Trying to understand Uganda’s new feminists

2016 will be the year of the feminist. Spurred into the mainstream media by the infamous protest of notable academic researcher Stella Nyanzi, the educated “middle class” women of the nation jumped on the band wagon of the feminist cause. Women all over the world are faced with marginalization although it is more of a daily struggle for the continent’s women. The treatment of African women by the societies and communities they live and work in is all but uninspiring.

The sudden interest taken up these seemingly educated clique of women as manifested by endless proverbial references, one-sided perspectives and meaningless hashtags reveals a shallowness in understanding the plight but is also an expression of the misplaced vision among this promising yet disappointing section of the public. To begin with, these voices are always vocal when it comes to issues that can make them a “worthy mouthpiece”. By this I mean how far these women become on matters dealing with presidential term limits, parliamentary bills, and the isolated workplace drama.

In no way do I claim to understand the plight of women but surely I don’t think the culture of “no chips nor hips” or the spike in prostitution more so among the nation’s young women is not a “plight” enough to make national headlines or trend on Twitter.

Where are these feminists when the moral decay of the nation silently eats away at the young women of the nation? Or has the moral decadence of the African woman become so common and trendy that it is no longer worthy to speak against. Exactly how does lifting of presidential term limits stop the near pornographic dressing of women on the streets of Kampala or stop defilement of young girls in schools?

The voices supposed to speak for or against such subjugation have instead put on trousers and joined the men to join the political conversations and fairness at the workplace. My fellow Ugandan sisters on social media have adopted the western consumerism and celebrity culture that took the tragedy of the Chibook girls and reduced it to Twitter hashtag,”#BringBackOurGirls”. Or to our own backyard with the infamous Invisible Children campaign and its misinterpretation of the war in northern Uganda.

Instead, feminism has been hijacked by a clique of young women with theoretical notions, biased tendencies and a Twitter account to claim to be the definition of a feminist. It seems remaining relevant and being retweeted or tagged is the main concern irrespective of whether you make sense or not. Or whether you believe and understand the cause or not.

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Is it selfish to give up ?

It has been a struggle to write down anything. I seem to have fallen victim to the attitude I despise. I don’t blame myself however but rather the people that surround me. You alone are the cause of my seeming resignation. I lost the battle and accepted the reality of the world I live in. Maybe I give up so easily. Am I too perfectionist, if there is such a term ? Or have my naive expectations been shattered by the brazen mediocrity that surrounds me ?

I cannot even seem to write down my mind as I repeatedly second guess and rubbish every thought.

Dear reader, this is not a rant but a plea for inspiration.

In this jungle, are you a lion or an antelope ?

Trying to understand human behaviour and interaction is much harder as it is to study animal behaviour and interaction. This is because humans have undefinable forces that shape their thoughts, actions and behaviours. Some human behaviour can be called at best basic animal instinct. Traits that define the fabric of nature as it is is best illustrated by Charles Darwin’s notorious observation on human evolution.

This became a quote commonly known and used and known and yet also so truthful and applicable in our interactions and experiences as humans.

Survival for the fittest.

This world is a jungle and in it exist all kinds of beasts and animals. Some live independent from the jungle while others live off other animals. In all, these animals need each other to survive in this jungle. We have lions, kings of the jungle, proud masters, feared, admired and loathed by the antelopes and bucks that always get snared, eaten and destroyed.

It is as if their sole purpose in this jungle is to be food to theses kings. These bucks and antelopes are weak and mediocre, always moving in herds and afraid to be different or to move in the other direction.Those that try to move away from the herd are snatched away by the firm teeth of the jungle kings.

We do what we do then? It seems deep down we are all just bucks and lions in this jungle. The lions are kings and the bucks get eaten.

How “kafunda” styled restaurants can help us understand the way communities are built in Kampala.

Popularly known as “kafunda“, Kampala’s informal restaurants are a refuge to the capital’s unemployed and low income earners. Known by some as “ toninyilila these eat outs are a myriad of encounters and gaping insights. The term “kafunda” is derived from the small spacing that characterizes this environment, simply translated to mean “narrow” or “do not step on my toes” by some. To the creators of such structures, makeshift is the modus operandi.

Social demographics states that communities are defined by the people that inhabit them and not their structures. However, Kampala’s informal restaurants define its people through their structures.  Take for instance the Egyptians who are well known historically mostly for the structures they built, the Pyramids. In spite of their rich cultural heritage, scientific intellect and governing systems, their structures have remained as a resonating image of who they were. This begs of the question, what do Kampala’s structures tell of its people?

