The varied facets of marriage in Uganda


Getting married in Uganda is becoming a trick. It has of late become very expensive. Couples these days are going all out and all in, to have very lavish weddings. $5000 decor and $1000 suits for the groom plus off course a $3000 wedding gown and that’s just for the first attire. The bridal entourage has about 6 bridesmaids and they all will have a second attire. This is just for the Wedding Day. There is also the customary ceremony which usually happens weeks or days before the religious wedding, that too has proven to be very expensive. The cost is determined by so many things : Parents wanting to show their power and money – We can take care of your daughter. Our daughter comes from a very wealthy – well to do background etc The two days and the ceremonies say less about two people in love and looking forward to starting a life together but rather about how much is being spent on those occasions.

The BBC earlier this year had a report on the cost of a Ugandan dream wedding.

The story , when I first looked at it made me say things like no way, you are kidding – this is too extravagant. But we have since had two weddings in the family and I tell you, this is becoming our reality.

This is why, (and I speak for myself) and many young Ugandans when I say, marriage is becoming one of those things we think about and it’s a burden. And to crown it all up is the constant reminder by society that unless you are married – you really haven’t made it in life.

The pressure to get married is why a Jemimah decided to marry herself.

Very unorthodox, but absolutely making sense especially with the fact that she is looking for funds for her second semester at Oxford for her Masters.
And sometimes, we need unorthodox things to help us get by in this world.
Siima, Editor of Flairforher Magazine yesterday (in lieu of Jemimah‘s wedding) decided that she would take that route but give it a twist. That started to be the biggest every wedding organised on Twitter.

It was great to see lots of Corporate Companies cone through with contributions of what they would give. Within hours she had a husband to be, venue, Food, drinks, Djs to play music, transport to the wedding (by way of @Safeboda) etc.

Tweeps (People on Twitter) we’re volunteering their time and expertise to make this ‘wedding’ work. #TheKaBernzWedding was created and as I write, it’s still going on.

Hilarious Twitter thread but most definitely worth it. Another unorthodox trend even though it’s not going to happen in reality, making us see that millennials or Twitter Elite as we call them are generally tired of being called out for not being married yet. And yet there are some who have had the $15000+ wedding and others whose dream is to have that and more. But there’s also the group that really doesn’t care. And that is the one I belong to. If I can have a 50pax wedding, I would be good. As long as there is good food and cake. The rest, I really wouldn’t care for.
But there needs to be a world where we coexist peacefully regardless of what kind of a wedding we want. But also, be allowed to not be married until we are ready. Or until never.

So, dear Parents and peers – embrace us, we are here to stay and yes marriage in all forms is not an achievement.

Happy Independence Day, Uganda

I had a conversation with my Dad earlier today morning. He was ironing his red T-shirt when he remarked – this used to be a day when we all wore red because of UPC. (Uganda People’s Congress, a political party known to exist from the 1960’s.)

ME: But Kabaka Mutesa was given charge on Independence Day.

HIM: Yes, But Milton Obote was the Prime Minister. (Yes indeed there was the Uganda People’s Congress /Kabaka Yekka Coalition)

Aah okay. Typical Light Bulb moment.

Off course if you have been in Uganda or following Uganda news, Red is now synonymous with People Power. Last week, Ugandan media reported that the Police had raided/searched Edith Byanyima’s home and recovered 24 red napkins. Edith is a sister to Winnie Byanyima, Head of Oxfam International but also wife to Dr Col Kizza Besigye. The tweets that followed – were obviously hilarious.

So you can imagine what went through my mind when I saw him iron and wear a red T-shirt to go to work.

He also went on to talk about what kind-of celebrations happened on Independence Day.

“There was always food. There were drums of omubisi (Local brew made out of fermented bananas) for locals to consume and make merry. Today, you don’t hear of anything.”
You could feel the nostalgia as he spoke of the ” Good Old Days”.

He was proudly associated. Today’s as Uganda marks 56 years of Independence, I have had to think through what that means other than the fact that it’s a 4 day week.

Our statistics show that the population of Uganda doubles every 20 years.

In 1960 the population was around 6.8million,

In 1980, the population  was around 12.4 million,

In2000, the population was about 24 million and all factors constant,   in 2020, we will hit the 48million mark.  Poo

I am thinking it was easier to buy local brew and food for the populace to enjoy on Independence  Day because the numbers were small and manageable.

Not everyone would go for the feasts but those that did,  would be able to get something to eat.  I don’t see anyone being able to feed millions of Ugandans in this economy today. It would cost us quite a lot,  including  what the people in charge would take are their cut.

And that for me poses the question on what the plan for Uganda is. Are we looking forward  to the time when we can all gather together for a meal,  get everyone fed and satisfied?  Does the future have any of these luxuries in store for us?

I can only hope.  Dim and grim as the future may seem,  there is reason to hope.  That you and I are still able to stand bold and proud as Ugandans. And because of that, that one  day we or our children will be glad and happy to hold sumptuous feasts in remembrance  of Independence  Day!

Oh Uganda,  May God Uphold Thee.

Who is advising our government on Policy?

