Column Squad

Taxi Memoirs: A Ride With Uganda’s Vice President


As I enter the taxi bound for Banda at Mabirizi Plaza, I am literally shoved into my seat because KCCA is larking around and could easily seize the taxi for loading in an ungazetted place.  as I settle into my seat and take stock of my surroundings (you can’t be too careful with these terrorist threats) I  realize that our conductor is no ordinary conductor.

Apart from the fact that he isn’t hustling for passengers like other conductors, he is dressed neatly in a grey cotton shirt, no doubt a Marks and Spencer and well pressed khaki pants. His shoes come in form of luxurious sued and everything is held together by a nice leather belt.  In my head I am thinking this guy must be the CEO of taxi touting.  My thinking is confirmed by the reverence with which the traffic officers and other conductors treat him. I wonder where these guys met, probably “hustle School”?

He is so good at the touting thing that he doesn’t plead with would-be passengers but simply commands them and they comply.  By the time we reach Bank of Uganda, I get the feeling that if this place wasn’t so noisy, everyone would simply drop whatever they are doing and go to Mukono-Seeta just because Sergeant Major conductor wishes it.

At Total Petrol station a man approaches and tries to open the front cabin but the door is locked and Sergeant major instructs the gentleman to sit behind with us.  And this is when things get interesting.  A one Ssekandi asks Sergeant major why he is blocking passengers from their choice of seats.  The Sergeant major is certainly not accustomed to this kind of insolence at his command post and he tells Ssekandi to mind his own business.  He follows the put down with an obvious barb at Ssekandi wondering why he was in a taxi instead of being chauffeured in a posh Four Wheels.

Other passengers take a closer look at this Ssekandi and break out in uncontrolled laughter.  Obviously the only posh life this Ssekandi has ever tested is sharing the name with our vice president.  In his defense,  Ssekandi points out that he might not be the Veep but he is proud of who he is;  a Muganda man, who came to Kampala in 1972 after completing school.

He fires back at the Sergeant major that from his looks and job he certainly came to Kampala in a lorry even though he does not tell us how he himself travelled to Kampala.  I think back to my own first foray into the city and remember that I stood for twelve hours back in 1986. I wonder what Ssekandi would think of that.

Then I realize that I am experiencing a new kind of snobbery. I am used to the Buddo-Kisubi verses Kampala SS but apparently there are several other levels of snobbery including when and how one came to Kampala.

At Esso Corner it’s time for the Sergeant major to leave and he turns out to be a Mucuba hired to help the taxi navigate the cop riddled, passenger rich KPC-Nandos stretch.  Apparently with the Sergeant major on board, the taxi can park anywhere and pick up passengers without being bothered by the ever present traffic cops.

He demands for his pay from the rightful conductor who gives him a (kiddo) five hundred but he insists on “kasa” one thousand shillings.  I find this arrangement unrealistic because from my calculation only three passengers entered after me and that adds up to four thousand, if all go beyond Nakawa which is very unlikely and now with the mercenary taking a quarter of the collection one wonders what sort of economics principles are applied here. But seeing that they are so many taxis I guess there is some secret formula somewhere. Ssekandi disembarks at Celtel stage still muttering to himself something about insufferable, arriviste Banyankole.

Hey, I am a Ugandan woman who spends a minimum of four hours daily travelling in taxis. Like you, I used to dread the taxi rides until I realized that it is a source of a variety of free entertainment and an interesting study of human nature.