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To begin, when it comes to constructing these restaurants consideration to permanent structures is secondary and held as sort of a luxury. Instead attention is mostly directed to the availability of equipment in which case are the cooking saucepans, plates and other paraphernalia. Even serving customers in the open air is a compromise that can be reached. Such disregard for standards is not ignorance to the comfort of their customers, but rather a choice of affordability.

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The prices at which these meals are bought allow for mere sustenance of operations. After deducting the amount of money needed for shopping tomorrow’s menu all that is left is distributed in daily wages to the struggling waitresses and cooks which leaves a meager profit.

Building standards for these restaurants are characterized by one room styled building with the entrances serving as the cooking area. Seats are provided for through benches leaving no room for back rest, which also means the number the number of customers that can be seated, operates within the approach of “filled to the maximum.” According to my first hand experience, the meals provided fit the definition of a balanced diet. However, the negligence to hygiene outweighs the attraction to supposed “healthy meals”.

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The temporary nature of these structures should in no way dispel the permanent state of existence they tend to build. Keen observation shows that most communities in Kampala, mostly urban tend to show initial growth characteristics that are informal. Simply put, they are not planned. It is not a surprising sight to see a once lush swampy groove on the outskirts of a town being taken over by these informal communities.  In this same way of planning and settlement of most homes in Kampala, we see a borrowed mentality in the establishment of these eat outs.

These informal eat outs normal crop up in areas that cater in employing a largely unskilled labour category such as construction sites, boda boda stages, taxi parks and pretty much any location that brings the food service closer to its clients. This reveals considerable information to how communities are built in Kampala. First comes the activity which is followed by services that sustain it.

We can take the analogy of a construction site. It begins with the work crew that sets itself up in an area. Food is an obvious need and so those who provide it come in. As the construction operations move on, the need for certain amenities arises such as basic consumer goods provided by small retail kiosks. We can now see how a small community has been forged so far. As the small community thrives, the need for transportation arises as the shopkeepers need these services to transport their goods and so do the construction workmen as they commute to their temporary homes. This introduces the boda boda stages. From then on, the potential to build an even larger community sets in. This is because the need for more services will arise, more shops, more rental houses, a school maybe and of course more restaurants to cater for the growing population.

Some may dispel this conceptualization as being non-impactful in the sense that these informal eat outs already find communities built and so simply set themselves in place. Yes, this is agreeable. As in the analogy of a construction site, it was the work crew who initiated the “soon to be” community and not the restaurants. What one may need to understand is that communities are normally built around meeting points which means a construction site is not inclusive of everyone in an area. However, a restaurant is a meeting point that brings together the foreman and the porter. It is through such collective gathering that highlights how these eat outs build communities.

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A simplified mind can look at this in this line of thought; these eat outs largely employ women meaning the likelihood of growing small families is unavoidable. These new young families will not move to another location to start a new life, but will instead begin to forge a new life closer to the source of sustenance which is the economic activity that employs the mother and father.

Besides being a service or need provision point, the eat out will serve as a meeting point for the given members of the community. Sort of the same way one can look at a religious site such as a church or mosque being the focal meeting point of the community.

Elementary social studies define a community as a group of people that live in the same place and have a common characteristic. The common characteristic in this case is the kafunda that serves the need for every one which is food.

To define them as restaurants is somewhat misleading since the structure of operations and setup does not meet the levels of what can be called standard. Informal is the term that best describes them for they provide a service that is quick and basic. No attention is paid to detail, guidelines, quality, service or impression. Sort of the same way Kampala’s communities are built with a lacking of organization and standard.

 

 

The Uganda Olympics debacle and why Idi Amin would change things.

The recent Olympics held in Brazil as with so many others before begun with optimism for Ugandan athletes and the nation at large but ended in despair and yet again embarrassment.  Uganda’s athletics community as with much of the nation’s sports structures are somewhat of a farce. The reason for such travesty can be attributed to the lack of support systems for the sportsmen and women in the nation’s struggling competitive sports arena.

A few months ago, I stumbled upon an Aljazeera article that revealed the plight of sustaining “membership” in the fraternity of competitive sports in Uganda. The piece focused on the challenges faced by Uganda’s only female boxers whose struggles have been reduced to lack of boxing gloves, trainers and have even been denied the honor of engaging in competitions. For any sportsman or woman, to be rejected the opportunity to participate in a competition can be equated to telling a musician not to sing. This is the sad reality of some of the struggles faced by Uganda’s sports community that could be described as deflated optimism.

