On Obama and Kampala’s middle class.
The epic victory by the former Illinois senator Barrack Obama to the helm of the American presidency has since sank in well for many folks, supporters, admirers and haters all around the world and Uganda in particular. Everything seems to back to normal; people are back to their obama-less days and schedules. The USA president- elect himself is busy forming government. And oh boy, he is really doing his thing. Apparently, he is the fastest president to name government in recent history. I guess the son of a Kenyan student and an American gal is serious with business, and he ought to be.
In more ways than one, the American presidential election 2008 and Obama in particular, has been part of and/or shaped the Kampala middle class lifestyle for the last twelve (12) months, a feat no other personality or celebrity or event has managed to achieve in our recent history. World famous musicians that come for shows here are usually forgotten even before they check out of their suite in Serena Hotel, the Uganda Cranes that had attempted to be a household name with their antics in World Cup qualifiers are now in oblivion, the overrated Sudhir Ruparelia Royal Ascot Goat races never appear anywhere in the socialites life save for the few days to the fanatical event, the annual MTN marathon gets so hyped up but soon, every one forgets it ever took place, not even the progress of the projects for which the proceeds are intended for is ever mentioned anywhere in the main stream media. Obama has managed to stay on every ones lips and/or mind more than any personality or event in this country. Even Temangalo couldn’t keep people’s eyes and minds off the phenomenon that Obama is.
For starters, it is/ was fashionable to talk Obama, know his roots, what he stands for, what the polls say about him, his values, his favorite designers, his chances etc. This became the talk in bars, radio talk shows, Sunday lunch brunch etc. The quality of conversations, chats and discussions among pals, workmates, colleagues etc improved a lot. This is because it was based on media reports, TV shows, international magazines, internet etc and thus was more enlightened, informative, comprehensive and intellectually sophisticated. Many people turned to global media entities and the internet in search and exchange of information, analysis on Obama and the presidential election t large.
Conversations and tea/lunch breaks at the office/workplace that were previously characterized with gossip on which employee is having an affair with the boss, cheating husbands, loose talk on FC Arsenal’s woos etc were now punctuated with watching CNN, BBC etc to get the latest updates on the USA presidential election. Cosy and intimate coffee dates between new lovers in uptown restaurants weren’t spared. It would be incomplete for the guy not to talk about Obama’s lovely daughters to impress on the lady as one who loves and cherishes children and family at large.
However, for me Obama offers a far broader picture. Despite his historic win and ascendance to the top political office in world politics, Obama will never be bigger than the American picture. America will continue fighting proxy wars for resources, minerals and oil. America will continue its ruthless campaign against terrorism, sometimes with complete disregard of UN charters and rules of international diplomacy. No personality is too big to have a single or individual influence on the American way of life. This ought to be a lesson to Kampala’s middle class to work towards building institutions and organizational frame works in their workplaces, political corridors, business entities etc that are far bigger than individuals and mere personalities. The talk of Kaguta’s son being bigger than the NRM- the ruling party is an uncomfortable precedence.
The other lesson that Obama offers to Kampala’s middle class is that success in life is built on hard work, honesty, trust, courage, determination, resolve and commitment – the values exhibited by the president-elect. From very humble backgrounds to being raised by loving grandparents who taught him the most important lessons in life and values that build strong and humble characters, he has been able to succeed in life against some odds here and there.
There are very few families in Uganda that have had more than two generations where their children have been exposed to money and wealth. They could have had big farms, many cows, vast acres of land but few had large bank accounts or money at their disposal. Most of Kampala’s middle class, are from humble backgrounds, went to local Christian schools, their parents lived peasant lifestyles but managed to put their kids through school by selling coffee, tea and cows. Many middle class folks didn’t grow up in the luxury and affluence that comes with riches, wealth and money. However, through hard work, discipline and patience, many have managed to attain education using their parents’ meager resources and thus built careers and fortunes of their own. In a way, they relate to Obama, when they look back to their childhoods that included fetching water, working on family gardens and walking or riding 5km to school. Obama is their hero; he is a mirror reflection of their own backgrounds that were characterized by hardship, challenges and toil. There was no ice cream or cartoon network in their toddler days; however, today they can afford all this for their kids.
So in many ways than one, obama has had a wave of influence on the way of life here. His bailout plan for the US economy will undoubtedly have an effect on many elite folks that work for blue chip companies and multi-national entities here in Kampala and Uganda at large. Obama still has a lot to do with Kampala’s middle class lifestyle.
Agaba Rugaba Nicholas