Monday, December 19, 2011

Uganda - five years later

I haven't been here since 2007 and have spent my fair share of time looking for what has changed in Uganda. Hemlines are shorter, leggings are in, and ringtones are popular... There's more electricity, and it seems every church and mosque (in a very religious nation) wants to broadcast their services loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear. Those aside, here are the specific changes I've seen.

First - prices have risen, roughly doubling for food, fuel, transportation, and most necessaries, although the dollar only rose about 45% during the same time. So things are more expensive even for my dollar. The one exception is airtime -- the minutes purchased on your pay-per-use cell phone. Prices have stayed low due to stiff competition. On some networks you now pay per second, not per minute.
Second - phones are much more powerful. Nearly everyone has one now, and some people have one phone with two or more sim cards so they can use multiple carriers. Our teenagers at COU go out to the market to buy airtime in 25 cent increments. But phones are also used now for money transfers, like a bank account. You can put cash on your "mobile money" account, either to save it and take it off later, or to send it to anyone else - even paying bills or tuition via this method. Thus, any corner shop in any slum can be transformed into a bank.

Third - a few amazing high-rises have sprung up, gleaming bright on top, but with their foundations rooted in the muddy streets of Kampala. A very vivid reminder of the economic disparities which are markedly similar to the US - 1% and the 99%. There's a new Mercedes-Benz dealership, iPhones are advertised widely, and at the same time, millions of people are surviving on one meal a day.

Four - traffic jams are worse than ever before. There are just too many people on too few roads. New roundabouts and flyovers help in a few places, but mainly drivers look for bumpy back roads to escape the jams.

Five - aiya, all these children have grown up so much!

1 comment:

  1. still getting over hearing Shillah's grown-up voice!