1Image Source: Edward Echwalu

The lack of interest or moral incline to competitive sports in the nation is embarrassing. As much as vibrant support is always evident at the time of competition, as witnessed with the enthusiasm of a Uganda Cranes qualifier match or a rugby tussle with our neighbors Kenya, this by no means shows that we ignore to support our men and women when they need it. The embarrassment however comes when we fail to understand the morality of sports.

The global success and attraction of the British domestic football leagues that are a captivation to many Ugandans is not a recent development but rather a long tradition of homegrown moral support. As much as financial support is the epitome of a successful sports system, we should consider that without the loyal support from Manchester, Holloway and Liverpool’s ardent residents, the English Premier League giants of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal would not be phenomenal today. For examples closer to home, we can look at Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt which all boast of vibrant domestic leagues that even attract Ugandan players who deem them lucrative platforms since they offer the opportunity to join a European football club.

2Image Source: Sport24.co.za

The success of these African domestic league leaders is not entirely financial but rather its radical fan base that makes it economically viable for investment. This has been the challenge faced in resurrecting Uganda’s domestic leagues with investors having a tendency of pulling out support due to lack of financial returns since the stands are almost empty of spectators. So if we fail to gain the moral support, what is there to be done?

The only thing that speaks louder to Ugandans more than even patriotism is money. By rewarding the nation’s sports competitors with financial gain could prove to be a solution. Financial motivation is largely a factor that explains the success of Kenya’s athletics community and reasons for its government support since monetary trophies attract a tax levy. Uganda has tried it a less grandeur scale as we remember with the likes of Michael Ezra’s notorious financial muscle to the Uganda Cranes and recent attempts by “city tycoon” Jack Pemba.

3Image Source: Nipate.com

Competitive sports has turned to entertainment in an attempt to forge an existence so much so that kickboxing is less attractive sport wise but more lucrative as a social event . We witness this through the success of Golala Moses a sportsman turned socialite.

Idi Amin is historically known for boosting the notoriety of Uganda’s sportsmen in the 1970s himself having been the light heavyweight boxing champion from 1951 to 1960.

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It was in the era of his brutal dictatorial regime that Uganda attained Olympic gold medal glory with the world record fete of John Aki Bua. The support the Idi Amin provided transcended financial, he could relate to the sportsmen because he understood their plight and aspirations. Noted for being an ardent boxer and swimmer, he provided a mentor figurative role that created a sort of assurance among the sportsmen that their nation was behind them. Without an Idi Amin, Uganda’s sportsmen and women have to see beyond support from the nation and dig deeper within themselves to channel their plight into a resilience to overcome their obstacles and maybe attain glory that has long been denied.

5Image Source: theguardian.com

Failure at Olympics does not entirely mean that the nation has not met success in other sporting completions. We boast of being the most holder of the Cecafa regional football championship. Duncan Mugabe represents a young breed of the nation’s sportsmen, with his success placing him as East Africa’s best. The nation’s women netball team last year reached the final of the world championships and proudly represented with a first win position. Not forgetting the one time successes of Dorcas Inzikuri and Stephen Kiprotich that had almost reignited the hopes of Olympic gold among Ugandans. Some of you may not know that Uganda has some of the world’s best female chess player, that is if you know Ivy Claire Amoko and of course the one champion Phiona Mutesi that inspired a Disney movie “Queen of Katwe”.

6Woman FIDE Master holder Ivy Claire Amoko

The success stories of Ugandan sportsmen are countless and some are even unknown. To demand success from them and ridicule their failures is selfish of us and only exposes our warped mentalities of nationhood and the meaning of true sportsmanship.

Don’t blame the president. Blame the CEO.

Corporate giants in Uganda and Africa at large are normally portrayed as being focused in developing services or products geared towards the local markets. The reality of this facade is a murky world of kickbacks and strangled ideas. Companies such as some of the telecommunication company giants have created a market presence that could be compared to the scope of international fast food retail conglomerates such as McDonald’s.

This means that such companies tend to place considerable attention towards supposedly providing platforms, services and products that are geared towards the youth demographic segment. With the growth of social media as a medium for improved and dynamic engagement for customers, trend based campaigns have been growing as a major marketing approach. This means the brand could reach the masses using content that is tailored to appeal to a more youthful audience with characteristics that can be best described as being ardent users of social media. In which case, this translates into the “urbanite”, probably aged between 15 to 26 years.

