Spending four months in Kampala, Uganda means a brief hiatus from all but the most internationally pressing news stories – but opens up a unique opportunity at researching much of the new international development.
Two things stand out immediately – unorganized and unfinished infrastructure exists throughout the capital city, and political and corporate corruption runs rampant with little to no shame on the part of the perpetrators. As far as infrastructure goes, street signs exist almost nowhere – since most residential roads are unplanned and unpaved. Thus they are susceptible to an inevitable cycle of overuse and erosion – making many roads only accessible by boda bodas (motorbikes). At the same time, boda boda riots and protests are on the rise due to the government trying to get them registered, meaning the sight of a hundred screaming motorbike riders waving clubs and popping wheelies is becoming common.
Dishearteningly, the corruption is just as blatant as the lack of infrastructural organization. Just today the bus I was taking home illegally pulled over next to where a policeman was resting at a prime location to pick up customers in an area called Wandegeya. The cop shuffled over, took a small bribe from the conductor, and walked back to his post with no words exchanged. The bus then proceeded to steal all of the potential customers from the bus stage a few meters down the way. I’ve been told that such is common, and bribes are often expected from citizens who may or may not be committing minor infractions. I’ve also been told that a police salary is rarely over $150, perhaps shedding light on why such issues exist.
To further demonstrate corruption, let me share a popular joke that a development PhD shared with us on the first day: “A Kenyan and an Ugandan went to University together in Europe to study economics and business. After many years of work they returned to their home countries with important contacts for building locally. After a few years – the Ugandan went to visit his old friend in Kenya. Upon arrival, the Ugandan couldn’t believe the wealth of his friend! His house was so big, his land was so vast, and his wife was so beautiful! So he asked his friend – ‘How did you acquire so much??’ The Kenyan took his friend to a hill and pointed down – ‘See that highway?’ The Ugandan found the highway nodded. The Kenyan patted his chest – ’50 percent.’ The Kenyan had siphoned off 50 percent of the project budget for his own gain with none the wiser. A couple of years after this, the Kenyan then visited his friend in Uganda. Much to his surprise, he arrived to find that his friend possessed even more wealth than himself – having several large houses, several cars, and several beautiful wives. The Kenyan asked his friend ‘How did you acquire so much??’ The Ugandan took his friend to a hill and pointed – ‘See that airport runway?’ The Kenyan studied the land but couldn’t find a runway. He shook his head. The Ugandan grinned and patted his chest – ‘100 percent.’
Though hyperbole, the joke is a bit too true in a world where aid and development money is often disappearing in the pockets of both ex-pats and local project leaders. Expert consultants may take half of a project’s budget, local experts and government officials may take another 20 percent, and then construction crews or local hires may take sneak away another 10, leaving only 20 percent of the original budget for the entire project to be completed. Thus you can see partially completed structures and buildings scattered throughout Kampala – memorials of an attempt to improve the city’s efficiency but deserted when the funds dried up. Meanwhile, the effects of high fertility rates and rapid population growth are obvious in a society that is expanding at the seams and is visibly ready to burst.
At this point there are thus three things I am considering researching for my independent study project, all of which framed by looking at economic incentives. The first is the extraction and exportation of oil in Uganda and the resulting effects for the national economy. The second is the finances of game parks in Uganda – and the government incentives for keeping them open or expanding them, as well as how much of the foreign investment actually leaks into the local economy. The last idea I had was to study the fertility rate trends in Uganda, both in rural and urban areas, and determine the cultural and economic reasons behind its fertility rates in addition to predicting what it means for the future of a nation when over 60 percent of its population is under the age of 18.