Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Are Ugandans really kind and hospitable?

THE TOWER - There is this stereotype that's been around for as long as I can remember, about how kind, hospitable and welcoming we Ugandans are. Over time, I have come to have my very strong doubts to a point where I think it is all bollocks, honestly.

Mind, I have seen some Ugandans whose welcomes and kindness appear genuine and these, for the most part, I have encountered in the village; they scream, ululate and envelop you in unwashed and unwanted hugs when you arrive, while admonishing the younger family members to make haste, detain one of the ubiquitous chickens and bring its life to a screeching, bubbling halt in a stewing pot.

The more distant relatives hold out organic dirt-stained hands, grubby with the ardours of ekeing a living out of the land in handshakes and greetings that, in good old Busoga can go on for minutes, punctuated by endless 'uuuums', 'aaahs' and inquiries about the health of the clan, the livestock, the village, etc.

In my younger days when my visits to the village were more regular -- if not always made on my own volition -- I was always amazed at the generosity of these village folk who showed not a moment's hesitation in ordering the slaughter of a chicken for a city-dwelling relative who, in most cases, had more regular access to chicken. On departure, they would offer groundnuts, peas, maize -- anything that was in season -- and with a genuine, infectious smile to boot! A few even offered their own children to come along to the city to help out with household chores!

This generosity wasn't always one-sided; we, the city-dwellers, usually gave cash (a rare commodity in these lands of livin' hand-to-mouth and which we take for granted in the urban lands of livin'-la vida-loca), sugar, salt, soap, kerosene, medicine or simply gave advice and wise counsel (which, come to think of it, made us the equivalent of modern-day technical advisers sent by western donors!) But I digress.

This generous, kind and welcoming side of Ugandans does not exist in the Uganda I know today, and certainly not in the cities. How many times do you walk into a bank or a restaurant and feel like an unwanted intruder? Or spend 10 minutes waiting for service while the waiting staff go about their business gossiping and texting? What happened to people greeting you, asking how they can help, listening patiently, doing it with a smile and getting a genuine 'thank you' at the end?

Far from a welcoming oasis of warmth and kindness, we are a country with our finger on the trigger, always a twitch away from a rapid-fire outburst of bile, recoilless and remorseless fulmination over the most mundane things, and a gritty determination to win all arguments and at all costs, even where we are hopelessly and incontrovertibly wrong.

Have you been on our narrow roads and seen the selfish and self-centred way we drive? Hardly anyone allows you to join the main road or indicates their intention to allow other road users a chance to react in time. One moment you are driving behind a car, the next you are stuck behind the same car while a passenger alights and, for the next 20 seconds, continues their conversation with the driver through the car window. When overtaking and encounter on-coming traffic, the driver in the left lane is more likely to pick up speed and try to have you slam into the on-coming car than let you get out of harm's way. We are not just impolite and impatient; years of war, deprivation and disease have left us with a mean, ruthless streak, a dog-eat-dog mentality where survival is for the fittest, the loudest, the harshest and those whose airbag-laden cars are more likely to survive a head-on collision.

We are not kind, generous and welcoming people on the whole. We just pretend to be. We have this superiority complex that we confer upon visitors, especially white visitors, falling all over ourselves to impress anyone with a white skin (and hopefully green bucks). Everytime I have walked into a restaurant or a pub with a white friend, I have been served faster and with more warmth. And the bill has always been put infront of my white friends, even when I'd done the ordering.

It's not just at the personal level; have you seen the fixation we have with 'foreign investors' offering generous incentives to all sorts of briefcase-type investors while our own entrepreneurs (save, of course, for those with access to the corridors of power) struggle to raise capital?

It is subtle reverse racism; where slave owners in the American south used to lash their black slaves, we kneel upon the floor, disrobe and flog ourselves while apologising for not being worthy!

We are not just gifted by nature, we Ugandans; we are listed by nature as double edged swords; kind, welcoming and generous to foreigners, harsh and unforgiving to our own. It's about time we cracked open the oyster shell to reveal what really lies within the Pearl of Africa.