It seems to make sense that the customer of a product falling within this segment would have a better understanding g of how such a company’s products and services are received or perceived. In the case of Uganda and its largely youthful population, such insights would be better highlighted or even discovered by its young professionals. These are drive to make an impact in their lives and possibly the lives of others.

Uganda’s middle class is growing, its rise can only help propel the nation to a much faster pace of development in the sense that this social class holds with it the best ability of understanding the desires, needs, mentalities, aspirations and purchasing decisions of the nation’s largely uneducated population. The middle class lives in Uganda and understands what drives its youth and what the nation’s young population needs and thinks. Such insights can only be translated by Uganda’s youth which provokes memories of the phrase, “the future leaders of tomorrow,” as we were repeatedly told growing up.

However, the reality of this understanding is either oblivious to some or of no relevance. This statement comes from personal experiences and narrated accounts that have made me question who the “real” agents of stagnated development in the nation are. Take the reality of a group of energetic and enterprising university graduates that set out to possibly create an impact on the nation’s digital media industry by creating solutions that are geared towards the youth. So they present their ideas to Uganda’s corporate “giants” with the hope that their proposed concepts will promote an appealing youthful “vibe” to the business operations of these companies.

I share this account because it is a reality that I have been privy to witness. Our aspiring young Ugandans set out to pitch their ideas to companies that claim to be part of the movement of helping Africans create for Africa. To any Ugandan with a knack for modern, upbeat and relevant content, such concepts make for good consumption. So why shouldn’t a company pay attention to such a message if indeed its recipients agree in being able to resonate with it?

However, these concepts get lost within the echelons of bureaucratic departments. Not because it was a bad idea but because it was a good idea and so it is strangled by some “arm chair” manager who thinks someone “more affiliated” deserves it. This system of kickbacks and mindset of “backdoor brown envelopes” thrives not only in government but sadly in the private sector as well. From NGOs to private schools, to succeed in Uganda’s business landscape requires that one must know someone who knows someone. This has turned Uganda‘s seemingly capitalistic market into an environment that is harsh to good ideas. Survival or making a good concept into a business success is a reality that is almost laughable in Uganda. Despite calls from the government and private sector for value addition and the drive for self started investment, the reality not told to Uganda’s youth at the pakasa forums is that your ideas are going nowhere unless you went to the same university with Samuel the CEO.

 

Where people live in Kampala according to the Old Taxi Park.

Kampala’s main mini bus taxi grounds commonly known as Old Kampala Park (Pank Enkadde) is a metropolitan marvel to anyone visiting Uganda. While praised at being one of the city’s central landmarks by some, others such as urban planners call it a spectacular failure in the development of the nation’s capital. The city’s main planning and administration body Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) previously known as Kampala City Council (KCC) has long been an opponent of the existence of the taxi park calling it the epitome of congestion, like a blot or stain in the central business district. However, many of Kampala’s residents and visitors view its existence and location as vital point of transportation and point of familiarization with the city. One could say that you have not been to Kampala if you have not been witness to the hustle and bustle of the Old Taxi Park.

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To a certain extent, it is true that the earlier planners of Kampala city did not envision its expansion and so permitted the development of this staging area into the city’s main taxi park. Over the years, corruption and transport labour union wars between the central government and taxi operators known as Uganda Taxi Operators and Drivers Association (UTODA) and counter accusations of political motives have ensured the existence of the park to date. Despite vehement opposition to its continued operation, Kampala’s transport system lifeline has remained standing.  One of the main reasons it has continued to operate is because it provides many of Kampala’s commuters, residents and workers with a transport linkage to the various suburbs that dot the city’s borders.

Understanding Kampala’s residential areas, neighborhoods and suburbs can be best understood with a “walk” through the Old Taxi Park. Here, you will find a myriad of locations and places that provide a quick understanding of the city. Most international travelers agree that London city can be best understood and navigated through its train subway system known as the “Tube”. In the case of Uganda, getting a clear picture of its main capital is well illustrated through the Old Taxi Park.

Familiarizing oneself with Kampala can best be achieved by understand where its inhabitants live, work and play. Therefore, in order to understand where most people in Kampala live, we shall attempt to deconstruct the city’s administration structures, dissect its traffic patterns and map taxi park arrangement to better understand insights into residential demographics.

