First impressions of Kampala

Small fragile fingers, skinny malnourished bodies and cries of “please give sir”. This is the harsh reality that’s commonplace in most African countries, but its one that we have witnessed for ourselves first hand here in Kampala.

Kampala lies in stark contrast to everywhere else we’ve been to in Kenya and Tanzania. First off, its alot more modern. When I say modern I mean that it has shopping malls, cinemas, loads of restaurants, fancy gadget shops and all the other amenities that one would find in any typical European city.

And secondly, it has alot more street poverty. You may think that this is a contraction when I said that its modern. But the fact is that the streets of Kampala are filled with thousands of homeless kids. In Tanzania there was a level of poverty that didn’t go below a certain stage of begging. But here in Kampala, when you witness men, women and children walking down some streets with not a stitch of clothing on them then you’ll realise how much of a contrast Uganda already is compared to Tanzania. Such is the level of poverty here.


Its hard to describe in pictorial detail what conditions are like here for those who live on the streets. Kids as young as only a few months are sitting on the pavements with their hands cupped over their heads looking for money. There are others who are a little older and they come running up to every second person on the street begging for a few coins. This is hard to take. Its even harder to accept that you can’t give them anything. Why? Because they would be in alot worse condition if they got money from someone as thugs and even some police officers would take the money off the kids. Some bent cops even beat the kids into giving them the money. Another harsh reality that even more difficult to understand.

When Idi Amin(Ugandan president) destroyed the country back in the 70’s and 80’s he left his mark. A mark that is still visible today on the streets in Uganda. The butcher of Uganda, as he was known ordered his followers to torture and murder anyone who opposed his leadership. Men, women and children who were unlucky to be captured for no apparent reason had one of two options: “Short sleeves or long sleeves”!
If they choose short sleeves then they would have their hands butchered off at the elbow, while the long sleeve option got them their hands chopped off at the wrist. The same scenario went for the “shorts or 3/4 lengths”…meaning chopped at the knee’s or the ankles.
So on the streets, we’ve seen hundreds of poor people who are mutilated and deformed if you like as a result of that war back in Amin’s period. These people would have been like they are today for the past 30 years or so. Resigned to begging from an early age because of the atrocities of their back then president.
It really is stomach turning to see these poor human beings with disfigured remains of arms and legs. It will no doubt be alot worse in Rwanda, with the genocide just a decade and a half ago.

So apart from the poverty, Kampala is really a nice place. The local mode of public transport is boda boda’s, which are motorbikes. So we fly around the city on the back of these bikes and its not for the faint hearted. They are lunatics for drivers. But the reason why we use these instead of dala dala’s(small mini buses like what they have in Tanzania) is because the traffic in Kampala is grid lock 24/7. So as you can imagine, two wheels are alot faster, cheaper but more dangerous than four wheels. Its like Beijing with bicycles…motorbikes are in their thousands here on the streets. Very funny to watch as there is no system on the streets for driving. Its everyone for themselves.

So over the weekend I’ll post an update about the project that we are involved with.