I slept in today after the torturous hike yesterday clocking in at 12 hours of unconsciousness. After handing in some clothes for washing (a pair of jeans, pajama pants, army shorts, a t-shirt, a pullover, 4 pair of socks, and 2 pairs of underwear for a grand total of 2 USD) I arranged for a trip to a local Batwa village.
Batwa are marginalized people in Uganda. The group I was supposed to visit was one of those that was driven out of the national park when it was created. Before they were moved in the early 90ies, my guide mentioned that women were still killed for unwanted pregnancies. Then again, his English wasn’t the best, so it was hard to determine until when that practice was carried out. They now are said to live mostly on handouts according to the East Africa Lonely Planet.
My guide was quick to claim that stealing provided an additional income source for them. According to him they sometimes worked for local people and businesses and received food and shelter in return. There were some NGOs that were said to help out arrange for schooling for the local kids. I didn’t see any school age kids, so that seems to work to a certain extent. I asked him if they have Ugandan IDs – he thought they probably didn’t and weren’t interested in them anyway.
When we reached their ‘village’, it pretty much coincided with my worst expectations. Being picked up by a village headman that reeked of alcohol we wandered over to some of the worst make-shift ram-shackles I’ve come across in my travels so far. It’s possible that some of those were put up for tourists, but I actually believe they lived in them. It was also the first place on my travels where I saw kids with bloated bellies.
What followed was a harrowing cultural display. Performing a cultural dance and song could be a nice event when it’s done on a stage and in costume. The group mostly consisted of a bunch of starving kids, a few men – some intoxicated – dressed in downtrodden clothes donations and women that still carry their infants on their back. The local mud pit in front of the village chief’s house was the stage. Can make you gulp twice. I assume the village chief would give everyone not attending a lot of shit – after all, he charged 8 USD cover charge for this human zoo.
One thing I noticed on the way to the village, were the abundance of NRM (National Resistance Movement – the party of president Museveni who has ruled Uganda since 1986) election posters that were found all over the city and the way out. Trying to buy one of them of a shop keeper didn’t work out… could be that it’s expected to carry the posters long after the elections were over already. My guide suggested getting one directly from the local party head quarters.
Thus, it happened that after returning from the Batwa village, we went to the NRM office. A single room with a secretary and 3 older gentlemen sitting at a table while surrounded by boxes (campaign material?) was what amounted to the local party office. Eery atmosphere, suspicious of what a foreigner wanted there. The elections weren’t exactly lauded as exemplary sample case of ‘fair and free’ by the west, so this wasn’t exactly unexpected. However, after answering a suspicious local party president what I wanted a poster for (to hang it in my room back home of course!), I was awarded with a brand new, 2011 election, M7 (as the newspapers abbreviate his name) poster.
Having taken a look at the upper and lower levels of the political hierarchy in Uganda, I was curious what the free market sector was like. On our way to the Batwa village we had passed a dairy factory, which my guide visited on a school trip already. Surely, if a school can visit a company, so can the average German tourist. In we went – and turns out they can show me around once they’re starting up production again. Because that seems to be one of the major issues – power outages causing production interruptions. Thus, today they had decided to wait till the evening before switching on the machines again, as then the power supply tends to be more reliable. However, the biggest surprise for me was that this was not any diary processing factory, but actually the one factory whose milk brand I’ve been drinking on my trip so far – Highland Everfresh.
With the dairy industry in neighboring Rwanda, DR Congo, Burundi and Sudan being nearly non-existent, they decided to build a factory right at the border to Rwanda and DR Congo and supply the region with UHT milk. Apparently they had only started this in 2004 and were now about to triple their daily output with a massive expansion that was just about to be finished. Using machines from China and Germany, Tetrapaks from Nairobi and card board boxes from Kampala, the Ugandan business man owning the plant certainly seems to built up a decent industry, far from the traditional economic centers of the region.
A very friendly and informative production manager who spoke good English showed me around their factory that currently employs roughly 50 people. It’s actually a fairly compact operation, with 50% to 70% of the space being taken up by warehousing incoming materials or outgoing products. When I left, the site just suffered another power blackout, with employees rushing all over the place, draining milk from the pipes, hoping to recover some part of the production before it all, quite literally, went down the drain.
Another interesting guy I met at the dairy company was a mix of cleaner and handyman for everything. Turns out he’s working here for the summer before continuing his education. Speaking good English and having an interesting grasp of how tourists might view his country, he was dreaming of finishing his education, getting enough money to buy a taxi and build up a transport company with his buses being seen all over Uganda. He’s currently earning the equivalent of 45 USD a month.
Last highlight of the day was finding out that Ugandan pancakes taste like Langos. Awesome.