During my time in Kampala (a place that I can sincerely say that I love) I have thought about being a white man among black men and women. Although I never seem to come up with good conclusions or answers, then it has given me ever lasting joy. I have always tried to be one of the crowd. Maybe not the most obvious ambition.
My gratitude for the way I have been treated has always been tremendous. I have very rarely, if ever, been in a place, where people around me treated me with so much kindness, hospitality and respect as in Kampala. This is one of the many reasons why I call Uganda my African home.
Recently I have come across Nada Andersen via Facebook. She is worried about the relationship between Ugandans and Bazungus (whites) living in Kampala. She has lived in Uganda for more than 20 years, but originally she comes from Bosnia-Herzegivina.
Over the years she has noticed a changed in how Ugandans view foreigners. She argues that Ugandans have become more hostile towards whites in Kampala - and with good reason, because Bazungus nowadays have bad manners. On January 20th she post her worries on her Facebook-wall and gives examples of bad behaviour.
"Where does it come from? This urge we get the moment we arrive to Uganda? The urge to break the laws and the rules?I am not sure how to analyse the change in the attitude towards foreigners in Uganda, though I have notived the same kind of change than Nada is talking about. Though my explanation is a little different.
How many times would you come late to work if you were in Europe or US, before you are warned or dismissed? How long would be your lunch or coffee break?
How many drinks would you have in your home country before you sit in the car to drive yourself home?
Would you park your car on the pavement, or double-park blocking half the street?
Would you speed way over the speed limit?
Would you take wrong turns, reverse onto the road, drive into a one-way street from the wrong end, yell at a policeman when he stops you?
Would you openly have a mistress or a lover, and go out with them to meet with your family friends?
Would you have a girlfriend or a boyfriend who are a third your age?
Would you make your mistress pregnant and leave her with no contact or address?
Would you keep a babysitter all night while you are in the night clubs partying?
Would you be disposing off rubbish without sorting and recycling?
Would you be hurling litter through your car window?
Would you yell at a waiter if something goes amiss?
Would you yell at anyone because they did not understand you, your instructions, requests?
Would you be paying for company at night?
Would you put your life at risk by riding on a bike with a man you don't know - and you don't know if he even has a riding permit, in the middle of the night, between one drinking place and the other?
Would you ride a bike without a helmet?
Would you drive a car without a driving permit?
I'm sure not. So why do you do it when you arrive to Uganda? What prompts you to quickly start breaking all the rules? Where is that urge coming from? What makes you think it's ok?
What makes you think Ugandans should tolerate your actions? Do you really think they don't see you are being a nuisance? Complete with foul language and poor manners that I'm sure you don't display in front of your family at Christmas?
Time to make that change. To very consciously tell every Muzungu person off, when you see them going astray. Uganda is a very accommodating country but Muzungus are beginning to irritate Ugandans a little bit too much.
Time to talk about this, people. Or we are going to have Zimbabwe here, pretty soon. I don't want to be kicked out of Uganda because we were not able to call some people to order.
Time to talk, and talk loud." (quoted from Nada Andersens Facebook)
In the last 10 years there has been a growth in the middle class in Uganda. This development is mainly visable in urban areas. A growing middle class means different demands to the government and also different behaviour. The middle class need services from the goverment. These demands are not silent. They are being spoken out in the public space. This tendency to be more outspoken about your needs and wishes also influences your action towards other people. It means that the middle class also express there opinions about foreigners, more than we have been used to in the past.
In the same periode it has become more common to meet whites in the streets of Kampala, because more and more especially young volunteers travel to East Africa today. These young Bazungus are a lot more visable in the City. They walk around and drive in Matatus (minibusses), where the professional expats usually have been hiding in cars and big houses.
It all means that it is not anymore so rare to meet and see whites in Kampala. Therefor it is not such a big thing to see a Muzungu anymore. It is almost just another one in the crowd. The young volunteers are young and maybe sometimes also a bit ignorant or naive. They don't think so much about who they are, where they are and how to behave. But they should off course be more responsible about their behaviour and somebody ought to set them straight. One big problem is that the mayority of Ugandans feel embassed to critisize somebody for behaving badly. So the young foreigners will never know the harm they are causing.
If I am right about the outspokenness of the new middle class in Uganda, then this is maybe not such a bad thing! BUT it can result in conclict - and such conclicts ought not to run out of hand. In this respect Nada Andersens warning is very apropriate.
A very much shorter version of this topic in Danish has previously been published on The Danish News Bureau for Global News: U-landsnyt