Road, radio and research: thoughts from Kampala to Iganga

In central Kampala, a huge flyover is under construction. My driver, Sam, promises its completion will ease the congestion, but for today the rush hour traffic is crawling and I’ve got plenty of time to think. It feels like lots is changing here. Passing through immigration in less than thirty minutes felt like lightning pace, with an East African visa as my golden ticket. It’s designed to encourage tourism in the region, lasts three months, permits multiple entries and “reaches even to Rwanda”, as the official in Nairobi proudly told me.

Parked up at a gridlocked roundabout, dusk turns to night with speed that still catches me by surprise. Sam turns the engine off and the radio on, and we’re greeted by a blaring reminder that “it’s back!”

‘It’ is European football and these are betting ads. As Sam explains, sports betting has really taken off here, with young men in particular rushing to “live the game” and “make it count” as instructed by the endless billboards along our route. Some win, of course, but most do not, and it’s a stark reminder that wider internet access and globalisation are not unequivocally beneficial.

Similarly, there are numerous radio ads for Uber and, when we’re still parked up on the same bit of road forty minutes later, I’m confident that more private vehicles is not what’s needed here. We get some music and then finally an ad to feel more positive about; it’s explaining the contraceptive pill. Uganda is still a deeply conservative country, usually featuring in Western media with relation to its staunch opposition to same-sex relationships, but the advice on offer is frank and direct. However, Kampala is dramatically different to the rural schools we visit later in the week, where small white wooden signs that might read “Keep off the Grass” instead simply state “ABSTINENCE”. Moving further along the path, we laugh that in the tranquility of the countryside another sign – which is either totally redundant or incredibly effective – reads “AVOID HOOLIGANISM”.

Emerging from arrivals at Entebbe was some real deja vu of my first visit to Uganda, more than four years ago as a new Project Worker on the way to Kakamega in Kenya. This time the destination is Iganga, Eastern Uganda, which we’re exploring with the hope that EPAfrica can soon start a project there. With my limited understanding of the Ugandan school system and still wrapping my head around a rough conversion of five thousand Ugandan shillings to a pound, I’m cautious, but it feels like meaningful work. Sat in the offices of Businguli Seed Secondary School, with rain flooding down outside and more than a little leaking through the roof, it’s exciting to imagine the work EPAfrica could do here in the future. Later, I think it through a little more and remember that someone once did this kind of baseline research and set-up in Kakamega, a place which so many of us have enjoyed so much.

Written by Jo Austen, a Project Worker in Kakamega 2013, Project Manager in Kakamega 2015 and a cross-site Coordinator in 2017.