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Taxi Memoirs: Debating Ugandan Style


Ugandans generally stay quiet in taxis probably because it’s the only place they get to temporarily forget the enormity of being a Ugandan in Kampala in the 21st century. But sometimes something will take place which we will all witness prompting an all-round debate on the matter.

Today as we enter Kampala after a morning downpour we come to a flooded Najja-Rufuka zone. Some of the storied buildings are submerged up to the windows.  In another building cars on sale are floating like wheeled boats. So everyone feels compelled to give reasons why our suburbs are flooding. The guy in a green sweater whom we shall Mr. Intellectual clears his throat and launches into his power point presentation albeit without a white board or projector.

He tells us that by the year 2017 flooding in Kampala suburb will increase by 20% due to the 80% decrease in wetlands and this will cause a 30% increase in malaria and diarrhea causing an estimated 70% increase in medical household expenditure. And according to the World Bank Annual report for sub Saharan Africa for 2014-2015 Uganda’s poverty index will decrease by 2% due to the loss of natural forest cover. This presentation holds everyone’s attention.

Like all people who failed O Level maths, I begin to shift uneasily at the prospect of what these numbers could mean to my taxi riding life and I continue to listen in apprehension. Our guy isn’t quite done but another man who we shall call Mr. Clueless, interrupts him with a comment about how in Thailand they don’t allow anyone to build in a wetland because the city council approves every plan. We don’t get what his point is, in the scheme of things so we all ignore him. And realizing that his attempt to be seen as knowledgeable and well-travelled has fallen on its face he skulks and re opens his copy of Bukkedde and begins pretending to read.

As soon as Mr. Intellectual finishes his presentation another guy wonders rhetorically why the government is insistent on banning polythene bags instead of solving the flooding problems. I am astounded that this guy carrying a blue Bic pen in his right hand pocket can’t make the connection.

Our driver who has been quite all along after gauging the level of the debate says “you see in Japan….” But he doesn’t add anything. We are left hanging in midair because we are eager to know what happens in such a place. But our guy says nothing, forcing the conductor to start asking for money, may be to save his boss from embarrassment.

I must say that I was the most disappointed because I can’t imagine losing an opportunity to dazzle Kampala taxi riders with all the insights in Japan. After all Japan isn’t Kamwokya where people who have not been can go and verify what I have told them. As you realize it doesn’t have to be true at all, in fact I can think of a thousand stories that I could concoct about Japan. One of which is that Japan floods whenever it rains because Japan is an island. So the emperor, Akihito burns incense then sounds a gong  calling all the citizens to come with white bamboo brooms to sweep the water away and everyone always complies even if its midnight because you see water is holy in Japan.

Or that Japan’s economic development is largely hinged on flooded water because this water is usually collected in huge turbines of 800cc cubic meters (whatever that means), to generate electricity saving 500 yen per household. I can go on and on but of course I stay quiet in my corner because most Ugandan men do not want a naluwali amidst them. In fact I know that if I open my mouth everyone will go quite and the silence will be saying “genda onyige emmere”. After all like cardinal Lorenzo once said” intelligence in women is unbecoming” so is foolishness I suppose.

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.