A hilarious video made rounds on social media mocking the recent policy decisions of the government. A man clearly elated by something the interviewer asks, bursts into fits of laughter and can barely speak throughout the interview forcing the interviewer to join in. An ingenious Ugandan loosely translates the conversation to fit the current debacle in Uganda. The government made the ill-informed decision to tax mobile money, which has serious implications on financial inclusion, the growth if the sector and on overall government revenues. Bank of Uganda reported a Ugx 672 billion decrease in mobile money transactions in the first two weeks of July 2018 when the mobile money tax came into force.

The banning of airtime scratch cards with the supposed intention of protecting the environment and improving of the security situation in the country is also laughable. Firstly, because airtime scratch cards are the least of Uganda’s environment problems. We have the kaveera, a non-biodegradable bag littering the streets in the entire country and posing a health hazard to many and yet airtime scratch cards, not so much. Kaveera has been banned in Uganda, twice, but enforcement hasn’t been successful to date. The issue of occupation of gazetted wetlands and forest reserves also top the list of environmental issues in this country yet we do not see similar efforts to curb the vice. So if the government is looking for effective ways to save the environment, that is the place to start.

That notwithstanding, there is no correlation between SIM card registration and the banning of scratch cards and low crime. A quick scholarly search on the viability of SIM-card registration to curb crime and terrorism world over registers a negative correlation, incidents in Madrid, Pakistan, London Kenya which have mandatory SIM card registration are a true testament to that fact[1]. Fluidity of crime poses a big challenge to the move and cannot be restrained under a one size fits all policy like the SIM-card registration or banning of airtime scratch cards – rather the situation can be improved by strengthening the security apparatus of the country.

It is important that a government charged with making policy on behalf of the people is cognizant of the intricate details of the demographics. Uganda is a largely rural based economy, over 80 percent of the 40 million population live in rural areas, where telecom services are still scarce. Telecoms still have reservations about setting up shop in rural areas because the costs of serving low income customers outweigh the very limited income streams that could be generated. So, expecting them to move distances to purchase these services and bear the additional costs that come with it, will deter them from using the services.

These developments are undoubtedly progressive and may be useful in the future, for other purposes, however, embarking on these sophisticated measures without putting in place the requisite infrastructure putting the cart before the horse. Ugandan have rebelled, and they will continue to, first because they are not convinced about the importance of these policy measures and secondly because it disrupts their way of life. Mobile money is such a vital service, but it has not yet reached its full potential, taxing it is affecting the growth of the service. SIM cards will not save the environment, humans deliberate action will, start with the kaveera. And no, crime will not reduce because of SIM registration or banning of airtime scratch cards.

[1] Jentzsch N. (2012). Implications of mandatory registration of mobile phone users in Africa. Telecommunications Policy, 36 (8), 608-620. doi: 10.1016/j.telpol.2012.04.002

The tales of an unforgiving city: Salim, the Kanaabe

Photo  Credit :

It’s 1:00am on a shivery Wednesday morning in Kisenyi. The afternoon downpour left these parts of the capital cold, muddy and wet. While many of us are usually lost in deep slumber in beds at this time, a young man is working extremely hard; incessantly to earn a shilling. Salim, a 23-year-old who works at a local car wash is out there, in the blistering cold washing buses. He is helped by two other lads; one who cleans the interior and the other scrubs the tires and fetches the water they use.

Salim and his colleagues persevere through the horrid working conditions, they have no protective gear; no gloves and safety boots. The lighting of the place is very dim and yet one of the boys has to ladder up over 4 meters to wash the top of the bus. For over 30 minutes, I stand there trying to comprehend the compelling needs that keep these young boys struggling to survive in an unforgiving city. Salim opens up to me, he tells me the bus drivers pay them twenty to thirty thousand shillings depending on how dirty the bus is or how well one can bargain.
The twenty thousand shillings will be paid out to Salim. He will depart with eight thousand that he hands to the manager of the car wash. The rest will then be shared amongst themselves with Salim taking five thousand shillings because it was his call and he bought the detergent they used. The three of them each make three thousand five hundred for all their struggle. Over two hours of being out in the cold, soaking wet with blisters and cuts on their hands, these young men have only earned that much.

‘’It’s not much but, I can barely survive. This is not even enough to get me a plate of decent food but at least I get to have some money in my pocket. Today I was lucky that I washed at least 3 buses and 2 boda-bodas. Life is not easy.’’  Salim narrates to me his story.
Salim is among millions of youth who are swallowed up in casual labor. They barely earn enough and are highlyexploited. With Uganda having one of the highest unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa,  It’s not surprising that many of the youth now see gambling and betting as their savior out of poverty. Uganda National Bureau of Statistics estimates that over 400,000 youthful men and women join the labor market each year but barely half of them get a slot in the employment circle. The informal sector has played out majorly in employing the youth like Salim albeit poor working conditions, long working hours and no medical, life or any form of insurance.

I look at my watch and it’s 2:00am. After talking to Salim for over 20 minutes, I retire back home to sleep but for him, it is still work. He has to wipe dry the bus before he can put down his tools and then rest for 3 to 4 hours before he starts this same routine over again. His hands are burnt and soaked from the water and washing detergent they use. The cuts will not have enough time to heal before he adds to them and his family back in the village will expect him to send them money. I put my head to rest but the images of a young man keeping out late to survive in this unforgiving city play in my head.