Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mighty African goes to Uganda! #tugende!

I never imagined that the first ever African country I would spend a night in would be Uganda. Yes, the Mighty African had never even been to Togo or Burkina Faso or found himself in Nigeria. Thanks to my job, I was able to finally show off the few Luganda words I had learnt from Ugandan friends while stationed in the USA. I visited Kampala for four days in September. Before I went to Kampala, I didn't know anyone there that I had met. All the folks I had been in touch with were musicians and a couple of journalists. I left Kampala with 25 new phone numbers! I asked my Ugandan friends et al on Facebook what I should do before I left Uganda (Kampala) and I tried to go through with some of their suggestions. I had every intention of getting stories to tell so let's recount the Mighty African experiences.

I must preface the Ugandan debut by saying I had a little stop over at the Nairobi airport. I arrived at the Entebbe airport September 6th and we were driven to Kampala. The airport looked about Kotoka's size and the road from Entebbe to Kampala looked like quite the busy street. I hadn't imagined Uganda's major airport will be that far from Kampala. I realized quickly that Ugandans drove on the wrong side of the road. Erm, I mean the left side of the road, not the right. British colony. Not that Ghana is an American colony but you get the point. Apart from having the steering wheel on the right hand side, cars in Uganda aren't very different from Ghana. Except you couldn't tell taxicabs as easily. And then they call urvans or trotros 'taxis' and call taxis 'cabs'.

One thing I realised was the heavy presence of soldiers and policemen on the roads idling. Turns out Ugandans had been rioting (against Yoweri Museveni) so the security forces were on alert. You might remember the famous 'Walk to Work' protests. We had to be checked (airport style) before we entered the Sheraton Hotel, as well as other buildings. I didn't enjoy that but I hope Ugandans don't get used to this at all. Mr. Museveni must stop asking if Ugandans want "another rap" and focus on serving the Ugandan people so as to stop the rioting. I was joking Ugandan food is quite light compared to Ghanaian food so after eating, they still have energy to hit the streets and demonstrate. Give Ghanaians fufu, kenkey and tuo zaafi and you are sure to keep them chillaxing after such heavy meals. It's the secret to Ghana's safety and relative peace.

I can count the number of hours I slept in Kampala over those 4 nights. Kampala is apparently the party capital of Africa. As I saw in the September 9 Daily Monitor edition, "Kampalans make up silly reasons to party". There's a strong case there from what I saw. I hit up places like Boda Boda, Rouge, Cayenne, etc. I was invited to Cayenne by Rachel K, a musician. There, I run into Cindy Sanyu (a popular Ugandan singer) who I had been trying to get in touch with. I loved the Centenary Park area which houses multiple bars that churn great music, and fits the beer-drinking and merry-making Kampala public. I was invited to the Heights to a journalists meet-up by a Ugandan blogger I had met on Twitter @RosebellK. Before that I had met up with another young female Ugandan changemaker who I also met on Twitter @mbabazi_AN. She happened to run YoungAchieversUg which I have kept tabs on for a while ever since I accepted its Facebook Friend request.

I was invited by Cindy's former Blu3 mate Lilian Mbabazi to be on a radio show in Kampala - RadioCity 97FM. The show was called 'Celeb of the Day'. But you know I am no celebrity. I don't want the popularity, I want to be as anonymous as they come. What another name can be as anonymous as "Mighty African"? Lilian interviewed me about various things while she played my selection of 10 top songs (all African). I love how Ugandan bars and clubs played music from all over Africa. I didn't hear any Ghanaian music but I heard a lot of Cabo Snoop's Windeck and Prakatatumba. That made Angola's Roberto Saudades very happy (more to come on Roberto). Hey, some Ugandan friends said Windeck was the most popular African song of 2010. Ugandans did seem to know a lot of Ghanaian movie stars. I got asked many times if Jackie Appiah was my wife (humph!) or sister. A couple of people asked me about Stephen Appiah, which is lovely, because the Black Stars of Ghana are beloved.

