Uganda: A Bit More
Continuing from our introduction into Uganda, this post is looking at some of the other elements about the country that I’ve observed and found myself compelled to research.
It covers things such as religion, demographics, and street food.
Religion is a bit of a thing.
Less than 1% of the population identify themselves as No Religion (in the UK this is ~30%) and I’ve found it to be present in a fair few of the interactions I’ve had.
I was chatting over WhatsApp to the guy who sold me my SIM card and he (naturally) asked where I was going to prayers on Sunday morning and my landlord had a family feast for Eid (Islamic equivalent of Christmas) which was also a national holiday.
One of the main tourist attractions in the city is a mosque that sits atop one of the hills which, interestingly, was part-funded by Colonel Gaddafi.
In terms of the breakdown, it seems that the population is 85% Christian, 14% Muslim and 1% others.
This is a big no-no
There has been a movement lately to stamp out any homosexual relations with life imprisonment enforced if anyone is caught in the act.
In 2014 government tried to pass a bill which would have substituted life imprisonment with the death penalty, but it was rejected by the courts for procedural reasons. Despite international outcry, the anti-homosexuality sentiment persists.
I’ve seen men walking down the street with interlocking hands, though I’m told this is just a sign of friendship.
It doesn’t do great.
142/175 is rarely a good position to come unless it’s, say, per capita consumption of cigarettes but in the realm of the World Corruption Index that’s where Uganda comes.
It’s tough to know what’s low level corruption, and what’s not.
I’ve witnessed a few examples of tipping where I wouldn’t ordinarily have thought it necessary (e.g. watching someone’s car when it’s momentarily parked) and it’s difficult to know when hard haggling might constitute someone just taking extra for themselves.
I’ve heard anecdotes of people saying that, say, resubmission of an application form (and application fee) will increase the likelihood of action being taken on it, but on the whole I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve thought “right, this is definitely corrupt”.
One award Uganda does win though is “World’s Youngest Population Award”. If measured by the median.
Now for those struggling to remember what the median is, in our population age example it goes like so:
- Take a group of people and ask them to arrange themselves in age order
- Find the person in the middle, and ask their age
Taking the “mean” (which is what most people usually mean when they say “average”) would involve asking each person their age, adding it up and dividing by the number of people in the line.
It means if you have some proper oldies, they’re going to bring up the average, and conversely a load of newlyborns are going to dilute it.
In our median example, the ages of the other people in the line won’t affect the final number, it’s all based on how old the person in the middle is, regardless of who’s around them.
Anyway, I’m not quite sure why the median was stated when I was looking into but there you have it.
Can every country win an award?
As a side note, do you think it’s possible for every country in the world to win a “World’s “X”est Award”?
Discounting ones where there’s clearly no competition (Montenegro winning the “World’s Highest Density of Montenegrans Award”), I wonder if each country could earn its own “Best Of” awards, if you went niche enough…
Montenegro, for example, would win the award for “Highest Per Capita Consumption of Cigarettes”. (Uganda, out of interest, comes 4th bottom).
Right, we were talking about demographics weren’t we?
I suppose the short answer is: Uganda is young.
Travelling around the country
Most inner city travel is done on a boda (motorbike) but in order to get out of the city, or for longer distance journeys (or if you know your way around), you’re more likely to take a matatu (minibus).
In Kampala there’s a big taxi rank where you pick one of these minibuses to take you somewhere. They cluster together in terms of final destinations and are (I think) privately run. I’ve not witnessed any timetables, they basically set off once they’re full.
Sat by the window seat you are likely to get offered a selection of goods. Offerings of glistening cold soda is understandable to me, but I have been a little perplexed with SD cards and wallets.
Similarly, driving through traffic I’ve seen hawkers offering up bulk packets of toilet rolls which strikes me as a product which is either very low on people’s impulse purchase radar, or incredibly high. My feeling is that this type of trading is more supply driven than working backwards from what demand might be, though I could be wrong.
Anyway, around lunchtime (and if close to a food stall) the offerings in these matatus become roasted chicken on a stick. They’re fanned out in the dealer’s hand and thrust through any open crevice on the bus.
I haven’t found many life scenarios where I’ve had hot chicken poked in my face, but this one of them
Talking of food, the staple on the street is a veg omelette wrapped in a chapati which costs about 40p. They’re called a rolex.
At first the link between Swiss watchmaking and eggy bready loveliness was lost on me until I thought about it phonetically.
A lot of words/ things here are described by how they sound, and then some letters are chosen and assembled that somewhat relate this noise.
“Rolex” (my best guess) comes from a description of what’s happening: “Roll” “Eggs”. And then maybe be a bit of aspirational association to jazz it up a bit.
Either way in the centre of Kampala you’re rarely a few hundred metres from one.
I wouldn’t say that Uganda particularly identifies itself as a betting nation, but it’s one of the shop types that I’ve noticed when walking the streets here.
There are no brands that I recognise from the UK and they all have straightforward types of names like: Sports Bet or Premier Bet or Premier Sports Bet.
Gambling doesn’t seem to be particularly problematic/ noteworthy (in the way anti-homosexuality is), though I’ve read that the government keeps a close eye on activities.
One of the reputations that Uganda had before I came here was that they like to party.
Those reading my journey into the city might remember a TV screen showing music videos involving many wiggly hips. Well, the dancefloors of Kampala are full of them.
It could just be personal preference, but I think the music here is top notch. Two of the biggest nights out I’ve had have been on Wednesdays which is testament to people’s stamina here.
Apparently work usually starts around 8am, so people just take the hit and go into work tired.
On my first weekend I also attended Uganda’s first music festival which involved overnight camping (Nyege Nyege) and can report that it was very popular, perhaps reflecting pent up demand for a solid multiday party.
This will feature more prominently in a future post about the business environment, but for now I’ll say that I’ve found good dynamism in the city of Kampala.
The impression I have got from interviewing businesses for The East Africa Business Podcast is that things generally take a bit more time than in developed parts of the world.
From a personal perspective, I’ve found that the most effective form of communication has been to call/ WhatsApp someone as email rarely gets replied to on the same day. At first I found this frustrating, but the more I think about it, an expectation that people are checking emails throughout the day may not be the worst thing ever.
Anyway, from a macro level, the economy is geared around tourism and agriculture (making the most of its natural assets) and as in most parts of the region, there’s strong internal demand for developing homegrown industries.
I’m writing this after spending two and a half weeks spent primarily in the capital city of Kampala and so my perspective of the country will naturally be skewed this way.
I’ve continued to find the place a source of great interest and the more I ingratiate into life here, the more I’ve found it offers.