The super rich families and descendants of ex-Ugandan Indians are next month starting the golden jubilee celebrations of their expulsion from Uganda that turned into a golden blessing in disguise.
Unknowingly to many, Uganda, which suffered immensely due to the economic breakdown of the expulsion, is also finally, quietly starting a fundamental celebration , arising from the same historical event. The undeclared is being spearhead by the Executive Director of Kampala Capital City Authority, Dorothy Kisaka, who herself was probably not yet born when the Indians were given marching orders by Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada.
Immediately after the expulsion of the Indians who had dominated the country’s economy in August 1972, Uganda started experiencing the disappearance of commodities from shops all over the country. The black market for commodities started and in the capital city of Kampala, the suddenly unemployed youth morphed into a new class army called bayaye. Their activity was to hawk goods anywhere which they did with aggression, swiftly and dangerously because they had to contend with Amin’s military police that wielded Isreali made Uzi guns to police Kampala. The regular police had been relegated to marching at national functions.
The so called bayaye were the first ghetto citizens and they were tough. The first mostly sold cigarettes by the stick, before the anti tobacco movement grew strong and made smoking a shunned activity worldwide and in Uganda. The first bayaye are now dead or aged, and we are now in the generation of Ugandans who have been born and raised in the ghetto, with successive governments not really managing to address this phenomenon.
But in the golden jubilee year, something is finally happening. The Kampala ED has the full story and hopefully will one day write it for the nation and the world to read. This weekend, she gave snippets of the quiet revolution she is conducting to convert the ghetto kids from a dangerous force into a productive one that will deliver a smart city that has eluded Uganda for fifty years.
Basically, Kisaka decided out that the whole phenomenon is economic and not political or criminal. The revolution was triggered by the desertion of the city during the Covid-19 inspired lockdown, leading to the disuse of the sewerage system and the drying up of its unflowing contents. Something had to be done about the stench that emanated as the population returned and tried to start re-using the systems. Just one of those things that occupy the top manager of the city, but one that cannot be postponed.
All the ‘good’ people could not handle the emergency that was set to unleash an unprecedented typhoid outbreak that would have made the Covid look like a joke. Kisaka turned to the ghetto kids for the solution.
Her first encounter with them is stuff for a thriller movie; going to meet them in a dark, dingy alley at an undisclosed location, putting her life and even that of her guard in harm’s way.
They struck a deal. She offered money, real money to the tune of uxg6,000 – that is a princely sum of about two dollars then, per day for whoever was ready to work and stop being on the other side of the law. They had to clear and unblock the sewerage pipes.
The youth the signed on. They worked and got paid. Others realised it was real. The numbers started growing. What mattered most to Kisaka was that they not only did the job, they also did it very well.
In months, this positive force has grown to over five hundred. In military terms, that would be a battalion. In Kisaka’s era it is a sanitation movement facilitating the attainment of a Smart City.
Her initiative is in effect abolishing the terms ghetto and bayaye, replacing them with the glorious name – which had always been there as a physical feature – the Seven Hill!
Those who just returned from the Rwanda CHOGM singing praises of Kigali city may not have to wait long to see a changed Kampala to be proud of. The full story should one day be told by it owner – Madame ED Dorothy Kisaka!