One person I really wanted to meet in Kampala was Afrotainment Museke Awards winner Maurice Kirya. He's so awesome that he even attended G-Uganda which is Google's flagship event in Uganda. That's how forward thinking he is. One of my biggest regrets from leaving Kampala was not taking a picture with him alongside not eating 'Rolex' aka rolled eggs. I did speak to Maurice at the Google event though. G-Uganda was awesome! It brought together many Ugandan developers, entrepreneurs, business people, etc. More importantly, it networked many young Ugandan entrepreneurs and change makers and I got the chance to meet most of them. I loved how attendees latched onto an Android game app built by these guys called 'Matatu' which is a very popular Ugandan game.

I knew about the motorbike phenomenon in Uganda mostly due to Maurice Kirya's award winning Boda Boda song. These 'motors' are locally called 'Boda Bodas'. One night, some of my new friends and I visited a bar called 'Boda Boda' where an awesome live band was playing. The band sang many African classics and I regretted going there late. Afterwards, we packed ourselves into a cab, it was me, 4 other ladies and the taxi driver. You can guess what happened next. The car broke down about 70% of the way towards our destination and the ladies decided we will not be paying the taxi driver. I didn't say a word and saved my money. That's where we saw some boda bodas close by and then I got onto one. I switched places with the driver and had a Kodak moment.
One another particular night, I rode a Boda Boda past the Boda Boda club while singing a song called Boda Boda. No bother. The motorbiker transported the helmetless me and my friend George to Kabalagala and the whole time I was scared of what might happen when he tried to swerve multiple pot-holes. Kabalagala apparently is a tourist attraction in Kampala for partying but it also has a lot of prostitutes etc. Every friend who had some knowledge of Kampala told me to visit the place. It rained a bit while I was there but it was surely jumping. Word on the street is Ugandans drink more than Kenyans, and though I find that hard to believe, they do love drinking.

Kampala is known to be the pothole capital of Africa (also up for debate). Kampala didn't look more advanced than Accra but it did have some bigger malls or supermarkets. This is apparently due to the influence of Kenya. I did spot a mall that had South Africa's Shoprite and Game Stores too. These developments could also answer why Kampala has a more bustling nightlife than Accra. Accra has worse traffic though. I didn't get to see too much of Kampala, especially the living spaces. I went to a party at Makerere University so didn't see much there and didn't visit any other houses. I wish I had seen more neighbourhoods.

Just like in Ghana, the mobile telecommunication companies rule Uganda. Their billboards are all over. I decided to get an Airtel chip and local phone number to show I was really in Uganda and not just passing by. I did pass by but I tried to act like I was not a guest. I took an active interest in practicing my little Luganda and learning more. Lilian Mbabazi was impressed and told me "Kyaba too much". This is a local term that means "you are too much". I also learnt "tugende" which means "let's go!". This is a time where we are encouraging African youth to take charge everywhere and I needed a Ugandan rallying cry. #Tugende! It's always the "vim" that is speaking. I think within the 4 days I was in Kampala, I said "tugende" 256 times.

Ugandans and Ghanaians have a lot in common. We are all happy and friendly people. When a lady wouldn't give in to my friend's advances at some club we went to, I started a long conversation with the words "I heard Ugandan women are very friendly". We ended up leaving this bar with she and her friend and we have some business plans together. Jolly good news I tell you! Africa is diverse but some things are quite similar amongst us. I felt at home in Kampala. The people there made me feel that way when I allowed them. Akwagala! Bulungi! Mukwano! These terms may not be right but I am just expressing my Ugandan love. Though my time in Uganda was limited in Kampala, I didn't regret that. I didn't go to the Pearl of Africa to see tourist sites, I went there to meet and live with the people. That's the way to African unity. That's the MightyAfrican way.
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