Thursday, May 15, 2008

UGANDA'S MIDDLE CLASS- KAMPALA'S YUPPIES.

UGANDA’S MIDDLE CLASS AND IT’S POLITICAL, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC WOES.

In the recent past, there has been a loud public outcry in the main stream media concerning gruesome murders and crime in the middle class/ uptown neighbourhoods of Najera, Kira, Namungongo, etc.
The Police have been up in arms to combat this urban crime. This brings to mind tales of high crime levels in Africa’s developing cities for example Nairobi, Kenya and Cities of arguably Africa’s model democracy and economy-South Africa.

However, unfortunately the Police, crime experts, Media Agencies, Opinion Leaders or even Social Workers, have not come out to clearly explain, debate and engage on what could be the root cause of this sudden increased urban crime at a time when there are soaring food prices, high fuel prices thus high transport costs, run-away land prices vis-avis the contentious land debate, minimal media freedoms etc. This is undoubtedly a matter that is threatening Kampala’s reputation as one of the safest and most peaceful cities in sub-Saharan Africa.

Most of Kampala’s middle class, consider buying a plot of land in any of the above mentioned suburbs and other prime locations as a priority either as an investment or as a step towards home ownership or security to access a bank loan. This demand for plots or land in these prime locations has continuously pushed the urban poor into congested slams usually in the outskirts of peri-urban centres/ town centres around these prime locations. These slams are characterised by poor housing, poor sanitation, disease, immorality, drug abuse etc and biting poverty at large. Thus, with the high fuel prices/transport costs, high food prices, load shedding, high cost of living etc these are really desperate and tough times for this poor urban population as it competes for the same food stuffs, milk, bread, oil etc at the local market stall with the middle class that resides in these neighbourhoods.
The middle class are building/ constructing rental houses, residences, wall fences etc employing some of these unskilled people as porters, labourers etc. in effect, with there ability to spend/consumerism, build, drive posh cars and reside in wall fenced residences, the poor urban population sees them as the “haves”, and themselves as the “have-nots”, thus making this middle class a target for the poor and desperate urban population that is increasingly challenged by the high cost of living.

You have probably had an instance when you are stuck in a traffic jam, and the conductor asks you in fluent local dialect to allow him pass or give access. ”Boss, lwaki tonzikiliza nepitwo. Sente mwe ab’azitutuma” literally meaning, Boss, why don’t you allow me access, you are the ones who send us for the money? - To him you appear as a potential taxi owner/ proprietor or potential owner of a business.
Or you are driving past or through a car washing bay and one of the attendants asks you whether you want your car washed, to which you answer negatively. The guy goes on to plead, “Kati Boss, bwe mutatuwe sente, abanna banfe banalyaki?” Meaning, if you ‘rich guys’ don’t give us some work/money, what will our children eat?
You will be shocked at what the majority of Low income earners, unemployed, unskilled workers and jobless urban population thinks of this middle class. Always look out for comments or statements made by your local mechanic, sales lady at the market, attendant at your local supermarket etc.


Uganda’s middle class has been conspicuously silent on many issues in this country, corruption, harassment of opposition groups and leaders, land give-aways, Mabira forest debate, media harassment, poor state of social infrastructure e.g. roads, health centres, universities etc, poor service delivery in government institutions e.g. immigration office, lands registry. The poor urban population, continuously stifled by the high cost of living doesn’t view this middle class as comrades amidst the challenges faced by our country and economy at large. The middle class has continued to shun elections, choosing to stay at home on voting day- watching movies, reading foreign magazines while sipping at a beer or juice. They consider voting too dirty for them and leave it to the lower class urban population who bravely line up all day long in the hot sun and/ or rain, to participate in this process that is important to democracy. It is quite strange that this middle class, with its access to knowledge, information, internet, global trends etc continues to be silent at all these issues ‘eating away’ at our society.

Now with this increased crime targeting the budding middle class, its high time we all realised that Uganda is for all Ugandans irrespective of positive difference in political ideology, ethnicity and socio-economic class. Issues of national interest e.g.
Social-economic infrastructure, democracy and accountability, good governance, media freedom etc ought to be of concern to all of us, lest Kampala degenerates into a city where its inhabitants are not at peace but thugs and crime kings prevail like the tale of our brothers in Nairobi and South Africa.

Agaba Rugaba Nicholas.
Construction Engineer with a Humanitarian Agency in Gulu, Uganda.