Kampala even as the nation’s main capital is still a district according to Uganda’s local government structures. This means just like any other district, it has sub counties, parishes and villages which define its hierarchical arrangement. According to city planning economics, instead of sub counties, Kampala is segmented into divisions each with its own mayor and local councils. Its small geographical size has limited it to five divisions known as Nakawa, Makindye, Rubaga, Kawempe and Kampala Central. The majority of its residents live in these divisions although a substantial portion of those working in it commute from districts outside Kampala mainly Entebbe, Wakiso and Mukono.

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According to the 2014 National Census Figures, Kampala’s residential population is distributed slightly evenly among the divisions as illustrated in the graphs below. Makindye stands out as being home to most of the city’s residents with Kampala Central division holding the least.

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With these figures in mind, we can attempt to map the volume of taxis in the Old Kampala Park to these divisions and ascertain whether this is a true reflection. In other words, can we tell whether residents from Makindye are the largest by observing the volume of passengers and number of taxi staging areas in the park?

According to the staging areas in the Old Taxi Park, one can see the most of these are dominated by taxis from Makindye.

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This is partly because of the nature of Makindye as a division. It is known for having the most neighborhoods in comparison to others.

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On the other hand, in regards to the volume of passengers boarding and disembarking, taxis that plow the Makindye route, the frequencies are sporadic.  This is such that it takes between 5 minutes and less for taxi going there to fill up. This revelation according to the Old Taxi Park, deduces that most of Kampala’s inhabitants reside in Makindye Division

Nakawa Division according to residential population figures is the second most populous.

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However, when compared to staging areas in the Old Taxi Park, passengers to the area are quite few.

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In terms of passenger volumes boarding and disembarking, we observe a different pattern. Some neighbourhoods in Nakawa division have more of their passengers board from the taxi park compared to others. For instance, those travelling to Luzira, Butabika, Mbuya and Nabisunsa tend to use the taxi park more compared to those traversing the Ntinda,  Bugolobi, Nagure areas. Therefore, despite the second most popular residential area in Kampala, this is not reflected in the Old Taxi Park. Taxi operators and touts explain this discrepancy due to the existence of taxi staging areas outside the Old Taxi Park such as those operating along Jinja road and Bombo road. This means according to the Old Taxi Park, the least number of Kampala’s inhabitants reside in Nakawa Division.

Rubaga division as the third most popular residential area for Kampala’s inhabitants provides interesting insights when analyzed in terms of passenger volumes and staging area placement in the Old Taxi Park.

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The largest portions of staging areas in the Old Taxi Park are taken by taxis that operate in Rubaga Division. When it comes to the numbers of passengers boarding and disembarking, these seem to be the highest than any other area.

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This reveals a hidden insight into Kampala’s inhabitants, the truth being that most of working people in Kampala (by this I mean the informal sector such as hawkers, shop retailers, vendors and manual laborers) are residents of popular neighborhoods in the division such as Nateete, Namungona,  Kasubi and Kawala. This places the division as the second most popular residential zone for Kampala’s inhabitants according to the Old Taxi Park.

Kawempe Division is a popular area in the city known for all the bad reasons. At one time it was known as the epitome of Kampala’s decaying drainage system as witnessed in the countless press stories and personal accounts of the menace of flooding most especially in the rainy seasons. Kawempe boasts of being the only place in Kampala where you could once “enjoy” a boat ride without having to go to Entebbe more so leave the comfort of your home.

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As the fourth most popular residential area in Kampala, its neighborhoods have long been a source of the city’s labor force and more common “Bwaise and Kalerwe riot enclaves” due its tendency of being a political opposition hotbed.

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According to staging area placement in the Old Taxi park, commuters to this area are reserved in numbers. However, the volume of passengers boarding and disembarking is sporadic and its does not take more than five minutes for a taxi to fill up which illustrates Kawempe Division as the third most popular residential area for Kampala’s commuters according to the Old Taxi Park.

Despite Kampala being the capital city, one would operate on the assumption that skyscrapers dominate the landspace. However, due to the historical urban planning decisions, the city still provides residential area for its residents are observed in some of its popular inner city areas such as Nakasero and Kisenyi.

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Taxi staging area placements and passenger boarding patterns are minimal due to the limited. One infact is much better off taking a boda boda or walking to these areas than using a taxi since proximity within the city is within reach.

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This places Kampala Central Division as the least popular or affordable residential area among commuters in Kampala.

From such insights within Park Enkadde, one is able to understand the demographics of Kampala’s residents as well observe the representation of the city’s largely informal sector. The Old Taxi Park will continue to exist as one of the city’s main urban tourism landmarks and public transport provider not because of a matter of beauty or location but rather as consequence of convenience.