the lapel pin of the Uganda flags that he had on his jacket, so I didn’t have to share my views or get my eyes read.
Eventually, as I tried to wind up the ‘coffee’ having agreed that a book needed to be written about his life, we talked about seriousness or the lack of it and he mentioned how ridiculous it was for a man such as himself to display so much seriousness and then get turned down at the last minute over minor details.
I had to probe, in passing, what he meant.
“For these last Presidential campaigns I collected signatures in 77 (seventy seven) districts of Uganda. Do you know how serious you have to be to do that?”
I did, and I considered that if I knew a little about the last campaign I certainly would know if this gentleman had been behind initiatives to gather nomination signatures in 77 (seventy seven) districts since that is more than half the country.
“Really? Who did you work under?” I asked, mentally running a checklist of what I may have missed.
“Myself!”
We looked at each other for a few seconds.
“And the Electoral Commission turned me down at the last minute because of a cheque. Silly excuse, just!”
Forget pennies and shillings, the entire bank vault dropped.
THIS was Charles Bbale Lwanga, Presidential-Hopeful-2016-turned-Uber-Driver-cum-Verkstallande Director!
***
I know. This story has to end, but his actual story just won’t.
“Were you serious?” I asked, solemnly.
“Of course!” he said, even more solemnly, “We were groomed to be leaders! I was a cadre of the NRM and we were prepared and trained to take over leadership of this country. And I have not given up!”
His Party still exists, apparently, the Ecological Party of Uganda, backed by the Swedish Green Party which also set up the African Green Federation of which he (Lwanga) was Treasurer until some scandal in 2013 that had him removed without grace.
“Back in 2006 I joined up with Samson Mande and other Ugandans to change policy towards Uganda and other African countries, and we even got the Swedish government of the Social Democrats changed in 2006,” he claims, with a long story that I refuse to reproduce here.
“I am now Party President of the Ecological Party of Uganda and we are grooming our next generation!”
I had to google him and even found myself on the same page as him, with an alarming theme that gave me two minutes of worry back then. Just two minutes.
Ours is a small world, after all.
Also, I must confess that it is pleasing to see political cadres (he says he was among the first 1,000 people to register the NRM as well) engaging in ‘normal business life’ in a manner that makes them stand out the way he does, and that we can point at a presidential hopeful – would that he had made it to ‘Candidate’ status – finding his place in the business world in Uganda.
He handed me his feasibility plan for the Cable Transport System in Mbale, which he says should kick off next year. It makes for sensible reading and can certainly be implemented in Mbale, Sironko and Kapchorwa as it says the feasibility study proves.
But for now, his story took up so much of my world that I had to first be satisfied that we have some good Uber drivers out there with cars that make us happy and will make any tourist happy. I DID consider how much more lively Uber would be if they recruited more of our former politicians or politicians-in-waiting – and the rest of us would drive around much easier than walking to work…
If Uber has any billboards or any Above The Line advertising planned, then here’s their first outstanding real-life candidate – Charles Lwanga Bbale Emmanuel ‘Speed’, and they can choose any pun to go with that nickname as well as catchphrases like, “If you can’t be President, you can still drive an Uber…”